M11 Hold up, M11 Traffic Jam, M11 Delay, Essex Police Errors, M11 Van fire – Part 2.

If you have read this blog before you may well remember the entry about being stuck in a traffic jam on the M11… you may even have left a comment about it on here. I complained to the Highways agency about the appalling way we were treated, and I may make the complaint more formal yet.

It took a bit longer than the ten working days that they said it would take for me to get a reply, and I had to send in another email to get a response, and sadly, the response I got was as formulaic as you would expect. This is faceless bureacracy at its best… don’t get me wrong, it reads as if the Highways Agency do in fact accept responsibility for the muck-up, but you can’t get to a single person being held accountable. All I would like at this point is for one person to stand up and say “yes – it was my job to get thsi organised on the day and I didn’t manage it too well”. We all make mistakes, and we all struggle to get otehrs to do their jobs from time to time. Clearly there was a lot of struggling going on that day! I am assuming here that teh police didn’t think the weight of traffic on a Saturday was going to be sufficient to emrit closing a junction, or putting up some warning signs… or that the police had to await a direct order from the relveant officer in the Highways Agency. I don’t think the police can be absolved of all blame here, since they should have been able to see what was going on as well as we could.

If you missed it the original posting about this is here

If you click on the icon for this blog entry it will open in a new window at full size so you can see what the HA sent back to me.

Not particularly impressive is it? We really ought not to be treated like this by anyone, did we?

If you would like to let me know if you were stuck in that jam (or any other, come to that) and you want to have an input to a letter I write to the Highways Agency next, just leave a comment – but leave your name as well!

Ultralab’s Reputation

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of meeting up with two people from the University of Glasgow so that we could discuss Moodle as a VLE. David Scotson and Howard Miller are both deeply involved in the development of Moodle and both work in the teaching and learning dept at Glasgow university – a department not entirely unlike Ultralab… in fact there are lots of similarities.

I often go to meet other people to talk about the work I am involved in, but seldom have I met with anyone so clearly ‘clued up’ about what it is that Ultralab actually does. I was delighted, therefore, when their pre-planned team meeting was put back because I was there with them, and that a person from Ultralab was obviously an important visitor. It was a humbling moment and quite unexpected – so often we don’t see the impact we are having on the outside world around us, and I am deeply grateful of the time David and Howard gave so willingly to me, and for giving me that moment.

If I can ever return the favour, I most certainly will. Thanks.

Ultralab, BBC Blast, BBC Blast Showcase, UltraSMS

Yesterday, the Director of Ultralab, Richard Millwood, Matthew Eaves and I travelled over to White City to go to the BBC media centre. We were supporting BBC Blast at a showcase event run for the great and the good in the BBC. Director of the BBC, Mark Thompson attended the show and we were delighted to be able to give children (notably Chris and Mat) from King Harold school, Waltham Abbey, the chance to demonstrate their digital creativity skills by running an animation station.

Several good things happened at the event, but one superb piece of technology was Alexzander Blanc’s SMS Stickies tool. This application allows people to send a text message via mobile phone to a central number and have it displayed on a web page. The underlying database this uses is the same as that developed for Tim Ellis’sUltraSMS‘ application. Both Tim and Alex are part of the Ultralab team and are busy developing applications for us to make learning more delightful.

Matthew managed to get a few spare moments to photograph the event using his mobile phone – but don’t expect superb clarity of image here!

Two clear messages from the BBC, one from Mark Thompson himself, were that BBC Blast is probably the most important thing that the BBC are doing at the moment and that BBC Blast will be running a roadshow in the summer to get young people involved in creative events. This will involve a converted truck touring the country and stopping off in city centres all over the UK. We hope to be supporting that roadshow in some form.

Virtual learning Environment, Moodle, Using Moodle, WebCT

One of the projects I am involved in is working with the University’s Faculty of Science and Technology to create a blended or online foundation degree. Much of what we do with this is going to be informed by the BA Learning Technology Research degree we are developing in the Ultraversity project, but of particular interest to me is the use of an alternative VLE to the university flavour.

Currently, Anglia Ruskin use WebCT for this kind of online delivery. Many departments across the faculties use the software, and the university has invested heavily in it. However, there are some key issues surrounding it and how it is used/perceived and these have meant I have had to find an alternative to WebCT.

Having looked at many, and indeed spent the best part of a day with the computing department team who are to use the VLE, we settled on Moodle. A year or so ago Moodle wasn’t really the right kind of environment – it lacked certain features and made it difficult to see how it could be used. However, a year or so on and the open source community have done wonders – Moodle is now at v1.5 with 1.6 due out soon. It is a very different beast these days and actually offers a great deal more than most. Particular interest is in the integration with other VLEs, but I note WebCT isn’t on the list of those (yet!).

A key concern for us is how we would deal with the registration of students and integrate this with the University’s registration procedures… and this is going to form the basis of the research we are going to undertake. Additional elements of that research will be to investigate the way Moodle encourages a social constructivist approach to learning rather than the more didactic or top-down approach which WebCT seems to offer. I think that the days of filling ’empty vessels’ with knowledge are long gone – but I see little to persuade me that WebCT is moving on from that. I have had a brief look at ‘Vista’ (we are currently using ‘Campus’ edition) and this does seem to offer more, but I can’t get away from the notion that the WebCT approach does not move people towards the more powerful learning opportunities available.

What is going to be interesting is to see how Moodle does this. I know that it will be a bit of a struggle to get people to universally abandon any ingrained teaching methodologies, or to move inherently away from simply putting content and resources on line without offering dialogue too. My early impressions of Moodle are that it *can* operate in this way, but the emphasis is overwhelmingly on *not* doing so!

With luck, the research findings will be used by the university in any evaluation of their online learning provision. There are far too many bottlenecks in the way the administrative tools of WebCT are centralised and moved out of the reach of individuals in the faculties -probably for very good reasons – but what we need now is for the university to take a very much more open minded approach to online learning environments, and consider for a moment whether an open source solution which is in good stages of development can offer anything more than their investment (thousands of pounds worth) in WebCT.