Oracle Building, Moorgate, 20 Feb 2008

This was a chance for various e-learning labs to show off their work and look for opportunities for collaboration. There were 16 labs represented in all, and chances to see 4 different presentations during the day. Unbelievably, there was no internet access in the presentation rooms on the day, so live demos were impossible and presenters had to use screenshots.

Notes from the 4 presentations I saw:

Chimera, University of Essex

This was previously a BT research lab that was taken over by the University, and it still has close ties to BT, who provide a lot of CASE studentships. They’re not specifically an e-learning unit – their research covers a wide range of subjects around the personal and social use of ICT.

On their site they have a dedicated 2-bedroom flat that they use for research into household technologies and ethnographic studies of how people interact with technology.

Projects include:

  • DELTA, a system for searching distributed repositories, harvesting metadata and allowing users to tag the results. Their findings were that academic users weren’t interested in sharing their own resources, and weren’t interested in tagging others’ resources either!
  • MiRTLE, a project in China to use a “mixed-reality” classroom. Provides a live link for distance students between a real classroom and a VR equivalent (using Wonderland, Sun’s version of Second Life). I couldn’t work out what the VR was adding, but then that is my usual attitude to VR, so maybe it’s just me. Apparently China sends 20% of its school-leavers to university, but wants to expand this to 50% – requiring the construction of 400 new universities!
  • UIDM, an e-learning development model. Shows a cycle of needs analysis leading to technical development followed by implementation and evaluation, which feeds back to the start. They were also trying to cram institutional change in there, but weren’t sure where it fitted.

CARET, University of Cambridge

This unit is independent of faculty or colleges, and is centrally funded, so it has to justify its existence by being as useful as possible. There is no institutional VLE at Cambridge but Sakai (a.k.a. CamTools) is a de facto standard on all their projects now because they like it so much. They build bespoke specialist tools, such as a molecular structure visualiser, and integrate it into CamTools.

Other projects:

  • Distilling the essence of the “supervision” sessions, i.e. tutorials, that are an important part of Cambridge teaching. They found that much time in these sessions was given over to correcting the same old misconceptions, so they videoed these sessions and created Apreso-style snippets that target these misconceptions.
  • Repositories, especially the Shahnama project to digitise the Persian Books of Kings.
  • Learning Landscape: an ethnographic study to find out exactly how students spend their time. Includes students videoing themselves and each other during the day, and SMS messages sent out at random times to ask “what are you doing right now?” Also the “Shutdown Challenge” to see how students behaved when denied access to the internet.
  • Facebook-CamTools integration. User can access their CamTools course resources from within Facebook. CamTools generates a unique key that Facebook can use to authenticate the user.

ILRT, Bristol

They host Intute, BOS and TASi, which will soon have a moving-image remit as well.


  • Clinical case recorder: students can upload multimedia information about a case into a database where it can be viewed by others. Also the materials are then imported into ToolBook templates to create stand-alone multimedia case studies for use by future students.
  • Experimentation with new web technologies: HTML 5 and its <canvas> tag for drawing, the W3C X-Forms spec for easy form-building.
  • CREW – an attempt to collect information from conferences and meetings that is usually forgotten about shortly after the event has finished. Allows delegates to upload materials and make meaningful connections using sematic web stuff.

IET, Open University

I didn’t really get a great deal out of this one, but here are some disconnected tidbits:

  • They have a new building, the Jennie Lee laboratory, which is all kitted out with video cameras, other sensors, robots etc.
  • They’ve done a lot of stuff with eye-tracking, showing what users actually look at on a web page. The answer is very little beyond the first paragraph of text. Perhaps we could burn some budget on one of these machines (a TOBII monitor), the results could be very interesting.
  • You may remember some time ago I suggested that I should spend some of my working day investigating the educational potential of World of Warcraft, since it seemed so much better than Second Life. Well, they actually have a guy doing that.
  • 50% of all the disabled students in the UK are studying through the OU
  • This rang true: “Evaluation feedback for new educational technologies is almost always positive – but it doesn’t mean you are doing a good job”.

All in all quite an interesting day.