These are a few of my favourite things

I watched Educating Rita recently.  I had forgotten how funny it is.  Rita is an Open University student (I spent many fond years studying with the OU – dashing down the road to the post office to make deadlines).   Most of the film is set on the campus of  TCD – a truly beautiful campus.

Rita feels trapped by her life and feels that there most be more.  She has a strong desire to learn and challenge herself but her friends and family struggle to understand this desire.   She persists with her quest and finds true happiness.

Adult education at third level is hard.  Life becomes a constant juggling act between personal, family, social and financial commitments.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely!

Year 1 of my MSc programme was my most grueling academic challenge to date.   I came out the other end, I am still alive and still smiling and I intend to do it all again in September.   In the grand scheme of things, it is only 8 months out of my life with a lifelong reward.

What… is your quest?

What is my research question?  I have drafted and redrafted the question and sub questions so many times – it is akin to a Monty Python sketch.

Submission date is almost upon me, so close but no cigar.

A big thank you to all my participants, all I have to do now is analyse the feedback, discuss my findings, draft my conclusions, write my introduction, abstract and index, proof, print, bind and deliver.

That would be an ecumenical matter

My Capstone proposal has been approved by the Ethics committee – it took far longer than anticipated.  Lessons learned for future proposals.  I now know how NOT to do something.

Field research due to start shortly.

Good news – Flash and Second Life assignments were successful so this is the last hurdle for now.

My supervisor has the patience of Job and is doing a fantastic job keeping me on track and focused on my research question.

Over worked and under appreciated

The standard of Flash presentations was extremely high.  It was interesting to see that everyone took a completely different approach to the exercise.  Each clip was a reflection of the individuals personality.

My clip is very basic and has a linear structure, which was not the plan, however, it has strong pedagogical underpinning.  I wanted audio, text and visual images with scope to find out more if desired.

I showed the clip to a friend who was most underwhelmed.  To an outsider, the learning curve of Flash is difficult to articulate and appreciate.  My colleagues reported losing hours attempting to resolve one small coding problem.

Flash has multiple components; the stage, the time line, scenes, layers and also the ActionScript coding in the background.  Without AdobeTV and YouTube, I’d still be staring at a blank screen.

More than just a floor cleaner

After many hours of online tutorials, frantic emails to friends and colleagues, I finally produced a short, interactive clip using sound,  navigation buttons, external links and images.

In order to avoid any copyright problems, I used images that I personally created on a field trip to Fota Wildlife Gardens.   I also created my own sound files.

The target audience is young children.  Initially, the user simply sees an image ; when the user clicks the animal, text will scroll across the screen giving the name of the animal and an audio can be heard providing the name of the animal also.  The link button at the bottom middle of the screen links to an external web page where the user can find out more.    The user can navigate backward and forward through the images.

The aim of the clip is to educate a user regarding a small group of animals.   The user has the opportunity to guess the name of the animal and articulate some facts prior to clicking the link to find out more or clicking the image itself which will reveal the name by text and audio.

There is scope for expansion by adding in further animals or images using the same principles of text and audio.  I adhered to the Fleming Vark pedagogical principles.

Flash is interesting software with enormous potential – sometimes it is easier to begin with the end in mind.  In order to achieve this, I downloaded some editable templates to see what was possible and attempted to breakdown the layers and code behind them.

I had trouble importing sounds until I discovered that I had to convert to mp3 from wav and then I was able to import to the library.

My initial plan was to have a screen with four or five image of animals and a user would have to match text to the image.  I had difficulties with the animation and scripting behind this so my plan evolved into a more linear clip that can only be viewed in predefined order.

I am keen to explore Flash in the future.  I would like to explore its use as a tool for interactive quizzes and to create short animation clips for marketing and media promotions.

I found the online tutorials very useful as long as I worked through them in a systematic manner and remained focused on the task at hand.  Flash encompasses several new concepts including scripting, animation, layering and timelines – all of which are new to me.  Unlike Second Life, this is an area that I would be keen to continue exploring.

I used CodeAcademy, YouTube & Adobe online tutorials.   This was an exercise in constructionist learning.  The only way to learn this type of skill is to learn by doing, making the mistakes and learning the solutions.  It is often a painful and frustrating path but it allows a user to take ownership of the learning path.

Welcome to our world

The hardest part was actually getting started.  I was struggling to come up with a “cool” concept.  Not having any parameters or boundaries can be slightly agoraphobic.  There is always a fear of “am I doing it right?”

For inspiration, I went to a local toy shop and looked at the lego section.  I was slightly unclear if the entire assignment had to be built and designed using Slurtles or if we could decorate and enhance the environment/learning experience using objects built in Second Life.
The jury is still out on Second Life as a tool for learning.  My personal experience was somewhat frustrating and so much time was spent just getting Second Life to run that by the time I got sorted, I had run out of steam.  For someone unfamiliar with augmented realities, there is steep learning curve.  There is an element of novelty value in the beginning learning what the avatar can do and not do which I feel might be distracting for a  new learner.    I found the group sessions, hosted by a PhD student, very useful.  They provided an open forum to experiment and ask questions.
The only way to deliver this type of training is using Papert’s constructionist approach and learn by actually doing and being engaged with the software and the experience.   Using Kolb’s learning cycle, we started with an abstract theory, and then began to experiment to see what was actually possible before implementing a modification of our original concept.  Once the scripting was in place, we reflected on what we had built and made sure it actually worked and made any necessary changes.
Working together was vital and working with a more able other.  Although neither of us had much experience in programming, we had been given a brief introduction to the tools necessary to complete the task.
In order to design the coding in Scratch, I wrote out in logical steps using pseudo code, of what I intended to do.  In some cases, what I wanted to do transpired not to be feasible as the commands did not exist, the functionality was overly complex or I simply did not have the expertise to devise a solution.  The ongoing adaptation of a concept is part of its inherent life cycle.  I used my son as my test environment asking him for feedback and comments.  I was conscious that the learner needed to kept interested, engaged and stimulated.
I also wanted to demonstrate my technical ability by using different types of scripts including random variables, inputs and outputs.
We wanted to design a game that would build on previous knowledge .  Initially the game will impart information and then it tests the users knowledge by asking questions and prompting for answers.
I made a decision not to explore the other environments as I found that this can lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress.  Although many times I was in the same physical environment as my fellow students and often shouted out a question, I found it easier to remain in my own virtual space and concentrate on getting the functionality of the game right before exploring how to enhance the environment.
Collaboration presents its own set of challenges, scheduling being the biggest one.  There is also an onus to support your colleague as much as possible and share any burdens.  I would hate to think I was letting my team down by not being able to contribute adequately. In the end we used a mixture of co-operation and collaboration.  We collaborated by physically sitting beside each other and using the one computer so that we could both see the same things from the same physical perspective.  We experienced problems sharing scripts and objects in Second Life although I had the permissions set correctly according to the instructions.
In the future, I am not sure if I would use Second Life again as a learning experience for students.  I would need to be absolutely sure that the technology and internet speed would not let me down.  I have not spent any time exploring Second Life.  On one occasion our learning space was closed for maintenance and my avatar ended up in a nearby night club surrounded by unfamiliar users.  I did not connect with my avatar.  There was a problem with her hair which I had to remove but felt no desire to change her appearance or clothing.  I found it interesting to note that other students made quite significant changes to their avatars.
I feel my experience was somewhat damped by the stress of completing an assignment and also technological obstacles, however, I am certain that Second Life is here to stay.