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IET researcher and project officer blogs

Design for Life

Will Woods's blog - Wed, 08/04/2015 - 09:39

I’ve finally worked some Manics lyrics into my blog post..

Why the title Design for Life? – Well there is a very good reason why I’ve not been blogging these past three months. I’m currently on secondment to the big production engine of the Open University (Learning and Teaching Solutions) and heading up the development of a new area there called TEL (Technology-Enhanced Learning). This new sub-unit is responsible for the aspects of Learning Design as we apply it within the Open University context, so we’re referring to this as “TEL Design”.


Learning Design in it’s purest form is technology and pedagogy neutral but within TEL design we are seeking to to use evidence based approaches to the production and presentation of modules so that they are designed appropriately considering learning outcomes (LOs), tuition/support approach, assessment and the overarching student experience. The OU has already being doing this for some time through the Learning Design team in IET who have been working with module teams on activity planning and module mapping processes to ensure that a sound pedagogic approach is being considered which is appropriate for the level of study and disciplinary context. This work however needs to be scaled up as we have perhaps in the order of 100-150 modules being refreshed every year from a provision of around 600 modules which form the OU curriculum. I’m therefore simplifying what is a very complex activity, working with module teams to turn these sound pedagogic approaches into practical module/course designs suitable for each disciplinary context which form part of a coherent student journey and consider appropriate use of technologies.

So tackling each area of my role:

Evidence-based Practice

Within TEL we have a group of around 20 very seasoned practitioners in module production or aspects of teaching, either within or outside the OU. This group have excellent experience in what works, is appropriate for design of online learning activity and which enhances the student experience. i.e. lots of empirical knowledge.

(a) We are building a library of examples of best practice

(b) We are establishing, through a survey, the evidence bases that are currently being used within the OU to establish what is “best practice”. (we have huge amounts of of evidence to draw upon – see our Learning Analytic colleagues such as Doug Clow for details of that work!).

(c) We are considering where evidence is needed and of what type. For example in some cases a “deep dive” approach may be more suitable. We are working with colleagues in IET on projects exploring analytics and evidence to support decision making for both improving design during production and also for in presentation adaption and improvement.

(d) We are also considering how much to rely on phronesis or discretionary practitioner judgement. There is a lot of interesting literature in this area, I particularly enjoyed the McNamara Fallacy and the problem with Numbers in Education article by Carl Hendrick on the dangers of using data for decision making on very complex models.

Scholarship, Development and Training

I’ve been working on a development plan for “TEL Design” practitioners. I’ve been co-ordinating work on this, looking at job descriptions both internally and externally and mapping the skills and competencies into a framework which also matches to the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning (UKPSF) from the Higher Education Academy. During March 2015 I released a questionnaire to TEL staff to ask then to rate themselves against areas of this framework. We are currently creating plans to meet these needs which will be through:

(a) Identifying the most urgently needed skills and competencies required by the majority of people and consequently running workshops and training sessions to up-skill our staff, for example Grainne Conole ran a workshop in March for us on “Strategies for designing and evaluating effective learning activities”.

(b) Exploring what specific skills and competencies are required by individuals and creating personal development plans (PDPs) to meet those needs

(c) Using practice-based approaches to improve competency, for example mentoring and encouraging staff to engage in HEA fellowship programme through the OU OpenPAD scheme as a method to encourage reflection and improve practice.

(d) Developing a scholarly culture within the unit, this includes encouraging TEL staff to be involved in publishing and attending events relevant to their practice and to recognize and reward achievement in areas of specialism and knowledge within the TEL group.

Strategy and Culture

This is by far the biggest challenge as we are having to carve out a shape for the design process within the OU’s current production methodology and management processes.

The good news is that we are doing this at a time when the curriculum systems are being refreshed, when the OU curriculum itself is being refreshed through a curriculum: fit for the future programme and the Learning and Teaching Vision and Plan 2025 provides us with imperative to establish the evidence based design approach within production and presentation. I’m also located within a unit which is currently going through a re-focus process so the design processes can be considered within an overhaul of the whole production life-cycle processes to make them more efficient and effective. In order to make this stick we need a cultural change and that’s perhaps my biggest challenge. OU module production has become very risk averse and procedural and the people are necessarily used to that safety blanket of knowing what’s coming up six months before they need to start work, things need to change here and the ability to be agile and adaptive is increasingly important.

We are doing this successfully in MOOC design where the timescales are shorter and the methods used are bespoke and usually outside of regular process, the challenge now is to make that the norm rather than the exception.

I don’t have all the answers here but I have a number of ideas which I’m currently exploring.  I’m also looking, with my colleagues in TEL and LD, at the activity structure for the TEL Design workshops and I’m considering a model which I want to share for discussion. More on that in my next blog post.


ResearchGate

Download figures from Research Gate

I don’t engage very heavily with either Research Gate or with academia.edu for several reasons

(1) Time is limited, and there are only so many networks I can engage with

(2) All my work is available via my institutional repository (ORO) or via this blog

(3) Neither Research Gare nor academia.edu seems to be particularly open about its business model. How are they making money out of my time and my resources?

I thought for a while that ResearchGate might be making money via targeted job ads, but they’re currently suggesting I might be interested in the post of associate dean for veterinary research at Ross University, Saint Kitts and Neots. As my only qualifications for that job are that I once had a pet cat and I like visiting tropical beaches, I don’t think their targeting algorithms are very sophisticated.

Despite my overall lack of engagement, both sites now know a fair amount about me and my work, and my co-authors often upload papers. This means I sometimes get email updates on my downloads. This week, apparently, my work was downloaded 101 times, with 72 people downloading a technical report on social learning analytics and 16 downloading an editorial that came out this week. I even get a national breakdown of downloads (see pic). In addition to those shown, my work was accessed from Taiwan (3), Italy (3), Canada (2), Finland (2), South Korea (2), New Zealand (2), Indonesia (1), Romania (1) and Ecuador (1). That’s 20 countries this week.

Meanwhile, back at the institutional repository, my work has been downloaded over 1000 times this month. I’m not sure what to make of this. If these figures are typical (I’ve no idea if they’re high or low), then there is an enormous amount of scholars out there who are doing an enormous amount of reading. And it also looks as if the digital divide is growing – I see no African countries at all on that download list, and this reflects my experience at conferences.


Inspiring

Good to see on Twitter for International Women’s Day.


2015 so far… January and February review

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Thu, 05/03/2015 - 16:32

Originally posted on :

Project Update

It may seem a little quiet here at the Hub of late but rest assured we’re hard at work behind the scenes! Since the new year we’ve been particularly focused on writing up our research for journal publication.  Simultaneously, the team is also involved in a number of other OER projects. Rob is working with HBZ on the OER World Map project; which is currently focused on building the technical architecture. Beck and Bea are developing the research strand of the Opening Educational Practices in Scotland (OEPS) project and Bea is also collaborating with the ExplOERer Project to design of an open course to train teachers in OER reuse. The course will be available on the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) platform early next year.

Open Education Week 2015 (9-13 March 2015) 

There’s not long to go now until this year’s Open Education Week!

As you might be aware…

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e-Access'15 conference

Dr Nick Freear's blog - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 16:08
Morning

First, a mention for #AXSchat – an online conversation that happens each Tuesday 20-21:00 UTC/GMT on Twitter – on all things accessibility and inclusion-related in business on the web and beyond. Run by @neilmilliken and @akwyz.

Greetings!

On the 24 February, I attended the e-Access'15 conference chaired by the excellent Dan Jellinek of Headstar and Nigel Lewis of AbilityNet. This is the ninth year that the conference on digital accessibility has been successfully run. As in previous years it was a one-day conference in central London.

To start us off, Amar Latif gave a great speech about his life as a documentary maker, actor and entrepreneur. He talked about his three Is - independence, inspiration & innovation. And, he discussed his work on the 2005 documentary, Beyond Boundaries, founding the international travel agency for blind and sighted travellers – Traveleyes, and his personal experience of sight loss.

Kevin Carey's talk on "The future of accessibility policy", read by Nigel Lewis in his absence, was as you'd expect, thought provoking and challenging. I'm still digesting it now… He provocatively argued that accessibility evangelism, advocacy, and software development over the past two decades had largely failed. He called for a complete re-think of our approach. His proposal centred around analytics,"task completion rates" and peer-normative comparisons.

Kevin's speech took me back to learning ergonomics (in the context of Applied Gerontology) back at Uni.. A simple ergonomics/ anthrometry example - as a 1.9m (6 foot 3 inches) person, with around a 34 inch inside leg, when I get on a bus or into an economy airline seat, I know I'll be cramped. This is because the space is designed to suit the vast majority of the population, for example the "95 percentile" (or 93, 94, 96... percentile) who fall below me in a standard distribution of heights or thigh-bone length measurements. This approach lets designers, and their clients, know who they will design for, and who will be discomfited or excluded (or endangered) by a design. It is an optimization technique that appears to date back to the ancient Greeks, predates anti-discrimination legislation, and when used appropriately is borne of good design, good business and pragmatism. That is, if they built buses and planes to sit tall people in comfort, then more people would stand in the rush-hour, and fewer of us could afford to fly.

Kevin's suggestions may indeed be the way to go, as long as we can collect sufficient data to help drive decisions. It may hang on people's willingness to self-declare their disabilities in online tools and services.

(To be continued…)

Learning analytics: overcoming the barriers to large-scale adoption

I’m pleased that our paperLearning Analytics in Context: Overcoming the Barriers to Large-Scale Adoption has just been published by the Journal of Learning Analytics.

The paper begins by looking at why introducing learning analytics within an institution often proves to be difficult. It goes on to set out a framework that offers a step-by-step approach to the introduction of learning analytics, and shows how this can work in practice by focusing on developments in two very different institutions: a distance university in the UK and a university of technology in Australia.

The paper’s authors bring together a wealth of experience that is grounded in strategy, research and practice. Co-authors with a strategic perspective are Belinda Tynan, pro vice chancellor at the UK’s Open University who is leading on the development and roll-out of a programme of learning analytics across the institution, and Shirley Alexander, the deputy vice chancellor taking the lead on developing University of Technology Sydney as a data-intensive university. Leah Macfadyen from the University of British Columbia and Shane Dawson from the University of South Australia bring a research perspective that draws on an intensive study of the roll-out of analytics at an institutional scale, while Doug Clow from The Open University draws on his practitioner experience as a data wrangler, as well as his research experience in this area.

Abstract

A core goal for most learning analytic projects is to move from small-scale research towards broader institutional implementation, but this introduces a new set of challenges because institutions are stable systems, resistant to change. To avoid failure and maximize success, implementation of learning analytics at scale requires explicit and careful consideration of the entire TEL technology complex: the different groups of people involved, the educational beliefs and practices of those groups, the technologies they use and the specific environments within which they operate. It is crucial to provide not only the analytics and their associated tools, but also to begin with a clear strategic vision, to critically assess institutional culture, to identify potential barriers to adoption, to develop approaches to overcome these and to put in place appropriate forms of support, training and community building. In this paper, we provide tools and case studies that will support educational institutions in deploying learning analytics at scale with the goal of achieving specified learning and teaching objectives. The ROMA Framework offers a step-by-step approach to the institutional implementation of learning analytics and this approach is grounded by case studies of practice from the UK and Australia.


iSpot February 2015

Dr Nick Freear's blog - Mon, 23/02/2015 - 15:30

Greetings iSpotters! (This is a similar post on our team blog.)

I'm happy to say that this morning we made a number of significant bug fixes live on the iSpot web site.

Here's a roundup of what's changed...

First up, we've added a "Please wait" spinner to the add/ edit observation wizard. This disables buttons on the form while slow operations like uploading photos occur. We hope this will reduce or eliminate the incidence of duplicate observations. This is a situation where we're eliminating a probable cause of the bug (duplicate observations), which may reveal further causes. In which case it will require further fixes. Time will tell.

(Embedded image courtesy of Chester Zoo)

Bear in mind that slowness in the add observation wizard can be caused by slow networks and low bandwidth. Something that is outside our control.

We've tested the spinner across a range of devices. In the Chrome browser on iOS (iPads, iPhones), the spinner will not appear, but the text "Please wait" will. A known issue. All other device/ browser combinations appear to work as expected.

Next, we fixed the peculiar "1970" date that was appearing if the first photograph used in the add observation wizard contained no EXIF data. (For those of you who are interested, you can read why the erroneous date was the 1st January 1970...)

There was another date-related bug, namely dates "disappearing" when you went back to edit an observation or project. This was a puzzler, however in the end the fix involved updating the third-party date module that iSpot employs. Job done!

Some strange text was appearing at the bottom of the add interaction wizard - on the location step. This turned out to be "debug" text (stuff added by developers to help them solve a problem). It took a little while to find where the text was being introduced. A fairly straightforward fix once we'd found the cause.

Hopefully, all this will help us make the most of Richard Greenwood's work on the add-observation wizard.

We updated the Twitter link in the page footer, to use @iSpotnature.

Finally, we've removed extraneous and commented-out HTML markup from Richard Lovelock's excellent Bootstrap-based theme. This shaves some kilobytes off each page request, and should provide a small performance boost, particularly on slow connections.

So, what do we have to look forward to?

Our performance guru, Greg, is still ironing out issues with the planned upgrade of the iSpot database to MySQL 5.7. This will provide us with a significant feature called "row-level locking" (in place of current table-level locks), which will significantly reduce a bottle-neck and improve performance. Our challenge is to maintain the geo-spatial database capabilities that iSpot requires, while making the most of feature improvements.

We've worked out the cause of the "missing" location title auto-complete options for our southern African cousins. The problem stems from significant differences between the global and ZA iSpot sites. There are data and even tables that aren't present in the legacy ZA site, because it only contained one community and species dictionary. We think we'll need significant down-time to fix this issue (a number of hours), so we're discussing how best to tackle this while minimizing disruption.

That's all for now. I hope that these fixes help you enjoy iSpot and reduce the frustrations.

Thank you for your patience. And for your enthusiasm - it's what makes the iSpot community tick!

Yours,

Nick

(The iSpot team)

(This is a similar post on our team blog.)

Catch Up on Our Conference Sessions!

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Mon, 23/02/2015 - 07:56

Originally posted on UK Sartre Society :

Didn’t manage to make it to last year’s conference? Enjoy a particular session but wish you could hear it again? Never fear, you can now revisit our 2013 and 2014 conference with today’s release of eight recordings!

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OER Research Hub wins Engaging Research Award!

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Tue, 03/02/2015 - 14:49

Originally posted on :

The OER Research Hub is proud to announce that we were awarded an Open University Engaging Research Award 2015 for our P2PU Open Research course on School of Open today!

The four-week course explored the concept and practice of open research, ethics in the open, dissemination and the role of open reflection and evaluation. To read more about how the course was created, you can check out:

A massive thanks to everyone who supported us or participated in the course; we couldn’t have done it without you!

Photo credits: OER Research Hub team photo (Chris Valentine), all other photos (CC-BY, Beck Pitt) 

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Research Overview

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Mon, 02/02/2015 - 11:43

Originally posted on OEPScotland:

by Beck Pitt (OEPS project)

I’m excited to be able to tell you a bit more about what the research component of the OEPS project will be doing over the duration of the project and how we fit with the rest of the project. So, without further ado…

Who is responsible for the research?

Researchers based at the Institute of Educational Technology (IET), The Open University (UK) will be responsible for delivering the research components of the OEPS project. Led by Professor Martin Weller with researchers Dr Beck Pitt and Dr Bea de los Arcos, and expertise from across IET including our Learning and Teaching team (for example in relation to learning design or accessibility) we will work collaboratively with different stakeholder groups to ensure that the research and materials we deliver have real impact and build capacity across Scotland through our research.

Martin, Beck and Bea also work on…

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Funded studentship opportunity – researching MOOCs at the OU

The Open University is advertising six Leverhulme doctoral scholarships in open world learning with a closing date for applications of Monday 9 March 2015. These are full-time, fully funded studentships, leading to a PhD.

One of the named topics is ‘Educator roles in open online courses‘ and the description is:

“What roles do educators play in massive open online courses (MOOCs)? How can they be most effective in supporting learners to achieve their learning goals? In these open online settings, teaching is carried out by a team of educators, including academic lead, course presenter, moderator, facilitator and the learners themselves. These roles are still being developed, and there is a pressing need to identify evidence-based good practice. The successful candidate will use data from a range of MOOCs to answer the questions above, and will have opportunities to work with the FutureLearn Academic Network, an international team of MOOC researchers.”

If you are interested in applying, you need to provide a short research proposal explaining how this area fits the overall theme of Open World Learning and how you intend to conduct research on the topic selected. See the website for more specific details about applying.

When putting together an application, you may find it useful to take a look at these two papers: Taking on different roles: how educators position themselves in MOOCs and Innovative pedagogy at massive scale: teaching and learning in MOOCs.

 

LACE project at BETT

Last weekend, I was with the LACE project team at London’s Excel Centre for the BETT Show. For an enormous show with a substantial web presence, BETT is surprisingly cagey about defining itself or explaining what its name means. Fortunately, Wikipedia comes to the rescue: ‘BETT or The Bett Show (formerly known as the British Educational Training and Technology Show) is an annual Trade show in the United Kingdom that showcases the use of information technology in education.’

I was there not as a speaker but to engage in ‘event amplification’ – taking photos and tweeting about the event.

The LACE project had organised two sessions. Doug Clow talked about Creating a Learning Plan for Learning Analytics in the higher-education-focused section of the LearnLive theatre. This was followed, in the secondary area of LearnLive, by a panel discussion, Learning Analytics: Making Learning Better? Both these events were packed out, with standing room only at the back, and people peering in through the doorways.

We followed these with the LACE Annual Meeting, with participants from across Europe getting together to discuss learning analytics over lunch in a nearby restaurant. The discussion was excellent, but I wouldn’t recommend the restaurant.


Publication statistics

ORO download statistics

According to the latest set of Open Research Online (ORO) figures, I now have 15,391 total downloads. This makes me the 46th most downloaded researcher of the thousands on the OU system.

Checking back in my blog, my work had been downloaded 8,780 times last March. The change in the figures suggests my work is downloaded from ORO 80 times a day on average. This seems surprisingly high, and underlines the benefits of having research easily searchable and downloadable online.

Meanwhile, over on Google Scholar, all this downloading activity translates into 768 citations to date, or one citation for every 20 downloads. That rate has remained steady since March. I’m also surprised at that consistency – I would have expected the rate to vary because the download numbers are so very different.

I’m pleased to see that my thesis has now been downloaded 912 times. Open access makes it so much more easy to open doctoral research up to the world instead of leaving it languishing on the shelves of the author’s family.