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Recent blogs from IET staff

Open Learning Analytics (Amsterdam)

Filming the OLA Summit

Back in 2011, I was part of a group of practitioners and researchers that published a proposal for an open and modularised platform for open learning analytics.  In it, we outlined the development of an integrated and extensible toolset that would help academics and organisations to evaluate learner activity, determine needed interventions, and improve advancement of learning opportunities.

Siemens, G., Gašević, D., Haythornthwaite, C., Dawson, S., Buckingham Shum, S., Ferguson, R., Duval, E, Verbert, K, and Baker, R. S. J. d. (2011). Open Learning Analytics: An Integrated and Modularized Platform (Concept Paper): SOLAR.

We moved forward on this idea in spring this year when,  following the LAK14 conference, I was invited to spend a weekend on the outskirts of Indianapolis, at the Open Learning Analytics (OLA) summit. One outcome of that event was the identification of domains in which future work may be conducted: open research, institutional strategy and policy issues, and learning sciences/learning design and open standards/open-source software – and ethical issues related to all of these.

At the start of December, there was another meet-up, this time in Europe and organised by the LACE project, together with the Apereo Foundation and the University of Amsterdam. In a room littered with classical sculpture, at Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum, participants from across Europe gave presentations on their interests in, and vision for, Open Learning Analytics and its application to education or training.

  • Niall Sclater, from JISC in the UK, talked about developing the infrastructure for basic learning analytics systems.
  • Thieme Hemmis, from DelftX, talked about an open research framework – a standard instrument for collaborative research that can give access to data, people and instruments.
  • Erwin Bomas, from Kennisnet and the LACE project is working on a system to gain informed consent for access to data
  • Wolfgang Müller, University of Education Weingarten, is focusing on providing analytics to teachers to they can provide better formative feedback. The aim is to provide informative data on learning processes.
  • Patrick Lynch, University of Hull, introduced Apereo’s work on connecting up data, analytics and data presentation.
  • Vladimer Kobayashi is researching ways of linking the skills of graduates with the labour market.
  • Adam Cooper is leading a strand of the LACE project that is focused on  interoperability and data sharing.
  • Neils Smits, VU university Amsterdam, usesg cluster analysis to understand student activity on the Blackboard virtual learning environment. This analysis accounts for 50% of variance in later exam performance.
  • Alan Berg, of the Apereo Foundation, talked about the grand challenge of learning analytics.

Following these presentations, we brainstormed ideas for action, exploring objectives for collaborative projects that could be achievable in 2-4 years, the methods to achieve these objectives, and the nature of an Open Learning Analytics Framework as a means of coordinating action. A next step will be to work together on bids to Europe’s Horizon 2020 funding programme in order to make these ideas into reality.


Double Feature! November and December at the Hub

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Thu, 18/12/2014 - 09:36

Originally posted on :

Team Hub wishes all its supporters, collaborators and friends all the very best for the forthcoming festivities and 2015! It’s been an amazing year and thank you for your continued support; we couldn’t do it without you all.

We’ve had a busy November and December (as ultra observant readers of our blog may have noticed, there was no monthly review for last month!)… so, where has the team been and what have we been up to?

Conferences, workshops and travel 

November began with researcher Bea participating in this year’s International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) Blended and Online Symposium. Read Bea’s review of the conference and check out her slides on the impact of OER in the K12 classroom here.

Beck headed over to Washington DC early to carry out some visits and conduct interviews as part of case study work for OpenStax College, before heading to the…

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Double book launch online

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Mon, 15/12/2014 - 10:22

Tomorrow (Dec 16th) at 3pm UK time I’m doing an online book launch for my Battle For Open book. I’m sharing it with Martin Eve, who will be talking about his Open Access and the Humanities book also. If you’re interested in openness, open access, books, or just want to procrastinate, then please join us, The room will be open from 2pm (we’ll record it too so if you’re reading this after the fact, you can watch the playback).

One thing about going with a small publisher like Ubiquity is that they don’t have the marketing budget of someone like Elsevier. However, having published three books previously I’m not convinced this marketing does much. They generally ask you for ideas about where to send it, and much of the marketing is done by your personal networks. But I confess I don’t know how important all those catalogues, stands at conferences, and glossy flyers distributed via post are in terms of overall sales. I suspect they may help with giving the book a longer life. So, this represents a bit of a test. Ubiquity have some marketing and will get it into library catalogues, so it’s not a pure comparison of self-marketing vs traditional, but it will be interesting to see if it makes much difference in terms of citations (or sales even).

So, doing things like the webinar are part of that. I hope it’s interesting to others and not just self-indulgent. I will talk a bit about the book’s central theme but also about the process of writing this book also. And the relationship with Martin’s book will hopefully throw up some useful points for discussion too. Failing that, we can just sing Christmas carols and have mince pies.

Newsflash: Women, Fashion, Power at the Design Museum

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Mon, 08/12/2014 - 13:53

Originally posted on Theatre of Fashion:

        Image from @violettaboxill

As the days get colder and festive adverts start tugging on our collective heartstrings, the burning question on everyone’s lips is, ‘forget Christmas, what do I have to look forward to in 2015?’ Well – dear reader – let me enlighten you, as I’ve been invited to guest-curate a series of events as part of the Women, Fashion, Power exhibition at the Design Museum. The series examines how women use dress to negotiate issues around power throughout history and across cultures, from Muslim dress and modest fashion to West African spirituality, and the use of uniforms in western fashion from the 18th century to the present day. Come along!

January 27th:Faith, Fashion & Power in Muslim Dress: Barjis Chohan in conversation with Professor Reina Lewis. The dress of Muslim women continues to spark debates surrounding oppression vs empowerment, but often the question of fashion is conspicuous by its absence. In this discussion…

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Why a book?

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 05/12/2014 - 16:57

Did I mention my Battle for Open book is out? I SAID DID I MENTION MY BOOK IS OUT.

Ahem. Audrey Watters asks why a book, and it’s a question I asked myself with my last book. Here are some thoughts on the process of writing it, and how it relates to blogs and other outputs.

As with the last one, my blog is invaluable. It’s not quite like David’s book which is a collection of his blog posts, but anyone who reads this blog and then the book will be familiar with a lot of its content. When I realised there might be a book to write in this area I went through my blog and copied over anything that was relevant. This came to about 30,000 words. Now, some of that I didn’t use in the end, and nearly all of it I rewrote to an extent (there is a very interesting different tone of voice between book and blog). But nevertheless, for a 60,000 word book, to have nearly half of it in some form straight-off is a real kickstart. Whenever I do my blogging pitch people ask me ‘how do you find the time’, and I often counter that once you get past a certain point, it becomes a time saver. I don’t know how any academic writer functions without a blog. I sometimes found myself writing something and then thinking ‘hold on, haven’t I done something on this before?’ and I’d go back to the blog to find an erudite, well formed and argued article/rambling piece of nonsense that suited my needs.

What I like about a book is that you can make an extended argument, loop forward and refer back within one coherent piece. You can do the referring back in blogs but you write those over an extended period, and they’re usually short pieces. The book allows you a longer run at a subject and you have a reasonably clear idea how these ideas will build on each other. Blogs are much better at capturing thoughts over an extended time frame and for patterns to emerge. Like my last book, I didn’t realise I was in the process of writing this book on my blog for a period of a year or two. Then I began to see a common thread between posts that could benefit from the extended book approach. Again, how do people write books without blogs?

And why a book and not something more creative? Jim Groom might chastise me for being beholden to that text stuff. Alan Levine would have done something far more creative using photos and an application he developed himself. I could answer this by arguing that the form was appropriate for the content, but actually that’s not true. Others could have done something far more innovative and said the same thing. In the end I think it’s because, to paraphrase Laura Marling, I write because I can. It’s what I’m half-decent at, so you may as well go with that.

So, let’s end with some Laura:

Learning design & learning analytics – building the links

After presenting at the SoLAR Flare learning analytics event last month, I was invited to the London Knowledge Lab to present at one of their regular What The Research Says seminars. This month, the subject was on ‘Designing a MOOC’, and I talked about building the links between learning design and learning analytics. This included a look at patterns of engagement in MOOCs, and how they vary according to pedagogy and learning design.

Other speakers at the event:

  • Diana Laurillard: Introduction to designing MOOCs: Theory, practice and evidence
  • Russell Beale: Social Learning the FutureLearn way
  • Matt Jenner: The research says very little: Designing a MOOC Platform
  • Natasha Bonnelame: Tate / Khan Project: Learning in an Altermodern World
  • Tim Powell-Jones: Encouraging learning through social dynamics in a MOOC

Teaching in MOOCs: Unbundling the roles of the educator

Last week I gave a talk at the Design4Learning conference at The Open University, Milton Keynes, on the roles of educators in MOOCs. The paper was based on analysis of materials relating to six FutureLearn MOOCs, and was co-authored with Denise Whitelock.

Abstract

Educators in massive open online courses (MOOCs) face the challenge of interacting with tens of thousands of students, many of whom are new to online learning. This study investigates some of the different ways in which lead educators position themselves within MOOCs, and the various roles that they adopt in their messages to learners. Email messages from educators were collected from six courses on the FutureLearn platform, a UK-based MOOC platform with 36 university partners. Educator stance in these emails was coded thematically, sentence by sentence. The resulting typology draws attention to the different ways in which educators align themselves in these settings, including outlining the trajectory of the course, acting as both host and instructor, sometimes as fellow learner, and often as an emotionally engaged enthusiast. This typology can be used, in future, to explore relationships between educator stance and variables such as learner engagement, learner test results and learner retention.


Models for book publishing

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 04/12/2014 - 17:36

If you’re into edtech/open education (and who isn’t?) then your cup runneth over these last couple of weeks with books to read. There are four I’ll highlight (including mine!) and they represent different approaches to writing and publishing, so they make a nice comparison.

First up is Martin Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities. Martin is a great OA champion and this book explores the context and issues surrounding OA for the humanities. It’s published by Cambridge University Press, with the digital version available under CC-BY-SA licence. This represents a fairly traditional model, with publisher paying the author some royalties, although often a bit reduced from the normal rate. (Martin contributes his royalties to Arthritis research by the way). The publisher is taking the punt that it will sell enough copies to make a profit on the investment required for the services in producing the book (copyediting, layout, etc).

My book, The Battle for Open, represents a slightly different approach. It’s published by Ubiquity Press (who we recently linked up with for JIME also, they’re my new publishing BFFs). They operate a ‘gold’ model, where you pay upfront for the services. However, they’re not looking to make a profit on the book then, and as with their journals, these costs are reasonable. Depending on the services you choose, it is around £3-4,000. Now that’s a lot for an individual, but in terms of research projects, it’s the same sort of price as going to a fancy conference overseas, and that type of dissemination is regularly built into budgets. I would argue that publishing an open access book might be a better use of such funds. I’ve heard tales from colleagues who’ve been quoted figures along the lines of £20,000 from big academic publishers to make their book open access. This is taking no risk at all, since that would probably cover the profit on a regular book anyway. This is available CC-BY in PDF, Kindle, epub formats, with the hardcopy available for the reasonable price of £12.99.

Next are two books that come from blogging chums. David Kernohan’s A New Order and Audrey Watters’ The Monsters of Education Technology. Both of these arose from a hackathon exploring self-publishing. David’s is a collection of his blog posts and Audrey’s her keynote talks. The digital versions are freely available under CC licences again (although I’d urge you to buy the digital format of Audrey’s one).

There are a few interesting things about this approach to me. Firstly, it’s a good example of that guerrilla approach to research that I like to bang on about. David and Audrey didn’t need anyone’s permission to publish these books. Secondly, both books are really good, better than many monographs we see published. This is, of course, primarily a function of their ability as writers, but it also demonstrates the value in spending time on smaller outputs. David’s blog is always worth reading, and Audrey’s keynotes are like masterclasses. In her book she says people keep telling her she’s going about keynotes the wrong way, you’re meant to do one and then repeat it (guilty as charged), but she spends ages creating a new one each time. This book demonstrates the value in doing that, as does David’s in keeping a blog where you explore issues that fall outside your daily job.

I like all four of these books (especially mine) for their subject matter, but more so because they demonstrate that different models to book publishing are possible and valid. These different models will meet the needs of different authors, and the good thing is, they’re all appropriate. When I started blogging I was intrigued by the changes that the digital approach made to academic practice. I think we’ve all become a bit jaded to that now, but these four publications demonstrate that it is still an interesting, and ongoing process. Anyway, that’s your Christmas reading list sorted right there.

Outstanding ICT Initiative of the Year

Congratulations to all the team for winning ‘Outstanding ICT Initiative of the Year’ at the THE Awards.


Learning futures in Athens

The Plato Academy in Greece invited me to talk about ‘Visions of Future Learning’ at their Technology-Enhanced Learning conference on 14 November.

I talked about how we create visions of  learning futures, how we use them, and why we keep developing new visions. I covered visions of education, visions of school, visions of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and visions of pedagogy, the theory of teaching and learning.

Speakers

  • Maria Gregoriadou, University of Athens: Plato Academy – The Roads of Knowledge
  • Stella Vosniadou, University of Athens Benefits and traps of technology for learning
    Discussion
  • Rebecca Ferguson, The Open University, UK: Visions of Future Learning
  • Alberto J. Cañas, Institute of Human and Machine Cognition,: CmapTools: Towards a Worldwide Network of Knowledge Constructors
  • Kyparissia Papanikolaou, School of Pedagogical & Technological Education: Opportunities and challenges of digital technologies to support modern educational planning
  • Pantelis Balaouras, Kostas Tsimanis, Lazaros Merakos, Greek Universities Network (GUnet): Open courses at the University of Athens and Greek universities
Visions of future learning from Rebecca Ferguson

Better than Christmas – OER Research hub report

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Tue, 25/11/2014 - 10:17


The OER Research Hub completed its second annual report for the founders, the Hewlett Foundation in September. It plots the evidence we’ve gained against the 11 hypotheses of the project. It’s not the final report which we will deliver next year, but it has some very interesting findings. We have over 6000 survey responses from educators, informal and formal learners, and librarians.

Some of the key findings are:

  • 37.6% of educators and 55.7% of formal learners say that using OER improves
    student satisfaction
  • 27.5% of educators and 31.9% of formal learners agree that OER use results
    in better test scores
  • 79.4% of OER users adapt resources to fit their needs
  • 79.5% of educators use OER to get new ideas and inspiration
  • 88.4% of learners say that the opportunity to study at no cost influenced
    their decision to use OER
  • 74.9% of informal learners use OER to have a learning experience
  • Knowing where to find resources is one of the biggest challenges to using OER
  • General knowledge of well-established OER repositories is low
  • Only 5% of educators say they don’t share information about OER
  • The more educators use OER, the more they are willing to share
  • Only 12.4% of educators create resources and publish them on a Creative Commons license
  • Videos are the most common type of OER used.
  • Cost of and access to materials can have an effect on student retention
  • 40.9% of all formal learners in our sample consider that OER have a positive impact in helping them complete their course of study
  • 79.6% of formal students think they save money by using OER
  • 31.5% of informal learners say that their interest in using OER is a chance to try university-level content before signing up for a paid-for course
  • 31.3% say their use of OER influenced their decision to register for their current course.
  • 83.2% of informal learners say they are more likely to take another free course or study a free open educational resource, and 24.2% say that they would go on to take a paid for course as a result of using OER

There is still a lot more to do, in particular we really want to get at good comparative data demonstrating improvement in scores (or otherwise) following OER adoption, so if anyone has leads in that area please get in touch. Nevertheless, I would contend that this represents one of the most comprehensive investigations of OER impact, and so will be of interest to anyone in the field.

We’ll be doing further analysis and digging into some of the findings in further detail over the coming months. The report is available under a CC-By licence, and available in a nicely designed PDF booklet, so really, your Christmas wishes are already fulfilled, which is nice.

Innovating Pedagogy 2014

Innovating Pedagogy 2014 has just been published and is available as a free download. It is the third in a series of reports I have co-authored with colleagues at The Open University that explore new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world. While many of these are enabled by technology, these are not reports on new gadgets, but on new ways of teaching and learning.

This year’s report focuses on

  • Massive open social learning
  • Learning design informed by analytics
  • Flipped classroom
  • Bring your own devices
  • Learning to learn
  • Dynamic assessment
  • Event-based learning
  • Learning through storytelling
  • Threshold concepts
  • Bricolage

One of my favourites is learning through storytelling. Of course, this is not a new pedagogy. Writing up an experiment, reporting on an inquiry, analysing a period of history – these are all examples of the use of narrative to support learning that have been used for hundreds of years. However, the use of technology opens up new possibilities. We are increasingly able to create virtual story worlds in which guided exploratory learning can take place. A storyline can also be used to build engagement and provoke discussion in massive open online learning, or in other learning environments where participants spread across the globe build a narrative together. This is an example of technology opening up new possibilities that allow us to expand our use of a tried and trusted approach to teaching and learning.

Postscript December 2014: Ida Brandão has produced a short video of this year’s report.


2nd Annual EU Project Review for JuxtaLearn

Just got back from Luxembourg, having attended the 2nd annual project review for the JuxtaLearn project. One of the things I do during these gruelling meetings is type didactic notes of everything the reviewers say or ask, and also of their final comments. They usually send their recommendations out about three weeks later. Yesterday I typed 7028 words and captured pretty much everything. The review was tough, but fair. The reviewers picked up on absolutely every weak point – any partner who was not fully integrated with the rest, any lack of progress, any over claiming. They did give us a fairly hard time, but their feedback was constructive rather than distuctive and ultimately their recommendations and conclusions will, I feel, make the project better.

It would be nice if this process could be a little less tough – but then sometimes you need to shake things up to get it moving.

As the Project Officer said – it is their responsibility to ensure that our EU contribution (looking at the UK contingent) is well spent. Cameron will be pleased to hear that

By Gill

Innovating Pedagogy report 2014

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 14/11/2014 - 15:30

It’s been slightly over a year since the last Innovating Pedagogy report, and 2014’s edition is now available. As before it was written by a small team in IET at the OU. The remit is to look at technology related innovations, but with more of a teaching and learning perspective than some of the technical reports around. We try not to revisit topics from previous years, although if some significant development has occurred then we will. This is the 3rd of these reports, and when we started we wondered if we’d run out of topics without revisiting things, but actually there were at least another 10 we listed that we wanted to write about, but felt it prudent to keep it to ten. So the topics included this year are:

  • Massive open social learning
  • Learning design informed by analytics
  • Flipped classroom
  • Bring your own devices
  • Learning to learn
  • Dynamic assessment
  • Event-based learning
  • Learning through storytelling
  • Threshold concepts
  • Bricolage

A lot of these are not necessarily new this year, and could have been incorporated in our first report, but it’s about trying to gauge when they gain enough momentum to be of interest to a reasonably wide audience. The report is written in an accessible style (we hope) and aims to be relevant to a broad audience in education. As always it’s not intended to be the definitive list of things that are significant, rather some topics we think are of interest. Anyway, you can download the report here and share with friends.

JIME, Ubiquity & OA models

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 13/11/2014 - 12:32


I’m a co-editor of JIME at the Open University. It’s had a long tradition here, started in KMi it piloted open peer review, using it’s own software back in the late 90s. It has always been open access, and when maintaining our own software became a burden, it switched to using the open source system OJS. It’s focus has changed over the years – although it’s called the Journal for Interactive Media in Education, it is more about open education and ed tech in HE now. It has remained free to publish in and open access. I think its story is similar to that of many journals run by universities, they tend to operate on the periphery of people’s time. This means we can’t spend as much effort on things such as updating the website, implementing new features, experimenting with technology, or pushing it through different library registers and databases as we’d like, because any time we do have for it is spent on maintaining the core journal operations.

We’re now entering a new phase of JIME’s life, which I think offers a model for other university owned journals. We have stopped hosting and maintaining the site, and handed that side of things over to Ubiquity Press (who are also publishing my book, more of which later in another post). Ubiquity use OJS at the back end and they keep the Article Processing Charges (APCs) as low as possible at £300 per article, to handle all the back end work (their model is explained here). Compared with the £3000 type APC fee from many publishers this represents a reasonable charge, and it also includes a portion which goes to a fund to allow fee waivers for anyone who can’t pay the fee. I’ve been critical of Gold OA before, but I think it’s a question of degree, a modest charge to cover the type of work that is needed to run a journal site, do all the library stuff, layout, etc. seems appropriate.

Because JIME has always been free to publish we didn’t want to start charging APCs, so IET are covering the cost of 3 issues per year. This isn’t that costly (as our US friends say, you do the math). And previously we were probably spending more than this in staff time for the technical input and admin time spent on running our own system. It also allows us editors to concentrate on the stuff we do know about, the academic side of things, instead of running the journal. Ubiquity will handle updates to the new system, and implement things such as altmetrics.

When universities talk about impact, and outreach, paying for a handful of such journals from each university would represent a modest outlay for any one institution, but a considerable overall collection of journals. All free to publish and free to access. Some of these costs could come from the library funds currently spent paying large publishing firms who make considerable profits. It’s a critical mass problem, when enough universities do it, then it’s worthwhile and makes an impact on the bigger system, so becomes more worthwhile to participate in. We’ve taken the step, why not join us?

SoLAR Flare

Speaking at the SoLAR Flare

On 24 October 2014, the Learning Analytics and Community Exchange (LACE) project invited everyone interested in the research and use of learning analytics to a one-day networking gathering event in October at the Open University in Milton Keynes (UK).

This Solar Flare event – co-chaired by Doug Clow, Simon Cross and I – formed part of an international series coordinated by the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR). SoLAR Flares provide opportunities to learn what’s going on in learning analytics research and practice, to share resources and experience, and to forge valuable new connections within the education sector and beyond.

Around 50 people attended in person, with another 356 from around the world tuning in via the livestream.

There were two keynotes: one from Alan Berg, talking about the Apereo learning analytics initiative, and another from Chris Lowis, talking about learning analytics on the FutureLearn MOOC platform. In addition, there were 13 lightning presentations from people working with learning analytics in multiple countries and contexts including the UK, France and Spain. My lightning presentation focused on patterns of engagement identified in FutureLearn MOOCs from a variety of different universities. In the afternoon, participants split into four sub-groups that discussed evidence about learning analytics that can be added to the LACE Learning Analytics Evidence Hub.

Recordings of all the LACE SoLAR Flare presentations are available online.


Innovating Pedagogy

OU Innovation Report series - Wed, 12/11/2014 - 20:30

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

View the Innovating Pedagogy report.

This third report proposes ten innovations that are already in currency but have not yet had a profound influence on education.  You can see a summary of each innovation at the menu on the right. Please contribute your comments on the report and the innovations.

EC-TEL

Mike Sharples and I presented at EC-TEL 2014 in Graz on Innovative Pedagogy at Massive Scale: Teaching and Learning in MOOCs.

We examined the implications for pedagogy of education at a massive scale. Educational approaches designed or adapted to be effective for large numbers of learners include direct instruction, networked learning, connectivism, supported open learning, and conversational learning at scale.

We used a grounded approach to analyse data from 18 MOOCs run on the UK-based FutureLearn platform. This enabled us to identify benefits and challenges for learners, for educators and for society as a whole of learning at massive scale. These need to be addressed in two ways, through learning design and through platform design.

After our presentation, Yishay Mor interviewed us about it for the Open Learning Europa website.

Also at the conference, I presented a poster co-authored with Denise Whitelock, ‘Taking on different roles: how educators position themselves in MOOCs’.

Abstract:

Educators in massive open online courses (MOOCs) face the challenge of interacting with tens of thousands of students, many of whom are new to online learning. This study investigates the different ways in which lead educators position themselves within MOOCs, and the various roles that they adopt in their messages to learners. Email messages from educators were collected from six courses on FutureLearn, a UK-based MOOC platform that had 26 university partners at the time. Educator stance in these emails was coded thematically, sentence by sentence. The resulting typology draws attention to the different ways in which educators align themselves in these settings, including outlining the trajectory of the course, acting as both host and instructor,  sometimes as fellow learner, and often as an emotionally engaged enthusiast. This typology can be used to explore relationships between educator stance and variables such as learner engagement, learner test results and learner retention.


Eduball

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 12:42


I read Michael Lewis’s Moneyball over the summer (you’ve probably seen the Brad Pitt adaptation). It’s a great account of how stripping baseball down to the stats allowed a small team to compete against teams with much larger budgets. What is particularly intriguing is how this multi-million dollar industry was basically doing it all wrong. Mythology, tradition, inherited wisdom created a culture where certain attributes were overvalued, and others undervalued. Players who were invaluable to a team when you looked at their stats were passed over by every single club, because their shape was wrong, or they didn’t look right when they swung a bat.

It’s hard not to read it and draw some analogies with education, and in particular the learning analytics approach. I imagine a copy of Moneyball sits on every analytics nerd’s bookshelf. There are undoubtedly parallels that can be drawn, but equally interesting is why the Moneyball approach doesn’t work in education.

Let’s consider some of those similarities first. Education is rather shrouded in mystery, folklore and received wisdom. We don’t know what works, but we know what’s good when we see it. It is an industry with a lot of money involved in it and like baseball people care passionately about it. It is also often resistant to change. To the analytical mindset the only outcome worth considering is scores. And in improving scores, I will bet there is as much in education that is irrelevant as there is in Lewis’s account of baseball. Teachers are like the wizened old scouts telling the Harvard whizkid that will never fly, and education just isn’t done like that.

There is something undeniably romantic about this vision of the outsider coming in with their new method and revealing all the wastage, all the misinformation that people have been operating with for centuries. And, I genuinely believe analytics will reveal some surprising and unsettling findings for educators, and that long-cherished beliefs about what’s important simply won’t hold up against the data.

But it’s also worth considering why education isn’t like baseball. Firstly, baseball, for all it’s romanticism and mythology, is much simpler. There are very simple, observable metrics – games won, runs scored. You can add in more, but really that’s all you need to work against. This is not the case in education, although the increased obsession with scores attempts to make it so. There are a lot of other things you’re doing in education beyond those metrics – getting students to become critical thinkers, to develop skills in groupwork, communication, reflection, etc.

The reason it isn’t the case in education brings me onto the second major difference: Baseball is ruthless. The system doesn’t need to care if a promising player doesn’t make it, they can trade for someone with better stats. It can sacrifice all to achieving those metrics (and because baseball players are paid good money, this isn’t such an ethical dilemma). This is not the case in education. While some of the prestigious universities can keep up their status by ensuring only the best enter and stay, the system as a whole wants people to progress through, even if their ‘stats’ aren’t great. For the individual, for society, it’s better to have people coming through even if in moneyball terms you’d cut them.

I blog this partly to remind myself – sometimes an analogy is powerful and we tend to over-apply it. As with the disruption (klaxon) of the record industry, people have seen education as being exactly the same. It is important to see similarities, but also to recognise key differences. Anyway, go and read Moneyball if you have the time, it’s good fun.

Open by default

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Wed, 05/11/2014 - 14:26

I’ve heard this phrase a few times, often in relation to open data eg. the open data charter. I think it’s a useful starting position for those in higher ed, across all aspects of practice. That is, assume you should be operating openly, and only if there are valid reasons not to, shift away from that, instead of the reverse situation as it is now. It is important to emphasise that there are perfectly valid reasons why you may not be open in a particular aspect, eg an online learning forum for new learners may be better conducted in what they feel is a safe space. So open by default merely suggests that you should consider what you lose by not being open.

Open practice brings a number of benefits, depending on the particular task at hand. These include:

  • Altruism – it’s a good thing to do generally to share, and is at the heart of much of what academia is about.
  • Efficiency – if the feel-good factor of altruism doesn’t cut it for you, then there is a more pragmatic stance, that sharing content, ideas, data, source code is simply a more efficient way to work.
  • Increased profile – this can be important for research projects who want different stakeholders to know about their existence and to engage with them, individuals establishing an academic identity, and resources (eg open access articles) that you want to be widely accessed.
  • Dissemination – probably a combination of the previous two (efficiency and profile), but much of higher education is concerned with dissemination, and conducting this in an open manner is really the best route.
  • Wider participation – whether it is contribution to a project, forming ideas or getting learners to engage with a broader audience, then open practice offers an effective route.
  • Unexpected outcomes – we all have stories of how open practice can lead to (pleasant) unpredicted outcomes, such as the use of content in different contexts, new connections, the formulation of project ideas, etc.
  • Innovation – the open space is often one that allows room for experimentation and innovation outside of formal conventions.
  • Easy collaboration – it is actually really difficult to collaborate – it requires memorandums of understanding, project plans, commitment. I am (still) often reminded of Scott’s post about the difficulty of sharing, whereas being open just means it happens.

Those are quite considerable benefits. So the open by default stance says, before you surrender all of these, make sure what you are gaining by not being open is worthwhile. In essence: Is closed worth the cost? There will be many times when the answer to this question is yes, but one should at least make the case (even if it’s just to yourself) for this. Currently the reverse is true, which is actually quite odd when you consider it.

*iet-ga