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Where do you go for community?

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 20/03/2015 - 14:31


(It is a little known fact that every time a pub closes, an angel dies)

I use the site Blipfoto to do the photo a day thing. I’m not that active over there, but it is one of those sites that some people really, really, love. It has developed a strong community over the years, but this week it was announced it was going into liquidation. It may not be lost, as a buy-out may be on the cards, but it’s a reminder of the fragility of these things. It doesn’t bother me too much, I started a WordPress blog to do the same, and I’m in the lucky position of having my main network elsewhere. But for many users, Blipfoto is the place they go to connect with people.

Of course, the obvious solution is to own everything yourself and self-host. But there are two issues with this – if you want to connect around a particular interest you need to go where others with that interest are located. You can build up a network through self hosted blogs, as many of us have done, but a specific site is an easier thing to manage, and also allows for more serendipity I think. I have seen photos from people who work on North Sea oil rigs, people doing relief work in Mongolia, others who have the same dog as me, as well as connecting with the people I know through other means. Those other connections don’t always happen through your self hosted sites. The second reason is that while I might just about manage to host my own WP site, it’s really into something a lot of people will do. The ease of use and simple purpose of such sites is their attraction.

Ultimately I think it’s just one of those things. Online services have no more right to permanence than physical ones. We have complex, emotional attachments to buildings because of the social function they perform. Think of the impact the closing of the village pub has on that community. Why did we imagine online spaces would be any easier? Enjoy it while you can, make sure you have a backup and remember nothing lasts forever – that’s about the sum of it.

Good vs Evil Unicorns

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Mon, 16/03/2015 - 13:46


I’ve done variations on my Battle for Open talk 3 times this week, and one slide I’ve used is to talk about the way false dichotomies are created. I characterised it as you are forced to be a good or evil unicorn (these are actually a thing, but a not real thing). This is often the result of excessive hype and over-reaching on the part of educational technology. The silicon valley/technology utopia narrative has a lot to do with this – in order to get attention for you start-up it is better to give a story that it is revolutionary, rather than a bit useful. The media plays an important role too as it prefers these ‘next big thing’ stories. And when they don’t realise this potential (which is usually a good thing as their utopia is quite often a dystopia for others), people get disaffected.
If you work in ed tech you’ve seen enough of these to become completely jaded and cynical, and there is some fun to be had in puncturing the puffed up nonsense of the latest education disruption. But we should also be careful not to just reject all technologies simply because they come wrapped in nonsense media. And this is what happens, we find ourselves forced into diametrically opposed camps because that is what the narrative demands of us – there are no neutral unicorns.
And while it is boring, and can be dismissed as sitting on the fence, the truth almost always lies in the middle. MOOCs are not going to destroy higher education as we know it, nor are they irrelevant. They’ll turn out to be useful for some purposes.
Here are the types of conflict we often see set up in this good vs evil unicorn world:

  • MOOCs as saviours – MOOCs as irrelevant
  • All online learning – all face to face
  • Learning analytics means no more pesky humans – Learning analytics as dehumanised teaching
  • Technology as solution for everything – Technology offers no help

And so on. I’ve felt myself being forced into these extremes at times. It’s easier in a way, you don’t have to think anymore – your reaction for any new development is pretty much defined for you. It may also be profitable – if a newspaper, TV or radio show want an interview, they want the people at the extremes, not the nuanced view in the middle.
But ultimately it’s not helpful, and simply just wrong. If you find yourself being pushed into an extreme view, ask yourself if you’re a good or bad unicorn. The answer is, neither.

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…)

Raspberry Pi #PiBirthday party at Cambridge Computer Labs

I booked a place at this event the moment tickets became available on EventBrite. The are now so popular they sell out really fast. Workshops had only 20 places, and booking opened at 7:30pm on the Thursday. Needless to say, I forgot and all workshop tickets got sold out immediately. I was therefore delighted when @recantha (aka Mike Horne, organiser) emailed to say a few tickets had become available. I emailed right back pleading for one on the GPS Tape Measure workshop and got one.

The big day arrived. Arriving not long after 10, I was surprised and delighted to get given a lovely RPI 2 case as I went in. Thanks to @jarjargeek for this tweeted photo. I was too excited to get to the keynote talk and just popped the case in my pocket.

I had to scoot off to get to the GPS workshop in time. It was billed as “An exciting workshop for anyone who has done a little Python programming on their Pi and now wants to take it further.” and it truly was great fun.

After a brief introduction to GPS, we typed in a small program that queried a GPS/GLONASS receiver (a powerful one suitable for cars) that was attached to a Pi to get location information. Having entered and checked the code, we dashed outside to see if it worked. However depite having a ‘fix’ my distance display did not increase as I walked. Back to the workshop to double-check the code.

Such a minor typo! I had used a lowercase letter instead of a capital to refer to a variable with the result that a new variable was created. The increasing distance went into the real variable, while the new variable (still at zero) was displayed on the little LED display. Once sorted, back outside to test it and yippee, it worked.

Just had time to listen to another inspirational talk by David Whale on running STEM clubs, not just high level suggestions but practical tips on making sure you have all your equipment ready and ways to ensure that you don’t spend all your time putting things together and taking them apart.

After this, it was about lunchtime. So after a brief stop at the cafe and its welcome pannini and coffee, it was of to explore the stands and stalls.

So many interesting projects. So much to buy. Needless to say, I had to purchase a RPi II to go in my nifty new case. All the white bits of the case clip on in order to protect the Pi, and off again to allow you to connect things. Really practical

Quite an expensive but really interesting day. Below are a few of the pictures from the day. I loved things like the RPi used to drive a game of space invadors running on a console made out of an old arcade machine. It had been left in the damp so all the insides were rusted to pieces, but the buttons still worked so playing the game had a real feel of the old-style machines, with the little Pi inside controlling it all.

Laura’s wooden artificial intelligence (yes another RPi) was good fun. You put an object on the stand and then spoke to it using the wooden keyboard. She had put all the code she had written in a paper book – a lovely juxtapositioning of old and new, traditional materials and computer technology. Very effective.

And then there was the very loud chair that would read what you had written using sliders that you inserted into lines to make a kind of slate. 3D printers making amazing puzzles, and as I walked around I got the ‘mark of the #PiBirthday’ on my hand and a raffle ticket. I need to check today to see if I won anything  More RPis perhaps?

So much, the time went all too quickly and we left the venue to those who had bought tickets to the Pi birthday party.

 

At home, I have dedicated my entire desk to the Raspberry Pi. That way I won’t have to put it away or worry about leaving cables trailing across the living room floor. My infrared camera project beckons. With the RPi II running 6 times faster (and yes, that is obvious from first boot up) the possibilities are increasing.

The hidden tech shift in higher ed

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 26/02/2015 - 12:53

It is quite common to hear statements along the lines of “education hasn’t changed in 100 years”. This is particularly true from education start-up companies, who are attempting to create a demand for their product by illustrating how much change is required in the sector. At a conference I attended once a speaker invited the audience to think about what they were doing now and what they were doing 10 years ago and how it hadn’t changed, and everyone agreed. But I think these statements miss a lot of the change that has taken place.

If you were to come to a university campus, superficially it looks as though things are pretty unchanged. The sports centre is better, the bar is less of a dive and the restaurant serves better food, but there are still lectures, laboratories and students sitting around on the grass. But these mask a real technological and demographic change that has taken place over the past 20 years.

Firstly, the concept of the traditional student – someone who leaves home at 18 and studies full time at a university – is no longer dominant. Many students are living at home (and will still have the same groups of friends), studying part-time, studying at a distance or are in the ‘mature’ group, ie over the age of 22.

Secondly, the role of technology has become much more central. Imagine turning off learning and teaching systems at a university (we’ll ignore admin systems for now). Many universities would simply be unable to function. Students submit assignments, access teaching material, use digital library resources, use software for research, engage in group work and socialize via these systems. While I have many reservations about the way the VLE path has panned out, this technology is central in just about all universities. Even relatively uninteresting (from a pedagogic perspective) technologies such as lecture capture can have a profound impact for many students.

Comparison with the music industry is also a trope you will hear fairly often. The MOOCs were the MP3 of higher education Shirky warned us. In fact, if you take the view above, then higher education, far from being a sector that is still waiting for the internet to happen to it, is a good example of how to incorporate new technology while still retaining its core functions.

Which is not to say it’s all okay. I think a real problem for higher ed is the legacy of the physical environment for example. We do lectures because we have lecture theatres. More significantly we can’t conceive of doing anything else because the lecture theatres says “do lectures”. It would be very difficult, for instance, to implement a flipped approach in many university courses because the face to face space is built for lecturing and not doing the other things you might want to utilize that time for. Shirley Alexander is a good example of someone who is rethinking that university space, but it doesn’t come cheap. Similarly, if you’re being generous, maybe it took this long for the VLE to be accepted, but more innovative use of online tools should now be more commonplace.

There is much more that is fun, innovative and challenging that can be done, and we should push hard on this, but at the same time I would challenge anyone who claims glibly that higher education hasn’t changed. They simply haven’t looked properly.

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.


Disabled students in Japanese Higher Education – a time for change

Martyn Cooper's blog - Tue, 24/02/2015 - 09:47

The Open University of Japan (OUJ) hosts an annual international symposium on matters relating to higher education.  This year the theme was supporting disabled students in this context and in particular the role of ICT here.  [See:  http://www.ouj.ac.jp/eng/sympo/2015/eng/] This is timely because the Japanese Act on the Elimination of Disability Discrimination was enacted in 2013. From 2016, this means public universities are legally obliged to provide reasonable accommodation to students with disabilities, while private universities are expected to make diligent efforts to provide this for them.  The Japanese’s own perception is that they are about 30 years behind the USA and UK in this regard.  The symposium consisted of a presentation from the host organisation and four invited speakers, two from the USA, a Japanese leader in the field and myself from the UK.  Each presented on key themes from which the delegates from across the Japanese higher education sector could reflect and draw from in their own context.  Disabled students are currently very under-represented in Japanese higher education; in fact the Open University in the UK alone has more disabled students studying with it than across the whole of the higher education across Japan.

This blog posts discusses some of the lessons I learnt from this my first visit to Japan and impressions I gained.  It is the beginning of an exciting period in Japan that should see an increase in the representation of disabled people in the university student body and significant enhancements in the provision of appropriate support for them.

The numbers game

Takeo Kondo, of the University of Tokyo, gave some detail of the current situation in Japanese higher education and compared it with the USA and the UK.

The official 2014 published statistics showed Students with Disabilities (SWDs) in Japanese Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) numbered 13,449 out of 3,213,518 (0.42% out of all students including undergraduate and graduate students). [JASSO, 2014]

This was compared with  U.S figures for undergraduates in 2009 of  10.8% (19,155,000 out of 2,076,000) [US GAO, 2009];

and the UK figures  of SWDs among the 740,000 first year students enrolled in higher education in 2012 as 73,000 (9.8%). [HESA, 2014]

At the Open University in the UK  in 2013/14 there were over 18,000 undergraduate students declaring a disability: more than 14% of all OU undergraduates. [Internal Data]

The symposium chair, Prof. Hirose, stated that in 2013, there were 90,154 students studying with the Open University in Japan, of whom 698 had declared a disability (0.77%):

  • Visual impairment: 168 students
  • Hearing impairment: 32 students
  • Physically handicapped & sickly individuals (sic): 331 students
  • Others: 167 students

There needs to be some care when comparing such statistics as different classifications of disability may have been used. Further, all these figures are based on self-declaration of disability.  There may be cultural reasons why less disabled students declare their disability at Japanese universities and certainly, with much more limited support currently available for them, there is less incentive for them to do so.  Why declare a disability if it makes no difference to the university’s provision of support?

However, even given these caveats it is clear that SWDs are significantly underrepresented in Japanese higher education compared with the USA and the UK, maybe by a factor of 20.   Takeo Kondo’s presentation went on to give data on the changes of the Japanese data over time and a breakdown of the representation of different disability types.

Reflections on discussions

There was a formal discussion panel at the end of the symposium which addressed selected questions that had been submitted in writing during the day.  The fact that far more questions were submitted than could be addressed in the time was indicative of the delegates concern for the topic.  The speakers had spent 3 hours the previous day having a tour of the Open University of Japan and in less structure discussion with about 10 of their staff.  This section summarises and comments on key themes that arose in both these contexts.

Both from the organisers of the symposium and the delegates it was obvious there was a high degree of anticipatory anxiety about what the change in law means they need to do and whether they have the means to do it.  This could be compared to a commonly expressed anxiety in UK HEIs when the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was extended to include education with the coming into effect of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) in 2001.  As well as anxiety about what needs to be done and how to do it there is also an anxiety about how this will be funded.

It was noted that the pedagogic models of the Open University in Japan and the Open University in the UK were very different.  The former is much more of a transmission of expertise style.  There is little discussion between students and lecturers and they do not deploy tutors.  This has significant implications for how support is best offered to disabled students.  At the OU in the UK if a student with disabilities encounters particular problems it is likely to be their tutor that first aware of this.

The difference in disabled student numbers between Japan and the UK or USA is very marked.  More research would be needed to fully understand this.  Certainly the historical lack of provision of support is a factor.  However other factors may be more significant.  One area here is the impact of the Japanese school system.  From the brief discussions had this appears very proscriptive both in terms of curriculum and style of teaching.  There is a strong emphasis on tradition skills such as well-formed hand writing of Japanese characters.  It appears that if for any reason a school pupil does not fit into this well, which might be because of a disability, they are likely to fall behind educationally and not develop aspirations to go onto higher education.

Concluding Comments

The law is seen very much as a driver for change.  This may well be the case and it was a factor in the enhancement of provision for disabled students in the UK following SENDA in 2001.  However law alone will not affect a substantive change.   Meeting the agenda of widening participation of higher education to be more inclusive of disabled people will have to become part of the value system of Japanese HEIs.  It is going to require a commitment beyond meeting of the letter of the law.  It will need institutional change not just the setting up of specialist support units.  The Japanese perceive themselves to be 30 years behind the USA and UK.  However, it need not take them 30 years to catch-up if there is the political will to affect change throughout the educational system.  I mean to maintain a watching brief on this transition and hopefully undertake some detailed research on it with Japanese colleagues.

References

HESA, 2014 – Higher Education Statistics Agency (2014) Statistical First Release 197: 2012/13 first year students by Disability. https://www.hesa.ac.uk/stats

JASSO, 2014 – Japan Student Services Organization (2014) Fact finding survey on supporting higher educational opportunities for students with disabilities (in Japanese)  http://www.jasso.go.jp/tokubetsu_shien/chosa.html

US GAO, 2009 – U.S. Government Accountability Office (2009) HIGHER EDUCATION AND DISABILITY  Education Needs a Coordinated Approach to Improve Its Assistance to Schools in Supporting Students http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-33

 

 


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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The duty of care

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Sun, 22/02/2015 - 16:05


(don’t worry, the elbow patches won’t be retired anytime soon)

Some of you may have seen a recent article about the drop in part-time student numbers and the OU. First of all, some perspective, it’s not quite the end of the OU as some have interpreted it – they anticipated a drop following the introduction of fees and planned for it. But the overall decline in part-time numbers has been bigger and longer than expected, so it is beginning to bite now. The OU will be okay as an institution, but it means there are people missing out on education who would really benefit from it, and that’s what makes me really angry.

I have read various causes proposed for this since the article, most of them relate to whatever someone’s particular belief is: more focus on regional centres, should concentrate on overseas students, and FutureLearn. The very people who might criticize the OU for developing FL would be saying ‘they failed to respond to the threat of MOOCs’ if we hadn’t. No, all of this is immaterial beside the one big factors: fees. We should not let any of these other discussions distract us from the awful stewardship of higher education under the current government. Three reason for the decline in part-time numbers? Fees, fees, fees.

The thing is all of this was entirely predictable. A colleague of mine did research on the potential impact of fees for part-time students and it showed they would stay away. Some might go full time, most wouldn’t bother to study. This is particularly damning in the current social context. Open entry, low cost, part-time study appeals to exactly the sort of people you want to encourage into education, especially if you feel that social mobility is a worthwhile thing.

Which brings me onto the real point of this post. When we elect governments they take on a responsibility to look after our national treasures. After the NHS and the BBC, the OU is one of the institutions that Britain holds dear. It is the envy of many other countries and its model has been adopted across the globe.

I feel that we ask the wrong question of political parties. It is not so much ‘what will you do?’ but rather ‘who will do the least damage?’ This applies to all those in positions of real authority, be they CEOs of large companies, or VCs of universities. There is always a focus on being active, on making change. But actually maintaining is a good goal also. Here is a radical thought, imagine if an Education Minister said “I think teachers are doing a really good job. We’ll listen to you and make some improvements where it will help, but generally we don’t want to interfere, so we’re not going to introduce any big reforms for five years.” That would be good for the education of the children of this country, but it’s a bad political move. You need to be seen to be improving efficiency, introducing radical reforms, changing the system.

The fees system and accompanying loans have been poorly conceived and even more poorly implemented. The damage they have done to the nature of higher education in this country may never be recovered from. The duty of care of all such national sectors is not something we should let people take on lightly.

Just the twenty years

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 12/02/2015 - 14:44

This month marks twenty years since I started at the OU. In five years time I get a clock. I know you’re thinking ‘he doesn’t look a day over 30′ – oh, you’re not. Anyway, time for some reflection, and as I said few posts back, I think those of us in ed tech in particular (but all of society to a large extent) have been through such rapid change that we take it for granted now. So here is a brief ‘my life in ed tech over the past twenty years review’.

When I joined the OU I said at the interview “I’m interested in this internet thing. Have you thought about it for teaching?” They had a bit, but this is a classic example of how at the start of something, even a little knowledge is valuable. I didn’t know much about the internet, but I at least knew it was worth knowing about. That seems obvious now, but at the time many eminent people were dismissing it as the next CB radio type fad. I got a job as a lecturer on the Artificial Intelligence course, and trialled an online tutor group. I also taught myself HTML. These two very basic things made me ‘the elearning guy’. The web really took off over the next 3-4 years. This was the age of AOL, Geocities, Lycos, Netcrawler, dial up modems. All of these seems like ancient history now. I remember running sessions at OU summer schools and getting students to create their own websites in HTML. That sense of wonder that you had created something that anyone could now access was amazing.

I’ve bored you all many times with my account of T171, the big elearning course we created in 1999. There was lots of angst at the time about accessibility, whether students would have internet access, computers etc and whether anyone would want to learn online. The success of this course, with 12,000 students per year, did a lot to end those doubts. Creating large scale, completely online courses – it only took another 13 years for American ivy league universities to suddenly discover this.

The early 00s saw the mainstreaming of elearning. This was typified by the VLE, and I had a stint as VLE Director. I’ve written about some of the problems this VLE outsourcing created, but it was also crucial in democratising elearning to educators in all subjects. Not everyone wanted to hand craft their own web site it turned out. This was also the period of elearning failures, which I now view as essential steps on the path to future developments. Learning objects for instance were unwieldy, and over-hyped, but they were a necessary step on the way to OERs. The UK eUniversity, which I created a course for, was a big public failure, but the model now doesn’t seem too different to that of MOOC providers (which may mean they are destined to fail too).

We then had the web 2.0 explosion. It’s become fashionable now to be sniffy about this, but I found it wonderful at the time. The possibilities of social media, user generated content, open data and access seemed to impact on every aspect of educational practice. It seemed like everything could change – I think actually we’ll see a lot of these changes happen over the next decade or so (and they’ll be trumpeted as new discoveries), it takes time for this stuff to filter through. This was the period when I got into blogging, and the people I connected with online during that period remain some of the best real and online friends I have (admittedly, that is a small field).

And then the last few years have been typified by a maturing of all these areas. It’s like everyone graduated and started doing proper jobs. Open education is now part of the mainstream, blogs are part of a communication strategy and MOOCs are featured on the BBC. I think it’s tempting to decry that it’s not as good as the old days, but I think it’s just a different time, with different challenges and opportunities.

I could theoretically work another 20 years, and given the way pensions are going, it’s probably likely. I suppose the big question is will the next 20 years see as much change as the last 20? And will we finally get those hoverboards?

The goals, the goals

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Wed, 11/02/2015 - 08:36

At the start of the year, I set myself a number of goals. I’ve found that I need goals to keep doing stuff, I am inherently lazy, so the guilt of having to achieve a regular commitment is necessary to get me off my arse. In the past few years I’ve done the photo a day, and 1000 miles running a year. This year I have set the following targets:

  • Photo a day (in Blip) – I may as well carry on with this, I’ve done 3 years of it (with some breaks)
  • 1000 miles running – I toyed with upping this target, but decided other goals would have to be sacrificed to do that
  • Cinema trip once a week – I overthink going to the cinema, and end up not going. If I have to go once a week, it’ll make me less indecisive about seeing a film, and I may see some I wouldn’t do normally.
  • Read a book a week – this is going to be a tough ask, short books only.
  • Blog once a week – my blog has fallen away somewhat, and rather like the cinema goal, I want to re-establish a habit.

Yes, I may have a problem with excessive goal setting.

It’s all completely unrelated to edtech, but my plan is to blog the monthly update on these. If nothing else it helps me realise the blog goal. I will allow myself to play catch-up on these, eg. if I miss a cinema trip one week, I can do two the following. So how have I done for January?

Later posts in this theme may feature half-arsed film reviews, so there’s something to look forward to. My advice from this month would be don’t go and see the Hobbit, it was Peter Jackson’s Star Wars ep 1 George Lucas moment.

Social media and Open Access

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 05/02/2015 - 09:44


(image – https://flic.kr/p/aFuQYt)

I often make this point in talks on digital scholarship, but don’t think I’ve done it in a blog sized chunk before. There is an interesting relationship between social media and open access. As you develop an online identity as an academic, so the role of social media (twitter, blogs, academia.edu – whatever is your preferred mix) takes on a more central role in your activity. So it is natural that you use these to disseminate research findings and publications. And this is where the relationship with open access comes in. If you want to disseminate your recent article via your carefully cultivated online network, then it is anathema to share a link that then asks the user to “pay $40 to access this article”. As I like to quip in my presentations, in social media terms you may as well go and bury your article in your back garden for all the access it means in this network.

There are a set of cultural assumptions that are associated with social networks, one of which is that content can be freely accessed and easily shared. Now, you can argue about the economics of this, and whether content should be free, but those are the assumptions that come with this culture, so you either accept them or go elsewhere.

So if you want to utilise social networks as part of your academic practice, then it really puts an emphasis on you to publish open access. Whether this is self-archived or gold route published isn’t that relevant – it needs to be accessible, now, and by everyone. If we assume that social networks aren’t going away and are going to become more and more pervasive as part of academic practice, then this becomes a strong, almost irresistible driver for open access. No wonder publishers are scared.

I also wonder if there are two distinct cultures developing in academia here – those who use social media might have a different set of publications they regard as core compared to others who are using library driven systems, for example.

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.


Waiting for the great leap forward

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Tue, 27/01/2015 - 11:38

Now that it’s 2015 (it is, check your phone!), it’s interesting to think about changes in ed tech over the past five years. People often use the 5 year timespan to make predictions, so it’s a convenient chunk of time. The major advance in technology in society, which has then impacted upon education, has been in mobile computing I’d suggest. We’ve also had MOOCs and Learning Analytics in that time as the main movements within education technology. I would suggest though that it’s been a fairly stagnant five years. More a case of stuff developing gradually rather than big revolutions. Consider the changes from 2000-2005: we had 14k modems, were coding in HTML, and the web was a niche topic (even dismissed by some). By the end of this period all businesses had websites, we had broadband and e-learning had become part of the mainstream for nearly all universities. This was a seismic shift in higher ed really that we’re still feeling the effects from today.

Then consider the change from 2005-2010: at the start of this hardly anyone blogged, no-one was on Facebook, and you could still find sensible comments on YouTube. By the end of it, social media had arrived, we went through the web 2.0 bubble and everyone was uploading, sharing, liking, etc. For education this changed the social dynamics around learning, and also the interaction with educators and concepts of digital scholarship. The effects of this change for education we are also just learning to accommodate.

But I don’t see such a big change 2010-2015 – which is not to say lots hasn’t happened. In specific areas I’m sure people will say “assessment has changed radically” or similar, but I don’t feel there has been this major social technological change that has then impacted upon education. It’s been a case of making the existing things better, bigger, more world-controlling. So does this mean we are due another major change soon? Or do we we enter a period now of settling down, of existing stuff expanding?

I’m deliberately not adding value judgements here, merely pointing out the impacts on education of recent years. But perhaps that moral, social, ethical aspect is the big change to come, and there are certainly signs of that. What does it mean when Facebook is the biggest country by population? Now that social networks are pervasive what does that do to our identity? We’ve struggled with this questions since the start, but they take on a different focus when the scale is now “everyone”.

Anyway, we’ve lived through such rapid changes in the past 15 years it’s interesting to reflect on those occasionally. And here is Billy Bragg singing the title song of this post:

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