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What’s in a name?

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 27/05/2016 - 08:39
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Yesterday I had a bit of a pedant tantrum, when following the announcement about FutureLearn MOOCs offering credit, Leeds Uni tweeted they were the first Russell Group university to offer credit for online courses. They deleted the tweet after I complained because online courses aren’t the same as MOOCs, and of course many universities have been offering online courses for credit for years. I fully appreciate it was the demands of twitter and communications that caused this, there wasn’t anything sinister in their intent, and I apologise if I seemed a bit grumpy about it. But it was the latest example of a move to conflate MOOCs and ‘online courses’ that has a number of negative effects. It’s not just historical pedantry that wants this clarification, there are other issues at stake also. Here are the implications of this confusion:

It’s disrespectful – say you’ve been creating innovative online courses for years. Suddenly all of this work is dismissed because MOOCs represent a year zero for online education, and therefore everything you have done previously cannot be counted.

It’s a landgrab – some of this confusion is accidental (as I believe the case was with the Leeds tweet), but in other cases it is more deliberate. By claiming that MOOCs invented online learning they look to be the inheritors of its future.

It underplays the role of universities – this quote from a piece in the Times Higher captures this I think:

“If we have learned nothing else from the move by universities worldwide to be part of the massive open online course (Mooc) movement, it is that education or research development can easily be shared without the need for time and place dependencies.”

The piece has the title “Moocs prove that universities can and should embrace online learning”. I mean, really? Universities have been embracing online learning for at least 15 years. And yet this view makes it seem that we needed those silicon valley types to make us notice the internet. This adds to the landgrab. Similarly FutureLearn’s Simon Nelson stated “our platform means that they can achieve meaningful qualifications whilst still being able to work”. This rather seems to downplay the 40 year history of the OU which was designed for that very purpose, and once again makes it appear as a MOOC invention.

It limits our options – if MOOCs and online courses are synonymous then MOOCs become the only way of doing online learning. Let’s not limit ourselves again, now that we’re just emerging from the VLE restrictions. You can see some of this in this NYT piece: “After Setbacks, Online Courses Are Rethought”.

This conflation of MOOC and online learning means that MOOC failures become the failure of all online learning, and MOOC future becomes the future of all online learning. It’s more important than that, so we shouldn’t cede the ground to lazy terminology. That’s why I’m pedantic about the use of the term. Or maybe I’m just pedantic.

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Appropriate use of MOOCs

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 26/05/2016 - 13:42
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One of the unfortunate downsides of all the MOOC hype is that it pushed people into opposing camps – you either buy into it all or reject them absolutely. And of course, MOOCs are not going to kill every university, educate the whole world, liberate the masses. But they can be used for some purposes effectively.

Today the OU, FutureLearn and University of Leeds announced a mechanism by which you can gain credit for studying MOOCs and transfer this to count towards a degree. Getting this set up is the type of thing that just takes ages and lots of negotiation (we never cracked it with SocialLearn), so well done to all those involved.

Some will suggest this marks the beginning of the much heralded unbundling of higher education. But I am increasingly inclined to always resist big claims, and instead focus on more modest, realisable ones. I don’t think this model will appeal to everyone, and is unlikely to massively transform the university sector. But what it does allow is more flexibility in the higher education offering. One of the claims the OU has always made for OpenLearn, who are also working in accrediting learning, is that it helps smooth the transition into formal learning. For lots of learners, committing to a three year full time degree is off-putting. This was partly why the OU was invented in the first place. But even signing up for a course complete with fee commitment is a high threshold. MOOCs with a smaller accreditation fee offers a lower step down still.

I suggested a while back that MOOCs might offer a first year replacement, thus reducing some of the financial barriers. The OU itself has run programs where students can study with us for two years and then complete on another campus. More of these hybrid models in education is generally a good thing – students come in many different shapes and sizes now, and will have different needs. But loads of students still want the traditional, 3 year campus model. And that is the key – stop trying to replace one universal model with another one. It is less about blowing up the core and more about fraying the edges productively.

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The role of policy in open ed

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Mon, 16/05/2016 - 19:14
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I was invited to give a talk at the Dept of Business Information and Skills for a meeting organised by ALT, on the role of policy in open education. I looked at OER policies at the institutional, regional and national level and open access policies. I argued that open policies are a good example of how policy can influence practice, and also some of the issues. But the same applies to other areas you might want to consider. The Open Flip I argued will be significant, and policy offers us a means of reallocating resources and encouraging new models, such as Open Library Humanities.

Putting these slides together was a good example of what I was talking about in my last post. Creating a new talk forced me to pull together the different strands on open policy that I have gathered over the past year. The slidedeck is below:

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The new or reused keynote dilemma

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 12/05/2016 - 09:51
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James Clay wrote a post about ‘the half life of a keynote‘ recently in which he pondered how long you should keep giving the same talk for. I know people who always create a new talk, and people who give the same one for almost their entire careers. This year I decided I would create new talks for every keynote, so it’s something I’ve been thinking about. I think the initial reaction is that creating new talks is better. But now I’m through my new talk phase, I’m less convinced. To add to James’s conversation then, here are my pros and cons.

The advantages of giving the same talk multiple times are:

You get better. As anyone who has seen me talk will attest, I’m not a great public speaker. Giving the same talk allows me to tighten it up, as the first version is often a bit rambling. You take bits out, strengthen other points, know which jokes work, etc. It’s a bit like a comedian going on tour, if you only give new talks each time then it is always the equivalent of the pre-tour show when material is being trialled, compared with the 15th night when it is finely honed.

People want that talk. I have given versions of my digital scholarship talk since 2011. I keep retiring it and then people ask “can you come and give that talk I saw, to my team”. It feels a bit like that group who had one hit in the 70s and every gig they play, people just want to hear the hit and not their electro jazz fusion material.

It saves time. This is not just me being lazy, but is a real consideration for people who have a substantive job. Creating a new talk can take a day, giving the talk takes at least a day out of your normal work, and if you don’t want to be rambling you will practice and refine the talk beforehand, which might be another day. That’s at least 3 days per talk. Most talks I give are unpaid or there is a small honorarium, but the OU doesn’t get anything. If I give 5-10 talks a year that is 15-30 days out of my job. Now there are benefits (see below) so it’s not all lost time, but even so, that is a sizeable chunk of workload. If you reuse talks then you can cut that amount down by half probably.

I don’t really have that much to say. I mean, come on, one or two decent ideas every couple of years is enough surely?

The advantages of giving new talks are:

It really helps pull together your thinking. Often you have lots of ideas and content but it’s not until you create a talk for others that it helps shape your thoughts. There is real scholarly benefit in creating a new talk.

It makes you think about the audience more. There is a danger when giving the same talk repeatedly (usually modified) that you don’t tailor it sufficiently to the audience.

It keeps you fresh. The flip side of the advantage given above of getting sharper with familiar material is that you can also be complacent and not really engaged with it.

It avoids repetition and gives you online content. Prior to the internet you probably could get away with giving the same talk forever. But now you share content on blogs and slideshare, or it is livestreamed. So people may have seen it in some form already before you even get there. Creating new talks help feed the online beast, if that is important to you.

I’ve created new talks where I’ve been mildly incoherent, and given old talks where it has not really been appropriate, so there are merits to both. I usually come down in the middle and adapt, remix material from previous talks, but I’m finding this year of refreshing my presentation stock very useful and quite challenging.

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The open ed landscape

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Wed, 11/05/2016 - 07:43
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I gave a presentation for the Disruptive Media Learning Lab in Coventry last week. This year I’m trying to do new talks each time (I’ve another post on that), and was asked to give a talk to an audience who weren’t that aware of issues of openness in education. So I tried the metaphor of thinking of different places on a map. This gave me:

  • Open access – a well developed, sustainable city with infrastructure
  • OERs – a friendly, well populated town, that could expand into a city, or may just stay the way it is. Has nice schools.
  • MOOCs – these are reminiscent of the ‘ghost cities‘ in countries such as China. They have been developed quickly, and they may become populated over time, or they remain largely empty
  • Open educational practice – stretching my metaphor here, my argument that this is a very mixed, broad category that is really about people, so think of it as a large open market on the outskirts of a city
  • Open data – the metro system in a city that keeps everything flowing
  • Open citizenship – open education takes place amidst a broader context of open citizenship, so we should view this as the overall map or landscape.

Using this analogy there were some comparisons between the various areas in the open ed landscape. For instance some were more formalised and others more experimental and some are more fragile and others moe robust. But there are common elements between all of them, which make them part of this landscape:

  • Enabled by the network – obvious but digital technology drives all of these areas, so we have to understand the key aspects of the digital, networked environment
  • Reallocation of resources – many of the models rely on spending money or using time in different ways, for example in producing open content rather than purchasing copyrighted works.
  • Practical benefits of open – they bring the practical benefits of openness to the fore, eg more citations, different learning approaches
  • Sharing as default – the base assumption underlying them is that sharing stuff is the starting point
  • Moral argument – there is often an ethical dimension to the arguments for adopting an open approach

Like all metaphors (at least all of my metaphors) it is flawed and only takes you so far, but I feel there is more to explore in it. And yes, I am considering a Game of Thrones version.

Slidedeck is below:

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Nothing is deserved, everything is accepted

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Tue, 03/05/2016 - 17:35
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In a recent post I mentioned how I’d been at two conferences and academics had bemoaned the state of the relationship with IT services. At the risk of making academics seem like a bunch of whingers, a second theme occurred (perhaps people just like moaning to me) which was the precariousness of the academic researcher. I write this as a tenured Prof (whatever tenure means now), so it is not a self pity or self serving motivation that drives this but concern at the direction universities are hiccuping their way to.

I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the way universities (in the UK, but I suspect it’s commonplace) treat researchers. For nearly all forms of employment there is the 4 year rule which states “Any employee on fixed-term contracts for 4 or more years will automatically become a permanent employee, unless the employer can show there is a good business reason not to do so”. Lucky, lucky researchers are exempt from this however. In 2008 people were saying the fixed term contract was a thing of the past, but with austerity, the introduction of fees and general uncertainty in the higher education sector, its use seems to have increased. This is particularly true for researchers who are employed on external funding. Researchers are employed to a specific project, and when that project ends, unless there is another project, their employment is terminated. This may make sense for a big 3 year project, where you don’t want to employ a large team after the funding ends. But many researchers exist on a diet of short and medium term projects, hopefully with no gaps in between. My understanding, but I’m no expert in employment law, is that the project manager would have a good case for being made permanent at the end of a 4-year project, whereas the researcher would not. I appreciate project managers and researchers equally, but it seems non-sensical to have a surfeit of permanent project managers and a deficit of full time researchers.

The Research Concordat proposes that: “Research posts should only be advertised as a fixed-term post where there is a recorded and justifiable reason.” However, making that ‘justifiable reason’ is not difficult for universities, and the Concordat is not the same as employment law. In 2014 67% of researchers were on fixed term contracts and 39% have been at their institution for more than four years, which indicates that since the Concordat introduction in 2012 we haven’t really seen a significant reduction in the use of fixed term contracts.

Effectively universities are deploying a legal loophole in employment law to keep researchers on a series of short, fixed term contracts. I want to argue that this is bad at an individual, institutional and universal level.

For the individual, it is no way to live, being continually only 6 months or so away from being unemployed. Getting a mortgage, deciding to put down roots, and just feeling secure is very difficult in this context. It also means focus and loyalty to any one project or institution is difficult – if you’re sensible you are always looking for the next job.

At an institutional level the short-term approach can be costly. A project ends, you lose the staff, the three months later you get a new project. You then have to recruit new staff, which with advertising, and interviewing timing often takes 3-6 months. That’s 3-6 months of your new project that is lost. It is estimated that it costs £30K to recruit a new member of staff. That’s pretty much the salary of a researcher for a year, when they could be doing other things for you anyway. It also makes the establishment of a research culture much more difficult, community is a very nebulous thing, and can be easily undermined with the loss of two or three key individuals (and the full time researchers are often the ones who give most to the local community because they are unencumbered with many of the other duties and roles of senior staff).

At the more universal level it is detrimental for research at universities as a whole. This lack of a readily available research staff makes universities less agile and flexible, since everyone is either fully employed on an existing project or they need to employ new staff, with the difficulties described above. If you have a one year project, you don’t want to lose 3 months of it recruiting staff. Increasingly we are seeing independent researchers or small research companies offering services. As more research involves using IT rather than expensive equipment then it can be done by a few people working at home. Without the need for the large overheads of universities, they can be cheaper, and offer researchers better contracts and pay. Apart from the heavy duty STEM projects, research then becomes outsourced from the university, or the university is simply bypassed. This would be a shame, research is an integral part of the university identity, and is often allied with teaching. You want your best teachers and researchers in the same space. But the short-term gains universities are opting for with fixed term contracts undermines their longer term viability.

My feeling is that this has become habit and confused with employment law and best practice. It is possible to make the situation better for individuals, institutions and the overall research environment, but it requires some effort to address it. Now is the time, before it becomes too embedded and the damage at all levels too substantial.

The title comes from Martin Amis’s essay on Kafka. As internet kids like to say, I’ll just leave this here: “He deals in savage inequities that are never resented, pitiful recompenses that are tearfully cherished.”

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10 years of Edtechie – the imposter gang

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Mon, 02/05/2016 - 11:11
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Today marks ten years of blogging here at edtechie. I had started a few blogs before, but this was the time I stayed with it. That ten years later I’m still doing an activity which is not part of my formal job description, is not recognised and is usually undertaken in my own time is a testament to the power of blogging in itself. But I’m not going to make this a ’10 reasons why you should blog’ post. I was struck by a comment Sava Singh made in her presentation at OER16 when she said that even complaining about how Twitter used to be better in the old days is a sign of privilege. She’s right, we old timers have a temporal privilege – anyone coming in to blogging now is starting out in a very different context. I recall Pink Floyd saying that they were lucky that when they started there weren’t many bands around, so they were given time and people who might not listen to them came to them for want of anything else. This is a very different scenario for an artist now, who must compete within the deluge of daily releases. And so with blogging, I had the good fortune to be able to build up a reputation when there wasn’t much around, it would be a very different story now. So, I’m aware that my story is not necessarily applicable now, but it’s the only story I have. So apologies in advance, this is a self-indulgent post.

As I’ve considered writing this post over the past week or so, I’ve reflected on why I personally like blogging. I don’t mean all the reasons we often give people, such as establishing an identity, increasing dissemination, keeping a record of your process – all those are valid extrinsic motivators, but what is it about blogging that appeals to me. I came to the conclusion that blogging was where I felt I really belonged. I had found my academic tribe.

People talk a lot about imposter syndrome now. Again, I appreciate I have a set of privileges which mean it is only a fraction of what others may feel (white, european, male), so please interpret this in light of how it shaped my blogging reaction only: I was comprehensive educated, working class, first generation at university. I was educated at a range of polytechnics, which post 1992 became new universities: Hatfield, Kingston, Teesside. All good places, but not the key to a network of influence. I didn’t feel any sense of being an outsider whilst studying because fellow students at Polys tended to be similar to me in upbringing. I definitely did feel it when I started working at the OU. I remember my first coffee break after joining in 1995 – everyone was Oxbridge educated, older than me and generally middle class. One colleague recounted a story of how Edith Wharton had bought him a train set when he was young. Yeah, we’ve all got stories about our family’s friendship with a famous author haven’t we? I felt like (and probably was) a yob. For the first year at least I expected someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, “sorry, we made a mistake”.

But everyone was friendly and supportive, and such feelings subsided. But it was with the advent of the web, and encouraged by my OU colleagues John Naughton and Tony Hirst (probably both outsiders also) that I took up blogging. At the time blogging amongst academics was still relatively rare. I used to tell people excitedly “I have a blog”. Now that would be akin to saying “I have a microwave” – not guaranteed but not worthy of comment. Blogs were like little beacons shining across the globe that would splutter in to life and look for fellow signals to respond to. I fell in with the North American and UK ed tech blogging crowd. And this is why I think blogging resonates with me – I generally like bloggers. I don’t like all bloggers and I don’t dislike non-bloggers, but there is something about the approach to blogging – the informal use of language, the sense of fun, the support, willingness to try new things and the personal, social element that appeals to me. I think nearly all of the bloggers who influenced me (George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Audrey Watters, Jim Groom, Bon Stewart, Alan Levine, Scott Leslie, Josie Fraser to name just a very few) were outsiders to formal academia to an extent. Indeed I think you had to be an outsider in those early days to get blogging. That’s probably why there was an inverse relationship between online and academic reputation. Blogging was the refuge of the outsider. This is less true now when it is an accepted part of a communications strategy and you can take courses on being an effective blogger. It is now more professionalised, but I still think it represents a more democratised, open space than formal academia and I still make new connections with people here. As a tenured Prof at a big university I can’t really claim outsider status any more, I’m one of ‘them’ now. But blogging was where I found an authentic voice and I still cherish that. Bloggers are still my kind of people.

I don’t know what its role is really in relation to my ‘proper’ work, but I’m okay with that now. When I retire I expect that the three people who turn up to my retirement party (under duress) may point to formal publications as an indication of my work, but I can think of no higher honour than if they declared “he was an allright blogger”.

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IT services – we need to talk

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Mon, 25/04/2016 - 17:33
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I was at two conferences recently (OEGlobal and OER16). At both of them I ended up in a (different) group bemoaning the IT services in their university. I didn’t initiate either of these conversations I should add. Also, please do not interpret this post as having a pop at people in IT services, I know lots of good people there. Rather it is about how universities have created the environment where academics and IT are now in a rather dysfunctional relationship. Across many universities the complaints seemed to be rather similar:

  • Security is used rather the same way Governments use terrorism – as a means of controlling things and removing freedoms
  • Increasingly academics have no control over their machines, and cannot install or trial new software
  • Even basic tasks are often highly frustrating and time consuming
  • Support has been centralised so there is no local advice or help
  • Senior IT managers have been brought in form other sectors with little understanding of the university culture
  • Increasingly academics are circumventing official systems to buy their own machines, or host their own services, often in their own time and at their own expense
  • There is little room for experimenting with tools beyond the VLE

Listening to these complaints (and occasional horror stories) made me rather wistful. As IT has become increasingly part of the central operation of every university’s teaching and research environment, it seems that it has moved further away from the people who actually need it for those functions. It has become a thing in itself, and the academics (and students), merely an inconvenience in its smooth operation. This is not to blame those in IT services, they are operating in the context that universities have established for them. If there is a security breach, it will be the IT manager who is in trouble, not the academic who wanted to play around with a cool new tool. It must be frustrating for lots of people in IT also, I’m sure they’d like to be experimenting with tools also.

We have to get back to having dialogue, and having IT people who understand the needs of universities (and equally academics who understand the demands of IT systems). The need for innovation in universities is often trumpeted, but it doesn’t arise from stony soil, but rather from the stinky, messy fertiliser of failed attempts with less than perfect ideas and tools. Innovation is not necessarily synonymous with digital technology, but often it is deeply associated with it. If you don’t have freedom to explore this stuff then increasingly universities will struggle to compete with ed tech companies who have more flexibility and freedom.

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Innovating Pedagogy: 弗格森

Innovating Pedagogy – now available in Chinese.

I now know that my surname translates as 弗格森

Plan Ceibal

The main reason for my visit to Uruguay was to attend the First International Workshop on New Metrics for Evaluation: Towards Innovation in Learning. This event was organised by the Centre for Research at the Ceibal Foundation in collaboration with INEEd, the ICT4V centre and the education division of the Inter-American Development Bank.

The workshop had four objectives, which the organisers framed as:

1. Using data for research and evaluation: towards an open and collaborative process for analysis, research and improving education.
2. Presenting experiences in the use of information systems for improving learning outcomes.
3. Presenting innovative approaches for evaluation and assessment of learning outcomes.
4. Policies, projects and programs for technology integration and data use in education.

It was a fascinating event, with representatives from countries across South and Central America, including speakers from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua and Uruguay. Other speakers from outside the continent were Dragan Gasevic from Edinburgh, Neil Selwyn from Monash in Australia and Gilles Dowek from France.

I was particularly interested to find that Uruguay runs a ‘One Laptop per Child’ programme based on premises of equality and justice. Uruguay sees access to computers and the Internet as a right. You should have them in your classroom, just as you should have electricity in your classroom. Plan Ceibal has supplied 600,000 people (a fifth of the population) with laptops or tablets. Every child gets one when they start school, and they get a replacement every three years, with secondary school children now receiving Chromebooks. Internet is available nationwide – no one should be more than 400 metres from the Internet. There is a maintenance programme and a disposal programme, a teacher training programme, a learning management system, a suite of software, and a programme of video-conferenced English lessons, arranged in conjunction with the British Council.

I was also interested in Neil Selwyn’s talk, focusing on analytics and Big Data from a sociological perspective. He posed six questions:

  1. What are the potential gains, and what are the potential losses?
  2. What are the unintended consequences or second-order effects?
  3. What underlying values and agendas are implicit?
  4. In whose interests is this working? Who benefits, and in what ways?
  5. What are the social problems that data is being presented as a solution to?
  6. How responsive to a ‘data fix’ are these problems likely to be?

These wider questions of politics and power have not yet been taken up to any extent by the learning analytics community, but they look set to be bigger issues as the field matures.

My talk was on learning analytics, the state of the art and what the future might look like.

I also took part in a round-table discussion with Neil, Gilles and Dragan on issues related to learning analytics.

The back channel – mostly in Spanish – used the hashtag


Universidad ORT

During a visit to Uruguay, I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the Institute of Education at the ORT University in Montevideo. There, I gave a presentation to faculty members and postgraduate students on Innovating Pedagogy.

Innovating pedagogy within the OU

For the past four years, The Open University has produced an Innovating Pedagogy report annually. This series explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world, to guide educators in productive innovation. As one of the report authors, I presented a quality enhancement lunchtime seminar on 23 March 2016 (part of the QELS series). In the seminar, I introduced the themes that have emerged from this series of reports – scale, connectivity, reflection, extension, embodiment and personalisation – and how these connect with modules (courses) run by the OU. The seminar included examples of innovative pedagogies in use at the OU, and identified others that could be used in future.

Learning analytics expert workshop: Amsterdam

March 15-16 2016, I co-ordinated a Learning Analytics Expert Workshop that was jointly run in Amsterdam in March 2016 by the LAEP project and the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE).

Fifty people attended the workshop, including invited experts (expert presentations), representatives of current European-funded projects in the field of learning analytics (project presentations), and representatives of the European Commission.

The workshop dealt with the current state of the art in learning analytics, the prospects for the implementation of learning analytics in the next decade, and the potential for European policy to guide and support the take-up and adaptation of learning analytics to enhance education.

The workshop began with a review of current learning analytics work by participants and went on to consider how learning analytics work can be taken forward in Europe (presentation on the LAEP project).

Participants at the workshop identified immediate issues for learning analytics in Europe. They set out considerations to be taken into account when developing learning analytics, made recommendations for learning analytics work in Europe and then identified both short- and long-term policy priorities in the area.

Immediate issues for LA in Europe

Framework for development: A European roadmap for learning analytics development would help us to build and develop a set of interoperable learning analytics tools that are tailored for the needs of Europe and that have been shown to work in practice.

Stakeholder involvement: There is a need to bring different people and stakeholders on board by reaching out to groups including teachers, students, staff, employers and parents. Our current engagement with stakeholders is too limited.

Data protection and surveillance: As legislation changes and individuals become more aware of data use, institutions need to understand their responsibilities and obligations with regard to data privacy and data protection

Empirical evidence and quality assurance: More empirical evidence is needed about the effects of learning analytics, in order to support a process of quality assurance.

Considerations for the development of LA
  1. Learning analytics can change or reinforce the status quo
  2. Learning analytics should enhance teaching, not replace it
  3. It is our duty to act upon the data we possess
  4. Desirable learning outcomes must be identified
  5. Be clear why we are collecting and analysing data
  6. Bring the data back to the learner
  7. Intelligent systems need human and cultural awareness
  8. Impressive data are not enough
Recommendations for LA work in Europe
  1. Undertake qualitative studies to understand how learning analytics can be aligned with the perceived purpose of education in different contexts, and which aspects of different educational contexts will support or constrain the use of learning analytics.
  2. Publicise existing evaluation frameworks for learning analytics and develop case studies that can be used to enrich and refine these frameworks
  3. Develop forms of quality assurance for learning analytics tools and for the evidence that is shared about these tools.
  4. Identify the limitations of different datasets and analytics and share this information clearly with end users.
  5. Explore ways of combining different datasets to increase the value of learning analytics for learners and teachers.
  6. Extend to different sectors of education the work currently being carried out in the higher education sector to identify the different elements that need to be taken into account when deploying learning analytics.
  7. Develop analytics, and uses for analytics, that delight and empower users.
Short-term policy priorities

Workshop discussion

Innovative pedagogy: Top priority is the need for novel, innovative pedagogy that drives innovation and the use of data to solve practical problems.

Evidence hub: Second priority is to secure continuing funding for a site that brings together evidence of what works and what does not in the field of learning analytics.

Data privacy: Participants considered that a clear statement is needed from privacy commissioners about controls to protect learners, teachers and society.

Orchestration of grants: The European grants system could better support the development of learning analytics if grants were orchestrated around an agreed reference model.

Crowd-sourced funding support: Set up a system for crowd-sourcing funding of tools teachers need, with EU top-up funding available for successful candidates.

21st-century skills: Focus on developing learning analytics for important skills and competencies that are difficult to measure, particularly 21st-century skills.

Open access standards: Standards need to be put into practice for analytics across Europe, with an open access forum that will enable the creation of standards from practice.

Ambassadors: We need more outreach, with ministries and politicians spreading the word and encouraging local communities and schools to engage.

Long-term policy priorities

Teacher education: Top priority in the longer term was for media competencies and learning analytics knowledge to be built into training for both new and existing teachers.

Decide which problems we want to solve: In order to develop the field of learning analytics we need to have collective discussions on the directions in which we want to go.

Facilitate data amalgamation: More consideration is needed of how to combine data sources to provide multi-faceted insights into the problems we seek to solve.

Identify success cases and methodologies that give us a solid foundation: We need a coordinated approach to quality assurance and to the identification of successful work.

Several accounts of the workshop are available online, dealing with the morning of day one, the afternoon of day one, day one as a whole, the morning of day two, the afternoon of day two and day two as a whole.

Artificial Perception

Will Woods's blog - Fri, 15/04/2016 - 11:21

I’ve been listening to educational technology hype recently with an eyebrow raised particularly in respect to the ideas being expressed around artificial intelligence and the role of intelligent agents to replace humans. One of the most recent examples of this is Mark Zuckerberg at F8 conference saying ““Our goal with AI is to build systems that are better than people at perception.” The Telegraph provides a summary of his keynote and the F8 conference.

Sit back and reflect on his statement for a moment.

perception pəˈsɛpʃ(ə)n/ noun
  1.   the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses. “the normal limits to human perception”
  2.   the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted. “Hollywood’s perception of the tastes of the American public”

What is perception? – a personal view of the world? – shaped by our emotional state and environment? – An entirely subjective reality. What do we mean by better perception? is this seeing the world logically without the trappings of emotion? – is it about the ‘wisdom of crowds? – If it’s the latter then we know that this is being gradually debunked because we are seeing greater confirmation bias within social media circles, I referred to this in a previous post as ripples in the pond, and there is evidence of the undermining effect of social influence. However there is no doubt that artificial intelligence will have access to a greater dataset and will have the ability to interpret data in ways that would be impossible to humans. My question though might be is that going to translate into better outcomes?

Invention comes from creative friction, discourse, questioning. In a world where we are all synthesized down within a crucible above the flame of artificial intelligence what happens to inspiration. interpretation. challenge? – this is of course a dyspotian future that people in the AI world are keen to promote because it creates a big dream of the future and a strong emotional connection.

But we do need to be concerned because at a minimum a possible future predicted by Gartner may see smart machines replacing millions of humans but at the same time we should be rational because we must recognize the Myths around AI’s and their usefulness is in support human endeavours, especially around tackling big data challenges.

…so what of humanity?



Effective social teaching and learning

Will Woods's blog - Fri, 15/04/2016 - 08:24

Eric and I introduce the group to our social media session (That’s me on the right) – Image courtesy of Ian Roddis .

Several months of planning, and a few nights waking up in a sweat, have led to a successful one day social media event which I co-chaired with colleagues from Learning and Teaching Solutions (LTS) on “Embedding Social Media to effectively support OU learners”.

There were two reasons that it’s taken so long to arrange:

  1. I wanted to introduce external perspectives to the topic to refresh our thinking. To this end my fantastic co-chair Beccy Dresden got in touch with Eric Stoller and we brought him to work with us. You’ll get a sense of his work from his blog. The thing I most like about Eric is his passion and enthusiasm for effective knowledge of, and use of, social media (more on that later).
  2. I wanted to tackle this problem at three levels in order to get actionable outputs and from both a top-down and bottom-up perspective, by that I mean (i) the Vice Chancellor, (ii) the people at Director/AD level responsible for learning & teaching, communications and marketing and (iii) the people who work directly in support of academic practice around module production and presentation.

I structured the day to begin with a conversation with the Vice Chancellor about the Open University and use of social media for a variety of strategic purposes, then we held a wider conversation which I chaired with a group of senior OU staff, from both academic and non-academic areas on “Embedding social media to effectively support OU learners facilitated by Eric Stoller”, then in the afternoon Beccy chaired sessions with academic support staff which began with a Keynote by Eric followed by parallel sessions around Social media for professional development with Eric and Lawrie Phipps (JISC) and Exploring the possibilities for social media within distance learning material hosted by Beccy Dresden and Steve Parkinson from Learning and Teaching Solutions (OU) and concluded with a plenary/roundup.

I began the morning session by introducing four provocations:

Provocation 1 – “Do we need a social media strategy for learning?”
Provocation 2 -“How and when do we embed social media practice within our modules and across the curriculum?”
Provocation 3 – “What can we learn from others?”
Provocation 4 – “Can we use social media to bridge the informal/formal divide?”

Embedding social media to effectively support OU learning with Eric Stoller from Open University

We then has an introductory chat about our different perspectives with social media and Eric followed this up by giving a talk which went into more detail starting with why does social media matter?


We kept the presentations short to allow plenty of time for discussion and the session has a lot of stimulating and interesting perspectives thanks in large part to Eric’s facilitation. Eric asked me before the session what type of conversation should we expect “..sometimes it’s a conversation about org culture and daring to dream/experiment that is needed…sometimes it’s more about choosing which tools are relevant right now and how to apply them in strategic / worthwhile ways.” I said that it was a bit of both and that turned out to be the case. Eric was also interested in the variety of perspectives and knowledge, for example some people in the room, such as Ian Fribbance, have used social media effectively in their practice for some time. The OU has some examples of great use of social media within pockets of the curriculum but there are also pockets of skepticism around social media and particularly about its relevance within formal learning and teaching. In fact one person at the meeting had never used social media and didn’t want to try it, to which Eric exclaimed “This is 2016! – I’ll not force you to use social media but we will talk later!”. The OU is also a place where practice is diverse and where OU academics don’t necessarily engage directly with students but that aspect is managed through tutors (or ALs) so there can be a disconnect.

Here are my key takeaways from the session:

  1. We aren’t using social media consistently and effectively to support and facilitate our discourse within the Open University and that has  consequences for our engagement with our learners and more widely within our teaching communities.
  2. Things are improving. Examples of use of social media which have in the past been treated as ‘renegade’ are now being seen as exemplars of good practice, which is encouraging. e.g. the use of FaceBook within Social Science to support 26,000 learners
  3. It sounds like assessment may be the key to unlocking a bit of a cultural shift towards using social media more effectively…that and the push by certain individuals at the senior level is crucial. (this was echoed by Eric)
  4. We don’t need a formal strategy (considered to be constricting) and LTS have created a “manifesto” already as a grass roots approach so what the group thought would be most valuable was an enabling framework within which people could experiment with optionally using social media within their contexts.
  5. We need to ensure that academic staff are developed and supported to be digital scholars, which includes using social media effectively, so we see a need to build this into the “academic excellence” objective that is currently being formulated.
  6. We need to ensure that we consider appropriate platforms and risks when using social media so we see a need to build these elements into the “leadership in digital innovation” objective that is currently being formulated.
  7. We need to provide greater support for ‘grass roots’ initiatives and to remove barriers to adoption, this includes advocacy at senior level but also enabling through joined up thinking and grass roots initiatives such as the special interest group for social media.
  8. We need to continue to engage with external perspectives to help us to see how we compare, and to ensure that we are leading the way around social learning.

Eric is reporting back his thoughts to the Vice Chancellor, and we are now exploring how we can work with the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching Innovation), the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Academic Strategy) and the Head of Digital Engagement in particular to form an action plan to take this work forward – with thanks to Simon Horrocks, Beccy Dresden and The LTS team in particular who are supporting this work and considering the next steps.

Watch this space.

Should bid proposals be open access?

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 08/04/2016 - 08:57
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I was at a UNESCO OER meeting in Paris last week (impersonating an important person) and a topic that came up a couple of times was the waste of resource that we just accept. Someone highlighted all the EU funded projects which are difficult to search, or find outputs for. They were from an AI, machine learning background so they wanted access to this to discern patterns and create links between projects.

In the Battle for Open I talk about how much effort is wasted in the current bid writing proposal:

Some of the inherent waste in current practice often goes unnoticed, because it is accepted practice that academics have been enculturated into. For example, some researchers can spend considerable time, months even, developing research bids to submit to funders. Stevenson (2013) calculated 3 months for a proposal, but the Research Councils UK found that 12 days for a conventional proposal was the average (RCUK 2006). The success rates of bids are decreasing as it becomes more competitive; for instance, the ESRC state that only 17% of bids were successful in 2009–10 (ESRC 2010). If a bid is unsuccessful then sometimes it will be modified and submitted elsewhere, but often it is simply abandoned and the researcher moves on to the next one. That equates to a lot of lost time and knowledge. The RCUK report in 2006 estimated that £196 million was spent on applications to the eight UK research councils, most of which was staff time. The number of applications increases every ­year – ­there were 2,800 bids submitted to ESRC in 2009–10, an increase in 33% from 2005–6, so this figure is likely to have increased significantly. Some of these 2,800 proposals were studentships, which have a higher success rate, but even taking an optimistic figure of 800 bids accepted to account for studentships, this still leaves 2,000 failed bids. If we take RCUK’s figure of 12 days as an average per bid, then this equates to 65 years of effort, and this is just one of several major research councils in the UK and Europe to whom researchers will be bidding. Obviously this is just an indicative figure, and there are many assumptions in its calculation that one could challenge, but nevertheless, the nature of research as it is currently conceived has a lot of waste assumed within it. This is not to suggest that the ­peer-­review process is not valid, but that the failure to capitalise on rejected bids represents a substantial waste of resources. As with open source software and OER approaches to teaching, open approaches to research may provide a more efficient method.

That was 65 years of wasted academic effort for just one research council in one country. And many of these are never revisited. That is a very inefficient way to operate. While research bodies have tackled some aspects of openness, for example mandating publications are open access, and have searchable databases for funded projects (eg the ESRC one), they don’t tackle this waste problem. The simple solution is to make all bids openly available also (I’m not aware of a funder who does this, but please let me know if there is one). Maybe not all aspects, individuals and institutions may want to keep salary costs, or overheads private, but the main idea and methodology could be made available. Others could then build on these, as well as allowing the type of meta interpretation my friend at UNESCO was interested in.

But this probably wouldn’t be easy to realise, and it really gets at the difference between an open culture and a more circumspect one. The research system overall may benefit, but there would be risks to individuals. For example, research teams in more expensive countries may never get funded because the funders know that if it’s a good proposal, someone else will take it and adapt it for half the price. Would people be cautious about what they shared in research bids? People do alter and resubmit so would this undermine that?

There would be some adjustment required, but if we’re using CC-BY (maybe even CC-NC) then the original party would be credited. The point of research is often not just that you have the idea, but that you have the ability and expertise to conduct it also, so it wouldn’t simply be a case of lowest bidder. This would be a more radical step to an open research culture. Part of me is just sad at all those very good research proposals that never see the light of day.

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Types of OER user

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 07/04/2016 - 08:45
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For the GO-GN we are relaunching our webinar series. These will be the first Wednesday of every month, 4pm UK time. They are aimed at anyone with an interest in OER research, and will feature external guests, GO-GN students talking about their work and also research advice sessions. So, put a reminder in your calendar, details will appear on the GO-GN website.

I did the first of the new series, using it as an excuse to trial my talk for OEGlobal and OER16. It was looking at types of OER user, based on the findings of the OER research hub. What with OER movement being 15years old now (depending on when you date its inception), I’m interested in the strategies for engagement with OER. In the talk I propose three types of users:

  • OER Active – these generally know what you mean if you use the term ‘OER’. They are engaged, have knowledge of licences and act as advocates. An example might eb a community college teacher who adopts an open textbook and becomes an OER champion.
  • OER as facilitator – these are people who want to achieve a particular goal, and are only interested in OER in as much as it allows them to realise that goal. This might be flipping a classroom, saving students money or increasing retention.
  • OER consumer – this group just want high quality resources and will use OER amongst a mix of other media. They don’t really care about licences, but they d care about good, easy to use material. An example might be a learner considering entering formal education and seeing if the subject is for them.

If these groups have any validity, then they have implications for OER strategy. I would suggest that thus far most of the attention has been focused on the OER active group. This has been a successful strategy, but there may be limits. You can’t make everyone an OER convert. To reach the other groups different (but complementary) approaches are required.

For instance, the OER as facilitator group want packaged solutions. It may be that we can identify five or so key aims here, eg teachers who want to flip their classrooms, those who want to create distance education type all inclusive courses, particular subject areas, etc. For these a packaged OER based solution can be created so they can more readily achieve their goal. This is the type of activity that commercial providers offer. They know that teachers are busy people, and offering convenience is a key benefit. For the OER consumer there is a need to improve the overall OER brand. Usually OER project funds are spent on producing good quality material. But we don’t have a very good cross OER brand, so maybe there is a need to bring in marketing, SEO and promotion expertise, so OER can compete with publishers who have whole departments dedicated to this.

The replay of the presentation is here.

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The blog has now moved to

Dr Gill Kirkup's blog - Thu, 17/03/2016 - 12:42

Gynoid Times has now moved to:


What are the research questions for OER?

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 17/03/2016 - 09:16
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When we developed the OER Research Hub project with Hewlett, we came up with 11 hypotheses that they and we felt represented questions that it would be useful to find answers to. Some worked better than others to be honest, but it was a good way to shape the research of that project. We got the questions largely right I think, and this led to more people wanting to collaborate with us.

But it was still very much our interpretation as to what was significant, and this was back in 2011. A lot has changed in the OER world since then – we’ve had MOOCs, open textbook projects are getting solid results, we’ve seen the demise of JORUM in the UK, lots of new players have entered the arena, etc. So it would be a good time to revisit the key research questions for the OER community. This isn’t for any project we are running, so it’s not “what should the OER Hub research” but more widely, what does the community as a whole feel are the research questions that should be addressed? For the OER Research Hub there was a focus on trying to establish evidence for what were perceived as long held beliefs about OER. It may be more targeted now, for example, if it could be shown that OERs have an impact on this very specific aspect of education (for example retention), that would be a key piece for influencing decisions.

To this end, we’re running a couple of workshops at OEGlobal and OER16 to explore the research questions for the OER community. I’m sure you have an opinion regarding key research questions, so please complete this mega-short form to let us know. And if you’re at either of those conferences please come along, but if not, we’ll run some online discussion also.

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LAEP2016: Weds pm

Dr Doug Clow's blog - Wed, 16/03/2016 - 15:36

Liveblog notes from Wednesday afternoon, 16 March 2016, at the a two-day expert workshop on “The implications and opportunities of learning analytics for European educational policy”, at the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam, organised by the LAEP project and the LACE project.

Foresight exercise

Small group: Learner profile 4 – Marie Martin; Educator profile 4 – Remy Depardieu.

Concern for Marie about coping with the course. If LA could provide reassurance, based on previous students with her background and how they coped, that would be useful. Maybe recommend crash course, update on technology. Reputation and learning about interaction, but managing those courses requires digital courses in the first place. Also social media skills to manage the reputation. Maybe invest in software that would help her do the course but would hide her identity. Like Tor for biometric tracking. Black market eyeballs! A LA blocker. How can she get good analytics? Blocks her identity, but not her activity. Having other people doing it for you?! We get quite dark thinking about selling her eyeballs to other people. She wants to be able to take the course but not be identified. Identity assurance, to avoid anonymous bullying. You need policy measures, to prevent sale of valuable identity information. She should be able to pay extra to not have her data sold on. Policymakers perspective, we should have a strong framework. Verifying your identity makes sense, to prevent anonymous bullying and cheating, but it doesn’t have to be public. Maybe they can’t make it public unless it’s authorised. What are the main barriers? This biometric registration, for a leisure course – what if she wanted to take a course about her sexuality. It’s different if you are going to be certified or increase your pay grade.

It’s about privacy, and consent. This is about data. The other parts are easy – she can build up skills through a series of Khan Academy courses, or something. But attitudes towards sharing course participation? If you’re going to take a course like this, would I want a group course, or a personal? You want it just in time, just enough, personal. With a group, you have to take them in to account. She wants a one-to-one with Remy. There seems to be a mismatch between what she wants as a learner and what’s available from the school/commercial system. They’re not being customer-friendly. Maybe they have a business model to sell the information on to others, e.g. advertisers. Examples of very intimate tracking. Posture prompts, all sorts of crazy smart gadgets.

Policy changes? Register privately. Consent to it. As a consumer, if she doesn’t like the implications, she should just not register. There’s bound to be a company that will let you register privately.

Plenary feedback

Learner profile 3: Thomas Müller

It’s not good for Thomas.

Disruption for the household is coming through gaming. Stealing resources from the boy next door.

The scenario of unemployment for drivers is not far-fetched, with self-driving vehicles.

Here we don’t see data sources for LA. His career, market-wise, interesting to know whether to go in to this new market, but is it too late? An average person has 7.3 jobs over their lives, likely more in future. Draw on the idea of giving the data back to the learner, career advice. There’s a trajectory. Big data could match and gather data around similar people with this profile, and the decisions those people had made, how that impacts on their choices and outcomes. Give them wise advice. Maybe getting in to an industry when it’s already peaking may not be a smart move. In Maastricht, the mines closed, the Government made investment for a university.

I love this example best! He wants to become a beer brewer, look at LEA’s Box Facebook page, I wrote some articles about LA for guitar players, chefs, painters. What can tech do to support him. Statistical data are so far away from things this guy wants to learn. It’s about taste, fine skills to make a good beer. Also about C21st skills like making good PR to sell your product. The microbrewery scene is all about your commercial appearance. We have a mixture of skills, competences not necessarily related to your subject matter, and extremely difficult to be treated by statistical information and data, like taste. This is a great example of how to support people who want to become beer brewers, wine makers. In Austria, we have schools that teach people how to make good wine. We can learn a lot from that approach. Tricky thing for next couple of years is bringing big data together with creativity, C21st skills, overarching need to be successful in this world. Empowering learners to be successful in our society.

Job market intelligence, disconnection between education and the job market. Redesigning the curriculum is the area to explore here. Hinting at some automated system to suggest career to follow. How do we avoid the SatNav problem – road is blocked, everyone go that way, but it’s blocked. Add some jitter to the advice. Also have to understand what the job is. Universities, there is no limit on university staff. Beer brewers there’s a finite limit. Link to existing quality frameworks – vocational training quality frameworks, a reference we can use and this should be linked to, instead of reinventing it. Who is not on a standard career track? [a handful – suspect most people didn’t hear] Outcome analysis linked to the job market, you’ll always suggest the paths lots of people have done. But most interesting are people who’ve followed a different path.

Teacher profile 3: Maria Koch

Working on training for midwives.

Two aspects. Using LA to look at background knowledge, aptitude. Which 10% are likely to have an aptitude for it. An approach that might be feasible, not sure it’s the right thing to do, because she doesn’t have the expert knowledge, the idea is to use monitoring and video capture of expert midwives in their practice. Matching learner behaviour to expert behaviour is a role for LA. Barriers, lack of expert knowledge is one. How to conceptualise the role of different kinds of education and training. Engaging taxi drivers, maybe if they need a job. Privacy is an aspect, medical practice in real life, how to manage that? VR may be a way, simulate. Risk of lawsuits with intensive monitoring, used as evidence against them if things go wrong. Policy changes, some consideration about policies to allow or require monitoring to go ahead and be appropriately QAed. Maybe indemnify against lawsuits from the capture process.

Similar feedback from another group. Particular aspect around quality assurance. Course development, short time, lack of domain expertise.

Learner profile 4: Marie Martin

Post-human impressionist painter. Wants to learn combination of cooking with 3D printer, but has reservations about tech and concerned about need to give biometric data which might embarrass her and damage her artist reputation.

In terms of learning the technology, LA would help build tools, figure out her skillset, bring up to speed with the technology. Buying it isn’t a problem, doesn’t have to steal it from her grandchildren. The company that she wants to take the course with, she doesn’t want to share her information, she should be able to take a course direct with Remy (the educator) so investigating idea to hire an identity to take the course for her. Like World Of Warcraft players hire people from other countries to build up their character, now. LA Blocker (TM). In a way it’s cheating? It’s like she’s wearing a mask, Remy wouldn’t see Marie, but Bob. There’s an arms race with that. She’s willing to pay extra for premium service, why is this not possible? I’ll pay extra to have full attention. Is it just a financial problem? No, she has power as the consumer, can just find another course. Maybe it’s a market solution, maybe some regulation about what has to be public, or consent.

E.g. schools with base level analytics, or higher-quality. Should there be taxation on the higher to fund the lower? A degree of elitism here, should we have redistribution. You pay for extra services, get an advantage, that propagates across generations. If it’s commercial enterprises that charge a premium, they pay taxes and VAT on their profits, not a problem. If universities, it’s budget allocation. That’s their own freedom of choice. I don’t think you should ‘punish’ universities on the choices they make freely. This is a course driven by personal interest, she doesn’t need to be certified, there’s a different element of policy here. Also policy element, does she understand what the company will do with her data. It should be possible to be anonymous.

Educator profile 4: Remy Depardieu

Well established teacher. Had problems with incident exploding on YouTube. Problem was failure to pick up the impact of institutional change, which should have been picked up. Maybe you need a computer to say he drops off when his learners are more diverse [but maybe you should have noticed that anyway]. Maybe worth keeping an eye out matching the time of organisational change in the analytics.

Our group focused on the internationalisation of education. Already happening. Coursera, MOOC platforms, brings the problem of cultural context. This is a problem that you can try to tackle. Two approaches, one is to avoid it at all, you just generalise, take off all the edges, one size fits all. Interesting for cuisine, already not one size fits all. The other is to take it in to account. I say something, I don’t know how you hear it. LA system could help the teacher with. Trying to bring over this message, take care, there are cultural dimensions in what you’re saying.

Metaphor for standards. It has to do with every learning module you are trying to make. Here everything is in the public domain, you can see a love-hate model. Is that happening now? Here it was an incident, triggered debate. Can the system inform Remy he has a student with a creative response.

We have standardised computerised tests for your driving licence. Because someone ticks the box, yes I will stick to the speed limits, is it real? I know I have to tick that there. I can drive whatever I want. There’s a legal issue there. You consent to obeying the laws where you pass your tests. In this case, creative side of things, it’s different. This student is being provocative. It’s a course on French cuisine. We’re assuming this is leisure-based course, but should be a way for a teacher to respond to this, support cross-cultural work. Company loses reputation, maybe a refund.

Can analytics be so smart? Not even that would be enough. You have to develop algorithms that smart. Behaviour and how it relates – is it like persistence? Keeping on a solution that won’t help them with their goals. That’s different from this one example. It depends on the learning outcome, is it specific, or more broad. If it’s just cooking, Sprite’s fine, if it’s specifically this sort of Coq au Vin, it isn’t.

Foresight exercise 2

Small group:  Learner profile 7 – Giovanni Zanardi; Educator profile 7 – Laura Botticelli.

We’re back to zero with pen and paper, below zero, huge pushback on use of technology in schools. We have to start with policies. My education friends say the teacher is doing analytics anyway, just not with the sophisticated data. Teachers have the rich data in their heads, they know the background of their students, their parents, their interests. There is some analytics in there. Like for K12, not later? Most of these cases, the decisions about using the tools, it’s based on individual events with high impact, and beliefs about whether they are good, not on data about the efficacy. Focus on true knowledge! How can students take PISA (?) tests? I guess they can’t. We randomise, get data out of everyone.

Looking at educator. She doesn’t want to [use LA], she likes chalk and talk. To what extent are they allowed to do what they want? There’s a national curriculum. But the ways of working may not be standardised, may just be learning goals, but the teacher can decide how those goals are achieved. I expect they would say about digital skills … but not here.

In the learner profile, he must be doing things in his free time. Even nowadays we have a backup, can restore to the previous days. This is a political decision. We need policy. Strong EC decision here, to anchor curriculums in core European competencies, including digital ones, in every subject. This could be against competition laws. From research perspective, a great natural experiment on learning tools. But you can’t collect data on the schools? Do it with pen and paper. But then it’s a different outcome. Why are we talking curriculum? The personalised learning, they’ve gone back from that. Like Poland rolling back the reforms. Reduce number of years, reduce the number of dropouts. Any evidence of improved PISA scores, because they don’t drop out? 15yos take it. Then 16yo are now out. Suggestion to impose a common European curriculum on the member states.

If we can show that students are unemployable, can use that to follow up. Wait until they graduate, see if they get jobs. Doesn’t say the workplace has no technology. Wait until the companies start complaining. That may take a while. They are developing replacements. Like Steiner, Montessori learning. Adapt to corporate surroundings with technology. Maybe they can be the innovative, out of the box thinkers. Not enough energy to power our devices. Risking the education of a generation based on a thought that there won’t be a replacement for power? Too high a risk! Do you ask for an operation without anaesthetics? No! Why leave our students without a chance.

[Diversion discussion about Brexit!]

There’s an institute campaigning against ICT. More serious is he’s at risk of exclusion because of his device. Thinking they may be sent out of school just for wearing a device, it’s kind of a discrimination. Many schools have practice fo collecting cellphones, they can’t do it if it’s implanted, you have to send them home. We already don’t let people go to school with a scarf. It’s discrimination.

What about analytics? We don’t have data! Have EU try to convince leaders of Italy that their policy is wrong. Perhaps more subtly. Track student mobility, in tertiary education. Immigration, tracking employability of Italian graduates across Europe. Maybe people will move, people with kids move away to get a better education, a brain drain. It’s already the case in southern Italy. People move north, to the cities.

What do we do about this institute? They might have a point. [laughter]

Plenary feedback

Learner profile 5: Åsa Anderson, Educator profile 5: Kristofer Palm

8yo being ranked swiftly. Many things wrong with this. Not too little use of LA, but too much. Too much measuring, leads to stress on children. Very behaviourist, quick responses, very granular. Maybe broad feedback is Ok. Comparison issue, normative measures are problematical. Notion of, what’s it measuring – what you can measure, rather than measuring the right thing. In this case, people selling a product, wizardry, needing to make sure that user is bringing a sense of pedagogy, what the child needs. She’s cheating!

Is help from a friend cheating? Getting questions about using social media in class – that’s called living now! Real challenge if you organisation relies on IP, if they are chatting on Twitter. What do you recruit employees for? Recruiting me and everyone who follows and responds to me online?

This scenario, white gleaming classroom with chrome. It’s antiseptic. Bleached white wood too. It’s cool and interactive? Question about diversity again. More efficient sausage factory, make more sausages that are the same. How do you maintain creativity if very specific goals. This is what marketing companies are selling to us, you’re skeptical. We’re not skeptical, we’re antagonistic – we could do this, we don’t want to. IBM are doing this already.

The teacher is wondering if they’re doing what they’re trained for. Most would like to have better control over classroom, especially new teachers. Some type of support. Not sure they would like to have the motion-tracking support of knowing this child is bored or not, on or off tasks. Sometimes good to let them off task a bit, important part of being a teacher. That freedom is a bit lacking. As a teacher, I can see you talking to me. This is an erosion of trust, your role is to trust your colleague. The student is gaming the system, but maybe that’s Ok. Inside education you can do that more than outside. Maybe she’s not really cheating.

Learner profile 6 – Natalia Eglitis, Employer profile 6 – Lina Xin

Natalia wants to go abroad, does she have the chance. Is this LA, or just personal choice? Do we have to have policy about this, or is it just what you do? If you share it with FB, that’s your choice. If you share it, employees know it, it’s also a disadvantage.

You have this on LinkedIn with voting. But maybe in the future you will want to see evidence. Here she might be good theoretically in building bridges, but maybe we should see the data. More and more our students will have to prove they are capable citizens. Stanford doing online student transcripts with linked evidence, that’s quite fun.

It’s a matter of personal choice to apply, doubt we have a role as teachers. Why did she not just go to Portugal?

Why would you want them to speak Chinese if they have an implant/device that can do it for you? It’s not just about speaking. They don’t have to learn the language, it’s not so important, there’s many things you can do beside talk.

Like influx in Sweden of refugees, big market for language skills for them. If not sure how many are asylum seekers, how many will have to be moved back.

Learner profile 7 – Giovanni Zanardi, Educator profile 7 – Laura Botticelli

In this world, there’s retraction from use of technology in schools. Two incidents. Legislation response.

Our discussion said, Ok, can’t really understand how they retract so fast, so believe this is a political movement to something else. The reports from the institute is leading us to believe there is a political thing behind this with subsidiary agents working against use of technology in school system. Reflected in frustration of the learner, he would like to use tech but not allowed. Device implanted in his hand, he may be expelled. Raises interesting questions on discrimination, exclusion of students. One thing is to collect cellphones from students. Another thing is to send them home based on what they are wearing. Link to wearing hijabs and the debate there. It is definitely controversial. For the educator, brilliant profile, lot of sentiments teachers have today. She is relieved not to use tech in her instruction any more. Some problems, Brexit victims, trying to reach them, other places there are programs that are better to catch up with problems like this. She’s retracting to comfortable position of chalk and talk curriculum.

How to crack this one? All educators are analysing their pupils, very richly, dense data from human interaction. We’re lacking overview. THinking supranational, recommendations from European level, tracking how Italian education system is performing now. Are the outcomes from the Italian system, students graduated, are they still attracted on the European employment level? Of course, if one goes that far, you could impose central European curriculum, common curriculum, including technology use.

It’s a provocative approach. Say if in 2027 PISA say no difference? There’s won’t be PISA, they can’t do that. Say they make exception?

The teacher and parent perspective is great. We can’t believe that technology is extracted at all, only the education system. This could be reality in some places in 2025. In eastern Hungary, don’t even have windows, that would be an improvement. The context will be different. I’d guess 80% of teachers would love it. If they were used to it, they would not love it.

Informal use of it? Could Brexit parents let them use tech at home? Is all of Italy offline? No, only schools. The teacher could go to them and say, maybe you should try to learn Italian at home.

[tea break]

Learner profile 8: Elena Fechter, Educator profile 8: Ernst Bild

Conversation about trust and trusted third party, role for Commission to look at those. Philosophical conversation: many questions.

Issue, we’re too much talking about elites, an elite picture of our learners, parents want to access data of my 25yo just passing final exams (!). I think, most people are so smart, already elite. I’m one of the average guy. I do not know any 15yo boy or girl interested if they’re in the top 3% of their peers. That is not a reality for me in my environment. The arguments I see appear to be too much driven from elite, societal perspective. Conversation, you must be above the average – that’s the way of thinking – half of them must be below the average. The median. (!) How to translate our love of big data, we have them, partially – what can we learn from them? I’m pessimistic that only this approach, focusing on elite, come from number 3 to number 2 or 1, on the one hand, and from this charming big data approach, to a very realistic learner-centred approach, in real-life settings. All of those scenarios, they scare me a bit. It’s from a bad science fiction movie.

Why’s it bad? The more data we have, the more precious people feel about their data. Elena wants to own it?

It’s a dystopia – it’s not meeting either of their needs. People obscuring their own presence, that goes on today. People are not always going to be forthcoming with information if they don’t trust the environment. That’s not just a future problem. Not having the information might be realistic.

We’re talking about learning analytics, analysing data. That is only one part. We must be very cautious about what we personally think we can do with these analysis.

Should EU prevent students providing data?

There should be a minimal subset of data, to bring up the quality of education.

Learner profile 9 – Juan Hernandez-Santiago; Manager profile 9 – Marianne Salome-Hernandez

Spain established an awesome system. Open access database, it’s visible for everyone. The manager of the university has a great one. Silicon Valley model of outsourcing, online coaches from abroad, feedback.

The issue was, even though they have a great system, you can’t add something from outside the system. Even though an open system, it’s closed to the realities of Juan’s opportunities. CVs no longer exist. We don’t know how to solve his big issue.

For Marianne, she should look at more quality. Question is how trustworthy are her measures, approval scores. Bit of lack of trust in this data. Maybe needs to see how to get more quality and trust in to the system. Make sure that her selling point is to make the brand of the university, not just cheap.

LA has a big flaw here, hasn’t predicted there won’t be Alonso in 10 y.

The right hand side, Oviedo is not so good a university right now. If the data said so? [unclear] Satisfaction is high, so the throughput is good, high quality. If you’re selecting a certain group of students, perhaps they’re paying a lot, of course, they are very happy. If this system works, the data is reliable. If that many are satisfied, you’re doing something wrong. You want people to make mistakes to learn. Some people will not be satisfied, that’s a byproduct of learning. It’s not how many mistakes you made, it’s you have a degree, lets you be well paid. But this isn’t saying that.

Maybe thanks to LA and going global, many people in Chile and Peru don’t know the reputation for Oviedo. It’ll never happen. Why not? JISC national infrastructure, self-declared stuff from students to bring their own data. Bring diversity, do analytics over that diversity, will solve those problems.

Validation of foresight exercise

Each participant has three stars: if you like a scenario, add a star at the top; if you dislike it, add star at the bottom.

[Lots of star sticking.]

Plenary: Potential for European policy related to learning analytics

Imagine you meet the minister for education at the airport, have one minute to convince them what action should happen now, and wish list.

The minister will say, don’t ask me for money. You can ask anything, but no money.

Teacher union perspective about the dynamic in the community. You need a reference model.

In this example. Ministry of education, I met our minister in the summer last year. At a conference of teachers. E-education summer summit. I put on the wish list, we should shift teacher education, still driven by people of my age or older, to a level where media competence, the ideas of learning analytics, and perils, dangers, data mining – all this is treated in a way next generation teachers can use the solutions we have, and will have in a couple of years from now. So they can use them effectively for the benefit of their students. More comprehensive, complete, realistic teacher training. There are already efforts to do that. This doesn’t cost money, there’s teacher education anyway. It must be modernised.

On the now list – clear statement from privacy commissioners about the benefits and controls to protect learners, teachers, society.

Two things. First, orchestration of grants around a reference model, so we don’t have replication. Need to start being more efficient. That’s an immediate thing. [Can you say, you’re wasting money?] Sure you can. They will pay attention. Can say, by assessing project based on number of LOC, you are ensuring lots of LOC written. You have projects ending, particularly LACE, if you don’t continue the Evidence Hub immediately, you’ll be inefficient because it’s not visible. It’s important to continue the LACE project.

On evidence, the risk we have is LA takes us down an objective view of education, promotes the objectively measurable things. One is on, thinking about C21st skills. Curious, plenty of people writing the scenarios are engaged with this, but they didn’t come through. Gather evidence for C21st skills relationship to LA will be a powerful tool of realisation of LA that does not favour a particular view of education. It could be done now, it’s on the agenda…

Evaluation. Another challenge, thinking about answering the question, was the LA successful? If we focus on attainment, we miss relationship between LA and process. Framing the evidence about success around process, not just headline results that mask benefits and disbenefits. If we say do PISA different, focus on what students are doing in the classroom, without extra cost, that’s a heck of an exercise. But teaching only happens where process happens in the classroom is. The final destination doesn’t help the teacher to act. Have to think about action.

Cost benefit. If I’m investing 100k in a solution, at school level, what are the consequences of that expenditure. We could have a mandate, 2% of ICT budget should be spent on LA. That could be a recommendation – do we want to do that? I don’t know it’s mature enough to say that should be an aim.

A Kickstarter type thing for LA companies. It’s almost asking for money. European approach, different stakeholders, companies, SMEs that want to build on LA to create opportunities for innovation. Biggest issue is what we do when the budget ends. SMEs are supposed to take over, it’s not so easy because of the way the funding works. Not an MIT Media Lab model, but where private/public opportunity beyond the grants. It doesn’t have to be connected to research. It can be a detriment to connect to people who think too deeply about things. Partly innovation is about disconnection, self-belief. It’s a different type of grant, bit like Innovation in Action in H2020, but not as formal. Crowdsourced, more market need would be good. Not sure how to formulate it. So e.g. crowdfunding, EU tops it up, then gets something back if it works. There are existing loan schemes like that. It doesn’t need to be crowdfunding. Take H2020, small innovative companies, plan on 1 page. Make application approach like that. Not 100 page document, why not 1-pager, 3 milestones, 10 letters of recommendation. Would save process costs.

More comprehensive approach, more scientifically based, identify the success cases. Bring this to the reference model. Solid foundations to reference models. Need to identify which are the success cases. Taking in to account cultural differences, curriculum. Maybe not just one methodology Perhaps we should have more stronger international coupling. Easy to deploy in your institution. Could be the LACE Evidence Hub, or more general? Methodologies is a key aspect.

One problem, we discuss LA nicely here. What’s going on outside? People know very little about this area. What ministries, politicians can do, is spread the word. Ministries can try to delegate this task to local communities, in schools you should start discussing it. In 2025, these people will be living in that world. If we do not start it now, it’s already too late. An ambassador? It could be. Part of the national curriculum somehow. Include in the teacher’s curriculum. Raising awareness, organise conferences. The field is not major enough. Collecting good practices is still difficult.

Technology standards and architecture. Implicit in orchestration of grants. Several years since we lost the workshop, no standardisation track in Europe that’s open access. Problem was that it was a route to take outcomes in to pseudo-standardisation, not drawing from practice. But now are creating profiles for standards, JISC work in UK, xAPI in NL. Put them in to practice for analytics, what will work from capture, data science, to users. No mechanism to create those common profile standards so people can use them across the market. Open access forum to allow standards to be created from practice.

Technology, interoperability is important. But is that a solution? Heterogeneous teams. Practice. What happens if you put IT people in the school, they make UML diagram of how they work. Innovative pedagogy. Heterogeneous teams. Maybe we could suggest, in the NL, teacher has EUR3000 for education. Take that money, put it in to a challenge or focus, put technicians in to schools to work out, we need technology, but we need pedagogy driving that. This combined approach needs to be addressed.

We are overstepping territory. Creating solution, also creating the problem. nobody else is. I would ask the minister, what is on your agenda, your long term agenda. What do you want to change. Then we know their priorities, we can create that, use it to create solutions.

They will say – I want to be top one in PISA. Any solution for that I will take.

Gender bias, youth mobility, inclusion, early school leaving – that can all be supported. Follow-on question: how will LA help solve those problems.

Data privacy, ethical standards. Openness. Transparency. LA is part of a hierarchy of data-driven decision-making.

I don’t love data. We need to be smarter. Not tomorrow, in 2y, but in 10y. Need to find smarter solutions than having statistics, like Google Flu Trends. Tried to estimate flu traces from Google searches. That is a technical problem but little to do with human learning. It’s so very different. Assignment to classes. There’s a big big danger that if we have an imperfect set of data gathered through whichever channels, we are biasing people to make decisions based on imperfect data. A big danger I see. We need big data for that, ways to treat it, smarter than Google Flu Trends.


Top three action – innovative pedagogy, evidence hub, and ethics.

Top three wish list: Teacher education, decide which problems we are solving – third is data privacy, ethical standards, open and transparent.

Next steps

Will send out a draft report for comments.

One further thing. To see how LA can support systemic change. Education ministers, they want change, the bit trouble is inertia. Bringing change is difficult, many stakeholders. The question could be, how can LA and tech that provides evidence, how can that support systemic change. If you do research, research on that. Then we need money. But that’s how you justify asking for money!

Thanks to all, safe journeys home.

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