LER & Uses of technology using action research – Week 1

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I started my third MOOC course “Researching learners’ experiences and uses of technology using action research” on EMMA.

This is an interesting topic, which I expect to refresh my knowledge of action research and learn the latest research in this area. Hopefully I will take this opportunity to review a learner experience investigation design I undertook two years ago.

Working in the area of supporting VLE and learning technologies, it’s important for us to know what users’ experience is, especially to know:

  • What’s their views about using technologies in learning activities?
  • What are the benefits and barriers for them when using technologies in teaching and learning?
  • What are their expectation for learning technologies support?

Here the “user” include both staff and students who are using the learning technology. By knowing users’ experience, we will be able to understand users’ needs better, improve our support, and have evidences to help make decisions when we recommend changes. And the fundamental point is if we don’t try to understand our users, what do we have learning technologies for?

I’m glad to read some good resources of learning experience research this week.

  • JISC Digital Student project to explore students’ expectations and experiences with digital technology. Looking forward to seeing more findings.
  • JISC Learner voices in further education videos show that technologies have been used a lot in students’ study. I think it’s necessary that there are investment for students who don’t have fast devices to be able to use technologies easily. Meanwhile, staff and students who are not familiar with the technologies need to have training and well supporting.
  • LSE 2020 Vision – Students on the future of learning found that “A strong belief that technology could overcome the problems of a one to many educational paradigm and help to personalise their learning (students expected this technology to be innovative, seamless and easy to use)…”  Looking forward to reading their Stage 2 report at the end of Summer term.
  • Sharpe, R. and Benfield, G. (2005). The Student Experience of E-learning in Higher Education: A Review of the Literature. Brookes eJournal of Learning and Teaching, 1 (3).
  • Sharpe, R. and Benfield, G. (2014). Reflections on ‘The student experience of e-learning in higher education: a review of the literature’. Brookes eJournal of Learning and Teaching, 6 (1). This review shows the research changes of e-learning in HE, from ‘teacher-centred’ to ‘student-centred’, from “effective learner” to “digital literacy”, from “e-assessment” to “students as assessment partners”. I wonder how the research has impacted the teaching and learning practice?

One inconvenient thing is that this course hasn’t made all learning materials of following weeks available, which is different from my other two MOOC courses that learners can decide their pace.

Digital accessibility course – week 4

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This week is about making web content accessible.

Although I am familiar with HTML in my work, I have to check my knowledge again by reviewing the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG2.0) and the Web Accessibility Tutorials. I am glad to read the difference between WCAG1.0 and WCAG2.0 too. I realised that I still make mistakes when using “alt” to describe image.

The WCAG2.0 provides 12 guidelines and 4 principles for creating accessible web content. As more and more multimedia resources added into our e-learning system, I noticed the guideline 1.2 “Time-based Media: Provide alternatives for time-based media”. It’s very useful and can help us to reduce accessible barriers when creating the online resources.

With WAI-ARIA, developers can make advanced web applications accessible and usable to people with disabilities. Reading the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG), I started to think if Xerte Online Toolkit (1) has made the authoring tool itself accessible, and (2) helps authors produce accessible content.

There are 3 levels of conformance:

  • Level A (lowest): It is the minimum level of conformance, which means the web page satisfies all the Level A Success Criteria, or a conforming alternate version is provided.
  • Level AA: The Web page satisfies all the Level A and Level AA Success Criteria, or a Level AA conforming alternate version is provided.
  • Level AAA (highest): The Web page satisfies all the Level A, Level AA and Level AAA Success Criteria, or a Level AAA conforming alternate version is provided.

The important thing to know is that WCAG2.0 does not cover all accessibility problems, therefore conducting conformance checking of WCAG2.0 does not prove your website support accessibility to everyone.

The best way of testing a website accessibility is to combine the conformance testing and user testing as both ways have pros and cons.

Conformance testing includes two types testing below. However, it does not involve real users, but user testing may be time consuming, expensive and having difficulties to find suitable real users.

  • automatic testing, which is using programming to test. You can use WAVE and AChecker.
  • manual testing, which is experts inspection.

Through an example of improvement of a web site by applying the WCAG 2.0, I see the differences between applying WCAG2.0 and not applying it. It’s a good way to make us think about the online resources that we have developed, and what we can do.

Similar to previous weeks, I learnt some useful resources:

What and How to Teach with Video – Week 1

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The Digital Accessibility course I took on FutureLearn is very useful. It took my spare time but I enjoyed to learn new things that I can bring into practice immediately. I noticed a course “What and how to teach with video” on EMMA, another MOOC platform. I think it will be interesting and useful too as using video is so popular nowadays. Thus I decided to register. Although I was far too late, it’s still good to have the opportunity to learn it.

Firstly, I list some of the comparisons between EMMA and FutureLearn in terms of my experience.

  • Both websites are easy to use.
  • EMMA is beta version, so loading the course pages is slow.
  • EMMA provides blog functionality. However, this blog area is not course-based. It is a public blog opening to all EMMA users.
  • EMMA blog does not have spelling check feature.
  • EMMA blog – Add New Post – New Post Content – does not support Font and Colours settings.
  • EMMA comments do not support paragraph spacing, so make comments hard to read.
  • EMMA does not have ‘like’ feature option for comments, and can’t reply to a reply.
  • Both websites provide Progress for me to check. EMMA provides more details in one picture so I can see which one I have done, which one I haven’t easily.

The course has a clear structure and it uses videos in an excellent way because it’s topic is Teaching with Video.

The first week is about what to teach with video, leading to robust learning outcomes. It’s presented as four domains: Cognitive, Experiential, Affective, Skills and 33 Potent pedagogic roles. I watch videos every day and make videos occasionally, but never really summarised what I use video for. Taking this chance I will learn it systematically from Jack Koumi.

I really like that it has been separated between techniques (you facilitate learning by using video and you use video to provide realistic experiences) and teaching functions (what you try to teach by using video). At the beginning I was a bit confused between some of roles and a video example could play multiple roles. However, after using the guideline to check some of the videos I watched on Youtube, the 33 potent pedagogic roles do make sense.

Also I quite like the handout for each lesson, and the video in each unit was broken down by explanation and examples. As I registered late, reading other people’s comments are interesting. However, there are other languages in it, which is difficult for me to understand. I don’t know if EMMA can provide automatic translation for these non-English languages.

Digital accessibility course – week 3

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If I say the Internet has allowed me to connect people all over the world, then I’d say mobile devices have allowed me to keep the connections any place any time (I know this is ideal). I really like this week’s learning as mobile phone has become an essential tool in my life. I learnt how mobile technologies have helped impaired people’s daily life (like telling the colours and road navigation), and what’s the constraints of the technology. I can’t imagine how inconvenient my life will be without the Internet and mobile phone.

Mobile devices request people to use fingers and eyes a lot when interact with the screen, therefore people who have certain disabilities face many interactive difficulties when using mobile devices. Thus input and output methods matter very much.

I have learnt to consider the accessibility features on mobile devices from four aspects: vision, hearing, physical- and motor-skills, and cognitive. I have learnt Switch Access Scanning technology and speech input built-in technology like OK Google can help people who have mobility and dexterity difficulties to operate touch screen to search information. The screen reader technologies (e.g., TalkBack, Text-to-Speech (TTS) and Magnification gesture built-in options) can help people who are visual impaired to read information on mobile devices easier. Braille input/out technology like Built-in Braille Keyboard on iPhone, Google BrailleBack and Bluetooth braille display can help blind people who are able to read Braille.

I have learnt some very useful apps:

  • VoiceOver is a gesture-based screen reader (iPhone app).
  • I was amazed by these people who have a disability themselves developed very useful mobile apps, for instance ColorVisor is designed for colour detection; WalkersGuide is designed for blind pedestrians to access routes easily.
  • iBeacon-compatible-apps are something I’d like to explore more. I can see it will be very useful for elderly people who are losing memories.

There some useful resources for me to learn the assistive technology:

The other day I came across the Alibaba Warehouse video which shows how technologies (e.g., TTS, recognition labels, robots) have changed the work process. I think when more and more people aware the accessibility issues, mobile technologies will be developed better and better to meet people’s needs.

Digital accessibility course – week 2

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I enjoyed learning new and practical things in week two.

I add two things of the course design which have given me good experience.

  • It provides exercises and quiz in the section which are designed timely and not lengthy.
  • People’s comments provide extra useful resources.

Technology can be very helpful. Human can design and create assistive technology to compensate for limitations relative to mobility and speech. I suppose this is “When God closes a door, He always opens a window.” Having a disability does not exclude people from discovering and pursuing their passions in life. The incredible examples are:

I have started to aware many technologies I never heard of. I listed some below. I thought I would be able to use these technologies easily, but actually it’s complex, especially I had to try them in some way that I don’t usually do. For instance, I tried the NVDA on Windows 10. I closed my eyes, and only used the keyboard to work out what a webpage looks like by listening to what the software tells me. It’s no success I could follow and find the information easily. Listening to the robot voice made me tired and annoyed too. The exercises let me see how technologies/documents/webpages have been designed without thinking of accessibility. Online resource creators (including me) can easily forget the accessibility guidelines.

The most import point of this week is learning how to make document accessible. Here are things I learnt particularly and I have started to apply them in my own document creation from this week.

  • I never noticed that there is an “Insert captions” feature for an image in MS-Word. I often create an caption under the figure/image myself.
  • Between Decorative image, Informative image, and Functional image, I felt I haven’t used the “alt” tag in the functional images properly most of time. The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative tutorial is really helpful.
  • Using”alt” tag for Group of images
  • A mistake – using style (e.g, bold enlarged text) instead of proper headings
  • A mistake – putting blank lines between paragraphs rather than setting the “space before/after” attribute for paragraphs
  • The accessibility guideline provided in the course is very useful for auditing a document for accessibility.

Digital accessibility course – week 1

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I registered the “Digital Accessibility: Enabling Participation in the Information Society” online course, which started on 6th February.

With my previous experience of a software engineer, I knew that the good or bad of an application is largely related to how much the designers/programmers know their users. I took an “Interaction Design” course as a part of my degree many many years ago. I learnt how our own brain illusion can affect our understanding and designs. Although in my work I haven’t been involved in creating/developing products/applications any more, I see many examples of learning content delivered without thoughtful design and users complaining about the difficulty and inconvenience when use a system (including myself!). I hope through this course, I refresh my knowledge; learn this topic systematically, especially considering the disabled/elderly users, which I may not have enough knowledge of; and start to improve my practices.

This is my first MOOC experience. Because it doesn’t have a blog area in the course, I decide to write down my experience here.

First, I noticed the course itself is a good example regarding to digital accessibility. I list some.

  • It clearly presents online communication etiquette and content copyright.
  • It provides transcript for each audio/video clip. The transcript is easy to read and searchable. I can access to it at any time.
  • It provides a glossary (downloadable) which helps us to check the vocabularies used in the course.
  • The comments field supports editing and spelling check, which is very useful to avoid typos.
  • I can check my comments and progress quickly.
  • Video materials are downloadable.
  • Audio materials can be set to play with different speed.

Second, the most mind-opening statements for me are:

  • Professor Mike Wald said “Everybody can think of themselves as only temporarily not having a disability, because at some point in their life as they get older, they will have some sort of disability.
  • “… disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. … An impairment is defined as long-term limitation of a person’s physical, mental or sensory function.” from Scope
  • The term ‘Usability’ is normally used to refer to the actual use of the technology by a particular target group of users and contexts (e.g. including whether they find it easy to learn to use). The term ‘Accessibility’ is normally used to refer to the use of the technology by everyone rather than just a specific group of users (e.g. including whether blind people can also use the technology).”  from section 1.6.
  • Up to one in seven people in Europe may have speech, language and literacy difficulties at some time in their lives.” from section 1.15.
  • As Neil Milliken said that “everyone in an organisation should have some knowledge of the issues that affect one in five of the population”. I think I never even asked myself what is the issue?

Third, the new knowledge that I knew little about:

  • I realised how little knowledge I have about the UK law/legislation. I learnt that “…only Accessibility has actual legislation making it illegal to disadvantage a disabled person through an inaccessible product or service.” In the UK, it’s the Disability Equality Act (2010).
  • Everyone can influence their organisation. However, to be able to do so, it needs a hub and spoke, effectively, and champions. More importantly, it needs an executive sponsor who is higher-up enough to support companions.
  • Subtitles and captions are different. I now know why Blackboard Collaborate product uses the term ‘captions’.
  • Seeing the examples of people who have dyslexia, hearing impairment, deaf, visual impairment, and cerebral palsy, and the discussions about the challenges they face daily, I appreciate what I have. I started to see more of people’s needs and learn the existing technologies that they are using but I haven’t heard of.

Fourth, the course opens many resources to us. I am starting to think how much work I have been involved in has met the Accessibility standard, and how many of our current web resources follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. The new tools/resources that I can immediately use in my practice are:

Finally, I list a few inconvenient points.

  • The learning resource links are not opened in a new window/tab. When click on a link, it opens in the same window, which if you are typing some comments and click on a link accidentally, you will lose the unpublished comments. You need to type again.
  • It does not support ‘searching’ in the course.
  • It suggests that 3 hours/week studying time are needed. In fact, I have spent much more time on learning course materials, reading people’s comments, posting comments, and digesting what I learned in this week. Is it because I haven’t been a student for too long? I guess if the learner has already had the background knowledge, they can learn much quicker than I did, but still 3 hours/week seems impossible.

The Learning Technologist role (2)

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The year of 2016 ends soon. I didn’t write a post here until now. Giving a brief summary, it’s a year of half of the time spending on family responsibilities and half of the time being busy for making progress in an inefficient process (I don’t like this part, but sometimes I have to accept the fact).

At the end of the two years working on the “enablement officer” secondment role, I see the role of “learning technologist” clearer. Linking back to my previous post, I think it’s necessary to write down my experience and lessons as a learning technologist (if I dare to call myself so).

What it is and what it is not

Basically to me, there are many of us who work in this area have similar background. I use a diagram to indicate it. However, this doesn’t say people who are originally from different backgrounds do not have the capability to do an excellent job in the area. This diagram is a simple example which shows how our own biases can be in the area.


In the diagram A and B stand for people who work in the IT and the Education. C stands for people who work in Learning Technology area.

A: knowledge originally was from IT background (I mean people understand how/why a system was designed, implemented and developed in certain way). This is gained either from education or from long work experience in the area of IT. Considering a context such as higher education, people in the area need to gain the knowledge of education and pedagogy to be able to understand if a technology helps teaching and learning. Gradually the C area appears.

B: knowledge originally was gained from studying the Education subject or from adequate experience of teaching/researching. It is not easy for people working in education to avoid technology or say “digital”. Some of them start to learn IT or understand how technology works. They see the benefits and the limits that technology brings into education. They are the ones who put spurs to the C area.

C: People who work in this area have the adequate knowledge/experience in both A and B, and I think more and more people are going to work in C area. Trying to separate the IT capabilities and pedagogy support from the learning technologist’s work will make their work even harder.

I like what Matt Cornock said in his blog post “Learning Technologist – Oldest job around?“.

… learning technologists are seen as problem solvers working to understand and improve pedagogy, rather than problem makers who would otherwise try to force technology where it doesn’t fit.”

In higher education, there is a need that staff become more technologically adaptive and confident, but it doesn’t mean technology is the key. I agree that the core of the learning technologist role is not about the technology itself, rather is more about helping to resolve the pedagogic problems that the teaching/learning is facing. Understanding the user experience and help users to adapt and explore the benefits and constrains of using technology is the key.

My understanding of the required skills of a learning technologist role does not change much. According to the particular task we work on, some skills are required more than others. I list the knowledge/skill that I found is essential:

  • pedagogies in higher education (I need to improve myself a lot. This is related to my knowledge of the UK Education and policies.)
  • website, webpage, and HTML(5)
  • the ability to identify if a problem is a technical bug/defect
  • effective communication (I need to improve myself a lot. This is related to my knowledge of the UK culture to a good extent.)
  • both online and face-to-face presentation (I need to improve myself on podcasting. This is because I am not very confident as a ESL person. However strangely I feel fine with face-to-face presentation.)
  • coordinating webinars/virtual classrooms (I need to improve myself a lot.)
  • learn/share good practice and/or lessons from/to peers (Being visible and connected is the way!)

The work wasn’t easy and is still challenging. Below are the areas that I feel difficult in my work over the past two years.

An easy-reach contact/sharing structure 

I like to encourage self-directed experiential learning. My assumption was that nowadays it’s not easy to avoid using technology (e.g., pay bills online, online shopping, video chat smart phone, attending webinars, etc.). People use technology and learn how to use technology unconsciously. With the assumption, my “advocate” approach didn’t work as good as I expected. I thought with telling users where the resources are, they will learn themselves. Actually I realised that I need to work alongside with them. I work in a central division rather than in a school/department, one of the barriers is that there are often too many service/management tiers between us and the actual users. The communication process is lengthy and tardy. Another barrier is that learning technologists were not involved in working with academic/professional services staff at the beginning to avoid many problems regarding to making decisions. This is often impossible.

What I learnt is that learning technologists are the people whom the academic/professional services staff need to contact directly at first when they are starting to think about adopting technology in practice. Learning technologists help them to identify their pedagogic problems, choose tools, learn the tools quickly and prepare/deliver activities. Learning technologists share the user cases with other users, evaluate the technology adoption, and feed the experience/lessons back to the technology providers and user community.

Various methods are essential

Following the point above, another barrier is that users are at different levels in terms of essential digital skills/knowledge, so does the learning technologists have different level of expertise in terms of learning technology support. For example, from my experience of delivering support resources, it showed that working on a single approach to encouraging self-directed experience learning is inefficient. I may have created information-rich resources and made them available for users, however without going through the resources with users, some may say they don’t have time to read, some may say they don’t understand, and some may say they can’t find the specific information. Relating to where the resources were, who created them and who updated them, I realised that we need to provide various types of key resources and deliver them to users by different channels. For example, delivering a user guide in a way that users can learn easily may need us to provide a step-by-step one page printable guide, a 3 minutes audio/video clip to explain the guide, a diagram that shows the relationship between this guide and relevant resources, regular webinar training sessions, and follow-up user experience Q&As and feedback. It requires a lot of work from learning technologists as sometimes many of them are different formats, but similar content; sometimes it needs creativity, and sometimes it’s about project management.

Teams and organisational knowledge

By my own experience, I got the impression that individual learning technologist rather than a team is seen as key resource by institutions, and they have been managed like they can do any other learning technologists’ work at a same quality level, or say, hold the same set of knowledge/skills. In many cases, core values of teams are unseen and not identified, and team knowledge is not addressed. Many learning technologists work on their own without supporting/understanding from the institutional level. What kind of knowledge is shared and how knowledge is shared are determined by the individuals. Meanwhile, likely we only bring users a short-term satisfaction because the technologies are delivered before a responsible robust team is ready. Here what I mean a “team” is that people feel they belong to and work for a team goal rather than a team in an operational framework.

Community of practice is a way that tries to bridge the gap, however learning technologists team building and organisational knowledge management are weak.

Leadership skills

I noticed that it requires good leadership skills in the learning technologist role. One of the important aspects of the role is that learning technologists provide recommendations and work with users toward the most workable solution. They need be creative due to the tight budget. In addition, their work impacts on user’s views, user’s experience, and the proliferation of a technology. They even need to shove people’s (particularly the senior managers, senior academic staff, and “conventional” users) perceptions of IT and learning technologies. There are few opportunities for learning technologists to develop leadership skills. I like this simple video that explains what is leadership; it’s different from management!

At the time I wrote this post, my colleague Dewi Parry sent us a blog post “A Learning Technologists Dilemma” written by @KerryPinny. It’s a helpful post that encourages me to think about what I can do next.

Understanding the situation more

I read a book “Scarcity: Why too little means so much” recently. Although the empirical research was from economists’ focus on the problem of scarcity, that is, on how people allocate their resources in the face of many competing demands, I recommend this book to everyone. I found that I was in the situations too many times like the cases discussed in the book. I was thinking it’s about self-control, people’s ability to learn or a part of the individual’s natural characters. However, this book sheds light on human cognitive tunnel, which explains the limits what we are able to see, and therefore what we do. It may help us to understand the situation we are in.

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