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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.

LINK Research Lab: Fall Speaker Series

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.

Open researcher open course

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 26/08/2014 - 09:48

Led by Beck Pitt, the OER Research Hub has developed an open course (don’t use the M word) on P2P University on being an open researcher. It is four weeks long, although you can study it anytime and it’s all available at once. The weeks cover:

  • Open research
  • Ethics in the open
  • Open dissemination
  • Reflecting on open

It’s based on our experience of running the OER Research project as an open project. There are a number of interesting things that happen when you try to operate in the open. For instance, what ethical considerations are there to releasing data? What communication methods are most effective? The course explores these, using the fictional Mr O’pen. He’ll be in a pixar film before you know it.

The facilitated course starts on 15th September, although you could be doing it now if you want. There will be a weekly Google Hangout every Thursday over the 4 weeks of the course, with one pre-course hangout on the 11th. Take a look, we’re all finding out what being an open researcher means still, it’s not a defined set of approaches, so maybe there will be something there that works for you.

Quote of the day

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 14/08/2014 - 16:07

I’m on holiday at the moment, in a cabin by Loch Ness with my daughter. Being a teenager she rarely sees pre-noon so this gives me the morning to have a run, and also to finish off my book edits. I have been collecting quotes to add to each chapter, but have been debating whether to use these.

I have a love-hate thing going on with quotes. I used to love a good quote, but the internet has ruined them. A quote on any subject is just a google search away, and twitter is full of those inspirational quotes that are meant to make you want to be the next Steve Jobs. If you want me to unfollow you on twitter, then an inspirational quote a day is a pretty sure way to realise it. That all of the beauty, complexity and nuances of life are reduced to pithy, Nike-advert type quotes makes me want to become a recluse in a cabin by Loch Ness and communicate solely through the medium of beard growth.

But having said that, I do love the judicious use of quotes in both literature and non-fiction. They not only bring in a different voice, but when used well, add a different perspective to the text you are reading that the author themselves cannot provide. So, I’ve decided to plough ahead with quote use, but adhere to these self-imposed rules:

  1. The quotes must be from material I have read myself and not just searched for a relevant quote
  2. They are not directly referencing the content, eg there aren’t quotes about “open”, or “education”
  3. They are slightly oblique to the content of each chapter, so hopefully consideration of the quote in relation to the content adds something extra
  4. They are well written, so the discerning reader can use them as stepping stones of quality to navigate the peaty bog of my own prose.

I’ll leave you to be the judge as to whether they work or not. Because as Emerson said “I hate quotations”

 

Infrared instead of sun

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 12:06

In case you missed it, The Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers have proposed some new open access(ish) licences for their research articles. They argue that: “CC licenses are intended to be used across the entire creative sector, and are not designed specifically for publishing, or for academic and scholarly publishing”. Well that was kind of the point of CC licences, they were simple, effective and could be applied across many domains. That they are simple is not a fault, but the result of hard work and good minds. Compare the CC-NC definition with this one from STM:

“STM stand-alone non-commercial+TDM+Translation and some commercial uses other than “Reserved Commercial Uses”: rationale see comments under B above for those not having a be-spoke publisher licence or not wishing to use a UCLA licence or a CC licence or other licence”

I do what now?

Needless to say most open access people have decried this unnecessary attempt to add confusion to the sector, and pointed out that we’ve been getting on just fine with CC licences, thanks. Here is the PLoS response, who state that the new licences would “make it difficult, confusing or impossible to combine these research outputs with other public resources and sources of knowledge to the benefit of both science and society.”

Other people more knowledgeable than me can point out the problems of the licences (see for example this discussion I had with Cameron Neylon on Twitter) but the story is interesting to me for two reasons. The first relates to my digital scholarship interest, as it demonstrates a rather irritating academic habit, which is to say that the thing used by everyone else isn’t quite suited to the special needs of academia, and they need to create their own specialised, more complex version. It’s like academic versions of Twitter, or the death by metadata of learning objects. This is often well meaning, in that there may be some fine issues with using a general tool, but the benefits are worth the sacrifices. For a start those popular tools are popular for a reason, usually simplicity of use. As Cameron points out there is also a benefit to be gained form being part of a bigger, global community. Why create an academic ghetto of specialised use that no-one else relates to?

The second reason I find it interesting relates to the battle for open stuff. One could view it cynically and see it as a move by commercial publishers (many of whom STM represent) to either muddy the open access waters, or to control what the new definition of open is. Either way, open ends up not meaning what you think it means. And once that happens they can reclaim it to have any meaning. It could mean “Publisher X brand of open”, which means it is open to anyone who pays a subscription to their system. In this sense it is a good example of how the battle for open moves from big claims (open vs closed) to more detailed arguments which actually determine its future (CC vs STM open licence).

Unless they are forced upon authors, I’m hoping they’ll go the way of other unnecessary academic complications to perfectly functioning systems. People vote with their feet.

 

Battle for Open – references

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 06/08/2014 - 16:44

I’m doing some revisions to the final text of my book The Battle for Open at the moment. When you’re going through it like this, you notice a few names keep cropping up. So I did a count for certain names, and this includes whether they are mentioned in the text and then in the references, so you get a double hit. The top names were:

  • David Wiley – 38
  • Sebastian Thrun – 25
  • George Siemens – 14
  • Dave Cormier – 14
  • Stephen Downes – 10
  • Audrey Watters – 8

I’m a bit surprised Audrey isn’t more to be honest, as one blogger said of something I’d written “he seems to be channeling Audrey Watters”, and that pretty much feels like much of what the book has done, so maybe I should go back and check that.

Anyway, David Kernohan suggested (nay, demanded) that I put up the references:

@mweller @davecormier you should publish the index and references now.

— ժǻƲïժ κēŗɳoңȺɳ (@dkernohan) August 6, 2014

So here they are in the, yes, not very open, formats of Word and PDF – if people have suggestions for other useful formats let me know. I haven’t been through these in the final copyedit yet so there may be some bits missing, don’t go all reference purist on me.

The Battle for Open refs (PDF)

The Battle for Open refs (word)

[Update - At Alan Cann's suggestion, I've put it on Figshare too]

 

A farewell and an opportunity to get a free book

Its been a long dry spell on this blog. Apologies for that. The last post was around the time that I was preparing for OER13 to be unleashed (a fantastic experience which I and many others really enjoyed). Not long after that I confirmed arrangements to take early retirement from the Open University in order to have more time with family. Leaving the OU was very hard to do. I originally planned to go at the end of 2013, this stretched to the end of March 2014, allowing me to not only chair production of a new course on the MA Online and Distance Education Programme (H818: The Networked Practitioner which has openness and sharing at its heart), but also to lead its first year of presentation. This meant that I met and worked with some great students - always a joy - and had a front row seat for the first H818 student online conference and activity around this. Unmissable.
This last year has also involved working with some talented authors and my valued friend and colleague Professor Allison Littlejohn on completing the book which we started talking about at the ORIOLE retreat in 2010. The book is published at the end of this month and we agreed an arragement with Routledge (many thanks to Alex Masulis) allowed us to publish about half the chapters in an issue of the open journal JIME. So a significant portion of the content has been available to read, without fee, since April. Thank you to Martin Weller and others on JIME for agreeing to this hybrid form of openness which allowed us to accommodate authors who were uncomfortable without an open license, but also making it possible to publish conventionally, which also has benefits.

FREE COPY AVAILABLE: I now have two copies of the hardback book (pictured) and thought it might be a good idea to offer one of these via this blog to someone who can provide a good reason why they should have it.  If I agree I will post it to you anywhere in the world. You can contact me with your entry (put 'ROR book' in the subject header) at my OU address chris.pegler@open.ac.uk until the end of August 2014. I will be happy to sign it if that suits, so feel free to suggest a suitable inscription.

Why don’t we talk about PLEs anymore

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 23/07/2014 - 09:42

I know some people will immediately respond to this title by declaring “I do! And look at all these other people who do”. And yes, there is a PLE conference. But my sense is that we don’t use the term, or more significantly, discuss the concept of Personal Learning Environments, like we did in 2010 say.

This is not to disparage the term or work on it, I think it was very useful to frame the difference in the way we began to operate when all these new, easy to use tools suddenly became available. I’m interested from an educational technology perspective in what the decline in its usage tells us. Google trends backs my impression up that we don’t talk about it as much, and given that terms tend to linger, I would suggest that it shows it definitely isn’t a hot topic amongst ed tech people:

If you accept for now the premise that it isn’t discussed as much, then what does this tell us? There are a number of possible reasons:

  1. It’s become commonplace, so drawing the distinction between your set of tools and an institutional learning environment isn’t necessary. It’s a bit like saying “my phone is mobile!”
  2. It’s become absorbed, so it is seen as an extension of the LMS, or rather the LMS is just one other part of it. We don’t differentiate between tools for different settings because the boundaries between personal and professional have been blurred.
  3. There has been a shakedown in the market, so actually we’ve all settled on the same few tools: Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, Slideshare, plus some other specific ones. My PLE looks pretty much like your PLE, so it’s not really a Personal one anymore. Just like with the early days of search engines, we don’t talk about whether you prefer Lycos or Webcrawler now, we just Google it.
  4. It wasn’t a useful term or approach. There were projects that attempted to get data passed between LMSs and PLE tools, or to set these up for people, and in the end people just opted for some tools they found useful, and didn’t feel the need to go further.

For some of these reasons you could argue that the PLE was a success, it made itself redundant as a term, which illustrates it reached penetration. For others you could argue it was maybe a case of academics inventing something that wasn’t really there. For me, I found it a useful way to think about these new tools and moving away from pre-packaged solutions, but that’s become second nature now. Anyway, it’s useful to revisit terms and see what they tell us about the current situation. I shall now go into hiding from the pitchfork (some hand-crafted, some mass produced) wielding PLE mob.

Bundling and Re-bundling

I’m at the Knewton Symposium – an event focusing on the future of digital learning. This is the second year that I’ve attended. It’s a small event (last year had ~20 attendees, this year it’s closer to 60+). Knewton brings in a range of speakers and leaders in education, ranging from startups to big edtech companies and publishers to faculty and advocates for some type of change. The conversations are diverse, as can be expected when publishers and open education advocates as well as VC firms and academics share the same stage.

The narrative of educational change is more stable than it was even a few years ago and it’s reflected in this symposium. In 2011, everything was up in the air: universities were dead, faculty would be replaced by MOOCs, California would solve its education crisis by partnering with a small startup, and so on. Now the narrative has coalesced around: 1. economics and funding, 2. access and affordability, 3. innovation and creativity, 4. data and analytics, 5. future university models. While I’m interested in all five of those narratives, particularly the way in which these are being framed by university leaders, vendors and startups, and politicians, I’d like to focus here on one aspect of the conversation around future university models: unbundling.

Unbundling is an appealing concept to change mongers. The lessons of the album and mp3′s is strong with these folks. MP3s lead to newspapers which lead to music and media in general. Since change mongers (a species native to Silicon Valley but now becoming an invasive species in numerous regions around the world. Frankenfish comes to mind) do not have much regard for nuance and detail, opting instead for blunt mono-narratives, unbundling is a perfect concept to articulate needed change.

There are a few things wrong with the idea of unbundling in education:

1. Unbundling is different in social systems than it is in a content only system. An album can be unbundled without much loss. Sure, albums like The Wall don’t unbundle well, but those are exceptions. Unbundling a social system has ripple effects that cannot always be anticipated. The parts of a social system are less than the whole of a social system. Unbundling, while possible in higher education, is not a zero sum game. The pieces on the board that get rearranged will have a real impact on learners, society, and universities.

2. When unbundling happens, it is only temporary. Unbundling leads to rebundling. And digital rebundling results in less players and less competition. What unbundling represents then is a power shift. Universities are today an integrated network of products and services. Many universities have started to work with partners like Pearson (ASU is among the most prominent) to expand capacity that is not evident in their existing system.
Rebundling is what happens when the pieces that are created as a sector moves online become reintegrated into a new network model. It is most fundamentally a power shift. The current integrated higher education system is being pulled apart by a range of companies and startups. Currently the university is in the drivers seat. Eventually, the unbundled pieces will be integrated into a new network model that has a new power structure. For entrepreneurs, the goal appears to be to become part of a small number of big winners like Netflix or Google. When Sebastian Thrun stated that Udacity would be one of only 10 universities in the future, he was exhibiting the mentality that has existed in other sectors that have unbundled. Unbundling is not the real story: the real issue is the rebundling and how power structures are re-architected. Going forward, rebundling will remove the university from the drivers seat and place the control into the re-integrated networks.

New home

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 18/07/2014 - 09:35

I’ve finally (after 8 years) moved from Typepad to WordPress, and even more importantly, my own domain. Blame Jim Groom, that guy just wears you down until you say yes. Have tried a new theme, expect I’ll mess around with it and also widgets. If you’re here from the old place and use an RSS reader (I know, who uses them now?) then the new feed is http://blog.edtechie.net/feed/

All you WordPress geeks out there can tell me what plug-ins I must have. Time to start annoying the neighbours.

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