Institute of Educational Technology
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.
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 and 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…)
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.
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.
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.
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!
(The iSpot team)
(This is a similar post on our team blog.)
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.
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?
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:
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.
(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.
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:
(doesn’t make cloud pun)
At the Open University we get a ‘study leave’ allowance every year, which was meant to replace the traditional summer breaks enjoyed by academics at campus universities. I try to take mine in December and January every year, last year it was when I wrote the Battle for Open book. This year although I’ve nominally taken it, I haven’t actually stopped doing any of the normal work because it doesn’t stop conveniently for you: bid deadlines need to be meet, project meetings are scheduled, PhD students still need supervision, management reports have to be written, etc.
This isn’t a moan about the pressures on academic life however, study leave is something of a luxury and unless you have a very specific project or plan, such as sabbatical at another university, I think this is just the way of things. But in order to actually do some writing, I booked myself a week in Cornwall, with just my dog for company. I’m writing this post at the end of this week, which has been very productive. It made me reflect on how we need to adopt new strategies to accommodate the pressures that being networked creates. At home I have created a non-screen room, which is just for reading, listening to music, watching the fish, playing drums. No screen activity. Actually it is more accurately a disconnected room – I don’t even allow myself to take my phone in there. It’s been very interesting to create this separate space, and I even retrieved my large CD collection from the garage to enjoy in there.
Just as this isn’t an moan about the pressures on academic life, it is also not another of those anti-connectivity pieces. When commentators such as Sherry Turkle bemoan the intrusion of the network life into the personal sphere I think they are usually comparing it with a very privileged past. For instance, when I was a teenager my parents ran a shop and would often work 6 days a week, not getting in until 7 most nights. Compare this with when my daughter was young and I used to walk her to school and pick her up most days. I could do this because network connectivity allowed me to work at home a lot, and when I picked her up I could take her to a play place or swimming, without feeling guilty because I could check emails a couple of times when I was there. Similarly, when my then wife was recovering from cancer a few years back I could spend time at home without losing touch with work, and also feeling that my profile didn’t disappear, because I could maintain it through blogs and social media.
So, the benefits that networking has given me are worth the price of the resultant blurred boundaries and intrusion into personal space. Without going into digital natives territory, we are the first generation to have to deal with this mass connectivity change. It will be assumed from now on, but we, as individuals and society, have had to make the adjustment. Inevitably we will get it wrong, we will over adopt sometimes and under-utilise at others. The only surprise about that be that people are surprised when it happens. But we’ll get it right over time.
My writing week, the disconnected room – these are examples of the corrections we make to get the network balance right. And we’ll become more adept at this. Also, business tip: helping people make these corrections will be an increasingly fruitful area.
According to the latest set of Open Research Online (ORO) figures, I now have 15,391 total downloads. This makes me the 46th most downloaded researcher of the thousands on the OU system.
Checking back in my blog, my work had been downloaded 8,780 times last March. The change in the figures suggests my work is downloaded from ORO 80 times a day on average. This seems surprisingly high, and underlines the benefits of having research easily searchable and downloadable online.
Meanwhile, over on Google Scholar, all this downloading activity translates into 768 citations to date, or one citation for every 20 downloads. That rate has remained steady since March. I’m also surprised at that consistency – I would have expected the rate to vary because the download numbers are so very different.
I’m pleased to see that my thesis has now been downloaded 912 times. Open access makes it so much more easy to open doctoral research up to the world instead of leaving it languishing on the shelves of the author’s family.
For the past five years I’ve done an end of year review of my running (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) . It’s the only running post I do now, and I usually add some philosophical rambling to justify it. I’d like to do it again this year, to carry on my own little tradition, but it’s impossible to do a running review this year without mentioning the major life event that occurred, namely the (unexpected) breakup of my marriage. I don’t want us all to feel awkward, so I’ll keep that bit to a minimum, but basically, assume ‘running’ is a great big life metaphor throughout this post.
First, the stats:
Duration: 165hrs 39 mins
Av distance: 6.1
Av pace: 9.52
It’s been an up and down year with running, I trained for the Windermere marathon in May. Things went a bit awry before this, and it was agreed I would go up and do the marathon while significant things happened at home. Let’s just say I hope it’s a long time before I am again required to find the courage it took to complete that weekend and that race. The marathon was hillier than I expected (it was in the Lake District, why was I surprised?) and it was a hot, brutal day, so I limped around in 5hrs 15. But this one really was about completing – is it possible to be literally running a metaphor?
I joined a local running club then, and June and July saw a real upsurge in the ‘running as therapy’ style. At this stage I was on target for about 1400 miles for the year. A holiday in Scotland with daughter reduced my mileage a bit, and I signed up for the inaugural Severn Bridge half marathon. This was hillier than I expected (you may detect a theme here), and for the first time I came in over 2 hours for a half. This was part of my build up to the Cardiff half though, so I wasn’t too bothered. However, my hip bursitis from a few years back began to niggle again, so in the lead-up to the Cardiff race, I eased off when I wanted to be pushing hard. In the end I was pleased with a time of 1hr 56 given this.
I then took 3 weeks off to rest my hip, and also had a week in Arlington, visiting George Siemens. I kind of lost my running mojo around this point, and with the annual goal of 1000 miles now beginning to be in doubt, I signed up for the Newport half in March. I’m the type of runner who needs a definite goal and a plan to stick to. This has meant that I have just passed the 1000 miles mark for the year, with a couple of days to spare. In the end I’m happy with this, any year I do a marathon, two halves and complete 1000 miles is a success. I know from having had years when I’ve been injured or not completed 1000 (see last year) I always berate myself ‘why weren’t you pleased when you did do it?’
The next year will be interesting in terms of my relationship with running. Over the past year I’ve developed, or resurrected, a lot of interests: I’ve joined a book club, I’m a Cardiff Devils season ticket holder, I watch a shitload of films, I’ve upped my cooking and gardening, and I’m completing my Masters in History (albeit with minimal effort). I’m unsure whether to continue this broad approach or whether to go deep in one, and whether running will be it, or if it will continue to be part of a mix.
Running is an odd pursuit, both boring and exhilarating, and also quite an existentialist one. As I plodded around the marathon, firstly my intended target time became unrealisable, then my revised one became problematic. But even at mile 16, with yet another hill to slog up, the race is both decided and yet undecided. You carry the story of the previous miles in your legs (have you gone out too fast, or been too cautious?) but yet much of what happens can still be determined, you can push hard for a few miles, ease off and make sure you finish, drop out and go to the pub, or find a new constant pace. Yes, it’s a bloody metaphor.
Back in 2011, I was part of a group of practitioners and researchers that published a proposal for an open and modularised platform for open learning analytics. In it, we outlined the development of an integrated and extensible toolset that would help academics and organisations to evaluate learner activity, determine needed interventions, and improve advancement of learning opportunities.
Siemens, G., Gašević, D., Haythornthwaite, C., Dawson, S., Buckingham Shum, S., Ferguson, R., Duval, E, Verbert, K, and Baker, R. S. J. d. (2011). Open Learning Analytics: An Integrated and Modularized Platform (Concept Paper): SOLAR.
We moved forward on this idea in spring this year when, following the LAK14 conference, I was invited to spend a weekend on the outskirts of Indianapolis, at the Open Learning Analytics (OLA) summit. One outcome of that event was the identification of domains in which future work may be conducted: open research, institutional strategy and policy issues, and learning sciences/learning design and open standards/open-source software – and ethical issues related to all of these.
At the start of December, there was another meet-up, this time in Europe and organised by the LACE project, together with the Apereo Foundation and the University of Amsterdam. In a room littered with classical sculpture, at Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum, participants from across Europe gave presentations on their interests in, and vision for, Open Learning Analytics and its application to education or training.
Following these presentations, we brainstormed ideas for action, exploring objectives for collaborative projects that could be achievable in 2-4 years, the methods to achieve these objectives, and the nature of an Open Learning Analytics Framework as a means of coordinating action. A next step will be to work together on bids to Europe’s Horizon 2020 funding programme in order to make these ideas into reality.
Team Hub wishes all its supporters, collaborators and friends all the very best for the forthcoming festivities and 2015! It’s been an amazing year and thank you for your continued support; we couldn’t do it without you all.
We’ve had a busy November and December (as ultra observant readers of our blog may have noticed, there was no monthly review for last month!)… so, where has the team been and what have we been up to?
Conferences, workshops and travel
November began with researcher Bea participating in this year’s International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) Blended and Online Symposium. Read Bea’s review of the conference and check out her slides on the impact of OER in the K12 classroom here.
Beck headed over to Washington DC early to carry out some visits and conduct interviews as part of case study work for OpenStax College, before heading to the…
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Tomorrow (Dec 16th) at 3pm UK time I’m doing an online book launch for my Battle For Open book. I’m sharing it with Martin Eve, who will be talking about his Open Access and the Humanities book also. If you’re interested in openness, open access, books, or just want to procrastinate, then please join us, The room will be open from 2pm (we’ll record it too so if you’re reading this after the fact, you can watch the playback).
One thing about going with a small publisher like Ubiquity is that they don’t have the marketing budget of someone like Elsevier. However, having published three books previously I’m not convinced this marketing does much. They generally ask you for ideas about where to send it, and much of the marketing is done by your personal networks. But I confess I don’t know how important all those catalogues, stands at conferences, and glossy flyers distributed via post are in terms of overall sales. I suspect they may help with giving the book a longer life. So, this represents a bit of a test. Ubiquity have some marketing and will get it into library catalogues, so it’s not a pure comparison of self-marketing vs traditional, but it will be interesting to see if it makes much difference in terms of citations (or sales even).
So, doing things like the webinar are part of that. I hope it’s interesting to others and not just self-indulgent. I will talk a bit about the book’s central theme but also about the process of writing this book also. And the relationship with Martin’s book will hopefully throw up some useful points for discussion too. Failing that, we can just sing Christmas carols and have mince pies.
Originally posted on Theatre of Fashion:Image from @violettaboxill
As the days get colder and festive adverts start tugging on our collective heartstrings, the burning question on everyone’s lips is, ‘forget Christmas, what do I have to look forward to in 2015?’ Well – dear reader – let me enlighten you, as I’ve been invited to guest-curate a series of events as part of the Women, Fashion, Power exhibition at the Design Museum. The series examines how women use dress to negotiate issues around power throughout history and across cultures, from Muslim dress and modest fashion to West African spirituality, and the use of uniforms in western fashion from the 18th century to the present day. Come along!
January 27th:Faith, Fashion & Power in Muslim Dress: Barjis Chohan in conversation with Professor Reina Lewis. The dress of Muslim women continues to spark debates surrounding oppression vs empowerment, but often the question of fashion is conspicuous by its absence. In this discussion…
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Did I mention my Battle for Open book is out? I SAID DID I MENTION MY BOOK IS OUT.
Ahem. Audrey Watters asks why a book, and it’s a question I asked myself with my last book. Here are some thoughts on the process of writing it, and how it relates to blogs and other outputs.
As with the last one, my blog is invaluable. It’s not quite like David’s book which is a collection of his blog posts, but anyone who reads this blog and then the book will be familiar with a lot of its content. When I realised there might be a book to write in this area I went through my blog and copied over anything that was relevant. This came to about 30,000 words. Now, some of that I didn’t use in the end, and nearly all of it I rewrote to an extent (there is a very interesting different tone of voice between book and blog). But nevertheless, for a 60,000 word book, to have nearly half of it in some form straight-off is a real kickstart. Whenever I do my blogging pitch people ask me ‘how do you find the time’, and I often counter that once you get past a certain point, it becomes a time saver. I don’t know how any academic writer functions without a blog. I sometimes found myself writing something and then thinking ‘hold on, haven’t I done something on this before?’ and I’d go back to the blog to find an erudite, well formed and argued article/rambling piece of nonsense that suited my needs.
What I like about a book is that you can make an extended argument, loop forward and refer back within one coherent piece. You can do the referring back in blogs but you write those over an extended period, and they’re usually short pieces. The book allows you a longer run at a subject and you have a reasonably clear idea how these ideas will build on each other. Blogs are much better at capturing thoughts over an extended time frame and for patterns to emerge. Like my last book, I didn’t realise I was in the process of writing this book on my blog for a period of a year or two. Then I began to see a common thread between posts that could benefit from the extended book approach. Again, how do people write books without blogs?
And why a book and not something more creative? Jim Groom might chastise me for being beholden to that text stuff. Alan Levine would have done something far more creative using photos and an application he developed himself. I could answer this by arguing that the form was appropriate for the content, but actually that’s not true. Others could have done something far more innovative and said the same thing. In the end I think it’s because, to paraphrase Laura Marling, I write because I can. It’s what I’m half-decent at, so you may as well go with that.
So, let’s end with some Laura:
After presenting at the SoLAR Flare learning analytics event last month, I was invited to the London Knowledge Lab to present at one of their regular What The Research Says seminars. This month, the subject was on ‘Designing a MOOC’, and I talked about building the links between learning design and learning analytics. This included a look at patterns of engagement in MOOCs, and how they vary according to pedagogy and learning design.
Other speakers at the event:
Last week I gave a talk at the Design4Learning conference at The Open University, Milton Keynes, on the roles of educators in MOOCs. The paper was based on analysis of materials relating to six FutureLearn MOOCs, and was co-authored with Denise Whitelock.
Educators in massive open online courses (MOOCs) face the challenge of interacting with tens of thousands of students, many of whom are new to online learning. This study investigates some of the different ways in which lead educators position themselves within MOOCs, and the various roles that they adopt in their messages to learners. Email messages from educators were collected from six courses on the FutureLearn platform, a UK-based MOOC platform with 36 university partners. Educator stance in these emails was coded thematically, sentence by sentence. The resulting typology draws attention to the different ways in which educators align themselves in these settings, including outlining the trajectory of the course, acting as both host and instructor, sometimes as fellow learner, and often as an emotionally engaged enthusiast. This typology can be used, in future, to explore relationships between educator stance and variables such as learner engagement, learner test results and learner retention.
If you’re into edtech/open education (and who isn’t?) then your cup runneth over these last couple of weeks with books to read. There are four I’ll highlight (including mine!) and they represent different approaches to writing and publishing, so they make a nice comparison.
First up is Martin Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities. Martin is a great OA champion and this book explores the context and issues surrounding OA for the humanities. It’s published by Cambridge University Press, with the digital version available under CC-BY-SA licence. This represents a fairly traditional model, with publisher paying the author some royalties, although often a bit reduced from the normal rate. (Martin contributes his royalties to Arthritis research by the way). The publisher is taking the punt that it will sell enough copies to make a profit on the investment required for the services in producing the book (copyediting, layout, etc).
My book, The Battle for Open, represents a slightly different approach. It’s published by Ubiquity Press (who we recently linked up with for JIME also, they’re my new publishing BFFs). They operate a ‘gold’ model, where you pay upfront for the services. However, they’re not looking to make a profit on the book then, and as with their journals, these costs are reasonable. Depending on the services you choose, it is around £3-4,000. Now that’s a lot for an individual, but in terms of research projects, it’s the same sort of price as going to a fancy conference overseas, and that type of dissemination is regularly built into budgets. I would argue that publishing an open access book might be a better use of such funds. I’ve heard tales from colleagues who’ve been quoted figures along the lines of £20,000 from big academic publishers to make their book open access. This is taking no risk at all, since that would probably cover the profit on a regular book anyway. This is available CC-BY in PDF, Kindle, epub formats, with the hardcopy available for the reasonable price of £12.99.
Next are two books that come from blogging chums. David Kernohan’s A New Order and Audrey Watters’ The Monsters of Education Technology. Both of these arose from a hackathon exploring self-publishing. David’s is a collection of his blog posts and Audrey’s her keynote talks. The digital versions are freely available under CC licences again (although I’d urge you to buy the digital format of Audrey’s one).
There are a few interesting things about this approach to me. Firstly, it’s a good example of that guerrilla approach to research that I like to bang on about. David and Audrey didn’t need anyone’s permission to publish these books. Secondly, both books are really good, better than many monographs we see published. This is, of course, primarily a function of their ability as writers, but it also demonstrates the value in spending time on smaller outputs. David’s blog is always worth reading, and Audrey’s keynotes are like masterclasses. In her book she says people keep telling her she’s going about keynotes the wrong way, you’re meant to do one and then repeat it (guilty as charged), but she spends ages creating a new one each time. This book demonstrates the value in doing that, as does David’s in keeping a blog where you explore issues that fall outside your daily job.
I like all four of these books (especially mine) for their subject matter, but more so because they demonstrate that different models to book publishing are possible and valid. These different models will meet the needs of different authors, and the good thing is, they’re all appropriate. When I started blogging I was intrigued by the changes that the digital approach made to academic practice. I think we’ve all become a bit jaded to that now, but these four publications demonstrate that it is still an interesting, and ongoing process. Anyway, that’s your Christmas reading list sorted right there.