Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 1   Friday, August 5, 2005

ISSN 1748-3603

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Learning Activity Management Sequences (LAMS)
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Learning Activity Management Sequences (LAMS)
Learning Activity Management Sequences (LAMS)
Learning Activity Management Sequences (LAMS)
by Vivien Sieber

Learning Activity Management Sequences (LAMS) was developed at McQuarie University and is one of a range of open-source, web-based tools that are becoming freely available to the community. Written in Java, Flash and XML, LAMS aims to achieve compliance with IMS level A learning design later this year.

Based on learning design, where groups of people use resources to do activities within an environment, LAMS presents a contrast to conventional VLEs as it is activity- rather than content-centred. It can be used to present learners with a sequence of activities, forming a single teaching session or a whole course. Sequences may be entirely web-based or use external applications and conventional teaching. For promoting dialogue and collaboration between students, there are tools for voting, real-time chat and chat & scribe (a tool that combines live chat with an area to write a collaborative document); these tools could be used by students to negotiate and agree a decision. Tools for individuals include a notebook, where learners can record their private thoughts, and a journal, which allows learners to record their experiences for viewing by the teacher. Grouping allows the author to subdivide a class into manageable numbers for collaborative activities; membership of a group is allocated randomly.

Sequences can be shared between individuals and institutions and may be built collaboratively, with the advantage of incorporating examples of best practice. In time, repositories of peer-reviewed sequences will be available and customisable for local use. Sequences are exported as small files which are easy to move and share.

Learners are presented with a, generally linear, sequence of activities and cannot progress to the next activity until they have completed the current one. It is possible to build flexible sequences where activities may be grouped to provide alternatives in order to accommodate different learning preferences. Teachers can monitor individual learner progress and manage a class, for example by preventing a cohort moving forward until everyone has reached a given point.

LAMS provides a simple way of creating sequences of activities for web-based delivery. The range of options offered is controlled by the access rights assigned to a particular account. Figure 1 shows the full options: “Author”, “Monitor”, “Administrator” and “Learner”. A student, for example, would only see the “Learner” view.


Figure 1 LAMS login screen offering 4 alternative views

Author
An author is presented with a range of tools (activities) in the left hand menu which can be dragged into the central area to create a sequence (Figure 2).


Figure 2 LAMS Author dialog showing activities pane (left hand side) with sequenced activities in the main window.
 
LAMS provides opportunities to orchestrate dialogue and class interaction via the voting, chat, and chat & scribe activities. Grouping allows the author to subdivide a class for selected activities, for example chat. It is easy to link to external web resources which subsequently open inside a LAMS window and there is the option for students to recommend and comment on sites. Activities are easy to build with simple plain text dialog boxes.
 

Figure 3 Activity authoring dialog for the noticeboard.
 
Monitor
Monitor lets the teacher assign groups of students to sequences and follow progress during a class. Green dots appear on the sequence as a class is running, holding the mouse over a dot identifies the individual (Figure 4).
 

Figure 4 Monitor shows individual progress through a sequence
 
Learner
The learner is presented with sequenced activities and cannot progress until the current activity is complete. The left-hand menu shows activities as a linear sequence which changes dynamically as students move through a sequence.
 

Figure 5 Learner view

LAMS currently only works in Internet Explorer, which is a limitation for a web-based product. It has been used, particularly in schools, for large groups working synchronously in class settings. It has potential for asynchronous use but it may be difficult to orchestrate some of the group activities. LAMS has value as a tool which helps academics think about and plan their teaching sessions.

LAMS can be used to provide context and instructions to students. Many reusable objects remain unused because there is no simple way of telling students why a resource is important in the context of their studies, how they should use it and what they should expect from it. Several related web sites can be linked to provide a coherent set of learning activities and students may recommend additional sites as the course progresses. Workshops and class activities can form the basis of sequences, for example context, instructions and data files can be provided for exercises to be carried out in separate specialist applications (e.g. SPSS, Excel for statistics). The student completes the tasks and uploads their file into LAMS for assessment. One of the main advantages that LAMS offers is the simplicity of authoring sequences using drag and drop and simple dialog boxes. Initial feedback suggests that this aspect of the software is appealing to staff and some have used it with minimal help.

We have used sequences with first- and second-year medical students at Oxford as part of the JISC funded Tools Integration Project (TIP) and received vociferous feedback; they found the navigation restrictive, disliked the linearity and the interface was not particularly popular (users found it clunky and confusing). However, there was an even split between those who liked voting and real-time chat and those who dismissed them as gimmicks.
 
LAMS does have potential. It provides a useful session planning tool, a drag and drop way of creating teaching materials that appeals to staff who have neither the time nor the inclination to learn HTML, and a way of providing context to reusable resources. Sequences may well be of value for asynchronous teaching and distance learning as the ability to monitor student progress at a distance would be particularly useful. There have been several important technical developments during the course of this project, for example the ability to preview a sequence whilst under construction and more are coming with the next version.
 
This project was funded by the JISC under the Tools Integration Project (TIP) e-learning tools.
 
The LAMS source is available under the GNU General Public License (GPL) from http://www.lamsfoundation.org/downloads/
 
References
Tools Integration Project http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jiscpub/JISC_TIP/Index.htm
LAMS Foundation http://www.lamsfoundation.org/

Vivien Sieber
Medical Sciences Division
Oxford Centre for Gene Function
South Parks Road
Oxford OX1 3PT

 
 


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