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Recent blogs from IET staff

Innovating Pedagogy 2016

Great to see this year’s Innovating Pedagogy 2016 report out. This report, which I co-author with others at The Open University, highlights ten trends that will impact education over the next decade. These include Design Thinking, Productive Failure, Formative Analytics and Translanguaging. The report also presents evidence to inform decisions about which pedagogies to adopt. The pedagogies range from ones already being tested in classrooms, such as learning through video games, to ideas for the future, like adapting blockchain technology for trading educational reputation.

This year, the report has been written in collaboration with the Learning Sciences Lab, National Institute of Education, Singapore.

The ten trends covered this year are:

  1. Learning through social media: Using social media to offer long-term learning opportunities
  2. Productive failure: Drawing on experience to gain deeper understanding
  3. Teachback: Learning by explaining what we have been taught
  4. Design thinking: Applying design methods in order to solve problems
  5. Learning from the crowd: Using the public as a source of knowledge and opinion
  6. Learning through video games: Making learning fun, interactive and stimulating
  7. Formative analytics: Developing analytics that help learners to reflect and improve
  8. Learning for the future: Preparing students for work and life in an unpredictable future
  9. Translanguaging: Enriching learning through the use of multiple languages
  10. Blockchain for learning: Storing, validating and trading educational reputation

Policies for using Big Data

The PELARS project (Practice-based Experiential Learning Analytics Research And Support) invited me to Brussels for their Policies for using Big Data event on 9 November. The aim of the  workshop was to raise awareness about the potential of analysis of data produced by learning technologies to catalyze the effective design of adaptive teaching, learning and assessment at scale. The aim was to bring together people interested in exploring the state-of-the-art of learning analytics, as well as to be informed about opportunities and barriers for adoption.

I chaired the panel discussion at the event, and was also able to talk to participants about the LACE project, following a presentation on LACE by Hendrik Drachsler.


JISC effective learning analytics

Following my visit to Korea, it was great to see Il-Hyun Jo at the 8th UK Learning Analytics event, which was organised at The Open University by JISC.

Il-Hyun talked about the problems associated with learning analytics in a country where grades are allocated in relation to a normal distribution curve – so if one student’s grades go up, another student’s grades will go do – and where competition to enter universities is so intense that retention is not viewed as a problem.

 


MOOCs and Open Education around the World

The book MOOCS and Open Education Around the World, to which I contributed a chapter, has been very successful. Most recently, it won a DDL Distance Education Book Award. This award is presented in recognition of a print or digital book published within the last three years that describes important theoretical or practical aspects of distance education that can help others involved in distance education or those researching an important aspect of distance education. The primary focus of the book must be directly related to distance education.

AECT Division of Distance Learning (DDL) Distance Education Book Award. 2016 – First Place. MOOCs and Open Education around the World, Editors: Curtis J. Bonk, Mimi M. Lee, Thomas C. Reeves and Thomas H. Reynolds. NY: Routledge. Presented at the 2016 Conference of the Association for Educational Technology and Communications, Las Vegas.


LASI Asia

While I was in Seoul in September, I took part in the Asian Learning Analytics Summer Institute (LASI Asia). I was joined there by members of the LACE team, who included the event as part of the LACE tour of Asia, which also took in Japan and Korea.

During LASI Asia, I gave a talk about what is on the horizon for learning analytics. This went into more detail, and was aimed at a more specialist audience, than my talk at e-Learning Korea. I also took part in a couple of panel discussions. The first was on how to build an international community on learning analytics research, and the second was on the achievements of learning analytics research and next steps.

Abstract

There is general agreement that the importance of learning analytics is likely to increase in the coming decade. However, little guidance for policy makers has been forthcoming from the technologists, educationalists and teachers who are driving the development of learning analytics. The Visions of the Future study was carried out by the LACE project in to order to provide some perspectives that could feed into the policy process.
The study took the form of a ‘policy Delphi’, which is to say that it was not concerned with certainty about the future, but rather focused on understanding the trends issues which will be driving the field forward in the coming years. The project partners developed eight visions of the future of learning analytics in 2025. These visions were shared with invited experts and LACE contacts through an online questionnaire, and consultation with stakeholders was carried out at events. Respondents were asked to rate the visions in terms of their feasibility and desirability, and the actions which should be taken in the light of their judgements. 487 responses to visions were received from 133 people. The views of the respondents on how the future may evolve are both interesting and entertaining. More significantly, analysis of the ratings and free text responses showed that for the experts and practitioners who engaged in the study, there was a consensus around a number of points which are shaping the future of learning analytics.

1. There is a lot of enthusiasm for Learning Analytics, but concern that its potential will not be fulfilled. It is therefore appropriate for policy makers to take a role.
2. Policies and infrastructure are necessary to strengthen the rights of the data subject.
3. Interoperability specifications and open infrastructures are an essential enabling technology. These can support the rights of the data subject, and ensure control of analytics processes at the appropriate level.
4. Learning analytics should not imply automation of teaching and learning.

The full results of the study are published in a report at http://www.laceproject.eu/deliverables/d3-2-visions-of-the-future-2/.

In this session the visions explored by the LACE study will be presented, the conclusions discussed, and the audience will take part in an impromtu mapping of the most desirable and feasible vision of the future for learning analytics in Asia.


Learning analytics in Korea

I was invited to speak at e-Learning Korea 2016 in Seoul on 21-22 September. My presentation focused on the visions of the future work that I had carried out as part of the LACE project.

Abstract

Learning analytics involve the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, in order to understand and optimise learning and the environments in which it occurs. Since emerging as a distinct field in 2011, learning analytics has grown rapidly, and early adopters around the world are already developing and deploying these new tools. However, it is not enough for us to develop analytics for our educational systems as they are now – we need to take into account how teaching and learning will take place in the future. The current fast pace of change means that if, in April 2006, we had begun developing learning analytics for 2016, we might not have planned specifically for learning with and through social networks (Twitter was launched in July 2006), with smartphones (the first iPhone was released in 2007), or learning at scale (the term MOOC was coined in 2008). By thinking ahead and by consulting with experts, though, we might have come pretty close by taking into account existing work on networked learning, mobile learning and connectivism. In this talk, Rebecca will introduce a range of different scenarios that explore different ways in which learning analytics could develop in the future. She will share the results of an international Policy Delphi study, which was designed for the systematic solicitation and collation of informed judgments on visions of learning analytics in 2025. The study explored underlying assumptions and information leading to differing judgments on learning analytics, and brought together informed judgments about the field. The findings of the Policy Delphi, together with other studies, are now being used to develop action plans that will help us to develop analytics to support learners and educators in the future.


MOOCs: what the research tells us

MOOCs: What the Open University research tells us recommends priority areas for activity in relation to massive open online courses (MOOCs). It does this by bringing together all The Open University’s published research work in this area from the launch of the first MOOC in 2008 until February 2016.

The report provides brief summaries of, and links to, all publications stored in the university’s Open Research Online (ORO) repository that use the word ‘MOOC’ in their title or abstract. Full references for all studies are provided in the bibliography.

Studies are divided thematically, and the report contains sections on the pedagogy of MOOCs, MOOCs and open education, MOOC retention and motivation, working together in MOOCs, MOOC assessment, accessibility, privacy and ethics, quality and other areas of MOOC research.

The report identifies ten priority areas for future work:

  1. Influence the direction of open education globally 
  2. Develop and accredit learning journeys 
  3. Extend the relationship between learners and the university
  4. Make effective use of learning design
  5. Make use of effective distance learning pedagogies
  6. Widen participation
  7. Offer well-designed assessment 
  8. Pay attention to quality assurance 
  9. Pay attention to privacy and ethics
  10. Expand the benefits of learning from MOOCs

It’s not just a story

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Mon, 05/12/2016 - 13:59

Since the BAD day in the US I have set up three direct debits. I didn’t plan to, they just arose (and to be frank, they’re for small amounts). They are to Hack Education (sorry Audrey, should have done it ages ago), The New York Times and Stand Up to Racism. As I said, it wasn’t part of a plan, they were individual responses to prompts, but now I look at them they all have something in common, which is that they offer a counter narrative: to the Silicon Valley technodeterminism; to Trump’s post-truth approach; to the dominant anti-migrant story in the UK.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about education’s response to all this. Bonnie Stewart argues we need to start being proactive, in a way, creating a digital literacy narrative. This is true of education itself I think. When we have populist MPs like Jacob Rees Mogg declaring that experts are similar to astrologers, there is an urgent case for education to have a strong narrative about its purpose.

Experts, soothsayers, astrologers are all in much the same category – Jacob Rees-Mogg #AutumnStatement #Newsnight https://t.co/TbCm1HV2jz

— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) November 23, 2016

This falls on all of us in education, but particularly those in positions of authority. For many years now we have seen Vice-Chancellors appointed on their ability to make universities behave like businesses, to develop radical new models of higher education. What we need now from Vice Chancellors (and Chancellors, Pro Vice Chancellors, eminent Profs, public intellectuals, etc) is an ability to articulate clearly, and with passion, the importance of higher education to society and to individuals. And not just in a return on investment, monetised manner but in terms of preserving democracy, cultural values and social cohesion. Because narrative, more than facts, is important – it used to be said that the victor writes history, but now more than ever it seems the one who writes the version of history they want, becomes the victor.

Innovating Pedagogy

OU Innovation Report series - Wed, 30/11/2016 - 15:00

The series of reports explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world, to guide teachers and policy makers in productive innovation.

View the 2016 Innovating Pedagogy report

This fifth report, produced in collaboration with the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education, Singapore, proposes ten innovations that are already in currency but have not yet had a profound influence on education.

You can see a summary of each innovation using the menu on the right.  Please add your comments on the report and the innovations.

See themes from previous years

Social media do-over

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Mon, 28/11/2016 - 12:51

A bunch of us have been looking at Mastodon Social over the past week as an alternative social media platform. Kate Bowles and Maha Bali amongst others have been having some good discussion about how we want social media to work for us now. Kate, rightly I think, argues that we’re not looking for a replacement to Twitter, but an alternative. Mastodon as an open source platform that seems to have its heart in the right place might be that. But even if it’s not, I think the activity there is an indication of our changing attitude to social media.

Being on Twitter since reasonably early days (2007) has been like watching a city develop rapidly from a small town. And like a city Twitter now has many amazing things and people. It also has a very dark side and its share of crime. The hardened city dweller begins to yearn for a more simple, friendly life. An alternative social media platform then is more like a holiday home in a nice rural community, everyone knows your name, it’s got a couple of nice coffee bars but not much else. You mainly go for the walks and the quiet pace of life.

Reflecting on the activity on Mastodon made me realise two things. Firstly, we’ve become acutely aware of the role of social media in recent politic events – it’s not an innocent anymore. Secondly, we’re all social media experts now, in that we’ve been using it intensely for year. When we joined Twitter it was with an exploratory attitude, “what will this space turn out to be?”. Now it is more instructive, directed – we know what we want from a social media space and how can we fashion this one to be like that?

Even if Mastodon fades, I think this new attitude to social media will be revisited with increased vigour over the next few years. If we accept it isn’t going away (although I admire those who consciously decide to opt out) then establishing the sort of online community you want to spend time in is worthwhile.

Break my arms around the one I love

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 24/11/2016 - 20:34

I’ve written before about my love of blogging. But post-Trump victory, I’m questioning everything. On the plus side it has seen a flurry of great blogging. With news forced to normalise it, and fake news a testimony to our ability to drown in comfort rather than face truths, blogs are the place to turn to for informative comment often.

But on the downside, as David Kernohan points out, much of the grinding engine of paranoia and hatred is driven by these same tools and approaches. The ones I’ve happily championed for years. And more fundamentally I think we have to question the role of education, educational technology and educators now. As a blogger I don’t want to write about the new world, because there are others who have a better understanding of the socio-political threads coming together in this new fabric, and I don’t think I have anything new to say (apart from a long primal scream). But I can’t write about anything else. This post then really is just flagging up some blogistential angst. Damn Trump and his ilk, they’ve even contaminated this space.

While I figure this out for me, here’s a selection of some great posts:

Sherri Spelic – Incuriosity is a thing

Jesse Stommel – This paragraph was written before the world went to shit

Mike Caulfield – Fake news does better on Facebook than real news

Audrey Watters – Education Technology under Trump: A syllabus

Tressie McMillan Cottom – Digital redlining after Trump

Helen Beetham – Ed Tech and the circus of unreason

Lorna Campbell – The wrong side of history

Amy Collier – Love/Resistance

And while we’re here, let’s have some National:

Acts of resistance

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 11/11/2016 - 17:20

So I had the Trump chat with my daughter last night. It’s a useful way to frame your own reaction, as you have to balance the anger, depression and anxiety with some practicality and hope. She wanted to know what she could do, and I explained that one thing to remember is that time and demographics are against the Alt-right world order. In 10 years time Brexit or Trump would not have been successful (probably). And also their own incompetence and failure to deliver on their vague promises will be their undoing. So just getting through the next 5-10 years is a strategy in itself. In our discussion (it was actually more her analysis than mine) we thought of it in terms of resistance:

  • Staying healthy is an act of resistance – whatever you need to do to get through it is fine. There is no one way to do this, but being there when the chance for the backlash comes is important. We are those demographics.
  • Being kind is an act of resistance – these politics are based largely in hate, fear and paranoia. Kindness sounds weak but it requires strength.
  • Encouraging diversity is an act of resistance – the people who voted for Trump are the ones who think a remake of Ghostbusters with all women leads destroys their childhood. Fuck them, let’s see more of this everywhere.
  • Supporting others is an act of resistance – there are others who will be affected more adversely, and whatever we can do to support those helps, be it marches, donations, speaking up.
  • Education is an act of resistance – the Trump campaign declares open hostility to knowledge and expertise. Combatting this attitude itself negates their appeal.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Take care.

OpenEd16 & my manel shame

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 04/11/2016 - 23:08

I’ve been at OpenEd in Richmond this week, and I feel bad about this post, because it’s been an amazing conference. For example, I’ve just come from post conference drinks with Audrey Watters, Ken Bauer, Christina Hendricks, Autumm Caines, Laura Gogia, Jim Luke, and so on. Anything that brings those people together in one place is worth applauding. So what follows is meant in the best possible friendly critique manner.

OpenEd conference needs to do better at, well, being open. Before we start, I’ll say I dislike the way people use ‘open’ as a means to bash others eg “if you’re open why do you charge conference fees at all?”. I understand the realities of running a conference. But I think OpenEd could do better here. My example involves myself and a moment of shame I felt, but I think it’s symptomatic, so this isn’t just catharsis. I was asked relatively late to be on a panel, talking about the Future OER essays people were asked to contribute. I like to be accommodating so I agreed. But I didn’t pay it much attention (in an effort to redeem myself here, I was presenting, taking part in 3 Virtually Connecting sessions and had arranged numerous meetings with people). Then, when it came to walk on stage I was one of 7 men to just one woman on the panel. I mean, really? In open ed, you could throw a cookie in the air and it’d land on any one of a number of women doing amazing things. It almost seems like it’d be harder to have a 7:1 ration than not.

I called this out when asked to introduce myself, but I know I lack a good degree of moral courage. I should have a) paid more attention when asked to be on the panel and b) walked off the stage when I saw it’s make up. This shit isn’t hard, it just takes a millisecond additional thought.

But I think it goes beyond that panel – there didn’t feel like the appropriate mix of voices beyond north America at that conference. It felt different from OE Global, which feels, well, global. I understand it is predominantly the conference for open ed in North America – that’s what it is, so that community will dominate. But I think we could do better. In a Virtually Connecting session later, I commented that often we (Virtually Connecting) feel grateful for conferences letting us be part of it (and OpenEd did a really great job here, for which they should be applauded), but also they should feel grateful to Maha and team for bringing in some different voices to the conference also.

I won’t address all the issues why it’s good practice to get these different perspectives involved, as so many better informed people than me have written about it, but just to add that it’s not a luxury, it’s vital. Anyway, I’ve learnt never agree to be on a panel without asking a few questions first, and for my failure to do that, I apologise.

Let’s think inside the box

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 27/10/2016 - 12:28

I’m interested in the way language influences our behaviour (without getting into linguistic determinism), and one aspect I think we’re witnessing is the seepage of Silicon Valley language and values into society. In the software world terms such as ‘radical’, ‘disruptive’ and ‘revolutionary’ are all used freely, and always with positive connotations. However, the same terms have now been taken up across society, and particularly in politics. Both Brexit and Trump could match those adjectives, but I would argue they are not positive forces. These are larger examples of a smaller phenomenon that values a radical new solution over an improvement to an existing one. Competence is a much undervalued trait in this new world, because competence relies on working in existing paradigms, and well, we’re all about the new paradigms. Never has this contrast been so stark than with Trump and Clinton. Whatever your views of Clinton, she is very competent at being a politician. And Trump clearly isn’t, because he’s never been one (and doesn’t seem to possess any of the skills required).

But this post isn’t about politics, I just use those as examples of the end point of a larger trend, and to illustrate the point that ‘disruptive’ does not equate with ‘good’. In education terms, I feel this language has been influential also. Too many universities want to be start-up businesses, or expand into new overseas markets. They want to be something new, instead of being the best at what they already are. ‘Let’s Engage on a Program of Improvement’ is, admittedly, not as sexy as “Let’s start a revolution!”. Another aspect of the Silicon Valley language and mindset is that falsely posits the choice as either complete transformation or absolute status quo. I reject this choice, there is plenty of change and excitement to be done by working ‘inside the box’ (sadly ‘inside the box‘ has itself become a bit of a management guru approach already).

The use of technology in education I think provides an ideal example of this tendency. You can make the question about its use “how can we use technology to radically transform higher education into something different?” or it can be “how do we use technology to really improve what we do?” Those two questions lead you to very different answers. Too often I think being the person who wants to answer the first question will get you status, whereas the answer to the second question is what we really need. This is particularly true as we enter uncertain times as a result of the political context which arises from the same thinking.

We need a shift from the desirable adjectives being ‘radical’, ‘disruptive’ and ‘revolutionary’ to ‘competent’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘enhancing’. If you don’t think language is important in this, then try the following – the next time someone uses ‘disruptive’ in a meeting, act as if that is quite an offensive term and really question them on why they have used it (as I said before, do you really want disruption?). Maybe then people will start to question what it is they really want.

OER as educational heritage

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 21/10/2016 - 09:13

There has been a pruning of A-level subjects in the UK recently, with Art history, Archeology, and Classical studies all for the chop. It’s like the Beeching Report for education. It is puzzling in many respects – everyone talks about how the workplace is becoming increasingly fragmented, diverse in terms of jobs. We are told things like 65% of today’s students will be doing jobs that don’t exist yet (which reminds me of Anchorman’s “60% of the time it works every time“), and yet we are making the education sector increasingly homogeneous. And with higher ed funding increasingly focused on STEM subjects, it is not just at secondary level that this restriction of choice will occur.

This perhaps hints at another role for OER, which is preserving some aspect of the necessary diversity in educational topics. Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting OER should replace A levels in these subject, but rather arguing that if they are being scrapped, then thank goodness OER can at least keep them going in some format. OER provide good quality content that is specifically aimed at learners, which is distinct from other resources (documentaries, books) in the area. The OU’s OpenLearn site for instance has a fine collection of material on Art History. OER then can at least help the motivated learner stay in touch with a subject. There may be further possibilities however, in the often talked about model of accrediting informal learning. In such a model maybe we can bring some diversity to a curriculum by having OER electives. You may be studying Physics, say, but there is one open elective so you can add in an option of Archeology through the provision and accreditation of OER.

That is of course, nowhere near the same as having rich diversity in official courses, but it at least keeps appreciation of these subjects alive, until such time as a more enlightened educational regime is in place.

The lesson of Mabon’s Day

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 20/10/2016 - 09:44

This is one of those “thoughts I had while walking the dog that I might as well blog before I forget them” posts. It concerns a little known holiday in Wales, and the relevance this has for (educational) technology. Mabon’s Day started in 1888, around the South Wales coal mines, in which the 1st Monday of every month was declared a holiday. Named after the Lib-Lab politician William Abraham (who was better known as Mabon) who fought successfully for the miners to have this holiday. His argument was largely that they were physically exhausted through labour, and thus could not devote time to intellectual pursuits. A day a month would allow them to focus on self development. Needless to say the pit owners opposed the move, which they saw purely in terms of lost coal output.

It was successful however, through lobbying by politicians such as Mabon and Trade Unions. Alas, Mabon’s ideal that it would be used for holding union meetings, studying and general intellectual pursuits was not borne out. Anyone who has been in the UK on a bank holiday weekend will know what happened – everyone got very drunk. This isn’t quite true, there were meetings, but attendance was often low, and instead fairs, and entertainments were set up in parks, which attracted more people.A local newspaper noted that ‘in many cases the day is spent in dissipation’. This led to much moral outrage, and complaints from the pit owners, as subsequent days were lost also. In 1898 it was abolished.

I like the story of Mabon’s Day – there’s lots going on there. The attitudes of owners and the press to workers is obvious, but so also is the moralising of their supporters such as Mabon. It is worth noting that Mabon was a lay preacher and teetotaller. While he fought passionately for workers’ rights, it was to do what he deemed appropriate. I don’t want to raise drinking 10 pints of beer to some political statement, but I quite like that the miners gave them a clear message, and used the day as they saw fit.

And this is the link with technology I was musing – many NGOs, Foundations, and Start-ups have very good intentions about how technology can help developing nations, or underprivileged groups. But it often feels like it comes with the Mabon clause – it’s to do the things we view as worthwhile (study, entrepreneurship, creating community). Those are worthwhile things, but a freedom given is one to be used by those people in the manner they see best. Getting drunk on Mabon’s Day may not be the wholesome practice the politicians envisaged, but think of the fun people had at those big public fairs, with races, stalls and entertainment. That was what they wanted and maybe it made the dangerous job and relentless nature of life much more bearable.

So, whenever you hear a tech entrepreneur (for example in a TED talk) talking about the noble, utopian vision they have for the freedom they are gifting to a particular group of people, it’s worth having the lesson of Mabon’s Day in the back of your head, and asking what the equivalent would be, and how that person would then react.

(All of my knowledge on this holiday is from Andy Croll’s article “Mabon’s Day: The Rise and Fall of a Lib–Lab Holiday in the South Wales Coalfield, 1888–1898“)

Ed Tech as discipline

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Tue, 27/09/2016 - 13:27

(There’s probably a really good metaphor I could make about this image, but I’ve included it just for the Vasari ref below and because Cellini was something of a ‘character’).

There was an article that did the rounds a few days ago about Ed Tech should become a discipline. And last week Audrey Watters gave a tremendous keynote which touched upon why she felt it was a bad idea (it’s worth reading Audrey’s keynote in full not just for the content but as an example of someone really crafting a keynote, developing an idea and articulating it with clarity cf. my approach of chucking together a bunch of slides at the last minute and mumbling my way through them). Audrey’s keynote is a plea for situating educational technology in a broader society and being critical:

“I want to suggest that what we need instead of a discipline called “education technology” is an undisciplining. We need criticism at the center of our work.”

I agree very much with Audrey, that too often ed tech is not critical, it idolises the technology, or at least fails to question what values it carries within its software kernel. But, I wonder (and I wonder a lot about ed tech without getting to firm conclusions), if some of these reservations might not be best overcome by ed tech becoming a discipline. Which sounds paradoxical, but bear with me.

For a start we should ask what we mean by it becoming a discipline? It should have its own journals? Tick. Its own conferences? Check. Recognised accreditation? Hello CMALT. A professional society? Nice to meet you ALT. So, in many ways, it is one already. I guess the defining characteristic though is a number of undergraduate degree in that area. There are a few “Education and IT” type degrees out there, but not really a range of Ed tech ones.

So how might ed tech being a discipline in this respect help? Firstly, it allows us to bring in a range of perspectives. One of the criticisms of ed tech is that people come in from one discipline and are unaware of fundamental work in a related one. So the Ed Tech discipline might well have components from psychology, sociology, education, computer science, statistics, etc. This would help establish a canonical body of texts that you could assume most people in ed tech are familiar with.

Secondly, another criticism of ed tech is that it lacks rigour. Claims are often based on anecdote, small trials, or just hopes about the power of technology. As well as establishing a set of common content, Ed Tech can establish good principles and process in terms of evaluating evidence. These first two I would argue are vital as ed tech becomes more significant in education and the claims made for it more extravagant (why are you thinking of MOOCs?).

Lastly, and for me, most interestingly, it creates a body against which criticism can push. By way of analogy, let us consider Art History, which I’m currently struggling through a Masters in. Art History used to be predominantly about the history of Art. Starting with Vasari’s Lives of the Artists it focused on the ‘great’ artists and their works. Later it shifted to talking about styles as a way of framing the history of art. But in the 1970s there was a reaction to this, bringing in marxist, feminist and multi-cultural perspectives. The implicit assumptions in the previous approaches were directly challenged, leading to the New Art History. Now Art History is as much about “Art History the discipline and practice” as it is about “the history of Art”. By making Ed Tech a discipline there is the possibility that we facilitate a similar perspective. You could only have a New Art History if there was an Old Art History. When a subject becomes a discipline, then it is not long before you get a version of it prefaced by the word “Critical”. Critical Educational Technology sounds fine to me, and could sit alongside Practical Educational Technology to the mutual benefit of both.

Open education and the Unenlightenment

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 23/09/2016 - 13:43

Generally I don’t go in for a romantic view of the past, and a sense of displeasure with the present. We forget just how grim the past was for most people, for most of history. But lately, I’ve become disillusioned with what we might call “the Unenlightenment”. Now, the Enlightenment is not an unproblematic historical concept (it’s decidedly Euro-centric for a start), but as a general principle it saw a culture that sought to understand the world, through science and art. This desire for knowledge, the very belief that acquiring knowledge was a worthwhile pursuit, underpinned much of cultural development through to the 20th century. And although it started out as a privileged pursuit, the basic premise, which we can summarise as “knowing stuff is good”, went through all of society, as witnessed by the strong links between education and the trade union movements during the industrial revolution. And while the Enlightenment was a European flavour of this principle, there were similar strands before and after in many cultures. When people used to talk of “bettering themselves” they sometimes meant it in purely financial terms, but more often they meant in terms of gaining knowledge (and yes I appreciate it’s a loaded term, but it was one in common usage).

The Unenlightenment sees a reversal of this basic principle: wilful avoidance of knowledge. During the Brexit campaign we saw Michael Gove proudly declare that he didn’t listen to experts. Brexit may be the most complex political task currently underway anywhere in the world – I don’t begin to understand the legislative, trading, social, implications of realising it. Whatever your own view on the vote, it is surely bizarre that experts should be deliberately excluded by some from commenting on a task of such complexity. And with Donald Trump, we repeatedly see him, his team and supporters dismiss facts and experts. This is not incidental, it is core to his appeal. The Daily Show clip below captures this attitude: “Do I have proof? No. Do I have articles? No. But my mind is made up” one supporter declares proudly towards the end.

Trump and the Brexit campaign can be seen as the culmination of a much longer trend of anti-intellectualism however, particularly in the West. In a complex world, people don’t want to hear that there aren’t simple solutions, so the media has dismissed anyone who says otherwise. We can all find our favourite reasons for this I guess: globalisation, neo-liberalism, mass media, etc. That’s beyond the scope of this post. But it does seem that deliberately, and wilfully remaining ignorant is now seen as acceptable, and indeed desirable in a way that once was not the case. That’s my contention anyway, I’m happy to be corrected.

The question then is how does education, and particularly open education operate in this changed context? Education is often promoted as the removal of ignorance. But ignorance can often result from a lack of opportunity. This is something that can be addressed. Indeed my own institution was founded exactly for this purpose, to give educational opportunities to those who were previously excluded. But that is a very different context from when people have opportunity, but deliberately do not want to gain knowledge. You can’t force people to learn. When knowledge and expertise are seen as part of the problem, the elite, the conspiracy, then you are up against more than just opportunity and barriers to learning – it’s a kind of anti-learning.

In this culture, how does education proceed? Simply creating great OERs about climate change, racial history, evidence based approaches, feminism, evolution, or whatever is not enough. They will be avoided, or dismissed. But having those resources is useful I think should someone come to the stage where they want to learn, and having a variety of ways in is important (OER, MOOCs, local college, night classes, blended learning – not just a three year degree). And academics through social media, blogs etc can show that they don’t live in an ivory tower, they’re real people who do know what the “real world” looks like.

But that won’t be enough. And I don’t know what the answers are beyond this. Education needs to fight not only for its own relevance, but for the culture within which it is situated. Open education needs to ask this of itself though. The effects of the Enlightenment were felt for centuries, we have to hope the same isn’t true for the Unenlightenment.

Digital Scholar course

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Mon, 19/09/2016 - 08:29

I may not have mentioned it, but I wrote a book called The Digital Scholar a few years back. It was published under a CC licence by Bloomsbury Academic. Last year a colleague of mine, Fernando Rosell, read it and suggested to the OpenLearn team that they should make a short course based on it.

The OpenLearn team have developed a format of Badged Open Courses (BOCs). These are generally 8 weeks long, 3 hours per week, with a quiz halfway through and at the end, and a digital badge available. They’re openly licensed (CC-NC – don’t go all haterz on the NC people), professionally produced and open for continual enrolment. The evidence from previous runs of BOCs has been that they tend to have a higher retention rate than normal MOOCs (there, I said the M word). Some research on demographics can be found here.

This seemed a good fit for a Digital Scholar course, which could be seen as professional development. So following on from Fernando’s suggestion, the team got in touch. The great thing was that being openly licensed, we could use the book as the basis. It needed a bit of updating, and not all of it was relevant, but it formed a good spine to a course. I wrote the first draft, and Nigel Gibson then added a layer of a guiding voice to it. We shot some (super-awkward, rabbit in headlights) videos and created the quizzes. And last week it went live. I don’t know how useful it will prove, but I’ve added it to my list of “unexpected benefits when you release something under an open licence”.

And while you’re thinking “free open courses, maybe they’ll become a thing”, you might also want to look at the Open Educator course created by my colleague Beck Pitt and the Open Education Scotland team. It would make a nice staff development double pack with the digital scholar course. I know, we spoil you.

Keynotes & communities at ALT-C

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 15/09/2016 - 10:12

I was at the ALT-C conference last week (I become Chair of ALT for this year, will try not to break it). I’ve noticed over the years that there are two communities at ALT (there are many more of course, but two main ones I think). These can be labelled practitioners who have started to use some ed tech, and more full time educational technologists. For the former group, Alt-C is not their normal conference, they may be physics lecturers, but they have started to use technology in an interesting way. This may well be their first time attending. For the second group, ALT-C represents the main UK conference in their field and they are more interested in critical thinking and practice.

Catering (not food, why did you think of food?) for these two audiences is difficult. It can be done within sessions easily enough as people tend to choose the type of session they prefer, and maybe conference themes help also. But there is a danger of them remaining quite distinct audiences who don’t really intersect. This is where keynotes play a vital role I feel. They are the one common session between sub-communities. If they are pitched right then they speak to both of them, and provide a common ground for discussion, a sort of unifying conversation. However, these two audiences can want different things from a keynote: the first group maybe to be enthused about the possibility of new technology, and the second some critical analysis of the theory and direction of educational technology itself. What pleases one may alienate another.

In this respect, I think ALT-C got it exactly right this year, as all keynotes appealed to both communities: Josie Fraser talking about trolls was something anyone with a Twitter account could relate to, and increasingly an issue as we encourage students to develop online identities; Lia Commissar debunked some educational neuroscience myths nicely, which resonated with the old timers and may have been new to some also; Ian Livingstone gave an engaging talk about his life which frankly would be a great keynote at any conference; Jane Secker gave an impassioned plea for copyright awareness that even made this hardened open access, Creative Commons hack sit up; Dave White and Donna Lanclos gave an entertaining closing talk on creativity in the digital world.

The keynotes can be viewed here if you haven’t seen them: ALT-C 2016 keynotes. This post is really a ‘well done’ but also linking back to earlier discussions in the year around keynotes. They may be a bit traditional in the day of the unconference, but they fulfil an important role when there are diverse audiences at a conference, so getting them right is important.

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