Friday, 28 November 2008

The future of the VLE - The VSE?

I've been dipping in and out of the JISC Emerge online conference as best I can over the last two days. It's great to be involved in these debates with a bunch of people that really know what they are on about.

Today's session was about the future of the Virtual Learning Environment. As the leader of a course that has 'opted out' of the institutional VLE, and built something that serves the needs of our students a lot better, I was heartened to hear other voices questioning the supremacy of the VLE. There were a couple of things that set me thinking. The big one was the connectivist thing about future educational institutions primarily serving the purpose of accreditation. This was echoed by talk of the importance of identity management and interoperability, when a range of technical services are combined by students to enhance learning. Other thoughts I had, but didn't necessarily voice, were around the importance of different sized groupings of learners. My biggest problem with our VLE is the wall that is put around each module. This denies other, in my opinion, more powerful groupings of learners. The one day project with 20 students that are, on that day, interested in learning about solving an advertising brief. The 3 year long grouping of a cohort. The 3 years worth of students on a programme. The trans-institutional and non-institutionalised groups of learners. There are many ways in which we can encourage and permit different sized learning communities, with different membership, but the VLE seems only to permit and encourage one that is based on the module.

Other thoughts: Do we have an ePortfolio tool? I keep calling our Flickr-like VLE alternative an ePortfolio tool, but it's clear that we have something that is quite different to other eportfolios. One term that was mentioned was the VRE - the Virtual Research Environment. Maybe it's that. I always think of it as being like the traditional art school studio learning environment - a space that students and staff occupy, where work is produced and stuck onto the walls, and it is discussed and reflected on. So I might invent a new thing to call our tool - the Virtual Studio Environment, or VSE. It sounds a bit more like an evolution of a VLE, and less confrontational. It also links perfectly with our Open Habitat research, as we are essentially applying the same principal there, but in 3D.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Lessons ignored

I've just run a Second Life induction session for Library staff. I originally intended to do the established 'OpenSim standalone first' plan of action, but as I only had an hour with them, I decided to jump straight into the Second Life sign up, so that I could show off LeedsMet's islands.

All was going well, until the second person in the room got through the registration process. And it all came flooding back to me.

'Registration Denied!'

The old 'multiple sign-up from the same IP address' thing reared its ugly head, and I remembered why we worked out a different way of tackling Second Life induction. Anyway, it was too late to start fiddling about with Terminal to get OpenSim up and running, so I did a big screen fly through of the islands, and went onto Lecture auto-pilot.

Note to self: Follow the recommendations of your own research project in future, idiot.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

World for sale

I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Despite rebelling against this in my teens and going to University (I like to think of myself as the white sheep of the family), I occasionally feel an uncontrollable entrepreneurial urge welling up inside me. However, having witnessed the hard work involved in turning a good idea into a profit, I usually see sense and divert my creative energies towards my day job.

There is one idea I had a while ago that just won't go away, so I thought I'd spill it out here.
Here's the pitch:


Imagine that the whole world is for sale.

Every square metre of land on earth is up for grabs, and anyone can buy it.

A 16 metre square plot cost only 1 cent.

You can put anything you like on your land. Each 4 metre x 4 metre plot supports a 64 pixel x 64 pixel image. 10 cents should buy you a decent sized picture.

You'll probably want to buy up the land your house is on first. You could put a picture of yourself on it, or maybe your email address.

It might be a good idea to buy up the land that your company's headquarters occupy before someone else does. Maybe buy up your competitors headquarters and put your logo there, just to wind them up a bit.

Strapped for cash? No problem. We'll give you an interest free loan to buy your land. You can pay us back if you sell it on to someone else.

You could buy up some famous places. Like Piccadilly Circus, or The White-house, or Old Trafford. Someone will want them for sure. They'd definitely pay more than a few cents to put their stuff on those popular spots. Well, it's up to you to set a price. It's your land. All of the profit is yours to keep.


Anyway, you get the idea. It's basically 'the million dollar web-page' meets 'Google maps' meets 'buying and selling land in Second Life'.

It's a sure fire winner, I'm sure of it. All I need to do is rework Google maps via the API, install a decent e-commerce system, get some scalable image-server capacity and do a bit of viral marketing.

Fuelled by easy credit, the global virtual real estate free market economy will explode like an electronic antidote to real world recession.

Right, back to the day job.

Friday, 7 November 2008

The future of online HE

I should be posting about the pilot, but that bit of my brain has blown a fuse after today's 4 hour solid crit with the students. Instead, I've found a link from the JISC online conference discussions to a speech by John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, at the UUK Annual Conference
 in September. This quote caught my eye:

So a key question for universities in Britain is this: How can we be one of the leading - if not the leading - centres of online higher education learning in the world. I am convinced if we want to achieve this aim, it cannot be achieved by a rush to dump more course material onto the internet than other higher education systems.

Our aim should be to be the best by showing that online learning can offer those features of higher education which make our university world class today: Our challenge is to support students in developing their skills of evaluation, critical analysis and reflection, synthesis, problem-solving, creativity and thinking across discipline boundaries, as well as giving them any extra skills they needed to make their use of IT fully effective.

Denham, J. (2008) UUK Annual Conference Cambridge. Keynote. [Internet] September 11. Available from [Accessed 7th Nov 2008]

So, don't dump course material onto the internet. Develop skills of evaluation, critical analysis and reflection, synthesis, problem-solving, creativity and thinking. Cross discipline boundaries. Give extra skills needed to make best use of technology.

How well has Open Habitat fulfilled these aims?
Are virtual worlds a key component in the future of online HE?
What is the role of the art and design approach in all of this?

Monday, 3 November 2008

Week 3

Ah, it's been a long time since day 2. The reality of learning in virtual world is that tutors keep getting dragged kicking and screaming back to the real world. Lots has happened in-world though. Check out my Flickr stream for some pics of activities. More to follow soon.