GCU Games On – open and online, and not an “M” word in sight

A couple of years ago at a Cetis Conference Professor Patrick McAndrew said that perhaps we needed to concentrate more on the open and online and less on massive and courses. Wise man, that Patrick. That notion has stayed with me and today I am very excited as we are doing exactly that.

Over the last month (yes that’s right, 1 month) we have developed an open, online event around the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games called GCU Games On. Let me be very clear, this is not a course and most definitely not a MOOC. Rather it is about bringing people together to in an open online event to celebrate, explore and share experiences during the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Many of our students and staff are (and have been) involved in various aspects of the development of the Games, and will be very active over the Games themselves. Instead of just creating something for our GCU community we thought why not open it out to anyone and everyone who is interested?

So we have developed a 3 week event, which will hopefully provide a fun way of bringing people together share their experiences during Glasgow 2014,  enable participants to experience a little bit of online learning. Each week we have a number of simple activities including a digital wishing trees. And because it was just too good an opportunity to miss we’re also doing the badge thang and giving people the opportunity to win bronze, silver and gold digital medals (aka badges).

In some ways we have broken every rule in the design book. We have developed (and are still developing) this in a very short timescale, at a time when most of our University colleagues with specialist knowledge have been on leave; we haven’t got a target learner in mind; we’re taking a very broad brush let’s just try and get some participation approach; we’re in the middle of our VLE upgrade; and oh yes, I forgot to mention we’re using Blackboard’s new open education platform which will be officially launched in on July 16th at BbWorld. It has quite possibly been the most exhilarating and scary thing that I and my colleagues Jim and Linda have ever done. But it has also been really good fun.

Until last week we really just thought it might be a proof of concept project which would have been really useful in itself. The colleagues we have been working with have reacted really positively and we couldn’t have got to this stage without them.  We’ve also had great support from Blackboard. We couldn’t even have thought about doing this without the knowledge that we had an open platform that we could use. Originally we were planning to use Course Sites.

In many ways this is an experiment for us. We aren’t ready to develop one of those “m” things. But this model of very agile, light touch activities, tapping into social media around a major event could possibly be more useful for us.  Our event starts next Wednesday, 16th July but you can enroll here from today.

As ever I will be sharing our experiences on the blog, but I would love it, dear reader, if you would sign up and join us for #GCUGamesOn too.

Here’s our teaser video (no Professor videos in our event!)

 

In a galaxy far, far, far away . . .

Do you ever get the feeling that you are living in a parallel universe? I do. Particularly this week when the “Major players in the MOOC Universe” infographic was published by The Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It was retweeted, google+’ed everywhere almost instantly. But this wasn’t a view of the MOOC universe I know of, there were quite a few bits missing. A bit like the “World Series” this was an almost completely U.S centric view. The big bang MOOC moment certainly didn’t happen slightly north of this universe.

Despite the efforts of informed commentators such as Audrey Watters, to correct the new revisionism of the history of MOOCs, the U.S centric vision seems to be winning out. Martin Weller’s response to Donald Clark’s take on MOOC developments eloquently states a number of my concerns about revisionism and the development of MOOCs and the so called MOOC wars.

But I can sort of see myself in this universe, all be it, in a very small dark corner. I can see, and know who the “big shiny lights” are in the centre, and dream of being part of the rebel alliance, and becoming an apprentice of Obi Weller Kenobi . . .

Yesterday though I felt almost like I had crossed into the 13th dimension. I entered a place where no-one had heard of MOOCs. Yes that’s right – they hadn’t heard of MOOCs. My colleague Lorna Campbell and I had been invited to the Scottish eLearning Alliance Local Authority SIG meeting to give an overview of our work. Lorna spoke about open educational resources, and as is my want of late, I did a bit about MOOCs. Unsurprisingly for increasingly cash strapped local authorities the free part of open was very attractive. Those in charge of developing and running training programmes are always looking for new ways to enhance their offerings. However as the discussion progressed it became clear that there is still one key missing ingredient that all the open content and courses in universe(s) don’t include, and that is time. You need time to engage with learning. Although online provision of education/resources has fundamentally changed access points, it hasn’t meant that we need less time to engage.

As you know dear reader, I have done my fair share of MOOCing over the past few months. It’s probably been the best (well actually it’s been the only) PDP I’ve done in my eight years with Cetis. But I am in an incredibly privileged position where I have been able to combine professional and personal development. I have been able to legitimately use some work time to contribute to a number of courses, and in turn in my own small way contribute to some of the wider discourse and dialogue. So although I was delighted to read that Coursera are now going to be providing course for K12 teachers, I couldn’t help but have a slight sinking feeling of this being staff development on the cheap. Will teachers be given some legitimate study time and recognition to take part or will it just be the really motivated ones (who probably aren’t the ones who really need this time of development) that will just “find the time” to take part? Will there be state wide flipped classrooms for teacher staff development ? Wouldn’t it be great if there was?

There’s also a huge assumption that everyone has the (digital) literacies needed to engage successfully with any kind of online learning. This was a key concern for some of the people at yesterday’s meeting. There’s a reason distance learning providers such as the OU have developed extensive study skills resources for their students. A MOOC on MOOCing isn’t daft idea, it just sounds slightly daft when you say it out loud.

Anyway I guess to end this slightly rambling post, that we need to remember that despite the hype in “our” universe(s), there’s a whole set of parallel universes that haven’t heard about MOOCs yet. They could very well benefit from MOOCs and from open education in general, but education is more than resources and courses. It’s about human interaction and time. In our rush to create new universes let’s not forget these universal principles and cherish the time that a University degree gives to students and indeed the time that any educational experience deserves.

Alone and together, thoughts on #edcmooc week 4

Week 4 of #edcmooc is drawing to a close and I find myself in a similar position to last week re articulation.  We are again grappling with what it means to be human but the readings and resources have pointed us in the direction of post humanism.  I think I may have made a small break through in that I have a suspicion that the course team are just teasing us and actually want us to sign up for the MSc so we have the space to reflect and write in proper “academese” about all of this 🙂

So I’m just going to pull out a few random thoughts which have been running around my head this week.  Post humanisim – my very basic response is “it’s all a bit scary” but I am as they say a bear with little brain.  Having had a few days to mull things over a bit, I’m not sure we can ever actually know what it is to be post human as we are always evolving.  What the course has illustrated of course is that now, more than any point in our history, technology is becoming closer to being an integral part of our human evolution. Science fiction is increasingly becoming science fact.  The launch of testing of google glasses with “ordinary” people this week highlighted how virtual/enhanced reality is another step closer to our everyday reality. We are increasingly creating, curating our digital trails. We are recording and sharing our activities (memories?) more than ever before. As an aside  I got access to my twitter archive this week and spent a half hour or so laughing at my first tweets from 2007. My 2013 self was slightly distrubed by the “open-ness” of my 2007 self. Back then I only thought I was “tweeting” to four or so others. But back to #edcmooc.

True Skin one of the recommeded videos for this week illustrated potential of technology to track, share, destroy and rebuild. Going back to science fiction/fact, it, and the other recommended videos, highlighted how visual effects technology is allowing us to depict increasingly realistic future scenarios.  True Skin is a world where you can pay to store  your memories and then download them into a new body when your (often technology enhanced) body has worn out. A sort of techo enabled re-incarnation, except you don’t have the random element of maybe coming back as a tree.

Thinking of reincarnation got me thinking about religion and wider (non digital) culture.  I have a nagging worry that the resources in this course have been very western (and in particular North American centric). Is this really where the next evolution of humanity will be driven from?  Are we just consuming a homogenised version of our potential cultural evolutionary path? What about views from the BRIC countries? I can’t make an informed comment because I honestly don’t know. Could our western dystopian fears be reduced by some input from other cultures with different views on what it means to be human, the role of reincarnation, views of the soul etc? 

One of the other recommended readings this week was an well known article from 20008 by Nicolas Carr called “Is google making us stupid?”  

In the article he laments the loss of his own and others concentration to read for prolonged periods of time. We are all so used to hyperlinks and multi-tasking and bite sized consumption. It’s a view which still worries many, particularly those involved in education.  I freely admit that I am becoming increasingly adept at skimming and scanning, and quite often don’t read things ‘properly’. But I do love the fact that I am able to read reports, books etc on my ipad and don’t have to damage my shoulder even more by carring heavy books/reports around.  Conversely I relish reading “real books’ now and do make a conscious effort to take time away from the screen to do that.

Checking up on what Nicolas is writing about just now it is quite intersting that his latest blog post is about how students actually prefer real books to e-text books.  We like the convenience of ebooks/readers which techology has brought us, but we still like good old bounded paper.  

As I was reading this and thinking about increased connectivity, switching off etc I was reminded of Shelly Turkle’s Alone Together Ted Talk where she highlights the paradox of our “culture of distraction” and how being increasingly connected with the ability to “mult-life” gives us the “illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”

The alone together concept is particularly relevant for MOOCs.  As a student, you are (in the the #edcmooc instance ) with over 40,000 others, sharing, debating, tweeting, facebook-ing, google+-ing, google-hangout-ing, (or to use the proper terminology, students are increasingly becoming transliterate). Despite the frenzy of activity there are, imho, only a few real touch points of engagement. I would argue that this is a good thing.  

Despite the normal drop off in activity after the first week, there are still over 7,000 people contributing. I’ve been quite up-front in a number of posts about various MOOCs I’ve been involved in about being, to put it bluntly selfish, about  my input.  I can’t work on a 1:7,000 ratio, so I engage as and when it suits me.  I have made some really useful new connections and strengthed some exisiting ones.  I work within my digital literacy comfort zones in a way that suits me. I can wander away from the set curriculum and work within my context. I don’t really like online forums, so I don’t use them. I have made a couple of posts to #edcmooc but I find them a bit scary and potentially confrontational. I’m probably missing out on some great stuff – but I am comfortably with that.

I like to think that what MOOCs have actually done is allowed me the space to be alone AND together with my fellow students. Just now in my personal evolution, that’s a place I’m very happy to be in.
  

#edcmooc week 3 – computer says no

It’s been a very reflective week for me in #edcmooc as we move to the “being human” element of the course. In week three we’re being specifically asked:

“what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?”

and more specifically:

“Who or what, in your view, will define what it means to be human in the future? Who or what defines it now? These are crucial questions for those of us engaged in education in all its forms, because how we define ‘desirable humanity’ will inform at the deepest level our understanding of how and why education might be conducted and why it matters. Paying attention to online education foregrounds these issues in a new way, helping us look at them afresh.”

Fantastically chin stroking stuff 🙂 As usual there are a good range of readings and videos. David Hopkins has written an excellent critique.

I’ve had quite a surprisingly emotional response to all of this and I’ve been finding it difficult to articulate my thoughts. Maybe it’s because the resources and questions are making me question my own humanity. As educational technology is central to my job and takes up a huge amount of my life, and I am a fairly optimistic wee soul perhaps what’s been nagging away at me is a fear that I am contributing, without thinking of the consequences, towards a horribly dystopian future where we those that can afford it are bio-engineered up to the max, controlled by technology which allows us to think humans are still in control whilst it plots humanity’s demise.

On the other hand, my other reaction is that this is all a load of academic nonsense, which allows people to have never ending circular discussions; whilst in the ‘real world’ the rest of humanity just get on with it. We’re all going to die anyway and our species is just a blip in the history of our planet. For some reason this phrase from Little Britain keeps running through my head, it seems to sum up the wonderful way that humans can subvert technology.

As I’ve been reflecting on my experiences with technology in an educational context. I have to say that overall it has been the human element which has, and continues to be, the most rewarding and most innovative. I’ve seen online education offer alternative access to education at all levels from the most under-privileged to the most privileged. Technology has allowed me to connect with a range of wonderfully intelligent people in ways I would never imagined even less than 10 years ago. It has in many ways strengthened my sense of being human, which I think is fundamentally about communication. I still get very frustrated that there isn’t equal investment in human development every time a new system/technology is bought by a school/college/university, but I’m heartened by the fact that almost every project I know of emphasises the need for time to develop human relationships for technology to be a success and bring about change.

Learning from our MOOC-stakes and sharing learning designs

It had to happen at some time, and not sure if it was karmic retribution or chaos theory, or plain old sod’s law that this week the first high profile MOOC collapse occurred with the pulling of Georgia Tech’s Fundamentals of Online EducationCoursera MOOC.

As many have already commented the route of the problem was the actual course design and implementation. From what I have seen on the twitter and blog-o-spheres, some very fundamental issues such as trying to promote group work without a clear reason as to why it was necessary coupled with technical problems with the chosen technology to facilitate the work general lack of guidance and support, all ask question of the underlying course design and quality assurance processes of (in this instance) Coursera MOOCs. But there are more fundamental questions to be asked about the actual design processes used by the staff involved.

As readers of this blog will know, I’m documenting my own “adventures in mooc-land” at the moment, and I’m in week 4 of #oldsmooc, which is all about learning design. This week is very much focused on the practicalities and planning stages of a design – be that a whole course or an individual activity. The week is led by Professor Diana Laurillard and Dr Nial Winters of the London Knowledge Lab with Dr and Steve Warburton from the University of London.

The week started with a webinar where Diana introduced the PPC (Pedagogical Patterns Collector). Designing for MOOCs were inevitably part of the discussion, and Diana raised some very pertinent points about the feasibility of MOOCS.

which led to these questions

Well it would seem that the design used by the Georgia tech course is one that shouldn’t be shared – or is that case? Elements of what they were suggested can (and have worked even in MOOCs). So can we actually turn this round and use this in a positive way?

I always get a slightly uneasy feeling when people talk about quality of learning materials, as I’m not convinced there are universal quality controls. What on the surface can look like a badly, designed artefact, can actually be used as part of a very successful (and high quality) learning experience -even if only to show people what not to do. Perhaps this is what Coursera need to do now is turn this thing around and be open so the whole community can learn from this experience. Already many, many experienced teachers have shared their views on what they would have done differently. How about using a tool like the PPC to share the original design and then let others re-design and share it? As George Siemens said so eloquently

“the gift of our participation is a valuable as the gift of an open course.”

The community can help you Coursera if you let it.

Analytics and #moocmooc

This is my final post on my experiences of the #moocmooc course that ran last week, and I want to share a few of my reflections on the role of analytics (and in this case learning analytics), primarily from my experiences as a learner on the course. I should point out that I have no idea about the role of analytics from the course teams point of view, but I am presuming that they have the baseline basics of enrollment numbers and login stats from the Canvas LMS. But in this instance there were no obvious learner analytics available from the system. So, as a learner, in such an open course where you interact in a number of online spaces, how do you get a sense of your own engagement and participation?

There are some obvious measures, like monitoring your own contributions to discussion forums. But to be honest do we really have the time to do that? I for one am quite good at ignoring any little nagging voices saying in my head saying “you haven’t posted to the discussion forum today” 🙂 A little automation would probably go a long way there. However, a lot of actual course activity didn’t take place within the “formal” learning environment, instead it happened in other spaces such as twitter, storify, google docs, YouTube, blogs etc. Apart from being constantly online, my phone bleeping every now again notifying me of retweets, how did I know what was happening and how did that help with engagement and motivation?

I am fortunate, mainly due to my colleague Martin Hawskey that I have a few analytics tricks that I was able to utilise which gave me a bit of an insight into my, and the whole class activity.

One of Martins’ most useful items in his bag of tricks is his hashtag twitter archive. By using his template, you can create an archive in google docs which stores tweets and through a bit of social network analysis magic also gives an overview of activity – top tweeters, time analysis etc. It’s hard to get the whole sheet into a screen grab hopefully the one below gives you and idea. Follow the link and click on the “dashboard” tab to see more details.

Dashboard from #moocmooc twitter archive

From this archive you can also use another one of Martin’s templates to create a vizualisation of the interactions of this #hashtag network.

Which always looks impressive, and does give you a sense of the “massive” part of a MOOC, but it is quite hard to actually make real any sense of;-)

However Martin is not one to rest on his SNA/data science laurels and his latest addition, a searchable twitter archive, I feel was much more useful from a learner’s (and actually instructors) perspective.

Again it has time/level of tweets information, this time clearly presented at the top of the sheet. You can search by key word and/or twitter handle. A really useful way to find those tweets you forgot to favourite! Again here is a screenshot just as a taster, but try it out to get the full sense of it.

#moocmooc searchable twitter arcive

#moocmooc searchable twitter arcive

Also from an instructor/course design point of view you, from both of these templates you can see time patterns emerging which could be very useful for a number of reasons – not least managing your own time and knowing when to interact to connect with the most number of learners.

Another related point about timing relates to the use of free services such as storify. Despite us all being “self directed, and motivated” it’s highly likely that if an assignment is due in at 6pm – then at 5.50 the service is going to be pretty overloaded. Now this might not be a problem, but it could be and so it worth bearing in mind when designing courses and suggesting submission times and guidance for students.

I also made a concerted effort to blog each day about my experiences, and once I was able to use another one of Martin’s templates – social sharing, to track the sharing of my blogs on various sites. I don’t have a huge blog readership but I was pleased to see that I was getting a few more people reading my posts. But what was really encouraging (as any blogger knows) was the fact that I was getting comments. I know I don’t need any software to let me know that, and in terms of engagement and participation, getting comments is really motivating. What is nice about this template is that it stores the comments and the number other shares (and where they are), allowing you get more of an idea of where and how your community are sharing resources. I could see my new #moocmooc community were engaging with my engagement – warm, cosy feelings all round!

So through some easy to set up and share templates I’ve been able to get a bit more of an insight into my activity, engagement and participation. MOOCs can be overwhelming, chaotic, disconcerting, and give learners many anxieties about being unconnected in the vast swirl of connectedness. A few analtyics can help ease some of these anxieties, or at least give another set of tools to help make sense, catch up, reflect on what is happening.

For more thoughts on my experiences of the week you can read my other posts.

*Day 1 To MOOC or not to MOOC?
*Day 2 Places where learning takes place
*Day 3 Massive Participation but no-one to talk to
*Day 4 Moocmooc day 4
*Day 5 Designing a MOOC – moocmooc day 5

Dev8ed – building, sharing and learning cool stuff in education

Dev8eD is a new event for developers, educational technologists and users working throughout education on the development of tools, widgets, apps and resources aimed at staff in education and enhancing the student learning experience, taking place in Birmingham on 29 – 30 May.

The event will will include training sessions led by experts, lightning presentations and developer challenges.

Confirmed sessions include:
*Understanding and implementing the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability specification
*Exploring and sharing tool for learning design through a number of design challenges
*Widget store: Sharing widgets and tools to help you design, build and publish your own widgets
*Mashing coursedata xcri -cap feeds
*Node js
*Human Computation related to teaching and learning

All participants will be able to share their own examples, expertise and opinions via lightning sessions, workshops and informal networking opportunities. So, if you have an idea or something you’d like to share, then sign up!

The event (including overnight accommodation) is free to all participants and is being organised by DevCSI and supported by the JISC e-learning, course information, open educational resources programmes and CETIS.

We hope to see many of you in Birmingham in May.