OLnet Academics' Blogs

Why don’t we talk about PLEs anymore

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 23/07/2014 - 10:42

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.

New home

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 18/07/2014 - 10:35

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.

The iceberg model of OER engagement

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 07/07/2014 - 13:42

I'm pretty sure I'm the first person to ever use the iceberg analogy…

I've been pondering ways of thinking about open education awareness, and OER usage that might help shape OER policy. So here's one I want to try out.

Open education in general, and OERs specifically, form a basis from which many other practices benefit, but often practitioners in those areas are unaware of OERs explicitly. It is likely that these secondary and tertiary levels of OER awareness represent a far greater audience, than the primary “OER-aware” one, so one can view the sizes of these audiences like the metaphorical iceberg, with increasing size as we push into these unseen areas. The three groups of OER usage I see are:

Primary OER usage – this group is “OER aware”, in that the term itself will have meaning for them, they are engaged with issues around open education, are aware of open licences and are often advocates for OERs. This group has often been the focus of OER funding, conferences and research, with the focus on growing the ranks of this audience.
Example: Community college teacher who adopts, and contributes to open textbooks

Secondary OER usage – this group may have some awareness of OERs, or open licences, but they have a pragmatic approach to them. OERs are of secondary interest to their primary task, usually teaching. OERs (and openness in general) can be seen as the substratum which allows some of their practice to flourish, but they are not aware, or interested in open education itself, rather in their own area, and therefore OERs are only of interest to the extent that they facilitate innovation or efficiency in this.
Example: Flipped learning teacher who uses Khan academy, TED talks and some MERLOT OERs in their teaching.

Tertiary OER usage – this group will use OERs amongst a mix of other media and often not differentiate between them. Awareness of licences is low and not a priority. OERs are a ‘nice to have’ option but not essential, and users are often largely consuming rather than creating and sharing.
Example: A student studying at university who uses iTunes U materials to supplement their taught material.

 David Wiley has talked of Dark Reuse, that is whether reuse is happening in places we can’t observe, analogous to dark matter, or it simply isn’t happening much at all. He poses the challenge to the OER movement about its aims:

“If our goal is catalyzing and facilitating significant amounts of reuse and adaptation of materials, we seem to be failing. …
If our goal is to create fantastically popular websites loaded with free content visited by millions of people each month, who find great value in the content but never adapt or remix it, then we’re doing fairly well.”

By considering these three levels of OER engagement, it is possible to see how both elements of Wiley’s goals are realisable. The main focus of OER initiatives has often been the primary OER usage group. Here OERs are created and there are OER advocacy missions. For example, Joanna Wild suggests three levels of engagement for HE staff that progress from piecemeal to strategic to embedded use of OER. The implicit assumption is that one should encourage progression through these levels, that is, the route to success for OERs is to increase the population of the primary OER group.

Whilst this is undoubtedly a good thing to do (assuming one believes in the benefits of OERs), it may not be the only approach. Another approach may be to increase penetration of OERs into the secondary and tertiary levels. Awareness of OER repositories was very low amongst this group, compared with resources such as the Khan Academy or TED. The focus on improving uptake for these groups is then to increase visibility, search engine optimisation and convenience of the resources themselves, without knowledge of open education. This might be realised through creating a trusted brand to compete with resources such as TED.

There is evidence that openness has a virus like quality, in that once people are exposed to it, awareness grows and they seek opportunities to expand open practice in other areas. If this is the case, then emphasising effort on this initial exposure should be a high priority for funders in the OER world.

The iceberg model of OER engagement

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 07/07/2014 - 12:42

I'm pretty sure I'm the first person to ever use the iceberg analogy...

I've been pondering ways of thinking about open education awareness, and OER usage that might help shape OER policy. So here's one I want to try out.

Open education in general, and OERs specifically, form a basis from which many other practices benefit, but often practitioners in those areas are unaware of OERs explicitly. It is likely that these secondary and tertiary levels of OER awareness represent a far greater audience, than the primary “OER-aware” one, so one can view the sizes of these audiences like the metaphorical iceberg, with increasing size as we push into these unseen areas. The three groups of OER usage I see are:

Primary OER usage – this group is “OER aware”, in that the term itself will have meaning for them, they are engaged with issues around open education, are aware of open licences and are often advocates for OERs. This group has often been the focus of OER funding, conferences and research, with the focus on growing the ranks of this audience.
Example: Community college teacher who adopts, and contributes to open textbooks

Secondary OER usage – this group may have some awareness of OERs, or open licences, but they have a pragmatic approach to them. OERs are of secondary interest to their primary task, usually teaching. OERs (and openness in general) can be seen as the substratum which allows some of their practice to flourish, but they are not aware, or interested in open education itself, rather in their own area, and therefore OERs are only of interest to the extent that they facilitate innovation or efficiency in this.
Example: Flipped learning teacher who uses Khan academy, TED talks and some MERLOT OERs in their teaching.

Tertiary OER usage – this group will use OERs amongst a mix of other media and often not differentiate between them. Awareness of licences is low and not a priority. OERs are a ‘nice to have’ option but not essential, and users are often largely consuming rather than creating and sharing.
Example: A student studying at university who uses iTunes U materials to supplement their taught material.

 David Wiley has talked of Dark Reuse, that is whether reuse is happening in places we can’t observe, analogous to dark matter, or it simply isn’t happening much at all. He poses the challenge to the OER movement about its aims:

“If our goal is catalyzing and facilitating significant amounts of reuse and adaptation of materials, we seem to be failing. …
If our goal is to create fantastically popular websites loaded with free content visited by millions of people each month, who find great value in the content but never adapt or remix it, then we’re doing fairly well.”

By considering these three levels of OER engagement, it is possible to see how both elements of Wiley’s goals are realisable. The main focus of OER initiatives has often been the primary OER usage group. Here OERs are created and there are OER advocacy missions. For example, Joanna Wild suggests three levels of engagement for HE staff that progress from piecemeal to strategic to embedded use of OER. The implicit assumption is that one should encourage progression through these levels, that is, the route to success for OERs is to increase the population of the primary OER group.

Whilst this is undoubtedly a good thing to do (assuming one believes in the benefits of OERs), it may not be the only approach. Another approach may be to increase penetration of OERs into the secondary and tertiary levels. Awareness of OER repositories was very low amongst this group, compared with resources such as the Khan Academy or TED. The focus on improving uptake for these groups is then to increase visibility, search engine optimisation and convenience of the resources themselves, without knowledge of open education. This might be realised through creating a trusted brand to compete with resources such as TED.

There is evidence that openness has a virus like quality, in that once people are exposed to it, awareness grows and they seek opportunities to expand open practice in other areas. If this is the case, then emphasising effort on this initial exposure should be a high priority for funders in the OER world.

Flipped learning – why openness matters even if you think it doesn’t

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 04/07/2014 - 12:28

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, we've been working with the Flipped Learning network in the US. My colleague Bea De Los Arcos, has a good post about FlipCon, their annual conference. As I argued, Flipped Learning has the whiff of a commercial brand about it, but that I felt it was a useful approach for many teachers. And as Bea notes, the enthusiasm of teachers who Flip is notable, and that is surely a good thing.

In my Battle for Open book I make the argument that the direction of openness is important to all of us. But I think it's sometimes hard to make that connection to practice beyond the world of open education itself. The direction of Flipped Learning offers one such example I believe.

We've found that there was a high level of adaptation of OER by Flipped teachers, but that the range of sites they use is quite limited (YouTube, TED, Khan academy dominate). To me this suggests a picture that teachers are (obviously) time poor, so they like convenient solutions. Flipped Learning itself can be seen as a convenient solution to blended learning, and the collection of resources at somewhere like Khan is again a time-saving, convenient approach. But having found resources, teachers want to be able to blend and adapt them. We've also found support for the 'openness as virus' theory in that people tend to become likely to seek out other open resources, become aware of CC licensing, etc.

Now, given the pressure on teachers, and the desire for a convenient solution, wouldn't it be great if someone came along and offered a really good collection of resources for Flipped Teachers to use (maybe allied to the Common Core), combined with advice on how to Flip, a platform, and so on? Well, look here, Pearson have partnered with the Flipped Learning network and are offering a course on how to Flip. As it says "Contact your local Pearson Account Executive and get flipping today!"

Now, there's nothing wrong with this, in the same way that commercial companies offer solutions based on open source software, it can be part of a healthy ecosystem around the subject. But it doesn't take too much imagination to see how Flipped Learning could become a Pearson trademark, and a solution offered by them to schools. And then all sorts of things stop happening – the freedom for it to develop in a manner led by teachers, the inclination to find resources beyond those provided by Pearson, and perhaps most significantly, it stifles teachers becoming part of the broader, open community.

I think this example will be telling. For many teachers in the Flipped Network, open education isn't a primary concern, for instance they may not be aware of the term OER. But it is a substratum which allows them to operate in the manner they like. Before they know it, this openness could be undermined and replaced by a packaged, proprietary solution, and they won't even know what theyt've lost. That is why I think the battle for open is significant for all of us in education.

Flipped learning - why openness matters even if you think it doesn't

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 04/07/2014 - 09:41

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, we've been working with the Flipped Learning network in the US. My colleague Bea De Los Arcos, has a good post about FlipCon, their annual conference. As I argued, Flipped Learning has the whiff of a commercial brand about it, but that I felt it was a useful approach for many teachers. And as Bea notes, the enthusiasm of teachers who Flip is notable, and that is surely a good thing.

In my Battle for Open book I make the argument that the direction of openness is important to all of us. But I think it's sometimes hard to make that connection to practice beyond the world of open education itself. The direction of Flipped Learning offers one such example I believe.

We've found that there was a high level of adaptation of OER by Flipped teachers, but that the range of sites they use is quite limited (YouTube, TED, Khan academy dominate). To me this suggests a picture that teachers are (obviously) time poor, so they like convenient solutions. Flipped Learning itself can be seen as a convenient solution to blended learning, and the collection of resources at somewhere like Khan is again a time-saving, convenient approach. But having found resources, teachers want to be able to blend and adapt them. We've also found support for the 'openness as virus' theory in that people tend to become likely to seek out other open resources, become aware of CC licensing, etc.

Now, given the pressure on teachers, and the desire for a convenient solution, wouldn't it be great if someone came along and offered a really good collection of resources for Flipped Teachers to use (maybe allied to the Common Core), combined with advice on how to Flip, a platform, and so on? Well, look here, Pearson have partnered with the Flipped Learning network and are offering a course on how to Flip. As it says "Contact your local Pearson Account Executive and get flipping today!"

Now, there's nothing wrong with this, in the same way that commercial companies offer solutions based on open source software, it can be part of a healthy ecosystem around the subject. But it doesn't take too much imagination to see how Flipped Learning could become a Pearson trademark, and a solution offered by them to schools. And then all sorts of things stop happening - the freedom for it to develop in a manner led by teachers, the inclination to find resources beyond those provided by Pearson, and perhaps most significantly, it stifles teachers becoming part of the broader, open community.

I think this example will be telling. For many teachers in the Flipped Network, open education isn't a primary concern, for instance they may not be aware of the term OER. But it is a substratum which allows them to operate in the manner they like. Before they know it, this openness could be undermined and replaced by a packaged, proprietary solution, and they won't even know what theyt've lost. That is why I think the battle for open is significant for all of us in education.

MOOC completion rates DO matter

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 04/07/2014 - 09:29

It has become accepted practice amongst those who know about MOOCs to sniff at completion rates. Focusing on them (hell, even mentioning them) demonstrates just how constrained you are by the old ways of thinking daddio. I find this particularly from the cMOOC crowd, and I've stopped talking about them, because as David Kernohan suggests, to even talk about them is like saying you hate learning.

The commonly used argument against completion rates (or even worse 'drop-out rates'), is that they aren't relevant. Stephen Downes has a nice analogy, (which he blogged at my request, thankyou Stephen) in that it's like a newspaper, no-one drops out of a newspaper, they just take what they want. This has become repeated rather like a statement of fact now. I think Stephen's analogy is very powerful, but it is really a statement of intent. If you design MOOCs in a certain way, then the MOOC experience could be like reading a newspaper. The problem is 95% of MOOCs aren't designed that way. And even for the ones that are, completion rates are still an issue.

Here's why they're an issue. MOOCs are nearly always designed on a week by week basis (which would be like designing a newspaper where you had to read a certain section by a certain time). I've blogged about this before, but from Katy Jordan's data we reckon 45% of those who sign up, never turn up or do anything. It's hard to argue that they've had a meaningful learning experience in any way. If we register those who have done anything at all, eg just opened a page, then by the end of week 2 we're down to about 35% of initial registrations. And by week 3 or 4 it's plateauing near 10%. The data suggests that people are definitely not treating it like a newspaper. In Japan some research was done on what sections of newspapers people read. There is an interesting gender split but also the sections are quite evenly divided:

Men top 5 sections:

  • Headlines (62.0%)
  • Domestic News (55.4%)
  • Sports (55.4%)
  • Economy (53.3%)
  • International News (47.8%)

Women top 5 sections:

  • TV listings (71.4%)
  • Headlines (65.3%)
  • Domestic News (53.3%)
  • International News (50.8%)
  • Crimes and Accidents (39.2%)

For MOOCs to be like newspapers then you'd expect 65% to read the topics in week 1 and, say 54% the topics in week 7. This doesn't happen. Now, it could happen, if MOOCs were designed that way, and you thought that was appropriate for your subject matter. But to say it does happen is simply incorrect.

Now for any individual this may not matter, you've dropped out when you felt like it, and maybe that was a meaningful experience (or maybe it was a painful experience because you felt out of your depth, but we don't like to talk about that either). But for MOOCs in general as a learning approach it really does matter. Most MOOCs are about 6-7 weeks long, so 90% of your registered learners are never even looking at 50% of your content. That must raise the question of why are you including it in the first place? If a subject requires a longer take at it, beyond 3 weeks say, then MOOCs really may not be a very good approach to it. There is a hard, economic perspective here, it costs money to make and run MOOCs, and people will have to ask if the small completion rates are the most effective way to get people to learn that subject. You might be better off creating more stand alone OERs, or putting money into better supported outreach programmes where you can really help people stay with the course. Or maybe you will actually design your MOOC to be like a newspaper.

Kernohan raises the point that it is in the commercial interest of MOOC companies to dismiss drop out rates. A good question to ask yourself when someone says completion rates don't matter is "if they had 90% completion rates, would they still be telling me they don't matter?".

MOOC completion rates DO matter

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 04/07/2014 - 08:29

It has become accepted practice amongst those who know about MOOCs to sniff at completion rates. Focusing on them (hell, even mentioning them) demonstrates just how constrained you are by the old ways of thinking daddio. I find this particularly from the cMOOC crowd, and I've stopped talking about them, because as David Kernohan suggests, to even talk about them is like saying you hate learning.

The commonly used argument against completion rates (or even worse 'drop-out rates'), is that they aren't relevant. Stephen Downes has a nice analogy, (which he blogged at my request, thankyou Stephen) in that it's like a newspaper, no-one drops out of a newspaper, they just take what they want. This has become repeated rather like a statement of fact now. I think Stephen's analogy is very powerful, but it is really a statement of intent. If you design MOOCs in a certain way, then the MOOC experience could be like reading a newspaper. The problem is 95% of MOOCs aren't designed that way. And even for the ones that are, completion rates are still an issue.

Here's why they're an issue. MOOCs are nearly always designed on a week by week basis (which would be like designing a newspaper where you had to read a certain section by a certain time). I've blogged about this before, but from Katy Jordan's data we reckon 45% of those who sign up, never turn up or do anything. It's hard to argue that they've had a meaningful learning experience in any way. If we register those who have done anything at all, eg just opened a page, then by the end of week 2 we're down to about 35% of initial registrations. And by week 3 or 4 it's plateauing near 10%. The data suggests that people are definitely not treating it like a newspaper. In Japan some research was done on what sections of newspapers people read. There is an interesting gender split but also the sections are quite evenly divided:

Men top 5 sections:

  • Headlines (62.0%)
  • Domestic News (55.4%)
  • Sports (55.4%)
  • Economy (53.3%)
  • International News (47.8%)

Women top 5 sections:

  • TV listings (71.4%)
  • Headlines (65.3%)
  • Domestic News (53.3%)
  • International News (50.8%)
  • Crimes and Accidents (39.2%)

For MOOCs to be like newspapers then you'd expect 65% to read the topics in week 1 and, say 54% the topics in week 7. This doesn't happen. Now, it could happen, if MOOCs were designed that way, and you thought that was appropriate for your subject matter. But to say it does happen is simply incorrect.

Now for any individual this may not matter, you've dropped out when you felt like it, and maybe that was a meaningful experience (or maybe it was a painful experience because you felt out of your depth, but we don't like to talk about that either). But for MOOCs in general as a learning approach it really does matter. Most MOOCs are about 6-7 weeks long, so 90% of your registered learners are never even looking at 50% of your content. That must raise the question of why are you including it in the first place? If a subject requires a longer take at it, beyond 3 weeks say, then MOOCs really may not be a very good approach to it. There is a hard, economic perspective here, it costs money to make and run MOOCs, and people will have to ask if the small completion rates are the most effective way to get people to learn that subject. You might be better off creating more stand alone OERs, or putting money into better supported outreach programmes where you can really help people stay with the course. Or maybe you will actually design your MOOC to be like a newspaper.

Kernohan raises the point that it is in the commercial interest of MOOC companies to dismiss drop out rates. A good question to ask yourself when someone says completion rates don't matter is "if they had 90% completion rates, would they still be telling me they don't matter?".

Is ‘Flipping’ a useful concept?

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 19/06/2014 - 16:24

As part of the OER Research Hub my colleague Bea De Los Arcos has been working with the Flipped Learning network in the US. If you don't know what 'flipped learning' is the basic idea is that you use classroom time for peer interaction, discussion, interaction, and homework for instruction (often via online video). From the OER perspective it's an interesting group because open education is related to what they do, but it doesn't come from the open education world.

I've just written a section on Flipped Learning for this year's Innovating Pedagogy report, so I've been thinking about the whole approach. I've heard people dismiss it as 'that's just another name for blended learning'. Jonathan Rees doesn't like it at all, and thinks it puts too much onus on the learner. There is also something about the way the US system operates in that approaches like this become a brand to be promoted, which can seem quite odd outside of that context.

I would also say, that like OERs, hard evidence is often lacking of its benefits, but there are some persuasive case studies. And the people who take it up do seem genuinely converted and enthusiastic (96% of those who had flipped saying they would recommend it), which indicates there is something there. I have a feeling that those in educational technology (particularly in higher ed) can be a bit sniffy about such things: 'we've seen this before', 'where's the evidence?', 'what solid pedagogic theory are you basing it on?', etc. While Flipped Learning can certainly be seen as a form of blended learning, I've come to see it as a useful way of framing it for teachers. Blended learning can be a bit vague: use the best mix of media for pedagogic effect. That can leave you floundering, what media for what purpose? Flipping gives this more structure. What do you spend your time explaining that could be effectively delivered online? And what could I do in the classroom that's more engaging than simply delivering information.

One criticism of flipping is that it kind of assumes that all teachers are just standing there lecturing anyway, and this is far from the truth. So when you scratch the surface you'll find plenty of teachers have done elements of flipping, without even knowing the term. And there is also an emphasis on video, indeed some people seem to view it as being about online video, whereas the interactive element in the face to face session is the more important aspect.

Overall though I think it's a useful way of approaching the possibilities that the internet offers for education, while still recognising the value of the teacher and the human interaction. By asking the question "how could I flip my classroom?" it gives a way of thinking about the best affordances (klaxon!) of online and face to face. And that seems like a good thing.

(Here is a nice little sheet Bea produced for the Flipped Learning Network to help explain CC licences):

Is 'Flipping' a useful concept?

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 19/06/2014 - 15:24

As part of the OER Research Hub my colleague Bea De Los Arcos has been working with the Flipped Learning network in the US. If you don't know what 'flipped learning' is the basic idea is that you use classroom time for peer interaction, discussion, interaction, and homework for instruction (often via online video). From the OER perspective it's an interesting group because open education is related to what they do, but it doesn't come from the open education world.

I've just written a section on Flipped Learning for this year's Innovating Pedagogy report, so I've been thinking about the whole approach. I've heard people dismiss it as 'that's just another name for blended learning'. Jonathan Rees doesn't like it at all, and thinks it puts too much onus on the learner. There is also something about the way the US system operates in that approaches like this become a brand to be promoted, which can seem quite odd outside of that context.

I would also say, that like OERs, hard evidence is often lacking of its benefits, but there are some persuasive case studies. And the people who take it up do seem genuinely converted and enthusiastic (96% of those who had flipped saying they would recommend it), which indicates there is something there. I have a feeling that those in educational technology (particularly in higher ed) can be a bit sniffy about such things: 'we've seen this before', 'where's the evidence?', 'what solid pedagogic theory are you basing it on?', etc. While Flipped Learning can certainly be seen as a form of blended learning, I've come to see it as a useful way of framing it for teachers. Blended learning can be a bit vague: use the best mix of media for pedagogic effect. That can leave you floundering, what media for what purpose? Flipping gives this more structure. What do you spend your time explaining that could be effectively delivered online? And what could I do in the classroom that's more engaging than simply delivering information.

One criticism of flipping is that it kind of assumes that all teachers are just standing there lecturing anyway, and this is far from the truth. So when you scratch the surface you'll find plenty of teachers have done elements of flipping, without even knowing the term. And there is also an emphasis on video, indeed some people seem to view it as being about online video, whereas the interactive element in the face to face session is the more important aspect.

Overall though I think it's a useful way of approaching the possibilities that the internet offers for education, while still recognising the value of the teacher and the human interaction. By asking the question "how could I flip my classroom?" it gives a way of thinking about the best affordances (klaxon!) of online and face to face. And that seems like a good thing.

(Here is a nice little sheet Bea produced for the Flipped Learning Network to help explain CC licences):

The ethics of digital scholarship

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 17/06/2014 - 10:24

I was asked to give a presentation at the Higher Education Academy summit on ethics and teaching last week, from a digital scholarship perspective. Being a chap of low morals and vague ethics, it was interesting to consider digital scholarship purely from this angle. Like much of educational technology or open education, the tendency is often to promote it as an unqualified good, but, inevitably, it's a bit more complicated than that.

I started by asking the question "What is teaching?" As well as being about imparting knowledge, developing skills it is also a process of enculturation, particularly in higher education. That is why going to university is such a life-event, because you are often taken from one culture, and brought into another. This obviously has huge ethical implications anyway, but the question I wanted to explore was what if that culture has changed, but the enculturation process hasn't?

If we want to force students to engage with aspects of digital, or open, scholarship, there are a number of ethical considerations. Firstly, to what extent is it right to force people to operate in the open? As George Siemens reminds us, learning is a vulnerable process, so increasing that vulnerability has ethical considerations. While we like to look at the successful communities created by courses such as DS106, Phonar, Rhizo14, etc. there are many learners who these approaches don't work for, and who feel excluded from what seems like an online clique. 

Even things that seem straightforward ethically are complicated on closer examination. Open access can be argued to be a moral approach, partly because it is funded by Government money. But what about a lot of teaching research that is, in effect, funded by student fees? Similarly, should that content, paid for by students be released openly? And conversely, is it unethical not to use the best OERs around for a subject you are teaching and rely just on your own notes?

My overall argument was that there are ethical considerations if we want to push a more digital scholarly enriched curriculum, for example should undergraduates release their final year research data openly, and do they understand issues such as deanonymisation? But as importantly there are ethical considerations for NOT adopting such approaches, particularly if these are the types of skills and cultural values that students should be developing to be successful citizens, employees, researchers, or whatever. That has always been the argument of higher education, that skills such as critical thinking, analysis, reasoning etc are good to develop for the benefit of the individual and society more generally. There are digital, networked flavours of all these skills too.

You'll see, in typical ethics fashion, I didn't really come to an answer, just lots more questions. The slidedeck is below.

 

The Ethics of Digital Scholarship from Martin Weller

The ethics of digital scholarship

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 17/06/2014 - 09:24

I was asked to give a presentation at the Higher Education Academy summit on ethics and teaching last week, from a digital scholarship perspective. Being a chap of low morals and vague ethics, it was interesting to consider digital scholarship purely from this angle. Like much of educational technology or open education, the tendency is often to promote it as an unqualified good, but, inevitably, it's a bit more complicated than that.

I started by asking the question "What is teaching?" As well as being about imparting knowledge, developing skills it is also a process of enculturation, particularly in higher education. That is why going to university is such a life-event, because you are often taken from one culture, and brought into another. This obviously has huge ethical implications anyway, but the question I wanted to explore was what if that culture has changed, but the enculturation process hasn't?

If we want to force students to engage with aspects of digital, or open, scholarship, there are a number of ethical considerations. Firstly, to what extent is it right to force people to operate in the open? As George Siemens reminds us, learning is a vulnerable process, so increasing that vulnerability has ethical considerations. While we like to look at the successful communities created by courses such as DS106, Phonar, Rhizo14, etc. there are many learners who these approaches don't work for, and who feel excluded from what seems like an online clique. 

Even things that seem straightforward ethically are complicated on closer examination. Open access can be argued to be a moral approach, partly because it is funded by Government money. But what about a lot of teaching research that is, in effect, funded by student fees? Similarly, should that content, paid for by students be released openly? And conversely, is it unethical not to use the best OERs around for a subject you are teaching and rely just on your own notes?

My overall argument was that there are ethical considerations if we want to push a more digital scholarly enriched curriculum, for example should undergraduates release their final year research data openly, and do they understand issues such as deanonymisation? But as importantly there are ethical considerations for NOT adopting such approaches, particularly if these are the types of skills and cultural values that students should be developing to be successful citizens, employees, researchers, or whatever. That has always been the argument of higher education, that skills such as critical thinking, analysis, reasoning etc are good to develop for the benefit of the individual and society more generally. There are digital, networked flavours of all these skills too.

You'll see, in typical ethics fashion, I didn't really come to an answer, just lots more questions. The slidedeck is below.

 

The Ethics of Digital Scholarship from Martin Weller

How long should a book be?

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 02/06/2014 - 15:06

(My book will be considerably thinner, and less influential, than this)

I sent the manuscript for my Battle for Open book off to the publisher Ubiquity Press last Friday. I can't find the origin of the phrase "a book isn't finished, it's abandoned", but I was contemplating it last week, in trying to decide if the book was finished (or at least bar copyediting and review feedback). It came in at about 57,000 words. That's quite short for a book, and my initial reaction was "create another chapter or two to bring it up to 70,000 plus words". Having written three books previously, they've all been around 80K words. 

But then I caught myself and thought "why?" Convention dictates that books are around that length, but that convention is really the result of the economics of book publishing. It doesn't cost much more to print and distribute a 50K, 80K or 100K word book. So they are priced the same, but people tend to shy away from purchasing thinner books. The convention then settles on 80-100K words being the optimum. 

Now ask yourself, how many academic books (or even fiction) have you read that were really a 40K word idea stretched out over twice that length? Me, I'd say nearly all of them. This is a classic example of old conventions dictating the possibilities of the new. My book will be available freely under a CC licence as an epub and PDF version. There will be a physical copy available at a reasonable price, so the need to make the book 80K words in length diminishes. I had made the case I wanted to make, explored it in depth, and kept it reasonably concise. People might even read it.

How long should a book be? As long as it needs to be. Won't that be refreshing.

How long should a book be?

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 02/06/2014 - 14:06

(My book will be considerably thinner, and less influential, than this)

I sent the manuscript for my Battle for Open book off to the publisher Ubiquity Press last Friday. I can't find the origin of the phrase "a book isn't finished, it's abandoned", but I was contemplating it last week, in trying to decide if the book was finished (or at least bar copyediting and review feedback). It came in at about 57,000 words. That's quite short for a book, and my initial reaction was "create another chapter or two to bring it up to 70,000 plus words". Having written three books previously, they've all been around 80K words. 

But then I caught myself and thought "why?" Convention dictates that books are around that length, but that convention is really the result of the economics of book publishing. It doesn't cost much more to print and distribute a 50K, 80K or 100K word book. So they are priced the same, but people tend to shy away from purchasing thinner books. The convention then settles on 80-100K words being the optimum. 

Now ask yourself, how many academic books (or even fiction) have you read that were really a 40K word idea stretched out over twice that length? Me, I'd say nearly all of them. This is a classic example of old conventions dictating the possibilities of the new. My book will be available freely under a CC licence as an epub and PDF version. There will be a physical copy available at a reasonable price, so the need to make the book 80K words in length diminishes. I had made the case I wanted to make, explored it in depth, and kept it reasonably concise. People might even read it.

How long should a book be? As long as it needs to be. Won't that be refreshing.

Awards, egos & shortcuts

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 02/06/2014 - 11:51

I've never been one for awards really. My view has been that the people who get them tend to be the people who least deserve them, often because the people who deserve them are too busy doing the actual stuff to bother chasing awards.

But I've kind of softened that attitude recently. The Open CourseWare Consortium ran a Research Excellence Award, and I put in a case for our OER Research Hub, which I'm delighted to say we won. Why did I put a case in? Because I think it is excellent. But also because awards do three things:

1) They act as a shortcut – instead of explaining why something/someone is doing a good job you can just say 'award-winning'. 

2) It helps – we have researchers on the project and this may help get further funding to keep them, or enable them to get other jobs. Being sniffy about awards seems churlish then.

3) It felt nice – it's not all about the altruism I'll admit, it felt kinda nice to be given an award, even if I couldn't be there to collect it. Here is the team:

Having got the taste for this award malarkey, at the prompting of my Pro-Vice Chancellor Belinda Tynan and boss, Patrick McAndrew, I put a case in for the Honorary ICDE Chair in OER. And that was successful too. The same reasons apply as above, but I would also add, I'm really excited here because it links in with the UNESCO OER Chairs, so I'll be linking up with great people such as Wayne Mackintosh, Rory McGrath and Fred Mulder. 

And, in case you were wondering, just a slight bow or curtesy is appropriate on greeting me now.

Awards, egos & shortcuts

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 02/06/2014 - 10:51

I've never been one for awards really. My view has been that the people who get them tend to be the people who least deserve them, often because the people who deserve them are too busy doing the actual stuff to bother chasing awards.

But I've kind of softened that attitude recently. The Open CourseWare Consortium ran a Research Excellence Award, and I put in a case for our OER Research Hub, which I'm delighted to say we won. Why did I put a case in? Because I think it is excellent. But also because awards do three things:

1) They act as a shortcut - instead of explaining why something/someone is doing a good job you can just say 'award-winning'. 

2) It helps - we have researchers on the project and this may help get further funding to keep them, or enable them to get other jobs. Being sniffy about awards seems churlish then.

3) It felt nice - it's not all about the altruism I'll admit, it felt kinda nice to be given an award, even if I couldn't be there to collect it. Here is the team:

Having got the taste for this award malarkey, at the prompting of my Pro-Vice Chancellor Belinda Tynan and boss, Patrick McAndrew, I put a case in for the Honorary ICDE Chair in OER. And that was successful too. The same reasons apply as above, but I would also add, I'm really excited here because it links in with the UNESCO OER Chairs, so I'll be linking up with great people such as Wayne Mackintosh, Rory McGrath and Fred Mulder. 

And, in case you were wondering, just a slight bow or curtesy is appropriate on greeting me now.

The Open virus

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 08/05/2014 - 14:33

(Another short snippet from the upcoming Battle for Open book, not sure about this, so trying it out on you lot).

One way of viewing the open approach is to think of it as analogous to a virus. Once adopted, it tends to spread across many other aspects. In personal practice, once an academic publishes a paper under an open access license, then there is then an incentive to use various forms of social media to promote that paper, which can positively impact upon views and citations. Similarly, although the free cost is the initial driving factor for the adoption of open textbooks, once these have become established, the ability to adapt the material to better suit their particular needs becomes an important factor for educators. Likewise, when educators and institutions begin to use OERs in their own teaching material, then the question arises as to why they are not then reciprocating and sharing back. As we've seen with OER Research Hub work, this practice is not guaranteed, and may be slow to penetrate, but the act of sharing becomes legitimised by the adoption of materials from high reputation institutions.

It is no coincidence that many of the MOOC pioneers had also been early adopters of open access, active bloggers, and advocates of open licenses. Creating open courses seemed the next logical step, because they were interested in the possibilities that openness offered and had seen the benefits elsewhere in their practice. This spread of the open virus is by no means guaranteed, many practitioners remain immune, and for others the open practice remains limited to a very specific function. But it does seem to be a pattern that is repeated across all aspects of open practice. It is significant in the context of the book, because if we are now entering a transition period when open practice enters the mainstream, then (to stretch the metaphor) the number of people ‘exposed’ to the open virus increases dramatically and it becomes a pandemic. It is also significant because it requires individuals to be the agents of action. The compartmentalising of openness into specific projects or outsourcing it to external providers creates a barrier that isolates individual educators from exposure. The impact of openness is thus contained.

The Open virus

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 08/05/2014 - 13:33

(Another short snippet from the upcoming Battle for Open book, not sure about this, so trying it out on you lot).

One way of viewing the open approach is to think of it as analogous to a virus. Once adopted, it tends to spread across many other aspects. In personal practice, once an academic publishes a paper under an open access license, then there is then an incentive to use various forms of social media to promote that paper, which can positively impact upon views and citations. Similarly, although the free cost is the initial driving factor for the adoption of open textbooks, once these have become established, the ability to adapt the material to better suit their particular needs becomes an important factor for educators. Likewise, when educators and institutions begin to use OERs in their own teaching material, then the question arises as to why they are not then reciprocating and sharing back. As we've seen with OER Research Hub work, this practice is not guaranteed, and may be slow to penetrate, but the act of sharing becomes legitimised by the adoption of materials from high reputation institutions.

It is no coincidence that many of the MOOC pioneers had also been early adopters of open access, active bloggers, and advocates of open licenses. Creating open courses seemed the next logical step, because they were interested in the possibilities that openness offered and had seen the benefits elsewhere in their practice. This spread of the open virus is by no means guaranteed, many practitioners remain immune, and for others the open practice remains limited to a very specific function. But it does seem to be a pattern that is repeated across all aspects of open practice. It is significant in the context of the book, because if we are now entering a transition period when open practice enters the mainstream, then (to stretch the metaphor) the number of people ‘exposed’ to the open virus increases dramatically and it becomes a pandemic. It is also significant because it requires individuals to be the agents of action. The compartmentalising of openness into specific projects or outsourcing it to external providers creates a barrier that isolates individual educators from exposure. The impact of openness is thus contained.

Whadya mean “openness has won”?

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 30/04/2014 - 22:11

In my Battle for Open book (and article) I make the claim that openness has been victorious in many respects, and reinforce this by examining the success of open access publishing, OERs, MOOCs and open scholarship. However, to many working in higher education, this would seem a rather overblown claim. They may work in contexts where open scholarship is not only not recognised but actively discouraged, where the mention of OERs would be met with blank expressions and any proposed change to take advantage of the opportunities of open education is actively resisted. Any notion that openness has won seems like the fancy of a privileged few, perhaps operating within an open education bubble.

I have sympathy with this view, so wanted to explore what was meant by my claim. I think we can point to many examples that demonstrate the success of the open approach: the open access mandates; the numbers of learners and media interest in MOOCs; the impact and sustainability of open textbooks; the changing nature of fundamental scholarly practice as a result of open approaches.

To suggest that openness has been successful though is not to claim that it has achieved saturation or 100% uptake. Rather that all of these separate successes point to a larger trend – this is the moment when openness has moved from being a peripheral, specialist interest to a mainstream approach. To use that oft-quoted (and perhaps meaningless) term, it is at a tipping point. From this moment the application of open approaches in all aspects of higher education practice has both legitimacy and a certain inevitably. This is not to say that it will always be adopted, just as the open source approach to software is not always pursued, but it is an increasingly pervasive method. The speed of acceptance will be influenced by a number of factors such as disciplinary cultures, national programmes, policies, funding, the presence of champions and immediate benefits. 

The victory of open education then is that it is now a serious contender proposed by more than just its devoted acolytes, as a method for any number of higher education initiatives, be they in research, teaching or public engagement. And this transition is at the heart of this book, since inherent in it are opportunities and challenges, just as a small start-up business must face a whole different set of issues when it grows and becomes a larger multi-national corporation. In this transition there are many potential pitfalls – the whole enterprise can fail, it can be taken over by others, or the fundamental value and identity that characterised that embryonic stage can be lost.

Whadya mean "openness has won"?

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 30/04/2014 - 21:11

In my Battle for Open book (and article) I make the claim that openness has been victorious in many respects, and reinforce this by examining the success of open access publishing, OERs, MOOCs and open scholarship. However, to many working in higher education, this would seem a rather overblown claim. They may work in contexts where open scholarship is not only not recognised but actively discouraged, where the mention of OERs would be met with blank expressions and any proposed change to take advantage of the opportunities of open education is actively resisted. Any notion that openness has won seems like the fancy of a privileged few, perhaps operating within an open education bubble.

I have sympathy with this view, so wanted to explore what was meant by my claim. I think we can point to many examples that demonstrate the success of the open approach: the open access mandates; the numbers of learners and media interest in MOOCs; the impact and sustainability of open textbooks; the changing nature of fundamental scholarly practice as a result of open approaches.

To suggest that openness has been successful though is not to claim that it has achieved saturation or 100% uptake. Rather that all of these separate successes point to a larger trend – this is the moment when openness has moved from being a peripheral, specialist interest to a mainstream approach. To use that oft-quoted (and perhaps meaningless) term, it is at a tipping point. From this moment the application of open approaches in all aspects of higher education practice has both legitimacy and a certain inevitably. This is not to say that it will always be adopted, just as the open source approach to software is not always pursued, but it is an increasingly pervasive method. The speed of acceptance will be influenced by a number of factors such as disciplinary cultures, national programmes, policies, funding, the presence of champions and immediate benefits. 

The victory of open education then is that it is now a serious contender proposed by more than just its devoted acolytes, as a method for any number of higher education initiatives, be they in research, teaching or public engagement. And this transition is at the heart of this book, since inherent in it are opportunities and challenges, just as a small start-up business must face a whole different set of issues when it grows and becomes a larger multi-national corporation. In this transition there are many potential pitfalls – the whole enterprise can fail, it can be taken over by others, or the fundamental value and identity that characterised that embryonic stage can be lost.

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