Why we need more Rhino’s like Erica promoting digital literacy

I was delighted to take part in the University of Southampton’s 2nd digital literacies conference (#sotonmooc) event yesterday. I gave a presentation on my experiences of being a student on MOOCs. However, what really made the day for me was hearing from some “real” students about the range work they have been involved in as part of the University’s DigiChampions project. The project has been incredibly successful in getting students involved in the concept of digital literacy and getting them to provide support to their peers in a whole range of ways as this video rather neatly explains.

The development of digital literacies is increasingly been recognised as vital for the success of our student population both whilst they are studying and also when they move into the workplace.

“By digital literacy we mean those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. “ (JISC)

It was fantastic to hear students share so eloquently their understanding of the importance of being able to use social networks effectively – not only for studying but also to improve their chances of getting a job. As we watched student created videos and a range of other presentations, it was clear just how much the students appreciated the innovative approaches of modules such as “living and working on the web”. Having time to develop skills and networks as part and parcel of undergraduate activities has certainly seemed to pay pretty significant dividends in terms of students developing contacts with potential employers and in several cases in terms of them securing a full time job. Watch the video to see for yourself.

But what about the Rhino I hear you ask? Well another one of the student driven projects is Erica the Rhino. Erica is a cyber rhino, who is being developed in a truly interdisciplinary way.

I thought this was just a fantastic project. I’m now following Erica on twitter and looking forward to hearing updates from when she is released into the wilds of Southampton. We need more projects like this.

Many thanks to Fiona Harvey and Hugh Davies (and everyone at Southampton involved in organising and running the event) for inviting me. It really was inspiring to hear from the students.

More information about the day is available from the event website. It will be being updated with presentations (and I think recordings) over the next few days. You can also catch up on the tweets and pictures from the event here.

Badges? Certificates? What counts as succeeding in MOOCs?

Oops, I did it again. I’ve now managed to complete another MOOC. Bringing my completion rate of to a grand total of 3 (the non completion number is quite a bit higher but more on that later). And I now have 6 badges from #oldsmooc and a certificate (or “statement of accomplishment”) from Coursera.

My #oldsmooc badges

My #oldsmooc badges

Screenshot of Coursera record of achievement

Screenshot of Coursera record of achievement


But what do they actually mean? How, if ever, will/can I use these newly gained “achievements”?

Success and how it is measured continues to be one of the “known unknowns” for MOOCs. Debate (hype) on success is heightened by the now recognised and recorded high drop out rates. If “only” 3,000 registered users complete a MOOC then it must be failing, mustn’t it? If you don’t get the certificate/badge/whatever then you have failed. Well in one sense that might be true – if you take completion to equate with success. For a movement that is supposed to be revolutionising the (HE) system, the initial metrics some of the big xMOOCs are measuring and being measured by are pretty traditional. Some of the best known success of recent years have been college “drop outs’, so why not embrace that difference and the flexibility that MOOCs offer learners?

Well possibly because doing really new things and introducing new educational metrics is hard and even harder to sell to venture capitalists, who don’t really understand what is “broken” with education. Even for those who supposedly do understand education e.g. governments find any change to educational metrics (and in particular assessments) really hard to implement. In the UK we have recent examples of this with Michael Gove’s proposed changes to GSCEs and in Scotland the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence has been a pretty fraught affair over the last five years.

At the recent #unitemooc seminar at Newcastle, Suzanne Hardy told us how “empowered” she felt by not submitting a final digital artefact for assessment. I suspect she was not alone. Suzanne is confident enough in her own ability not to need a certificate to validate her experience of participating in the course. Again I suspect she is not alone. From my own experience I have found it incredibly liberating to be able to sign up for courses at no risk (cost) and then equally have no guilt about dropping out. It would mark a significant sea change if there was widespread recognition that not completing a course didn’t automatically equate with failure.

I’ve spoken to a number of people in recent weeks about their experiences of #oldsmooc and #edcmooc and many of them have in their own words “given up”. But as discussion has gone on it is apparent that they have all gained something from even cursory participation either in terms of their own thinking about possible involvement in running a MOOC like course, or about realising that although MOOCs are free there is still the same time commitment required as with a paid course.

Of course I am very fortunate that I work and mix with a pretty well educated bunch of people, who are in the main part really interested in education, and are all well educated with all the recognised achievements of a traditional education. They are also digital literate and confident enough to navigate through the massive online social element of MOOCs, and they probably don’t need any more validation of their educational worth.

But what about everyone else? How do you start to make sense of the badges, certificates you may or may not collect? How can you control the way that you show these to potential employers/Universities as part of any application? Will they mean anything to those not familiar with MOOCs – which is actually the vast majority of the population. I know there are some developments in California in terms of trying to get some MOOCs accredited into the formal education system – but it’s very early stages.

Again based on my own experience, I was quite strategic in terms of the #edcmooc, I wrote a reflective blog post for each week which I was then able to incorporate into my final artefact. But actually the blog posts were of much more value to me than the final submission or indeed the certificate (tho I do like the spacemen). I have seem an upward trend in my readership, and more importantly I have had lots of comments, and ping backs. I’ve been able to combine the experience with my own practice.

Again I’m very fortunate in being able to do this. In so many ways my blog is my portfolio. Which brings me a very convoluted way to my point in this post. All this MOOC-ery has really started me thinking about e-portfolios. I don’t want to use the default Coursera profile page (partly because it does show the course I have taken and “not received a certificate” for) but more importantly it doesn’t allow me to incorporate other non Coursera courses, or my newly acquired badges. I want to control how I present myself. This relates quite a lot to some of the thoughts I’ve had about using Cloudworks and my own educational data. Ultimately I think what I’ve been alluding to there is also the development of a user controlled e-portfolio.

So I’m off to think a bit more about that for the #lak13 MOOC. Then Lorna Campbell is going to start my MOOC de-programming schedule. I hope to be MOOC free by Christmas.

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

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

Screen shot of Personal Education Data Locker (Audrey Watters)

Screen shot of Personal Education Data Locker (Audrey Watters)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As ever I’d welcome any feedback/suggestions.

Bye bye #edcmooc

So #edcmooc is now over, our digital artefacts have been submitted and reviewed and we all now move on.

I thought it would be useful to reflect on the final submission and peer review process as I have questioned how that would actually work in a couple of earlier posts. The final submission for the course was to create a digital artefact which would be peer reviewed.

The main criteria for creating the artefact were:

* it will contain a mixture of two or more of: text, image, sound, video, links.
* it will be easy to access and view online.
* it will be stable enough to be assessed for at least two weeks.

We had to submit a url via the Coursera LMS and then we were each assigned 3 other artefacts to assess. You had the option to assess more if you wished. The assessment criteria were as follows:

1. The artefact addresses one or more themes for the course
2. The artefact suggests that the author understands at least one key concept from the course
3. The artefact has something to say about digital education
4. The choice of media is appropriate for the message
5. The artefact stimulates a reaction in you, as its audience, e.g. emotion, thinking, action

You will assign a score to each digital artefact

0 = does not achieve this, or achieves it only minimally
1 = achieves this in part
2 = achieves this fully or almost fully

This is the first time I’ve done peer review and it was a very interesting process. In terms of the electronic process, the system made things very straightforward, and there was time to review draft submissions before submitting. I’m presuming that artefacts were allocated on a random basis too. On reflection the peer process was maybe on the “lite” side, but given the scope and scale of this course I think that is entirely appropriate.

My three allocated artefacts were really diverse both in style, content and substance. Whilst reviewing I did indeed reflect back on what I had done and wished I had the imagination and time of some of my peers, and I could have spent hours going through more but I had to stop myself. Overall I am still satisfied with my submission which you can explore below or follow this link.

2/2 all round for me and some very positive comments from my peers, so thank you – although as one of my reviewers did point out I maybe did push the time limits a bit far:

“The choice of the media is also apt but I guess the only little drawback is that the artifact far exceeds the guidelines on how big the artifact should be (actually it’s a gist of the entire course and not a little five-minute artifact!). “

Overall I really enjoyed #edcmooc, it made me think about things from different perspectives as well as confirming some of my personal stances on technology in education. It was well paced and I liked that it used openly available content where possible. Now I’m bit more experienced at MOOC-ing didn’t take up too much of my time. The course team made some subtle adjustments to the content and instruction over the duration which again was entirely appropriate and showed they were listening if not talking to everyone. I didn’t feel a lack of tutor contact, but then again I didn’t interact in the discussion spaces as much as I could have, and this is also an topic area where I was relatively comfortable exploring at my own pace.

It’s also been quite a counter balance to the #oldsmooc course I’m also doing (which started before #edcmooc and finishes next week), but I’ll share more about that in another post.

Also feel free to assess my artefact and share your comments here too using the criteria above.

**Update, I’ve just received an email from the course team. Apparently the process didn’t work as smoothly for some as it did for me. They are investigating and encouraging people who couldn’t share their artefacts to use the course forums. Hopefully this will get sorted soon.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Exploring Digital Futures

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the programme support aspect of my job is that I get to find out about a lot of really innovative work taking place across a diverse range of UK universities. On the flip side of this, I do sometimes yearn to be part of the development of projects instead of always just being on the outside looking in once plans have been made and funding secured. I also often wonder if anything I write about in my blog does actually make any difference or is useful to the wider to community.

So I was delighted yesterday to spend the afternoon at Edinburgh Napier University at an internal seminar exploring their digital future and technological ambitions. I was even more delighted a couple of weeks ago when Keith Smyth contacted me about attending the event, and said that the series of blog posts I wrote with my Strathclyde colleague Bill Johnston on the Digital University, had been really useful and timely for Napier in terms of them starting to think about how to develop their approach to a digital strategy.

Yesterday’s seminar was an opportunity for staff from across the institution to come together and share their experiences and views on what their real needs and aspirations are in terms of the future (digital) shape of the university. Napier are already involved in a number of innovative projects internally, and are committed to open practice, particularly in regards to their work in learning technology. For example their 3E Framework for effective use of technology in teaching and learning, is available via a CC licence and is being used/adapted by over 20 institutions worldwide who have all agreed to share their adaptations. A great example of how open practice can not only improve internal working practices but also have an impact in terms of helping community knowledge grow in an open, shareable way too. The framework is also linked to a resource bank,with examples of the framework in action, which again is openly available.

Like many institutions, podcasting is a growing trend and their College2Uni podcasts which were originally designed to help student transition from college to university are now being used for wider community driven information sharing initiatives. Plans for an open access journal are also well underway.

But what/where next? What should the long, medium and short term goals for the institution be? Participants were asked to consider “what will today’s ten year old’s expect when they come to University in 2020?” Delegates were divided into six groups set short (i.e. can be in place in a year) as well as longer term aspirational goals. The six themes were:

*Developing digital literacies
*Digital equivalence
*Digitally enhanced education
*Digital communication and outreach
*Digital scholarship
*Digital infrastructure and integration

Again, another wee ego boost, was seeing how the matrix Bill and I have developed, provided a framework for the discussions and planning of the workshop.

MacNeill/Johnston conceptual matrix (revised, October 2012)

MacNeill/Johnston conceptual matrix (revised, October 2012)

It was also a good opportunity for me to highlight work from a number of JISC programmes including Developing Digital Literacies, Assessment and Feedback, and Curriculum Design and Delivery and the growing number of resources from all these programmes which are available from the Design Studio.

There was a genuine enthusiasm from all the delegates a number of suggestions for easily achievable short term goals including single sign on for all uni accounts, more co-ordinated and easily accessible communication channels (for staff and students), experimenting with lay out of lecture spaces, developing a more coherent strategy for mobile devices. Longer term goals were generally centred on ubiquitous access to information, continuous development of staff and student skills including supporting open practices, ways to differentiate Napier and how to take advantage of affordances of the all pervasive MOOCs and indeed the changing landscape of HE. Content maybe more plentiful in 2020 but not everyone has the skills to take an MIT/Stanford/Everyotherbignameuniversity open course without support. There are a lot of skills which we know employers are looking for which aren’t supported through these large scale distance models of education. The need for new spaces (both digital and physical) for experimentation and play for both staff and students was highlighted as a key way to support innovation. You can get a flavour of the discussion by searching the #digiednap archive.

The next steps for Napier, are the forming of working group to take forward the most popular ideas from the session. There was a bit of the old “dotmocracy” with delegates voting for their preferred short terms ideas:

and work on more strategic developments over the coming year. I am really looking forward to working with colleagues in Napier as a critical friend to these developments, and being part of a project from the outset and seeing first hand how it develops.