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Recent blogs from IET staff

Ringing the changes in HE

Will Woods's blog - Tue, 14/02/2017 - 19:31

I’ve been working with a group of colleagues across the Open University in a very collegiate spirit to develop a coherent Vision and Plan for Learning and Teaching. We are also developing a vision for our leadership in digital innovation which is complimentary. We are doing this at a time of unprecedented change for UK Higher Education, not simply because of the HE Bill and TEF and the changes those bring with them (N.B. despite the OU not entering TEF this year we still have a lot of work to do lobbying for changes, supporting the four nations agenda and national policies and preparing for the time when we will enter TEF which involves collecting and interpreting data to better differentiate part-time learners, their prior experience/level of knowledge and their learning gain) but also the wider changes resulting from the UK’s exit from the EU and implications from changes in U.S. policy. This makes it challenging to construct a vision that is both grounded but is also fixed on the far horizon and so can guide actions for transformation.

As far as Innovation is concerned we’ve been looking to the Educause “Building a Culture of Innovation in HE: Design and Practice for Leaders” as a tool to help us identify areas to prioritize. There are a series of near horizon and far horizon goals that we wish to achieve through this process. Near horizon goals aim to improve the current system of learning and teaching at the OU, while far horizon goals simultaneously build the conditions from which a new system can emerge (figure 1).

Figure 1 – Shifting from Improvement to Innovation (extracted from Educause “Building a Culture of Innovation in Higher Education: Design and Practice for Leaders”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is element of crystal ball gazing to all of this endeavour (although some market research and academic research is also involved). I was taken with this recent post by Joshua Kim for Inside Higher Ed which resonates with some of my feelings around HE. It’s called Why Our Higher Ed Transformation Crowd Should Read ‘The Upstarts’ and emphasizes that the antecedents for transformative change are rarely understood in advance. We can create the conditions but we cannot imagine the impact (or not).

All this work has come to the attention of others in high places and so I am having my own personal transformative change. I’m leaving my role as Head of Incubation at the end of this month to take up a new role as Head of Strategy and Policy (including a continued responsibility for co-ordination of incubation/innovation). I’m going to miss the Learning and Teaching Development team which includes the Learning Design team that I’ve been managing for the past few months, they are great people doing fantastic but hugely undervalued work.

This change consequently means an alignment and co-ordination of the Learning Design and TEL-Design (Technology Enhanced Learning Design) teams to have a coherent organisational approach and vision for Learning Design and clear ownership and responsibility for aspects of LD under Rebecca Galley (Head of TEL). We are also defining the homes for enabling elements for LD including data which is becoming increasingly valuable for decision making.

From next month I’ll be managing the Strategic Planning and Policy team. I will also be moving away from the academic side of business and from the Institute of Educational Technology to focus on this new role within the Learning and Teaching Innovation Portfolio. I’m also in my second week of the Masters course in Online and Distance Education to better understand the theory around what I’m doing. It’s a seriously well constructed course and I’m really enjoying my tutor group chats. I think I’m becoming slightly addicted to this online learning thing but I’ll see if I remain enthusiastic after my first exam!

Crucially though despite all the changes I’m  keeping a hot desk in the Jennie Lee building so that I can continue to network with academic colleagues (..and steal their coffee and biscuits)!

 

 


Working harder for less

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Tue, 14/02/2017 - 14:21

I realise this blog has been a bit whingy of late. This is my last whingy post, after this, sunshine and unicorns, I promise.

I was chatting with (okay, whinging to) a colleague the other day, bemoaning the fact that we all seem to be working much harder, for less impact in higher education. I now regularly work during evenings, weekends and holidays. I don’t recall doing that so often since the days when I was creating T171, our big elearning course, in 1999. Then I was doing that whole “get up at 3am to fix problems” thing, but it was a big deal, it led to the OU becoming an elearning university, 1000s of students and 1,000,000s of pounds. If ever that stuff is worth it, then it felt like this was a case. But now I’m doing near that just to get bids in for smaller amounts, to work on existing research projects, deliver to strategic initiatives, supervise PhD students, write papers, etc. All good stuff, but not life changing. Everything just requires more effort now, for less reward. Research is a good example – it is much more competitive to get a grant, the requirements of submitting a bid (both internally and by the funder) are much more time consuming now, the amounts you get are smaller, and the reporting requirements when you have it much more onerous.

And it occurred to me, mid-whinge, that this is true of every profession – teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, journalists. All working much harder for less return – often that lower return is financial, but also just in terms of impact. Doing more for less, and doing it more often is the new mantra. In many ways academia has been protected from this trend to a greater extent than many others, so this is not a special plea for sympathy. Rather the question I keep asking, is “how did we get here?” Computers were meant to liberate us all from drudgery. I guess the big suspects are globalisation, neo-liberalism and technology. But even then I don’t think this state of affairs was inevitable. My candidate is post-2008 austerity. Not just in terms of finances, but psychologically and socially. Austerity made crisis the new normal. This created a culture of envy and mistrust. If you or your institution wasn’t operating at the very limits of breaking point then there was slack in the system. And slack was to be eradicated. This created continual downward pressure – in my privileged example, the Government creates pressure on funding bodies to show greater return and demonstrate maximum efficiency; the funding bodies pass this onto grantees in terms of bidding requirements; universities pass it down to PIs and they pass it down to research associates. There was insufficient pressure back up the chain, and each extra cut or requirement is not enough to trigger this.

That’s my simplistic view of how we got here. What I’m not sure then is how we get out of here, because for all of those professions and more, it doesn’t seem like a sustainable approach.

Now, onto unicorns. Just as soon as I’ve finished writing this bid…

Myths of academia

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Wed, 08/02/2017 - 15:40


(Typical academic house)

The Guardian runs a series called Academics Anonymous, in which an anonymous contributor writes about some aspect of academic life. It is occasionally enlightening, but has recently descended into clickbait style deliberate controversy. However, what I think some of the recent articles illustrate are commonly held misconceptions about academic life. They are so far off the mark in the current climate, that I suspect they were not written by academics at all, and are rather “bloke in the pub who went to the ‘University of Life’ anonymous”. But it’s worth looking at some of them just as a means of combatting some of the outdated perceptions of academia, as these represent images we need to overcome in the anti-knowledge environment.

Unsackable staff block promotion of younger staff – the article wasn’t as bad as the headline here, but the core idea that there is such a thing as ‘unsackable’ staff in universities anymore is at least 20 years out of date. The idea that once you gained tenure you could spend the rest of your career smoking pipes and looking sagely out of windows across the quadrant is probably only true if Jeremy Irons is depicting you in a movie. Tenure doesn’t exist, everyone is one slightly underperforming year away from getting the boot, and the pressures to bring in external money, deliver strategic aims, and get REF standing is more intense for those with tenure than others. So, myth 1 is that there is some tenure Camelot which once attained is an easy, secure life.

The second article was the one on academics using tax payer money to gain consultancy. While contacts with industry are encouraged, and most universities have an allowance for some consultancy work, the scenario proposed in this article was far removed from any reality most academics would recognise. It may be true in some Russell Group universities, but for the rest of us, workloads are tightly monitored and accounted for. That we would have the time to engage in the full time consultancy services while still delivering on all the other objectives, or be allowed to, is a fantasy. I also laughed out loud (if only there were an acronym for that) at the suggestion the university had paid £20K for room hire to allow for a self promotion exercise. In my university it is a major triumph if you manage to get biscuits and coffee for a meeting, so the idea of a senior manager glibly signing off 20K for room hire seems, well, fanciful. Myth 2 then is that academics workload is not tightly controlled.

The third article was one from last year, referring to the boozy life of the academic. In this they reported that every seminar started with free wine. What university is this (and do you need a Prof in Ed Tech)? I refer m’learned friend to the aforementioned battle for biscuits. Wine? After a PhD viva we usually open up a bottle of champagne. Which we buy. Now, academia can be a bit boozy, but in these days of longer working hours, more part time staff, longer commutes and general change in social mores, it is actually quite an abstemious profession (with the exception of conferences). When I was at uni in the 80s, a lecturer might go to the pub at lunchtime, and then we’d all sit in their tutorial room smoking roll-ups. This behaviour would have you on disciplinary action within a week now. Myth 3 then is that of the carefree, boozy academic life.

There are undoubtedly more, but when you piece these three together, what you get is a picture of an academic in the 1970s (Michael Caine in Educating Rita maybe) – shambolic, aloof, and unfettered by the concerns of normal working life. It’s a romantic image in a way, but also one that lends itself to the ‘ivory tower’ accusation. It is also about as representative now as the fearful matron in charge of a typing pool is to office life.

The role of institutional memory

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Wed, 01/02/2017 - 17:54

A couple of news stories recently made me reflect on the role of institutional memory. The first was the piece in the Guardian bemoaning that ‘unsackable’ staff may be making the roles of others more precarious (Aside: which universities still have unsackable staff?). The second was a news item that people are shifting jobs more frequently now, and that three years is optimal to stay in a post.

I should state up front that I’ve been at the Open University for 22 years now, so this post is in effect is an exercise in self-validation. Particularly at the senior levels, I’ve seen a mixed approach in my time (“I remember when this was all fields”) at the OU. Sometimes it has been largely internal appointees and other times exclusively external appointments. At one point several years ago, no-one in the senior management team had been at the University for more than three years. This creates a disconnect from the history and the culture of an organisation I feel. But equally too internal a focus means an institution can become locked into considering its own structure and history and resistant to changes that are required.

So, no surprise then I favour a mixture at senior level, but also within the organisation the value of institutional memory is underplayed. This is particularly so in times when disruption and radical change are the dominant ideologies. It is worth stressing that people who have been in an organisation for a long time are not necessarily resistant to change, indeed they are often experienced at managing change within the particular constraints of that institution (and they also know what doesn’t work). But much like a sports team or city, an organisation persists beyond its immediate personnel and instantiation. It is a collection of its history, culture and mission, and these persist through the stories it tells about itself and to itself. Continuity through staff and a longitudinal view from some members is thus essential if any organisation is to build a legacy.

That’s my pitch for hanging around anyway.

The US academic boycott

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Tue, 31/01/2017 - 21:08

The travel ban on many people travelling to the US is, of course, against all normal codes of decency. In addition it is antithetical to the basic tenets of research (the free sharing of knowledge) and open education (removal of barriers).

Like many others therefore I’ve decided not to travel to the US for any reason, including conferences, or even getting connecting flights. There are researchers I know who are banned from going. I’m not going to pretend academia under ‘normal’ circumstances is an entirely egalitarian system. There are many cultural and economic reasons why people end up excluded. But for a deliberate dual system to be instigated at the national level is a level of injustice that has to be resisted, by whatever small means.

But none of this is easy – I have many friends in the US who are suffering through this. How do we scholars demonstrate our support for those who have to operate within this regime? And yes, I think people will be soon saying the same about attending events in the UK. I’m up for all suggestions.

These are twisted, ravenous days. As I saw Audrey Watters say recently “fuck living in interesting times” – exactly, give me uninteresting, beige days again, please.

To the keepers of the flames

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Mon, 23/01/2017 - 09:29

I’m late to all this, but I have recently started getting back into vinyl records. I got a cheapo turntable for my birthday (from me, I always know what I want). I’ve ben picking up the odd album since then. Mainly I’m restocking the albums I used to own – I gave these away in the mid-2000s because I hadn’t played them for about 17 years, and they were in the garage, getting warped and mouldy. “I’ll never play vinyl again” I thought, “my music consumption has shifted to digital. I’m not one of those muso nerds who goes on about the quality of the listening experience with vinyl.” And while that is true for the majority of my listening, I listen to Spotify most of the time, I have come to enjoy the practice of putting on an album.

Similarly, I like proper beer. Microbreweries and real ales are commonplace now, but when I was a young chap, it was all lager, lager, lager. Again, the CAMRA people banging on about real ale seemed alien to me. Now, I wouldn’t go near a pint of Fosters.

This highlighted to me the importance of those people who maintain core principles while the rest of us rush off to the new thing. You will undoubtedly have your own examples (that are may be a bit less, erm, blokey). Which brings me onto the recurrent themes of this blog: open education, digital scholarship, and our current times. Keeping the flame can also be read as doggedly refusing to change, and that’s not always a good thing. But if you remove these example from their artefacts then what they’re really about is a persistence of core beliefs (diversity in beer types, appreciation of music as ritual). This to me is the way to approach digital scholarship – how does it help us maintain the academic values we cherish? Similarly, as I argued with OER as educational heritage, we’re going through an anti-knowledge period (alternate facts FFS). But it will come round again, and our role is to cling to the core values of education and not metaphorically throw away our vinyl and drink lager.

Research Evidence on the Use of Learning Analytics: Implications for Education Policy

The final report on our study of learning analytics for European educational policy (LAEP) is now out.

Research Evidence on the Use of Learning Analytics: Implications for Education Policy brings together the findings of a literature review; case studies; an inventory of tools, policies and practices; and an expert workshop.

The report also provides an Action List for policymakers, practitioners, researchers and industry members to guide work in Europe.

Learning Analytics: Action List

Policy leadership and governance practices

  • Develop common visions of learning analytics that address strategic objectives and priorities
  • Develop a roadmap for learning analytics within Europe
  • Align learning analytics work with different sectors of education
  • Develop frameworks that enable the development of analytics
  • Assign responsibility for the development of learning analytics within Europe
  • Continuously work on reaching common understanding and developing new priorities

Institutional leadership and governance practices

  • Create organisational structures to support the use of learning analytics and help educational leaders to implement these changes
  • Develop practices that are appropriate to different contexts
  • Develop and employ ethical standards, including data protection

Collaboration and networking

  • Identify and build on work in related areas and other countries
  • Engage stakeholders throughout the process to create learning analytics that have useful features
  • Support collaboration with commercial organisations

Teaching and learning practices

  • Develop learning analytics that makes good use of pedagogy
  • Align analytics with assessment practices

Quality assessment and assurance practices

  • Develop a robust quality assurance process to ensure the validity and reliability of tools
  • Develop evaluation checklists for learning analytics tools

Capacity building

  • Identify the skills required in different areas
  • Train and support researchers and developers to work in this field
  • Train and support educators to use analytics to support achievement

Infrastructure

  • Develop technologies that enable development of analytics
  • Adapt and employ interoperability standards

Other resources related to the LAEP project – including the LAEP Inventory of learning analytics tools, policies and practices – are available on Cloudworks.


Tweeting in 2016

Twitter identifies my top tweet, my top mention and my top media tweet. My followers appear to be most interested in globalised online learning.


Developing a strategic approach to MOOCs

Our introductory article for the JIME special issue on MOOCs focused on the research work carried out in the area by UK universities who are FutureLearn partners.

‘Developing a strategic approach to MOOCs’ uses the work carried out at these universities to identify nine priority areas for MOOC research and how these can be developed in the future:

  1. Develop a strategic approach to MOOCs.
  2. Expand the benefits of teaching and learning in MOOCs.
  3. Offer well-designed assessment and accreditation.
  4. Widen participation and extend access.
  5. Develop and make effective use of appropriate pedagogies.
  6. Support the development of educators.
  7. Make effective use of learning design.
  8. Develop methods of quality assurance.
  9. Address issues related to privacy and ethics.

Ferguson, Rebecca; Scanlon, Eileen and Harris, Lisa (2016). Developing a strategic approach to MOOCs. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2016(1), article no. 21.

Abstract

During the last eight years, interest in massive open online courses (MOOCs) has grown fast and continuously worldwide. Universities that had never engaged with open or online learning have begun to run courses in these new environments. Millions of learners have joined these courses, many of them new to learning at this level. Amid all this learning and teaching activity, researchers have been busy investigating different aspects of this new phenomenon. In this contribution we look at one substantial body of work, publications on MOOCs that were produced at the 29 UK universities connected to the FutureLearn MOOC platform. Bringing these papers together, and considering them as a body of related work, reveals a set of nine priority areas for MOOC research and development. We suggest that these priority areas could be used to develop a strategic approach to learning at scale. We also show how the papers in this special issue align with these priority areas, forming a basis for future work.

Researching MOOCs: JIME special issue

I was one of the editors of a special issue of the Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JIME) on Researching MOOCs. The special issue draws on the work of the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN), which is made up of academics st universities that are FutureLearn partners.

Other editors were Eileen Scanlon (The Open University) and Lisa Harris (University of Southampton).

The special issue contains five papers.

 


Dr Bektik: Duygu’s viva

On 14th December, Duygu Bektik defended her thesis successfully, and now only minor corrections stand between her and her doctorate.

Learning Analytics for Academic Writing through Automatic Identification of Meta-Discourse

When assessing student writing, tutors look for ability to present well-reasoned arguments, signalled by elements of meta-discourse. Some natural language processing systems can detect rhetorical moves in scholarly texts, but no previous work has investigated whether these tools can analyse student writing reliably. Duygu’s thesis evaluates the Xerox Incremental Parser (XIP), sets out ways in which it could be changed to support the analysis of student writing and proposes how its output could be delivered to tutors. It also investigates how tutors define the quality of undergraduate writing and identifies key elements that can be used to identify good student writing in the social sciences.

Duygu was supervised by me and by Denise Whitelock, Anna De Liddo and Simon Buckingham Shum (now at .

Her viva examiners were Paul Mulholland and Gary Wills (University of Southampton). The viva was chaired by John Richardson.


European research and innovation priorities

On 13 December, I joined a Foresight Workshop on Learning Technologies in Luxembourg. The workshop was designed to help the European Commission to set and define future European strategic research and innovation priorities.

The workshop began with a series of ‘Moonshots’. Individual experts presented ambitious, yet realistic, targets for EU-funded learning technology research and innovation up to 2025. For each of these, we considered: What is the problem? How is it dealt with now? What difference would it make if this problem were addressed successfully?

We went on to merge our individual Moonshots into Constellations and then into Galaxies. We made links between the different ideas, linking them with other international activities and trends, as well as to previous EU-funded work. I was interested to see that many of the experts from across Europe presented ideas associated with blockchain for learning, a pedagogy that was picked up in our recent Innovating Pedagogy report.

My moonshot focused on a series of problems: access to tertiary education is unequal, most people in Europe do not complete tertiary education and many people in Europe need to develop new skills. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) offer a potential solution, but these new approaches to learning require new approaches to teaching. Teachers need training and support to work effectively in these new environments. They also need proven models of good practice. Improving educator effectiveness on these courses has the potential to increase Europe’s capacity to respond to its priority areas. It also has the potential to open up education for millions by developing and sharing knowledge of how to teach at scale.

 


‘Me Time’ at the OU H818 ‘The Networked Practitioner’ Online Conference 2017

As an MAODE alumni, I received an email invitation to attend this online conference. I was just about to delete it as I went through my regular morning email triage, but it looked interesting so I followed the link to Cloudworks. I used to use Cloudworks extensively in 2009/2010 but have fallen out of the habit.

What an interesting conference this looks to be. As an alumni and as an IET staff member, I am entitled to attend so I have registered. Browsing the presentations in Cloudworks, some look really fascinating. I found myself starting to wonder how I could integrate cloudworks and some of the cutting-edge material there into my current role orchestrating Knowledge Exchange through Evidence Cafes for police officers, partners and staff on behalf of the Centre for Policing Research and Learning. There is also an interesting looking presentation by Andy Brooks entitled How can a social network be used to increase dissemination of research. I’ve made a note to be sure to attend that one.

This only took about 15 minutes, but made me realise that of late, I have been far too deeply focused on work and only the work. I’ve stopped serendipitous browsing. I’ve stopped following up links to interesting websites sent by colleagues. I’m spending little time looking outwards and too much time focusing inwards, on getting the job done. Browsing around some of the presentations on Cloudworks did not take very long. It was intellectually stimulating and this will feed back into my current role, so I’m going to make a point of doing this again. In the current climate of cut-backs and excessive workload, it is all too easy to forget that spending some ‘me time’ following your interests. This not only helps keep you up-to-date, but can also really benefit your work by helping you think outside the box, and bring in fresh new ideas.

 

 

Stories and models

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 06/01/2017 - 13:48

I like the posts Sheila and Audrey do which are a round up of their weeks. I’m not sure I’ll do it every week but I thought I’d give it a go, and try to weave together some of the personal and professional things I’ve done this week.

I’m actually on leave this week, but have spent most of it working. This raises the whole work-life balance issue of course, but I don’t mind it. I have a generous leave allowance, and being what I suppose is called a knowledge worker, it’s often difficult to exactly allocate work. Also, if I’m honest, there are days when I am officially working, where I’m not very productive – my writing mojo is lacking, I’m distracted, or whatever. So I feel less guilty about these knowing that I worked during some of my holiday. But it is important to ensure you have some breaks where you really do switch off, and I was much stricter about that over the Christmas period than I am usually.

The two things that came up this week which meant that I had to work partly during leave were a meeting on a research project and putting together my HEA fellowship application. The first arose because the other partner was in the UK visiting parents, so we got together for a productive day. We are looking at models of online education, and in doing so the problem with models came to the fore. A model is necessarily a generalisation, and for any generalisation you can immediately think of specific examples that don’t sit well within the model. I prefer to think of it as stereotypes (in a cognitive, not social, sense). For instance, we have a stereotype of a ‘dog’ in our mind, and any particular instance of ‘dog’ is measured by its similarity to the mental stereotype we develop.

The second involved working with an OU colleague, because we have both postponed it for ages and decided to crack on with it in the New Year. It’s an interesting process as you reflect on your career and construct a narrative around it. I’m very aware that a narrative imposes order and logic to a sequence that was often haphazard and driven by chance. But we are story telling animals and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are how we construct our identity. The pitch I’ve started to make is the philosophy (which is definitely imposing more on my approach than actually exists) I’ve adopted is iterate practice and research, and to do this in the open. So, I have used teaching opportunities as chances to experiment with technology or pedagogy, and this as the basis for research, or researched application of technology and then drawn that into practice. Since the mid-2000s I’ve done this in the open as well, often through this blog. Sounds convincing enough?

I’ve watched a ton of films this week, including Argentinian rainforest Western Ardor. In this tobacco farmers are besieged by bandits burning their crops. “We’ve had this before, but not like this” one character says. “They want it all” the hero observes. That struck me as the philosophy of Trump, Putin and the rampant capitalism now – we had it before, but now they want it all. I read Carrie Fisher’s autobiography Wishful Drinking and her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge also this week. In both of these you can see Fisher using the books as a means to construct a narrative about herself that she can live with. Here she talks about being bipolar: “Imagine having a mood system that functions essentially like the weather – independently of whatever’s going on in your life”

Lastly, it was my birthday this week, and that is a time when you definitely reflect and consider the story of your life. So stories and models has been the theme of my week. McCloskey suggests that these are the two methods by which people come to understand a topic – by metaphor or narrative (or models and histories) and that different fields tend to be dominated by one mode, for instance metaphors dominate physics whilst narrative dominates biology. So I guess that’s a decent thing for someone in education to spend their week doing.

Edtechie review

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 29/12/2016 - 17:39

After books and films, here is my look back at my year of blogging. As with last year, I set out to average one blog post a week. This post makes 51, so only one short. This year also saw 10 years of blogging for Edtechie, and so still blogging at a reasonable rate is testament to how much blogging forms part of my work and social environment. And one thing that has been shown this year is that it is as vibrant a community as ever, despite all the recurring pronouncements of the death of blogging. On a couple of occasions my blog became host to what Maha Bali called a comments party. These illustrate for me the best of the academic blogging community – my initial posts weren’t particularly well crafted or thought through pieces, but they allowed for more intelligent and insightful comments.

Politics came front and centre a lot this year, sometimes in how it relates to open ed, but other times just because it dominated everything else. As I’ve already written, this is going to be a theme that will continue next year, and working out how this blog responds to the new context we find ourselves in is likely to be something I’ll be reflecting on in this post next year. One thing I came to understand this year was that I hadn’t appreciated just how right Audrey Watters had been. I mean, I didn’t disagree with her, but I don’t think I fully understood the broader social implications of Silicon Valley politics until I saw the alt-right and Trump in action. If Audrey’s Hack Education motto is be less pigeon, then next year I need to make mine Be More Audrey.

As MOOCs faded this year we saw a scrabble to find the next big ed tech thing. Pokemon Go for Education. Uber For education. Etc, etc. It became increasingly clear to me that Next Big Thingism is the attitude we need to push against in ed tech, and instead focus on improvement and experimentation (fun even).

On the positive side I met a lot of people face to face for the first time this year, and I found the following conferences engaging, thought provoking and enjoyable: OER16, OpenEd, OEGlobal, ALT-C.

But I’ll end on a non-EdTech note. My best day of the year? My daughter and I went to Chicago in February for holiday. One day we walked to the Cloud, went around the Art Institute, visited the Blackhawks shop, and then saw the Hawks beat the Leafs. Now that is a good day. Cherish them.

2016 Film review

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 22/12/2016 - 13:32

Continuing my not-edtech related end of year roundup, as well as trying to read a book a week, I tried to see a new film weekly. This was largely successful, but they weren’t all cinema trips so the film may have been delayed somewhat from release, and I didn’t get around to seeing lots of films I should have (eg Nocturnal Animals).

In general terms, like most years but even more so, this was a crap sandwich, with good stuff at the start and end, but a real mess in the middle. Even the blockbusters were exceptionally awful. Batman vs Superman, Independence Day 2, Suicide Squad – these were like Donald Trump’s toilet, flashy, expensive and full of shit. But if comic book movies continued to be devoid of any value, there were some other genres that fared quite well: horror saw some atmospheric, taut, films with secondary interpretations (The VVitch, Blackcoat’s Daughter, Don’t Breathe, Green Room). Animation began to emerge from Pixar domination, and quirky, whimsical indie movies provided blessed relief (Captain Fantastic, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Sing Street).

Because I’m not adverse to an end of year list, here’s my top ten:

Hateful 8
The VVitch
The Big Short
10 Cloverfield Lane
Eye in the Sky
Son of Saul
Hell or High Water
Captain Fantastic
The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Rogue One

You’ll probably have seen most of these, but the Blackcoat’s Daughter (aka February) may have passed you by. I loved it – moody, brooding horror with an amazing score, it deserves to be better known. A special mention for turkey of the year, the truly, truly, awful Zoolander 2.

Increasingly I found it difficult to watch films in isolation of the context of the rest of 2016. I couldn’t get behind the “the best of New York came together” message of Sully in a year of Trump and Black Lives Matter. I couldn’t pretend Eddie the Eagle represented a version of Britain I could identify with after Brexit. And I couldn’t watch Son of Saul and flatter myself that it could never happen now. Even Rogue One had some people rooting for the Empire. I get the feeling this will be a recurrent theme in 2017.

Books & pointless charts revisited

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 16/12/2016 - 10:06

I challenged myself to read a book a week again this year. I haven’t quite managed it, up to 48 with a couple of weeks to go. As with last year, I thought I’d generate some pointless charts (pinching Jane Bryony Rawson’s idea).

If you twisted my arm to make a list, I’d say my favourites that I’ve read this year are:

Mendeleyev’s dream – Paul Strathern
We have always lived in a castle – Shirley Jackson
Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver
Ruby – Cynthia Bond
Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner
North Water – Ian McGuire
His Bloody Project – Graeme Burnet
The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
Anna Karenina – Tolstoy
Another Day in the Death of America – Gary Younge

I read a bit of non-fiction this year, but my range has been mostly literary fiction with a smattering of crime.:

I tend to use the Kindle for convenience, but also this year I hurt my eye at one point, so reading was difficult so listened to a couple of audio books:

An even split between male and female authors this year:

Were these books newly published (say in the last 2-3 years) or older? Mainly older, but the Booker and Bailey’s prize provided a useful way into some new fiction:

The full list is as follows:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
David Bowie’s Low – Hugh Wicken
Agatha Christie – Murder in Mesopotamia
Mendeleyev’s dream – Paul Strathern
Napoleon’s Buttons – Penny Le Couteur & Jay Burreson
Madame Curie Complex – Julie des Jardins
Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith
The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
The Museum Guard – Howard Norman
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
We Have Always Lived in a Castle – Shirley Jackson
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers
The Code – Ross Bernstein
The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
Paradoxical Undressing – Kristin Hersh
Butterfield 8 – John O’Hara
Gwen John – Sue Roe
Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver
The Cornish Coast Mystery – John Bude
It’s All in Your Head – Suzanne O’Sullivan
Zukeina Dobson – Max Beerbohm
Night Watch – Patrick Modiano
Ruby – Cynthia Bond
Sussex Downs Murder – John Bude
Vinyl Detective – Andrew Cartmel
101 albums you should die before you hear – Everett True
The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney
Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner
The Betrayal – Helen dunmore
Freakonomics – Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
North Water – Ian McGuire
Trout Fishing in America – Richard Brautigan
Gut Symmetries – Jeanette Winterson
The Many – Wyl Menmuir
A Mind to Murder – PD James
Strangers – Anita Brookner
Nancy Mitford – The Pursuit of Love
Another Day in the Death of America – Gary Younge
His Bloody Project – Graeme Burnet
The Dinner – Herman Koch
The Blue Room – Georges Simenon
The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild
Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
Doris Lessing – The Grass is Singing
100 Prized Poems – William Sieghart (ed)
Eileen – Otessa Moshfegh
Reading the Silver Screen – Thomas Foster

The paradoxes of open scholarship

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Tue, 13/12/2016 - 17:15


(Photo by Andrew Branch – CC0)

I was asked to do a webinar presentation on open scholarship for the ExplOERer project. I started pulling together some slides from previous presentations but when I looked at them they just seemed from a different era. Over the years I have talked about blogging, digital scholarship, open practice, etc. My take on it has become gradually more nuanced – back in the mid-2000s it was all “OMG this stuff is awesome!” But I’ve balanced that with negatives and caveats as its gone on. But it has largely remained a pro-piece.

However, in a post-truth context, in which aspects of openness have played a part, and also in which education itself is seen as part of the conspiracy, this no longer seemed appropriate. And yet, I still see all those positive aspects of open practice around me. So, instead of being pro or anti I think the way to view it is as a set of contradictions, or paradoxes. We have to get used to holding conflicting views simultaneously in our head. We have to be both a dog person AND a cat person. The presentation is below, but I think the final paradox is the key one: It has never been more risky to operate in the open and yet it has never been more vital to operate in the open.

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.


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