liveblog

#opened16 liveblog: OER Research Fellows Update

This session began with an introduction from John Hilton III, who leads the OER Research Fellows programme.  The project is intended to build future research capacity in the OER field.  Most of the work done by this group uses the COUP framework, which focuses on cost savings and learning outcomes.  At present there are:

  • 43 Fellows
  • 18 articles submitted
  • 1 article accepted
  • 1 article published

Marcela Chiorescu of spoke about her work at Georgia College.  On an algebra course, $86 was saved per student, and students expressed gratitude for monies saved.  Between Spring 2014 (78.2%) and Spring 2015 (84.3%) there was a significant uplift in students receiving a C grade or above.  There was also a statistically significant increase in the proportion of students receiving the top grade.

Christina Hendricks and Ozgur Ozdemir spoke about their work with the COOL4ED project in California.  They focused on faculty motivations, cost savings for students, perceptions and impact on other factors.  The OER included an OpenStax textbook on Sociology and a Libretext on Chemistry.  They found that students has some negative attitudes towards the content of open textbooks as being rather basic.  The impact on learning and retention outcomes were less clear because fewer faculty reported back on these.  However, no-one reported a decline while some reported an improvement.  Cost savings was the most prominent aspect for both faculty and students.  Only 4% of faculty and 12% of students had anything negative to say about the open textbooks.

Tsung-han Weng (University of Kansas) reported on a qualitative case study involving students from economics and statistics.  He found that students tend to have ambivalent attitudes to open textbooks.  They appreciated the cost savings but had some reservations about content and quality.  This ambivalence was also found in teachers, whose main complaint was that using the open textbook required them to spend more time preparing assessments and supplementary materials.

Royce Kimmons (Brigham Young University) told conference about allowing students to select which textbook a project management studies class would use.  Students decided the evaluation criteria (not including cost).  What were the effects of this approach?  The two most popular choices were subjected to a more detailed evaluation.  They arrived at the conclusion that an open textbook was the best offering.  Kimmons recommends involving students in the selection prices, arguing that textbook quality metrics are not objective, but relative to the needs of a particular class.

Christopher Lawrence (Middle Georgia State University) spoke about the Affordable Learning Georgia initiative, which aimed to replace proprietary textbooks on American government with open versions.  It was found that most students obtained used or new copies of the traditional text.  On the whole, they felt that the proprietary version should continue to be used.  In comparison with the traditional book, the quality of the open textbook was perceived to be lower.  The online version of the open textbook was found to be a useful supplement.  However, there was no significant difference in results between those using commercial and open textbooks.  Particular challenges in this context included a poorly funded production process which led to a lack of polish in the open textbook; fixed textbook content; and a lack of ancillary materials.  An emphasis on the need for sustainability was mentioned.

There was a question from the floor about open access publication of results.  The Open Research Fellows are not committed to open dissemination – indeed, there is funding set aside for publication fees – but anonymised research data could be shared.

 

#opened16 live blog: Gardner Campbell

Kicking things off here in Richmond, VA. we have our first keynote, Gardner Campbell.  The presentation began with a video montage featuring (among other things) a young Bob Dylan; quotes and graphs about different educational models; sections of It’s a Wonderful Life; Indie music; and end scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.  

We were then introduced to Robert Wagner Dodge, a ‘smokejumper‘ who escaped a raging forest fire by acting rather counter intuitively.  He lit a fire in front of him, reasoning that once the smaller fire had burned out he could shelter in the ashes.  None of his companions would follow him, and they perished.  Campbell refers to this kind of learning as ‘insight’.

‘Insight’ is a term that has grown in use as civilisation has become more complex.  There are many synonyms for insight (both formal and informal) and the word is used in many ways.  We normally understand it as:

  • an accurate and deep understanding of a person or thing
  • the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of a person or thing

From psychiatry:

  • a breakthrough in understanding one’s own mental illness

Insight-oriented psychotherapy relies on conversation between therapist and patient.  (It can be contrasted with biomedical approaches that place the emphasis on medication.)

The question is posed:  why do insights come to us in the way they do?  A typical process might look like this:

  • Concentrate
  • Search
  • Mental block/Impasse
  • Distraction/Relaxation
  • *space*
  • Problem is somehow solved; a solution presents itself
  • Feeling of certainty – the Eureka!

The solution can’t be forced or rushed. What happens in this *space*?  From cognitive science there is a suggestion that certain regions of the right hemisphere of the brain become unusually active before an insight is reached (a related area is related to appreciation of jokes).  Gamma wave activity (the highest electrical frequency of the brain) spikes at this moment.

Campbell invites us to think about these kinds of ‘Eureka!’ moments in the context of formal education.  We make novel neuro-chemical connections between existing parts of our knowledge.  This goes beyond the classroom:  the pattern of making new connections prepares us for some fresh insight where we generalise about categories of our understanding.  Campbell employs a couple of quotes from Bruner to support the idea that this way of understanding learning is unlike traditional pedagogy.

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Trying to force an insight can actually prevent the birth of an insight.  This is a counter-intuitive outcome:  we learn by avoiding the learning activity (or at least waiting until the appropriate psychological state is arrived at).

Campbell refers to some students essays on their responses to The Eureka Hunt.  Rather than thinking about it for themselves, many obviously just searched online for ‘the right answer’.  Their goal was evidently just to ‘succeed’ rather than authentically engage with the text.  There is a whole industry devoted to mantras of student ‘success’.  Campbell invites us to question this idea of ‘student success’.  Some of the claims associated with it (“4 deadly mantras of student success”) include:

  • “Students don’t do optional” – life will be a matter of conformity, not the exercise of freedom – why encourage it now?
  • “Define more pathways” – restriction of unique pathways, enforced rubrics
  • “We need to graduate more students” – Campbell suggests that students in fact graduate themselves
  • “Our students are our products” – !

Such approaches, it is contended, do not encourage the right kind of insights.  Essentially they all treat the learner as passive in their own education.  An open, Connectivist course for AAC&U faculty and collaborators will explore these issues from January 2017.

 

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Liveblog: #oeglobal Keynote Mark Surman (Mozilla)

Mark is a community activist and technology executive who currently serves as a director of the Mozilla Foundation, makers of the Firefox web browser.  He began by noting the need for digital literacies, suggesting that literacy is characterised by the ability to:

  • read
  • write
  • participate

Technologies allow us to express ourselves help us to read, write, and participate in new ways.  And in important ways, since ideas and communication shape the world.  “The Roman empire and city states were essentially products of writing“.  Yet at the same time, how do we direct this process?

Mark referred to the media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that “We drive into the future using only our rearview mirror“. Agreements like the Cape Town Declaration help to orient us around a conception of openness that can inform strategies and ambitions. Mozilla’s Firefox browser is an example of success in reframing the status quo through collective action.  The Internet Explorer browser went from 98% market dominance, and Microsoft lost a hold on their monopoly.  Similarly, we are now in a position to rethink educational systems and break the patterns of the past.  We can see this happening in a shift around the expectation around use of public funding, with programmes like the TAACCCT grants which mandate for OER production in community colleges. We have won battles, but we are losing the war:  vast portions of the internet are walled gardens, and monopolies/oligopolies are emerging in educational markets. Companies like Google potentially control almost every aspect of a range of services with a business imperative based on gaining complete vertical control of our digital lives. The intent of companies like Uber is to become the monopolist of the ‘internet of things‘.  Many people don’t really understand how the internet works, or what is happening when they use it.   New literacies are needed if we are to influence the future development of digital life.  The modern from of empire is based in Silicon Valley and Palo Alto.

As William Gibson said, ‘the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed“.  By building up web literacties and knowing how to use the web provides a way to build resistance and alternative pathways into content.  In a sense, the argument here is that knowledge (as a kind of savoir-fair) is power – or at least empowering.  A culture of making – whether webpages, OER, creative endeavours – is also a culture of learning and empowerment.

We need to be more ambitious in terms of taking back control of the web through digital and web literacies.  Mozilla is running short training courses and conferences to encourage this culture. We are at a kind of ‘Guttenbergian” moment – the extent to which we get the right kind of solution now will influence how information is produced and shared in future years.

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Liveblog: #oeglobal Keynote: Dirk van Damme

The first keynote of the Open Education Global conference is Dirk van Damme.  Professor van Damme acts as an expert in higher education, policy, quality assurance and accreditation.  His report, Open educational resources: a catalyst for innovation will be published later this year.

The presentation began with the observation that OER retain an incredible potential to change educational systems, but the transformative impact of ‘open’ is greater in science and research than in education.  Arguably, MOOC have stolen the thunder of OER without delivering the kind of systemic change that was predicted.  van Damme remains to be convinced that MOOC are truly open.

OER are partly a technical innovation, but rather can be seen as a force of social and educational innovation made possible by technology.  To unlock the innovative potential of OER it is necessary to align with the needs of educational systems.  When we examine these systems we see that there has been a relentless expansion of educational systems over the last couple of generations.  The impact of eduction on other social outcomes like earnings and status is also increasing; education contributes to a range of social outcomes, and we might even say that education is one of the most important factors of all.  Governments invest an enormous amount of money in education, with expenditure per student increasing in most countries.

The challenges facing education in the present day include:

  • equity of opportunity for education
  • ensuring the quality is maintained/improved/expanded
  • efficient use of limited resources
  • meeting ever growing expectations

We see deepening social problems and inequality which intensify the political and ideological differences in debates around education. Can we continue to assume that the industrial model of education that we have inherited is appropriate for our future?  What kind of jobs do we prepare young people for, and how do we meet the demand for skills?  If we fail to get this right there are burdens in other areas, such as welfare.

Curricula needs to be well aligned to actual need – but what are the core curriculum elements of the future?  They could focus on citizenship, lifelong learning, social learning, etc. But what we often see in practice is a focus on maintaining credentialism, and processes of screening and selection which discourage the kind of learning society that we need. We need to focus on the social and emotional aspects of learning, and tune assessment to support this.   We need approaches that are learned centred with structured design, and profoundly personal approaches which respect difference.

What role could OER play in this vision?  Six possibilities have been identified:

  • Foster new forms of learning
  • Support collaboration between educators
  • Reduce public/private costs
  • Improving quality of resources
  • Improving distribution of resources
  • Removing barriers to learning

The first two are the ones identified as most important in a survey of government staff, though all are relevant.  In general , governments do not need to be convinced of the benefits of OER, but want to see evidence of successful application in facilitating the learning process.

This kind of support could include:

  • A move from passive to active learning
  • Fostering peer-to-peer learning
  • Stimulating problem-based learning
  • Enriching learning resources through collaborative practice
  • Enhancing the social and emotional context of learning

The use of ICT has been identified as a major challenge for professional development. Professional collaboration is also a major challenges, and highly contentious for many teaching professionals, many of whom do not see this as part of their role.

Government support for OER through policy can take several forms:

  • Provision of OER & repositories
  • Support for communities of teaching practice
  • Framework conditions of educational settings (more important in some countries than others)
  • Supporting evidence based research for policy and practice

The talk concluded with some provocations:

  • Being ‘open’ is not a sufficient condition for changing education
  • The systemic impact of OER will ultimately depend on the contribution it makes to improving teaching and learning
  • Content and pedagogy are not distinct but interact
  • OER should be able to exploit and demonstrate its intrinsic superiority over proprietary materials in terms of both quality and capacity for educational innovation
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Uncensored State of the Union: OER Unfiltered #oer2015

Drawing proceedings at the Hewlett Grantees meeting towards its close is a final keynote by Hal Plotkin, currently Senior Open Policy Fellow at Creative Commons USA and formerly Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of Education for the Obama administration.  I interviewed Hal for OER Research Hub back in 2013, so am quite interested in where his thinking is right now.

Hal started by reflecting on the way that college presidents are appointed, noting that they are typically people who understand the college system and how to operate within it.  They tend to be people quite unlike the college presidents of yesteryear who were distinguished in several fields rather than rising to the top of the college administration systems.  What kind of leadership is provided by leaders who are not known for their achievements? Although OER has had a profound impact on improving access to education, not a single college president has championed or advocated for the movement.

The talk proceeded with acknowledgements of the support Hal has received from various quarters over the years, and the inspiration drawn from the OER community.  We tend to see our projects in (modest) isolation, but should better appreciate the historical significance of the work we do.

Hal identified the origins of OER movement with the Midpenninsula Free University (1966-1971).  Founded on the idea that anyone could teach and anyone could learn, the movement was inspired by the first opportunities for public use of computers.  Implicit in the mission statement and self-identity of the Students for a Democratic Society was the critique of corporatism in formal education and a mission for social justice.  Universities, it was held, must reform on the basis of dialogue and bold vision.  Free inquiry, free from centralised, disciplinary control, is the central axis of a progressive society, and must be supported.  At its peak, the MFU had hundreds of instructors, including illustrious authors and scientists.   So what happened to it?

The Revolutionary Union (a group of students) gave classes in Marxism and urban counter-insurgency, which triggered the interest of the FBI.  This inculcated a culture of paranoia at the MFU; eventually the headquarters of the MFU was bombed and a campaign of more than 30 bombings ensued.  In Palo Alto, a fundraising campaign was initiated to raise the money to build a university by music concerts.  But without permission to fund-raise in this way, the concerts often descended into the violence of regular ‘Friday night riots’.  Eventually a route around this was found through a clause in the municipal code.  Hal suggests that the real core of the 1960s counterculture was not drugs, or music, but the drive towards free education.

A pivotal moment in this chaos was a fractious meeting where attendees were divided about whether to exclude a hostile journalist; a debate that can be understood to be essentially about openness.  The journalist was ejected, and half the steering committee left with them in protest.  From this point on the MFU dissipated, and was taken over by hardline revolutionaries dedicated to the overthrow of the government of the USA.  The FBI actively worked to break up the MFU and its organising committees.

Thus, the battle for open education can be understood to start with the MFU, but when it lost its inclusivity and synergistic energy the movement was destined to fail.  When one group imposes its ideology and belief system on others the introduction of pressures to conform become dominant and many leave to find alternative paths. There is a cautionary tale here for the OER movement.

OER was written into the TAACCCT grant program, but the truth about policy is that it is invariably messier in practice than in theory.  Hal has three pieces of advice about getting policy written and passed:

  • have the strongest bladder
  • stay at the table as long as anyone else
  • be the last person to touch the document

Formerly, the Department of Labor allowed its subcontractors to retain intellectual property rights over materials created on behalf of the government (but retaining the right to use it for their own purposes).  There was some debate over whether the OER mandate in the TAACCCT bill was legal (or constitutional).  The Deputy White House counsel was eventually responsible for pushing through the open IP requirements at a late hour.

When dealing with challenges like these we often rely on scripture, poetry, or speeches for motivation and emotional sustenance.  For Hal, Bobby Kennedy’s speech in South Africa is such an inspiration.  Here is a version of the text (not verbatim the same as the version Hal read out, but pretty close).

There is a discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; and millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich; and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere.

These are differing evils, but they are common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility toward the sufferings of our fellows.

But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a tirne – that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Our answer is to rely on youth – not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress. It is a revolutionary world we live in; and this generation at home and around the world, has had thrust upon it a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived.

Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the thirty-two-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal.

These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.

For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves, on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that effort.

The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.

Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.

Hal concluded by thanking those present for the work they do in working for the greater cause and expressing his gratitude in being part of the community.

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Wikipedia in Action #oer2015

Another sunny morning in California and more OER related action from the Hewlett Grantees meeting in Sausalito.  The next session I’m going to attempt to capture is a panel discussion about Wikipedia.  Here are the participants:

  • Pete Forsyth, Wiki Strategies (PF, facilitator)
  • Amin Azzam, UCSF (AA)
  • Dan Cook,Wiki Strategies (DC)
  • Jeannette Lee, Cambridge School of Weston (JL)

PF began by outlining his efforts with Sara Frank Bristow to improve the quality of OER related entries on Wikipedia.  All the panelists use Wikipedia in their work.  JL started using Wikipedia in the classroom when her students couldn’t use part of an article in an assignment.  AA described how medical students are becoming increasingly relaxed about using Wikipedia as part of their studies, which is an example of how the peer-review community is becoming more accepting of Wikipedia. (There is an article here which describes this in more detail.)  DC spoke about his frequent use of Wikipedia as a journalist.  He says that Wikipedia can even be understood as a new form of journalism, but requires an entirely different set of skills.

JL noted that her students are also having to learn about the structure of WIkipedia articles and how referencing, etc. works on the platform alongside learning traditional skills like essay writing. AA notes that Wikipedia is moving to a more central position in learning.  One of the central skills Wikipedia use can help to develop is the navigation of online resources and the evaluation of their reliability and consistency. PF notes that people often make the most contributions to editing while they are learning about a subject and their interest is sparked.

Wikipedia has a variety of projects, such as the drive to improve the quality of medical information available.  Wikipedia Zero partners with cellphone companies in the developing world to give access to the encyclopedia for free.

What is at the intersection between OER and Wikipedia?  JL says that both can learn from each other, and that Wikipedia can be thought of as an OER learning space. AA’s students also use Wikipedia as a way of learning about open resources and open access.  DC asks when students are ready to do this kind of research on their own.  JL argues that there are high school students who are able to do this.

Transparency is an important part of Wikipedia editing, and this can be a useful lesson for journalists, says DC.  We have come to expect the ability to relate content to authors and the idea of anonymous editing is something that is likely to be left behind.  Historically, part of this was down to professionals being worried about being associated with a platform like this but as Wikis have moved into the mainstream this is less of an issue.

PF describes Wikipedia as a sign of the times – something that enables circumvention of historically important institutions. Cable Green speaks about how important Wikipedia is for OER advocacy since this is the first place people will look for information about OER, open access, etc.  But who monitors the quality of these articles?  Advocates need to make sure that these spaces are well tended so that they can be supported in their work while improving their PR strategy.

There’s a further capture of the session available at http://wikistrategies.net/oer-wikipedia-getting-started/.

Workshop Notes: #Ethics and #LearningAnalytics

This morning I’m attending a talk given by Sharon Slade about the ethical dimensions of learning analytics (LA), part of a larger workshop devoted to LA at The Open University’s library on the Walton Hall campus.

I was a bit late from a previous meeting but Sharon’s slides are pretty clear so I’m just going to crack on with trying to capture the essence of the talk.  Here are the guidelines currently influencing thinking in this area (with my comment in parentheses).

  1. LA as a moral practice (I guess people need to be reminded of this!)
  2. OU has a responsibility to use data for student benefit
  3. Students are not wholly defined by their data (Ergo partially defined by data?)
  4. Purpose and boundaries should be well defined and visible (transparency)
  5. Students should have the facility to update their own data
  6. Students as active agents
  7. Modelling approaches and interventions should be free from bias (Is this possible? What kind of bias should be avoided?)
  8. Adoptions of LA requires broad acceptance of the values and benefits the development of appropriate skills (Not sure I fully grasped this one)

Sharon was mainly outlining the results of some qualitative research done with OU staff and students. The most emotive discussion was around whether or not this use of student data was appropriate at all – many students expressed dismay that their data was being looked at, much less used to potentially determine their service provision and educational future (progress, funding, etc.). Many felt that LA itself is a rather intrusive approach which may not be justified by the benevolent intention to improve student support.

While there are clear policies in place around data protection (like most universities) there were concerns about the use of raw data and information derived from data patterns. There was lots of concern about the ability of the analysts to adequately understand the data they were looking at and treat it responsibly.

Students want to have a 1:1 relationship with tutors, and feel that LA can undermine this; although at the OU there are particular challenges around distance education at scale.

The most dominant issue surrounded the idea of being able to opt-out of having their data collected without this having an impact on their future studies or how they are treated by the university. The default position is one of ‘informed consent’, where students are currently expected to opt out if they wish. The policy will be explained to students at the point of registration and well as providing case studies and guidance for staff and students.

Another round of consultation is expected around the issue of whether students should have an opt-out or opt-in model.

There is an underlying paternalistic attitude here – the university believes that it knows best with regard to the interests of the students – though it seems to me that this potentially runs against the idea of a student centred approach.

Some further thoughts/comments:

  • Someone like Simon Buckingham-Shum will argue that the LA *is* the pedagogy – this is not the view being taken by the OU but we can perhaps identify a potential ‘mission creep’
  • Can we be sure that the analyses we create through LA are reliable?  How?
  • The more data we collect and the more open it is then the more effective LA can be – and the greater the ethical complexity
  • New legislation requires that everyone will have the right to opt-out but it’s not clear that this will necessarily apply to education
  • Commercialisation of data has already taken place in some initiatives

Doug Clow then took the floor and spoke about other LA initiatives.  He noted that the drivers behind interest in LA are very diverse (research, retention, support, business intelligence, etc).  Some projects of note include:

Many projects are attempting to produce the correct kind of ‘dashboard’ for LA.  Another theme is around the extent to which LA initiatives can be scaled up to form a larger infrastructure.  There is a risk that with LA we focus only on the data we have access to and everything follows from there – Doug used the metaphor of darkness/illumination/blinding light. Doug also noted that machine learning stands to benefit greatly from LA data, and LA generally should be understood within the context of trends towards informal and blended learning as well as MOOC provision.

Overall, though, it seems that evidence for the effectiveness of LA is still pretty thin with very few rigorous evaluations. This could reflect the age of the field (a lot of work has yet to be published) or alternatively the idea that LA isn’t really as effective as some hope.  For instance, it could be that any intervention is effective regardless of whether it has some foundation in data that has been collected (nb. ‘Hawthorne effect‘).

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liveblog: Predicting Giants at #altc #altc2014

Here are my notes from this afternoon’s session at the ALT-C 2014 conference. There were three presentations in this session.


Richard Walker (University of York) – Ground swells and breaking waves: findings from the 2014 UCISA TEL survey on learning technology trends, developments and fads

This national survey started in 2001 and has since expanded out from a VLE focus to all systems which support learning and teaching. The results are typically augmented by case studies which investigate particular themes. In 2014 there were 96 responses from 158 HE institutions that were solicited (61% response). Some of the findings:

  • Top drivers for TEL are to enhance quality, meet student expectations and improve access to learning for off-campus students
  • TEL development can be encouraged by soliciting stuent feedback
  • Lack of academic staff understanding of TEL has re-emerged as a barrier to TEL development, but time is still the main factor
  • Institutions perceive a lack of specialist support staff as a leading challenge to TEL activity
  • In future, mobile technologies and BYOD will still be seen as significant challenges, but not top as in last year
  • E-assessment is also a leading concern
  • Moodle (62%)is the most used VLE, with Blackboard (49%) the leading enterprise solution
  • Very small use of other open source or commercial solutions
  • Institutions are increasingly attempting to outsource their VLE solutions
  • Plagiarism and e-assessment tools are the most commonly supported tools
  • Podcasting is down in popularity, being supplanted by streaming services and recorded lectures, etc.
  • Personal response systems / clickers are up in popularity
  • Social networking tools are the leading non-centrally supported technology used by students
  • There is more interest in mobile devices (iOS, Android) but only a handful of institutions are engaging in staff development and pedagogic activity around these
  • Increasing numbers of institutions are making mobile devices available but few support this through policies which would integrate devices into regular practice
  • The longitudinal elements of the study suggest that content is the most important driver of TEL for distance learning
  • Less than a third of institutions have evaluated pedagogical activity around TEL.

 


Simon Kear (Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust; formerly Goldsmiths College, University of London) – Grasping the nettle: promoting institution-wide take-up of online assessment at Goldsmiths College

When we talk about online assessment we need to encourage clarity around processes and expected results but learners don’t need to know much about the tools involved.  Learners tend to want to avoid hybrid systems and prefer to have alternative ways of having their work submitted and assessed.

There are many different stakeholders involved in assessment, including senior management, heads of department, administrators, and student representatives.

Implementation can be helped through regular learning and teaching committees. It’s important to work with platforms that are stable and that can provide comprehensive support and resources.

Simon concluded by advancing the claim that within 5 years electronic marking of student work will be the norm.  This should lead to accepting a wider variety of multimedia formats for student work as well as more responsive systems of feedback.


Rachel Karenza Challen (Loughborough College) – Catching the wave and taking off: Embracing FELTAG at Loughborough College – moving from recommendations to reality

This presentation focused on cultural change in FE and the results of the Feltag survey.

  • Students want VLE materials to be of high quality because it makes them feel valued
  • The report recommends that all publicly funded programmes should have a 10% component which should be available online
  • SFA and ILR funding will require colleges to declare the amount of learning available online and this will not include just any interaction which takes place online (like meetings)
  • There is a concern that increasing the amount of learning that takes place online might make it harder to assess what is working
  • Changing curricula year by year makes it harder to prepare adequate e-learning – a stable situation allows for better planning and implementation
  • Ultimately, assessment requires expert input – machine marking and peer assessment can only get you so far
  • In future they intend to release a VLE plugin that others might be able to use
  • Within 5 years the 10% component will be raised to 50% – this means that 50% of provision at college level will be without human guidance and facilitation – is this reflective of the growing influence of the big academic publishers?  Content provided by commercial providers is often not open to being embedded or customised…
  • Ministerial aspirations around online learning may ultimately be politically driven rather than evidence-based.
warwick

Liveblog – Catherine Cronin keynote at #altc #altc2014

For one day only I’m at The University of Warwick for the ALT-c conference where I’m speaking on OER Impact Map.   (You can access my slides for today here.)


Catherine Cronin (National University of Ireland, Galway) – Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education

Catherine began with a quote that illustrates her view of eduction:

“Education is inherently an ethical and political act.” (Michael Apple)

Catherine spoke about growing up in New York and the political milieu in the 1960s (including the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy that helped her to grow to political awareness and the role of education for supporting healthy political life.  Different people have different parts to play in the political process.  Education thus conceived necessitates criticism of what exists, pointing to what has been lost, and identifying possible futures.

Openness: Catherine identifies this with sharing resources and thoughts in a freely available way.  Lots of resources that claim to be ‘open’ aren’t necessarily licensed in appropriate ways, and open practices should be understood as a more radical level built on top of this.

“Openness is an ethos, not just a license.  It’s an approach to teaching and learning that builds a community of learners” (Jim Groom)

Catherine was keen to identify openness with a kind of humility rather than the hubris of seeking greater attention for one’s work:

“I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process [of] establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.”  (Joichi Ito)

As networked individuals, we need to overcome the distinction usually recognised between formal and informal learning.  Students come with different expectations and experiences that they bring to the spaces within which they learn.  Couros (2006) refers to the ‘networked’ teacher who makes use of a range of digital technologies.

 

http://www.scribd.com/doc/3363/Dissertation-Couros-FINAL-06-WebVersion

from Couros, A. (2006). Examining the open movement: possibilities and implications for education. (Doctoral thesis, University of Athabasca.)

Learning spaces can be physical or online, and tend to be bounded in different ways. Different spaces can facilitate community building to different degrees, but in any space there will be some voices that are privileged and some which are excluded.  When online we experience fewer markers of identity, with differing ideas about the effects of presence and telepresence on pedagogy.  Open online spaces tend to disregard institutional, national or physical barriers to entry and so facilitate greater sharing and connectivity.

The network is the organising principle of open online spaces – but how should this work in practice?  Openness here refers not to licensing but to the practice of facilitating this connectivity.

When students enter institutions, we can ask them about the tools they use and their views on transparency, privacy, and experimental pedagogies.  These discussions can be open, and help to form a shared understanding and expectation.  Open discussions can take place on social media which draw on the idea of networked learning. Students should be encouraged to connect across cohorts and levels to build community and learning skills.

We can minimise the power differential between student and teacher through open approaches, though it should be noted that some students worry  about being judged for thoughts and contributions shared in the open.  Identity is key to understanding these concerns because identities are constructed through dialogue and sharing.  Students should be supported in building and trying out different identities because so doing will help build digital skills and confidence.  Online identity doesn’t so much transform one’s own sense of self but it can help us become more aware of the contingent and contextual nature of our identities, and help us to see possibilities for being otherwise.

We can see open learning spaces as ‘third spaces’ which are neither formal nor informal but draw on both the skills of formal learning and the informal identities that have a kind of authenticity.  One risk with developing e-learning is in believing in a kind of subjectless learner who does not bring their own identity to  their learning.  We need to recognise difference: gender, race, religion, disability and other potential sources of ‘Otherness’.  Open practices are a brilliant first step towards this.

Guerrilla Research #elesig

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/Afrikaner_Commandos2.JPG/459px-Afrikaner_Commandos2.JPG

We don't need no stinking permissions....

Today I’m in the research laboratories in the Jennie Lee Building at The Institute of Educational Technology (aka work) for the ELESIG Guerrilla Research Event.  Martin Weller began the session with an outline of the kind of work that goes into preparing unsuccessful research proposals.  Using figures from the UK research councils he estimates that the ESRC alone attracts bids (which it does not fund) equivalent to 65 work years every year (2000 failed bids x 12 days per bid).   This work is not made public in any way and can be considered lost.

He then went on to discuss some different digital scholarship initiatives – like a meta educational technology journal based on aggregation of open articles; MOOC research by Katy Jordan; an app built at the OU; DS106 Digital Storytelling – these have elements of what is being termed ‘guerrilla research’.  These include:

  • No permissions (open access, open licensing, open data)
  • Quick set up
  • No business case required
  • Allows for interdisciplinarity unconstrained by tradition
  • Using free tools
  • Building open scholarship identity
  • Kickstarter / enterprise funding

Such initiatives can lead to more traditional forms of funding and publication; and the two at least certainly co-exist.  But these kinds of activities are not always institutionally recognised, giving rise to a number of issues:

  • Intellectual property – will someone steal my work?
  • Can I get institutional recognition?
  • Do I need technical skills?
  • What is the right balance between traditional and digital scholarship?
  • Ethical concerns about the use of open data – can consent be assumed?  Even when dealing with personal or intimate information?

Tony Hirst then took the floor to speak about his understanding of ‘guerrilla research’.  He divided his talk into the means, opportunity and motive for this kind of work.

First he spoke about the use of the commentpress WordPress theme to disaggregate the Digital Britain report so that people could comment online.  The idea came out of a tweet but within 3 months was being funded by the Cabinet Office.

In 2009 Tony produced a map of MP expense claims which was used by The Guardian.  This was produced quickly using open technologies and led to further maps and other ways of exploring data stories.  Google Ngrams is a tool that was used to check for anachronistic use of language in Downton Abbey.

In addition to pulling together recipes using open tools and open data is to use innovative codings schemes. Mat Morrison (@mediaczar) used this to produce an accession plot graph of the London riots.  Tony has reused this approach – so another way of approaching ‘guerrilla research’ is to try to re-appropriate existing tools.

Another approach is to use data to drive a macroscopic understanding of data patterns, producing maps or other visualizations from very large data sets, helping sensemaking and interpretation.  One important consideration here is ‘glanceability‘ – whether the information has been filtered and presented so that the most important data are highlighted and the visual representation conveys meaning successfully to the view.

Data.gov.uk is a good source of data:  the UK government publishes large amounts of information on open licence.  Access to data sets like this can save a lot of research money, and combining different data sets can provide unexpected results.  Publishing data sets openly supports this method and also allows others to look for patterns that original researchers might have missed.

Google supports custom searches which can concentrate on results from a specific domain (or domains) and this can support more targeted searches for data.  Freedom of information requests can also be a good source of data; publicly funded bodies like universities, hospitals and local government all make data available in this way (though there will be exceptions). FOI requests can be made through whatdotheyknow.com.  Google spreadsheets support quick tools for exploring data such as sliding filters and graphs.

OpenRefine is another tool which Tony has found useful.  It can cluster open text responses in data sets according to algorithms and so replace manual coding of manuscripts.   The tool can also be used to compare with linked data on the web.

Tony concluded his presentation with a comparison of ‘guerrilla research’ and ‘recreational research’. Research can be more creative and playful and approaching it in this way can lead to experimental and exploratory forms of research.  However, assessing the impact of this kind of work might be problematic.  Furthermore, going through the process of trying to get funding for research like this can impede the playfulness of the endeavour.

A workflow for getting started with this kind of thing:

  • Download openly available data: use open data, hashtags, domain searches, RSS
  • DBpedia can be used to extract information from Wikipedia
  • Clean data using OpenRefine
  • Upload to Google Fusion Tables
  • From here data can be mapped, filtered and graphed
  • Use Gephi for data visualization and creating interactive widgets
  • StackOverflow can help with coding/programming

(I have a fuller list of data visualization tools on the Resources page of OER Impact Map.)