Thursday, November 26

Learning Notes From an E-Learning 2.0 Implementation Workshop

"Students who ask better questions, are independent learners, deep thinkers and ethical leaders of the future"
- NTU's Greatest Achievement

Alright, the actual title for the 2-day workshop was:

E-Learning Implementation and Web 2.0 Technologies
in the Higher Education Sector

The main objective of this hands-on practical workshop was to develop an understanding of the implementation and application of e-learning technologies within an institution of higher education. Also, it explored several web 2.0 technologies that participants could use to develop a collaborative online learning space.

The hands-on workshop was held at a nice computer lab (24 participants) at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). It was organized by AKEPT, UPM and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The first 1/2 day, Assoc. Prof. Daniel Tan (Director, Centre for Educational Development) explored Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) e-learning story from its inception in 1998 (using TopClass!) until today's 'University 2.0' (4.5 MB, .ppt. 2008 version only).

The remaining 1 1/2 days was allocated for Lance Larkin to explore the web 2.0 world for educational purposes.

This workshop was actually more intended for academics new to e-learning, rather than learning freaks like me. However, the reason I decided to attend (free invitation) was mainly to listen and learn from Daniel Tan's decade long experience at NTU, and of course to connect, learn and network with participants attending. Also, I was pretty curious to see how Lance Larkin conducted a web 2.0 hands-on workshop.

To make a web 2.0 point, I actually used Twitter throughout the workshop to share relevant or interesting resources discussed during the learning sessions. Interestingly, during the process I did have a couple of short related Twitter debates with some strangers out there. It is always fun to get some WordPress fanatics going, by slamming it head-on against Blogger!

As I will next reflect more deeply lessons learned during the workshop, I will not post the tweets stream here (if interested, just check the 23-24th November tweets). Let's begin...

Or perhaps more correctly, Daniel Tan's wisdom acquired during his decade long implementation of e-learning at NTU. What I love about this guy (since 2005), is that he so receptive to learn, and has an amazing sense to spot and neutralize any form of inefficiency to the process of doing anything you can imagine.

He is not so IT-Savvy (admits he is a one-finger typing educator), but he is exceptionally learning-savvy and proactive, and his stream of ideas and leadership is to my understanding the secret recipe that has propelled NTU to become the higher education benchmark for e-learning in Singapore and perhaps South-East Asia. When you have an army of around 50 staff, and probably get unlimited funding from the Singapore Government, and then top that with a dynamic, learning-savvy and proactive hands-on leader like Daniel, you are very likely to have some form of success.

Here are some of the useful things I learned from Daniel's 1/2 day talk (Usually, I would be sleeping by 50 minutes, but not this time around):

What NTU Did Not Do:
  • Provide incentives and penalties to get academics on board with e-learning. I suppose if you do succeed using such an approach, it is going to be very costly, and if you don't succeed it will be very painful (for you and the educators!), unless you use non-tangible carrots and sticks. Anyway, if academics believe in your e-learning strategy, they see (or envisions) it benefit the students' learning that is a good enough incentive to put in a few extra hours needed to make it work. That is, if you are a passionate educator that really gets satisfaction from facilitating students to get AHA moments.

  • Develop an in-house customized system (NTU uses Blackboard as their airport). Though, they did develop AcuLearn for recording lectures on-the-fly (synchronized with the slides), and a few other tools, including the award winning eUreka that enables you to create collaborative online learning spaces for projects. However, what Daniel actually meant here, is that for the main virtual learning environment (or LMS) they decided to go for a commercial solution instead (and ended up with Blackboard). At that time (2000) Moodle was nowhere to be seen, but I am quite confident they would choose Moodle over Blackboard, if they had to make that decision today. Perhaps, you should read Moodle is an Airport... if you are considering using Moodle, or not.

    Anyway, he didn't talk much about how great Blackboard was, but instead talked about other learning tools they were using to facilitate engaging and collaborative learning. Besides AcuLearn and eUreka, he was extremely excited about using LAMS to create sequenced learning activities to facilitate the learning process. Whatever learning tool we plan to use, we should consider using NTU's evaluation criterion for selection, which is:

    1. Ease-of-Use
    2. Positive User Feedback

    3. Performance Issues
    4. Integration with Student Information System

    5. Compliance with Standards

    In other words, if it is not user-friendly, and you practically need to read a 20-page user guide to learn it, it isn't going to work with most Professors, no matter how many amazing features it has.
  • Allow the Center for Educational Development (CED) to lead the e-Learning implementations. Instead, they let the academics lead the way, but of course sprinkle ideas, energy, training and support to make sure things move forward.

  • Change the way professors teach. Try that and you are for sure doomed. Instead NTU's CED facilitates e-learning using a step-by-step professor-centric evolutionary process, based on the 20:80 rule (minimal effort, maximum impact). In his own words: multipliers, self-help, useful and user-friendly environment, and extenzifications (record lectures and make them available online 24/7. No additional work for lecturers, besides doing what they usually do).

Daniel Tan spent a lot of time sharing with us NTU's UniWood (eLecture) project, which is to record lectures and make them easily available online 24/7. They use AcuLearn (in-house developed tool, but has now evolved into a company) to synchronize the videos with the presentation slides, and then publish the lectures online. In a way, he was also marketing this tool (kind of annoying! But it is NTU's baby, so understandable!), and was perhaps too bias to all its strengths, leaving out some of its weaknesses compared to potential competitors (Articulate, Adobe Connect/Presenter, Tandberg, etc). For example, the AcuLearn presentation interface, file size output (compression), user-flexibility, viewing options, is really a big question mark (compared to others!).

However, we should learn from how they manage the lecture recording process, which is certainly mind-blowing and unique to me (at least!).

Who records these lectures? STUDENTS! Every class must appoint a few students to carry out these activities. If I heard correctly, they don't even get paid (FREE!), but they do get some community services points (or some form of points! Wow!). Anyway, their efforts do benefit many students using these lectures, so I suppose that is an intrinsic incentive, too. To ensure that the post-editing of recorded lectures goes smoothly, each lecture hall has 2 PCs, enabling one group to finalize the editing, while another group can start recording the next lecture.

Most eLectures are available for online viewing within minutes (or done within 24 hours). They also have an amazing server farm and delivery network to make everything run according to plan (supporting 30,000+ students).

To understand the magnitude of this UniWood project, just imagine they have 40 recording locations at a time (40 lectures simultaneously), roughly 8 hours per day (=320 hours). By the time they reach 2 semesters (20,800 hours per semester!), we are talking about 41,600 hours of eLectures. I would love to know, how many hours of eLectures they have archived over the years.

Now, imagine if NTU made all these eLectures available for free to mankind. MIT OpenCourseware would look like a smurf, if we measured in terms of size (But then again, it is really about quality!). Alright, we would also have 10+ updated versions of many lectures!

So, do students watch these eLectures? Many times! The notes provided says rate-of-reuse per lecture is on the average 38.14, he said something like 76 (I assume it is 76 clicks, including slide jumping clicks within a lecture). Whatever it is, NTU students seem to be hungry learners, or totally obsessed mastering 100% of the eLecture to ensure they pass the exam.

Finally, do students now still attend Face-to-Face lectures? Yes, just as much as before (attendance is not compulsory). So, based on these findings, lecturers don't need to worry about empty lecture halls. So, why do students still come? Well, it is a great place to meet up with students and have some fun, while listening to the good old lecture (according to Daniel).

Besides this, Daniel talked about other e-learning tools and implementations (blogs, Online discussions, online assessment, web conferencing, etc.), but not too exciting to babble about it here.

So, what is Daniel Tan thinking of doing next? He and his CED army are working on an experimental concept...


Effective learning via integrated 3-in-1 practice module of:
  • Live + recorded lecture review for knowledge learning
  • Discussion/forum/virtual tutorial for opportunity to formulate and articulate deep questions
  • Self eAssessment for multiple timely feedback

As a concept, based on my brief introduction from Daniel, it offers nothing new to effectifizing learning (now that sounds cool!), but I would be more interested to see how it is implemented, and what kind of learning techniques and tools they use to facilitate the students to think deeper and wider. Also, 'Sigma' works well for producing chocolate (done that!), but I doubt whether it is the right term to use in relation to learning and the complexity of the human brain.

Finally, Daniel summed up his presentation by emphasizing that we need to look at education and learning from three (3) quality dimensions, which are:
  • Content - Usually not an issue!
  • Teaching Process - You have taught them, but have they learnt?
  • Student's (self-directed) Learning Process - They need to master 21st century learning skills and infuse lifelong learning habits to succeed now and in the future.
Amen to that!

What can I say? John Larkin is an extremely nice guy who loves teaching. I suppose we all connected with him in a nice way, and I am pretty sure many of the participants learned quite a lot from his vast experience in e-learning and web 2.0 technologies (Certainly a learning gladiator).

As for me, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with 1 1/2 day hands-on web 2.0 workshop. But, I suppose that has something to do with that I conduct similar kind of learning activities at my University (and beyond when invited), and by so, have probably much higher expectations than I should.

Having said that, I did have fun at last exploring WordPress (to the bone), which I have kind of ignored since I got hooked on Blogger. Alright, you can create 'Pages' (beside posts) in WordPress, which you cannot in Blogger (please add this, and I will never again consider WordPress). Also, WordPress has many more features to do the 'monkey dance,' but if you introduce Baby Boomers (or older) to blogging, I would recommend Blogger for starters.

Blogger is a much easier tool to learn and teach. WordPress fanatics will probably disagree here, but if so, prove me wrong. However, if lecturers decide to switch (or upgrade) to WordPress, they can always import all their posts from Blogger, so that should not be an issue.

In short, if you are a beginner, start with Blogger. If you want more (novice and expert), migrate to WordPress. However, if you want to use WordPress to create your website (and a beginner), perhaps you should consider using Google Sites instead. Then you can embed, RSS or link your blog to your site.

Beside blogging, Lance Larkin explored Wikis (PBworks), Widgets (Widget box, Google Gadgets, and Spring Widgets), RSS, Google Reader, and Posterous.

I believe he should have chosen another Wiki tool for the hands-on, because PBworks is clumsy and complicated to learn (especially inserting widgets). PBworks has also now become too commercial, and it even makes it difficult to find the free version from the homepage!

I tried to recommend Wikispaces, Wetpaint or Google Sites instead during the workshop, without much success. Interestingly, Lance Larkin realized during the hands-on that PBworks has lost it (for now). What to do?

Overall, I believe both did a good job, and again I am pretty sure they will be conducting more workshops in Malaysia in the near future. Good luck!

Well, if that is the case, here are some recommendations and tips to ensure that future workshops are even more useful, dynamic and collaborative. I suppose the following reflections are more directed towards me to ensure that I learn and improve my own workshops. If others can benefit, then cool, too!

Here we go:
  • Web 2.0 Implementation Workshop
    Such a workshop should at least include blogging, micro-blogging (Twitter), wikis, RSS, social bookmarking, podcasting, social learning/networking (e.g. Ning or Elgg), Image/Video galleries, and Virtual Worlds (e.g. Second Life). Of course during a 2-day workshop we would have no time for hands-on on all, but we should spend some time on each, so that participants are more aware of the possibilities, and how these tools can be used to facilitate teaching and learning.

  • Learning Sharing Session
    During such workshops, there should be a 1-2 hour slot where participants share their e-learning and web 2.0 experiences with the workshop group. As a facilitator or a participant I would love to know what kind of learning tools and approaches that have been adopted by the institutions where other participants work (what, process, findings). Also, I would like to know what kind of learning tools each participants use or have explored, and their experiences using them. For example, everyone could be given a 5-minute slot (or less) to present their e-learning experiences (in an informal way). Some facilitators ask participants to fill-up a form asking similar questions, so that they can gauge the knowledge and skill level of each participants, and by doing so, they can tailor, contextualize and customize their workshop further. Though, forms can get annoying, but giving each participant time to share their experiences could do wonders. Besides it enabling you to tailor your workshop, you can identify possible participants to assist you (if you do not have an assistant) during the workshop.

  • Assessment and Fun
    Although, most of these workshops are 'Certificate of Attendance', which is fine, but a bit of assessment does no harm. For example, one could have 2-4 hours slot (or more), where participants break into groups (3-5) and are required to use different web 2.0 tools (of their own selection) to create an online collaborative learning presence. By the end of the hands-on learning session, each group is required to present their achievements and struggles. By doing so, participants will probably become less sleepy, more active, and learn more (in a competitive and fun way!). Also, the facilitator will be able to see whether participants have really learned anything. Game on!

What I have reflected above is nothing new, or rocket science, but I am pretty sure it would improve any hands-on workshop if contextualized appropriately. The best way to learn any tool (or anything) is to mess around with it, learn from best practices and experts, discuss it, reflect it and keep on practicing until you go...I still got a lot to learn :)


Israel Lee said...

where was this held. great post and review of the workshop. ;-)

Zaid Ali Alsagoff said...

Hi Israel Lee,

It was held at a nice computer lab (24 participants) at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). A collaboration project between AKEPT ( and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Thanks for reminding me regarding that important point.

I wanted to leave it out, but you are too sharp not to ask :)

It was an interesting experience :)

Thanks and Cheers!

Jeff Casie said...

I agree. The pace of technological development is much faster than the pace of educational development. I do a lot of my studying through the net by flashcards etc... The most interesting site that I came across is