Semiotics: An image by another name

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Website full of semiotics


Heres my brief take on semiotics, though I’m not entirely sure I’ve got the right end of the stick.

This image of the Aviary Web 2.0 website and the image of Microsoft Word document being edited, includes a number of symbols/icons. Most, if not all, of the images are symbols, although people of a certain age may recognise some of the images, such as, a floppy disc, as an icon, as it  is to them, a representation of where a digital file used to be saved to. To younger users, who see no correlation between the image and ‘saving a file’ apart from the convention they have learned, see the image as a symbol.

Please let me know if you think I’m on the right track.


Week Five: Diigo and

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Diigo is a social bookmarking service, I use personally, it provides a place in the cloud, where users can save all their bookmarks, enabling them to access them when they are away from their own computer. Diigo is one of the many social bookmarking services (see more here) which are currently available on the web, however, another popular service, delicious, which I used to use, is soon to be no more, after Yahoo recently announced they would no longer support it.

When social bookmarking services first started, the ability to save bookmarks to the cloud was the main reason for users to open an account. In the beginning, as it is now, users needed to add their own metadata to their bookmarks so they could be found in a search. However, as this process was new to users they often forgot to include any metadata or they only used a single tag.  Although users could share all their public bookmarks with each other, with little or no metadata available, finding specific bookmarks was difficult. This soon changed as users quickly recognised the need for metadata so they could share their bookmarks with each other successfully. The services themselves have been refined over the years, making it easier for users to share. Diigo now provides the ability for users to create and share individual lists of their own bookmarks, to contribute to existing lists or groups and for users to build their own network by ‘following’ other users. Fundamentally, however, the service is still reliant on users own metadata and it is noticeable that experienced users now use several tags for each bookmark.

Using Diigo to create a PLN

Diigo Tutorial

Diigo use in education

Diigo can be used in any number of ways in an educational context, the most common way I believe it is being used is by tutors, who share a course list of bookmarks with a class. Tutors start a course list and share a number of bookmarks at the beginning of a course and then invite learners to add to the list, as they research and share their own bookmarks on the topic. This is an excellent way of enabling user generated content.

[LINK] Student Learning with Diigo

I actively collaborate and share my own Diigo ( and others, via a number of Personal Learning Networks, these include my staff, the tutors in college and the wider educational community all of which form part of my professional development. I have over 4,700 bookmarks in my Diigo with a variety of tags including over 1,600 tagged elearning, 650 mlearning and 580 iPad. I use a Twitter tool to automatically create a bookmark in Diigo, every time a Tweet includes a link, ensuring I am saving the bookmark as well as sharing it on Twitter. Although I have a large number of bookmarks, this is tiny in relation to the hundreds of thousands which are available to me via my PLN.

Diigo links to educational theory

To follow……



. is a URL shortening service, which also provides significant analytical information related to the shortened links. A URL shortener is critical tool if you use services such as Twitter, where the numbers of characters you use are at a premium. As each shortened URL is unique to individual accounts the shortened link can be tracked very effectively which is a excellent way of assessing the use of links be they within a blog, email or a LMS.

The information below is the ‘impact’ from my links during the last 30 and 7 days, this includes the number of hits and the countries and domains where these hits occurred.

.    .    . in an educational context can be used in an educational context to enable learners to establish statistics about their blogs. Blogs are becoming a very common form of e-portfolio for learning with feedback generally limited to blog comments or page impressions. Using learners will be able to identify which part of the world their visitors are coming from and which particular resources their visitors click on.

Tutors can also use in a similar way to evaluate their online courses, establishing which resources learners favour or if a particular style or layout has more impact than others.

This blog article refers to the use of by journalists to track “effectiveness and reach” of their Tweets – How journalists are using and other shorteners to track the success of tweets links to educational theory

To follow….





Week Four: Twitter & Google Apps

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Twitter (@MoodleMcKean)

Twitter is a microblogging social network site, which enables users to post messages, or Tweets, of up to 140 characters long. Since users can only see the Tweets from people they choose to ‘follow’ they need to create their own Twitter community by ‘following’ other users.

Twitter initially became well known for the Tweets made by it’s users telling their followers, what they have had for breakfast etc. However, following the introduction of a system to identify the information in Tweets, that all changed.

In order to identify, or tag information, within a Tweet, users use hash tags. Prefixing the tag with a # e.g. #elearning, which would indicate the Tweet referred to elearning in some way. Searching for and following hash tags is another way for users to find information and to follow a series of Tweets.

A Tweet by me using various hash tags

A Tweet with hash tags

The following articles refer to Twitter hash tags: The first hash tag Tweeted 0n TwitterSemiology of hash tags

The use of Twitter has changed dramatically in recent times, not least in light of the recent events in Egypt. Twitter was used as a central communication platform for the people of Egypt during the recent uprising and the hash tags #Jan25 and #Egypt were used to identify the Tweets related to it. In fact, the Egyptian government was so concerned about the use of Twitter during the unrest that they ‘unplugged’ the Internet in Egypt to try and disrupt these communication channels.

Using Twitter in education

Creating a Personalised Learning Network (PLN)

The teaching communities which exist on Twitter, are excellent examples of how Twitter supports education by its use as a continuing professional development tool. Teachers gradually build up their own PLN by initially following educational hash tags, such as the generic #edchat (educational chat) and more subject specific #mathchat (maths chat) and then following individual teachers, experts etc.

I have personally built up a PLN of approximately 2,900 members, who I am regularly able to share information with and equally I am able to ask for advice about the topics I need support with. Teachers, quite often Tweet links to blogs and articles which contain peer referenced materials or reflective writing which they welcome comments on, thus improving their own professional understanding. In fact, although Twitter only allows a 140 character messages which don’t facilitate reflective writing, the additional use of blogs enable this reflection to take place.

A number of Tweets using the hash tag #hudmud

Sharing my Twitter knowledge

In addition there are a variety of Twitter chats, which take place at the same time every week, for a hour, when teachers from all around the globe log in and contribute to the topic of the week. #ukedchat, for example, is a chat for UK educationalists, which takes place every Thursday from 8-9pm GMT. The topic for each chat is determined via a vote of the community prior to each chat and everyone who contributes to the chat simply tags their Tweet with #ukedchat, meaning everyone has to follow the hash tag for the hour to follow the chat.

Participants in #edchat

Participants in #edchat

A list of educational chats

The videos below, give a wide overview of PLNs.

This article explains how to: Build you own PLN with Twitter

One tutors’ view: Why I think Twitter is Amazing

There are many more ways Twitter can be used within education and plenty of examples already well referenced on the Internet. I have included a few articles below along with a matrix for using Twitter in education.

100 ways To Teach with Twitter

Interesting Ways to Use Twitter in Classroom

Full Tweet Ahead: More Teachers Using Twitter

Encouraging a Twitter Backchannel

Twitter increases students engagement (STUDY)

Can Twitter help improve grades? Some researchers think so

How Building a PLN Can Help Your Students

Twitter in Further Education Report

Educational Theory of a PLN

To follow……..




Google Apps for Education

Google Apps for Education is a cloud based, Software as a Service (SaaS), package from Google which they provide, free of charge, for educational organisations.

Google Apps for Education, is a package made up of an office suite of applications, which supports word processing, spreadsheets, forms, presentations, websites, maps, blogs, email and much more. Google Apps, therefore provides learners with much of the software they regularly use on their educational desktop computers, however, now it is available in the cloud for them to use on any computer at anytime.

The value of the cloud service, above and beyond, providing learners with access to the software they require, is the fact the documents can be shared, enabling online, realtime collaboration between learners, both inside and outside the classroom.

Google Docs in Plain English

Educational Use: Peer support and collaboration

An excellent use of Google Apps to support learning is to use the applications to enable learners to collaborate on a group project, for example, writing a group poem.

As the learners are able to write in real time and can see what their peers are doing, they are able to collaborate as they write their poem. This live setup, provides the learners with the opportunity to comment on the structure of the each others verse and correct any spelling mistakes, while also enabling them to offer suggestions on alternative words and thus improve the overall project.

As well as improving collaboration between the learners, the use of this technology also enables the tutor to provide feedback, while the learners continue working. At the end of the task the tutor can also share all the different poems with the whole group, indicating where and why they had provided feedback and crucially highlighting what changes the groups made to improve their poem. Something which is very rarely, if ever, shared with peers under normal assessment conditions.

An introduction to Google Docs – video

Learn how to collaborate and share documents with Google Docs – video

As with Twitter there are many ways Google Docs can be used to support teaching and learning, I have highlighted a few more below.

This article is from a tutor who used Google docs with his learners and how that changed his assessment. A teachers’ view of assessing with Google Docs

This is a proposal from a tutor to his head teacher to use Google Docs for online reporting to parents

The links below are crowd sourced resources created by some members of my own PLN, listing ‘Interesting Ways to Use’ the following Google Apps:

Google Docs

Google Earth

Google Maps

Google Forms

Using Google Docs in the classroom: Simple as ABC

To learn how to use Google Docs have a look at Google Docs Training Suite

Educational Theory of Learner Collaboration

To follow…………….




Week Three: Flickr and YouTube



Flickr is a web2.0 service which provides users with an account so they can host and share their pictures online and short videos. Flickr can be used simply as an online photo album where users share pictures with their friends and family via their photostream and is used in this way by a significant number of users.

By promoting the tagging (which I explained earlier,) of pictures and the use of geotagging, (tagging a picture with it’s GPS location, which is often done automatically by a mobile phone;) Flickr, enables users to connect with each other. Users can find pictures uploaded by people who have tagged their pictures in the same way or have uploaded pictures from similar locations. Therefore, connecting users in different ways, all of which are relative to their own pictures.

Flickr promotes communities within it’s service using the groups function. The group function enables users to join an existing group or create a group of their own.


YouTube is another web2.0 service which provides users with an account so they can host and share their videos online. YouTube is a web2.0 phenomenon which has become ‘the place’ on the Internet for people to share their videos. Users require an account to post their videos and like Flickr these accounts are often used as ways of sharing videos between friends and family.

YouTube enables users to comment on videos, to show that they ‘like’ the video and it provides users with the ability to easily share videos in a variety of ways, including via email, FaceBook and Twitter.

YouTube doesn’t rely on user tagging to identify videos, it also uses the number of times a video has been watched to rank it under any particular search criteria or tag. Therefore, it uses it’s own community to validate the value of a video to each individual tag. While also providing further validation by indicating to a user how many people have ‘liked’ the video and any further comments users have made about it.

By using it’s user community to promote and share the videos within YouTube, it is easy to understand, how, from time to time, YouTube videos become ‘viral’ and spread across the Internet like wild fire. This is simply a symptom of the success of the service and it’s users.

The use of Flickr and YouTube within educational communities

YouTube Channels

Week Two: RSS, Creative Commons and Tagging


As I suggested earlier before I carry out any new research into RSS, Creative Commons or Tagging, I will explain what I believe they are and their benefits to online communities.


RSS – which stands for Really Simple Syndication, is in effect, a live stream of information which is ‘pushed’ from websites around the Internet to an individuals RSS reader account. Users subscribe via their RSS reader to the RSS ‘feed’ from any number of websites on the Internet. A RSS feed is sent or ‘pushed’ from a website every time the website is updated, this prevents users from having to view the websites periodically to see if they have been updated. The use of this push technology is what makes RSS so effective.

Online educational communities can make significant use of RSS feeds, in lots of ways. For example, when carrying out research, educators can link to individual RSS feeds from a number of significant websites or blogs, each related to the research subject. This will enable them to keep updated with any news and information which is published. Similarly, educators who all follow a particular topic, for example, educational technology (edtech), can create a RSS bundle, using participants blogs (which relate to edtech),  in order to create an aggregated feed of realtime information, related to educational technology.

An RSS bundle is also a good way a teacher, delivering a distance learning course, can aggregate information from learners reflective blogs. And for that matter, a way by which learners, within mini groups, can aggregate the realtime information being shared within their group (something this mini group should set up).

A good example of how easy it is to use a RSS reader to subscribe to hundreds of educational blogs, can be found in this blog post .

Here is a Common Craft video explaining what RSS is

Creative Commons

It is my understanding that due problems, particularly within education, related to intellectual property rights and sharing resources, a new form of copyright needed to be introduced to enable resources to be shared legally. The new copyright was creative commons (cc).

Creative Commons has been set up in a similar way to that of open source software, with the intention anyone can use the resource, repurpose it and then make it available again under the Creative Commons licence. The author of a resource needs to use the Creative Commons licence in order to provide copyright permissions to other users so they use the resource or edit it.  Once these permissions are granted other users can use of their websites etc without breaking the law, which under previous copyright they would have been doing.

The ability for users to easily licence under Creative Commons means educational communities are able to share resources legally between members without the risk of breaking the law. Creative Commons licensing has in my opinion facilitated much greater collaboration between online educators, with evidence highlighted daily on educational blogs. It is now common place to see resources being reused by educators in different districts and countries and significantly educators sharing their experiences, so others can learn from their successes or failures.

This video explains Creative Commons:


Personally I see tagging or to be more precise Meta-tagging as one of, if not the most important aspect, of the educated web. A tag on source of information be it a blog post, an image or a even a Twitter Tweet, adds Metadata to the asset which enables that source of information to be found more easily and stored by search engines.

I believe the lack of relevant metadata on websites, blogs, images and basically anything posted online has slowed down the progress of the Internet as a learning tool. Yes the Internet is currently an excellent source of information, however, as we all know the first web link following a Google search isn’t always the website we were looking for. In fact, you will notice advertisers have taken the lead in providing relevant information every time you search using Google, as they use appropriate and detailed metadata to ensure you receive the correct result.

Advertisers, courtesy of companies like Google, Amazon and FaceBook actually use even more relevant metadata, which is tied personally to you, metadata which is correlated to your online presence and continuously generated. As an example, when you open up Amazon after making a purchase of a cookery book, you are very likely to be offered other books on cooking. The use of metadata in this way will hopefully lead to the semantic web, where the computer will use metadata to create its own intelligent metadata, providing you with information about things before you have already shown an interest in. It has been muted that the semantic web would already be here, however, it is possibly due to the inadequate tagging on so many existing web resources that the initial databank required isn’t significant enough yet.

The use of tagging within online communities again has many possibilities. There is obviously the tagging of webpages and blogposts, but in order to share information from external sources learners can create tags of their own. This can be achieved in a number of ways, however, I will concentrate on two, Diigo and Twitter.

Diigo is a web2.0, (this means it is available in the cloud,) social bookmarking service. Diigo enables users to bookmark and tag any website they visit, plus it makes this information available as a webpage, so the user can access it from anywhere. What makes this service social, is that anyone can follow a user and see all the bookmarks and tags they make (except the ones marked private). In addition, a user can add their bookmarks to community lists, therefore, for example, sharing an educational technologists blog about Twitter, in a Twitter list rather than a generic education technology list. This has lots of educational benefits and is a regular aspect of many online courses, with learners encouraged to follow a Diigo list and to create a Diigo account in order to share their own research. My Diigo can for example be found here

Twitter is a microblogging website where users share information with their ‘followers’, via a Tweet which is made up of up to 140 characters long. Users can share any information they like, however, educationalists who use Twitter, tend to share links to websites and blogs that contain interesting and useful information. The information shared by a user is only directly fed to their followers, however, if the Tweet is tagged, using the Twitter tagging protocol, which is a hash tag (#) followed be a word or acronym, it can be found by other users using a search. Searching for particular hash tags is a common way users find new people to follow.

As an advocate of both Twitter and tagging, I will use my personal use as an example. The number of tags that I regularly use within my Tweets, could be seen by many people as over the top. However, I try to ensure the information I am sharing, which I deem useful, is shared with as many people who would benefit from it as possible. As an educationalist, I use several hash tags regularly, these include the following hash tags with their description:

#edchat – an educational chat which takes place at different fixed times, however, it is also used to tag useful information about education.

#ukedchat – the same as #edchat except the live chat takes place at a different time (Thursday 8-9pm) and the tag references UK educational specifically.

#edtech – educational technology.

#tlchat – teacher librarians, however, some people also link this to teaching and learning.

#lrnchat – learning

#elearning – elearning, online learning, ILT

#mlearning – mobile learning

#moodle – Moodle VLE

I may use several of these hash tags in one Tweet to enable people who are not following me, i.e. people who will only see the Tweet via a search, to find it. For example, their may be an article about a new Moodle iPhone app, this would automatically be tagged #Moodle but as it’s a mobile learning application it would also be tagged #mlearning, as well as #iPhone to alert iPhone users that the app is available. At this point, however, there isn’t a tag which will highlight the Tweet to the general education community, who may also have an interest in this information. By adding an additional #edchat or #lrnchat  or both the Tweet becomes much more widely available. This in my opinion is the whole essence of tagging and metadata; bookmarking the information with as many appropriate tags as required so, search engines and therefore people can find it again.

The following link is an article from Read Write Web about the very first hash tag used on Twitter The First Hash Tag on Twitter

The recent move by Google to include references from Twitter and Flickr in search results, adds even more value to tagging on these social media sites, see Google Search Becomes More Sociable.

My Reflections and Linking RSS, Creative Commons and Tagging to Educational Theory


I have used tagging personally within my educational role and have written a detailed blog post ‘The World of Twitter’ here .

As the post explains, my intention is to attempt to use Twitter hash tags to enable learners to connect and share their experiences and thus enable the creation of online learning communities for learners studying vocational subjects as described by Lave and Wenger (1991). Using hash tags beginning #edu and ending in the vocational subject e.g. #edumotor, #eduhair etc. I hope to encourage learners from around the world to start to communicate and create their own communities of practice.

Reflections on Week One: Interactivity


Before I start the proposed reading on interactivity, I will give a brief overview of my current thoughts on interactivity and the value this adds to teaching and learning.

Over the years the term “interactive” learning has been promoted by a variety of educationalists, however, they all seem to have differing views on exactly what the term means. To me, although I recognise interactivity occurs in every lesson – when a tutor asks a question and gets a response from a learner for example, the term interactive refers to a physical act of interaction. This doesn’t, however, need to be via the use of technology – this can occur with all manner of physical teaching resources, where some sort of assessment takes place and feedback is provided to the learner.

To clarify my current position, when a learner writes on an interactive whiteboard, this isn’t interactive learning, unless by doing so they receive instant feedback. For example, if they complete a gap fill exercise and they receive instant feedback related to their answer, this is “interactive”, if they don’t receive feedback it isn’t.

One of the major misconceptions teachers make, in my opinion, is that they believe the introduction of technology is enough to add value to the learning experience. This simply isn’t true, replacing an old whiteboard with an interactive whiteboard does not add value, unless it changes the teachers practice and it starts to be used it interactively by learners.

I see interactivity as a key pedagogical tool, as it provides the opportunity for teachers to offer personalised learning, at a level that wasn’t possible before. The level of interactivity can also support the engagement of learners, lower level learners may perhaps require more interactivity, via games for example, to keep them interested in their learning, while higher level learners may require simple interactivity which provides them with instant detailed feedback.

Is interactivity a useful notion for elearning?

Yacci, (2000), describes interactivity as a “message loop” and goes on to state that instructional interactivity occurs “from the learner’s point of view”, which supports my own interpretation, that it is the feedback which a learner receives in relation to their action which makes the interaction, interactive. It follows, therefore, that an action by a learner which doesn’t trigger a response/feedback isn’t interactive. Therefore, a tutor who introduces an Interactive WhiteBoard into the classroom and simply asks the learners to write on it, isn’t engaging the learners in interactive learning. In order to do so, there would need to be a feedback loop introduced, this could be achieved either via the addition of ‘on click’ feedback or by the tutor making a response once an action is taken by the learner.

Diana Laurillard’s ideas on ‘conversational frameworks’ (explained here) expand on Yacci’s “message loop” as she explores interactivity via feedback loops which relate to learners conceptions and actions, while she also introduces media to the process. Laurillard’s framework, however, only take account of three types of “interactive” media, hypermedia – which consists of fixed links to text, graphics and multimedia, enhanced hypermedia – which Laurillard suggests is adaptive personalised learning which learners are able to explore with the support of guidance and web resources which are hypermedia available via the world wide web, which I interpret as Web 1.0. This model, in my opinion, is now outdated as there is, I believe, now a requirement to include at least 2 additional interactive medium. These are Web 2.0 resources, which would be enhanced hypermedia as explained by Laurillard available via the world wide web and semantic web resources which are “intelligent” hypermedia resources available via the world wide web, i.e. resources which use meta data and semantic web analytics to provide learners with personalised guidance as they follow their own individualised learning path online.

I believe Laurillard’s model should be expanded further to include additional feedback loops as learners “curate” their own independent understanding/learning via their interactivity within their own communities of practice or personal learning networks.

Theories and Evaluation of elearning


Introducing myself

I am the Learning Resources and Information Learning Technology (ILT) Manager, at a north west FE college. My job is to oversee ILT Strategy and to ensure that technology, which adds value to teaching and learning, is not just available to teachers and learners but they are also confident users of it. As part of my ongoing professional development, I am currently in my final year of a MSc in E-learning and MultiMedia.

Aim of Blog

The aim of this blog is for me to write my own personal reflections throughout the DMZ2430: Theories and Evaluation of elearning module, which I am currently undertaking.

Before progressing I thought it would be useful to clarify what a blog is.  The YouTube video from Common Craft, which I’ve embedded below, provides a very good overview of blogs and their purpose.

The article here provides a light hearted look at digital technologies and includes a reference to blogging.

Over the next few weeks I intend to use this platform to reflect upon:

Week One: A number of educational papers

Week Two: RSS, Creative Commons & Tagging

Week Three: Flickr and YouTube

Week Four: Google Docs & Twitter

Week Five: Social Bookmarking &

Although I am reasonably conversant with a number of these technologies and services, I expect to use the forthcoming weeks to explore the theoretical backgrounds and educational uses of each technology/service.

In order for me to be able to use this blog as a reflection tool, I need to establish my current position in relation to the technologies and services I will be evaluating. Therefore, before each weeks session, I will write a brief overview of my current position in relation to each service/technology, which I will be able to use at a later date to establish any changes/distance travelled.