(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.

Enhancing and creating student centred portfolios in VLEs webinar

This week has been designated “activity week” for this year’s JISC Innovating E-learning conference. There are a number of pre conference online activities taking place. I’m delighted to be chairing the “enhancing and creating student centred portfolios in VLEs” webinar, this Friday (18th November at 11am).

The session will demonstrate a number of portfolio centric integrations and widgets being developed as part of the current JISC DVLE Programme from the DOULS, DEVLOP and ceLTIc projects. Below is a short summary of each of the presentations.

DOULS
Portfolio redevelopment at the Open University has focussed on incorporating some of the enhanced functionality available within Google, e.g., a document repository, facilities for sharing, collaboration and reflection. The DOULS project (Distributed Open University Learning Systems) has been tasked with delivering integration between the Moodle learning environment and Google. The presentation by the Open University will focus on these integrations and what it means for the student experience.

DEVELOP
Part of the University of Reading’s DEVELOP Project has been to look at e-portfolio provision and use, and to develop three widgets to assist staff and students in the creation and maintenance of e-portfolios. The University uses Blackboard as its VLE and widgets have been designed using HTML/JavaScript to interact, in pilot studies, with Blackboard’s very basic e-portfolio tool. One widget, now fully developed for Blackboard, enables students to build a portfolio with all the pages as specified by their tutors/lecturers. This widget also guides the user through the various steps needed to share and maintain their portfolio. A feedback widget is at this moment being developed to allow tutors to provide feedback on specific parts of the students’ portfolios while an export widget is planned to allow students to download their portfolio in a standards-compliant form.

ceLTIc
Stephen Vickers from the ceLTIc project will demonstrate how the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) specification can offer a simple and effective mechanism for integrating learning tools with a VLE. The session will also illustrate how LTI can enable learners from Moodle and Learn 9 to collaborate together in a shared space within an external tool such as WebPA or Elgg.

Information on registration and how to access the webinar can be found at the conference website, and remember to follow @jiscel11 and the #jiscel11 hashtag on twitter for updates.

A recording of the session is available by following this link.

Crowd sourced open source alternatives to SPSS

This morning I was having a PROD call with Peter Kilcoyne from the WORDLE project (part of the current JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme). One area that came up during our discussion was open source alternatives to SPSS for data analysis of their baselining interviews with staff and students.

Peter and his team have done a bit of research and have been looking at SOFA, and some other other possibilities. Statistical analysis is not one an area I know that much about, but I know a lot of people who do have expertise, so I decided to take the tried and tested “lazy web” approach to see if there were any other recommendations from my twitter community. And once again the power of the crowd came through. I even got some email with more detailed information and suggestions of labs I could use in my university.

Below are the collated responses to my initial tweet. R was the most popular choice by far, but if you know of any other alternatives, then please let me know.

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Exploring learning in transition, latest JISC Radio Show

In the run up to this years JISC online conference, a selection of the key note speakers have contributed to the latest JISC radio show, JISC Online Conference explores learning in transition. As well as giving some insights into their views on some of the key topics the conference, during the show keynotes also share some of their experiences of being a participant in an online conference.

Touching on topics from open education and the use and development of OERs to curriculum design to increasing learner engagement, the podcast gives a tantalising taster of some of the issues these keynote speakers will be raising. For example, Ewan MacIntosh poses the challenge to universities and colleges of providing learning maps, compasses or ulitmately GPSs for students for their learning journeys, whilst Mike Sharples highlights the importance of the “co-evolution of learning and technology” to create truly engaging and effective learning experiences. All in all a great way to warm up and get thinking about the discussions and debates which will take place during the conference week.

The podcast (and transcript) is available from the JISC website, and it’s not too late to register for the conference itself, more information is again available from the JISC website. If you’re still in two minds about participating in an online conference, there’s also a nice little video from past participants sharing their experiences at the bottom of the main conference page.