Archive for February, 2009

POE206 Update: Mock Parliment

February 27, 2009

I wanted to give a brief update about my “connected” POE 206 class now the day 1 of 3 in the Mock Parliament has happened. We spent the last 3 weeks having students give presentations on political subjects of their choice such as education reform, First Nation land claims, Sikh right to not wear helmets while driving a motorcycles and so on. When the last presentation was given this week on education reform, we had a big discussion on the 3 functions of industrialized education:

  • create productive workers,
  • create a national unity,
  • create a civic minded population.

When the presentation was over, I had the students split into the government and opposition for the mock trial based on their responses to a political orientation survey I gave. As soon as the class split into its Liberal, NDP, and Conservative party groups, one lady commented that now she understood why certain people had certain views on political issues. Once it became clear what their party affiliation was, their commentary made sense. Last night I had 11 conservatives, 4 Liberals and 1 NDP. I had noticed that the class had a pro-conservative bias from the very first night. This was different that the military I knew in the 1980-1990s which was much more evenly split between Liberals and Conservatives.

I then wondered how perhaps the Afghanistan mission may have changed military members political orientation and posed the question:

Who of each party had voted for another party in 2004 other than the one they were in last night.

It turns out 4 of 11 Conservatives had voted Liberal in 2004. And 2 of 4 liberals had voted conservative. My NDP had voted NDP in 2004. Looking a the numbers then, I had 7 Liberals/NDP in 2004 and 9 Conservatives, a much more even split. I then stated to the class  that even though the Conservatives were in power, the Liberals had committed the Armed Forces to Afghanistan. The Armed Forces take great pride in their mission in Afghanistan and view it as a cathartic event because for the first time since the Koren War, the military has a clear purpose. The Canadian Armed Forces is reaching within and re-discovering its reason d’etre: “To win the nations wars.”

Soon after going to Afghanistan, a national election gave the Conservative a minority government. Since then, they have had to spend significant sums of money on new equipment for the mission or to support the Canadian Forces in general: C-17 strategic air lifter, CH-47 medium lift helicopter, Cormorant Anti-submarine helicopter, Leopard 2 tanks, mine detection/clearing equipment, mine resistant vehicles, , unarmed aerial vehicles for reconnaissance, new artillery rounds, a satellite surveillance system to monitor the Arctic, with a new C-130 replace soon to come. With all this new equipment, why wouldn’t a CF member support the current government . The Conservative government is making up for years of equipment declines. This is no different than any employee in a large organization pledging their support to a division or department that is currently undergoing expansion or growth.
So that is a political theory I am advancing on why the CF is currenlty very supportive of the conservative government.

CCK08: Course Critique for Connectivism and Connected Learning

February 21, 2009

I must admire George Siemens ad Stephen Downes for attempting the CCKo8 Connectivism and Connected Learning course in the Fall of 2008. The certainly bit off quite a bit trying to run an on-line course using many free software platforms and with 2200 users registered (although only about 30 paying students including yours truly). I have since created a online course, not the extent of CCK08, but I have seen my instructor hours go up by about 50% as I prepare presentations, deliver monitor discussion groups and mark more lessor valued assignments. (See my description of my POE 206 course for a comparison). My critique is largely based on the technical and administration. I actually found the content to be appropriate, stimulating, and thought provoking. I also went out and found extra things to read and since I subscribed to Stephen Downes OL Daily, I found myself reading other pertinent material not mentioned as required or optional reading in the Course Wiki. I do hope my comments below are taken in light of the fact that as a Canadian Military Historian by training and a former Army officer, I have a tendency to focus on the 5% that went wrong and not the 95% that went well :). I have an annoying tendency to strive for perfection.

George and Stephen set up a course that used Moodle for self contained discussions and posing of questions, a Wiki for the outline, A course daily newsletter, several blog platforms for students blogging, Elluminate and Ustream for live discussion, and tied the various tools together using Google alerts to notify of blog posts. I personally found the proliferation of platforms to be a nuisance from a technical and attention span perspective. However, it did prove the point of the how various networks operate and how different people communicate. Each platform addresses a particular user group and their preferences. I have been somewhat spoiled by being able to use  Enterprise grade Learning Management Systems (Desire2Leanrn) and Intranet platforms (SharePoint 2007). Also, George did warn us we would not be able to follow all activities (I skipped Second Life).

On the technical side, I could not access the Wiki until my company permitted the University of Manitoba port for the site through as the U of Manitoba used an non-standard. I was never able to get the chat feature in UStream to work, thus I missed out on a lot of back channel discussion during the Friday meetings. UStream also failed 3 times and we had to revert to Elluminate. There was no easy way notify the students of this. I would suggest in the future that students are told to monitor Twitter an hour before the class and if the session is cancelled (it happened once or there are problems with a platform, that the students could switch to the alternate platform.) George told me that some students could not use Elluminate and I was the only one that could not use Ustream properly so there was a trade off. Unfortunately, my teaching philosophy is that there has to be 100% access on the part of the students otherwise you cannot use that technology (I run into this problem all the time with the military DWAN network not allowing the use of Active X components or the download of Microsoft Office products. Thus, I cannot link to You tube, CBC videos, and I must post all my files as PDFs.) Since George is now aware of these technical issues, perhaps they can be investigated, solutions found, and int he future students can be advised of what system requirements, settings, and network security permissions they may need. I also found the need to go in a subscribe to the weekly Moodle forums to be a nuisance. I think Moodle needs an option to allow a person to automatically subscribe to all forums as they are created. In my own LMS, all weekly forums are present before the first students ever comes in so this is not an issue. Perhaps George could create each weeks forum in advances. This would also cause the students to post their comments in the appropriate week pertain to the subject of their comment as opposed  posting early.

As for attention span, the multitude of platforms made it difficult to track what was going on, especially blogs. As such, I found myself monitoring mostly e Moodle Discussion forum and using Google Alerts and Stephen and Georges noteworthy blog mentions to monitor blogs. I never did track any one else blog other than Lisa Lane because I find monitoring RSS feeds cumbersome (I am a power Email user). I am sure George and Stephen will have some obvious advice for me on that 🙂 I did notice the George did have difficulty tracking when people had submitted assignments because they could appear in your personal blog, Moodle or on other platforms. George had to rely on tracking the paying students blogs, Google Alerts and watching for tell tale subject lines t tan assignment was posted. I think what needs to happen for assignments that are to be graded is that there needs to be a clear subject line like”CCK08 Assignment 1 Submission: then your catchy title”. This would make it clear to all. Another hint would be to require students to send an email to George or require them to make a posting in a Moodle Assignment Submission Forum and provide the link to the site. I myself have found this to be a problem in POE 206  so I developed clear file name conventions, and subject line headings so general postings did not cause me to lose sight of the gradable assignments.

The last item is the delay in being notified of my final grade. Unfortunately, U of Manitoba has to have all students grades in before they can release it to individuals. I paid for the course out of my pocket and my company is reimbursing me upon receipt of a passing grade. I was starting to miss the $395 and my company wanted to finalize its 2008 financials. When I questioned George about this in the first week of February, he said he was still waiting for some final assignments. So, U of Manitoba should change its policy on releasing grades upon individual completion instead of class completion. For example, RMC uses an LMS that allows me to enter grades as the course progresses. As soon as the final grade for a person comes in, I enter it, and then “release” the grade the student can see their final grade immediately. I do have students that arrange to submit late, but there is a formal administrative notification and tracking system for late submitters and one or 2 people do not hold up the rest of the class.

I have 2 other suggestions:

1. Dave Cormier did an interesting experiment with UStream one week in which he ran 3 videos segments at the same time (himself, George, and Stephen).I thin this should be explored some more as I would have found it interesting to see all 24-50 students streaming at the same time (Although my network administrator would have freaked out at the bandwidth consumed.) Is there a live web streaming aggregator platform that could do this for only modest bandwidth usage. Just think how useful that could be, kind of like watching CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, CBC, BBC etc all at once. This obviously has commercial applications for remote workers or even the extended family int he general public.

2. The Wiki Course Outline, although open for all to contribute to, was largely left untouched. Perhaps greater use could be made of this or perhaps a second wiki page to allow interesting student contributions to each subject in the course outline.

I would also suggest someone do a network study on this course as mentioned by several students in the Moodle. George admitted it would be hard to get permission from the university. I discovered some marketing monitoring software developed by Radian6 in Fredericton NB has the ability to go back 6 months and look at the internet historically to see who is talking about CCK08 and what they are linking to.

Despite 3 long paragraphs of what are largely “technical issues” and no philosophical or pedagogical issues, I think version 2.0 of the course will likely run a lot smoother technically, and require less time on the part of the facilitators. I enjoyed the course experience and hope to take more courses leading up to the new Certificate program at U of Manitoba in Certificate in Interdisciplinary Studies: Emerging Technologies for Learning (ETL)

Signing off of CKK08 (although I will  keep my Google Alerts active.)

POE 206 Canadian Political System Concept Map

February 18, 2009

My students did up concept maps of the Canadian Political system for the Canadian Forces professional development course as an assignment. Some had difficulty created “network connections” between ideas so I did one up to guide them further as they refine theirs as the course moves into the second half. Here is mine (by the way, the colouration of the political parties in the map is the colours the parties use when election campaigning):