Another Month Rolls On

I can’t believe that it is a month since I posted. I have been pretty busy with attending the WA Training Forum on the 14th and 15th of May at the Burswood Entertainment Complex, Perth WA. I was all organised for this event and had arranged to stay in Perth for the whole week. No work, no kids, no hubby. This meant that I could attend other workshops on the Wednesday and Thursday and go technical book shopping with my friend Sue on the Friday. Well that got blown out of the water when I came down with the flu on the Saturday before the conference. I felt pretty unwell until a trip to the pharmacy helped on the Monday afternoon. Still didn’t really get past about 60% for the whole week though and it is still dragging on now. The Training Forum was a good opportunity to catch up with colleagues that I hadn’t seen for 12 months and hear what everyone has been up to. The session that I was really interested in was on day one called “Emerging Technologies” by Marcus Ragus and Daniel Dacey

Marcus's Presentation

Virtual Trainer Presentation

Marcus Ragus from
Institute of TAFE Tasmania
Daniel Dacey from
New England Computer Solutions

RFID reader attached to a PDA.
RFID reader attached to a PDA

It is all about using RFID enabled devices in education. Sue has an article with more detail if you are interested.(Radio Frequency Identification) I also went to the Nerd School session that Sue attended and in her post about Nerd School it is me she is referring to snoring in the room. I don’t see anything wrong with that really seeing I was so ill, but she was up at 4.30am writing that post!! Well I made it through the rest of the week and I think I heard Marcus and Daniel’s presentations about 3 times over all and managed to get a handle on what they have been doing by the third session 🙂 On Thursday I managed to catch up with Daniel for a geek talk about what we have both been up to with mobile development and that was great. It is good being able to have a semi technical chat with someone who understands what you are talking about. Sue just sighs and walks off when we start, especially if we are all on a Skype conference call together.

Photo’s courtesy of Sue Waters flickr account. Thanks Sue

Take a trip WayBack in time

WayBack Machine logo

Several years ago I discovered the Internet Archive Wayback Machine this is an archive of the internet and other digital content. It allows you to enter a web address and visit archived versions of web sites, you can also link to sites you find in the WayBack Machine so it can be a great to use with students.

With the rapid changes of websites and digital content having an archive of what has been done and where we have been is not something many of us think about. We create our web pages and then add changes as we need, these changes then overwrite the original pages so previous information is lost. The WayBack Machine allows you to view the previous content and keep it for prosperity, by creating this archive of digital content they are preserving our culture and heritage that in this digital age may otherwise be lost.

When I first found this I thought it would be a great teaching tool to use with my student who were learning about the internet and creating web pages. To be able to view websites and pages that are no longer being hosted is a great service. I soon discovered that access to this site was blocked and students could not access it on campus (and yes I did request to get it unblocked) So I ended up taking screen dumps and creating power point presentations to show the students how websites have developed and changed. How moving graphics and a lot of unnecessarily information has been coming off a lot of sites when the owners of these sites have analysed who their viewers are and how long it can take to view the site. This of course is not always the case with many big business’s still having large images and pages full of text when all you want to do is log in and check your account.

Anyway back to the Wayback Machine they were founded in 1996 and are a “non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library, with the purpose of offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format”. So they are” building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public.” This archive currently includes includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages .

WayBack Machine

The way it works is that you can enter the web address of any website and view an archive of all their pages. There automated systems crawl the web every few months so a continual archive of the web is compiled. You can also contribute digital content to be archived. Check out their FAQ’s for more information about how it all works, and just if you were wondering how big it is it contains almost 2 petabytes of data and is currently growing at a rate of 20 terabytes per month.

Go have a look and just to get you started go visit my first website from 1999 & 2001., its enough to make me cringe, jumping dolphins and dancing email boxes…..How things have changed since 1999 my current website is now very plain and definatley less flashy and I think I like this better. Some would differ with me in this as my friend Sue has pointed out we should be adding more glitter and jazzing things up, I think I will leave that to her.

eLearning and IT Students – The Chicken or the Egg, Which comes First?

At the end of my post Future Shock – Future Focus I pondered on whether in the IT teaching sector we could use the technology of ‘virtual worlds’ to help engage our students. A comment from dswaters (Sue) pointed out that she felt that I and others in IT appear to be reluctant in embracing eLearning strategies and content with our students. So I thought I would start by clarifying my understanding of ‘eLearning’. A simple search in Google “What is eLearning” returns many definitions with the Wikipedia definition:

“E-learning most often means an approach to facilitate and enhance learning through the use of devices based on computer and communications technology. Such devices would include personal computers, CDROMs, Digital Television, P.D.A.s and Mobile Phones. Communications technology enables the use of the Internet, email, discussion forums, and collaborative software.” Wikipedia

Where I was heading was a bigger picture than the usual content used in eLearning, I was thinking of a bigger and definitely more expensive adventure into eLearning. The creation of virtual islands and worlds that students can move around in and actively take part in. When studying computer hardware they could ‘virtually’ put the computer components together, subjects like OH&S which students can find dull and sometimes don’t realise how important they are until they have finished study and started work. Imagine students being given the task of setting up a computer room to a set of specifications. When they had finished this ‘assignment’ the lecturer could take a ‘virtual walk’ through the environment the students had created.

Now with a better understanding of what eLearning means my personal experience in teaching Information Technology students makes me now realise that I have used eLearning techniques regularly but not really thought of it in that way. We use WebCT, we have a student web that students can place their own websites on and also access all their class files from on whether they are on campus or at home. The student web also holds all students programs of work, assessments and resources that the students need to complete their course. My Cert IV Web students will be using a wiki for their project management component of their major assignments. Use Wiki with MS Project | What Is a Wiki (and How to Use One for Your Projects)

To develop more specific eLearning content in the IT learning area for delivery would involve more time than I have and the material I have for my students is adequate and up to date. With things changing in the IT field so rapidly we always have to create or find extra content for our students so we do cover the latest topics.

Today I spoke with my students studying Diploma in Software Development about eLearning to get feedback on whether they think that as they have progressed through the IT Certificates eLearning could have enhanced their learning. The first comment was about how quickly things in IT change and that to develop things that were too detailed may not be worth the time or expense. When asked about blogs and wiki’s to share information it appears that by the very nature of the subject they are studying IT, the ‘WOW’ factor that blogs and wiki’s and other online components may have in other learning areas does not exist. Its something that the ‘do’ everyday as part of their course and to spend more time ‘doing’ it and to even contemplate using their own free time to be involved in these sort of things did not have a very big appeal. A large proportion of IT students have dabbled in these areas before they even attend training and unless they pursue these sorts of things for their own private purposes they are not really interested in study related participation in these things.

As for the ‘Chicken or the Egg, Which comes First’ in my heading. We are teaching the students the technology that is used to create the things that are used in creating many of the eLearning content. Web content, Multimedia, animation, presentations and programming and the list goes on………

BUT if anyone out there has a way that I can become a better lecturer in delivering things like ‘Using a Word Processing Application’ or ‘Using a Spreadsheet application’ that involves eLearning please point me in the right direction as I am always willing to try something new, especially if it will benefit my students.

Future Shock – Future Focus

 

I read a book called Future Shock a few years ago (probably more than a few) by Alvin Toffler. Toffler’s definition of future shock is “Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”

With the rapid changes technology has been undertaken in the past few years this seems to be ringing true.
This was brought home to me even more so on Thursday night when I sat down and watched a television program on SBS called Future Focus – New Cyberspace Worlds.
The title of a review of this program by Judy Adamson certainly summed this up well “If your technological expertise is limited to clicking the internet icon, this documentary will be a jaw-dropping experience.”

The basis of this program was the growing business of ‘virtual worlds’. These have become massive businesses that everyone is trying to get a piece of. Virtual islands are being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, even the ABC is getting in on the act. In a report by Michael Bodey titled ABC buys an island in an online world it is revealed that ABC managing director Mark Scott told a business forum in February that the ABC had bought an island on Second Life. It makes one wonder where this is all heading. Is it just another way to generate revenue and place advertising? The ABC says that they do not intend to use it to generate revenue but as a way to connect with its audience, just by having a presence in Second Life acts as advertising even if it doesn’t generate so called ‘revenue’.

I can understand this attraction to online worlds the appeal of television has been lost on most of today’s youth with them spending more and more time online. Many comment that this is not a healthy or very sociable way for them to spend their leisure time but when I look back on my ‘pre computer’ days what we did in our down time was watch a ‘box” that supplied entertainment for us but which we had little interaction with other than changing the channel. I am more concerned with the fact that when playing and being online is the major source of entertainment and relaxation when do their brains ‘switch off’. Will this in the future lead to the inability to just let go and relax or will it create older generations who brains have had continual stimulation as they have grown older and therefore not suffer from some of the aging problems of memory loss?? It is certainly interesting but also frightening times as our children encounter these things and not knowing what the outcomes will be.

One of the things that I found disturbing in the New Cyberspace Worlds program was what appears to be the new version of ‘sweat shops’. With more than 6.5 million people playing World of Warcraft (WOW) each day and the illegal trade of ‘virtual gold’ has lead to the development of ‘Gold farming’ business. An example of this was shown of teenagers working 10 hour days 6 days a week playing WOW so that the virtual gold can be created and then this will be sold to players. These players live eat and work on the premises. According to Wikipedia more than 100,000 people in China were employed as ‘gold farmers’ these statistics are from 2005 so it is anyone guess how many there are now there is even a movie on YouTube showing the workers in China in there small rooms playing games to farm gold. As the farming of gold is illegal the makers of WOW continually delete accounts that have purchased the illegal gold but I think they are hitting their heads against the virtual wall.

Now I will get back on track. Even though this was quiet a disturbing show to watch it also opens up a lot of possibilities in the education sector. Just as the ABC is using its island to connect with its audience the same is possible with education. As our students become more sophisticated in their computer use and understanding of these systems then we should look to the possibility of using it to possibly deliver content. I am not just talking about for distance learners but also in our classrooms. It is harder to keep our students under 20 engaged especially in the Cert II and Cert III IT levels. Maybe this would encourage them to be more involved and stop us from getting stale. It is certainly food for thought and something I would be prepared to have more of a look at. There are already islands created for educators.