Moving all activities to new page:

January 2, 2010

Dear all,

I have decided to move all my web activities to a new page: It is a lifestream combining all kinds of contributions from various Web 2.0 communities with blog postings now and then.

Please read more about the concept of lifestreaming on and visit the new page in the future as will no longer be updated.

All the best - see you soon!

Stephan :)

Personal Learning Environments … how far can you go? (H800, weeks 21 and 22, A2f)

July 19, 2009

This blog posting refers to one of this week’s writing assignments at the OU – it’s about PLEs (personal learning environments) as opposed to VLEs provided by institutions. This week, we got to know an interesting confrontation between these two concepts; the former working towards learner autonomy and self-directed learning, the latter ensuring the smooth flow of an online course by making everyone using the same tools.

The concept of the PLE assumes that autonomous learners choose from the wide selection of offline and online tools available for computer assisted learning the applications that best support their learning and subsequently build up their own personal learning environment. They are completely free in their choice and are encouraged to use any service they like, provided it assists in their learning process. Institutions might offer guidance and help with reflection, but in the end learners take their own choices. In my last blog posting earlier that day, I published a mindmap showing my PLE. When I think of how my PLE became what it looks like today, I can recall a great number of single events, recommendations, etc. that led me to try out services in order to continue to use some and discard others. Some of the tools I use only support me as an individual learner, some others may be used to do collaborative work. But there are hardly any tools in my mindmap that some institution required me to use, apart from First Class, the OU’s communication system, and moodle.

Moodle and First Class are good examples for the opposite concept, for VLEs, virtual learning environments, provided by an institution. Of course, a lot of difficulties would be imposed on online courses if all students were free to choose which wiki, discussion forum or chat to use. Given the great number of possibilities for tools available on the net, chances are high that within a group of online learners there are a couple of preferred systems – collaboration and common communication would be very hard. So, institutions usually provide learning environments tailored to the needs of the institutions and their courses rather that on individual learners’ requirements. Using moodle as a basic VLE, for example, makes it possible for an online group to meet and learn together with a set of tools available to everyone. As it is pointed out in the discussion often, these VLE tools may not be as sophisticated as alternative applications available somewhere else, but they usually provide basic functions and are well-suited to cope with standard activities.

I regard it absolutely necessary to have a common VLE when offering online training. It has to be comparatively stable and straightforward to use, especially when dealing with novices. Apart from standard collaborative situations, the institution’s VLE also plays an important role every time something “official” happens – meeting an official deadline, handing in an official assignment that counts towards certification, for example. Take this blog, for example. One of this week’s activities requires me to write in my blog about this topic. It is one of the tools that comprise my PLE and I’m in full control of it – but also have to cope with potential problems on my own. If everything works fine and my postings can be displayed and viewed correctly, everyone is happy and can participate in some discussion. If some software bug should appear and deleted this posting, I’d be very upset – but I could join in the discussion elsewhere as well. Were this posting, however, some compulsory essay to be graded and reviewed in order to receive a certificate in the end, things would look differently: It’s far too dangerous to rely on a system outside the university’s VLE to handle such delicate documents. Because if the university’s system should make problems, I won’t be alone and people on various levels could assist me to still hand in the assignment.

I’m at the moment not so fond of the idea that a future VLE should become more of a hub, managing people’s individual learning tools. I think institutions should also in the future offer complete learning environments featuring their own tools. The risk that students react a bit disappointedly when they get to know an institution’s potentially basic VLE after having worked with various glossy tools offered on the net must be taken – at least it’s an environment under full control of the institutions, whereas outside applications may come and go as their providers like. Their terms of use might change, there is usually little chance to get involved in data protection – and data security is a completely different issue.

Similarly to an institutions, I have always tried to run applications I can control and to be independent from other companies’ goodwill. So, I’m running my own weblog and have opened an eMail account with a provider where I have full access to the mailbox and all spam filters, virus clients, etc. I would love to download the source code for and install it on my private webspace or run a Twitter-like application on my server. But I had to learn that the more tools are there – and the more cool features they offer – the less I can actually control them in the way I can control my blog or eMails. I had to accept that for some tools you just have to place yourself in someone’s hands. Sometimes I forget about all the risks and am overwhelmed by the possibilities, but at other times I recall the issues and think about data backup and privacy. Learning tools one compiles from online resources do make fantastic things possible – but I wouldn’t rely purely on them if I organised an online course.

My personal learning environment

July 19, 2009

Following the example of Martin Weller, I compiled a mind map showing my own personal learning environment:

Stephan's Personal Learning Environment

It actually got a lot more extensive than I had expected. It’s surprising how many devices one quickly gathers around oneself, even if – as I am – one is very strict and only uses absolutely necessary services and tools.

When I was reading this week’s OU texts by Weller and Sclater, I always felt there was too much internet, too much Web 2.0 in the different discussions about personal learning environments. Despite being online practically all the time, I didn’t want to neglect tools installed on my computer such as Microsoft Word or Hot Potatoes who heavily contribute to my PLE / personal working environment. But as I compiled the mindmap above, I learned that most services I am using are actually really based on the internet. To show the amount of online and offline tools, I coloured their frames red (for online services) or blue (for offline tools).

Not all of the applications listed in the mindmap can be used well to do work collaboratively; some are just there to backup my own important information (such as Evernote). Some tools allow collaborative work but I haven’t used them in that way – like, Mahara or Mindmeister. You really have to have a critical mass of colleagues also using these tools to have the chance to do things together. If everyone favours their own portfolio or mindmapping suite, there’ll be little chance for collaboration. The various Google applications, despite being controversial in terms of data collection, might have the most potential due to the number of people using Google to organise their lives.

I have constantly tried to go mobile wherever possible. Since I got my mobile internet connection as a free goodie with my mobile plan, I have participated much more in Twitter or Facebook, for example, now being able to make most of these services since I can update my status in real-time when I’m doing something more or less important. :) (for my friends and me, at least!)

Examples of Web 2.0 innovations (H800, weeks 21 and 22, A1)

July 13, 2009

After some stressful weeks with my school’s Matura exams (school leaving exams) and a short holiday trip to Berlin I am finally studying again! :) And am trying desperately to catch up on some patchy previous weeks … I chose to finish the current activities first, however, before moving on to older ones. This might give me the chance to actually discuss things with my peers, whereas I expect to be rather on my own in previous activities which have already been finished by most other students.

This posting mainly refers to an article by Gráinne Conole (2009): Stepping over the edge: the implications of new technologies for education. In her article, Conole discusses the impact Web 2.0 technologies may have on learning and teaching practices – which are constantly changing. But what’s the role of Web 2.0 in this change?

The first comment I found thought provoking was

“for each new technological development there are an associated set of ripples of change in terms of their impact on individual practices and roles, and the structure of organisations.”

I understand that these changes just come into existence and are unavoidable, no matter how much (for example) educators value new opportunities or are afraid of new threats. It only depends on the actual power of individual people or groups of people how much the changes are regarded welcome or ignored.

Just one example from school: In Austria, it’s up to the teacher which media he or she uses for teaching. If, in a given class, the teacher wants assignments hand-written on ruled paper it doesn’t matter how skilfully a student compiles an interactive hypertext document – if the teacher insists upon his power it’s useless to achieve a positive mark. Now, such a behaviour might or might not be approved by us; but it’s there in institutions everyday, such as the changes cited above are there. – Who’s in power and who promotes them?

Later in the article, Conole states that

“strategic change will require vision and an in-depth understanding of the new media, and it is debateable whether senior managers have the appropriate skills to do this.”

Yes, agreed. I have, however, sometimes come across a different scenario: I have met very motivated senior managers in our education system – from headmasters to ministry personnel – who very well understood the chances of the use of current technology and had sometimes worked in that field for years. They just didn’t manage to successfully transfer the message to the majority of teachers. Is it again a question of power?

If we – as Conole says – should apply top-level strategy and policy in order to ensure systemic change, there must be an incentive for teachers to experiment with education technology other than a professional attitude towards their own development because this might not be capable of obtaining a majority all the time. Where does the motivation then come from? From power – pressure, from a fear of losing one’s job or money. Or from some kind of bonus, from extra money or extra privileges connected to one’s involvement in teaching with new media. I have the feeling that – despite of some successful top-level projects – systemic change has hardly begun.

Why is it that so many teachers are still afraid of getting involved in new media? Conole thinks some might be

“overwhelmed by the sheer quantity and potential possibilities and intimidated by the fact that incorporation of these new approaches will require a fundamental change in their role as ‘teacher’ and associated lose of authority.”

I can confirm this thought with my experience as a teacher trainer. In fact, these two issues come up most when I talk to education technology sceptics about their thoughts. The first point, however, is mentioned more often than the second one – though I often can read between the lines that the fear of losing authority is there. Maybe people are reluctant to admit that they are proud on what they’ve learned and on what they now may pass on to their students. And now they can’t because in the age of Wikipedia everybody can be an expert.

I can understand the fear of colleagues who are confused by the current peer attitude we can found all over Web 2.0 technologies. Your teacher has become your peer, your learning buddy – the person you can talk to face to face, Your teacher has stepped down from the podium. Does he feel comfortable there? It depends. And it might be as uncomfortable for some teachers as it might be uncomfortable for others to speak in front of an audience. I am just confronted with my perspective on school all the time, but I can imagine that in other fields similarly experts are afraid of losing authority – senior managers in companies, professors at universities.

I think there’s really the possibility for some experts to lose their authority with the rise of Web 2.0 – but only if they fail to demonstrate that competence is only partly determined by their expertise on new media. It is determined by their experience in knowledge management (no matter if this involves books or the internet) and more prominently by their willingness to learn and to develop. Authority based on power nobody questions is declining rapidly. Authority based on experience, helpful feedback and the readiness to never stop learning is not in danger according to my view.

Decentralised learning (H800, week 18, A1)

June 17, 2009

This week in course H800 sports the headline “Web 2.0, therefore Education 2.0” and – as the title lets us expect – deals with the significance of Web 2.0 technology on education.

When I first saw the headline, I quickly read on. I regularly use Web 2.0 technology myself, mostly to stay in touch with friends and colleagues. Using some of the tools for education seems sensible; collaboratively creating content, actively doing things and thus learning and developing seems promising. Maybe participate in a wiki once in a while, subscribe to a few feeds – that kind of stuff.

But then I came upon this week’s first reading assignment, an article by Weller (2009): “Using learning environments as a metaphor for educational change”. In his article he starts off by stating

I suggest that the reason the centralised learning management system (LMS) is not the answer to the ‘web 2.0 problem’ for education because in its software DNA it embodies the wrong metaphor. It seeks to realise the principles of hierarchy, control and centralisation – the traditional classroom made virtual.

Yeah, well – he’s kind of right here, I thought. Just reading these two sentences suddenly opened a completely new vision, seeing education in a way I hadn’t done before. But to be honest, more than it was fascinating, this vision was frightening for me. OK, modelling virtual learning environments according to real buildings and structures may not be state of the art – but at least it doesn’t deprive us of our treasured control! :)

As a teacher, I like to have things under control. How do you feel about it? I think learning processes may be as open as possible – if in the end I can see who is doing what when and how. If my students work on their own for a couple of hours, there is a lot of self-control and peer feedback. But in the end I gain again control over the situation by being able to reconstruct the work that’s been done.

And now someone proposes making use of “decentralised learning”, letting learners wander off on their own, using tools to which not everyone in class necessarily has to be subscribed. May I panic a bit here? A wiki outside my beloved Moodle platform? Hardly imaginable at the moment for me. Twittering about some “serious” subject instead of collecting discussion posts in a central forum? I wouldn’t encourage my students to do that – even though I highly appreciate Twitter as a socialising tool.

I must be a coward. And then – I consider the responsibility that we teachers are given by … society? by ourselves? by our ethics? Can we really allow ourselves and our students to set off on some learning path that might lead into spheres outside our control, might lead them into cul-de-sacs or even lure them into situations of not-learning? Are school children to be treated differently than university students, who are often used as study subjects in surveys?

I’m still thinking … and processing … and I will tell my mates at H800 about my posting right now. Let’s move away from FirstClass for a while and see how engaging discussions might evolve over Twitter and blogs. I may still be convinced … ;) By some braver souls than myself!

Have a nice evening. Good night. ;)

Twitter is no sucker’s game!

May 7, 2009

Today, my tutor at the Open University pointed out a blog posting to me written by Seth Finkelstein for the guardian:

He sees Twitter as supporting an

attention-seeking game, where everyone enriches the contest runner and surrounding marketers for the privilege of aspiring to be one of the very few big winners.

I beg your pardon? Am I so small minded or have I missed anything? Twitter’s a

one-to-many broadcasting system that serves the needs of high-attention individuals, combined with an appeal to low-attention individuals that the details of one’s life matter to an audience?

I think in his arrogant "I know that. I’m well into a third decade of being on the Net" manner (one of his comments below the article) Seth completely missed the point.

I just adore Twitter and here’s why:

It is a highly useful tool to stay in touch with people who matter - not with some experts or stars or anyone socially "important".

Let me tell you a story: I am personally awfully weak when it comes to socialising in my private life. I have to stay in touch with so many people in my job that I’m happy to be an island when I’m in private. I do appreciate going out with folks or visiting or inviting someone. I just don’t like to "stay in touch". Not on the phone - I practically never phone -, only occasionally by eMail. There were times when my father and I didn’t hear from each other for weeks, not to mention some of my friends. It’s not that they don’t matter to me, but I just can’t stand hanging another hour on the phone when in reality I’d like to do something completely different.

And then came Twitter.

People who matter post short messages, I know what they’re doing. 140 letters don’t harm, so I squeeze some in myself. They see what I’m up to and might react. When I turn on the computer in the morning, my father had already sent a tweet saying what he’s done and how’s the weather like and hence puts a smile on my face. The situation described in the sensational video above really works for me!

Sure there are lots of other devices you can use to stay in touch - but I simply don’t. I use Twitter because it’s fast, simple and straightforward. I don’t need useless games included in Facebook or hours of chatting on Skype. Twitter works for me and helped me to stay in touch more often. Regardless of what some "stars" post who have thousands of followers. "Serious" discussion about education or eLearning is possible; there are such groups. But in my understanding Twitter is a purely private thing which has nothing to do with being (or not being) elite at all.

Five different conceptions of learning

May 5, 2009

In Richardson’s article he also mentions Roger Saljö, who in 1979 came up with five conceptions of learning:

1. Learning as the increase of knowledge
2. Learning as memorising
3. Learning as the acquisition of facts or procedures
4. Learning as the abstraction of meaning
5. Learning as an interpretative process aimed at the understanding of reality.

Marton in 1993 added a sixth conception to the list which he called “Changing as a person” and he argued that the six conceptions represent a hierarchy through which students proceeded during the course of their studies. I found this theory very attractive, as I had had similar thoughts earlier in the course when we were asked to define “learning”.

In A2 of week 12, we’re asked to comment on which of these definitions best fits our own definition of learning.

Well, when I posted my own definition of learning earlier in the course, I wrote:

For me, learning means to broaden one’s horizons, to get to know new perspectives and viewpoints - and to include this input into one’s own framework knowledge. I still very much favour the acquire metaphor because it takes some effort, some process or development before one has truly acquired new knowledge.

Looking at Saljö’s five definitions, it seems as if definition #1 and definition #5 best fit my understanding of “learning”. But also Marton’s “new” definition #6 seems highly significant for me.

On the one hand, learning for me is fact-based, meaning that I still regard it very important to actually extend one’s knowledge – especially in times when skill-based learning seems to be so highly regarded. But I think it’s not enough to just know where to find answers in case you need some; there should in any case be some basic framework which helps taking in new knowledge.

On the other hand, however, learning means developing and also eventually changing. I’d like to remind us of the lovely metaphor the play “Educating Rita”, which I saw recently in Vienna. Learning in this piece of literature is shown as having a huge impact on the protagonist, Rita. It actually turns her whole life upside down and she changes as a person drastically. I think when you’ve undergone years of deep learning and hence transformation, there’s no way back to your earlier life.

Students’ approaches to learning

May 5, 2009

This posting refers to A2 in week 12 of course H800 at the OU. We were asked to read an article by John Richardson which summarises the qualitative and quantitative research of students’ approaches to learning and teachers’ approaches to teaching in higher education since the 1970s.

The article itself can be accessed online but I think the full text is only viewable to subscribers of the magazine or students who access the material through their online libraries. In this posting, I will comment on two quotes I found particularly interesting.

At the beginning of the article, Richardson defines three approaches to studying in higher education. I found this distinction thought-provoking as I come across similar approaches in my daily work at school and because the labels were new to me.

… a deep approach, based upon understanding the meaning of course materials; a surface approach, based upon memorising the course materials for the purposes of assessment; and a strategic approach, based upon obtaining the highest grades. Even so, the same student could exhibit different approaches to studying in different situations.

A few lines below, Richardson explains that studies comparing problem-based learning and subject-based curricula have shown that

students following problem-based curricula are more likely to adopt a deep approach to studying and are less likely to adopt a surface approach to studying.

These statements made me think a little. First, of course, I thought about the three approaches Richardson described at the beginning of the article. As teachers I think it is one of our main goals to help students to encounter a lasting and impressive learning experience. But is it always necessary in every subject with every topic to achieve that? Don’t we as teachers demand too much of our pupils if we make them learn intensively and deeply everything? Or is it sometimes also ok for us as teachers if some content is just discussed on the surface, just to get it done, before dedicating more time and energy to thoroughly treating topics that we regard as more promising?

And how about the students? Is it ok for them to actively decide for the strategic approach and do some work just to get a good grade? I know that also in higher education, a number of tasks are just fulfilled in order to pass a course, so there’s no doubt about the fact that the strategic approach does exist and occupies a more or less prominent position. But I’m asking myself if we think that this is ok from an ethical, moral point of view. Is it ok to think strategically in learning – or should we be grateful for any learning opportunity and dig as deeply into the materials as possible?

This made me then doubt the second quote about the influence of problem-based learning. If we agree on the fact that more or less work in school and also in higher education is done only to fulfil course requirements – doesn’t that stand in the way of a deep approach in learning and in the end lead to the conclusion that by modelling our teaching according to a problem-based or a subject-based approach we might provide a more or less engaging learning experience for our students – but in the end, due to strategic reasons – it doesn’t make such a big difference?

Using blogs for education?

May 5, 2009

Here we are again – hello blog! What an unfaithful friend I’ve been over the last weeks. I’ve neglected you completely as work for various projects and my OU studies kept piling up. I think blogging takes time, working on a good text takes time – and I simply haven’t put aside enough of it.

I doubt there’ll be much of a change before the summer, but at least I’ve returned for a quick stop-by to say hello and make sure you know I haven’t forgotten you. I must admit that I don’t only stop by out of pure self-interest. This week’s assignments for the OU require to post one’s thoughts in a blog.

I must admit, I’m not completely convinced by that concept; hence the doubtful title. I think when following a course with a fixed group, with regular activities and some progression over the weeks, one should try to keep the group as neatly together as possible – i.e. use a learning platform or a discussion forum. My experience is that attending an online course next to a full-time job requires a lot of discipline and self-motivation, so we should try to set up the technical side of the course as easily accessible and smoothly as possible. This enables participants to concentrate on the discussions and the content, as they know they can rely on a regular procedure,

The OU uses the FirstClass mailing system for collaborative activities which accompany the self-study parts. I’ve grown to like it after having felt some disappointment in the beginning. I simply had been spoilt by excessive moodle use – I do favour moodle or a dedicated learning system over a pure mailing tool, but that’s another story. ;) Anyway, this week – as I suggested – asks us to comment on the literature to read in our weblogs and also recommends to visit  our colleagues’ journals and comment there.

On the one hand, it is of course absolutely essential to present a variety of eLearning tools and also give people the opportunity to try them out themselves. On the other hand, however, I don’t agree this should be part of the compulsory activities – even during preparation to our next tutor marked assignment (TMA) when confronted with rather complex literature to read. I fear that discussions become very torn this week as it means more work to visit each other’s blogs and keep track of the discussions on top of the actual analysis of the materials.

Of course I’ll take part in this week’s activities and I must admit I’m glad that I was sent to you due to this week’s requirements. :) But I definitely learn from this experience that when organising an online course on my own, I’ll try to keep the participants together as closely as possible.


March 13, 2009

Oh dear, so many weeks and months have passed since I last updated this page. There’ve been a bit more projects on my desk during the last weeks than I was used to before, and so I kept putting off writing blog entries from day to day …

Not that there wasn’t anything interesting to report; I met a number of fascinating people, read inspiring articles and learned a lot of new things – but I somehow didn’t find enough time to reflect upon all the input.

Last weekend, when I attended the team meeting for an English schoolbook project, I’m currently involved in (, coursebook writer Jeremy Harmer enthusiastically told us about Twitter (, a message service he’d recently used. He’s embedded his Twitter messages into his homepage ( which allows him to quickly update the page with current ideas, thoughts and news right from his mobile phone, if he wishes.

I gave it a try and was instantly drawn into Twitter. It’s a bit like the “What are you doing” status messages known from Facebook, but isn’t overloaded with all those useless applications and games. It’s pure communication, posted either to the public or privately to specific recipients.

If you look on the right hand side of Lernado, you can follow my Twitter timeline and I promise – even if the next longer posting may take a few days … there’s always time for a Tweet in between! :)