Monthly Archives: February 2008

The Google VLE

Yet to address myself to the defense of the VLE I hope to do… but today Google relaunched JotSpot as Google Sites – and it is now in effect a Google web content-management system (CMS) for building your own branded corporate or group intranet and internet sites. It includes many of the typical features of a virtual learning environment too… so does this mean that a VLE can be a Web 2.0 application? Does this mean we can calm down a little on Web 2.0 vs. VLE debate – or will it be another application people will cite as signaling the end of the university VLE?

Note on terms: CMS can also mean ‘Course Management System’ which is the same thing really as a LMS (Learning Management System) or VLE (Virtual Learning Environment).

Edit: I should also give credit to TidalBlog which alerted me to the re-launch a few hours before I got the email from Google.

Links for today – VLE vs PLE

Today there was a flurry of emails on the ALT mailing list about VLE’s (Virtual Learning Environments, or LMS or CMS as they are more commonly known Stateside). A number of posters were quite ‘anti’ VLE – looking forward to replacing institutional VLEs with an assortment of Web 2.0 technologies which students pick and choose for their own ‘Personal Learning Environment’ or PLE. (OK that may be a simplification!). These were followed by a few posts which managed to provide a good brief defense of VLE’s, and noting that it is possible to use both.

I sadly don’t have time to comment on this just now – briefly, as with the later posters, I quite strongly believe that VLEs do add value, but just because an institution uses one doesn’t mean that students can’t use other tools as well – but here are some useful links. First a few on PLEs, to try to come to terms with what it’s all about:

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Catching up on reading

I’m almost embarrassed about how far behind I’ve fallen in my attempts to catch up with games-based learning literature. Luckily for me, Tony Forster has recently been working overtime on his – and doing a good job of highlighting papers of interest and providing his own critique as well as reviews of GBL games.

Handily, for searching purposes, many of these posts have been part of his studies for a class in Instructional Simulations & Games – and have been labeled accordingly. So you can find them here. Outside of this current thread, he also recently posted a short discussion on mental models and problem solving, which I found interesting and which is part of a larger argument in development.

Physics Phun

Phun looks amazing – a 2D physics sandbox game from the Umeå VR Lab. I can imagine just giving this to students to play around with or to integrate into a class – asking students to conduct (design as well?) experiments and share results. A bit reminiscent of Crayon Physics (which I was sure I’d blogged, but it looks like I forgot to!), but with more control over the physics and without the game goals.

Check out the Phun and Crayon Physics Deluxe videos below… then go download ‘em and try ‘em out!
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Visual Studio Pro for Free

Microsoft have announced Dreamspark (yeah, not a great name, but hey) – a program allowing students to download a wide range of their professional developer tools. XNA Game Studio 2.0 is also included. Students will need a Windows Live ID account, and their school needs to be signed up to the program – and needs to act as an ‘identity provider’. Though this (happily) can be done without sharing data about the student – other than confirming that a user is a student:

Administrators are able to share information over an encrypted channel using Shibboleth or Microsoft CardSpace technologies. Using Shibboleth, students will be able to assert their identities by logging in to their Universities with their existing log in credentials. If the log in is successful a binary True/False value will be returned back to the Microsoft site via HTTPS/SSL encryption. No sensitive student information (including passwords) is shared with the DreamSpark site using Shibboleth. CardSpace is similar, in that a card is sent to the student and is used as the means of verification, without sharing any personal student information. Both of these devices, Shibboleth and CardSpace, help enable verification without sharing sensitive student data.

Not yet sure if my own school will have signed up…

Web 2.0 for Collaboration

Not ground breaking stuff, but I gave a lecture this week to undergrads on using web 2.0 technology for collaboration. You might be surprised how much of this was new to them – a fair amount, though perhaps not as much as there would have been had I been presenting to faculty!

The presentation was prepared and given using Google Docs. I’ve uploaded to Slideshare in the hopes of preparing a Slidecast:

Workshop on Teaching Programming

31st of March will see the 8th Programming Workshop of the HEA-ICS. This time it’s being held at Glasgow University – very handy for myself, so hopefully I’ll be able to attend.

My colleague John Sutherland will be presenting on his experience of using Scratch with beginner programmers. No details yet, but there also appears to be something on the Nintendo Wii.

Do two wrongs make a right?

Last week when I was in London at the Researching Second Life event, I chanced upon the Grauniad in a coffee shop (I was a little early with some time to kill) – and a Steve Johnson article ‘Dawn of the Digital Natives‘. This is a response to a scary report from the US National Endowment for the Arts (‘To Read or Not to Read’), and Johnson argues quite persuasively that the findings of the report are exaggerated and that there is little cause for alarm based on the data presented.

In ignoring screen-based reading from the study, Johnson accuses the NEA of “sleight of hand”, but I think he is equally guilty of using some degree of sleight of hand in his own arguments…

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Newtoon: Learn Physics Making Games

Yet another exciting looking project from Futurelab – Newtoon:

Newtoon is a mobile phone and web activity which aims to embed physics learning in mobile game creation and play. It enables young people to create microgames via a web interface on a PC in a 2D world consisting of balls and springs. The games can be trialled and edited on the PC, and various physics principles regulating the movement of objects can be manipulated via the interface.

More here. The full report looks like a worthwhile read – with some very strong apparent outcomes. A very limited discussion below.

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