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Recent blogs from IET staff

Rhetorical analysis and tutors’ grades

One of my doctoral students, Duygu Simsek (now Duygu Bektik), presented on her work at LAK15.

Simsek, Duygu; Sandor, Ágnes; Buckingham Shum, Simon; Ferguson, Rebecca; De Liddo, Anna and Whitelock, Denise (2015). Correlations between automated rhetorical analysis and tutors’ grades on student essays. In: 5th International Learning Analytics & Knowledge Conference (LAK15), 16-20 March 2015, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA, ACM.

When assessing student essays, educators look for the students’ ability to present and pursue well-reasoned and strong arguments. Such scholarly argumentation is often articulated by rhetorical metadiscourse. Educators will be necessarily examining metadiscourse in students’ writing as signals of the intellectual moves that make their reasoning visible. Therefore students and educators could benefit from available powerful automated textual analysis that is able to detect rhetorical metadiscourse. However, there is a need to validate such technologies in higher education contexts, since they were originally developed in non-educational applications. This paper describes an evaluation study of a particular language analysis tool, the Xerox Incremental Parser (XIP), on undergraduate social science student essays, using the mark awarded as a measure of the quality of the writing. As part of this exploration, the study presented in this paper seeks to assess the quality of the XIP through correlational studies and multiple regression analysis.

Duygu’s slides

Twitter stream

Always good to have a presentation tweeted by your pro vice chancellor :-)

European perspectives on learning analytics

As part of the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project’s engagement with LAK15, we brought participants from across Europe together to talk about European perspectives on learning analytics.

Alejandra Martínez Monés from Spain talked about past work carried out as part of the European Kaleidoscope Network of Excellence that has implications for the development of learning analytics internationally. Alan Berg from The Netherlands provided links to a series of initiatives designed to bring researchers and practitioners together across national boundaries. Kairit Tammets introduced learning analytics work in Estonia, and Anne Boyer offered a French perspective. Members of the LACE project talked about their work to pull together research, practice and evidence across Europe.

Ferguson, Rebecca; Cooper, Adam; Drachsler, Hendrik; Kismihók, Gábor; Boyer, Anne; Tammets, Kairit, & Martínez Monés, Alejandra. (2015). Learning Analytics: European Perspectives. Paper presented at LAK16, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA.

Since the emergence of learning analytics in North America, researchers and practitioners have worked to develop an international community. The organization of events such as SoLAR Flares and LASI Locals, as well as the move of LAK in 2013 from North America to Europe, has supported this aim. There are now thriving learning analytics groups in North American, Europe and Australia, with smaller pockets of activity emerging on other continents. Nevertheless, much of the work carried out outside these forums, or published in languages other than English, is still inaccessible to most people in the community. This panel, organized by Europe’s Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project, brings together researchers from five European countries to examine the field from European perspectives. In doing so, it will identify the benefits and challenges associated with sharing and developing practice across national boundaries.

Do not go gentle

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 14/05/2015 - 15:17

(T-shirt available from Fake Elsevier)

This post is a plea really to academics to not surrender rights, or the promise of openness so readily. I completely understand that I am in a privileged position, and it’s easy for me as a prof to say “only publish in open access”, or “share your stuff openly”. But it’s a different story if you are a new researcher, and after one of those ever more elusive permanent positions. But even so, I am often surprised at just how readily academics acquiesce to bad deals, particularly with regards to publishing.

I have frequently heard “I would love to publish open access, but in my field I can’t”. Or “I tried, but they said no.” And that is it, there is no attempt to find an alternative journal, to negotiate the embargo period with a publisher, to offer any form of push back. Academics frequently underestimate their power I think. As I mentioned a few years ago, I took the open access oath (only reviewing and writing for open access). It is a remarkably effective step. Our labour (offered freely to journals) is all we have, but the system requires it to operate.

Similarly, I have heard academics state that they would like to develop an online profile, but it would be frowned upon by their boss. Academic life seems to me to be increasingly precarious, and this climate of doubt and uncertainty can be abused. You have to tow the line ever more to get, or stay in a job. But academics are remarkably good at fighting against attacks on the integrity of their discipline. I don’t feel that they have become accustomed to thinking of their labour and outputs in the same way. So my plea is this – push back a bit. Ask the question about open access, refuse to do the review, start a modest (non-job threatening) online profile. Each time we acquiesce quietly makes it harder next time.

Mapping mobile learning

Andrew Brasher's Learning Design blog - Thu, 14/05/2015 - 11:46

During January and early February I helped run a field trial of an android app for  the MASELTOV project.  The app is know as the MApp (short for MASELTOV app), and the aim of the field trial was to answer some research questions about participants’ use of the app to support their cultural and language learning (there’s a a quick overview of the trial and a report that include some initial data analysis).

We have collected a huge amount of  data from participants’ phones during the 3 weeks of the trial, and having done some analysis of participants’ self reports of what they did I nnow startting to look at quantitative data collected from their phones. This includes identification of particular MApp services being used, and where and when they where being used.

So I’m straing to think about how best to preent this data, using maps, and sequences of maps over time, and my intial ideas are…….

  1. A map showing each participant’s use of various tools over a day.
    So will have 17 (participants) x 21 (days) maps = 357 maps.
    Each map would show use of a variety of services over time and space.
    * Aim: to understand each individual’s overall usage of the MApp
  2. A map showing use of a particular tool by all users over space and time
    E.g. for the forum tool, show where and when all participants are using it over a day (or longer?)
    * Aim: to inform devlopment of particular services through knowledge of their usage patterns
  3. A map to show locations that participants frequently access (particular) services
    * Aim: to compare with interview data, and to test our implicit assumptions
  4. A map to show services which are used when participants are on the move
    i.e. which service is being used, the mode of transport, and the journey undertaken.
    * Aim: to compare with interview data, to test our implicit assumptions, to see if there’s anything surprising occurring.

The Eddie Murphy Cycle

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Wed, 13/05/2015 - 13:45

In response to my previous post, a throwaway analogy about Eddie Murphy and MOOCs, Rolin Moe produced this post. It is probably the best response to one of my posts I’ve ever had. I respond in kind here.

In the article The Eddie Murphy MOOC Mystery – Part 1, Moe (2015) responds to the author’s critique of MOOCs through the lens of Eddie Murphy. The Moe article is undoubtedly a significant contribution to the MOOC-Murphy literature in its analysis of the three core claims in the original article. However, in its analysis it fails to take into account the temporal element of the Murphy film rating, instead ordering them by Box office and Rotten Tomatoes rating. It is the author’s contention that consideration of this temporal element will further reveal the utility of the Murphy metaphor.

Using the IMDB rating for each of Eddie Murphy’s films, we can plot them against year of release. This gives the scatter plot shown in Figure 1:

What this reveals is that (ignoring the outlier of Best Defense), Murphy’s career commenced with a series of highly successful, highly rated movies. By the late 1980s however, the Murphy success formula had reached its peak, and we witness a period of stagnation, and general decline through the 1990s. In the 2000s, the picture becomes more complex. There is a form of renaissance (a murphaissance if you will), particularly aided by the Shrek franchise. However, this is more than matched by an underlying general long trend of decline. For every Shrek, there are two Norbits.

Researchers in educational technology have often made reference to the Gartner Hype Cycle. The author proposes that the Murphy Cycle offers a more robust framework for analysing trends. Not only is it grounded in empirical data (unlike the Gartner model), but it also offers a more nuanced picture. It has a similar peak and trough, but then a more mixed pattern of usefulness amidst a general sea of poor application.

The author also contends that it provides researchers with more meaningful reference points than those used in Gartner. Teams can talk about being in “the Beverley Hills Cop moment”, or realise “this is our Pluto Nash.” It also offers a degree of hope – for after the Klumps, comes Shrek.

MOOCs as Eddie Murphy

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Tue, 12/05/2015 - 16:29

File under: pointless things that occur to you while walking the dog.

My daughter came across Beverley Hills Cop on TV the other day, and then worked her way through a range of Eddie Murphy films. She quickly discovered what the rest of us learnt back in the 80s. Most Eddie Murphy films are not very good. Murphy has undeniable screen presence, and when he’s not on screen these films are just interminable. But for a few years anything with Murphy in it was a guaranteed hit. I came to the conclusion that what happened was that a lot of average scripts had sat around without any real backing, because they weren’t very original. But stick Eddie Murphy in it, and you’ve got box office success on your hands. It is hard to imagine why on earth anyone would make The Golden Child if it didn’t have Murphy headlining it. Or 48 Hours which was just another mismatched cop film. But with Murphy in it, they become something else. A lot of them aren’t really comedies either. They’re just films that have Eddie Murphy in. This is not a critique of Murphy as an actor, but I think he paid the price for this in the end. That “anything with Murphy in it is great” attitude wore thin by Beverley Hills Cop 3, and by the time you got to Pluto Nash, it was insulting.

So, what does this have to do with MOOCs? The ‘stick Murphy in it’ attitude of studio bosses back in the 80s seems to me rather akin to the ‘stick a MOOC in it’ attitude I’ve encountered with research bids, or discussions around innovative teaching. I have joked that I’ve dusted off all my rejected research bids and replaced “OER” with “MOOC”. It’s not quite true, but there’s an element of the Golden Child script about it all. At the moment, even with the MOOC backlash hitting, funders, governments, journalists – they all want a bit of MOOC action in there. To extend the Murphy-MOOC analogy, then I think MOOCs will pay the price for this high coverage. A good MOOC proposal will be rejected because they were of their time.

Actually, watching all those 80s Murphy films made me think there is a MOOC in there somewhere about 1980s action films and what they reveal about social attitudes of the time (it’s a LOT by the way).

The all-new Apple Watch

Ok, I admit it. I sat in bed one morning a few weeks back and pre-ordered the all-singing, all-dancing Apple Watch. The week before I’d received one of the Apple marketing emails suggesting that I book an appointment in store to try one one….so I did. That was an experience. The enthusiastic Apple employee had a wide flat box which he opened with great reverence. Inside was a small selection of Apple watches in different sizes with different straps. I tried on the pinkish leather strap with the very expensive shiny white metal watch. I can’t be bothered to recall all the fancy names – The watches come in grey matt and black matt, these are the cheapest versions although the term ‘cheap’ is relative. Then there are the shiny silver coloured ones with some sort of even harder glass on the face. These are the mid-range. Top of the range are the insanely expensive gold ones. Lets not go there.

Anyway, I attempted to try on the pinkish leather strap 38mm version. I say attempted because this version only comes in a small and, although female, I realised that my bones are just not that small and I couldn’t even fasten the thing up. Shame because it was a beautifully made strap. The employee went into ecstasies about how the leather came from some little artisan leather place (in France I think) where they beat it until it was super soft and enclosed within in some form of man-made super strong material that meant it wouldn’t stretch. For that price I’d have expected it to have been hand beaten on a remote island on the shores of Australia.

I tried on all the other versions that Apple-Chap had, but he didn’t have the sports band ones I was really interested in. I could not leave his precious box, so he called over to another employee who produced a sports band that I tried on. It felt really good, although this one was a large 42mm so really rather too big for me. I wasn’t all that keen on some of the fastening mechanisms of some straps. The Milanese for example, was very comfortable, looked really nice, but fastened by magnets. You simply wrapped it around your wrist and it held like glue. To take it off, you simply picked the end up away from the other part and peeled it off. It struck me that this would be very easy for a thief to do. We’ve all seen magicians who can remove someone’s watch by undoing the strap without them even noticing. I think this strap would be a gift.

I decided to order myself one, after a few days reflection. I am getting increasingly long sighted and my current watch has a tiny face – I can’t really tell the time on it. I can squint and guess or put my glasses on, but in reality I’m wandering around without much awareness of the time. I chose a cool green sports watch. When I confirmed the order, I was dismayed to see a delivery date of June, but hey ho, maybe I’d left it a bit too late.

The big launch date of 24th April loomed near, and to my surprise I got an email notifying me that my watch was on its way. Friends who had ordered watches the same day had no such email.

The day arrived and I worked from home, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my package. Mid afternoon, a delivery arrived of a long thin very heavy parcel. It looked and felt about the size of a piece of car suspension and I couldn’t imagine how this heavy long thin brick-like package could be my watch. I ripped off the paper. To my amazement, there it was. A brand spanking new Apple Watch.

I took photos as I revelled in the experience of opening up a new piece of Apple Gadgetry. It doesn’t disappoint.

Heriot Watt Workshop: Thinking about Open

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Tue, 05/05/2015 - 08:56

Originally posted on OEPScotland:

Yesterday Bea, Martin, Pete and I visited Heriot Watt University for the first of our Thinking About Open workshops. We had a great day with the Heriot Watt team exploring different facets of openness and sharing examples and experiences. A slide deck of activities is available on the OEPS project Slideshare account.

In the morning participants explored the concept of openness and examined different examples of open practice. We also utilised an adapted version of an activity Catherine Cronin had developed, which encourages people to reflect on their own practices and which generated some interesting discussion (thank you, Catherine!)  You can see some of the morning’s activity below. During the afternoon we looked at examples of where openness is making a real difference (including OpenStax College textbooks and the DigiLit project in Leicester) before finishing up with a look at Creative Commons licensing. There was a strong interest in…

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Examining engagement in MOOCs

My main paper at LAK15 analysed engagement patterns in FutureLearn MOOCs. In it, Doug Clow and I began by carrying out a replication study, building on an earlier study of Coursera MOOCs by Kizilcec and his colleagues. Although our cluster analysis found two clusters that were very similar to those found in the earlier study, our other clusters did not match theirs. The different clusters of learners on the two platforms appeared to relate to the pedagogy (approach to learning and teaching) underlying the courses.

Ferguson, Rebecca, & Clow, Doug. (2015). Examining engagement: analysing learner subpopulations in massive open online courses (MOOCs). Paper presented at LAK 15 (March 16-20), Poughkeepsie, USA.


Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are now being used across the world to provide millions of learners with access to education. Many learners complete these courses successfully, or to their own satisfaction, but the high numbers who do not finish remain a subject of concern for platform providers and educators. In 2013, a team from Stanford University analysed engagement patterns on three MOOCs run on the Coursera platform. They found four distinct patterns of engagement that emerged from MOOCs based on videos and assessments. However, not all platforms take this approach to learning design. Courses on the FutureLearn platform are underpinned by a social-constructivist pedagogy, which includes discussion as an important element. In this paper, we analyse engagement patterns on four FutureLearn MOOCs and find that only two clusters identified previously apply in this case. Instead, we see seven distinct patterns of engagement: Samplers, Strong Starters, Returners, Mid-way Dropouts, Nearly There, Late Completers and Keen Completers. This suggests that patterns of engagement in these massive learning environments are influenced by decisions about pedagogy. We also make some observations about approaches to clustering in this context.


Ethics and privacy in learning

Learning together: sculpture on the Marist campus

The 5th international Learning Analytics and Knowledge conference (LAK15) at Marist College in Poughkeepsie NY opened with two days of workshops.

Among these, on 16 March, was one on Ethics and Privacy in Learning, run by the EU project I am working on at the moment, the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE).

Organisers: Authors: Hendrik Drachsler, Adam Cooper, Tore Hoel, Rebecca Ferguson, Alan Berg, Maren Scheffel, Gábor Kismihók, Christien Bok and Weiqin Chen.

Drachsler, Hendrik; Cooper, Adam; Hoel, Tore; Ferguson, Rebecca; Berg, Alan; Scheffel, Maren; Kismihók, Gábor; Manderveld, Jocelyn and Chen, Weiqin (2015). Ethical and privacy issues in the application of learning analytics. In: 5th International Learning Analytics & Knowledge Conference (LAK15): Scaling Up: Big Data to Big Impact, 16-20 March 2015, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA.

Workshop outline

We aim to understand ethics and privacy issues in learning analytics with greater clarity, to find ways of overcoming these issues and to research challenges related to ethical and privacy aspects of learning analytics practice. This interactive workshop aims to raise awareness of major ethics and privacy issues. It will also be used to develop practical solutions for learning analytics researchers and practitioners that will enable them to advance the application of learning analytics technologies.

The industrial education system myth

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Mon, 27/04/2015 - 12:05

“Reading hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens”

Audrey Watters does a fantastic job of debunking the myth around the concept of the factory school, or industrialised education model. I see this mentioned almost as often as ‘education is broken’, and it is a close ally of ‘education hasn’t changed in 100 years‘. The basic line is that we have an education system that was designed for an industrial age and we are now in a post-industrial age, ergo, that education system is faulty.

I think the first thing to do is what Audrey has done so magnificently, which is to really dig into the historical perspective, and demonstrate why the assumptions underlying that stance are just wrong. Another approach is to examine why the lack of change that is touted is wrong also. So view this piece as a little sibling to Audrey’s foundational work.

When people suggest that schooling is the same as in the industrial change, as Morrissey would have it, this is true, and yet it’s false. I want to explore both the elements that are true (and why that’s not a bad thing) and those that are incorrect, by way of an analogy. Imagine that it was commonly stated as fact that “reading hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens”. To take the true aspect first, we could take a photo of someone reading a book (maybe even a Dickens novel), printed on paper, sitting in a chair in front of a fire. If you could go back in time you could show this to Dickens and he would declare that indeed, reading has not changed (he’d also be very pleased that people were still reading his novels). The first question to ask then, is why would you want reading to change? Why is an absence of change deemed a bad thing? Reading a book is a pretty good way to convey an idea, a story, and an enjoyable, enriching thing to do. That it hasn’t changed significantly in 150 years is testament to its value, not a sign of its weakness.

The next aspect is to look at why this statement is, while true, also incorrect. There are undoubtedly core similarities between reading now and in Dickens’ time, but there are also very significant differences. For example there have been significant changes in:

  • technology -eg ereaders,
  • the publishing industry – eg Amazon
  • the publishing process – eg Dickens serialisation versus self publishing
  • the novel genre – compare a William Burroughs or graphic novel with Dickens
  • the context – reading now exists alongside gaming, television, cinema, the internet, etc

So any statement that merely says nothing has changed would not recognise that reading in 2015 is a very different experience to what it was in 1840.

If we now return to the industrial schooling argument we see a similar pattern. Firstly, there are significant similarities, so the statement is true in some respects. If you looked at education now and in the 1900s there are some things you would recognise: we send children to a central place, we group them by age and ability, we have teachers. As with reading, this unchanging aspect might be because it’s a good thing. Whenever I hear people state that they want to revolutionise (or do away with) the school system, I am struck by their lack of a viable alternative. If you want to educate all children in your country, regardless of motivation, ability, parental engagement, etc then you need a robust system. If you completely started from scratch tomorrow, my bet is you would end up creating something that didn’t look dissimilar to a schooling system. So the absence of change so deplored by many may indicate that viable alternatives are not available.

The second aspect is to consider what is wrong with the statement. As with the Dickens example, it actually ignores many significant changes, including:

  • Use of technology
  • Changes in curriculum
  • Changes in pedagogy
  • Increased professionalisation of teachers
  • Access to resources
  • Increased access to education for all children

When you take these into account, the schooling of children in 2015 is nothing like that of kids in 1915. Now this is not to suggest that there aren’t significant changes we can make within the schooling system. The Finnish approach is often cited as having a better attitude to assessment, curriculum, grouping, pedagogy, etc. And too often the education system is subject to the whims of whoever is the education minister (for example, the disastrous Michael Gove, who seemingly did want a 1915 system). And this is what irritates me about the industrial schooling argument – as so often with tech driven approaches, it demands wholesale revolution, instead of focusing on doing practical changes within the system which would actually be useful.

It’s about ownership, stupid

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 13:31

I went to an excellent presentation from Cable Green yesterday about the K12 OER Collaborative. The project is aiming to get states to some of the money they currently spend on buying text books from publishers to produce open ones. He highlighted very forcibly what a crappy deal we currently have in that books are often very old (because they can’t afford to update), children are not allowed to do anything useful like take notes in them (because they have to be passed on), and if you lose one, the parents have to pay to replace it (which results in some parents telling their kids not to bring the book home). And on top of this, it’s really expensive.

So what they did was for a fraction of the cost currently allocated to purchase books they put out a call for companies to create new ones, but crucially, these would be only licensed. This means that a) the digital copy is free, b) the state owns the rights so can update and adapt as they want and c) they can match specifically to common core. While the big publishers boycotted the call, many smaller ones responded, as did university departments. A million dollars (say) may not mean much to Pearson, but to a small company it’s a decent sum of money, even if there is no further revenue had then on sales.

The finances are truly staggering here, at the moment the state (he was talking about Washington state) can afford to update two books a year. When you consider the range of subjects and the age ranges, that means a lot of set books are out of date before it’s their turn to be updated. For the same money to update 2 books a year, using the open approach they could create open textbooks for ALL subjects. And these would of course, be usable across the whole of the US, not just in one state. And they would have money to pay people to regularly update the books. And they’d still have change left over.

When this is laid out you realise, that much like the academic publishing model, the current system was devised when ownership resided with the physical artefact. It now looks ludicrous. I do think we will look back in years to come and think “how did we let it go on for so long?”. I don’t know what the figures are for buying UK textbooks for schools, or how the process works, but the same approach would surely work here. In the US the figure is $8 billion nationwide, and the K12 OER project reckons it could do it all for around $300 million. Imagine what that extra money might be spent on in education.

It reinforced to me an obvious point, but one that bears repeating – ownership is key here. The real reason education boards spend millions of dollars in buying textbooks is not because the publishers have specialised technology or skills anymore. It is because they own the rights to the content. Once you break that link, then all sorts of possibilities open up.

Here is Cable’s slidedeck:

MOOCs as open driver

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Wed, 22/04/2015 - 21:24

(I could pretend this image had some connection to the post, but it doesn’t really, it’s just a pic I took in Banff to make you jealous)

I’m at OEGlobal this week and attended a session from Athabasca University Library this morning. They were talking about how they have gathered together open access resources under the subjects for their uni, and also gathered in open resources from elsewhere. You can access this open access collection at their site. I think more libraries should do this, prioritising open resources so everyone can access them.

But what struck me in their presentation was that MOOCs were quite a significant driver in doing this. For many university libraries collecting open access resources doesn’t really matter as the fee paying students will have access to those resources anyway (if the library can afford to pay for them). And so there is no real driver for educators to focus on OA above other resources. But when people started creating MOOCs, this breaks down – your open learners won’t have that privileged library access, so any resources you use must be open.

This is similar to the manner in which social media drives open access also. What it highlights is that openness in any form begets openness. So while we may sometimes bemoan that MOOCs themselves are not really open (in the sense of openly licensed), they do form part of a larger system, which helps drive openness. I expect you’d all realised this long ago, hadn’t you?

e-Access'15 conference part 2

Dr Nick Freear's blog - Wed, 22/04/2015 - 15:53

Continued from the previous post…

In the second part of the plenary Kathleen Egan, Programmes Manager at Age UK London, presented the valuable work done by the charity on digital inclusion. She discussed a project to use teenagers as volunteer mentors, and referred to the Digital inclusion evidence review, 2013 (PDF).

The final session of the morning was by Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays Bank. Paul Smyth and his colleagues have acheived a high-level of buy-in and ownership of Web accessibility from the bank's senior management.


I was happy to have lunch with Roger Wilson-Hinds and Natasha Beauharnais. They are both involved with Georgie Phone, a suite of low-cost Android mobile phone apps for the vision-impaired. These look very promising – I must take a look. And, I think I've met Roger at previous events...

The afternoon started for me with setting up for the round-table discussion that I was chairing, title "OU Media Player: Mainstreaming video accessibility". My colleague, Peter Devine, put a lot of work into an A0 poster, that I hope the participants found useful.

I'm fairly used to giving presentations. However, this was my first time chairing a discussion, and I was feeling nervous. We had a good number of attendees for the discussion – between 9 and 11. People attended from a wide variety of organizations, including the RNIB, the University of Southampton, and the Worshipful Co of Information Technologists.

Here are some of the questions that were asked and discussed:

  • Did I have documentation on how to make a media player accessible? (Answer: not yet)
  • How had we made the player accessible? (Answer: heavily customized MediaElement.js + testing + iterate...)
  • What formats/ file types did the player support? (Answer: generally those formats supported natively by browsers - via HTML 5; and those supported by Flash. So: mp3 audio, mp4, m4v and FLV video)
  • Did it support, eg. YouTube/Vimeo? (Answer: the underlying MediaElement.js framework does support YouTube; OU Media Player doesn't yet – watch this space)
  • Was it going to be open sourced? (Answer: yes)
  • When? (Answer: at the time of the conference I couldn't say. Now I can say, within the next 6 months)
  • What about DRM? (Answer: not considered yet. )

What I learnt about chairing a panel:

  • Have ideas jotted down for things to discuss - if there is a lull in conversation (I found there was a lull, and I wasn't quite prepared for it)
  • Be prepared to drive or guide things;
  • Try to include everyone, not just the most vocal (not sure I managed that);
  • Find a way to take notes;
  • Do a "register" at the start, so that you have everyone's contact details (should be obvious);
  • Go round at the start asking people to introduce themselves, explain what they want from the discussion (I think I did this – not sure how well though);
  • Hand out "feedback questionnaires" (meant to print some, ran out of time);

Possibly useful links:

Thank you to all who attended the discussion. And, thank you to the event organisers, Dan Jellinek and his team.

Go West: #OER15 Calling!

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Tue, 21/04/2015 - 18:47

Originally posted on :

Next week team OER Hub will be Westward bound as we head to Cardiff, Wales for OER15!

This year’s conference is focused on “Mainstreaming Open Education” and will be held at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on Tuesday 14 and Wednesday 15 April. Keynotes include Cable Green, Sheila MacNeill, Josie Fraser and our very own Martin Weller.

With six conference tracks (including Impact Research, OEP and Policy and Open Education in Schools and Colleges) and no less than seven parallel sessions including workshops and panel presentations happening simultaneously there’s plenty to check out. Head on over to the conference schedule for an overview and the abstracts for talks.

We’re also excited to be participating in several sessions across the conference:

Tuesday 14 April 

  • Get a double dose of Hub goodness with Bea debuting the latest findings from our impact research PLUS Beck talking about whether openness…

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OER15 and the nature of change in higher ed

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Sun, 19/04/2015 - 12:47

Last week was the OER15 conference here in Wales. I was the co-chair along with Haydn Blackey. While my view may be somewhat biased, I think it was a great success. We had great sessions, everything worked well, the venue was marvellous and the sun was out in Cardiff. If you haven’t been to the Uk OER conference before, I recommend getting along to Edinburgh next year for OER16. I was, as is so often the case, reminded very forcibly of how enthusiastic and engaging the open ed community are.

The theme of the conference was “Mainstreaming OER”. I suggested in the opening remarks, that it wasn’t the case that OER are already mainstream practice, but that they now stand on the cusp of it. After 13 years or so of development, a global community has been developed who are focused on OERs, open textbooks and open education in general. But the next stage is to move into the mainstream. There is almost nowhere else left to go now. That transition may not be successful, and it isn’t inevitable, but it is the next phase we need to attempt, in order to realise much of the ambition that underpinned the OER movement.

Often conference themes are rather vague, and don’t really bear any resemblance to the actual sessions. They’re rather like having a theory of parenting – you think it will go one way, and reality trundles along regardless of your interventions. But I feel that the theme of mainstreaming OER was really very relevant to the content of the conference. All of the keynotes explicitly addressed it, and in all the sessions I attended, participants made it a key thread in their work.

This caused me to muse somewhat on the nature of change (especially in higher education). I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction the other week, and she talks about the nature of extinction and its time frame. Darwin and others believed species go extinct very slowly (the winding down of a natural selection process). But of course, we discovered that sometimes extinctions happen quickly, caused by major events (the dinosaur slaying K-T event being the most famous). As Kolbert puts it, “conditions on earth change only very slowly, except when they don’t”. Or as paleontologist David Roup sums it up, evolution is “long periods of boredom interrupted occasionally by panic.”

Related to this, my colleague Simon Horrocks pointed me to the French historical tradition of la longue duree. This argues that we shouldn’t focus on the big events in human history, but rather on longer cycles. While we tend to talk of significant battles and revolutions, the ideas or regimes these have overthrown persist for much longer. This is in line with the theme of my book, that having had the initial victory, it is actually now that direction is determined.

Which brings me back to the theme of OER15. I think change in higher ed has some resemblance to the evolutionary pattern (although over much shorter timescales) – change happens very, very slowly, and then very, very quickly. At the same time there are also longer patterns of change beneath this. For example, one might argue that MOOC hysteria was an example of one of those moments of panic. But this occurs within longer cycles – for example, the trend towards openness might be one, but so are much more fundamental practices such as knowledge construction, autonomy, critical thought, etc. I would suggest that silicon valley and the media are almost exclusively focused on those moments of panic, but ignore the equally important longer processes. In terms of OER then, I would argue we need to embrace both – be prepared for the long haul, but ready to react when the rapid change comes.

Here is a nice playlist of all the keynotes from OER15, and also an overview video:

Finding the problems OER solves

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Tue, 14/04/2015 - 07:26

At the Hewlett Grantees meeting in San Francisco, David Wiley made a very good argument that we need to focus on specific problems that OERs can address and solve those. I think this is part of the mainstreaming process – at the start of the movement there are grand claims and big visions. These are necessary to get it going, but over time and with further investment the focus becomes more practical. So, reducing the cost of textbooks for students in higher ed is one such specific problem. We can show how OERs (in the form of Open textbooks) can achieve this, we can implement an approach to solve it, and we can measure it.

We also discussed whether there are universal problems which OER can solve. David suggested that actually problems often look superficially similar, but there is such variety in context that they are actually very different problems. The situation in North America is different to that in Europe, and that in the UK is different to that in France, and that in K12 is different to higher ed, etc.

I would contend that there are some problems which, if not quite universal, are similar enough to be of interest to a wide range of people. If we take the original premise that we need to focus on specific problems, then the next stage is to find problems of sufficient interest. Here are some which our OER Research Hub findings point to, but these are just some suggestions, and will undoubtedly be influenced by my higher ed, northern hemisphere perspective, so I’d love to hear more:

  • Student retention – students in formal ed at all levels were often using OERs to support their learning. At the moment this is all behind closed doors as it were, but educators could make better use of promoting OERs to offer a broader range of material. Specific research could then identify whether such use does aid retention.
  • Student recruitment – higher education study is increasingly expensive in many countries, so the idea of trying it out for a year and then maybe switching to a different course is not really an option (as it was in my day). So if you want to help recruit students who are really interested in your subject, then giving them some good OERs is one way of them exploring whether they want to study with you. Again, there is longitudinal research here that could verify whether this has any impact.
  • Student costs – this could be in terms of open textbooks for formal learners, but also more broadly in terms of allowing access to educational content that would otherwise be unaffordable for informal learners. This research would focus on the impact of OERs for informal learners, or savings for formal learners.
  • Pedagogic variety -teachers, colleges, universities all struggle with the issue of appropriate staff development, updating the curriculum and incorporating technology. We found that use of OER by teachers led to a lot of reflection on their own practice, and caused them to incorporate a greater variety of content and approaches in their teaching. The impact of OERs on teaching practice is, I think, under reported and researched so one could imagine projects targeted specifically at encouraging this.

There are obviously more, but that wouldn’t be a bad set of problems to both solve and to investigate fully. But I definitely feel that these targeted benefits allied with appropriate research is what is required in OER now.

Design for Life

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

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

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

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

So tackling each area of my role:

Evidence-based Practice

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

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

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

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

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

Scholarship, Development and Training

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

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

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

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

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

Strategy and Culture

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

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

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

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


Download figures from Research Gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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