Now that it’s 2015 (it is, check your phone!), it’s interesting to think about changes in ed tech over the past five years. People often use the 5 year timespan to make predictions, so it’s a convenient chunk of time. The major advance in technology in society, which has then impacted upon education, has been in mobile computing I’d suggest. We’ve also had MOOCs and Learning Analytics in that time as the main movements within education technology. I would suggest though that it’s been a fairly stagnant five years. More a case of stuff developing gradually rather than big revolutions. Consider the changes from 2000-2005: we had 14k modems, were coding in HTML, and the web was a niche topic (even dismissed by some). By the end of this period all businesses had websites, we had broadband and e-learning had become part of the mainstream for nearly all universities. This was a seismic shift in higher ed really that we’re still feeling the effects from today.
Then consider the change from 2005-2010: at the start of this hardly anyone blogged, no-one was on Facebook, and you could still find sensible comments on YouTube. By the end of it, social media had arrived, we went through the web 2.0 bubble and everyone was uploading, sharing, liking, etc. For education this changed the social dynamics around learning, and also the interaction with educators and concepts of digital scholarship. The effects of this change for education we are also just learning to accommodate.
But I don’t see such a big change 2010-2015 – which is not to say lots hasn’t happened. In specific areas I’m sure people will say “assessment has changed radically” or similar, but I don’t feel there has been this major social technological change that has then impacted upon education. It’s been a case of making the existing things better, bigger, more world-controlling. So does this mean we are due another major change soon? Or do we we enter a period now of settling down, of existing stuff expanding?
I’m deliberately not adding value judgements here, merely pointing out the impacts on education of recent years. But perhaps that moral, social, ethical aspect is the big change to come, and there are certainly signs of that. What does it mean when Facebook is the biggest country by population? Now that social networks are pervasive what does that do to our identity? We’ve struggled with this questions since the start, but they take on a different focus when the scale is now “everyone”.
Anyway, we’ve lived through such rapid changes in the past 15 years it’s interesting to reflect on those occasionally. And here is Billy Bragg singing the title song of this post:
(doesn’t make cloud pun)
At the Open University we get a ‘study leave’ allowance every year, which was meant to replace the traditional summer breaks enjoyed by academics at campus universities. I try to take mine in December and January every year, last year it was when I wrote the Battle for Open book. This year although I’ve nominally taken it, I haven’t actually stopped doing any of the normal work because it doesn’t stop conveniently for you: bid deadlines need to be meet, project meetings are scheduled, PhD students still need supervision, management reports have to be written, etc.
This isn’t a moan about the pressures on academic life however, study leave is something of a luxury and unless you have a very specific project or plan, such as sabbatical at another university, I think this is just the way of things. But in order to actually do some writing, I booked myself a week in Cornwall, with just my dog for company. I’m writing this post at the end of this week, which has been very productive. It made me reflect on how we need to adopt new strategies to accommodate the pressures that being networked creates. At home I have created a non-screen room, which is just for reading, listening to music, watching the fish, playing drums. No screen activity. Actually it is more accurately a disconnected room – I don’t even allow myself to take my phone in there. It’s been very interesting to create this separate space, and I even retrieved my large CD collection from the garage to enjoy in there.
Just as this isn’t an moan about the pressures on academic life, it is also not another of those anti-connectivity pieces. When commentators such as Sherry Turkle bemoan the intrusion of the network life into the personal sphere I think they are usually comparing it with a very privileged past. For instance, when I was a teenager my parents ran a shop and would often work 6 days a week, not getting in until 7 most nights. Compare this with when my daughter was young and I used to walk her to school and pick her up most days. I could do this because network connectivity allowed me to work at home a lot, and when I picked her up I could take her to a play place or swimming, without feeling guilty because I could check emails a couple of times when I was there. Similarly, when my then wife was recovering from cancer a few years back I could spend time at home without losing touch with work, and also feeling that my profile didn’t disappear, because I could maintain it through blogs and social media.
So, the benefits that networking has given me are worth the price of the resultant blurred boundaries and intrusion into personal space. Without going into digital natives territory, we are the first generation to have to deal with this mass connectivity change. It will be assumed from now on, but we, as individuals and society, have had to make the adjustment. Inevitably we will get it wrong, we will over adopt sometimes and under-utilise at others. The only surprise about that be that people are surprised when it happens. But we’ll get it right over time.
My writing week, the disconnected room – these are examples of the corrections we make to get the network balance right. And we’ll become more adept at this. Also, business tip: helping people make these corrections will be an increasingly fruitful area.
For the past five years I’ve done an end of year review of my running (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) . It’s the only running post I do now, and I usually add some philosophical rambling to justify it. I’d like to do it again this year, to carry on my own little tradition, but it’s impossible to do a running review this year without mentioning the major life event that occurred, namely the (unexpected) breakup of my marriage. I don’t want us all to feel awkward, so I’ll keep that bit to a minimum, but basically, assume ‘running’ is a great big life metaphor throughout this post.
First, the stats:
Duration: 165hrs 39 mins
Av distance: 6.1
Av pace: 9.52
It’s been an up and down year with running, I trained for the Windermere marathon in May. Things went a bit awry before this, and it was agreed I would go up and do the marathon while significant things happened at home. Let’s just say I hope it’s a long time before I am again required to find the courage it took to complete that weekend and that race. The marathon was hillier than I expected (it was in the Lake District, why was I surprised?) and it was a hot, brutal day, so I limped around in 5hrs 15. But this one really was about completing – is it possible to be literally running a metaphor?
I joined a local running club then, and June and July saw a real upsurge in the ‘running as therapy’ style. At this stage I was on target for about 1400 miles for the year. A holiday in Scotland with daughter reduced my mileage a bit, and I signed up for the inaugural Severn Bridge half marathon. This was hillier than I expected (you may detect a theme here), and for the first time I came in over 2 hours for a half. This was part of my build up to the Cardiff half though, so I wasn’t too bothered. However, my hip bursitis from a few years back began to niggle again, so in the lead-up to the Cardiff race, I eased off when I wanted to be pushing hard. In the end I was pleased with a time of 1hr 56 given this.
I then took 3 weeks off to rest my hip, and also had a week in Arlington, visiting George Siemens. I kind of lost my running mojo around this point, and with the annual goal of 1000 miles now beginning to be in doubt, I signed up for the Newport half in March. I’m the type of runner who needs a definite goal and a plan to stick to. This has meant that I have just passed the 1000 miles mark for the year, with a couple of days to spare. In the end I’m happy with this, any year I do a marathon, two halves and complete 1000 miles is a success. I know from having had years when I’ve been injured or not completed 1000 (see last year) I always berate myself ‘why weren’t you pleased when you did do it?’
The next year will be interesting in terms of my relationship with running. Over the past year I’ve developed, or resurrected, a lot of interests: I’ve joined a book club, I’m a Cardiff Devils season ticket holder, I watch a shitload of films, I’ve upped my cooking and gardening, and I’m completing my Masters in History (albeit with minimal effort). I’m unsure whether to continue this broad approach or whether to go deep in one, and whether running will be it, or if it will continue to be part of a mix.
Running is an odd pursuit, both boring and exhilarating, and also quite an existentialist one. As I plodded around the marathon, firstly my intended target time became unrealisable, then my revised one became problematic. But even at mile 16, with yet another hill to slog up, the race is both decided and yet undecided. You carry the story of the previous miles in your legs (have you gone out too fast, or been too cautious?) but yet much of what happens can still be determined, you can push hard for a few miles, ease off and make sure you finish, drop out and go to the pub, or find a new constant pace. Yes, it’s a bloody metaphor.
Tomorrow (Dec 16th) at 3pm UK time I’m doing an online book launch for my Battle For Open book. I’m sharing it with Martin Eve, who will be talking about his Open Access and the Humanities book also. If you’re interested in openness, open access, books, or just want to procrastinate, then please join us, The room will be open from 2pm (we’ll record it too so if you’re reading this after the fact, you can watch the playback).
One thing about going with a small publisher like Ubiquity is that they don’t have the marketing budget of someone like Elsevier. However, having published three books previously I’m not convinced this marketing does much. They generally ask you for ideas about where to send it, and much of the marketing is done by your personal networks. But I confess I don’t know how important all those catalogues, stands at conferences, and glossy flyers distributed via post are in terms of overall sales. I suspect they may help with giving the book a longer life. So, this represents a bit of a test. Ubiquity have some marketing and will get it into library catalogues, so it’s not a pure comparison of self-marketing vs traditional, but it will be interesting to see if it makes much difference in terms of citations (or sales even).
So, doing things like the webinar are part of that. I hope it’s interesting to others and not just self-indulgent. I will talk a bit about the book’s central theme but also about the process of writing this book also. And the relationship with Martin’s book will hopefully throw up some useful points for discussion too. Failing that, we can just sing Christmas carols and have mince pies.
Did I mention my Battle for Open book is out? I SAID DID I MENTION MY BOOK IS OUT.
Ahem. Audrey Watters asks why a book, and it’s a question I asked myself with my last book. Here are some thoughts on the process of writing it, and how it relates to blogs and other outputs.
As with the last one, my blog is invaluable. It’s not quite like David’s book which is a collection of his blog posts, but anyone who reads this blog and then the book will be familiar with a lot of its content. When I realised there might be a book to write in this area I went through my blog and copied over anything that was relevant. This came to about 30,000 words. Now, some of that I didn’t use in the end, and nearly all of it I rewrote to an extent (there is a very interesting different tone of voice between book and blog). But nevertheless, for a 60,000 word book, to have nearly half of it in some form straight-off is a real kickstart. Whenever I do my blogging pitch people ask me ‘how do you find the time’, and I often counter that once you get past a certain point, it becomes a time saver. I don’t know how any academic writer functions without a blog. I sometimes found myself writing something and then thinking ‘hold on, haven’t I done something on this before?’ and I’d go back to the blog to find an erudite, well formed and argued article/rambling piece of nonsense that suited my needs.
What I like about a book is that you can make an extended argument, loop forward and refer back within one coherent piece. You can do the referring back in blogs but you write those over an extended period, and they’re usually short pieces. The book allows you a longer run at a subject and you have a reasonably clear idea how these ideas will build on each other. Blogs are much better at capturing thoughts over an extended time frame and for patterns to emerge. Like my last book, I didn’t realise I was in the process of writing this book on my blog for a period of a year or two. Then I began to see a common thread between posts that could benefit from the extended book approach. Again, how do people write books without blogs?
And why a book and not something more creative? Jim Groom might chastise me for being beholden to that text stuff. Alan Levine would have done something far more creative using photos and an application he developed himself. I could answer this by arguing that the form was appropriate for the content, but actually that’s not true. Others could have done something far more innovative and said the same thing. In the end I think it’s because, to paraphrase Laura Marling, I write because I can. It’s what I’m half-decent at, so you may as well go with that.
So, let’s end with some Laura:
If you’re into edtech/open education (and who isn’t?) then your cup runneth over these last couple of weeks with books to read. There are four I’ll highlight (including mine!) and they represent different approaches to writing and publishing, so they make a nice comparison.
First up is Martin Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities. Martin is a great OA champion and this book explores the context and issues surrounding OA for the humanities. It’s published by Cambridge University Press, with the digital version available under CC-BY-SA licence. This represents a fairly traditional model, with publisher paying the author some royalties, although often a bit reduced from the normal rate. (Martin contributes his royalties to Arthritis research by the way). The publisher is taking the punt that it will sell enough copies to make a profit on the investment required for the services in producing the book (copyediting, layout, etc).
My book, The Battle for Open, represents a slightly different approach. It’s published by Ubiquity Press (who we recently linked up with for JIME also, they’re my new publishing BFFs). They operate a ‘gold’ model, where you pay upfront for the services. However, they’re not looking to make a profit on the book then, and as with their journals, these costs are reasonable. Depending on the services you choose, it is around £3-4,000. Now that’s a lot for an individual, but in terms of research projects, it’s the same sort of price as going to a fancy conference overseas, and that type of dissemination is regularly built into budgets. I would argue that publishing an open access book might be a better use of such funds. I’ve heard tales from colleagues who’ve been quoted figures along the lines of £20,000 from big academic publishers to make their book open access. This is taking no risk at all, since that would probably cover the profit on a regular book anyway. This is available CC-BY in PDF, Kindle, epub formats, with the hardcopy available for the reasonable price of £12.99.
Next are two books that come from blogging chums. David Kernohan’s A New Order and Audrey Watters’ The Monsters of Education Technology. Both of these arose from a hackathon exploring self-publishing. David’s is a collection of his blog posts and Audrey’s her keynote talks. The digital versions are freely available under CC licences again (although I’d urge you to buy the digital format of Audrey’s one).
There are a few interesting things about this approach to me. Firstly, it’s a good example of that guerrilla approach to research that I like to bang on about. David and Audrey didn’t need anyone’s permission to publish these books. Secondly, both books are really good, better than many monographs we see published. This is, of course, primarily a function of their ability as writers, but it also demonstrates the value in spending time on smaller outputs. David’s blog is always worth reading, and Audrey’s keynotes are like masterclasses. In her book she says people keep telling her she’s going about keynotes the wrong way, you’re meant to do one and then repeat it (guilty as charged), but she spends ages creating a new one each time. This book demonstrates the value in doing that, as does David’s in keeping a blog where you explore issues that fall outside your daily job.
I like all four of these books (especially mine) for their subject matter, but more so because they demonstrate that different models to book publishing are possible and valid. These different models will meet the needs of different authors, and the good thing is, they’re all appropriate. When I started blogging I was intrigued by the changes that the digital approach made to academic practice. I think we’ve all become a bit jaded to that now, but these four publications demonstrate that it is still an interesting, and ongoing process. Anyway, that’s your Christmas reading list sorted right there.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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)
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
Anyway, if you were undecided about coming to OER15 then I’m sure that keynote line-up has you booking your tickets to Cardiff.
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.
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:
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.
At LINK Research Lab, we have a full slate of speakers for fall, including topics on distributed learning, synchronous instruction, success for under represented students, learning analytics, engagement, design based research, openness, flipped classrooms, health and the built environment, mentorship, and wonder. The full schedule is here. We will be streaming the events online and are exploring options for asynchronous interaction as well. If you’d like to be informed of event details, recordings, and links to live sessions, please register.