What Sheila’s seen over the past year – a year of doodling 

Inspired by David Hopkins at last year’s Blackboard conference in Dublin I stared to do my own form of sketch noting/visual note taking or probably more accurately doodling.

Over the past year I’ve started to use this more visual and colourful method at conferences/events. I find it makes me listen in a different way, and the words/doodles do jog my memory.

I just draw onto my iPad using an app called notability. I like it because you can zoom in and out of areas, it has a good colour palette, and drawing features and a very handy undo/ redo button. Other people seem to quite like them too and I share them (with a CC licence) via a Flickr album.

More and more people seem to be doing this – or maybe I’m just more aware of them. I’ll never be a Giula Forsthye or Kevin Mears but I think I’ll continue to doodle for another year.

Cetis Analytics Series Volume 2: Engaging with Analytics

Our first set of papers around analytics in education has been published, and with nearly 17,000 downloads, it would seem that there is an appetite for resources around this topic. We are now moving onto phase of our exploration of analytics and accompanying this will be a range of outputs including some more briefing papers and case studies. Volume 1 took a high level view of the domain, volume 2 will take a much more user centred view including a number of short case studies sharing experiences of a range of early adopters who are exploring the potential of taking a more analytics based approach.

The first case study features Jean Mutton, Student Experience Project Manager, at the University of Derby. Jean shares with us how her journey into the world of analytics started and how and where she and the colleagues across the university she has been working with, see the potential for analytics to have an impact on improving the student experience.

University of Derby, student engagement factors

University of Derby, student engagement factors

The case study is available to download here.

We have a number of other case studies identified which we’ll be publishing over the coming months, however we are always looking for more examples. So if you are working with analytics have some time to chat with us, we’d love to hear from you and share your experiences in this way too. Just leave a comment or email me (s.macneill@strath.ac.uk).

What can I do with my educational data? (#lak13)

Following on from yesterday’s post, another “thought bomb” that has been running around my brain is something far closer to the core of Audrey’s “who owns your educational data?” presentation. Audrey was advocating the need for student owned personal data lockers (see screen shot below). This idea also chimes with the work of the Tin Can API project, and closer to home in the UK the MiData project. The latter is more concerned with more generic data around utility, mobile phone usage than educational data, but the data locker concept is key there too.

Screen shot of Personal Education Data Locker (Audrey Watters)

Screen shot of Personal Education Data Locker (Audrey Watters)

As you will know dear reader, I have turned into something of a MOOC-aholic of late. I am becoming increasingly interested in how I can make sense of my data, network connections in and across the courses I’m participating in and, of course, how I can access and use the data I’m creating in and across these “open” courses.

I’m currently not very active member of the current LAK13 learning analytics MOOC, but the first activity for the course is, I hope, going to help me frame some of the issues I’ve been thinking about in relation to my educational data and in turn my personal learning analytics.

Using the framework for the first assignment/task for LAK13, this is what I am going to try and do.

1. What do you want to do/understand better/solve?

I want to compare what data about my learning activity I can access across 3 different MOOC courses and the online spaces I have interacted in on each and see if I can identify any potentially meaningful patterns, networks which would help me reflective and understand better, my learning experiences. I also want to explore see how/if learning analytics approaches could help me in terms of contributing to my personal learning environment (PLE) in relation to MOOCs, and if it is possible to illustrate the different “success” measures from each course provider in a coherent way.

2. Defining the context: what is it that you want to solve or do? Who are the people that are involved? What are social implications? Cultural?

I want to see how/if I can aggregate my data from several MOOCs in a coherent open space and see what learning analytics approaches can be of help to a learner in terms of contextualising their educational experiences across a range of platforms.

This is mainly an experiment using myself and my data. I’m hoping that it might start to raise issues from the learner’s perspective which could have implications for course design, access to data, and thoughts around student created and owned eportfolios/and or data lockers.

3. Brainstorm ideas/challenges around your problem/opportunity. How could you solve it? What are the most important variables?

I’ve already done some initial brain storming around using SNA techniques to visualise networks and connections in the Cloudworks site which the OLDS MOOC uses. Tony Hirst has (as ever) pointed the way to some further exploration. And I’ll be following up on Martin Hawksey’s recent post about discussion group data collection .

I’m not entirely sure about the most important variables just now, but one challenge I see is actually finding myself/my data in a potentially huge data set and finding useful ways to contextualise me using those data sets.

4. Explore potential data sources. Will you have problems accessing the data? What is the shape of the data (reasonably clean? or a mess of log files that span different systems and will require time and effort to clean/integrate?) Will the data be sufficient in scope to address the problem/opportunity that you are investigating?

The main issue I see just now is going to be collecting data but I believe there some data that I can access about each MOOC. The MOOCs I have in mind are primarily #edc (coursera) and #oldsmooc (OU). One seems to be far more open in terms of potential data access points than the other.

There will be some cleaning of data required but I’m hoping I can “stand on the shoulders of giants” and re-use some google spreadsheet goodness from Martin.

I’m fairly confident that there will be enough data for me to at least understand the problems around the challenges for letting learners try and make sense of their data more.

5. Consider the aspects of the problem/opportunity that are beyond the scope of analytics. How will your analytics model respond to these analytics blind spots?

This project is far wider than just analytics as it will hopefully help me to make some more sense of the potential for analytics to help me as a learner make sense and share my learning experiences in one place that I chose. Already I see Coursera for example trying to model my interactions on their courses into a space they have designed – and I don’t really like that.

I’m thinking much more about personal aggregation points/ sources than the creation of actual data locker. However it maybe that some existing eportfolio systems could provide the basis for that.

As ever I’d welcome any feedback/suggestions.

Prototyping my Cloudworks profile page

Week 5 in #oldsmooc has been all about prototyping. Now I’ve not quite got to the stage of having a design to prototype so I’ve gone back to some of my earlier thoughts around the potential for Cloudworks to be more useful to learners and show alternative views of community, content and activities. I really think that Cloudworks has potential as a kind of portfolio/personal working space particularly for MOOCs.

As I’ve already said, Cloudworks doesn’t have a hierarchical structure, it’s been designed to be more social and flexible so its navigation is somewhat tricky, particularly if you are using it over a longer time frame than say a one or two day workshop. It relies on you as a user to tag and favourite clouds and cloudscapes, but even then when you’re involved in something like a mooc that doesn’t really help you navigate your way around the site. However cloudworks does have an open API and as I’ve demonstrated you can relatively easily produce a mind map view of your clouds which makes it a bit easier to see your “stuff”. And Tony Hirst has shown how using the API you can start to use visualisation techniques to show network veiws of various kinds.

In a previous post I created a very rough sketch of how some of Tony’s ideas could be incorporated in to a user’s profile page.

Potential Cloudworks Profile page

Potential Cloudworks Profile page

As part of the prototyping activity I decide to think a bit more about this and use Balsamiq (one of the tools recommended to us this week) to rough out some ideas in a bit more detail.

The main ideas I had were around redesigning the profile page so it was a bit more useful. Notifications would be really useful so you could clearly see if anything had been added to any of your clouds or clouds you follow – a bit like Facebook. Also one thing that does annoy me is the order of the list of my clouds and cloudscapes – it’s alphabetical. But what I really want at the top of the list is either my most recently created or most active cloud.

In the screenshot below you can see I have an extra click and scroll to get to my most recent cloud via the clouds list. What I tend to do is a bit of circumnavigation via my oldsmooc cloudscape and hope I have add my clouds it it.

Screen shot of my cloud and cloudscape lists

Screen shot of my cloud and cloudscape lists

I think the profile page could be redesigned to make use of the space a bit more (perhaps lose the cloud stream, because I’m not sure if that is really useful or not as it stands), and have some more useful/useble views of my activity. The three main areas I thought we could start grouping are clouds, cloudscapes (and they are already included) and add a community dimension so you can start to see who you are connecting with.

My first attempt:

screen shot of my first Cloudworks mock up

screen shot of my first Cloudworks mock up

Now but on reflection – tabs not a great idea and to be honest they were in the tutorial so I that’s probably why I used them 🙂

But then I had another go and came up something slightly different. Here is a video where I explain my thinking a bit more.

cloudworks profile page prototype take 2 from Sheila MacNeill on Vimeo.

Some initial comments from fellow #oldsmooc-ers included:

and you can see more comments in my cloud for the week as well as take 1 of the video.

This all needs a bit more thought – particularly around what is actually feasible in terms of performance and creating “live” visualisations, and indeed about what would actually be most useful. And I’ve already been in conversation with Juliette Culver the original developer of Cloudworks about some of the more straight forward potential changes like the re-ordering of cloud lists. I do think that with a bit more development along these lines Cloudworks could become a very important part of a personal learning environment/portfolio.

Ghosts in the machine? #edcmooc

Following on from last week’s post on the #edcmooc, the course itself has turned to explore the notion of MOOCs in the context of utopian/dystopian views of technology and education. The questions I raised in the post are still running through my mind. However they were at a much more holistic than personal level.

This week, I’ve been really trying to think about things from my student (or learner) point of view. Are MOOCs really changing the way I engage with formal education systems? On the one hand yes, as they are allowing me (and thousands of others) to get a taste of courses from well established institutions. At a very surface level who doesn’t want to say they’ve studied at MIT/Stanford/Edinburgh? As I said last week, there’s no fee so less pressure in one sense to explore new areas and if they don’t suit you, there’s no issue in dropping out – well not for the student at this stage anyway. Perhaps in the future, through various analytical methods, serial drop outs will be recognised by “the system” and not be allowed to join courses, or have to start paying to be allowed in.

But on the other hand, is what I’m actually doing really different than what I did at school and when I was an undergraduate or was a student on “traditional’ on line, distance courses. Well no, not really. I’m reading selected papers and articles, watching videos, contributing to discussion forums – nothing I’ve not done before, or presented to me in a way that I’ve not seen before. The “go to class” button on the Coursera site does make me giggle tho’ as it’s just soo American and every time I see it I hear a disembodied American voice. But I digress.

The element of peer review for the final assignment for #edcmooc is something I’ve not done as a student, but it’s not a new concept to me. Despite more information on the site and from the team this week I’m still not sure how this will actually work, and if I’ll get my certificate of completion for just posting something online or if there is a minimum number of reviews I need to get. Like many other fellow students the final assessment is something we have been concerned about from day 1, which seemed to come as a surprise to some of the course team. During the end of week 1 google hang out, the team did try to reassure people, but surely they must have expected that we were going to go look at week 5 and “final assessment” almost before anything else? Students are very pragmatic, if there’s an assessment we want to know as soon as possible the where,when, what, why, who,how, as soon as possible. That’s how we’ve been trained (and I use that word very deliberately). Like thousands of others, my whole education career from primary school onwards centred around final grades and exams – so I want to know as much as I can so I know what to do so I can pass and get that certificate.

That overriding response to any kind of assessment can very easily over-ride any of the other softer (but just as worthy) reasons for participation and over-ride the potential of social media to connect and share on an unprecedented level.

As I’ve been reading and watching more dystopian than utopian material, and observing the general MOOC debate taking another turn with the pulling of the Georgia Tech course, I’ve been thinking a lot of the whole experimental nature of MOOCs. We are all just part of a huge experiment just now, students and course teams alike. But we’re not putting very many new elements into the mix, and our pre-determined behaviours are driving our activity. We are in a sense all just ghosts in the machine. When we do try and do something different then participation can drop dramatically. I know that I, and lots of my fellow students on #oldsmooc have struggled to actually complete project based activities.

The community element of MOOCs can be fascinating, and the use of social network analysis can help to give some insights into activity, patterns of behaviour and connections. But with so many people on a course is it really possible to make and sustain meaningful connections? From a selfish point of view, having my blog picked up by the #edcmooc news feed has greatly increased my readership and more importantly I’m getting comments which is more meaningful to me than hits. I’ve tried read other posts too, but in the first week it was really difficult to keep up, so I’ve fallen back to a very pragmatic, reciprocal approach. But with so much going on you need to have strategies to cope, and there is quite a bit of activity around developing a MOOC survival kit which has come from fellow students.

As the course develops the initial euphoria and social web activity may well be slowing down. Looking at the twitter activity it does look like it is on a downwards trend.

#edcmooc Twitter activity diagram

#edcmooc Twitter activity diagram

Monitoring this level of activity is still a challenge for the course team and students alike. This morning my colleague Martin Hawskey and I were talking about this, and speculating that maybe there are valuable lessons we in the education sector can learn from the commercial sector about managing “massive” online campaigns. Martin has also done a huge amount of work aggregating data and I’d recommend looking at his blogs. This post is a good starting point.

Listening to the google hang out session run by the #edcmooc team they again seemed to have under estimated the time sink reality of having 41,000 students in a course. Despite being upfront about not being everywhere, the temptation to look must be overwhelming. This was also echoed in the first couple of weeks of #oldsmooc. Interestingly this week there are teaching assistants and students from the MSc course actively involved in the #edcmooc.

I’ve also been having a play with the data from the Facebook group. I’ve had a bit of interaction there, but not a lot. So despite it being a huge group I don’t get the impression, that apart from posting links to blogs for newsfeed, there is a lot of activity or connections. Which seems to be reflected in the graphs created from the data.

#edc Facebook group friends connections

#edc Facebook group friends connections


This is a view based on friends connections. NB it was very difficult for a data novice like me to get any meaningful view of this group, but I hope that this gives the impression of the massive number of people and relative lack of connections.

There are a few more connections which can be drawn from the interactions data, and my colleagye David Sherlock manage create a view where some clusters are emerging – but with such a huge group it is difficult to read that much into the visualisation – apart from the fact that there are lots of nodes (people).

#edcmooc Facebook group interactions

#edcmooc Facebook group interactions


I don’t think any of this is unique to #edcmooc. We’re all just learning how to design/run and participate at this level. Technology is allowing us to connect and share at a scale unimaginable even 10 years ago, if we have access to it. NB there was a very interesting comment on my blog about us all being digital slaves.

Despite the potential affordances of access at scale it seems to me we are increasingly just perpetuating an existing system if we don’t take more time to understand the context and consequences of our online connections and communities. I don’t need to connect with 40,000 people but I do want to understand more about how, why and how I could/do. That would be a really new element to add to any course, not just MOOCs (and not something that’s just left to a course specifically about analytics). Unless that happens my primary driver will be that “completion certificate”. In this instance, and many others, to get that I don’t really need to make use of the course community. So I’m just perpetuating an existing where I know how to play the game, even if it’s appearance is somewhat disguised.

#oldsmooc_w3 Cloudworks challenge

It’s half way through week three of #oldsmooc, and once again I have been distracted from the actual course by the possiblities (and opportunities) that a bit of tweaking to Cloudworks could offer. One of the comments Tony Hirst made last week about the practicalities of including some of the network visualisation experiments he had been working on was that of caching and time for real-time diagrams to appear on a user page. Good point, well made, as they say – I don’t think this is insurmountable but it’s not going to be the focus of this week’s post, I’ll come back to it again. But I do think that this is exactly the type of user centred feature that any “new and exciting” (cos of course none of them are “as dull and boring” as the platforms we already have) mooc platform” should be trying to incorporate.

This week’s data challenge was much simplier really and you can see the twitter chain of events in this storify.

[View the story “#oldsmooc_w3 Cloudworks challenge” on Storify]

Once again Tony came up trumps and created a lovely visualisation, but as my last tweet said, was this maybe a bit too much? And as Tony himself asked earlier -what does another view “buy you”? In this case, where there is a essentially a growing list of four different types of “things” maybe just an simpler alternative view (without all the connections) would be more helpful? As the list grows it would be helpful to be able to quickly search for example the tools. This page is undoubtedly a useful resource and as such a bit of time in ensuring that is displayed in ways that help people use/contribute and sustain it is surely worth while. I’d be interested in any other suggestions people may have.

I’m now going to do some more of the actual course work and try to respond to this.

#oldsmooc week 2 – Context and personal learning spaces

Well I have survived week 1 of #oldsmooc and collected my first online badge for doing so -#awesome. My last post ended with a few musings about networks and visualisation.

I’m also now wondering if a network diagram of cloudscape (showing the interconnectedness between clouds, cloudscapes and people) would be helpful ? Both in terms of not only visualising and conceptualising networks but also in starting to make more explicit links between people, activities and networks. Maybe the mindmap view is too linear? Think I need to speak to @psychemedia and @mhawskey . . .

I’ve been really pleased that Tony Hirst has taken up my musings and has been creating some wonderful visualisations of clouds, cloudscapes and followers. So I should prefix prefix this post by saying that this has somewhat distracted me from the main course activities over the past few days. However I want to use this post to share some of my thoughts re these experiments in relation to the context of my learning journey and the potential for Cloudworks to help me (and others) contextualise their learning, activities, networks, and become a powerful personal learning space/ environment.

Cloudworks seems to be a bit like marmite – you either love or hate it. I have to admit I have a bit of a soft spot for it mainly because I have had a professional interest in its development.(I also prefer vegemite but am partial to marmite now and again). I’ve also used it before this course and have seen how it can be useful. In someways it kind of like twitter, you have to use it to see the point of using it. I’ve also fully encouraged the development of its API and its open source version Cloud Engine.

A short bit of context might be useful here too. Cloudworks was originally envisaged as a kind of “flickr for learning designs”, a social repository if you like. However as it developed and was used, it actually evolved more into an aggregation space for ideas, meetings, conferences. The social element has always been central. Of course making something social, with tagging, favouring etc, does mean that navigation isn’t traditional and is more “exploratory” for the user. This is the first time (that I know of anyway) it has actually been used as part of a “formal” course.

As part of #oldsmooc, we (the leaners) are being encouraged to use Cloudworks for sharing our learning and activities. As I’m doing a bit more on the course, I’m creating clouds, adding them to my own #oldsmooc and other cloudscapes, increasingly favouriting and following other’s clouds/cloudscapes. I’m starting to find that concept of having one place where my activity is logged and I am able to link to other spaces where I create content (such as this blog) is becoming increasingly attractive. I can see how it could really help me get a sense of my learning journey as I process through the course, and the things that are useful/of interest to me. In other words, it’s showing potential to be my personal aggregation point, and a very useful (if not key) part of my personal learning environment. But the UI as it stands is still a bit clunky. Which is where the whole visualisation thing started.

Now Tony has illustrated how it possible to visualise the connections between people, content, activities, what think would be really useful would be an incorporation of these visualisations into a newly designed profile page. Nick Frear has already done an alpha test to show these can be embedded into Cloudworks.

A move from this:

My Cloudworks profile page

My Cloudworks profile page

To something kind of like this:

Potential Cloudworks Profile page

Potential Cloudworks Profile page

Excuse the very crude graphic cut and paste but I hope you get the idea. There’s lots of space there to move things around and make it much more user friendly and useful.

Ideally when I (or any other user) logged into our profile page, our favourite spaces and people could easily been seen, and we could have various options to see and explore other network views of people/and our content and activities. Could these network views start to give learners a sense of Dave Cormier’s rhizomatic learning; and potentially a great level of control and confidence in exploring the chaotic space which any MOOC creates?

The social “stuff” and connections is all there in Cloudworks, it just needs a bit of re-jigging. If the UI could be redesigned to incorporate these ideas , then I for one would be very tempted to use cloud works for any other (c)MOOC I signed up for. I also need to think a lot more about how to articulate this more clearly and succinctly, but I’d be really interested in other views.