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The Ivory Tower & the wrong focus

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 27/03/2015 - 15:29

I am at the Hewlett Grantees meeting in Sausalito this week, and last night they showed the film The Ivory Tower, in order to provoke discussion around what relevance OER had to the issues raised in the film. I’d seen it before, on a plane, and it had vaguely irritated me, but it was interesting to see it again last night, when it really irritated me.

I think a documentary film about how we fund higher education is an interesting thing to do, but this one jumps around all over the place. It suggests that the fault of high education costs lies with the university. It is not a film about how society funds higher education. For instance it only looks at the US. If you were interested in the topic of higher ed funding you would look at other countries with different models. As I’ve said before, if you make higher education a market, you shouldn’t then criticise universities for behaving in a perfectly logical way to succeed in that market. The film makes a big play on universities having climbing walls and fancy buildings, but if these attract students and money in a competitive market, then that they are inevitable. It doesn’t take the next step and make the discussion about funding in general, but rather says we should look at what universities are doing and whether education is now a good investment.

It also offers some of the alternatives that were popular a few years back, including UnCollege and, of course, MOOCs. The whole MOOC section just seems deeply embarrassing now. There is a definite ‘these will sweep away unis’ feeling, and they give the pre-pivot Thrun full rein. No-one making a documentary in 2015 would present MOOCs in such a light (which is not to fall into Good vs Evil Unicorn territory, not to say you couldn’t have an interesting doc about them). And this I think is the problem – for OERs they need to avoid getting caught up in any of the rhetoric that will date quickly. Instead, as David Wiley likes to propose, focus on particular problems and solve those. OERs don’t need to mean the end of university, but they might help with the high cost of textbooks. OERs don’t need to create an UnCollege program, but they can help students pick the right course by studying before they choose, and then help them complete by supplementing study when they’re in university. And so on. These benefits aren’t as glamorous and may not get you a documentary made, but they are actually useful.

Where do you go for community?

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 20/03/2015 - 15:31


(It is a little known fact that every time a pub closes, an angel dies)

I use the site Blipfoto to do the photo a day thing. I’m not that active over there, but it is one of those sites that some people really, really, love. It has developed a strong community over the years, but this week it was announced it was going into liquidation. It may not be lost, as a buy-out may be on the cards, but it’s a reminder of the fragility of these things. It doesn’t bother me too much, I started a WordPress blog to do the same, and I’m in the lucky position of having my main network elsewhere. But for many users, Blipfoto is the place they go to connect with people.

Of course, the obvious solution is to own everything yourself and self-host. But there are two issues with this – if you want to connect around a particular interest you need to go where others with that interest are located. You can build up a network through self hosted blogs, as many of us have done, but a specific site is an easier thing to manage, and also allows for more serendipity I think. I have seen photos from people who work on North Sea oil rigs, people doing relief work in Mongolia, others who have the same dog as me, as well as connecting with the people I know through other means. Those other connections don’t always happen through your self hosted sites. The second reason is that while I might just about manage to host my own WP site, it’s really into something a lot of people will do. The ease of use and simple purpose of such sites is their attraction.

Ultimately I think it’s just one of those things. Online services have no more right to permanence than physical ones. We have complex, emotional attachments to buildings because of the social function they perform. Think of the impact the closing of the village pub has on that community. Why did we imagine online spaces would be any easier? Enjoy it while you can, make sure you have a backup and remember nothing lasts forever – that’s about the sum of it.

Good vs Evil Unicorns

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 16/03/2015 - 14:46


I’ve done variations on my Battle for Open talk 3 times this week, and one slide I’ve used is to talk about the way false dichotomies are created. I characterised it as you are forced to be a good or evil unicorn (these are actually a thing, but a not real thing). This is often the result of excessive hype and over-reaching on the part of educational technology. The silicon valley/technology utopia narrative has a lot to do with this – in order to get attention for you start-up it is better to give a story that it is revolutionary, rather than a bit useful. The media plays an important role too as it prefers these ‘next big thing’ stories. And when they don’t realise this potential (which is usually a good thing as their utopia is quite often a dystopia for others), people get disaffected.
If you work in ed tech you’ve seen enough of these to become completely jaded and cynical, and there is some fun to be had in puncturing the puffed up nonsense of the latest education disruption. But we should also be careful not to just reject all technologies simply because they come wrapped in nonsense media. And this is what happens, we find ourselves forced into diametrically opposed camps because that is what the narrative demands of us – there are no neutral unicorns.
And while it is boring, and can be dismissed as sitting on the fence, the truth almost always lies in the middle. MOOCs are not going to destroy higher education as we know it, nor are they irrelevant. They’ll turn out to be useful for some purposes.
Here are the types of conflict we often see set up in this good vs evil unicorn world:

  • MOOCs as saviours – MOOCs as irrelevant
  • All online learning – all face to face
  • Learning analytics means no more pesky humans – Learning analytics as dehumanised teaching
  • Technology as solution for everything – Technology offers no help

And so on. I’ve felt myself being forced into these extremes at times. It’s easier in a way, you don’t have to think anymore – your reaction for any new development is pretty much defined for you. It may also be profitable – if a newspaper, TV or radio show want an interview, they want the people at the extremes, not the nuanced view in the middle.
But ultimately it’s not helpful, and simply just wrong. If you find yourself being pushed into an extreme view, ask yourself if you’re a good or bad unicorn. The answer is, neither.

The hidden tech shift in higher ed

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 26/02/2015 - 13:53

It is quite common to hear statements along the lines of “education hasn’t changed in 100 years”. This is particularly true from education start-up companies, who are attempting to create a demand for their product by illustrating how much change is required in the sector. At a conference I attended once a speaker invited the audience to think about what they were doing now and what they were doing 10 years ago and how it hadn’t changed, and everyone agreed. But I think these statements miss a lot of the change that has taken place.

If you were to come to a university campus, superficially it looks as though things are pretty unchanged. The sports centre is better, the bar is less of a dive and the restaurant serves better food, but there are still lectures, laboratories and students sitting around on the grass. But these mask a real technological and demographic change that has taken place over the past 20 years.

Firstly, the concept of the traditional student – someone who leaves home at 18 and studies full time at a university – is no longer dominant. Many students are living at home (and will still have the same groups of friends), studying part-time, studying at a distance or are in the ‘mature’ group, ie over the age of 22.

Secondly, the role of technology has become much more central. Imagine turning off learning and teaching systems at a university (we’ll ignore admin systems for now). Many universities would simply be unable to function. Students submit assignments, access teaching material, use digital library resources, use software for research, engage in group work and socialize via these systems. While I have many reservations about the way the VLE path has panned out, this technology is central in just about all universities. Even relatively uninteresting (from a pedagogic perspective) technologies such as lecture capture can have a profound impact for many students.

Comparison with the music industry is also a trope you will hear fairly often. The MOOCs were the MP3 of higher education Shirky warned us. In fact, if you take the view above, then higher education, far from being a sector that is still waiting for the internet to happen to it, is a good example of how to incorporate new technology while still retaining its core functions.

Which is not to say it’s all okay. I think a real problem for higher ed is the legacy of the physical environment for example. We do lectures because we have lecture theatres. More significantly we can’t conceive of doing anything else because the lecture theatres says “do lectures”. It would be very difficult, for instance, to implement a flipped approach in many university courses because the face to face space is built for lecturing and not doing the other things you might want to utilize that time for. Shirley Alexander is a good example of someone who is rethinking that university space, but it doesn’t come cheap. Similarly, if you’re being generous, maybe it took this long for the VLE to be accepted, but more innovative use of online tools should now be more commonplace.

There is much more that is fun, innovative and challenging that can be done, and we should push hard on this, but at the same time I would challenge anyone who claims glibly that higher education hasn’t changed. They simply haven’t looked properly.

The duty of care

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Sun, 22/02/2015 - 17:05


(don’t worry, the elbow patches won’t be retired anytime soon)

Some of you may have seen a recent article about the drop in part-time student numbers and the OU. First of all, some perspective, it’s not quite the end of the OU as some have interpreted it – they anticipated a drop following the introduction of fees and planned for it. But the overall decline in part-time numbers has been bigger and longer than expected, so it is beginning to bite now. The OU will be okay as an institution, but it means there are people missing out on education who would really benefit from it, and that’s what makes me really angry.

I have read various causes proposed for this since the article, most of them relate to whatever someone’s particular belief is: more focus on regional centres, should concentrate on overseas students, and FutureLearn. The very people who might criticize the OU for developing FL would be saying ‘they failed to respond to the threat of MOOCs’ if we hadn’t. No, all of this is immaterial beside the one big factors: fees. We should not let any of these other discussions distract us from the awful stewardship of higher education under the current government. Three reason for the decline in part-time numbers? Fees, fees, fees.

The thing is all of this was entirely predictable. A colleague of mine did research on the potential impact of fees for part-time students and it showed they would stay away. Some might go full time, most wouldn’t bother to study. This is particularly damning in the current social context. Open entry, low cost, part-time study appeals to exactly the sort of people you want to encourage into education, especially if you feel that social mobility is a worthwhile thing.

Which brings me onto the real point of this post. When we elect governments they take on a responsibility to look after our national treasures. After the NHS and the BBC, the OU is one of the institutions that Britain holds dear. It is the envy of many other countries and its model has been adopted across the globe.

I feel that we ask the wrong question of political parties. It is not so much ‘what will you do?’ but rather ‘who will do the least damage?’ This applies to all those in positions of real authority, be they CEOs of large companies, or VCs of universities. There is always a focus on being active, on making change. But actually maintaining is a good goal also. Here is a radical thought, imagine if an Education Minister said “I think teachers are doing a really good job. We’ll listen to you and make some improvements where it will help, but generally we don’t want to interfere, so we’re not going to introduce any big reforms for five years.” That would be good for the education of the children of this country, but it’s a bad political move. You need to be seen to be improving efficiency, introducing radical reforms, changing the system.

The fees system and accompanying loans have been poorly conceived and even more poorly implemented. The damage they have done to the nature of higher education in this country may never be recovered from. The duty of care of all such national sectors is not something we should let people take on lightly.

Post Doctoral Position at UTA

I’m pleased to announce a new post doc position at LINK Research Lab at University of Texas Arlington (we will be announcing several additional positions in the next month in various topic areas).

The first position, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, is focused on assessing labour market data, specifically how the changing nature of work impact higher education institutions. For example, what type of work will we be doing in an age of increasing automation? How do universities identify important trends that require alteration of teaching practices from current models? What will the university look like in a global learning and knowledge economy? What will we teach? How will we teach? How will our students (and employees) learn?

We’ve taken a slightly different approach to this position, reflective of the networked and interconnected world of work and higher education. The successful candidate can work remotely from UTA for part of their time. Supervision will be done by Drs. Shane Dawson, Dragan Gasevic, & George Siemens. Additionally, the candidate will spend 2-3 weeks at University of Edinburgh and 2-3 weeks at University of South Australia (Adelaide). The international trip costs will be covered by participating universities, separate from the position salary.

The formal stuff:
The official position description is here: http://www.uta.edu/hr/eos/faculty-search/posting/DDTL02122015PDF

Overview:
The relationship between work and formal education is changing. A traditional view holds that formal education prepares individuals for a lifetime of employment. Education in this view is event based. Essentially, once the degree has been completed, the individual moves into the workforce. However, as a result of the complexities and challenges associated with the modern economy, this model is no longer the norm. The traditional full time student is now a minority in the USA, as part time learners and mid-career masters students and alternative programs (such as competency based and online learning) increase in numbers. The nature of work and employment is also changing, as routine labor is increasingly automated. Bill Gates recently stated that within a decade, 50% of today’s jobs will be automated. The repercussions that this has for the economy and the quality of life for people are significant. The impact on the future of universities and colleges, specifically in relation to how higher education prepares individuals for employment, is an important area of research. The skills/employment gap refers to the relationship between what learners know and can do when they graduate and what employers expect. A second gap, that of developing the whole person (such as in a liberal arts education) versus developing an individual for primary employment, also exists as work moves to a creative economy. The balance between formal education, learning, work, creativity, and knowledge advancement will be the primary focus of this post doc position.

This position will appeal to individuals with strong awareness of labor data, employment trends, and how automation is altering work and how this in turn influences the role of higher education institutions in society.

Experience of Applicants
Applicants will have a completed, or soon to be completed, PhD in areas related to this position such as: higher education reform, higher education policy and strategy, job and labor market statistics and trends, impact of automation on work, expanded and changing learning opportunities through digital learning and emerging assessment models (competency based learning), or history of labor and the role work plays in the health and well being of members in a society.

Position Details
The position will run for a duration of three years with annual renewals. This position contributes significantly to University of Texas Arlington’s new strategic plan (http://www.uta.edu/strategicplan/), notably regarding sustainable communities (and megacities), sustainability, global impact, health and the human condition, and data-driven discovery.

Specific activities include:
- conducting research (including grant writing and co-supervision of doctoral students)
- engagement with state and national agencies in assessing and evaluating prominent employment trends
- identification and assessment of effectiveness of new higher education and work-to-university-to-work models
- developing models of employment and higher education interaction (triple helix model)
- evaluation of the economic impact of higher education on regional economies as employees return to universities to re-skill/upgrade
- presenting at the main conferences in the knowledge domains relevant to this position
- publishing in the major journals in the field;
- interacting with some stakeholder (internal and external to the university) groups/partners;
- institutional collaboration and knowledge transfer/translation to Texas and national university systems
- analysis of international labour and education trends
- translation of research findings to practice

Position stipend: $50,000 USD annually

The candidate will report directly to the LINK Research Lab Executive Director (Dr. George Siemens) and with input and collaboration with Professor Dragan Gasevic (Research Scientist, UT Arlington and Chair in Learning Analytics, University of Edinburgh, Scotland) and Shane Dawson (Research Scientist, UT Arlington and Associate Professor at the Centre for Teaching Innovation and Digital Learning, University of South Australia, Australia) and will have the option of remote research at collaborating institutions up to 60% external to the University of Texas at Arlington post approval from the Link Research Lab Executive Director).

Applications materials should be submitted digitally to:

Laurel Mayo, Director, LINK Research Lab
email address: lsmayo@uta.edu

Just the twenty years

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 12/02/2015 - 15:44

This month marks twenty years since I started at the OU. In five years time I get a clock. I know you’re thinking ‘he doesn’t look a day over 30′ – oh, you’re not. Anyway, time for some reflection, and as I said few posts back, I think those of us in ed tech in particular (but all of society to a large extent) have been through such rapid change that we take it for granted now. So here is a brief ‘my life in ed tech over the past twenty years review’.

When I joined the OU I said at the interview “I’m interested in this internet thing. Have you thought about it for teaching?” They had a bit, but this is a classic example of how at the start of something, even a little knowledge is valuable. I didn’t know much about the internet, but I at least knew it was worth knowing about. That seems obvious now, but at the time many eminent people were dismissing it as the next CB radio type fad. I got a job as a lecturer on the Artificial Intelligence course, and trialled an online tutor group. I also taught myself HTML. These two very basic things made me ‘the elearning guy’. The web really took off over the next 3-4 years. This was the age of AOL, Geocities, Lycos, Netcrawler, dial up modems. All of these seems like ancient history now. I remember running sessions at OU summer schools and getting students to create their own websites in HTML. That sense of wonder that you had created something that anyone could now access was amazing.

I’ve bored you all many times with my account of T171, the big elearning course we created in 1999. There was lots of angst at the time about accessibility, whether students would have internet access, computers etc and whether anyone would want to learn online. The success of this course, with 12,000 students per year, did a lot to end those doubts. Creating large scale, completely online courses – it only took another 13 years for American ivy league universities to suddenly discover this.

The early 00s saw the mainstreaming of elearning. This was typified by the VLE, and I had a stint as VLE Director. I’ve written about some of the problems this VLE outsourcing created, but it was also crucial in democratising elearning to educators in all subjects. Not everyone wanted to hand craft their own web site it turned out. This was also the period of elearning failures, which I now view as essential steps on the path to future developments. Learning objects for instance were unwieldy, and over-hyped, but they were a necessary step on the way to OERs. The UK eUniversity, which I created a course for, was a big public failure, but the model now doesn’t seem too different to that of MOOC providers (which may mean they are destined to fail too).

We then had the web 2.0 explosion. It’s become fashionable now to be sniffy about this, but I found it wonderful at the time. The possibilities of social media, user generated content, open data and access seemed to impact on every aspect of educational practice. It seemed like everything could change – I think actually we’ll see a lot of these changes happen over the next decade or so (and they’ll be trumpeted as new discoveries), it takes time for this stuff to filter through. This was the period when I got into blogging, and the people I connected with online during that period remain some of the best real and online friends I have (admittedly, that is a small field).

And then the last few years have been typified by a maturing of all these areas. It’s like everyone graduated and started doing proper jobs. Open education is now part of the mainstream, blogs are part of a communication strategy and MOOCs are featured on the BBC. I think it’s tempting to decry that it’s not as good as the old days, but I think it’s just a different time, with different challenges and opportunities.

I could theoretically work another 20 years, and given the way pensions are going, it’s probably likely. I suppose the big question is will the next 20 years see as much change as the last 20? And will we finally get those hoverboards?

The goals, the goals

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 11/02/2015 - 09:36

At the start of the year, I set myself a number of goals. I’ve found that I need goals to keep doing stuff, I am inherently lazy, so the guilt of having to achieve a regular commitment is necessary to get me off my arse. In the past few years I’ve done the photo a day, and 1000 miles running a year. This year I have set the following targets:

  • Photo a day (in Blip) – I may as well carry on with this, I’ve done 3 years of it (with some breaks)
  • 1000 miles running – I toyed with upping this target, but decided other goals would have to be sacrificed to do that
  • Cinema trip once a week – I overthink going to the cinema, and end up not going. If I have to go once a week, it’ll make me less indecisive about seeing a film, and I may see some I wouldn’t do normally.
  • Read a book a week – this is going to be a tough ask, short books only.
  • Blog once a week – my blog has fallen away somewhat, and rather like the cinema goal, I want to re-establish a habit.

Yes, I may have a problem with excessive goal setting.

It’s all completely unrelated to edtech, but my plan is to blog the monthly update on these. If nothing else it helps me realise the blog goal. I will allow myself to play catch-up on these, eg. if I miss a cinema trip one week, I can do two the following. So how have I done for January?

Later posts in this theme may feature half-arsed film reviews, so there’s something to look forward to. My advice from this month would be don’t go and see the Hobbit, it was Peter Jackson’s Star Wars ep 1 George Lucas moment.

Social media and Open Access

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 05/02/2015 - 10:44


(image – https://flic.kr/p/aFuQYt)

I often make this point in talks on digital scholarship, but don’t think I’ve done it in a blog sized chunk before. There is an interesting relationship between social media and open access. As you develop an online identity as an academic, so the role of social media (twitter, blogs, academia.edu – whatever is your preferred mix) takes on a more central role in your activity. So it is natural that you use these to disseminate research findings and publications. And this is where the relationship with open access comes in. If you want to disseminate your recent article via your carefully cultivated online network, then it is anathema to share a link that then asks the user to “pay $40 to access this article”. As I like to quip in my presentations, in social media terms you may as well go and bury your article in your back garden for all the access it means in this network.

There are a set of cultural assumptions that are associated with social networks, one of which is that content can be freely accessed and easily shared. Now, you can argue about the economics of this, and whether content should be free, but those are the assumptions that come with this culture, so you either accept them or go elsewhere.

So if you want to utilise social networks as part of your academic practice, then it really puts an emphasis on you to publish open access. Whether this is self-archived or gold route published isn’t that relevant – it needs to be accessible, now, and by everyone. If we assume that social networks aren’t going away and are going to become more and more pervasive as part of academic practice, then this becomes a strong, almost irresistible driver for open access. No wonder publishers are scared.

I also wonder if there are two distinct cultures developing in academia here – those who use social media might have a different set of publications they regard as core compared to others who are using library driven systems, for example.

Waiting for the great leap forward

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 27/01/2015 - 12:38

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:

The network corrections

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 22/01/2015 - 12:29

(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.

The stories in the legs

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 29/12/2014 - 12:20

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:

Mileage: 1008
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?


This was a welcome sight

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.


If they remade the Bridge in the UK, this would be it.

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.

Double book launch online

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 15/12/2014 - 11:22

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.

I now have a Canadian Father

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

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

Digital Learning Research Network (dLRN)

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

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

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

More specifically, dLRN will do the following:

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

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

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

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

Universities/organizations and people involved:

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

Getting involved:

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

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

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

Brilliant folks that need to be read.

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

A recent sampling of their thinking:

From Kate:

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

From Bonnie:

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

From Mike:

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

Moving from openness advocacy to research

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

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

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

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

The (somewhat) latest developments in open data

OER-Advocacy Group - Thu, 21/06/2012 - 20:51

Some of these developments may be dated by a month or more, but we want to make sure they are on your radar by pointing them out here.

Several open data portals have launched, including a Brazilian Open Data portal powered by the open-source data cataloguing software CKAN (run by the Open Knowledge Foundation – OKFN). The Ministry of Planning in Brazil worked with the OKFN to develop the portal, cultivating citizen participation through an open and transparent development process. Furthermore, the portal itself carries a default license of CC BY-SA. Since its May 4 launch, the portal has grown and now hosts 79 data sets and 893 resources. As noted on the OKFN blog, “the portal is part of a larger project called the National Infrastructure Open Data, or INDA. The general idea of INDA is to establish technical standards for open data, promote training and support public bodies in the task of publishing open data. This entire process is done through intra-government cooperation and cooperation between government and citizens, always aiming to achieve a real platform for open government.”

You should also take note of the Open GLAM data portal. This portal also runs on CKAN and is a hub for open data sets from GLAM institutions, aka Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums. The datasets are licensed under various open licenses, and some with no rights attached thanks to the use of the CC0 public domain waiver.


School of Data logo / okfn / CC BY

In addition to open data portals, open data initiatives like the School of Data and the Open Data Institute are taking off. The School of Data is a collaboration between the OKFN and the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) to “create a set of courses for people to learn how to do interesting things with data, from beginners to experts.” In late May, the School of Data held a week-long kick-off sprint in Berlin with a virtual component, which I participated in by helping to start an open data challenge with virtual colleagues. The challenge is still in development, and once completed it will be a part of the School of Open as well as the School of Data. You can help to build it at the P2PU platform.

The kick-off yielded a great foundation for many other data tracks as part of the School of Data, which you can read about here.

The Open Data Institute is an initiative by the UK government to “incubate, nurture and mentor new businesses exploiting Open Data for economic growth” and to “promote innovation driven by the UK Government Open Data policy.” £10m will be invested over five years by the Technology Strategy Board, a non-departmental public body. The UK government has published its implementation plan as a pdf online. You can learn more at The Guardian article from last May.

The data-driven economy is also a hot topic within the EU, with the emergence of a data session at the European Commission’s 2nd Digital Agenda Assembly taking place today and tomorrow. The workshop will “explore the potential of data, some of the most promising economic and business aspects involved, and discuss how policy for data and our investment in R&D can better address the challenges of businesses and the public sector and further support innovative business development.”

Lastly, to put all the current activity around data into perspective, is a thoughtful article by the OKFN’s Jonathan Gray on “What data can and cannot do.” The Guardian article reinforces the point that data, while valuable, when divorced from context and without interpretation, is not very effective. He encourages us to “cultivate a more critical literacy” towards data:

“Data can be an immensely powerful asset, if used in the right way. But as users and advocates of this potent and intoxicating stuff we should strive to keep our expectations of it proportional to the opportunity it represents.”

Essentially, opening up data is just the first step — and arguably, a necessary step to ensuring that data can be reused, contextualized, and interpreted in meaningful ways.

To learn more about how CC tools may be applied to data, see our landing page and FAQ on data.

Join the World Open Educational Resources Congress

OER-Advocacy Group - Tue, 19/06/2012 - 16:36

The 2012 World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress is kicking off tomorrow in Paris, France. Organized by UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), the World OER Congress will encourage more governments to adopt policies that include OER and will bring together Ministers of Education/Human Resource Development, senior policy makers, expert practitioners, researchers, students and many other relevant stakeholders to:

1. Showcase the world’s best practices in OER policies, initiatives, and experts
2. Release a 2012 Paris OER Declaration calling on Governments to support the development and use of OERs
3. Celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2002 UNESCO Forum that created the term OER

Participate

There are several ways you can participate in the congress. From 20-22 June, the congress will be livecast in two web streams:

    1. The official congress featuring discussion on the Paris OER Declaration and governmental actions for OER (English stream, French stream)
    2. A parallel stream featuring an Open Seminar & Exhibition of the world’s best OER practices, policies, and initiatives (English stream, French stream). For this stream, UNESCO will have present a digital moderator to whom you can pose questions via identi.ca or Twitter using the #oercongress hashtag.

You can also follow the congress on Twitter, join and ask questions on the OER community WSIS KC platform, and contribute to the draft Paris OER Declaration (pdf) until Thursday 21 June, 12pm Paris time by writing to oerdeclaration@unesco.org.

The complete program of sessions and speakers, and all other information, is available at the website.

Notes from the Lab: Designing a Challenge for P2PU

OER-Advocacy Group - Mon, 18/06/2012 - 20:42

The Challenge: Encrypt your Email with Thunderbird 

The Organizer: Mick Fuzz – volunteer with Tech Tools for Activism and media activist who has worked extensively with video and multimedia projects at community and international levels.

The Experience: I like to volunteer. One thing I have volunteered for is to work as a workshop facilitator with a loose collection of groups called “Tech Tools for Activism”. We encourage the use of tools for online security and communication. Whilst we do meet up regularly and conduct training in these tools, we just can’t reach enough people through these real life meetings.

I heard about P2PU and Badges through being part of the Floss Manuals community. As a consequence of being a technical writer and an educator in that community I wanted to work out how we could go beyond writing manuals to creating learning resources especially for workshop leaders and self-directed learners. Incentives and making learning security attractive rather  than accusing our audience of being careless seems key to our aims. Because of this badges are a very interesting area to explore.

To get the ball rolling, I chose an activity that we should all be able to do, that is to send each other secure emails. Maybe we don’t need to do this all the time, but for most of us we should  be doing this some of the time. Journalists and others need to protect sources, websites administrators need to send passwords safely and all of us should be careful if we are sending our bank details.

One way of encrypting email is to use Thunderbird software from Mozilla and the Enigmail plug-in.. There are already excellent manuals and resources letting us know how to do this from Floss Manuals on Thunderbird and Basic Internet Security, on the Security in a Box website from Tactical Tech and Frontline Defenders and in the Enigmail manual. So why create more resources on P2PU?

What I wanted to do was to break this information down into a step by step Challenge on P2PU and to give the incentive of a P2PU badge. To do this I created the Challenge  “Encrypt and sign your email with Thunderbird

I asked myself: “What are the elements of a real life workshop that I would like to see represented as part of an online challenge.”  The ones that came to mind were the following:

Peer help stops participants from getting stuck – When you are leading a workshop you may often pair users with low computer literacy with someone a bit more advanced. The participant comments in a P2PU challenge mirror this kind of interaction.

Separating materials out into stages and user-levels – An online manual may aim for completeness, fully to describe the ins and outs of a software application. The danger in this approach is in trying to lead the learner from 0 to expert in 60 seconds. A P2PU challenge and badge allows you to pitch your material to a certain user level without aiming for a encyclopedic approach to the subject.

Clear goals and incentives -  I wanted to create this kind of task driven workshop in an online setting and a P2PU challenge & badge fitted this aim perfectly. I also found that the process of creating a P2PU challenge made me think deeply about the goals and incentives for taking the challenge.

The open licenses used in the Floss Manuals materials allowed me quickly to remix existing content to create a Thunderbird Workbook which I could then copy straight into the P2PU challenge.

The Mozilla Thunderbird and P2PU community have been very encouraging to me during the course of my setting up this challenge. P2PU are also working hard to make it easy for new course creators to make new badges.

So far, it has been exciting to be using an innovative and accessible platform to try to communicate these ideas and I like the idea of playing a part in this grassroots, supportive community of learning.

If you would like to join in then please try out the challenge. You can earn your badge and start to help others if you can. Because we are a grassroots driven community and we also need your help to spread the word about this challenge, so please pass on the good news!

 

 

 

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