More steps towards wysiwyg widget authoring

One of the problems with being part of an innovation centre like CETIS is that we suffer a bit from the Dory complex. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, it is based on the character Dory in the movie Finding Nemo who is rather easily distracted by new things. Sometimes we find that “stuff” drops off our radar as we have moved on to the next shiny thing. So it is always great when we get a chance to be involved in development for a sustained period of time. An example of this for me is the WIDGaT widget authoring tool and its development team at the University of Teesside.

The WIDE project was part of the Jisc DVLE programme which I supported, and developed a number of fully accessible widgets. The team then got further funding and were able to develop their methodology and practice into an authoring tool for widgets.

Earlier this week I joined the team and about 25 others for a “WIDGaT in Practice” workshop. We had a chance to see some examples of widget from both the HE and FE sectors and were able to get hands on and create our own widgets. Having taken part in their design bash day about 18months ago to help the team scope the design for the authoring tool, it was great to see and have a play with a useable tool which pretty much covered all the design elements the “expert” group came up with.

There are a number of pre-built templates to chose from or you can start with a blank canvas. One of the common designs for widgets from practitioners has time/task management widgets to help students be more independent in their studies/life. We were shown a number of examples including a really nice simple visual reminder of key steps for each day for a student with autism and another with key stages for final year projects. The editor also includes a number of components such as embedding youtube videos and images, and social network components such as Facebook likes and comments. Examples of using these features included a widget which embedded a number of videos with a Facebook comment link so that students could share comments on content directly into their course Facebook group. There is also a simple quiz component which is proving also proving popular.

WIDGaT authoring stage

WIDGaT authoring stage

The interface is pretty straightforward but I did find manipulation things a bit tricky and the team are working at improving layout options. However as a quick and easy way to develop and share resources online it does have a lot going for it. It also has a lot of design support functionality built in to help users think about what they are creating and who they are creating it for.

WIDGaT Personna description function

WIDGaT Personna description function

At #cetis13 next month the team are also running a workshop at the end of day 1 where they will be actively looking for new components to add to the tool as well as any other ideas for enhancements. As the tool is open source, it is a great example for the Open Innovation and Open Development session on day 2 .

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.

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.

Utopia, dystopia, technology, education and MOOCs

Stage two of my “adventures in MOOC-land” started this week as the e-Learning and Digital Cultures course started this week. I have signed up for Coursera courses before but for various reasons, I haven’t got very far. However I have a lot more motivation for sticking with this course. For the past couple of years I have toyed with applying for the Masters in Digital Education at Edinburgh so this seems like a good way to get a taster for that course, and also a change to “compare and contrast” what is now being referred to by the Mooc-gnoscenti as a “x-MOOC” (the US big ones!), and the #oldsmooc which is more in the “c-MOOC”(connected/community) or even the p-mooc (project) camp.

Despite the massive number of participants, I’ve actually found #edcmooc a relative oasis of calm and tranquility. Mind you I haven’t explored far in the google and facebook groups/forums. Certainly the design of the course is much more traditional and individually focussed than #oldsmooc. The main content (so far videos and suggested texts which I’ve started to curate here is in the Coursera VLE. There are the usual additional online spaces of a wiki, twitter, Facebook and google groups. #edcmooc is also running alongside the Msc module and the staff are very upfront about their involvement in the MOOC:

“We will be commenting on course organisational issues, and other matters which get voted up in the forums. We won’t be present everywhere, rather we perceive the various discussion spaces as opportunities for you to explore ideas and share interests with each other.”

So unlike #oldsmooc, with that upfront statement some of my strategies for successful MOOC-ing might not work :-)

The final assessment is the creation of a digital artefact which will be peer assessed. Contributing to online discussions is encouraged but not mandatory. There has been a huge amount of blogging activity already and in terms of openness it is great to see that the collated #edcmooc tagged blogs are openly available.

The first block of the course centres on utopian and dystopian perspectives of digital culture and digital education and how these views impact our own practices as learners, students and teachers. Week one has looked to the past in terms of highlighting both sides of the fence. Currently MOOCs themselves are one of the best examples I can think of in relation to utopian and dystopian visions for education and technology.

I’ve collated some of the responses to this tweet in this storify.

Every week in the mainstream, technology and education press there is at least one post claiming that the education system is broken and more often than not MOOCs are being heralded as the “thing” to save the system. Particularly as Coursera, Udacity etc have been able to raise vast sums of capital, and enroll hundreds and thousands of students, which can only be a good thing, right? Looking to the past isn’t this massive engagement (on a global scale) what we need to do to address the education imbalance?

“The major problem in education today is that hundreds of millions of the world’s citizens do not receive it” (Daniel, 2002)

But are MOOCs really a stable and sustainable way of addressing this? There are are various flavours of “openness” in MOOCs. Increasingly as the business side of thing kicks in and investors want to see ROI charges are being brought in for the bit that really counts – assessment. Will as many people who signed up for the courses this year be able and willing to pay in subsequent years? If they don’t what then? I have yet to see any MOOC business model that isn’t predicated on paying for assessment – so where’s the change to the system there? When can/ will MOOCs break even?

In the UK we are still waiting to see exactly what FutureLearn (the OU UK driven MOOC platform) will offer. I’ve seen mentions of it “exciting” “learner focused” etc, but what will that look like? Do we really need another “platform” ? What will distinguish it from other VLEs? I can’t really see why any university needs to sign up to a mooc platform – they already have what they need in their VLE, and other technologies that are out there. Perhaps it more a case of having to be seen to be “playing the game” or being “in with the in-crowd”. Past experience should tell us that isn’t always the best place to be. Tony Hirst wrote a really insightful post on the possible development opportunities for FutureLearn early this week, and I noticed another one last night which brings in some more thinking and links to other possible models. I suspect tho’ the real reason is the dystopian vendor/commercial lock down one. Recognise this?

. . .the lines have already been drawn in the struggle which will ultimately determine its shape. On the one side university administrators and their myriad commercial partners, on the other those who constitute the core relation of education: students and teachers. . . It is no accident, then, that the high–tech transformation of higher education is being initiated and implemented from the top down. (Noble, 1998)

It’s actually about the early days of WebCT but could quit equally be used in the MOOC context. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

I can’t help feeling that the utopian ideals of MOOCs (open, massive, connected, community based) are getting squished by the venture capitalists, the existing ‘systems’ who are just going to repackage what we’ve already got in a slightly different way but if they keep telling us the system is broken we’ll have no option but to buy into their (dystopian) solution, which still equates “quality” with payment.

There’s already been some backlash to the peer assessment being used in some MOOCs. Is there an implicit encouragement of gaming the system ben encouraged in #edcmooc when were told we don’t have to contribute to discussion etc by online activity might help when it comes to the final assessment? The more you engage the more like it is that someone will review your assessment? So are the models being used really scale up to and incorporate some of the more visionary thinking around peer assessment? Some of the new “platforms” are turning to analytics for “excitement” and “insight”, but based on what, the data that is easiest to display – which is usually assessment data. I have a sneaky suspicion that will be monetized sooner rather than later. The more you want to know about your interactions, the more you’ll have to pay for those little nuggets of insight into your own behaviour.

And are the big MOOCs (like #edcmooc) really reaching out to a substantially different student cohort? I’ve already commented about digital literacy (proficiency in English) and overall confidence a learner needs gain meaningful inter-actions in a massive context. Every time I log into Coursera I’m reminded of my foolishness of thinking that I could cope with their natural language processing course. Of course, there was no cost – so not a lot of loss for me in that case. Most of the MOOCs I know about are aimed at pretty well educated people – not the really dis-engaged or disadvantaged and the ones who don’t just need a “nice video” but some real face to face support. Open content initiatives such as OpenLearn can (and are) helping to do that. But MOOCs not so much – yes there are some examples of “flipped classrooms” but most in HE are again with the students who are getting the grades, not the ones struggling to get into college. Wouldn’t it be nice if more of venture capitalist and Universities spent even a third of what they do on “systems” on staff development and enhancing face to face teaching? As John Daniels points out effective education combines people and technology.

Right now as a learner what I really want is a space (not a system) where I can create, connect and share my learning and activities. That’s why I have been really excited by the potential of representation of networked views of Cloudworks. The visualisations created by Tony give me hope that there is hope and that change can be driven from the educator/leaner point of view and not the vendor. My dreams of utopia are still alive.

References:
Daniel, J. (2002). Technology is the Answer: What was the Question? Speech from Higher Education in the Middle East and North Africa, Paris, Institut du Monde Arabe, 27-29 May 2002.

Noble. D. (1998). Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education. First Monday 3/1.

#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.

When learning means teaching, and learner means teacher – thoughts on #learnersrights

Like many others I was introduced to A Bill of Rights for Learners in a Digital Age” yesterday. And like a few others was slightly confused by it. I think there is maybe a slight tendency for us the UK to be slightly skeptical of anything claiming to be a “bill of rights”. It’s a bit too American, too explicit for those of us used to having an unwritten constitution underpinning our version of democracy. 

After reading the document, lots of questions ran through my head: what can a learner do with this constitution? how does it protect their rights? who/how/what/why signs up for it? Which brought me to thinking is this really for learners? Or is it actually for teachers/ educational institutions/governments in terms of giving them a framework for providing the “right” context for learning to take place? Is this actually a teachers/teaching bill of rights?  

Perhaps because I’m taking part in #oldsmooc which is about learning design, the subtleties of distinctions between learning and teaching are higher than normal on my agenda. As it has been pointed out on many occasions, learning design could actually be called teaching design as it is in fact in many ways more about the teaching side of education than learning. Sometimes we have a tendency to use learning when we mean teaching, and teacher when we mean learner. This again was highlighted by Stephen Downes in his response to my review of the Larnaca Learning Design Declaration (which isn’t really a declaration but let’s not get caught up in more semantic circles). 

As someone involved in the drafting of “the Bill”, Audrey Watters has written a really useful post on the process and her own thoughts on the the process and terminology used. I found this extremely useful in understanding how, and by whom, the document was written. Audrey’s article highlights another conundrum in terms of the use of “student’ and “learner”. Again bringing me back to my questions about who this is bill is actually for.  

I do think there are some fundamental issues and some which will become increasingly important i.e. ownership and use of data which “the bill” highlights. As with the other announcements from the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy, Audrey is advocating hacking this initial document and getting much wider involvement in its development.  

I’m not sure I’m really adding anything constructive here, but I do think if this is to gain any traction it needs to be clear who this is for. Maybe this needs to evolve into a set of “bills/manifestos/declarations” call them what you will, explicitly directed at students, learners, teachers administrators but with some common underpinning themes to ensure we are all contributing to building successful learning cultures. 

#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.

Cloud gazing, maps and networks – some thoughts on #oldsmooc so far

So my 2013 mooc adventures have started with #oldsmooc, the OU (UK) open course on learning design. As this mooc has evolved from a number or projeccts in the JISC Currriculum Design programme (notably OULDI) and has benefitted from a small additional amount JISC funding to get it up and running.

As with any mooc (particularly one that is based on constructionist pedagogies (or a cMooc), the initial experience can be a bit overwhelming and confusing. My heart went out to all the team last week when the technical gremlins came out in full force for the live overview/introduction to the course, and then Cloudworks had to have a “essential maintanance” on Thursday morning which was the official start date of the coures. However, these minor hiccups have been sorted and the chaos course has well and truly begun.

The course is utilsing a number of different online spaces for communication, course information and sharing including, email, google groups and hangouts, bibsonomy, twitter, a website and cloudworks – not a VLE insight. As I was exploring the course outline and various sites last week I have to confess that it did cross my mind that just having everything in one place might make things a lot easier for participants. Yes, dear reader I did have a yearning for a VLE, but that quickly passed. I remembered that even in #moocmooc where they did use one, I actually ended up hardly using it and most of my “learning” and activities took place via my own personal learning network, which in that instance was pretty much twitter and my blog.

I’m relatively fortunate as I have used most of online spaces being utilised by the course before, but there is quite a learning curve and with so much activity it is really easy to feel lost and unsure. These feelings of confusion and isolation are not unique to this course, I experienced the same with the #moocmooc course last year. It does take confidence on both a personal and professional level to put yourself “out there” and start to share/comment work with others (which is one of the main activities for week 1). With so many different online communication channels being used it also requires quite a level of digital literacy to navigate between the various areas. (Bonnie Stewart has written a great blog post about inherent digital literacies and networking which discusses these issues in a far more detailed and coherent way). Importantly, as a learner you need to have quite a high a level of confidence to work out just what are going to be the most effective channels for you to use.

As with anything “massive” you just can’t keep up with everything so, imho the having the confidence to be able to not try and do everything/ read every post is crucial too. Not only in terms of having any chance of completing the course but also for your own sanity. I have a feeling that I might be like lots of the participants on the course, despite knowing the suggested time allocation for the course ( up to 10 hours a week), my motivation, work and life in general will probably get in the way of me actually dedicating that amount of time each week, so I have to be pragmatic to get the most out of the effort I put in. (Just trying to figure out what is the minimum I can do to get some badges?:-) )

Finding the “right” technologies/online spaces for MOOCs is a bit like looking for the holy grail. Everything falls short in some areas, and a lot does come down to personal preferences. That said I do think it is important to allow for experimentation – both for course designers and for students. The former can get a feel for what actually does work in terms of their overall “design” and learning objectives, and for the latter there is nothing like learning by doing. In this case when the course is about learning design, first hand experience should be helpful when thinking about technologies to use in your own courses. My list of things I really don’t/do like is growing and more importantly the context of when I do/don’t like using them.

For many participants, this is the first time they will have used, or indeed come across Cloudworks. Again I am fortunate as I have used Cloudworks before. I have found it really useful but getting into it can be slightly confusing. The logic of individual clouds being part of wider collections of clouds called cloudscapes is fine. At the moment it is hard to keep up with and find the sheer number of clouds and cloudscapes being created, never mind trying to remember to favourite and follow ones you are interested in and add your clouds to overarching clouds. I don’t know if it is the influence of last week’s Star Gazing Live, but I think (and I was glad to see I’m not alone in this, Jane Challinor has blogged about it too) what might be needed is another map or way of understanding/finding/navigating our way through the ever expanding skyline in Cloudworks. A more visual cloud map instead of star map if you like.

Naviagting Cloudworks as it grows is a challenge. The current navigation is pretty much list based just now, but not everything is (or could be ) easily accessible from the front page. As I was looking through various clouds yesterday, I was reminded of a wee experiment my colleague David Sherlock and I did a couple of years ago with the (at that point recently released) Cloudworks API. We were able to create a mindmap of a cloudscape, and I’m just wondering if this view might be useful to help people make sense of some of the OLDS Mooc cloudscapes,including their own. David has kindly dug out the code and here’s an example base on the main OLDS MOOC cloudscape. Click this link to see the mind map (NB this uses a flash front end so if you’re on a mobile device it won’t display properly.) The screen shot gives an indication of the mind map view.

Screenshot of mindmap view of a cloudscape

Screenshot of mindmap view of a cloudscape

To try it yourself put http://labs.cetis.ac.uk/cloudworks/?cloudscape=2417 into your browser, and if change the “=2417” to whatever the ID of the cloudscape you want to view is e.g. my oldsmooc cloudscape looks like this, the “2417″ has just been changed to “2567″.

I know the Cloudworks developers were quite keen on this idea back then, maybe this is something that can be explored again. After reading and watching Bonnie’s post about the the power of networks in moocs, 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 . . . Now I better get back to the actual course.

Quick review of the Larnaca Learning Design Declaration

Late last month the Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design was published. Being “that time of year” I didn’t get round to blogging about it at the time. However as it’s the new year and as the OLDS mooc is starting this week, I thought it would be timely to have a quick review of the declaration.

The wordle gives a flavour of the emphasis of the text.

Wordle of Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design

Wordle of Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design

First off, it’s actually more of a descriptive paper on the development of research into learning design, rather than a set of statements declaring intent or a call for action. As such, it is quite a substantial document. Setting the context and sharing the outcomes of over 10 years worth of research is very useful and for anyone interested in this area I would say it is definitely worth taking the time to read it. And even for an “old hand” like me it was useful to recap on some of the background and core concepts. It states:

“This paper describes how ongoing work to develop a descriptive language for teaching and learning activities (often including the use of technology) is changing the way educators think about planning and facilitating educational activities. The ultimate goal of Learning Design is to convey great teaching ideas among educators in order to improve student learning.”

One of my main areas of involvement with learning design has been around interoperability, and the sharing of designs. Although the IMS Learning Design specification offered great promise of technical interoperability, there were a number of barriers to implementation of the full potential of the specification. And indeed expectations of what the spec actually did were somewhat over-inflated. Something I reflected on way back in 2009. However sharing of design practice and designs themselves has developed and this is something at CETIS we’ve tried to promote and move forward through our work in the JISC Design for Learning Programme, in particular with our mapping of designs report, the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery Programmes and in our Design bashes: 2009, 2010, 2011. I was very pleased to see the Design Bashes included in the timeline of developments in the paper.

James Dalziel and the LAMS team have continually shown how designs can be easily built, run, shared and adapted. However having one language or notation system is a still goal in the field. During the past few years tho, much of the work has been concentrated on understanding the design process and how to help teachers find effective tools (online and offline) to develop new(er) approaches to teaching practice, and share those with the wider community. Viewpoints, LDSE and the OULDI projects are all good examples of this work.

The declaration uses the analogy of the development of musical notation to explain the need and aspirations of a design language which can be used to share and reproduce ideas, or in this case lessons. Whilst still a conceptual idea, this maybe one of the closest analogies with universal understanding. Developing such a notation system, is still a challenge as the paper highlights.

The declaration also introduces a Learning Design Conceptual Map which tries to “capture the broader education landscape and how it relates to the core concepts of Learning Design“.

Learning Design Conceptual Map

Learning Design Conceptual Map

These concepts including pedagogic neutrality, pedagogic approaches/theories and methodologies, teaching lifecycle, granularity of designs, guidance and sharing. The paper puts forward these core concepts as providing the foundations of a framework for learning design which combined with the conceptual map and actual practice provides a “new synthesis for for the field of learning design” and future developments.

Components of the field of Learning Design

Components of the field of Learning Design

So what next? The link between learning analytics and learning design was highlighted at the recent UK SoLAR Flare meeting. Will having more data about interaction/networks be able to help develop design processes and ultimately improving the learning experience for students? What about the link with OERs? Content always needs context and using OERs effectively intrinsically means having effective learning designs, so maybe now is a good time for OER community to engage more with the learning design community.

The Declaration is a very useful summary of where the Learning Design community is to date, but what is always needed is more time for practising teachers to engage with these ideas to allow them to start engaging with the research community and the tools and methodologies which they have been developing. The Declaration alone cannot do this, but it might act as a stimulus for exisiting and future developments. I’d also be up for running another Design Bash if there is enough interest – let me know in the comments if you are interested.

The OLDS MOOC is a another great opportunity for future development too and I’m looking forward to engaging with it over the next few weeks.

Some other useful resources
*Learning Design Network Facebook page
*PDF version of the Declaration
*CETIS resources on curriculum and learning design
*JISC Design Studio