The paper is:
McAndrew, Patrick, Goodyear, Peter and Dalziel, James (2006) “Patterns, designs and activities: unifying descriptions of learning structures,” International Journal of Learning Technology, 2(2-3), pp. 216–242, [online] Available from: http://oro.open.ac.uk/6489/
It appeared in a Special Issue (actually double issue) of IJLT which meant that there was some delay from writing to publication so the paper itself came out of some study leave time spent in Australia in 2004. I was very kindly hosted by Peter Goodyear at the CoCo research centre at The University of Sydney. The whole visit was wonderful in many ways. Part of the time was working with Peter and with James Dalziel from Macquarie University on the different perspectives we each brought to considering the ways that teachers design their materials. As the person with the study leave time I carried out the integrating task in the paper, but what was key was the brainstorming sessions in Peter’s office and a visit up to James’ base in Macquarie to see his work.
While our views overlapped, the paper presents three different perspectives which were each led by one of us: Peter on patterns, James on LAMs and myself on Learning Design. At the time IMS Learning Design was very visible and had expectations that it could provide an integrating framework from shared designs through to playable systems.
With the benefits of hindsight it might have been thought that we could say which perspective was the “winner”. But hey I am an academic so it is not going to be that simple. There has been some recent reflections on the over-enthusiasm for precise ways to describe learning designs, i.e. IMS Learning Design has not met all its hopes. In the paper it says:
“… IMS Learning Design … may not provide significant support for exchange of understanding and reuse in a [way] that recognises adjustment to context and draws on the skills of both the original designer and those of the teacher involved in the reuse.”
I think that what has emerged is more a hybrid of the different approaches. Perhaps not as directly as suggested by the paper’s outlining of an alternative form of James Dalziel’s LAMs system, but with a broader aim to help share approaches and help people think of alternatives. It certainly should not be said that learning design has failed to have impact, especially here at the Open University.
After my work on the paper I have spent a period less directly involved in learning design research, focussing rather on open education, however things have certainly moved forward. The OULDI project which combined external support from Jisc and internal focus on updating module design inside the OU culminated in a set of tools and the running of the OLDS-MOOC (more on that in a paper and evaluation report). The publicly released tools demonstrate the hybrid approach: unlike IMS LD the output is not intended to be a full playable encoding of the “unit of learning”, it goes beyond patterns in using a range of tools to capture and represent the stages in a way that measures some of the impact, and while it mirrors LAMs in having a relatively easy to use toolset it does not integrate with a student facing component.
The OULDI work, not surprisingly, fits with the way we do things here. A team approach that needs clear steps (stage-gates) and multiple perspectives. Learning design is then communication but also an essential part of understanding expectations on learners which can lead into making effective use of learning analytics. In the 2013 Innovating Pedagogy report the point is made that there is a cycle from design to activity to analysis and back to design (the report was collaborative so not quite sure who to credit for this – maybe a mix of Doug Clow, Rebecca Ferguson and Mike Sharples) . Without the design part the chance to actually do something with what we measure is much reduced.
To bring things up to date learning design is a also a key element in the METIS project (see the recent METIS newsletter). There learning design is used to structure workshop designs and introduce the tools that help capture ideas. For the pilot workshop inside the OU the focus was on designing collaboration, not on learning design itself. Perhaps this demonstrates that the learning design approach has matured; no longer a novelty to be introduced (as it very much was in 2004) rather an assumed need to design learning in 2013.
This post started with a look back on my paper from nearly 10 years ago. It has ended with more connections to current work (of others more than myself) than I expected – and plenty of signs that Learning Design is of more importance now than then – but maybe no longer part of the hype cycle.
This is really the introduction to another couple of posts – one where I talk about a relatively old paper of mine (just about ready to go), and the other where I intend to discuss a fairly recent paper (when I write that one). So if you don’t want a post that describes why I posted other posts then don’t read this post read those posts :-).
As with many other people who work in UK academia a *lot* of time and effort has gone into the preparation of of information for the UK REF (Research Excellence Framework) which is just about finished with. The REF occurs every few years (last one was in 2007) and has many complications and aspects. One of these aspects is that it uses published pieces of work to allow the panels to assess the value of work. This means a list of upto 4 papers are submitted for each person and those papers must have appeared between January 2008 and December 2013 (though preparation time means that realistically the limit is earlier than that). Anyway that is already too much about the REF, though I suspect it will haunt us over the next year or so until the results flow back.
The consequence is that we tend to ignore papers we wrote before 2008, and in a year’s time we will be starting to pay less attention to the papers that made it into the 2013 submission as we start to collate evidence for the next time around. A year or two back we had a discussion in IET about this and a good idea emerged which was to gather together some of our best past papers and make a book of the collected works with a bit of narrative. The idea was that we could and up with something similar to the Morgan-Kaufmann “Readings in …” series that I still have on my shelves from when I started my PhD – then it was a great convenience to get some of the best papers on a subject without standing for hours at the photocopier. (Martin Weller also had an interesting version where we could use his meta-journal approach to collect things – definitely a good way to go.) For whatever reason (probably that REF thing) we have not got around to actually building the collection but the idea has stuck with me.
So my next post is the “Old paper” one where I will revisit a paper that I am particularly proud of that was written in 2004 and appeared in 2006 … Learning Design revisited.
My “New paper” is a trickier choice, tempted by the very latest paper submitted and *about* to appear but not quite wanting to tempt fate on that. Or a couple of recent papers on the theme of openness, or when I finally got something published on Activity Theory, or getting a chance to work on the theme of accessibility, or … – so will see exactly what I do in the next couple of weeks.
I have just started a new role within the Institute of Educational Technology coming in as Acting Director as Josie Taylor steps down and retires. I have worked with Josie from my very first days here in IET 14 years ago. We constructed the funding bid to HEFCE for the Knowledge Network (or as we termed it then UNLOCK – University Networked Location of Community Knowledge) and set up the UserLab as a way to manage having several EU/internationally funded projects in the same area at the same time. Working closely with Josie as I have shadowed her over the last few weeks has been a great introduction and I am happy to say that I am able to take on IET in a good state.
IET has slimmed down to now have about 90 staff in total across academics, researchers, academic related and support staff. But IET’s research is healthy and the works it carries out inside the university seems more in demand than ever. All universities are having to cope with changes in how students view them, how they have come to study and the different options they now have. Perhaps the impact on study at the OU have been even bigger as it is a university that operates across all four nations as well as through Open Educational Resources. The OU needs to cope with various systems and in particular with the way part-time study has to adjust to the requirements for loans imposed on students from England. That is a major change that needs to be reflected on in terms of learning design, accessibility, data analytics and quality enhancement. All aspects where IET places a major role within the OU.
A big topic for this year is the coming together of learning opportunities around free resources. My research lies in this area, with the OER Research Hub, and the OU has brought together universities and other organisations from the UK and beyond in FutureLearn. This is an innovative way to lower the barrier to taking part in courses (in fact while typing this I though why not actually join the latest offering of a FutureLearn course from the OU on Ecosystems – the elapsed time from thought to registration was just under 2 minutes).
FutureLearn and its Massive Open Online courses (MOOCs) is only part of a broader approach to OER for the OU. There are also direct open courses, such as OLDSMOOC and H817Open (both operated out off IET) and continuing investment in OpenLearn, iTunesU and YouTube from the OU’s Open Media Unit. Not forgetting great BBC programmes.
The work on the Innovating Pedagogy reports, which I was pleased to be able to be part oded helps us reflect on what this means for pedagogy. The 2013 report balances various options and considers 10 areas but one that is coming out as more prominent is how what we do with students is more and more overlapped with what is happening in the world. In the report this is seen as “Crowd-learning” and Mike Sharples in an article in the Times Higher speculates that perhaps 2013 is the year of the crowd. I had the chance to present on the Innovating Pedagogy report at the recent EADTU conference in Paris, already blogged by Leigh-Anne Perryman on the oerresearchhub.org site. My own slides (below) covered the pedagogic lessons from the open universities and how the innovations we report are helping review these.
No doubt most of you will have read the (unintentionally hilarious) interview with Udacity founder and the media's poster child for MOOCs, Sebastian Thrun. If you haven't the short version (minus the ego fanning and competitive cycling) is that Thrun has realised that not many people complete MOOCs, and that making them pay is a good incentiviser, so he's making Udacity an elearning corporate training company.
And there it is. After all that hype. All that "Napsterisation of higher education", the "end of universities", the "10 global providers of education" nonsense, what do we have? A corporate elearning company. As TS Eliot observed, the world ends not with a bang, but a whimper.
Everyone will blog about it (I expect there will be a wave of "the end of MOOCs" pieces by the very people who wrote "the end of universities" ones), and I can barely bring myself to add to the noise, but if you take a step back, it really is a fascinating, and telling case study in what happens when companies try to do openness.
What is both interesting and depressing about it is the sheer predictability of it all. I commented a while back that FlatWorld Publishing provided a good warning. When the going gets tough, openness is the first casualty. Only last week George Siemens was railing against how people had opted for the easy option because openness was complex and messy. Thrun says it's because he is worried that the Udacity product was 'lousy', but you can bet those venture capitalists were whispering in his ear "where is the return on our investment?".
A couple of points worth noting: Thrun seems to have 'discovered' that open access, distance education students struggle to complete. I don't want to sound churlish here, but hey, the OU has known this for 40 years. It's why it spends a lot of money developing courses that have guidance and support built into the material, and also on a comprehensive support package, ranging from tutors, helpdesk, regional study centres and so on. But of course, none of the journalists and certainly not the new, revolutionary people at Udacity wanted to hear any of this. They could solve it all, and why hadn't higher education thought of this before? As Audrey Watters said to me on twitter:
@mweller "disruptive innovation" means never having to say 1) you're sorry 2) you're wrong 3) you're ignorant 4) all of the above— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) November 14, 2013 (Audrey has an excellent post on the Thrun interview that you should read)
I also like the way the article depicts Thrun as bravely digging into the data: "he was obsessing over a data point that was rarely mentioned in the breathless accounts about the power of new forms of free online education: the shockingly low number of students who actually finish the classes". That's right, no-one had noticed. If only someone had, say, plotted all of the MOOC completion data...
Anyway, where does this leave us? Does it mean MOOCs are dead? Not really. It just means they aren't the massive world revolution none of us thought they were anyway. And it also suggests that universities, far from being swept away by MOOCs, are in fact the home of MOOCs. You see, MOOCs make sense as an adjunct to university business, they don't really make sense as a stand alone offering. One wonders if the likes of Shirky will be writing about how wonderful the university model of open education is. So in the end, far from being a portent of doom of the university model, MOOCs are a validation of universities and their robustness.
It's not the end of MOOCs, they just make more sense when you view them as part of the OER continuum. Actually I don't think Udacity's product is lousy - they have some really fine open material. It's their business model that's lousy. To quote the Smiths song of the title: "Nothing's changed, I still love you, only slightly less than I used to."
I've been thinking about openness in education a lot recently (my plan is to write a book on this, more on that later). And I've slowly, probably years after everyone else, come to the conclusion that it's a mistake to talk about openness as if it's one thing. There may have been a time when it was, when all the forms of openness blended easily into one indistinguishable lump, but that's not the case now. Not only are there different aspects of openness, but I'm beginning to feel that some may be mutually exclusive with others, or at least prioritising some means less emphasis on others.
What do I mean by this? Well I could list the different types of openness in education: OERs, MOOCs, open access, open scholarship, etc. But instead it's more useful to consider the motivation for openness, why has someone adopted an open approach in the first place? Here are some possibilities:
Increased audience - you want as many people as possible to be able get at your resource, be it an article, book, course, video or presentation. The main aim here is to remove barriers to people accessing it. This means it has to be free, easily shareable, online, and with easy rights.
Increased reuse - related to the above, but slightly different, you want people to take what you have created and combine it with other elements, adapt it and republish. The same considerations are required as above, but with an extra emphasis on minimal rights and also creating the resource in convenient chunks that can be adapted. Whereas the first motivation might mean releasing your song online, the second motivation might lead you to sharing each of the tracks that constitute the song separately under a CC-BY licence.
Increased access - this is different from the first motivation in that you want to reach particular groups who may be disadvantaged. You have open access in that you do not require formal entry qualifications. You may decide that free is also the best way to gain increased access, but that may not follow. If you want to work with learners who often fail in formal education then simply making a resource free doesn't really help. What they need is material aimed at this audience and specific support. Open access is not just about price.
Increased experimentation - one of the reasons many people adopt open approaches is that it allows them to do different things. Whether that's use different media, create a different identity, or experiment with approach that wouldn't fit within the normal constraints of work, an open method allows this. If this is your goal, then the emphasis is on getting an audience that will feedback on this and maybe participate in this experimentation.
Increased reputation - being networked and online can help improve your, or your institution's, profile. Openness here allows more people to see what you do (the motivation of increased audience) but your main aim is to enhance your reputation. If you were an academic who really wanted to be on the keynote circuit then operating in the open, publishing openly, creating online resources, being active in social media and establishing an online identity might be a good way to achieve this. Here openness is a method by which you realise a different goal, but it could be anything. The emphasis here then will be on networking and using openness to establish identity.
Increased revenue - while we may have suspicions about open washing and using openness as a route to commercial success, it's true that an open, or part-open model can be an effective business model. The freemium approach works this way, where a service is open to a large extent, but some users pay for additional services. If this is the goal then openness works by creating a significant demand for the product.
Increased participation - you may need input from an audience, but can't pay to access them. This could be crowdsourcing in research, or getting feedback on a book or research proposal. Being open allows others to access it and then provide the input you require. Openness here can be quite targeted, you want to reach a particular audience and get them involved, not necessarily as large an audience as possible.
Let's take an example in education and consider it from these different motivations. Let's imagine your university (or a university you know) wants to create a MOOC. They've heard all about them and think they should be doing something in this area (this actually covers about 90% of university's approach to MOOCs). They seek your advice, so you go around to a bunch of different stakeholders and you ask them "what is the aim of the MOOC? What do you want from it?"
Now, the person from marketing says they want to increase the university's online profile and reputation. From this perspective you propose a MOOC in a big hitting subject, featuring a big name academic. The subject will be "Life on Mars". It'll be expensive, high end production, acting as a showcase for the university and getting it in the press.
When you speak to the Dean of the Science faculty they say they are concerned about student recruitment on their post grad course. They want it to bring in high fee paying overseas students. The model that might work here is one that makes the first 6 weeks open, and target a specific audience, who can then sign up. You suggest offering badges and allowing people to build up to taking the full masters.
You then speak to an academic who is really keen to try a student-led approach. They feel frustrated by the customer-led focus of conventional teaching and see in MOOCs an opportunity to try some more radical pedagogic approaches that they have been blocked from implementing. They don't see it as particularly massive in terms of audience, but it will be a rich learning experience for those who do it, as they will be creating the curriculum. You propose a MOOC based in Wordpress, and featuring a range of technologies with learners co-creating the content.
Later you have a conversation with a funding council who want to bring under-represented groups into science. They will need a lot of support, but they are willing to fund the provision of mentors and support groups in the community. You suggest a MOOC based on adapting existing materials, with carefully targeted support and minimal technical barriers.
And so on - you can see that from each of these perspectives the resultant MOOC would be a very different beast. It would be open in each of these scenarios, but with a different emphasis on the form that openness should take.
So, now that openness has to a large extent won out as an approach, the question is no longer 'do you want to be open?' but rather 'what sort of open do you want?'.
I watched the tweets from the WISE13 conference with interest. One that caught my eye (and rather made it water) was Gordon Brown extolling the value of education and its benefits for society. You can see his talk below:
It's a good talk, impassioned and well reasoned. I agree with everything he said. But I find it strange that he is saying it. Brown's record on international development is good, it's something he really believed in. But when he was Prime Minister, he abolished what's called ELQ funding in the UK. This meant that you couldn't get funding to study if you already had an equal or higher qualification. This was enormously damaging for many of the people you want to avail themselves of education - those who have been made redundant and want to reskill for examples.
I appreciate this is a minor concern compared with global education for all, and particularly the social power of getting girls into school. But it's the principle - you don't get to talk about the wonderful power of education if when you had the chance you looked at the budgets and thought "nah, education's not worth it, we can make a saving there."
Everyone (well maybe not some of the Taliban) thinks education is a good thing. It's an easy totem to gather around and make impassioned calls for. Education has a lot of social credit. We shouldn't let people use it without having shown their credentials, and Brown botched his chance when he had it to demonstrate that he really believes in the transformative power of education. Of course, compared with what's come afterwards, Brown's crime is minor in comparison, but even so, you don't get to use education now as your platform. Or at least not without some contrition. The same goes for openness - you have to earn that badge through action.
I came across a disturbing story last week, particularly for academics in the UK who use social media. A UK academic who blogs and tweets as Plashing Vole reported that a journalist from the Sun on Sunday had contacted him, telling him they were going to run an article about him. It concerned a few anti-government tweets he had made, in one jokingly making a Nazi comparison. An MP was calling for him to be sacked. In the end they didn't run the piece, but it must have been a stressful few days.
This worries me on a number of levels. Firstly, I often encourage academics to establish an online identity, and that part of that identity is to give a bit of themselves, not just bland broadcast. If we are now entering a phase when any opinion or joke will be used against you then this advice might be harmful.
Secondly, I think most of us will have a 'there but for the grace of God' moment on reading his account. I am mindful of being offensive in any online communication, but I've made jokes & expressed opinions so if someone really wanted to I'm sure they could construct a negative story about me and use a few carefully selected tweets to prove a case. The same is true for any of us I think - a friend of mine was berated by someone because they tweeted about biscuits during work hours.
But the thing that bothered me most of all was the sense of surveillance and suppression of opinion. The East German secret police used to have people in every workplace reporting to them, and they would drill holes in walls to spy on citizens. Any anti-state sentiment that was expressed would be recorded and that person would find their life difficult, or they'd just be disappeared. The consequence was that no-one would express any dissenting view in public, which was, of course, the aim. It is the same here, it doesn't matter that they didn't run the story, they only need to threaten to often enough to make academics scared of expressing an opinion publicly. And that is a very dangerous society to live in.
The possible saving grace is that I would hope universities are strong enough to stand up to this nonsense, and also, I think it's such a non-story, and would be of so little interest to their readers that it's not a practical policy. But who knows?
For top-secret research I am undertaking, I'm looking at a range of MOOCs, both xMOOCs, cMOOCs and flavours inbetween (although, definitely not ridiculous variations such as SPOCs). Here's some breaking news - they are all pretty good. Take away all the hype, commercial bubble and rabid arguments on both sides and you are left with some good teaching material.
As I've been going through them (admittedly not as thoroughly as a student), I've begun to think that a mix of them would probably represent a good grounding in a topic, equivalent to a 1st year of an undergrad degree. It wouldn't teach some of the other skills you develop, I'll come to that later. Let's take an example, say I want to study a degree in Psychology. The following MOOCs would give me a good knowledge base:
Now, I think that would give you a good grounding in knowledge. I know from doing my first degree in Psychology that the first year is really spent bringing everyone up to speed. A second year could then start on the assumption that all of the above is known to all students. This is where a conventional (campus or distance) university can step in. The MOOCs only take you so far. They're good at getting across content, but not so good at developing skills. As a Psychology graduate there are key skills you need to develop (the elusive qualities of 'graduateness'), such as critical thinking, reading and interpreting scientific literature, debate and communication skills, experimental design, etc. These are really best developed by interaction with other learners and experts in a more structured, focused manner than most MOOCs offer.
So here's a model for a university wanting to offer something different - come to us with certificates in all of the above MOOCs and we will enroll you on a shortened two year degree programme. Because we want to be competitive our fees (assuming a UK uni here) are set at £7K per annum (compared with the usual 9K) and that means your degree will cost you £14K, not the usual £27K. That begins to look like a good offer, and I would be willing to bet that there would be no difference between these students at graduation than those that have studied a three year programme.
Of course there are a whole host of objections to this model, for instance it can undermine universities, it plays along with the broken funding regime, a three year degree programme is the right length of time for personal development, and so on. I wouldn't disagree with any of these. And I wouldn't suggest that this is the only model that should be pursued, but rather it is an example of how changes in education, and open education in particular, could offer a wider diversity of university models.
One parting thought - if this model was used successfully I wonder how long before the MOOC providers started charging for their courses to be used in this way?
In times of fake open access journals, and open access being used as a means of making even more money by publishers, it's nice to know that some things are true to the simple values of open access... yes, there is a new issue of JIME out. It may not have the bells and whistles of a funded journal, and maybe we can't give it as much time as we'd like, but it's free to publish, peer-reviewed and open to all.
In this issue there is quite a range of papers, some have a 'design' theme, but it's not a themed issue. Here is the editorial, I'm sure there's something there to pique everyone's interest:
This edition of JIME sees a varied collection of papers covering a diverse range of topics. It starts with a perspective piece by the Director of the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, Josie Taylor, addressing the institutional approach to pedagogy and technology here at the OU. This piece was originally given as a speech internally and focuses on the OU experience, but it will be of interest to others, particularly as they seek to blend new technologies and pedagogies. Its discussion of the learning model and the connection and journey between informal and formal learning is of particular contemporary interest.
There are three papers concerned with different aspects of design: designing online learning or blended courses - and the role of learning design in developing such courses. The first of these is an article by Terumi Miyazoe and Terry Anderson, which provides a much needed theoretical basis for examining OERs and MOOCs. Using the Interaction Equivalency Theorem, they address issues such as the scalability of different MOOC models.
In the third article Canan Blake and Eileen Scanlon focus on designing for collaborative learning and provide a mix of the theoretical and practical in examining the nature of collaborative online learning and its relation with the learning environment. They note that, whilst much prior research has focused on empirical studies to understand the mechanisms, as well as the benefits of collaboration, this is not always helpful in addressing the challenge of designing good collaborative learning activities.
The fourth article, by Anna Mavroudi and Thanasis Hadzilacos, picks up on both themes of collaboration and design again in its discussion of group work in designing for adaptive learning. This paper presents an empirical case study of collaboration on a complex design text, which like Blake and Scanlon's paper above, is in the context of Open and Distance Education, and which has implications for design guidelines in contemporary teaching contexts.
A less theoretical and more practical focus is given in the final article, where Nick Pearce and Sarah Learmonth investigate the use of Pinterest as a tool for anthropology students, suggesting that its non-linear format aids the integration of material in an interdisciplinary subject.
This issue also includes a book review written by Bethany Alden about Joseph P McDonald's book "Going online with Protocols: new tools for teaching and learning".
In the battle for open, I'd say open access is probably the front which has been engaged the longest. It's worth looking at how the battle is going, as it exhibits many of the characteristics we're seeing in other areas. For example, the spoils are worth fighting for - Reed Elsevier reported revenue of over 6 billion GBP in 2012 of which over 2 billion was for the Science Technical and Medical publishing area. It's also an area where openness has 'won' - OA mandates abound, and a recent Wiley report found that 59% of authors had published in OA journals. It's not a minority pursuit any more. And yet at the time of victory we are also beset with doubt and conflict.
The Gold route so favoured by the Finch report and other mandates may well end up costing us more. And as the sting operation from Science showed last week, the pay-to-publish model creates a tension in the traditional model. I think the sting (where an obviously flawed, fake article was accepted by 157 OA journals) reveals a couple of things about how the battle is going. Firstly, that 'openness' has market value as a term, and so dubious journals have entered the market place offering open access publishing. Secondly, the incumbents (many of whom published the article) may not have a vested interest in making OA a success. If OA is perceived as lower quality then it reinforces their market position and the position of the library subscription model. I have heard anecdotally (and if anyone can prove this please let me know), that an article rejected for a traditional journal by a publisher will be offered to publish in their alternative OA journal for a fee. If this is true, it's genius, since they get to undermine the alternative model while getting paid to do so. This illustrates the danger of trying to let commercial interests shape the direction of openness.
The same can be applied to the other fronts in the battle for open: MOOCs, OERs, open data, open scholarship. So watch the outcome of the open access skirmishes with interest, for that will determine much of what follows in the rest of open education.
The answer to this question is, probably no.
But yet we don't see newspapers running articles about the potential threat of killer robot dogs to the status of universities. But we do see them about how MOOCs (sorry David) will destroy all higher education as we know it. For example here is a piece in Forbes. Or one from Nexttrends. Or one from Eduwire.
Why does it always have to be the death of, the end of? I guess it's because 'Will MOOCs be a complementary part of a richer mix of educational offerings from universities?' isn't such a snappy title. I think we've been through the first wave of the digital revolution, we've seen the things that will die off. And actually they don't usually die, they adapt. We shouldn't underestimate the ability of an industry, an organisation, professional people to accommodate digital practice. The 'will die' proponents do humans a big disservice, and portray digital change as an autonomous force which people are powerless before (I'm not mentioning technological determinism here). But if you look closely at that wave of change it is constructed from people using technology.
This type of change and adaptation is much more subtle and interesting. So run this test the next time you see this type of claim. Could you replace X (MOOCs, tablets, web 2.0) with "killer robot dogs" and it still make sense? If so, the answer is probably the same. Or dinosaurs.
In my presentations on digital scholarship I often make the claim that we have the opportunity to rethink the form that research takes. We are accustomed in academia to thinking of research as being of a certain 'size'. Usually this means it is funded research or something with a traditional output (research paper or book). But digital, networked technologies allow us different ways of approaching research. As I am forever saying, this is not to say they supplant the existing methods, or are superior to them, just that we have a richer mix of options now.
I've started calling the 'just do it' approach 'guerrilla research'. This term has been used in software design, for example Ross Unger and Todd Warfel argue persuasively for it, claiming that "Guerrilla research methods are faster, lower-cost methods that provide sufficient enough insights to make informed strategic decisions." I think there is a lot to be said for this approach to academic research also.
What might guerilla research look like? Well, as I've mentioned before, my PhD student Katy Jordan did some work on MOOC completion rates using open data that has been widely used. Or Tony Hirst likes to play with open data sets (although as he pines, it's not as easy as it was). Or a bunch of research that analyses travel blogs.
Guerrilla research is characterised by the following as I see it:
Guerrilla research needn't be in competition with formal, funded research. In fact it's a good way to get started on this. For instance, Katy's work has led to funding from the MOOC Research Initiative. If you want to demonstrate to a funder that your project is worth investing in, then being able to show some interesting preliminary findings is useful. And not just to say 'these are interesting' but to be able to demonstrate tangible interest because when you blogged it, the post had X many hits and was retweeted Y many times.
I feel we have a tendency to spend a lot of time trying to build up to a proper bid, when much of that work could be done in the open. And if you are a researcher struggling to get funding, then guerrilla research may offer a route to maintaining a research profile while you are waiting for that REFable grant to be realised.
A long time ago, back when we still used the phrase 'web 2.0', I proposed an idea for a tool called "9 step" which sequenced online resources together, with connecting narrative. My proposal was that you can learn anything in 9 steps. I think Orson Welles once said he learnt everything he knew about cinematography in an hour, so 9 resources should be enough.
Well, due to my inability to see things through and lack of commercial flair I never did anything with the idea. Since then similar things have been trialled, to not much success, but I won't let that deter me from declaring that it was a great idea.
Anyway, as part of the OER Research Hub we thought it would be useful to give people an introduction to OERs. I decided resurrecting my sequenced resources idea would be appropriate, but in a less ambitious manner, so I've created a YouTube playlist of 10 videos that explain OER. This goes from a simple "isn't it great" type introduction, then sets some of the context around sharing and reuse, before looking at some examples of projects and research. It ends with a long, thoughtful piece from Gardner Campbell on what openness means.
You can add notes to a playlist, so this provides some of the narrative, but they're quite short. Even so, I think watching this playlist would give anyone a pretty good understanding of OERs and associated issues. You can view it as a course if you like. It could be massive, it's open, and online. If only there were an acronym for such things...
Anyway, see what you think, I feel we could make better use of playlists as educational tools.
If you're working in higher ed in the UK you will no doubt have seen that FutureLearn had its beta launch last week. Some disclosure - FutureLearn is owned by the OU & I've been partially involved in its development, so I'm probably not a completely objective commentator. Needless to say, what follows is just my opinion and not an official OU/FL one.
The first thing to note about the FutureLearn launch is that it launched. This is no mean feat. To get all those partner universities to sign an agreement on something quite vague, to develop a platform from scratch and to get good quality courses created for a platform that didn't exist involves an incredible amount of negotiation, hard work and good will from all parties. My small involvement with the project is that we have a weekly one hour meeting with the lead developer where we feed in advice and research. I've found them to be very smart and willing to take stuff on board. It hasn't felt like an antagonistic or us and them relationship. And I know where I speak of here, having been involved in the UK eUniversity, which became mired in contracts and stalled development.
So, getting FutureLearn launched in a decent state is the higher ed equivalent of hosting the Olympics successfully. We're often criticised in higher ed for not being able to deliver so we ought to recognise it when someone does.
I know some people are down on FutureLearn, and I can appreciate why. It's a backlash to all the MOOC hype. I think it is important to maintain a critical standpoint particularly when commercial interests are trying to undermine existing practice to create a market for their own solutions. But I don't want to find myself in the position where I'm arguing that making good quality, well designed learning content available for free is a bad thing.
The MOOC hype is settling down now, and I feel that FutureLearn is really an indication of what it may well end up being. Forget the "end of universities as we know them" rhetoric, ignore the "all education will be this way one day" commercial wet dream - MOOCs will be as OERs. And that's a good thing. OERs are now available from providers all over the globe, they make a big difference to the way many people work. But they haven't really fundamentally changed what we do in education, they've allowed new models and enhanced others.
Now if you're a venture capitalist this is bad news, you've sunk millions into a MOOC company, you need it to entirely revolutionise education, so you can own a big chunk of it. But if you're a university this is good news. Martin Bean, quite rightly in my view, pitched MOOCs as a shop-window. That's a sustainable business model for universities. We've found that OpenLearn is more or less sustainable now as a recruitment channel. This talk of business models may not be as altruistic or as revolutionary as radical MOOCers would like, but I think it's a good model with benefits on both sides. If a million learners every year get to experience some good online teaching material, and a smallish percentage of these then go on to study other MOOCs, or enter formal education, that's a positive outcome for universities, society and the individual learners. It probably isn't a model that will get venture capitalists excited though.
I presented at the OU's communications conference yesterday. I was asked to talk about how you create an impact online. I'm always a bit cautious about giving advice on this, as I didn't (don't) have a plan, so it's all been trial and error and messing about. But I guess that is my advice - just get started and try stuff out, don't wait to go on the "Creating academic impact online with blogs" course, just do it.
I was lucky to share the stage with two great OU colleagues. Meg Barker is an expert in relationships, and has a good blog associated with her book Rewriting the Rules. Natalie Starkey's expertise is in comets and asteroids and does a lot of TV work and writing for the Guardian, as well as blogging. I went last, so the previous two subjects had been sex and space. I then had to follow up with... educational technology. Do you ever get the feeling you made the wrong career choice?
Anyway, my presentation is below. I make the point that I don't really know what all the stats mean associated with blogs, but they must mean something, right?Academics & online impact from Martin Weller
During the expansion of higher education in the 90s & 00s it was all about getting more bums on seats. In the UK the Labour government set a target of 50% of 19-22 year olds going in to higher education. The aim then was just to attract as many students as you could.
But now we're in a period of reduction in student numbers, the drive is less for pure numbers but for students who will stay the course. It is very costly to universities to go through the enrollment process and for a student to then drop out. And it's often a damaging experience for the student as well, so it's in the interests of both parties to ensure that learners are really ready and suited to the course they want to study. We want bums on seats still, but we need to make sure they're the right bums on the right seats.
This is one of the hidden benefits of OERs and MOOCs I think. For instance on the OER Research Hub project we found that lots of users of OER are using them as tasters before committing to formal education. So they're seeing if they're ready for the level of study, and also the subject area they are interested in. And once they're in study, lots of learners are then using OER to complement their formal study to help them get through a course.
The OU backed FutureLearn MOOC platform launched today, and our Vice Chancellor Martin Bean has suggested that MOOCs act as a shop window for universities. I think this is a sound model - if learners get something for free and then some sign up for formal study, both parties win. This makes it a sustainable model, without the need to make a profit for venture capitalists.
But what I think may be as interesting as its recruitment function is the filtering function of OERs and MOOCs. If as a result of having studied open content the subsequent students you get into formal education are then less likely to drop out then it represents a huge benefit for both unis and learners. It would be a difficult figure to quantify, but I think improved retention savings would be worth looking at.
Last year a few of us at the OU produced the Innovating Pedagogy report. This listed some topics in educational technology we thought were going to be significant. No-one warned me but it was an annual event, so here is the Innovating Pedagogy report 2013.
My colleague Mike Sharples (of FutureLearn fame) does an excellent job of cajoling us into contributing and putting it all together. He operates a process similar to that used in the creation of the Horizon reports, so a bunch of us suggest topics, we vote on these, then get assigned to write a summary for the selected topics. These are then reviewed, and then we write the main section, which goes through another round of review. It's a good process and hopefully it produces a good quality output.
So this year the topics we've chosen are:
Some of the list are obvious (badges) and others less so (seamless learning), so I think it's got something for everyone. Some topics (eg MOOCs) have been repeated from last year, mainly where there has been significant developments in the past year, it seemed appropriate to include them again. Next year, no bloody MOOCs ok?
If you think there are subjects missing, you're probably right. This is just our take on the current landscape, which we think others may find interesting, we're not proposing it as a definitive list. Actually, it'd be nice to see a similar report from other unis and groups. Anyway, hope you find something in it that's useful. Here's that link again: Innovating Pedagogy 2013
In looking at issues around digital scholarship and promotion, I examined some of the work on academic tenure. There are usually three strands to tenure: research, teaching and admin/service. These are supposed to count equally, but there is a general feeling that researchers walk taller. There have been many attempts to raise the profile of teaching in the academic community, but a recent article in the Times Higher unintentionally reveals how little success they've had.
The piece is about Swansea university and its plans to move "management academics" "to teaching-only roles if they do not have four papers deemed to be of at least 3* quality." The article reveals several attitudes towards teaching in higher education. For a start it is entitled "Swansea’s tough REF plans provoke disquiet" which suggest a general agreement that teaching-only is harsh.
If academics have not submitted four papers of the required standard they will be required to do 18 hours contact teaching a week instead of the 6 hours for 'research-active'. Teaching only is described as a threat.
Now, the problem is that if teaching isn't as widely recognised as research then being on a teaching only contract may make promotion harder. It is perceived by many as creating a two-tier system of academics in the university. I'm not going to go into that here. One could argue that if in four years you haven't produced four 3* papers, maybe you aren't research active and teaching might be a better focus. But what I want to highlight is that the language and assumptions in the piece reveal the research bias that exists in higher ed, despite the fact that the vast majority of a university's income is derived from teaching.
If you don't believe me, try reversing "teaching" and "research" in the piece. It quickly becomes amusing, so for examples here are sentences you will never see:
Teaching is frequently treated as a punishment - how does that make students paying hefty fees feel?
Bloggers, or anyone who maintains an online profile, have an ambiguous relationship with visitor stats and data. On the one hand we like to dismiss them as meaningless, but then secretly feel chuffed when we can outscore someone. I've tried to promote them as one way of measuring impact, but with the caveat that context is important. For instance, if you're a blogger in a relatively obscure area, such as Barry Town football club, then your range is limited and unlikely to compare in absolute numbers with, say, a blog reviewing Apple products.
I recently passed 300,000 views on this blog, over about 700 posts - that's not as exciting as it might sound as I've been going since about 2006. My friend Liam says he gets about 200K a year on his mobile tech blog. Here are some more stats from tools I use:
The first thing to ask is how reliable is this data? Tony can probably answer that better than me, but I think the blog traffic doesn't take into people who subscribe via RSS, so in that case underestimates. At the same time it does include my own obsessive self-clicking, so that may even out. It may also include bot traffic which doesn't really mean anything at all.
But if we take the data as accurate for now, the more interesting question is what does it mean? I would like to make the case that 300,000 visits to my blog equals 300,000 careful, considered reading of my posts, but the data doesn't back that up. Google analytics tells me that my average visit duration is 57 seconds. I suppose that is just about the time it takes to read a blog post, but it probably doesn't compare well with time taken on reading academic articles. My bounce rate is high too, at around 85%, so people come in, read a post and then go elsewhere, but I think that's fairly typical for blogs, I'm not providing a newspaper where you want people to go from one feature to another.
Blipfoto probably has the highest return on audience per post, and does better than Flickr. This provides a nice comparison as I have linked my blipfoto account to twitter, so it automatically tweets when I post, but I haven't done this for Flickr (which I think of more as a repository). I get 219 views per post on blipfoto versus 42 on Flickr, so we could say that the effect of linking to twitter is a 5-fold increase in traffic (if that's what you want). But I would say that Blipfoto is the most personal of these tools and the least connected to my professional life, so I wouldn't argue for any professional impact here.
What I think we're struggling with here is the newness of all this. What is the value of a slideshare view versus a download of a paper? Is there a conversion rate? I've tried to keep a foot in both the traditional camp, through publications, and the new forms of dissemination, so these figures might offer a reasonable comparison between the two. Looking at my citations you could crudely say that one citation is worth about 200 blog views (or vice versa).
However, it's probably futile to try and measure these things. It's not as if citations are a particularly reliable metric anyway, so we shouldn't use those as a currency to convert everything else into. It will also vary widely depending on discipline, and individual. And more importantly, we already have plenty of systems that our career path requires us to game, so why invent more?
Make no mistake, turning altmetrics into performance measures linked to real things like promotion, job security, money would have negative effects. For example, there is a correlation between number of posts and views, so if I was purely chasing the numbers I should post more often, regardless of quality (what quality?), or I might think I could get better numbers from splitting this post into three separate ones. This already happens in traditional outputs, I remember someone advising me not to write books because for the same effort I could have 5 REFable publications. This return on investment view ignores the internal validity of the form. I also tend to think of blogging as a social function, connecting with friends and peers, but if I'm linking it to direct returns then it's another example of monetising relationships that Brian is so uneasy about.
But when I've tried to make the case for digital scholarship and tenure, it is something along these lines that I want to argue - that the impact you see here is as valid as the impact we have chosen to recognise and measure. So we need to start thinking about what these numbers do mean for academics - we just need to make sure we don't turn them into the thing itself, with all of us chasing and parading numbers. But maybe that's inevitable as soon as you shine a light on them, in which case, ignore this post.