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.
  

To MOOC or not to MOOC?

Is the one of the underlying questions of the week long MOOC being run this week by Hybrid Pedagogy. Like many others working education I am interested in MOOCs, and there has been a flurry of activity over recent months with a number of big guns joining, or perhaps taking over, the party.

The #moocmooc course is running over a week, and today’s themes centre around “What are MOOCs? What do we think they are? What do we fear they may be? What potential lies under their surface?”. There’s a group task to complete – a 1,000 word essay on “What is a MOOC? What does it do, and what does it not do?”, and a twitter conversation tonight to share experiences.

However, I think that these questions need to be underpinned by a couple of “whys”? Why are you interested in MOOCs? Why are you thinking about taking the MOOC route? Sian Bayne and her colleagues in the MSc E-Learning course at the University Edinburgh have done exactly this in their recent ALT Article “MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera“.

And by way of not answering the assignment question, I’m trying to reflect on my experiences of MOOCs to date. So far it looks like the majority of participants seem to be from North America, although there are a few UK faces in there too. I’m particularly interested seeing if there are any major differences in implementation/drivers between North America and the UK. Not everyone is going to be able to go down a full blown MOOC route, but what are the key elements that are really practical for the majority of institutions? The open-ness, experimenting and extending notions of connected learning? Potential to get big enrollment numbers? It’s probably far too early to tell, and as most of the participants probably fall into the early adopters category their motivations may not reflect general practice or readiness.

Although I have a professional interest in MOOCs, it’s probably their potential for me as a learner that really excites me. I’m not particularly motivated to do any more “formal” education – for a number of reasons, but time is probably the main one. I’m also very fortunate to have a job where I really do learn something new everyday, and I feel that my peers do keep my brain more than stimulated.

Being able to participate in open courses around topics that interest me, without financial risk to me personally or my employer (which adds pressure for me) is very appealing. I’ve tried MOOCs before (LAK11) which I enjoyed – particularly the synchronous elements such as the live presentations and chat. But if I’m being honest, I didn’t spend as much time on the course as I probably should have. On the plus side, I did get a feel for being a student on a MOOC and some useful insights to learning analytics.

Although I probably tick the right boxes to be a self motivated, engaged and directed learner, sometimes life just gets in the way and it turns out that I’m a bit rubbish at maintaining engagement, direction and motivation. But that hasn’t put me off MOOCs. Like tens of thousands of others I signed up for the Stanford NPL course, and very quickly realised that I was being a tad optimistic about my coding capabilities and that I just didn’t have the time I would need to get anything out of the course, so like tens of thousands of others I silently dropped out. I did think the traditional design of that course worked well for that subject matter.

But #moocmooc is only a week, no programme required, and also a week in August when things at work are a bit quieter than normal. Surely despite the twitter conversations talking place from 11pm my time I’ll be able to cope with that? Well we’ll see. Already it has got me thinking, given me the opportunity to try the Canvas VLE and back into blogging after a brief holiday lull.

*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
* Analytics and #moocmooc

Learning Analytics, where do you stand?

For? Against? Not bovvered? Don’t understand the question?

The term learning analytics is certainly trending in all the right ways on all the horizons scans. As with many “new” terms there are still some mis-conceptions about what it actually is or perhaps more accurately what it actually encompasses. For example, whilst talking with colleagues from the SURF Foundation earlier this week, they mentioned the “issues around using data to improve student retention” session at the CETIS conference. SURF have just funded a learning analytics programme of work which closely matches many of the examples and issues shared and discussed there. They were quite surprised that the session hadn’t be called “learning analytics”. Student retention is indeed a part of learning analytics, but not the only part.

However, back to my original question and the prompt for it. I’ve just caught up with the presentation Gardner Campbell gave to the LAK12 MOOC last week titled “Here I Stand” in which he presents a very compelling argument against some of the trends which are beginning to emerge in field of learning analytics.

Gardner is concerned that there is a danger of that the more reductive models of analytics may actually force us backwards in our models of teaching and learning. Drawing an analogy between M theory – in particular Stephen Hawkins description of there being not being one M theory but a “family of theories” – and how knowledge and learning actually occur. He is concerned that current learning analytics systems are based too much on “the math” and don’t actually show the human side of learning and the bigger picture of human interaction and knowledge transfer. As he pointed out “student success is not the same as success as a student”.

Some of the rubrics we might be tempted to use to (and in cases already are) build learning analytics systems reduce the educational experience to a simplistic management model. Typically systems are looking for signs pointing to failure, and not for the key moments of success in learning. What we should be working towards are system(s) that are adaptive, allow for reflection and can learn themselves.

This did make me think of the presentation at FOFE11 from IBM about their learning analytics system, which certainly scared the life out of me and many other’s I’ve spoken too. It also raised a lot of questions from the audience (and the twitter backchannel) about the educational value of the experience of failure. At the same time I was reflecting on the whole terminology issue again. Common understandings – why are they so difficult in education? When learning design was the “in thing”, I think it was John Casey who pointed out that what we were actually talking about most of the time was actually “teaching design”. Are we in danger of the same thing happening to the learning side of learning analytics being hi-jacked by narrower, or perhaps to be fairer, more tightly defined management and accountability driven analytics ?

To try and mitigate this we need to ensure that all key stakeholders are starting to ask (and answering) the questions Gardner raised in his presentation. What are the really useful “analytics” which can help me as a learner, teacher, administrator, etc? Which systems provide that data just now ? How can/do these stakeholders access and share the data in meaningful ways? How can we improve and build on these systems in ways which take into account the complexity of learning? Or as Gardner said, how can we start framing systems and questions around wisdom? But before we can do any of that we need to make sure that our stakeholders are informed enough to take a stand, and not just have to accept whatever system they are given.

At CETIS we are about to embark on an analytics landscape study, which we are calling an Analytics Reconnoitre. We are going to look at the field of learning analytics from a holistic perspective, review recent work and (hopefully) produce some pragmatic briefings on the who, where, why, what and when’s of learning analytics and point to useful resources and real world examples. This will build and complement work already funded by JISC such as the Relationship Management Programme, the Business Intelligence Infokit and the Activity Data Programme synthesis. We’ll also be looking to emerging communities of practice, both here in the UK and internationally to join up on thinking and future developments. Hopefully this work will contribute to the growing body of knowledge and experience in the field of learning analytics and well as raising some key questions (and hopefully some answers) around around its many facets.

(Open) Educational practice and (digital) literacy

I’ve been dipping in and out of the JISC online conference this week. As usual, there has been a great mix of live presentations and asynchronous discussion. Two themes have risen to the top of my mind, (open) educational practice and (digital) literacy. I also recently attended the Mainstreaming Open Educational Practices Forum co-hosted by the OPAL and Concede projects and UNESCO. So this post is a sort of summary of my reaction and reflections to issues raised during both these events. Apologies, this maybe a bit of rambling rant!

When working in any new or niche area, terminology and or jargon is always an issue. I’ve always disliked the term “e-learning”, and prefer to talk about “learning”. However I do realise that there are valid reasons for using the term, not least political ones. During both events, the disconnect between practitioners knowledge and understanding of both OER and Open Practice was “openly” recognised ad and discussed. Both terms have meaning in the research world, and in funded projects (such as UKOER, OPAL etc) but for the average teacher in FE/HE they’re pretty meaningless. So, how do we move into mainstream practice? Answers on a postcard, or tweet please 🙂 The work being done by the UK OER synthesis team on Open Practice is one way of trying to address some of these issues, and sharing experiences of developing practice and use of open, or indeed any, content in teaching and learning.

I was somewhat surprised at the UNESCO event that an assertion was made that open educational practice is mainstream, and I was equally reassured via my twitter network that it isn’t. Marion Manton made a really good point “I think it is like the OER use, aspects have always happened but not necessarily called OEP”. This distinction obvious and is crucial as it’s often forgotten. I think we in the educational research and development field too often alienate ourselves from reality by our insistence on using unfamiliar acronyms, jargon etc, and looking at small parts of the picture. Instead of focusing on “open” educational practice, why aren’t we looking at general “educational” practice? “Again, I know there are reasons for doing this, and there a lots of people (and projects) doing excellent staff development work to try and close the gaps. But I keep coming back to questions around why we continue to need to have these false constructs to allow us to get funding to investigate teaching and learning practice.

During the discussion session on digital literacies at the online conference, the notion of empowerment was raised. Increased digital literacy skills were recognised as a key tool to empower staff and students (and indeed everyone in our society). At the open education practice session this morning, the notion of OER literacy was raised. Now this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this and I have to say I kind of feel the same about OER literacy as I do about e-learning. I see the literacies needed for using/creating/sharing OERs as being part of a wider set of digital literacies, which have much wider application and longevity.

Learning objects also came up during today’s discussion, in the context of “does anyone use the term anymore ?” Now, I’m not going to open up that particular can of worms here, but actually the fundamental issues of sharing and re-use haven’t changed since the those heady days. I think the work done by the open community not only has made great developments around licencing materials but has allowed us to look again at the core sharing/reuse issues and, more importantly engage (and re-engage) with these more challenging issues of educational practice.

On reflection, I think my attitudes and leanings towards the wider, general use of terms such as practice and literacy, are really down to my own development and practice. I am an unashamed generalist, and not an academic specialist. When I actually created educational content it was always openly (in one form or another) available. When I’ve been involved in staff development it has always been centred around sharing and (hopefully) improving practice and enabling teachers to use technology more effectively. And I hope that through my blogging and twittering I am continuing to develop my open practice. I do feel though that right now it would be timely to step back and take a look a the bigger picture of educational practice and literacies, not least so we can truly engage with the people we ultimately want to benefit from all this work.

Sustaining and Embedding Change: Curriculum Design Programme meeting overview

The penultimate Curriculum Design Programme meeting took place earlier this week in Nottingham. Three and a half years into the funding cycle, the meeting focused on life after programme. What are the most effective ways to share, embed, build on the changes instigated by projects within and across institutions?

I’ll be writing a more reflective post over the coming days but here is a summary of the two days, based on the #jisccdd twitter stream.

[View the story “Sustaining and embedding changes to curriculum design practices and processes” on Storify]

The future of technology in education (FOTE11)

What is the the future of technology in education? This is the premise for the FOTE conference which was held on 7 October at UCL.  And the answer is . . . . 42, a piece of string? Well of course there isn’t a single one, and I don’t think there should be one definitive answer either, but parts of the complex jigsaw puzzle were highlighted over the day.

A few suggestions which were aired during the morning morning sessions included: it’s the standards and EA approaches on the latest Gartner education hype cycle; it’s “cool stuff” combining the physical and digital world to create engaging, memorable experiences (as exemplified by Bristol Uni); it’s predictive analytics; it’s flipped and naked; it’s games; it’s data objects; it’s the user – v – we don’t know as we haven’t figured out the purpose of education yet; it’s about better communication between IT departments and students. It’s about providing ubiquitous, reliable wifi access on campus and plenty of power sockets.

It’s probably a combination of all of these and more. But if we in education are to truly reap the benefits of the affordances of technology then we also need to be ensuring our culture is developing in parallel. As James Clay pointed out, people inherently don’t like change and this can be exacerbated in educational contexts. Why change when we’ve “always done it this way” or “it works, why change it?”. Students are powerful change agents – but only if our institutional processes allow them to be. Although there was knowing laughter around the room when he pointed out that “students are dangerous”, there was a serious underlying message. We need to be working more effectively with students to really uncover their needs for technology, and have meaningful interactions so that those in charge can make the most effective decisions about the services/hardware and software institutions provide. James rightly pointed out that we need to be asking students “what do you want to do” not “what do you want”.

There was also a lot of discussion over the day about students and “BYOD” (bring your own device). I think there is a general assumption now that students going to University will have a laptop and least one other mobile internet enable device (probably a phone). Which raises the question of institutional provision. During the day, I have to say I did feel that this panel session didn’t work that well, however it is actually the session/topic that I have spent most time thinking about since Friday.

On several occasions the student reps (and others) brought up the fact that often students don’t actually know if/where and when they can use their own devices in H/FE. Given the fact that in school all hardware is provided and personal devices are openly discouraged, this uncertainty isn’t that surprising, but I was glad to be reminded of it. Again this relates to the importance of recognising and allowing for cultural change and the importance of communication. Is it made clear to students when, where and how they can use their own devices (mobile, laptop and/or tablet)? How easy is it for students to find out about logging in to institutional services such as email, printers etc? How safe is it to carry your laptop/ipad to Uni? Do staff encourage or discourage use of personal devices in their classes? I’m sure that even amongst the technology savvy audience on Friday there were a few people wishing others weren’t constantly staring at their phones, laptops and predictably ipads and were listening to what the speakers were saying 🙂 After spending Tuesday at the Developing Digital Literacies Programme start up meeting, the issue of digital literacies is also key to the future technology in education.

All in all I found the day very engaging and thought provoking and the organisers should be congratulated for bringing together such a diverse range of speakers. I wonder what the future will look like this time next year?