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Archived Posts from “Emerging Technology”

The end of static Learning Objects?



Are flash based Learning Objects dead?  They sure are expensive - since 2001 the Teaching & Learning Federation (TLF) has used “AUD$123 million ….. divided by 6300 curriculum items. That’s close to AUD$20,000 for each single (eg, Flash) TLF curriculum item,” observed Stephen Loosley (Member, Victorian Institute of Teaching) when he opened some excellent discussion on the Oz-teachers email list on the continued relevance of the digital content produced by the TLF. These are some significant Australian dollars at stake.  Please leave a comment below on your observations about whether you think this is an effective use of money.

In March, the group put together a document “Sustaining supply of content for the digital education revolution. This paper details the sustainability of the Ministers’ Le@rning Federation initiative beyond 2009 to provide content for the digital education revolution.” In here they put forward a number of options to the government for more funding. These range from $5 million a year, for not very much at all, to over $16 million a year for presumably much of the same.

Let me start with a closed-minded generalisation - to my mind TLF Learning Objects became irrelevant to today’s learners about 2005 - when user-generated and filtered content began to gather more relevance than that of top-down institutions.

20080607-Tt545Kmrxjss5Pntdsiyx7P6Sa“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein

My main observations from talking to hundreds of teachers in schools through my work in gov’t/business is that the TLF LOs were/are too hard to access and that it was mostly impossible to assess student’s learning because they did not allow a venue for conversation around the content.

The group was set up in 2001, by all Ed Ministers for, “developing and procuring online curriculum content specifically for Australian and New Zealand curricula, and delivering it for free distribution to schools….. The Initiative has delivered a valuable national asset that will directly support the national curriculum and assessment agenda for decades to come.”

So what do we do with these figures as Stephen Loosley acutely observes - they are worth repeating - “$123 million .. divided by 6300 curriculum items. That’s close to $20,000 for each single (eg, Flash) TLF curriculum item.” How has the learning that has supposedly occurred as a result been quantified and analysed? I’m sorry to the content creators that may be reading this but my general observations is that kids thought they were “lame” - 3 or 4 in a class of 30 usually thought they were engaging and challenging but the rest went “meh!”. Another question needs to be asked - how many of the Flash objects made in 2001 for Adobe Flash 3.2 actually work now and are relevant - have the thousands of conversations that supposedly went on around them captured, or was the use of Flash merely just eye-candy to keep the kids occupied for a few minutes? And if they are for teachers why can’t they embed the LOs directly in our Portal spaces/Edublogs/Moodles/Scholaris/Wikispaces.

In actually modelling access and usage of these LOs in workshops I observed around 50% teachers give up at the search phase as they couldn’t find anything relevant to their needs. Another 30% didn’t know how to unzip the downloaded learning object, let alone distribute this to students. 10% were Mac users and were frustrated when a pop-up told them they had to use Internet Explorer, and around 5% who against protocol installed the whole DVD or CD on their Curriculum server sat school aid they were handy for point of need or for IWB use by the teachers. One astute observer I remember saying the search functionality was “akin to using AltaVista way back in 1995″.

I will give the new Scootle interface a fair go - it is faster at least - keyword search actually works and the UI does look friendlier - yet no info on how to log-in - another walled garden. Not so good if you want kids in Africa to join in your class discussion around content.

Funny - as a Japanese teacher in 2004 my class took part in one of the TLF Learning Object online user surveys of both teacher and students. Ironically, the students were more engaged in the ability to respond via the TLF’s Survey Monkey (yes freeware!) than they were by the actual Learning Objects. But why? ZOMG - the kids had input and and an audience - what could be SO motivating about that (excuse the sarcasm).

In reassessing the TLF role we need to get beyond this ancient idea educational gerontocracy keeps peddling that we must deliver content and fill the empty to receptacles of these kids brains. What we could have done with the $123 million are three things:

  • given learners different online and open venues for connecting with each-other via real-world conversations around the expensive content;
  • access to their own wireless devices to creatively communicate understanding (well done Rudd via DER - it’s a start - let’s see the kids getting connected to each other though);
  • employing teachers that aren’t scared of the kids being better at using the technology than them - this means losing some control over knowledge production that most are comfortable with.

But these strategies are generally seen by the gerontocracy as the words of a heretic! Thankfully some educators on Oz-teahchers are willing to engage in dialogue and work towards a better use of such funding…..

@David Westaway - you said, “at present in Victoria because of licensing issues teachers must access digilearn (inc. TLF content) through a teacher login and copy a student access URL which is only able to be used by students at schools with a VicSmart connection. If I wish to set a DLO as a homework exercise for a pupil, they won’t be able to access it.”
- I just counted 6 hoops to jump through here - Google has 1 - hrmm - I wonder which will win. This will need to change to be useful for Year 9-12 DER recipients.

@ Rob R Costello said “Comparisons might be odious, but I saw a trial of Mathletics the other day. Somehow or other they’ve hit on a model that both kids and teachers instinctively felt would work - don’t know I’ve often had a full class for 73 minutes, without even one year 8 kid getting sidetracked - it has a collaborative mode; allows kids to race against players from around the world”
- Indeed! - who would have thought - kids being engaged by having a stage for their knowledge and a desire to learn collaboratively. TLF 2010 could take a huge leaf out of Matheltics book and apply open, collaborative and Allah forbid slightly competitive game-based learning elements to the content they already have. $5000 to make each LO to work this way and be embeddable elsewhere on top of the $20,000 already spent could actually make these Learning Objects relevant. And why not apply an Australian copyright with a tracking code applied to the embeddable content so that if other educational systems worldwide want to use the LOs they have to pay to use them. Value attached to our Australian curriculum content will only happen when the rest of the world can see it - let alone teachers who have forgotten their log-in. Paradigm shift in the thinking of our gerontocracy anyone? Nah - too hard - just throw more money at tired institutions and hope the same old approach catches up with the web2.0 world expanding through a mantra of sharing and conversation.

So all this leads to a scary use of AUD$123, 000, 000 - it smells of total irrelevance to 21C learning environments and a complete waste of money. Why? One word - s e a r c h - as search becomes more sophisticated, so too is the need students and educators to be critically literate in their information inquiries around knowledge creation. A search for a Learning Object on the topic “Climate Change” produces 6 results using the new Scootle interface to TLF content: and requires a log-in. Pity kids around the world can’t discuss the same content for such a global issue huh? - wheras we could also do a Google “filetype” search by searching for Flash files (Interactive Learning Objects) with the following “filetype:swf Climate Change” and yield “about 3,850 results for filetype:swf Climate Change in 0.04 seconds.

But I’m not the first to observe this. Heck - Stephen Downes said all this back in 2003 (!!!) - on this website ironically another Australian gov’t funded technology delivery system, “The Flexible Learning Network”:

Though much discussion has centered around the nature and use of learning objects, less attention has been paid to the problem of their distribution…… The emphasis in learning object distribution thus far has been toward federated search systems. A federated search system can rigidly control access to search results, requiring authorization before these results are released. This option is preferred by owners of commercial educational content, since even search results are marketable content. A federated search system also promotes branding and, because the number of repositories searched is limited, can be used to reduce competition from wider networks of less expensive or free content.

But though content producers have many reasons for supporting a federated search system, it is not clear that the needs of a global network of online learning repositories will be best served in this way. Much content will by necessity remain outside the network, thus limiting the choices of participants. Moreover, such large systems require considerable overhead, and therefore cannot be supported by providers of inexpensive or free educational content. Though many providers are not ready for the wide-open environment of the peer-to-peer world, they are often willing to surrender some control in order to reach a wider market or to provide lower cost or free content.

I’ll repeat myself for silence to hear it again - why not apply an Australian copyright with a tracking code applied to the embeddable content so that if other educational systems/educators worldwide want to use the LOs they have to pay a small fee to use them. Value attached to our Australian curriculum content will only happen when the rest of the world can see it.

– repost: This was originally a reply to a post on the Oz-teachers email list.

Learning to change



This public service campaign video was filmed at the CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) annual conference. The wisdom with which educational leaders like Alan November, Greg Whitby, and Stephen Heppell explicate the urgency of giving teachers the tools to connect with 21C learning and their students is poignant in this video. The massive task of making schooling relevant for today’s learners is communicated with precision. These international educators recognise the need to shift our thinking at all levels by being innovative, thinking creatively and developing 21st century pedagogies that will inspire this generation of learners.

Technology Integration Matrix



This Technology Integration Matrix is a very handy reference point for school administrators, especially those ready to take the plunge and give students the opportunity of 1:1 access the Digital Education Revolution funding offers.

It is worthwhile clicking on the links under each indicator to see how the integration works in both shared and 1:1 learning environments. You’ll find video examples, objectives, materials/technology list, standards, and what amounts to basically a lesson plan. Incredible resource!

The Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) illustrates how teachers can use technology to enhance learning for K-12 students. The TIM incorporates five interdependent characteristics of meaningful learning environments: active, constructive, goal directed (i.e., reflective), authentic, and collaborative (Jonassen, Howland, Moore, & Marra, 2003). The TIM associates five levels of technology integration (i.e., entry, adoption, adaptation, infusion, and transformation) with each of the five characteristics of meaningful learning environments. Together, the five levels of technology integration and the five characteristics of meaningful learning environments create a matrix of 25 cells as illustrated below.

Technology Matrix

School community WiFi for Rudd’s ed revolution?



Great - we finally have computers making their way into the hands of Australian students. But what if they don’t have access to the internet that will really equip then as 21C learners when they get home? (I’ve written more about the Meraki solution on my own blog here.)

Kevin Rudd Education RevolutionIn this scenario, I have been thinking about how schools can provide equitable access to students from a wide demographic range to the internet. With Kevin Rudd’s promise that students from years 9-12 will receive a computer of their own it is important that consideration is given to how they will connect to the network that connects them to their 21C world. One powerful solution is to set-up a secure WiFi network across the geographic area that surrounds the school community. While I realise that not all kids go to school’s nearby, a large proportion still do.

Meraki school wi-fi

Let’s say a school with Rudd’s promised 100Mbps connection was to share that connection with student’s within the schools geographic radius this could be a very effective way of providing access and moderating content usage. It is one thing to provide students with these machines but unless we empower them with the ability to use them as network devices we are missing the point.

Birds onlineThis may seem like a pipe dream but there is precedence of a similar projects here in Australia. The Victorian Department of Education has set-up the ‘World’s largest’ Wi-Fi network with a server backbone built their own Linux kernel. With 540,000 students, 42,000 teachers, more than 200,000 computers, and 40,000 notebooks spread across the 1700 sites, DET VIC last year allocated A$6.5 million (US$4.8 million) to implement a wireless network aimed at easing connectivity. I’d be interested to find out if student access to this network extends beyond school hours or are they sending students home with what equates to notepads without a pencil to write on it. Positively, according to this article DET Victoria has experienced a minimum 20 percent saving against cabling and 50 percent due to open source software.

Wireless4AllThis idea of the school providing network access for students beyond school-hours led me in search for a solution. While the USB modems provided by mobile carriers are becoming effective tools for business they are still way to expensive for school use. However, we now have the ability to create secure easily access to WiFi networks via one node on the network by way of relaying that signal. One device and service that impressed me on this search is Meraki. This company has focused on changing the economics of access since its beginning as a MIT Ph.D. research project that provided wireless access to graduate students. One can take the tour on how Meraki works here. While many, large scale WiFi projects have been plagued by poor and unreliable coverage, Meraki seems to be different - even if it is using 801.2b/g and not the new ‘n’ standard.

Some of their city networks include the City of San Francisco and City of Prestonsburg. Meraki has over 5,000 networks today. The Victorian DET has

Meraki comes with a suite of monitoring tools such as shown in the graphic below that would be valuable for school administrators.


I like their choice of name too:

Meraki (may-rah-kee) is a Greek word that means doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing.

In some sectors the knee-jerk reaction to this suggestion will be to disregard this as a way of schools being able to exert influence in the family home. On the other hand others may thinks this is great if the students access only the content in the walled gardens that surround school content. But 21C kids need access to their own personal learning environment (PLE) which is the internet. While we teachers would have ridden miles to get to the local library. These kids will travel metres to the nearest open wireless network. We need to remember how fast the nature of access is changing and to approach the opportunities with a educative view rather than a legislative one - an organic one in fact. Real nature is not green. It is out of control. Our technological world has become so intricate and uncontrollable that it has become a nature of its own.

I could go on but this would be another post on open-source and why it is the backbone of the flat-world we now live in. So, I leave this thought process here for the moment and value some input from others to see if this is a viable possibility.

Futurelab - innovative technology & practice



I love the graphic design and UI that the UK’s Futurelab uses together with their way of visually displaying the metadata underlying their content and contributors. But aside from this aesthetic appeal the beauty isn’t just skin-deep. The educators beghind Futurelab are obviously passionate about transforming the way people learn. Tapping into the huge potential offered by digital and other technologies, they develop innovative resources and practices that support new approaches to learning for the 21st century.
Like Australia’s on edna in some ways Futurelab look for ideas that can be modelled, but also future-focused ideas that might not necessarily contain present-day technologies. Two of my favourite projects they are incubating are Exploratree and Newtoon.

Exploratree OverviewExploratree is a free web resource for teachers and students to download, use and make their own interactive thinking guides. Think concept mapping and brainstorming tools but on web2.0 steroids. Thinking guides can support independent and group research projects with frameworks for thinking, planning and enquiry. It provides a series of ready-made interactive ‘thinking guides’ or ‘frameworks’ which can support students’ projects and research. Thinking guides support the thinking or working through of an issue, topic or question and help to shape, define and focus an idea and also support the planning required to investigate it further.20080217-Rypnye51D1Yma1Umypbke8Hdms

20080217-1Yg4643Jpwtyfxiq1D48J3EqewNewtoon is a mobile phone and web activity which aims to embed physics learning in mobile gaming. It enables young people to author, play, edit and share fast-paced microgames for their mobile phones, where game rules are based on a set of Newtonian physics principles. Developing the Newtoon experience started with idea development, literature reviews and teacher consultation, followed by regular concept trials and development with teachers and students. Key findings are available here.

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Recent Comments
  • Melanie: Thank you Kim! I will definitely check out this link and see the developments for higher education on the SLED.
  • Kim Flintoff: We have been using Second Life in a range of situations. Built a Wound Care Clinic with Curtin University for training nurses about wound care and the relationship between hand-washing and infection in a...
  • Melanie: Hello Paul, I am wondering, have continued to utilize SecondLife? Do you find that it has better user-friendly features? Do you find that your courses are easier to teach in this format? Is the VLC classroom a...
  • Melanie: We may agree to disagree on the instant gratification society term, however when you look at new social network devices that are connected to mobile devices – there is an urgency that is attached to those...
  • Kim Flintoff: "instant gratification society" - I'm not sure I'm part of that society. Educational institutions do not make decisions - people do. Which people in educational institutions will cling dearly to email? Email...
  • Melanie: I agree that email is outdated in most settings. However, many educational institutions will cling dearly to email due to the aspect of "waiting before sending." Email is still a resource and an appropriate tool...
  • Maryjane: This is incredible and we need to spread it to school districts. It was posted two years ago and I've not seen new policies or classroom innovations happen since then. People are afraid of what the kids might do....
  • Suzanne: I cannot help but think that this trend, while reflecting archetypal youth rejection of all things "adult," is also related to the digital immigrant/digital native thing. The young are very flexible, very willing...
  • Maryjane: This made me laugh outloud. School districts are still discussing whether they'll give access to students for email; do all their business by email instead of walking next door and talking to someone; and wonder...
  • Nick Smith: This video was exactly what I needed/wanted to hear. As a student working towards being a teacher, I find it great to not only revolutionize teaching, but to re-invent it all together. One woman mentioned...
  • Scott Merrick: Hey there, feel free to unpublish this comment--it's more or less for your own info: This is to let you know that Digital Chalkie has been nominated for Blog-o-the-Month at the Blogger's Hut on Second Life...
  • Laura Seabrook: I have one other question, which I can't find answer to on the Murku wiki (no doubt the answer is right there and I keep missing it) - where/how does one get it?
  • Laura Seabrook: Murku looks really interesting (and I shall definitely try it), though the examples could do with some improvement, as per my comments above. Positioning can be important - see the Blambot article at...
  • Kim Flintoff: Murku is designed to facilitate the construction of comics based on content in a Second Life TM, ie SL, environment. Murku will be of interest to those who have always dreamt of creating their own comics but...
  • Laura Seabrook: Actually there was a typo in my previous comment. I meant to write wouldn't be, not would as far as being the first to do an SL comic. I discovered Plywood shortly after starting my own, which can be found...
  • Kim Flintoff: Hi Laura, The example in the article wasn't intended to be a highly refined product - it literally took me 60 seconds to create with some random images grabbed from my hard drive. The points you make about...
  • Laura Seabrook: I started doing Second Life comics late in 2007 ( though I didn't use Comic Life - rather I drew bits, used screenshots and put it together using PaintShopPro and Fireworks (for speech balloons etc). I knew...
  • michael chalk: Great stuff Paul .. lots of good points here. You are right about the ABC - they're really leading the charge into the new era of digital participation aren't they! My favourite thing they do is the way they...
  • Ken Allan: Kia ora Kim! I don't think it is anything to do with HOW we communicate. It is more to do with how kids see email. It is simply to do with the age-old feature of youngsters avoiding ANYTHING that is associated...
  • Aaron Fisher: This is very cool! It is amazing how those principles from long ago are relevant today, just in different forms. Students do learn better by doing, no matter the subject. We teachers need to do a better job...
  • Julie Carney: Thanks for this post, and for posters like Paul who have linked and commented on resources for educators to use. As is the case with most things, it seems the right combination of educator/program/developer...
  • Debbie: I, too am upset that this website has been taken off-line. My special education students loved it, and I knew I could always find an activity geared their levels and abilities. I hope that it will soon be running...
  • Andrew Westerman: Each LO costs $20 000. So, if 20 students use that learning object for 0.1 of an hour (6 minutes), that's 2 student / hours @ $10 000 per hour. If 2000 students use that LO for 0.2 of an hour (12...
  • Cathy Nash: Learning Objects are one of the tools in a good teacher's toolbox. It is simplistic to lay them aside as past it. A poor teacher can make a pencil look dull and a great teacher may just achieve great things...
  • Suzanne: I am so upset that this site has been removed, however I fully understand why. My Year One children and my pre-primary children loved using the site and it catered for all ability levels in my class. i do hope...
  • Julie: I am sorry that Rainbow Maths has been forced off the web. My daughter loved it so it is missed. Any idea when Jenny may put it back on the web with added security measures to prevent it being copied etc?
  • Jen Zupp: I totally agree with Jenny's reason to take it off. I have spent thousands of hours keeping my website up which is pretty much a directory of quality websites I find online. If I had created a masterpiece like...
  • Kristy Dickson: I agree with Paul, $20 000, $80 000, or whatever they cost, kids are losing interest. I think they have their place for a bit of drill and practice occasionally, but I wouldn't pay for them. Motivation and...
  • Ingrid: I'm distraught that rain forest maths is not available. My 3/4 kids loved it. My kids loved it and it is so easy to cater for their abilities with the different levels. Anyone know if there's a chance it will be up...
  • Azam Ali: my kids love this site, they come on rainforest to learn. Anyone trying to stop kids education is playing with our future. Shame on people who are greedy for money and dont care for the future.
  • Bryn Jones: Channel 4 in the UK has £50million to develop new media content. Ewan McIntosh has some role in it as Digital Commissioner for Scotland. Jobs open now!
  • Thomas Goodwin: Paul Reid has pointed educators in the right direction (create and collaborate) however he started from an incorrect premise; The Learning Federation's Digital Resources are completely different from the...
  • Patricia Corby: Phew, what a terrific wealth of useful info here! Thanks Paul. In reference to this comment "They need to move from static to dynamic in form" as an overall comment it is relevant but being fair some are...
  • Paul Reid: If everyone's Math is correct the Teaching & Learning Federation pays $20k for jpeg pictures Learning Objects! eg these ones shown here http://www.thelearningfederati
  • Janice Millard: its not fair that my class can't go on rain forest maths because of other people copying we were going to do a test on it but it was closed down my class was very upset not very happy!