Saturday, March 10, 2012

CEDO 540 Week 6: To LMS or Not To LMS - SCORM is the Question

It's a tricky question about whether I liked using a Wiki more than Angel LMS for a course.
Years ago  was pretty excited learning about and investigating Learning Management Systems (LMS). I thought at the time that these were going to be wonderful things. Angel was open source back then and was a pretty nice system. I chose instead to follow Moodle and eventually played around with it here and there installing it on my own computers and testing it out at my school once.

On either an LMS, a Wiki, a Google Site or even other shared content tools, it's easy enough to post homework and links and such for a course. You can even get some collaboration and interaction. Some services even provide gradebooks and attendance and so on. The magic about LMS's are the kind of interactive courses you can use with them called SCORM content.

Simple, isn't it?

Simply put, a SCORM learning object provides a way to interact and automatically grade work done. Many of you have probably interacted with SCORM content in one way or another. If you've ever tested out that math site to see what it's like and it automatically grades you, it was probably a proprietary SCORM learning object, written for that particular site. All those fancy comprehensive core content material you can buy for your school are most likely SCORM content as well.

The problem with SCORM is that you need to find the right vendor with the right product and hopefully it will work with your LMS. Many times it will use a proprietary LMS not connected to the one you use at your school. This means you have another system to learn and maintain. This is the case with a lot of online educational content services as well now. Their content is SCORM, but it is proprietary and won't hook up to your LMS. Either they don't want to make it possible to do so or it is too difficult for them because it was not designed the right way from the start.

Another problem with SCORM content (or at least it used to be) is something called cross-domain scripting. For a SCORM learning object to keep track of all the students grades, which assignments they have done, which skills they need more work on and more, there is a lot of interaction with the program and the database behind it using some kind of scripting language. Ideally, it would be nice to find a program on the web and have it hooked up to your school LMS. But this is difficult to do because the severs with the program and database on the web need to interact with with the server running your LMS. Both are on different internet domains. There is an internet rule that says a server on one domain cannot send a script to run on a server on another domain. It's a good rule and keeps things safe and secure on the Internet. But this rule makes it very difficult for offsite SCORM packages to interact with your onsite LMS. This is one reason all those nice core content sites on the web have their own grading and tracking systems.They don't want to deal with the cross-domain scripting issue.  They may have fears about opening up their servers to attack. Cross-domain scripting can be done with some hacking, and done safely, but you need to know how to do it (I don't).

Another disappointment I've found with SCORM is that by now, I would have thought there would be a lot more high quality interactive content for downloading and inserting into your LMS. I thought the open source community would have been active in this. This isn't the case. I have had a hard time finding any quality free/open source SCORM packages. Yes, you can find a lot of courses that have text content, links, perhaps videos and so on. All the stuff you could put into a blog or find in LiveBinders but not the kind of interaction you find on that awesome math site such as BuzzMath. I think the open source community has in the past focused on programs and apps that do things. It's time now for a greater movement into the open source content. It's starting but it's not there yet.

For now, to effectively use an LMS to it's full potential, you either need to purchase expensive course content, have interactive content made for you or have people in-house working on creating all the content and an administrator that can make it simpler for everyone to use. Not an easy task no mtter how you look at it.

Because there are so many options now for delivering and interacting with content, it seems that going with what works best for individuals may work just as well. There will probably never be a comprehensive suite LMS that will give everyone just what they need and want. It would be super bloated as well. Yes, we'll still have to manually enter math grades into the grade book either paper or on the computer. You will still have to mark and grade those collaborative mindmaps separately. Using all these different web tools actually makes administration of things a bit more difficult. But if those who can have at least some freedom to choose the tools they are comfortable with, then perhaps it makes some things a little easier. Do your course here. Enter grades there. Mark attendance here. Collaborate there. Simple enough.

CEDO 540 Week 5: Data is a Droid

I always liked Data (Brent Spinner) in Star Trek: Next Generation as a replacement for Spock. Nice to have someone(thing) to be able to interpret all those Yottabytes (1024) of information. So one of our real life droids is Google with Google Trends and Insights, trying to give some sort of sense of a lot of data. They don't have voice search yet so you can't talk to them like you can to Data. I suppose someday we'll get to interact with something like Watson from IBM (Jeopardy playing computer with voice recognition). Pair this up with a Dick Tracy watch and we're good to go. iOS seems to be moving this way, at least according to the ads. Ask a question - get an answer. I wonder what Apple is using for background data for this?

This sort of thing is I suppose a little bit easier with a slew of programmers writing complex algorithms than asking a high school student to make sense of some of the data available. What seems to be the trend with a lot of technology will be that troops of hard core coders do the grunt work and the rest of us need to learn how to use the apps that go along with what the coders come up with.

So do we really need to teach students how to find data, analyze it and interpret it? I suppose we still do now for a while until the critical mass of data has been organized and is easily searchable and usable. Then the task will be a bit simpler. Bring it on Web 3.0! I think the pat that students really need to know is  some of the basic stuff that we have learned in class. How data is used and can be interpreted meaning students need to understand how data can be manipulated to tell a lot of different stories based on the agenda of the interpreter. Media awareness. Knowing this, students will have a much better crap detector (a reference to Postman & Weingartner's Teaching as a Subversive Activity).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

CEDO 540 Week 4: Survey Crunch

Num - Number - Numbest

When our group decided on a topic to do a survey on, I volunteered to create the form using Jotform. After I got started, I realized that our method of trying to get meaningful results was flawed. Our original idea was parallel to asking this to get some kind of ranking of importance of items.

On a scale of 1-10, rate the following:
1 = no no never never uh uh uuuhhh, 10 = super duper double scooper.

  1. Do you like chocolate ice cream?
  2. Do you like chocolate cake?
Well, it will be hard to get anything meaningful to compare the two items using this method. Those that like chocolate will most likely rank both very high and those that don't will rank them both low, giving us a meaningless comparison.

So, I thought, how can we rank and compare a list of items, many of which most people will rank high. Then I thought of a couple of surveys I've taken where they ask you to choose between 2 or 3 items, sometimes where you really have a hard time choosing because you think all the answers are almost equal, but you have to choose. So it became more like this, "Would you rather have chocolate ice cream or chocolate cake?" Now we'll really see which people like better. Even those that don't really like chocolate would still have to choose the lesser of two evils. 

Image CC By Jorge Franganillo

I figured out how to do it and then did it, letting my group know I had made some changes. They didn't really get it at first. I didn't really know how I was going to analyze the results either and I certainly didn't expect my classmates to figure out how to crunch the numbers of something they didn't really design. I dug the hole and now I had to climb out. So I ended up learning more about spreadsheets again. Copying formulas works this way but not that way. Named ranges and cells are an enormous help with copying formulas. Taking the lazy route and doing all of the calculations and charts on the same sheet as the raw data makes for a messy sheet but saves you from having to reference the other sheet in a thousand times.

I learned a lot about creating surveys. I can see how getting reliable data from a survey really does take a lot of careful planning. In real life a survey would have to be piloted first to work out any kinks. I found out that my matrix of questions had a minor flaw, but flaw that wouldn't cut it in scientific journal. I don't think I want to be in the survey business or the research using statistics business but knowing more about it now will be good when someone tells me, "Oh, and we need a survey by Thursday when the newsletter goes out."

The survey is here. If it is still live, feel free to take it. The report is here.