Answers for 2012

Every year I try to do a Questions for the year – themes that I think will be interesting to explore and think about. At the end of the year, I go back and see how wrong I was.

For 2012, the Questions are here.

For those questions here’s some answers:

1. Pearson LMS? No big deal. I think the Blackboard free LMS is more important in the LMS space, but Pearson may be doing some things, but nothing big or earth shattering. Of course, a lot of faculty I work with don’t use Pearson texts.

2. Web mining useful? Ultimately yes, but increasingly difficult to do. With Twitter becoming more walled off, Instagram way more walled off and Facebook increasingly walled off, it’s much more difficult to use something like Ifttt to get something cool to mashup. It’ll be interesting to see how open data sources survive, and whether APIs will wither. I’d like to see more open data – I think it’s where we’ll see growth and interesting possibilities emerge. From an economics standpoint, these sorts of niche areas will be tremendous economic generation in the future.

3. MITx? In and of itself is not that big, but EdX, Udacity, Coursera and the others are making MOOCamania running wild on you. Credentials is still a big thing, but I suspect that’s the gateway and where these startups will make their money – partnering with a school who will rubber stamp their findings – or partially rubber stamping credit.

4. Android tablets in Education? Big fart of air. iPads still rule. Android will suffer for the hundred of crappy tablets and lag of killer apps on the platform. For phones, it’s fine; for tablets, not so great.

5. Learning Technologists? Still play their/our marginal role.

Questions for 2012

1. Does the Pearson LMS gain traction with anyone seeing as Desire2Learn and Blackboard have both integrated with Google Apps for Education? It’s interesting for me because the University I work at now is looking at replacing their internal e-mail system with Gmail for students to start off with, but will later expand that to everyone. They’ve also made an announcement that Google Apps for Education are coming, which I think is a huge deal, but everyone else seems to not be talking about too much.

2. Will web mining for information be a growth concept in 2012? I’ve seen Pattern, a python based toolset to access information, as well as sites developed like Ifttt which makes programming logic available to the masses in an easy to understand format (almost like Yahoo Pipes). There’s a lot of hope for Ifttt, at least from my perspective, it does take a bit to manipulate to get it to work.

3. Does MITx make an impact? I suspect it will, it could change the whole model of distance education and if it’s MIT that’s assessing and stamping approval, that’s a huge thing. However, does it mean that the credibility of MIT as a credential granting source takes a hit (ie. does more people with MIT education mean that it is worth less in the long term?) or are we looking at a real paradigm shift, where the credential means less and the knowledge exemplified means more?

4. Android tablets are cheap, but are they any match for the quality (and sheer amount of apps available for media creation) of an iPad in education? I know there’s no evidence to suggest that iPads help learning (starts halfway down that page), however it does allow a form factor that beats a laptop as a mobile learning device – as we could consider any Internet enabled device a learning device – it’s up to that pesky user to actually do something with it rather than play Angry Birds or Super Stickman Golf. By the way, Android tablets also have Angry Birds. And Super Stickman Golf – so consider your productivity screwed on either device.

5. Will Learning Technologists become even more important a bridge for faculty and technology? I provide support for the LMS at the institution but I also can help design learning, use different strategies and suggest ways to embed learning deeper by using different tools in and outside the LMS. I’m a big fan of wikis providing they are used in a way that support and demonstrate the learning. I think there’s two ways institutions can go – one tell faculty to just worry about teaching and research, and let the technical side be developed by a techie. The other is to demand the faculty learn the technology, and use it to be supported by a techie. Either way, the technologist is there to support. I think the successful institutions will have technologists that can be given room to explore where the technology is going without being too far ahead of the faculty needs. That sweet spot is hard to find, and lots of institutions will fail at it.

Answers for 2011

Well, I guess a year’s time is as good as any to have some answers – even if the answer may very well be no answer. For the original post see: Questions for 2011. Yes, there will also be a Questions for 2012.

1. What makes anyone think that the video games push (mostly by the iOS platform devices, but Xbox, Playstation and Wii) has anything to do with formal education? 

Well, I don’t know if gamification gained any traction, but things like achievements in video games have lent themselves to things like badges. I suspect that my original assertion that it will be marginalized, will remain until someone can quantify and measure the whole process, much like they’ve tried to do with standardized testing.

2. Why haven’t educational institutions really pushed for a mobile learning environment? 

I think there’s been some motion here – certainly the open courses are structured so that they are mobile friendly, and the big two LMS vendors (Desire2Learn and Blackboard) are both becoming more mobile friendly, I suspect the resistance comes from the institution’s inability to control and verify that a potentially mobile student may not be that student, and the only way to assess a person is still in-person. I don’t think it matters anymore, in work most people will use the Internet to research a possible solution to whatever problem they face, so knowing something isn’t as crucial as it once was. Knowing something however does allow you to find a solution sooner – making you a more efficient worker – which is what capitalism wants.

3. Will the consolidation of the web conferencing tools that education typically use (Wimba and Elluminate) mean that new companies with new models will arise? 

Well, they haven’t arisen yet, but there’s a plethora of tools out there to replace Blackboard Collaborate or whatever it’s called this week. However, no one has put together the killer app – which I hope is the form the web conferencing takes – mobile native, low bandwidth friendly, and most of all, accessible.

4. Wither edupunk? 

Yup. edu-post-punk should be interesting.

5. What will Pearson as a publishing giant and accredited University mean? 

Turns out, not much. Unless you consider an extremely walled off garden of textbooks in a proprietary LMS with Google Doc integration something.

Mobile Operating Systems and Mobile Browsers

Over at O’Reilly Radar, they published an overview of the mobile operating systems, and I pulled a couple of interesting things from it. Last year, the iPhone had only 15% of the mobile market, primarily on one device. To me that’s huge numbers for one device… which speaks to the cult-like fervor of the iPhone and apps themselves. Certainly Android based phones will give the iPhone a run for their money, but I suspect that it will be #2, unless Apple pulls a Facebook and does a stupid privacy policy change. The bolded statement that “there will be more fragmentation within the operating system scene” is not surprising. With a myriad of devices, all from different manufacturers, we’re going to see that for a while. Not until we start seeing some convergence from manufacturers, will we see some convergence with things like operating systems or browsers.

Speaking of which, the second half of the article talks about the implementation of mobile browsers, and how ready they are for HTML 5. The quick answer is, they are ready for it, except Internet Explorer. With that said, most of the mobile web (upwards of 85%) use a browser based on WebKit. Of course, there’s a lot of different flavors of WebKit, which is almost more problematic than having many different browser bases.

State of Web Development (and Learning Online)

So the State of Web Development 2010 is out and a few results are surprising. The one result for the sector one works in was interesting: in 2008 10% of responses indicated they were involved in education, while 7.7% for the 2010 results. Are there less web designing/development going on? Or have those previously been involved in web design now moved over to e-learning?

The Google Chrome browser use has grown over 15% over the year. When developers and designers start using a browser, this usually means the results will filter down to end users. Maybe this is the vanguard of browser change?

Only a third of designers/developers optimize for mobile devices. I interpret that as mobile devices are not a priority to develop for because either they aren’t seen as “mission critical” or that Mobile Safari or Mobile Opera browsers do a good enough job of interpreting website for the mobile platform.

The interesting thing is the early adoption of HTML 5 and CSS3 – which works surprisingly well out of the box on modern browsers. What’s disappointing about this series of results is how far behind LMS developers are from the useful tools in HTML5 (hello, canvas element!) and the usability of CSS3 (it’d be wonderful if we could write a CSS template to apply to learning space areas). I guess it comes down to the closed box system – if you’re paying for a closed box you shouldn’t be surprised when they close the lid too. I think the first LMS that jumps on the HTML 5 bandwagon will be a big winner – the canvas element alone will allow for easier ways to be creative and new ways to work on the web. Canvas Demos is a site that’s showcasing different uses of the canvas element – a lot of games are being drawn on the canvas it seems – but I’m sure you can see the ways that you could use this as a new method of getting input. Or perhaps, eliminating expensive web conferencing tools and brewing something a little more open source. Can you say interactive whiteboard?

User Experience (UX) and LMS Systems

I was actually searching for something else, but found this Prezi presentation about User Experience and LMSs in a mobile environment. While the presentation suffers from what a lot of Prezi presentations suffer from, a motion sickness induced ala Blair Witch Project, and I’m still wondering what the hell Banksy has anything to do with it, the presentation is a good one content-wise. I’m left with one of the few things about PowerPoint that I do like, annotation in the notes panel.

Either way, the presentation brings up a couple of ideas that maybe one might take into consideration when designing spaces for mobile learning. While North America as a whole, and Canada in particular is lagging far behind other countries in cellphone use and 3G networking, LMSs seem to be even slower to ensure that their spaces are mobile friendly. Desire2Learn does a good job of this, and browsing our D2L based site through my mobile browser generally works pretty well. I can’t say the same for WebCT or Blackboard CE. I don’t know how much work I’d want  to do in a mobile platform, but a quick check of some areas and I’m happy enough. Which is where the presentation falls a bit short – it seems that it expects users to act as if they are in front of a laptop or desktop computer… which to state the obvious they aren’t. I certainly suspect that while they’ll have similar habits, their experience being different will dictate that they act differently in a mobile platform. I think this is an area that needs further investigation, but I’m glad some people are at least looking into the idea.

Repeatedly the presentation suggests that scrolling is bad. One of web designs enduring myths is that of the page fold, where people won’t scroll down or past the bottom barrier of the page. There’s a couple of articles that debunk this idea, coming down to the idea that you must have compelling content to get users to scroll. By default, even sometimes despite the content that is presented, e-learning sites have content that has a built in scroll factor for users. They may not read it, or learn from it, but they will scroll.

Aesthetics and Self Defined Identity

I wonder if there’s a benefit to allowing the end user, the learner  in educators cases, control of how online spaces function and look. How we design places, how we as educators/teachers/instructors design places is a egotistical idea, imposing a will of how things will be viewed and the order of viewing, that’s unlike anywhere else on the web. I can choose to go to Google in the middle of writing this article, no one says I have to finish writing this blog post before I can move on to looking at LOLcats. In the same sense why are we ordering students to complete tasks in an order that may not work for them? Maybe someone wants to engage in discussion before attempting the readings…

Similarly, who’s to say that my idea of what pleasant aesthetics are? Certainly they might appeal to a European or North American aesthetic set, but maybe my use of white, black and greys are not appealing to an African or Asian aesthetic? Wouldn’t it be nice to have educators select a default stylesheet, for those students who don’t have a preference, and allow the end user to choose how their localized content looks. I mean that was the hope with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and XML, where CSS would describe to the browser how it would look and XML would describe the data being transmitted. Instead of creating courses with content, generate a mass of XML that would be styled by the learner. Then you of course avoid all those nasty problems with mobile platforms, e-readers, etc.

Learner. A word that exemplifies the role, but seems so clumsy… I’ll have to look for a better one – don’t know if one exists though. Neither here nor there…

In this situation where the end user/learner styles the content, what happens to the identity of the instructor? Part of the deal with aesthetic judgments one makes about e-learning spaces is that it informs the student about the instructor. What happens to this implicit “understanding” (or misunderstanding)? The way we organize a page informs the reader of the page about the designer. Traditionalist? Times New Roman font, twelve point, one inch margins… Amateur? Comic Sans, larger, clip art that isn’t really relevant… Modern? Helvetica, ten point, maybe two columns, with images? Is it important to have this information as a learner at a distance? Is anyone thinking about this stuff?