Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 14 October 2008   Tuesday, November 4, 2008

ISSN 1748-3603

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JISC Users and Innovation Programme
Emerging Technologies
by Emma Anderson

The JISC Users and Innovation Programme is moving full steam ahead, with nine of the projects taking part having presented at the ALT conference in Leeds. Emerge, the project supporting these research teams was delighted with the presentations and responses to the work.
The nine projects, Sounds Good, ARGOSI, PREVIEW, AWESOME, Habitat, ASEL, SkillClouds, MOOSE and Evolve all cover new and emerging technologies, touching on areas as diverse as dissertation writing via a social virtual environment; understanding, accessing, getting to know and applying skills in order to write a better CV; Alternate Reality Games for orientation, socialisation and induction; teaching staff to present feedback on audio media via e-mail, VLEs and mobile devices; and distance learning through 3-D Multi-User Virtual Environments.
As a recent addition to the Emerge team, I was delighted to witness four of the project presentations at the conference. Observing the researchers and practitioners in action reminded me of the importance and relevance of their work to the advancement of learning technology. In this article I provide a summary of four of the projects showcased at ALT-C: AWESOME, SkillClouds, ARGOSI and MOOSE.
AWESOME, who are developing a tool to support dissertation writing via a personalised, social virtual environment, was chosen to be one of the few teams to present to the Minister of Science and Innovation, Ian Pearson. Melissa Highton and her colleagues did an excellent job of showing the Minister how the tool worked and he was clearly impressed by how quickly the research outputs were deployed, and by the close relationships with users. He even expressed regret at not having had this type of tool when he was a PhD student.
The short paper presented by the SkillClouds team investigated students' engagement with skills (e.g. critical thinking, presentation, problem-solving) and tried to identify gaps between students' perspectives and those of the institution.  The most significant finding was students' requests for extremely basic introductory messages about skills. The team presented their prototype tool which is being trialled with students; the results will be published when the project is completed.
The SkillClouds approach was felt by many of the teaching staff present to be potentially beneficial for their own institutions and John Davies, who gave the presentation, found the responses to the work helpful for prioritising what should be achieved over the coming months. He added that they would be very pleased if other institutions decided to use the system, particularly if they were prepared to release any new content they created under an open licence so that it could be made available to the community.
ARGOSI (Alternate Reality Games for Orientation, Socialisation and Induction) is using an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) for orientation and socialisation to provide an innovative alternative to face-to-face student induction. The team's paper explained how ARGs are made up of a series of collaborative challenges, supported by an underlying narrative, and use a range of web 2.0 technologies as the story unfolds. The team described how their particular ARG is being trialled at Manchester Metropolitan University during Freshers’ Week this year, to help students develop their library and information skills.
The MOOSE (MOdelling Of SecondLife Environments) team from the University of Leicester presented a paper examining the pedagogical potential of 3-D Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE) and Second Life for teaching and learning in Higher Education. In addition to the educational aspects, the team is also examining the potential of Second Life in socialisation and engagement for effective and efficient collaboration.
The team’s work was well received by the participants who came to the session along with other Emerge community members and the team learned a lot from other 3-D MUVE users, developers and researchers.
As well as the more formal proceedings, several members of the Emerge team participated in F-ALT, the ALT-C fringe, designed to give delegates new spaces and new ways of collaborating and taking forward ideas and topics. The aim was to support activities that fell outside typical conference formats and structures, and allow for a more creative and inclusive approach. Organiser Josie Fraser said: “It was a reckless and experimental approach to take, and by and large it worked out really well - it attracted a lot of delegates and demonstrated and started to explore ways in which participants could organise conference space for themselves”. There were a variety of sessions - the Learning Objects session failed to attract enough interest to take off while others were very popular, including the Edupunk and microblogging sessions.
This year’s conference was felt by the JISC Users and Innovation teams to be one of the best ALT conferences so far: very dynamic, with a great deal of enthusiasm from the participants. The quantity and quality of knowledge shared and distributed was impressive as indeed were the presentations, posters and symposia. The conference, certainly from the point of view of the U&I Programme, was extremely successful and has forged many new relationships, forging the advancement of learning technologies.
For more information on these and all of the projects who presented at ALT-C this year, please go to
Emma Anderson

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