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I now have a Canadian Father

Over two years ago, I complained about the cruel and frustrating rejection of my dad’s Canadian citizenship. It has been a long process. It is deeply discouraging to see your parent frightened and stressed that he will be sent back to a country that hasn’t been his home for over 40 years, leaving behind children and grandchildren. The recent immigration discussion in the USA takes on a new meaning in the light of this experience. In our case, my dad was a Canadian citizen. Had been one since 1978. Voted in municipal, provincial, and federal elections for decades. Was employed his entire time in Canada. And then suddenly he received a letter telling him that his citizenship was cancelled. He had to turn in his passport. He couldn’t enter the US as part of his work – a bit of a challenge as he is a truck driver and most of his routes were south.

Still, Canada is a wonderful country. My dad calls it home. He loves it. He feels blessed. And today, he officially became a Canadian citizen. Version 2.0.

Better than Christmas – OER Research hub report

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 25/11/2014 - 10:17


The OER Research Hub completed its second annual report for the founders, the Hewlett Foundation in September. It plots the evidence we’ve gained against the 11 hypotheses of the project. It’s not the final report which we will deliver next year, but it has some very interesting findings. We have over 6000 survey responses from educators, informal and formal learners, and librarians.

Some of the key findings are:

  • 37.6% of educators and 55.7% of formal learners say that using OER improves
    student satisfaction
  • 27.5% of educators and 31.9% of formal learners agree that OER use results
    in better test scores
  • 79.4% of OER users adapt resources to fit their needs
  • 79.5% of educators use OER to get new ideas and inspiration
  • 88.4% of learners say that the opportunity to study at no cost influenced
    their decision to use OER
  • 74.9% of informal learners use OER to have a learning experience
  • Knowing where to find resources is one of the biggest challenges to using OER
  • General knowledge of well-established OER repositories is low
  • Only 5% of educators say they don’t share information about OER
  • The more educators use OER, the more they are willing to share
  • Only 12.4% of educators create resources and publish them on a Creative Commons license
  • Videos are the most common type of OER used.
  • Cost of and access to materials can have an effect on student retention
  • 40.9% of all formal learners in our sample consider that OER have a positive impact in helping them complete their course of study
  • 79.6% of formal students think they save money by using OER
  • 31.5% of informal learners say that their interest in using OER is a chance to try university-level content before signing up for a paid-for course
  • 31.3% say their use of OER influenced their decision to register for their current course.
  • 83.2% of informal learners say they are more likely to take another free course or study a free open educational resource, and 24.2% say that they would go on to take a paid for course as a result of using OER

There is still a lot more to do, in particular we really want to get at good comparative data demonstrating improvement in scores (or otherwise) following OER adoption, so if anyone has leads in that area please get in touch. Nevertheless, I would contend that this represents one of the most comprehensive investigations of OER impact, and so will be of interest to anyone in the field.

We’ll be doing further analysis and digging into some of the findings in further detail over the coming months. The report is available under a CC-By licence, and available in a nicely designed PDF booklet, so really, your Christmas wishes are already fulfilled, which is nice.

Digital Learning Research Network (dLRN)

Higher education is digitizing. All aspects of it, including administration, teaching/learning, and research. The process of becoming digital has important implications for how learning occurs and how research happens and how it is shared. I’m happy to announce the formation of the digital Learning Research Network (dLRN), funded by a $1.6m grant from the Gates Foundation – more info here.

From a broad overview, the goal of the grant is to improve the depth and quality of research in digital learning. I’m defining digital learning as anything that has a technology component: online, blended, and in classroom with use of technology. Additionally, this learning may be formal, self-regulated, structured/unstructured, and “lifelong”. Much of this research is already ongoing – a quick skim of conferences such as LAK, ICLS, IEDMS and others confirms this. An important challenge exists, however, in that existing research stays in journals and conference proceedings and often doesn’t make it into practice as quickly or with as much impact as is needed. With dLRN, our goals are to:

  1. Increase the impact of existing research in solving complex organizational and systems-level learning challenges
  2. Work in cross-disciplinary and multi-lens research teams to ensure nuanced solutions are generated for real, intractable problems
  3. Connect and amplify existing research
  4. Promote research as practice and practice as research mindsets in college and university systems engaged in researching digital learning and teaching
  5. Model openness in research activity and data
  6. Increase the speed of the research cycle and adoption of effective practices with a particular emphasis on under-represented students
  7. Build on existing research in learning sciences, online, blended, and distance learning, as well as data mining and learning analytics
  8. Evaluate the broader organizational influences of digital learning, teaching, and research

More specifically, dLRN will do the following:

Foster Innovation, specifically in increasing the capacity of member universities to transition to the digital environment. The past several years of activity in MOOCs and online learning have pushed thinking about teaching and learning (and also hype and nonsense!). An important opportunity now exists to evaluate how existing universities are rethinking on-campus and in classroom learning based on MOOCs. Specifically, what are the lessons that campuses are learning based on MOOC experimentation? Additionally, how are universities position online and blended learning in relation to on-campus learning?

A second aspect of innovation for this grant will result in the development of a network of partner universities who are focused on increasing participation from sectors of society that currently are not entering higher education. These sectors include first-in-family degree completers, learners who have some university experience but discontinued, and individuals who are returning to education to re-skill to prepare for a new job market.

Internationalize the research network to include global partners to advance exploration of research topics and pursue research funding internationally. This work will not be funded by this grant as international universities will be responsible for developing resources required for their participation. However, the inclusion of international research systems will ensure that the work being conducted as part of this proposal reflects the diversity of international audiences. We expect these partners will amplify the value of this research and increase application and impact both nationally and internationally.

Develop Personal Knowledge Graphs. I’ve been whining about this for a while. The focus on higher education has to date been centered on course content and curriculum. Moving forward, in order to develop personalized and adaptive learning, universities will need to develop personal knowledge graphs (PKG) and profiles. PKG would involve collecting and mapping what an individual knows – based on formal learning, workplace learning, and informal learning – and using that graph as a base for providing focused learning materials to address knowledge gaps in order to achieve a qualification or degree. In a workforce defined by rapid changes, PKG will enable learners to more rapidly reskill and upgrade in order to participate in the knowledge economy.

Universities/organizations and people involved:

Carnegie Mellon University (Carolyn Rose)
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Stephanie Teasley)
Stanford University (Candace Thille)
SRI (Barbara Means)
Teachers College, Columbia University (Ryan Baker)
University of Arkansas System (Michael Moore)
California Community Colleges (Pat James)
Georgia State System (Myk Garn)
Smithsonian Institution (Chris Liedel/Jacquie Moen)

Getting involved:

An important aspect of this is involving international universities. I’ve had several conversations with universities in UK, Australia, and Canada. While we don’t have funds to support these systems, if your institution is interested and able to self-fund involvement, please let me know: gsiemens at gmail. At minimum, I expect that international partners will be able to translate their work into regional and national grants in their own jurisdiction.

We will also be looking to work with doctoral students who are interested in digital learning. For this, I’m looking more at students that are interested in this research area and are willing to devote time to participating in research and connecting with other researchers. (We will be announcing three post-doc positions at LINK Lab soon for those that want to get more deeply involved in research).

Finally, we expect to have a full slate of open online events including research discussions and case studies starting early 2015. As much as possible, we will be sharing research openly.

Brilliant folks that need to be read.

Folks like Mike Caulfield, Bonnie Stewart, and Kate Bowles, deserve far more attention for their thinking and writing than what they are currently getting. It’s really not fair to lump them together, but they represent for me an intersection of humanity, tangible change, and deep thinking in education. Build your next conference around these three and I’m there. Just send me the registration link.

A recent sampling of their thinking:

From Kate:

I really think the measure of our capacity to call ourselves a community relates to our responses in a whole range of situations for which there can’t be laws or even social demands, but only instinct….and that’s where I think we are with our transactions, our struggling social communities, our networks, the places and persons that we care for. At some level we have to accept that every side is circumscribed, every speaking position is taken, and every single thing that now can be said will trigger someone else’s despairing fury that this is the same old, same old, mounting up to what’s most wrong in the world.

From Bonnie:

Participation makes us visible to others who may not know us, and makes our opinions and perspectives visible to those who may know *us,* but have never had to grapple with taking our opinions or positions seriously…Participation enrols us in a media machine that is always and already out of our control; an attention economy that increasingly takes complex identities and reduces them to sound bites and black & white alignments.

From Mike:

But what I *know* I’m right about is that these problems exist, and they are serious.
Minority voices are squelched, flame wars abound. We spend hours at a time as rats hitting the Skinner-esque levers of Twitter and Tumblr, hoping for new treats — and this might be OK if we actually then built off these things, but we don’t.
We’re stuck in an attention economy feedback loop that doesn’t allow us silent spaces to reflect on issues without news pegs, and in which many of our areas of collaboration have become toxic, or worse, a toxic bureaucracy.
We’re stuck in an attention economy feedback loop where we react to the reactions of reactions (while fearing further reactions), and then we wonder why we’re stuck with groupthink and ideological gridlock.

Moving from openness advocacy to research

Openness in education – including content, teaching, pedagogy, analytics, or any other flavours – is a 15+ year trend that is starting to cross over into the main stream. I’ve been involved in numerous faculty/leadership meetings with different universities and colleges over the past year and openness has become one of those concepts that everyone agrees with, supports, and promotes. In a way, it’s like “diversity”, given lip service, recognition in planning documents and policy statements, but often not reflected adequately in practice.

A few weeks ago, David Wiley posted a statement on his site about a recent OER report:

The Babson OER Survey is incredible. If you care at all about OER, you absolutely need to read it…Many people think my prediction that “80% of all US general education courses will be using OER instead of publisher materials by 2018″ is crazy talk. But it isn’t. It’s not crazy at all. OER align better with faculty’s top adoption priorities than traditional materials do, and the majority of current non-users will try OER between now and 2017.

I’ve been thinking about this report and, if David is right about the scope of adoption, we have a serious issue. Openness in education is more advocacy than research. Sure, we’ve had the odd Yochai Benkler paper and a few publications from advocates of openness and a few researcher/philosopher/advocates (like Peter Suber and John Willinksky). But, overall, advocacy has driven adoption of openness (OER, MOOCs, open pedagogy, etc). This is rather odd. I can’t think of a trend in education that is as substantive as openness that has less of a peer reviewed research base. Top conferences are practitioner and policy/advocacy based. Where are the research conferences? Where are the proceedings? When they exist, they are often small clusters embedded in other conferences and publications. IF, as David argues, adoption rates of OERs in courses will approach 80%, the lack of a research community in this space seems like a significant limitation.

Innovating Pedagogy report 2014

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 14/11/2014 - 15:30

It’s been slightly over a year since the last Innovating Pedagogy report, and 2014’s edition is now available. As before it was written by a small team in IET at the OU. The remit is to look at technology related innovations, but with more of a teaching and learning perspective than some of the technical reports around. We try not to revisit topics from previous years, although if some significant development has occurred then we will. This is the 3rd of these reports, and when we started we wondered if we’d run out of topics without revisiting things, but actually there were at least another 10 we listed that we wanted to write about, but felt it prudent to keep it to ten. So the topics included this year are:

  • Massive open social learning
  • Learning design informed by analytics
  • Flipped classroom
  • Bring your own devices
  • Learning to learn
  • Dynamic assessment
  • Event-based learning
  • Learning through storytelling
  • Threshold concepts
  • Bricolage

A lot of these are not necessarily new this year, and could have been incorporated in our first report, but it’s about trying to gauge when they gain enough momentum to be of interest to a reasonably wide audience. The report is written in an accessible style (we hope) and aims to be relevant to a broad audience in education. As always it’s not intended to be the definitive list of things that are significant, rather some topics we think are of interest. Anyway, you can download the report here and share with friends.

JIME, Ubiquity & OA models

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 13/11/2014 - 12:32


I’m a co-editor of JIME at the Open University. It’s had a long tradition here, started in KMi it piloted open peer review, using it’s own software back in the late 90s. It has always been open access, and when maintaining our own software became a burden, it switched to using the open source system OJS. It’s focus has changed over the years – although it’s called the Journal for Interactive Media in Education, it is more about open education and ed tech in HE now. It has remained free to publish in and open access. I think its story is similar to that of many journals run by universities, they tend to operate on the periphery of people’s time. This means we can’t spend as much effort on things such as updating the website, implementing new features, experimenting with technology, or pushing it through different library registers and databases as we’d like, because any time we do have for it is spent on maintaining the core journal operations.

We’re now entering a new phase of JIME’s life, which I think offers a model for other university owned journals. We have stopped hosting and maintaining the site, and handed that side of things over to Ubiquity Press (who are also publishing my book, more of which later in another post). Ubiquity use OJS at the back end and they keep the Article Processing Charges (APCs) as low as possible at £300 per article, to handle all the back end work (their model is explained here). Compared with the £3000 type APC fee from many publishers this represents a reasonable charge, and it also includes a portion which goes to a fund to allow fee waivers for anyone who can’t pay the fee. I’ve been critical of Gold OA before, but I think it’s a question of degree, a modest charge to cover the type of work that is needed to run a journal site, do all the library stuff, layout, etc. seems appropriate.

Because JIME has always been free to publish we didn’t want to start charging APCs, so IET are covering the cost of 3 issues per year. This isn’t that costly (as our US friends say, you do the math). And previously we were probably spending more than this in staff time for the technical input and admin time spent on running our own system. It also allows us editors to concentrate on the stuff we do know about, the academic side of things, instead of running the journal. Ubiquity will handle updates to the new system, and implement things such as altmetrics.

When universities talk about impact, and outreach, paying for a handful of such journals from each university would represent a modest outlay for any one institution, but a considerable overall collection of journals. All free to publish and free to access. Some of these costs could come from the library funds currently spent paying large publishing firms who make considerable profits. It’s a critical mass problem, when enough universities do it, then it’s worthwhile and makes an impact on the bigger system, so becomes more worthwhile to participate in. We’ve taken the step, why not join us?

Eduball

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 12:42


I read Michael Lewis’s Moneyball over the summer (you’ve probably seen the Brad Pitt adaptation). It’s a great account of how stripping baseball down to the stats allowed a small team to compete against teams with much larger budgets. What is particularly intriguing is how this multi-million dollar industry was basically doing it all wrong. Mythology, tradition, inherited wisdom created a culture where certain attributes were overvalued, and others undervalued. Players who were invaluable to a team when you looked at their stats were passed over by every single club, because their shape was wrong, or they didn’t look right when they swung a bat.

It’s hard not to read it and draw some analogies with education, and in particular the learning analytics approach. I imagine a copy of Moneyball sits on every analytics nerd’s bookshelf. There are undoubtedly parallels that can be drawn, but equally interesting is why the Moneyball approach doesn’t work in education.

Let’s consider some of those similarities first. Education is rather shrouded in mystery, folklore and received wisdom. We don’t know what works, but we know what’s good when we see it. It is an industry with a lot of money involved in it and like baseball people care passionately about it. It is also often resistant to change. To the analytical mindset the only outcome worth considering is scores. And in improving scores, I will bet there is as much in education that is irrelevant as there is in Lewis’s account of baseball. Teachers are like the wizened old scouts telling the Harvard whizkid that will never fly, and education just isn’t done like that.

There is something undeniably romantic about this vision of the outsider coming in with their new method and revealing all the wastage, all the misinformation that people have been operating with for centuries. And, I genuinely believe analytics will reveal some surprising and unsettling findings for educators, and that long-cherished beliefs about what’s important simply won’t hold up against the data.

But it’s also worth considering why education isn’t like baseball. Firstly, baseball, for all it’s romanticism and mythology, is much simpler. There are very simple, observable metrics – games won, runs scored. You can add in more, but really that’s all you need to work against. This is not the case in education, although the increased obsession with scores attempts to make it so. There are a lot of other things you’re doing in education beyond those metrics – getting students to become critical thinkers, to develop skills in groupwork, communication, reflection, etc.

The reason it isn’t the case in education brings me onto the second major difference: Baseball is ruthless. The system doesn’t need to care if a promising player doesn’t make it, they can trade for someone with better stats. It can sacrifice all to achieving those metrics (and because baseball players are paid good money, this isn’t such an ethical dilemma). This is not the case in education. While some of the prestigious universities can keep up their status by ensuring only the best enter and stay, the system as a whole wants people to progress through, even if their ‘stats’ aren’t great. For the individual, for society, it’s better to have people coming through even if in moneyball terms you’d cut them.

I blog this partly to remind myself – sometimes an analogy is powerful and we tend to over-apply it. As with the disruption (klaxon) of the record industry, people have seen education as being exactly the same. It is important to see similarities, but also to recognise key differences. Anyway, go and read Moneyball if you have the time, it’s good fun.

Open by default

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 05/11/2014 - 14:26

I’ve heard this phrase a few times, often in relation to open data eg. the open data charter. I think it’s a useful starting position for those in higher ed, across all aspects of practice. That is, assume you should be operating openly, and only if there are valid reasons not to, shift away from that, instead of the reverse situation as it is now. It is important to emphasise that there are perfectly valid reasons why you may not be open in a particular aspect, eg an online learning forum for new learners may be better conducted in what they feel is a safe space. So open by default merely suggests that you should consider what you lose by not being open.

Open practice brings a number of benefits, depending on the particular task at hand. These include:

  • Altruism – it’s a good thing to do generally to share, and is at the heart of much of what academia is about.
  • Efficiency – if the feel-good factor of altruism doesn’t cut it for you, then there is a more pragmatic stance, that sharing content, ideas, data, source code is simply a more efficient way to work.
  • Increased profile – this can be important for research projects who want different stakeholders to know about their existence and to engage with them, individuals establishing an academic identity, and resources (eg open access articles) that you want to be widely accessed.
  • Dissemination – probably a combination of the previous two (efficiency and profile), but much of higher education is concerned with dissemination, and conducting this in an open manner is really the best route.
  • Wider participation – whether it is contribution to a project, forming ideas or getting learners to engage with a broader audience, then open practice offers an effective route.
  • Unexpected outcomes – we all have stories of how open practice can lead to (pleasant) unpredicted outcomes, such as the use of content in different contexts, new connections, the formulation of project ideas, etc.
  • Innovation – the open space is often one that allows room for experimentation and innovation outside of formal conventions.
  • Easy collaboration – it is actually really difficult to collaborate – it requires memorandums of understanding, project plans, commitment. I am (still) often reminded of Scott’s post about the difficulty of sharing, whereas being open just means it happens.

Those are quite considerable benefits. So the open by default stance says, before you surrender all of these, make sure what you are gaining by not being open is worthwhile. In essence: Is closed worth the cost? There will be many times when the answer to this question is yes, but one should at least make the case (even if it’s just to yourself) for this. Currently the reverse is true, which is actually quite odd when you consider it.

What I’ve learned in my first week of a dual-layer MOOC (DALMOOC)

This last week we launched our open course on Data, Analytics, and Learning on edX. The course is structured in a dual layer model, an approach that Matt Crosslin has nicely articulated. We have 20,000 registered students, with 32% having actually logged in and taken part in the course. 180 countries are represented, with the top being US, India, and UK, representing 25%, 11%, and 4% of students.

I’ve run numerous MOOCs over the past six years. I’ve used a range of platforms, including Moodle, D2L, Canvas, Drupal, Downes’ gRSShopper, and others. In the process, I’ve used roughly any tool I can get my hands on, including Second Life, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Netvibes, blogs, Wikispaces, Diigo, and so on. The largest group of learners in a course that i have run is ~5,000. The current course on edX is unique in the number of learners involved and in the dual-layer approach. Our goal was to enable learners to select either a formal structured pathway and a self-directed “learner in control” pathway.

I’m biased toward learners owning their own content and owning the spaces where they learn. My reason is simple: knowledge institutions mirror the architecture of knowledge in the era in which they exist. Today, knowledge is diverse, messy, partial, complex, and rapidly changing. What learners need today is not instructivism but rather a process of personal sensemaking and wayfinding where they learn to identify what is important, what matters, and what can be ignored. Most courses assume that the instructor and designer should sensemake for learners. The instructor chooses the important pieces, sets it in a structured path, and feeds content to learners. Essentially, in this model, we take away the sweet spot of learning. Making sense of topic areas through social and exploratory processes is the heart of learning needs in complex knowledge environments.

Though I am biased toward learner-in-control, I do recognize the value of formal instruction, particularly when the topic area is new to a learner. Even then, I would like to see rapid transitions from content provision to having learners create artifacts that reflect their understanding. These artifacts can be images, audio, video, simulations, blog posts, or any other resource that can be created and shared with other learners. Learning transparently is an act of teaching.

My reflections after week one of DALMOOC:

1. The first few weeks are identical to any other MOOC I’ve run. It’s chaos. Learners are unsure about how to position themselves in relation to the content and the interaction spaces. This is a critical sensemaking and wayfinding process. In a MOOC, we not only learn content, but we also learn the metcognitive processes and digital space markers that enable us to be active participants. This can be stressful for learners.

2. Learners really, really like content. I view content to be as much a by-product of the learning process as a pre-requisite. Lectures can be helpful in framing a topic. What is important though, is that learners create artifacts. An artifact represents how we understand something and then allows others to provide us feedback and shape, fact-check, and refine our thinking (have a look at a Private Universe – a detailed account of what happens when students only answer questions we ask rather than create artifacts that reflect how they understand a topic area).

3. There seems to be a growing number of professional learners in formal platforms (edX & Coursera). These learners have clear goals, want a certificate, and have expectations of the experience. In one forum interaction of DALMOOC, a learner mentioned that he/she had taken 30 MOOCs and this one was the most disorienting. Another learner said this was the worst MOOC that they had ever taken. Early MOOCs were easy to run because expectations hadn’t normalized. It’s different now. Learners engage with MOOCs with views of what should be happening and are comparing courses to what they’ve taken recently. The standards of quality content are higher than they were in the past.

4. The most important learning shift is not yet happening. Learning in complex knowledge environments requires navigating distributed spaces (wayfinding), acting with partial information, sensemaking, and becoming comfortable without reading everything. This shift is difficult – it’s as much a world view shift as a learning task, as much about our identity as the learning content. It’s not easy and it’s unsettling and frustrating.

5. Learners act differently in different spaces. If you are in the course, skim the edX discussions. Then log into ProSolo. Skim the interactions there. Do the same with social media (our G+ and Facebook pages as well as the #DALMOOC twitter timeline). The tools and spaces are linked here. The conversation in edX, when discussing the course, is ~60% critical. In Prosolo, it’s largely positive. I find the negative comments in edX about structure a bit confusing as I view choices as giving learners the ability to be where they want to be rather than where designers and instructors force them to be. I chuckled at Matt’s tweet:

Interesting how some people will look through all of the options in #dalmooc, find the one they don't like, and then complain about it

— Matt Crosslin (@grandeped) October 28, 2014

6. We need to get better at on-boarding learners to engage in digital distributed spaces. My comments above reflect real experiences of learners who are finding the course format confusing. It’s not sufficient to say “well, what you really need is a world-view shift”. As designers, we have to support and guide that transition. We are not doing that well enough. Even though early Hangouts that we did in the course emphasized learner autonomy and the importance of developing a personal digital identity that is under the control of the individual learner, this message is understood through practice not to proclamation. It’s a challenging proposition: a learner understands the design intentions of the course by engaging in the activities but these activities are confusing because they do not understand the design intentions.

7. Technology glitches are tough. We are using a number of new tools in DALMOOC, including Carolyn Rose’s Bazaar and Quick Helper, a visual syllabus, Prosolo, assignment bank, and so on. We’ve had some glitches with most of those, as can be expected in a new tool being scaled to a large number of users. Learners may forgive a glitch or two. But each additional glitch or tool creates additional stress. A few learners have said “I feel like a guinea pig” and “I feel like I’m just beta testing software” and “I feel like a rat in a maze”. We need some tolerance for failure during experimentation. There is a line though where even the most committed learners feel overwhelmed.

8. Learners use discussion forums for different reasons. I’ve generally used them for discussion. Learners in edX use them for a range of reasons including quick search/help, venting, and as a way of orienting to the course. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much in MOOC forums about social relationship formation. MOOC providers have done a bad job of building learner profiles. I can’t get to know my peers in edX or Coursera. This is an issue. Distributed social media improves this, but the social connectedness in edX forums is almost non-existent.

Overall, the first ten days of DALMOOC have provided an excellent learning experience for me. I’ve included a short presentation below on Sensemaking and Wayfinding Information Model (SWIM) that focuses on how learners engage in and navigate open learning spaces, largely reflective of the experiences of learners in this MOOC.

OER15 – now with added keynote awesome

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 24/10/2014 - 11:48

I mentioned that I’m co-chair of the OER15 conference in Cardiff next April. One of my duties was to sort out the keynote speakers, which was great as I get to ask people I really like and admire to come and talk. The theme of the conference is “Mainstreaming OER”. There is a sense that having been around for over a decade now, and established a sizeable community, the next stage of OER adoption is for it to enter into everyday, mainstream practice. This also means not just operating on belief and evangelism, but looking at issues around OER, and solid research.

It was this theme that shaped my choice of keynotes. They are on the website, but for completeness, I’ll list them here:

  • Josie Fraser – most of you will know Josie, and if you don’t, shame on you. I wanted Josie to speak because, apart from being a great speaker and fun person, she’s been doing some really great work with OERs on schools (look out for more on this soon from Josie). And if we’re going to mainstream OER they need to move away from a higher ed focus and get into schools.
  • Cable Green – Cable is Director of Global Learning at Creative Commons. As such he’s done work on policy at different levels, has worked with all aspects of open education and driven a lot of mainstream adoption. I’ve had the pleasure of being at a few conferences with Cable and he’s an excellent speaker. There is no-one better suited to the subject of mainstreaming OER than Cable.
  • Sheila MacNeill – like Josie, if you’re in OER/ed tech in the UK in particular then you have to know Sheila. She was also another obvious choice for me when the topic of mainstreaming OER was agreed. Sheila brings a wealth of experience from her CETIS days and her current role in GCU. If we are to make OER part of everyday practice then Sheila’s experience of working at the coalface as it were will be invaluable.
  • Martin Weller – errm, okay, look, we were going to have only 3 keynotes, but I worried that people would need to leave the conference early, so didn’t want to waste a proper keynote on this slot. So in a buy 3 get 1 free deal, I’ll do a battle for open thing. And besides my co-chair Haydn, begged me to do a keynote and you don’t like to see a grown man beg (I may have made that bit up).

Anyway, if you were undecided about coming to OER15 then I’m sure that keynote line-up has you booking your tickets to Cardiff.

Nice is an energy

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 23/10/2014 - 08:33

I’ve thought about writing a lot of posts recently about all the online toxicity about, but none of them seem adequate or appropriate. Alan Levine asks if the Party is Over. I read Kate Bowles lovely article on kindness and it resonated with what I wanted to say. I am deeply aware that this post will come across as weak, dippy, inadequate. But here goes.

Amidst all this anger, vitriol and nastiness, what is the appropriate response? I think that depends on who you are. For my own mental wellbeing I really can’t enter the bearpit of confrontation or disappear down wormholes of anger. I really get that some people feel this is what you have to do, but trust me, I can’t. So my response seems like a lack of response, a big meh. But it’s not. My approach is to be nice to others. Kindness, respect, politeness in my general tone online. Nice is a political statement too.

Identity theory suggests we form our own identity by a sense of belonging, or ‘we-ness’. If the community is one of nice people, then those are the attributes you adopt if you wish to belong. Similarly, Kelty talks of ‘recursive publics’, which he defines as ‘a public that is constituted by a shared concern for maintaining the means of association through which they come together as a public’. The wellbeing of each other can be shared concern. We can help create the environment we want.

Nice/kind/polite are often portrayed as passive, but they’re not. They take effort. Being angry is easy. They needn’t be bland either – you can be funny, you can disagree with someone, offer criticism, put over a strong point of view, etc. But you can be respectful when you do it. Of course, being nice is no response if you’re the direct victim of online vitriol. I mean for the rest of us, actively being kind is the long-term way to defeat it. For every nasty tweet you read, do five random tweets of kindness.

I don’t know if it’s enough if I’m honest, vitriol has a way of contaminating everything else. And I’m also aware it’s probably a luxury afforded to me in a privileged position. But niceness is the best weapon I’ve got. And I think it’s undervalued.

OER15 is go

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 08/10/2014 - 17:28

So what are you doing next April 14 & 15th? If you have any sense you are coming to Cardiff, for OER15. I’m co-chair this year along with Haydn Blackey, with Debbie Baff running the show. The theme is “Mainstreaming Open Education”, with the aim being to explore approaches that are moving OER (& OEP) into the mainstream, and also barriers that need to be addressed for that to happen.

I’m also really pleased to announce that the OER conference is now formally part of ALT. This is great as it secures the long term stability of the conference, and means it has all the support and expertise that ALT bring to running an event. It also means we get on-tap Hawksey magic. And who wouldn’t want that? So big thanks to Maren and the ALT team for taking us in.

We’ve just launched the website, some new bits coming soon. We’ve got some great keynotes lined up that we’ll unveil shortly. The venue is the super-lovely Royal Welsh College of Music. Only a fool, a fool I tell ya, would miss out on that. So get submitting, the deadline for abstracts is 24th Nov 2014.

Here you can see Haydn and I auditioning as a new comedy double act:

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Post by OER Conference.

Innovation in open online courses

In a few weeks, our edX course Data, Analytics, and Learning (#DALMOOC https://www.edx.org/course/utarlingtonx/utarlingtonx-link5-10x-data-analytics-2186) will start. We (Carolyn Rose, Dragan Gasevic, Ryan Baker, and I) have spent the last several months thinking through the course structure and format. This is a short overview of the innovations that we want to explore during the course. The innovations build heavily on community and network approaches that I and others (Stephen Downes, David Wiley, Alan Levine, Jim Groom, Dave Cormier) have used in previous open courses.

Since MOOCs gained popularity with top tier universities, significant effort has been put into finding new ways to present learning content. Videos, simulations, and graphics now contribute to formal MOOCs often costing several hundred thousand dollars to develop. In terms of content presentation, DALMOOC will pale in comparison to existing well-funded courses. Our focus has been on improving the social experience of learners. In particular, we are looking to solve the following problems with MOOCs:

  1. Students often flounder in MOOCs as there is limited social contact between learners and limited timely support.
  2. Learners have limited engagement in developing knowledge together. Many MOOCs reflect a structured and linear process of content presentation. There is little alignment with the architecture of knowledge in a participative age.
  3. Learners have a difficult time getting to know each other or finding like others as major platforms do not focus on developing learner profiles
  4. The connection between learning and application is hampered as MOOC resources do not always persist after a course has ended and there is limited search functionality in MOOCs.
  5. Courses are not adaptive and serve the same content to all learners, regardless of prior knowledge

To address these challenges, we have adopted/developed the following approaches.

Timely help resources: Through the use of a tool developed by Carolyn Rose’s team called the Quick Helper, course participants will have access to timely help resources. When a student would like to ensure their request for help is seen, they may click on the Quick Helper button, which will guide them to formulate a help request. A social recommendation algorithm will then match the help request to three potential helpers from the community. They will be presented with these three choices, and will have the option to select who will be invited to their help request thread. The Quick Helper will then send an email to each selected helper with a link to the help request thread and an invitation to participate. The intent with this approach is to provide timely help to students and to engage other learners in helping answer questions asked by peers.

Social embeddedness Social has become an abused term. Everything now has social attached. Aside from this hype, the value of social learning is clear in academic literature. In order to improve connections, we will also be using a social competency based software (ProSolo) that will give learners the opportunity to identify learning goals, connect with others around shared goals, and create a pathway for recognition of learning. A second aspect of ProSolo is the creation of learner profiles so students can find others with shared interests. DALMOOC has been designed to model a distributed information structure. As such, learners will be encouraged to participate in roughly any space they would like: blogs, facebook, twitter, edX discussion forums, etc. I have a bias for the value of learners owning their own learning spaces. A key challenge that arises as learners engage in different spaces is one of fragmentation. Learning is a coherence forming process and knowledge is a state of connecting information pieces. As such, we will be adopting an aggregation approach similar to what Stephen Downes pioneered with early MOOCs: gRSShopper. Content will be aggregated and shared in a daily email to learners. By aggregating learner content and providing persistent profiles, we anticipate higher levels of learner engagement.

Another social layer is the inclusion of group work using synchronous chat activities supported by intelligent conversational agents. This intervention builds on the work by Carolyn Rose’s group on dynamic support for collaborative learning using an architecture called Bazaar also developed by her team. Group work is difficult in MOOCs because of high drop out rates. To address this challenge, we are using a lobby tool developed by Rose’s lab that enables groups to form on the fly, on an as needed basis. When students reach a point in their trajectory through the course when they are ready to engage in discussion, they will click on a live link to enter the lobby program, which will match them with other learners who are also ready to engage in that activity. This is a benefit of MOOCs – with many learners online simultaneously, scale works for quick, weak tie, group formation.

Persistence. The content of the course will remain available for students to access post-course, particularly the summary emails and learner profiles in ProSolo. Learners will have the option to search context relevant resources in ProSolo. We hope that this will assist in creating a persistent practitioner community where learners will access resources post-course and continue to engage with each other on social media and in ProSolo.

Adaptivity. While adaptive learning is a rapidly growing area of research interest, it isn’t being done well yet. Early projects like CMU’s OLI focus on content focused courses with an emphasis on supported mutli-step problem solving. Adapting a course on learning analytics is more challenging as the problems are much less well-formed. “Right answers” are not always clear, and more importantly, ideal learning trajectories are more individualize. To compensate for this weakness, we’ve taken an idea from DS106: the assignment bank. The assignment bank focuses on adaptivity at the level of application. All learners experience the same instructional content. Each learner is able to challenge herself by selecting assignments with various gradients of complexity.

Matt Crosslin – lead designer on DALMOOC – has been blogging on the design decisions we have made throughout the course. His blog is a great resource.

There are numerous other research opportunities with MOOCs, including adaptive pathways during the course, personalized learning, self-regulated learning, alternative credentialing approaches, automated assessment, evaluating the impact of socially created artifacts on learning, alternative approaches to lectures and content presentation, and so on. Those are topics for future exploration. For DALMOOC, our focus is on timely help, social learning, persistence, and adaptivity through assignments. Even this seems like a slightly heaving set of alterations to the traditional MOOC. As with previous MOOCs that I’ve taught, the intent is to provide learners with a range of tools, technologies, and approaches and provide learners with the opportunity to sensemake and wayfind through complex information spaces. All the fun (and deep learning) happens in that process.

Open Access good news, bad news

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 30/09/2014 - 16:33

There was an interesting report done by market analysts, which claims that the threat to publishers from open access is fading. The threat has receded, and indeed OA may have increased profits for publishers. In short, publishers have nothing to fear in terms of profit from OA.

Good news one might think. This was exactly the argument many OA advocates made for its adoption. Making articles openly available increases uptake. Publishers don’t need to resist OA, and if we want to make it really mainstream, then getting publishers on board is the quickest route.

But, from a different perspective, it’s also a bad news story for open access. The report concludes that:

“The hybrid model deployed by subscription publishers to meet the requirements of the UK government is not threatening in any visible way the subscription model of the journals; the rate of adoption of deposit policies for US federal agencies, and the embargo period of 12 months also protect the position of subscription publishers”

In other words, publishers have successfully managed to carry on with their old model whilst simultaneously taking money for the new OA approach also, and this has been helped by the UK government policy. This isn’t really an open access victory, as the subscription model is still surviving, publishers are just getting paid twice. Curt Rice suggests that it is a failure of leadership on the part of open access that has caused this situation. Publishers now own the open access debate.

I would suggest that this is another example of the battle for open (I know, what isn’t an example to me?). Open Access starts out trying to make its argument. It is resisted, but eventually it begins to succeed in getting uptake. Academics get on board, then journals, funding agencies and governments. It looks like a big win, as open access becomes a standard approach. But then the real battle begins. While seeming to comply, it begins to take shape in a different form, and the hybrid model, with embargos and big publisher profits becomes the accepted model. But that wasn’t what was planned. So the next question is: Who owns the direction of open access?

It’s not reuse, it’s adaptation

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 29/09/2014 - 15:43

(I posted this over on the OER Research Hub originally, just reblogging here)

Reuse of OERs is an elusive, even mythical creature, so much so that Alan Levine has compared finding it to tracking Bigfoot. David Wiley has spoken of ‘dark reuse‘, like dark matter, we assume it’s going on but we can’t see it. But maybe we’re looking for the wrong thing, or at least calling it the wrong name.

We’ve just completed our annual report for the Hewlett Foundation, and reviewed our findings against the 11 hypotheses. We’ll put up the full report later, and dig into findings some more, but one thing that struck me was how much people say they adapt online resources. Contrary to findings on OER reuse, our surveys across informal learners, educators and formal learners uncovered a comparatively high level of adaptation amongst all types of users of 79.4%, (n=1765).

However, how people interpret adaptation varies. For some users it means using the resources as inspiration for creating their own material, as this quote illustrates:

“What I do is I look at a lot of free resources but I don’t usually give them directly to my students because I usually don’t like them as much as something I would create, so what I do is I get a lot of ideas.”

While this is an important use of OER (and perhaps under-reported), it arises principally as a result of their online availability rather than openness. However the freedom to reuse ideas is encouraged with an open licence and users feel free to do so. For other users, adaptation is more direct, editing or reversioning the original, aggregating elements from different sources to create a more relevant one, as this quote demonstrates:

“The problem where I teach now is that we have no money; my textbooks, my Science textbooks are 20 years old, they’re so out-dated, they don’t relate to kids (…) so I pick and pull from a lot of different places to base my units; they’re all based on the Common Core; for me to get my kids to meet the standards that are now being asked of them, I have no choice, I have to have like recent material and stuff they can use that’ll help them when they get assessed on the standardised test.”

And for others, adaptation may be taking an existing resource and placing it in a different context within their own material. The resource isn’t adapted, but the manner in which it is used is altered.

What this suggests is that there may be a continuum of adaptation in practice, ranging from adapting ideas for their own material to full reversioning of content. So why is there this discrepancy between our findings and the commonly reported dearth of reuse? Maybe it’s semantics? Reuse is perhaps a very OER specific way of putting it, and people aren’t sure if what they’ve done counts as reuse. Or maybe reuse sounds cheap, like stealing, whereas adapting has connotations of improving, taking ownership of, being active. Or maybe we’ve just been asking the wrong people. I think it is less a case of dark reuse as varied adaptation, and that is an interesting picture. As usual people aren’t quite doing what we expected of them, but something slightly different. Those pesky people.

Your career is a research project

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 25/09/2014 - 10:57

I must confess, I have a mild warning klaxon that sounds when I see “action research” in a thesis. This is not to say it isn’t a valid methodology, indeed the only way to conduct some research, but it’s one of those fashionable terms that people apply rather loosely. If in doubt, call it action research. That thing you did where you gave them a different text book one year? Action research.

But this isn’t a rant against lazy methodology terminology, as I am now going to co-opt the term for my own use. Rather it is to say that ideally academics should view their own careers as an action research project. As well as conducting the research in their discipline, they should conduct research on themselves on how to do that research. This is particularly true in a digital, networked context. We have many more possibilities available now for how every aspect of research is performed: generating ideas, methodology, dissemination, funding, data, participants. It would seem a waste of these possibilities and the intellects involved to merely continue with the same limited approach out of habit alone.

I always try to stress that it is not a case of X is dead and has been replaced by the new digital version, but rather that we have a more diverse range of tools to select from. And yet many academics are reluctant to engage with these. This is often a result of an anxiety that these won’t be perceived as ‘proper’ scholarship compared with the traditional approaches. I think if organisations and promotion committees in particular focused on this aspect of using your own career as a research project then it would legitimise this experimentation.

There is a strange irony in the present context that at the very time we have the opportunity for experimentation in academic practice, the environment in which it operates is becoming increasingly conservative and strictly defined. The public perception of universities, the manner in which tenure is granted, the student funding model and the increasingly complex process to gain research funding all work against the type of experimentation we would want to encourage. It sometimes feels like we’ve been given free access to the Louvre and been asked to count the lightbulbs.

But I would encourage the attitude of career as action research if possible. Now I think about it, action research may not be the methodology, maybe it’s autoethnography. I have a really big klaxon for that one, but that’s another post.

How to sell soul to a soulless people

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Sun, 14/09/2014 - 09:25

This was the question posed by Public Enemy back in 2007. Apple’s answer is to put U2’s album on everyone’s iPhone. This has been commented about endlessly, but I was interested by my own reaction when I saw it there. I felt something akin to revulsion. Now I know logically that I can just delete it, what’s the big deal. And I also know apps push stuff at me all the time, so what’s the difference here?

Pondering my own reaction (and that of many others), I think the answer is that music is related to identity. I posted many years ago that digital formats changed our sense of ownership, and that owning music used to be a strong part of your identity. “Look through my record collection” used to be an invite to get to know someone better. This has undoubtedly changed, one has only to consider what it’s like to be a Spotify customer where you have immediate access to just about every record ever made. Selection and ownership are less important then.

But I think what Apple failed to understand (or understood perfectly well, but didn’t care), is that your music library still feels like yours. On Twitter people pointed out to me that I didn’t own a phone, but rather rented a content delivery service. But I still feel like that library is mine. I’ve chosen what goes in there. I know no-one else cares, but it’s like your real library at home, those books have been selected by you. Some you may hate, some you may not have finished, some relate to a specific point in your life, and so on. But they are an extension of who you are. Having someone else place items in your music library feels far more intrusive than pushing an advert at me, or sending me a notification because it is eroding a sense of identity. And the more I think about it, the more I believe that tools that help us establish and define that identity in a digital age are the ones that will be successful. Apple demonstrated that their belief is that the only identity to have is theirs, and for such a modern company, that seems an old-fashioned view.

Now, if they had put this track on everyone’s iPhone, I wonder what the reaction would’ve been:

To what extent is education a digital product?

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 05/09/2014 - 07:13

This is an obvious, even old-fashioned question. I was thinking about it the other day, and I realised that not only is it actually the question I’ve been answering on this blog for the past 8 years or so, it is the key question for education. Having been to numerous ed tech conferences, it is also the overarching question each of them is really addressing.

The “to what extent” is the important element, because that doesn’t mean “it is”. The answer can be “not at all”, “some bits” or “completely”, depending on your perspective. If you look at many ed tech developments, and the reactions to them, they can be boiled down to different interpretations of this question. MOOCs are an obvious example, for the MOOC hypers, Clay Shirky, Thrun, et al, the answer to this question was pretty near 100%. For many MOOC critics, the answer would be nearer 0% (education isn’t a product, and the components you can make digital are the least important).

You could take issue with the “product” part, and can replace that with “service”, and you could make a case against the underlying neoliberalism inherent in the question. But I would contend that even if this is the case, then being able to defend and articulate a position against this question is what you will be doing for much of the next decade, because this is the question everyone else is implicitly, or explicitly, seeking to answer.

If you have a new Vice Chancellor, boss, colleague or whatever, I would suggest that asking them this one question might be quite illuminating. And more importantly, ask the question of yourself. As for me, I think it’s…

 

Kill yr idols (or not)

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 04/09/2014 - 14:14

I’ve been meaning to write a “twitter isn’t as much fun as it used to be” kind of post for a while. Then Bonnie Stewart went and did it, but you know, with added eloquence and thought. It’s been an idea a few ed techers have been mumbling about online for a while now. On almost the same day as Bonnie’s post David Kernohan gave an excellent talk at ALT-C on this subject.

The argument goes something like this: online communication and networks used to be fun, but they’ve become not only boring now, but as David put it, scary. This is partly a result of professional types now manipulating social media, and partly because people now pay attention.

Sheila MacNeill asked David a good question which was along the lines of “are you just upset that the great unwashed have turned up now and ruined your place that used to be cool?”

I think there is something in this. Back in the day, those of us who blogged and then used twitter were always advocating how great they would be if everyone used them. And then they did. The thrill of being right (for once) was offset by the disappointment at what inevitably happened. And here is the quandary for ed tech – we want people to take it seriously, but when they do it becomes something else. As soon as what you said in social media mattered then people wanted to control it. Or at least fire people who said the wrong thing, and as this Pew Internet report highlights, this leads to self-censorship and a spiral of silence. Self censorship is still censorship.

The same might be said of MOOCs. It was fun when no-one was watching, but then everyone started paying attention and it got all corporate. In the TV series Extras, Ricky Gervais character is given this very blunt choice by his agent:

“do you want fame and fortune, or do you want integrity and respect?”

Because he can’t have both. And this is what I’m not sure about, can we have both in edtech? Or must this year’s fun thing always become next year’s VLE or die?

Anyway, here’s Sonic Youth telling you to kill your idols. Because it’s the end of the world, and confusion is sex, or something like that.

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