It would appear that I am now studying an MSc in Testing Eternal Limits and I am close to reaching mine.

I have spent the last 3 days repairing my computer.  If there were marks for persistence, troubleshooting, stress management and finding ingenious work arounds, I would get a straight A.  However, there are not and the work still needs to get done.

S4SL is like Vegas, no clocks, no concept of time, incredibly frustrating when things do not go to plan and amazingly rewarding when things go well.

The pressure is mounting, the computer is behaving somewhat but no internet connection on campus which makes it impossible to work on projects, however, between home and McDonalds, I can keep going.

I have come to love clouds.  Thank heavens for Dropbox, my saviour.  I did not care about having to rebuild the computer, all my data was safe and sound in the cloud.  It was just tedious having to reinstall all my programmes and countless utilities and battle with proxy settings but almost there and I am still smiling!  There is a lesson in all that we do.



Indecent proposal

I had to submit a proposal for my end of term project on the day as my literature review.  What a juggling act!  When I finally relaxed my mind and realised that a proposal is just that.  It is not the end game, it is not my thesis.

We have all been assigned our supervisors and made contact.  My supervisor afforded me a plethora of suggestions, directions and guidelines.  Is the antithesis of a decent proposal an indecent one?

I had become focused on the tool rather than the pedagogy and the research question.   To formulate a question, one must first know the answer.

On the menu this evening is a starter of Scratch for Second Life, followed by Abode Flash as main course with a side order of some work on my ethics application followed by a cup of tea and pajamas for dessert.

I walked through campus early morning last weekend.  It really is a world within a world of chaos.  I consider myself so privileged to be part of something so historic.   Perhaps when I graduate, I’ll take the time to really explore what I should be enjoying now.

Botox & biros

Much brow-furrowing took place this weekend and last weekend as we got to grips with Second Life and S4SL.  What appeared to be a fairly simple problem turned into a mountain.

However, Vygosky appears to have been correct and working collaboratively works effectively in the zone of proximal development.

I found it easier to physically animate the problem with physical objects, not unlike a man in a pub demonstrating the offside rule with condiments.  My lab partner and I then wrote down the possible commands we thought it would take to achieve the task before tackling the keyboard.

At one point, my tutor I were having an interesting conversation.  We were both fluent, but in different languages.  I had made assumptions that did not exist and had imposed boundaries upon myself that were not necessary, therefore overcomplicating the problem.

The main points of the exercises today were to demonstrate that just because something is cool and funky does not actually make it viable learning media, however, if the focus is on the pedagogical underpinning, then perhaps “cool and funky” has validity.

I am undecided about Second Life, particularly working in a public space.   It is quite strange to be able to see my fellow learners at the same time.

As I unravel this task, I feel slightly less unravelled but a little weary nonetheless.

Ray Kroc was a wonderful man

Well, it has been a very turbulent time since my last posting.

My laptop was stolen, my broadband connection went down, still problematic but getting sorted.

The light at the end of the tunnel no longer feels like an oncoming train.  Did I mention that my mobile telephone would not work, it was refusing to connect via 3G, it was not like it could pick up the non existent wifi in the house and my landline died so I had to shout out the window to communicate with the outside world.

Thank heavens for Mr Kroc – the founder of McDonalds as we know it today.  He purchased the idea from Messrs McDonald as he was so impressed with their consistent quality of product, service and speed.  Not only that but now McDonalds have free and very good wifi combined with good coffee makes Eternal Student a happy student.

I spent several days wailing into my 2 euro coffee and thumping the keys of my new laptop.  I had two assignments to submit and time was of the essence.  My local library has good and free wifi also but they do not stay open until 3am or serve curly fries.

Feedback on my last assignment was very useful.  Overall, a very mixed reaction from my fellow scholars but we are all on the right track.

Current projects are to learn Flash (I don’t even know what it does  – I thought it was for cleaning the bathroom), get hang of Scratch and immerse myself in Second Life – like I have time for my first one!  My son is helping me with Second Life and the rest will fall into place given time and mental energy.  All of the above rely on a good internet connection, roll on next week when my new modem is being installed.

I have been experimenting with Mind Maps in an attempt to consolidate the knowledge into my little grey cells and I am hoping to incorporate them into my dissertation, we shall see.

You do the math

I have been busy recently rediscovering my love of mathematics.  We have been working on some group based assignments and discovering the difference between co-operation and collaboration.  Collaboration is extremely difficult when there are several strong personalities that do not really know each other.

We had to deliver two group based assignments and an individual one.  The individual one is listed in a previous posting – war of the buttons – I did not realise how difficult it would be to deliver what I felt was a simple task.

The first group based assignment was based on trigonometry and used google maps, acetates, Skype and the internet to determine the best place for a group of individuals to meet up.  The objective was to help learners identify the mid point of a triangle without actually using complex terminology.  One of the “learners”, a math teacher, was so impressed with the exercise that she has decided to roll it out to her class, with some refinements.

The other group based assignment was not being marked but was a fun exercise.  It involved working collaboratively to produce a short film.


Ode to a four hole button

There you sit in your four hole grace, and along comes someone to sew up your face.

The first hurdle was to actually finding some software that worked.  A mystery problem with Mac is that the text editor does not work when trying to code html pages.  The code runs perfectly through a validator but refuses to display in a web browser.  It took me ages to figure this out until eventually one of the students mentioned it to me.

I then attempted to use Articulate, as suggested by one of the tutors, to discover that it does not run on a Mac platform.  I installed it on a Windows platform but my poor old PC could not cope and began to protest.

In despair, I decided to use MovieMaker and WordPress.  The code in WordPress came up with a large volume of errors when I ran it through a validator and I had some problems getting it to do what I wanted it to do.  I had some trouble with the alignment of the text and the images, even when I inserted hard returns manually into the page.  In WordPress, it is possible to switch between browser view and HTML view.

I had to shoot the video several times.  I sent the first draft out to some trusted friends who would give honest feedback.  The main theme was that the button was too small and it was too hard to see what I was doing.  I also received feedback that the music should be removed.  I added the music as I felt the clip sounded a bit hollow and empty.

The music was a headache to add in the first place.  I could not find the song I wanted (The Sewing Machine) as an MP3 however, I found it as a YouTube clip so I had to find, download and install software that extracts MP3 from video.  It also raised copyright problems using music that I had not composed myself or paid a royalty for.  There was other more suitable music that I could have used but it was being held hostage in iTunes and I could not work how to extract it.

I reshot the video from different angles and used a large cardboard model as a button with ribbon and a darning needle.  It proved an interesting point; just because you know how to do something does not mean you can impart the information clearly.

Having sewn on the same button about 10 times now, I think I am fairly expert!  My son is getting exasperated having to hold the camera yet again.  All is fair in love and war.  I help him with all his assignments.

Another obstacle with this assignment was that it was very similar to another group-based assignment and I managed to get the deadlines muddled.  A few late nights and very early mornings sorted that out – I hope!

I viewed a video by another student that had no dialogue or music but instead the student had inserted slides to indicate each step.  This caused me to really doubt myself and wondered if I was talking too much in my task or had I just chosen a task with too many components.   My own natural style is slightly cynical with tongue in cheek humour, it is hard to know if this is always appropriate.

I also wasted a lot of time trying to convert from one platform or file type to another.  The digital camera ran out of charge half way through one session and I had to switch to iPhone which creates .MOV files and not .AVI files.  Movie Maker cannot interpret .MOV files.  Most of the conversion software only runs on a Windows platform.  I found some conversion software but it would not convert the file – for reasons only known to the developers.  In the end, I had to switch from Movie Maker to iMovie and start again.

The learning

  • Wear clothes that make your arms stand out so that you don’t look like Marcel Marceau.
  • Speak SLOWLY – one of the shoots was completely unusable as I spoken so quickly I could not understand what I was saying.
  • Avoid distractions such as the leg of the table or the curtain flapping in the background.
  • Be clear on what you are trying to achieve beforehand.
  • Use images or props that are clear and easy to see.
  • Choose one software platform and stick to it.

What I would do differently next time

  • Use a surface that does not clatter when something is placed upon it.
  • Use strong and contrasting colours – the yellow ribbon against the cardboard did not stand out enough.
  • Script what I want to say and leave long pauses to allow titles to be added or simply for the learner to process the information.
  • Turn off the telephone!  The iPhone rang a few times during the filming.
  • Get more feedback early on and allow for edits and reviews.

Making a simple thing complicated

Finally, I have reached a solution.  After spending hours installing and installing software, driving myself bonkers, trying to code from scratch, wailing and gnashing my teeth, I realised that the solution was under my nose.   Still good to be able to recognise and understand the code, troubleshoot problems and be able to perform manual edits as necessary.

I can use WordPress to create my assignment, I can now simply concentrate on the project at hand rather than the complexity of trying to make the software work.  It must have been my decision to move to the other side of the room.  The best bit is that I finally feel I have contributed to the class by being able to help some of the other students.  My work here is done.

I was making the fatal mistake of putting the technology before the learning.

No more excuses, my tutors will no doubt have high expectations, at least we are not being marked on design.  Roll on reading week…………