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Recent blogs from IET staff

How to sell soul to a soulless people

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Sun, 14/09/2014 - 09:25

This was the question posed by Public Enemy back in 2007. Apple’s answer is to put U2′s album on everyone’s iPhone. This has been commented about endlessly, but I was interested by my own reaction when I saw it there. I felt something akin to revulsion. Now I know logically that I can just delete it, what’s the big deal. And I also know apps push stuff at me all the time, so what’s the difference here?

Pondering my own reaction (and that of many others), I think the answer is that music is related to identity. I posted many years ago that digital formats changed our sense of ownership, and that owning music used to be a strong part of your identity. “Look through my record collection” used to be an invite to get to know someone better. This has undoubtedly changed, one has only to consider what it’s like to be a Spotify customer where you have immediate access to just about every record ever made. Selection and ownership are less important then.

But I think what Apple failed to understand (or understood perfectly well, but didn’t care), is that your music library still feels like yours. On Twitter people pointed out to me that I didn’t own a phone, but rather rented a content delivery service. But I still feel like that library is mine. I’ve chosen what goes in there. I know no-one else cares, but it’s like your real library at home, those books have been selected by you. Some you may hate, some you may not have finished, some relate to a specific point in your life, and so on. But they are an extension of who you are. Having someone else place items in your music library feels far more intrusive than pushing an advert at me, or sending me a notification because it is eroding a sense of identity. And the more I think about it, the more I believe that tools that help us establish and define that identity in a digital age are the ones that will be successful. Apple demonstrated that their belief is that the only identity to have is theirs, and for such a modern company, that seems an old-fashioned view.

Now, if they had put this track on everyone’s iPhone, I wonder what the reaction would’ve been:

To what extent is education a digital product?

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 05/09/2014 - 07:13

This is an obvious, even old-fashioned question. I was thinking about it the other day, and I realised that not only is it actually the question I’ve been answering on this blog for the past 8 years or so, it is the key question for education. Having been to numerous ed tech conferences, it is also the overarching question each of them is really addressing.

The “to what extent” is the important element, because that doesn’t mean “it is”. The answer can be “not at all”, “some bits” or “completely”, depending on your perspective. If you look at many ed tech developments, and the reactions to them, they can be boiled down to different interpretations of this question. MOOCs are an obvious example, for the MOOC hypers, Clay Shirky, Thrun, et al, the answer to this question was pretty near 100%. For many MOOC critics, the answer would be nearer 0% (education isn’t a product, and the components you can make digital are the least important).

You could take issue with the “product” part, and can replace that with “service”, and you could make a case against the underlying neoliberalism inherent in the question. But I would contend that even if this is the case, then being able to defend and articulate a position against this question is what you will be doing for much of the next decade, because this is the question everyone else is implicitly, or explicitly, seeking to answer.

If you have a new Vice Chancellor, boss, colleague or whatever, I would suggest that asking them this one question might be quite illuminating. And more importantly, ask the question of yourself. As for me, I think it’s…


Kill yr idols (or not)

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 04/09/2014 - 14:14

I’ve been meaning to write a “twitter isn’t as much fun as it used to be” kind of post for a while. Then Bonnie Stewart went and did it, but you know, with added eloquence and thought. It’s been an idea a few ed techers have been mumbling about online for a while now. On almost the same day as Bonnie’s post David Kernohan gave an excellent talk at ALT-C on this subject.

The argument goes something like this: online communication and networks used to be fun, but they’ve become not only boring now, but as David put it, scary. This is partly a result of professional types now manipulating social media, and partly because people now pay attention.

Sheila MacNeill asked David a good question which was along the lines of “are you just upset that the great unwashed have turned up now and ruined your place that used to be cool?”

I think there is something in this. Back in the day, those of us who blogged and then used twitter were always advocating how great they would be if everyone used them. And then they did. The thrill of being right (for once) was offset by the disappointment at what inevitably happened. And here is the quandary for ed tech – we want people to take it seriously, but when they do it becomes something else. As soon as what you said in social media mattered then people wanted to control it. Or at least fire people who said the wrong thing, and as this Pew Internet report highlights, this leads to self-censorship and a spiral of silence. Self censorship is still censorship.

The same might be said of MOOCs. It was fun when no-one was watching, but then everyone started paying attention and it got all corporate. In the TV series Extras, Ricky Gervais character is given this very blunt choice by his agent:

“do you want fame and fortune, or do you want integrity and respect?”

Because he can’t have both. And this is what I’m not sure about, can we have both in edtech? Or must this year’s fun thing always become next year’s VLE or die?

Anyway, here’s Sonic Youth telling you to kill your idols. Because it’s the end of the world, and confusion is sex, or something like that.

OER Research Hub: August Review

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Fri, 29/08/2014 - 14:26

Originally posted on :

As September beckons, here’s a quick round-up of what’s been happening at the Hub over the past month:

Join us to explore Open Research

As you might be aware, we’ve been working on our School of Open Open Research course over the past few months … August saw the launch of our four-week exploration into of the concept and practices of open research, including how to conduct research ethically and in the open, dissemination and the relation between openness and reflection.

Sign-up is open until Friday 12 September with the course formally starting on Monday 15 September 2014. We’re super excited and honoured to have had so much interest in the course and hope that you’ll be able to join us!

You can read our blog post announcement here and also check out the course and sign-up here.

Your Open Research course facilitators! (Clockwise: Bea de los Arcos, Beck…

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Interested in Open Research? Sign-up for our School of Open course!

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Tue, 26/08/2014 - 12:38

Originally posted on :

It’s been in the pipeline for a while now, but we’re super excited to announce that our four-week School of OpenOpen Research course opened for sign-up yesterday! You can sign-up to participate in our four-week course until Friday 12 September 2014 with the course starting on Monday 15 September.

So what’s in store for participants? Week one of the course explores the idea of open research and encourages participants to think about the challenges and benefits of open research. In week two we take a closer look at how we can be both open and ethical when conducting research. Week three focuses on open access publishing and disseminating your research. We close the course with week four’s chance to look at where openness makes a difference to evaluation and reflection.

You also have the opportunity to be awarded our very own Open Research badge for participating in, and completing, the…

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Open researcher open course

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Tue, 26/08/2014 - 09:48

Led by Beck Pitt, the OER Research Hub has developed an open course (don’t use the M word) on P2P University on being an open researcher. It is four weeks long, although you can study it anytime and it’s all available at once. The weeks cover:

  • Open research
  • Ethics in the open
  • Open dissemination
  • Reflecting on open

It’s based on our experience of running the OER Research project as an open project. There are a number of interesting things that happen when you try to operate in the open. For instance, what ethical considerations are there to releasing data? What communication methods are most effective? The course explores these, using the fictional Mr O’pen. He’ll be in a pixar film before you know it.

The facilitated course starts on 15th September, although you could be doing it now if you want. There will be a weekly Google Hangout every Thursday over the 4 weeks of the course, with one pre-course hangout on the 11th. Take a look, we’re all finding out what being an open researcher means still, it’s not a defined set of approaches, so maybe there will be something there that works for you.

Site Migration – New Home

openmind.ed - Dr Rob Farrow's blog - Tue, 19/08/2014 - 12:16

I have decided to move openmind.ed from server space provided by The Open University and onto a general site.  This will make the site more independent and give me a bit more control over how it works – but the content is essentially the same.  I will only be updating the new site from now on although some of the stuff in the sidebar will continue to update automatically.

You can find the new version of this site at:

Quote of the day

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 14/08/2014 - 16:07

I’m on holiday at the moment, in a cabin by Loch Ness with my daughter. Being a teenager she rarely sees pre-noon so this gives me the morning to have a run, and also to finish off my book edits. I have been collecting quotes to add to each chapter, but have been debating whether to use these.

I have a love-hate thing going on with quotes. I used to love a good quote, but the internet has ruined them. A quote on any subject is just a google search away, and twitter is full of those inspirational quotes that are meant to make you want to be the next Steve Jobs. If you want me to unfollow you on twitter, then an inspirational quote a day is a pretty sure way to realise it. That all of the beauty, complexity and nuances of life are reduced to pithy, Nike-advert type quotes makes me want to become a recluse in a cabin by Loch Ness and communicate solely through the medium of beard growth.

But having said that, I do love the judicious use of quotes in both literature and non-fiction. They not only bring in a different voice, but when used well, add a different perspective to the text you are reading that the author themselves cannot provide. So, I’ve decided to plough ahead with quote use, but adhere to these self-imposed rules:

  1. The quotes must be from material I have read myself and not just searched for a relevant quote
  2. They are not directly referencing the content, eg there aren’t quotes about “open”, or “education”
  3. They are slightly oblique to the content of each chapter, so hopefully consideration of the quote in relation to the content adds something extra
  4. They are well written, so the discerning reader can use them as stepping stones of quality to navigate the peaty bog of my own prose.

I’ll leave you to be the judge as to whether they work or not. Because as Emerson said “I hate quotations”


Infrared instead of sun

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 12:06

In case you missed it, The Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers have proposed some new open access(ish) licences for their research articles. They argue that: “CC licenses are intended to be used across the entire creative sector, and are not designed specifically for publishing, or for academic and scholarly publishing”. Well that was kind of the point of CC licences, they were simple, effective and could be applied across many domains. That they are simple is not a fault, but the result of hard work and good minds. Compare the CC-NC definition with this one from STM:

“STM stand-alone non-commercial+TDM+Translation and some commercial uses other than “Reserved Commercial Uses”: rationale see comments under B above for those not having a be-spoke publisher licence or not wishing to use a UCLA licence or a CC licence or other licence”

I do what now?

Needless to say most open access people have decried this unnecessary attempt to add confusion to the sector, and pointed out that we’ve been getting on just fine with CC licences, thanks. Here is the PLoS response, who state that the new licences would “make it difficult, confusing or impossible to combine these research outputs with other public resources and sources of knowledge to the benefit of both science and society.”

Other people more knowledgeable than me can point out the problems of the licences (see for example this discussion I had with Cameron Neylon on Twitter) but the story is interesting to me for two reasons. The first relates to my digital scholarship interest, as it demonstrates a rather irritating academic habit, which is to say that the thing used by everyone else isn’t quite suited to the special needs of academia, and they need to create their own specialised, more complex version. It’s like academic versions of Twitter, or the death by metadata of learning objects. This is often well meaning, in that there may be some fine issues with using a general tool, but the benefits are worth the sacrifices. For a start those popular tools are popular for a reason, usually simplicity of use. As Cameron points out there is also a benefit to be gained form being part of a bigger, global community. Why create an academic ghetto of specialised use that no-one else relates to?

The second reason I find it interesting relates to the battle for open stuff. One could view it cynically and see it as a move by commercial publishers (many of whom STM represent) to either muddy the open access waters, or to control what the new definition of open is. Either way, open ends up not meaning what you think it means. And once that happens they can reclaim it to have any meaning. It could mean “Publisher X brand of open”, which means it is open to anyone who pays a subscription to their system. In this sense it is a good example of how the battle for open moves from big claims (open vs closed) to more detailed arguments which actually determine its future (CC vs STM open licence).

Unless they are forced upon authors, I’m hoping they’ll go the way of other unnecessary academic complications to perfectly functioning systems. People vote with their feet.


Battle for Open – references

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Wed, 06/08/2014 - 16:44

I’m doing some revisions to the final text of my book The Battle for Open at the moment. When you’re going through it like this, you notice a few names keep cropping up. So I did a count for certain names, and this includes whether they are mentioned in the text and then in the references, so you get a double hit. The top names were:

  • David Wiley – 38
  • Sebastian Thrun – 25
  • George Siemens – 14
  • Dave Cormier – 14
  • Stephen Downes – 10
  • Audrey Watters – 8

I’m a bit surprised Audrey isn’t more to be honest, as one blogger said of something I’d written “he seems to be channeling Audrey Watters”, and that pretty much feels like much of what the book has done, so maybe I should go back and check that.

Anyway, David Kernohan suggested (nay, demanded) that I put up the references:

@mweller @davecormier you should publish the index and references now.

— ժǻƲïժ κēŗɳoңȺɳ (@dkernohan) August 6, 2014

So here they are in the, yes, not very open, formats of Word and PDF – if people have suggestions for other useful formats let me know. I haven’t been through these in the final copyedit yet so there may be some bits missing, don’t go all reference purist on me.

The Battle for Open refs (PDF)

The Battle for Open refs (word)

[Update - At Alan Cann's suggestion, I've put it on Figshare too]


#oerrhub on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog

openmind.ed - Dr Rob Farrow's blog - Tue, 05/08/2014 - 13:36

This is a duplicate of my article from the LSE Impact of Social Science blog which was published today.  You can find the original here.

Much sharing and use of open educational resources (OER) is relatively informal, difficult to observe, and part of a wider pattern of open activity. What the open education movement needs is a way to draw together disparate fragments of evidence into a coherent analytic framework. Rob Farrow provides background on a project devoted to consolidating efforts of OER practitioners by inviting the open community to contribute directly and submit impact narratives. Through the mapping of these contributions, the data can continue to grow iteratively and support the decisions made by educators, students, policymakers and advocates.

The Open Education movement is now around ten or twelve years old and has started to make a significant difference to education practices around the world. Open educational resources (OER) are resources (article, textbook, lesson plan, video, test, etc.) that might be used in teaching or learning. They are considered ‘open’ when they are openly licensed in ways that [permit] no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions or, more simply their free use and re-purposing by others.

This distinction might seem rather subtle and legalistic at first. But the whole of the open education movement is predicated on the idea that open licensing leads to far reaching and beneficial change. By providing an alternative to traditional copyright, open licenses make it possible to share and repurpose materials at marginal cost. It is often stated, for instance, that OER have the potential to increase access to education through lowering the prohibitive cost of textbooks or journal subscriptions. Some claim that OER allows for more innovative teaching and closer bonds between students and learners as a result of a more reflexive syllabus. Others hold the view that open licensing will align existing pedagogies along more collaborative and networked lines.

Image credit: via Flickr (CC BY-SA)

When open licensing in conjunction with digital technology can enable duplication and adaptation of materials almost anywhere in the world at next to no cost, it’s easy to see how the implications may be manifold for educational institutions. Perhaps the strongest evidence for this thus far comes from the open access movement, which continues to leverage academic publishers for better value.

Unsurprisingly, much research has gone into ascertaining the evidence that exists in support of these claims. A good portion of earlier OER research focused on establishing the relative quality of open materials and found that they are generally at least as good as equivalent commercial materials (though there are of course variations in quality). But there are reasons why establishing a clear picture of the wider impact of OER adoption is more complex.

Let’s leave aside for now issues around the much discussed and yet nebulous term “impact”. OER adoption is taking place within a world of education undergoing radical change. Where OER does change practices there are often multiple interventions taking place at the same time and so it is hard to isolate the particular influence of openness. Use contexts can vary wildly between countries and education levels, and cultural differences can come into play. Furthermore, much sharing and use of open educational materials (such as Wikipedia) is relatively informal, difficult to observe, and part of a wider pattern of activity. This is not to say that there isn’t good quality OER research out there, but the typical dependence on softer data might sometimes be thought unconvincing. Further complications can arise from inconsistencies in understanding what ‘open’ means to different groups.

Nonetheless, there remains a need for evidence that would support (or discount) from the key claims expressed in the rhetoric around OER, as well as an overall picture of global activity. What the open education movement needs is a way to draw together disparate fragments of evidence into a coherent analytic framework that can support judgments about OER impact for a range of use cases.

OER Research Hub (OERRH) is a research project in IET at The Open University which approaches these issues through an open and collaborative approach. Our project aspires to be open in both its focus and the methods we use to gather and share data. We’ve taken a mixed-methods approach to research depending on the context, and we’ve also undertaken some of the largest surveys about OER use and attitudes from a range of stakeholders. By using a survey template that is consistent across the different samples it becomes possible to see patterns across countries and sectors. Our research instruments and data are released on open licenses and we have an open access publication policy. By encouraging a culture of open sharing we have been able to consolidate the efforts of OER practitioners and help to build a shared understanding.

We work openly with a range of collaborators around the world to gather data and share practical experience and also have a fellowship scheme that helps to foster a worldwide network of experts. By focusing on collecting data around ‘impact’ in situ we are able to build up an evolving picture of changing practices.

The analytic framework for pulling together the data includes a set of research hypotheses which reflect some of the main claims that are made about OER. These help to provide focus but a further structuring is provided by the use of geospatial coordinates (which are of course universal) and map disparate data types on a map across a shared geographical base.

Image credit: OER Impact Map (OER Research Hub)

Mapping has become popular within the OER world, and there is a lot of interest in maps for strengthening communities and as tools for building a shared understanding of the world. Accordingly, OERRH’s OER Impact Map acts as both research tool and dissemination channel. By using a simple metadata structure for different data types it becomes possible to visualize (as well as simply ‘map’) information. For instance, real-time reporting of the evidence gathered across each hypothesis or visualising the sum of evidence gathered help us to understand the data. Soon it will be possible to browse the project survey data directly as well as interact with more detailed, structured narratives about OER impact. The map itself will continue to help us to see patterns in the data and cross-reference evidence gathered.

Image credit: OER Impact Map (OER Research Hub)

By no means is OER Impact Map complete; by its nature the data set continues to evolve. But openness is the key to the sustainability of a service like this: by inviting the open community to contribute directly and submit their impact narratives to OERRH the data can continue to grow iteratively and support the decisions made by educators, students, policymakers and advocates. Furthermore, open licensing of evidence records allows us to close citation loops and archive data more easily, and the relative ease with which open access research can be found helps it find it way into the evidence base.

It is worth noting that the combination of mapping and curation can be flexibly applied to other research questions in educational and social science. The code for OER Impact Map is available openly on GitHub, meaning others can use it build their own impact maps: or adapt this code to their own needs. The impact map is based on a JSON information architecture which supports multiple programming languages and flexible use of the data (like combining it with other datasets).

What our project illustrates is that the use of openness to solve challenges in the project can lead to innovation in approaches in understanding impact. The combination of mixed-methods research into hypotheses with mapping and data visualization techniques can be flexibly applied in support of traditional research activity.

OER Research Hub is funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Rob Farrow is a philosopher and educational technologist who researches open education at The Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University (UK). He blogs at openmind.ed and tweets as @philosopher1978.

OER Research Hub: July Round-Up

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Wed, 30/07/2014 - 12:13

Originally posted on :

What’s been happening at the Hub in July? It’s time for our monthly news round-up!

Open Textbook Bonanza

July kicked off with the release of a range of our research on open textbooks during the aptly named Open Textbook Research week. With contributors from all of our fantastic open textbook collaborators, this was a great chance to see what work we’ve been doing together. Beck (OERRH researcher) and Megan Beckett (Siyavula) co-authored a series of blog posts on the survey findings in South Africa, Clint Lalonde of BCcampus told us more about the Open Textbook Project Geography sprint in an exclusive post and we also released the revised OpenStax College educator survey findings, preliminary student survey findings and three educator interviews. Phew! With 11 blog posts in total there’s a wealth of research to explore.

If you missed out, don’t worry as you can find all of the…

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A farewell and an opportunity to get a free book

Its been a long dry spell on this blog. Apologies for that. The last post was around the time that I was preparing for OER13 to be unleashed (a fantastic experience which I and many others really enjoyed). Not long after that I confirmed arrangements to take early retirement from the Open University in order to have more time with family. Leaving the OU was very hard to do. I originally planned to go at the end of 2013, this stretched to the end of March 2014, allowing me to not only chair production of a new course on the MA Online and Distance Education Programme (H818: The Networked Practitioner which has openness and sharing at its heart), but also to lead its first year of presentation. This meant that I met and worked with some great students - always a joy - and had a front row seat for the first H818 student online conference and activity around this. Unmissable.
This last year has also involved working with some talented authors and my valued friend and colleague Professor Allison Littlejohn on completing the book which we started talking about at the ORIOLE retreat in 2010. The book is published at the end of this month and we agreed an arragement with Routledge (many thanks to Alex Masulis) allowed us to publish about half the chapters in an issue of the open journal JIME. So a significant portion of the content has been available to read, without fee, since April. Thank you to Martin Weller and others on JIME for agreeing to this hybrid form of openness which allowed us to accommodate authors who were uncomfortable without an open license, but also making it possible to publish conventionally, which also has benefits.

FREE COPY AVAILABLE: I now have two copies of the hardback book (pictured) and thought it might be a good idea to offer one of these via this blog to someone who can provide a good reason why they should have it.  If I agree I will post it to you anywhere in the world. You can contact me with your entry (put 'ROR book' in the subject header) at my OU address until the end of August 2014. I will be happy to sign it if that suits, so feel free to suggest a suitable inscription.

Listen to Barbara Illowsky on the Journey of Collaborative Statistics! (Part Two)

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 15:33

Originally posted on :

This is the second part of an interview with Barbara Illowsky, OCWC Educator ACE Award winner, Professor of Math and Statistics at De Anza College and co-author of the OpenStax College open textbook Introductory Statistics (previously Collaborative Statistics). Read the first part of this interview to find out more about Barbara, De Anza College, the impact of high textbook costs, student savings, how Barbara was involved in changing State policy and her involvement with OpenStax College and Connexions.

Improving the Textbook Collaboratively 

Later in the interview I asked Barbara is there was any difference between authoring/creating an open resource such as Collaborative Statistics, and other material that Barbara has contributed to the Connexions platform, in comparison to materials Barbara uses in her own classroom.  You can also hear more about Barbara’s incorporation of the Vietnamese New Year gambling game of Tết into her Labs (mentioned in my earlier post: “It’s…

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Listen to Barbara Illowsky on the Journey of Collaborative Statistics! (Part One)

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 15:11

Originally posted on :

Earlier in the year I posted transcribed excerpts from an interview with OCWC Educator ACE Award winner, Professor of Math and Statistics at De Anza College and co-author of the OpenStax College open textbook Introductory Statistics (previously Collaborative Statistics) Barbara Illowsky. You can find my original post on the OpenEd13 interview here, which is still worth checking out for an overview of the interview and key quotes. However, I’m now pleased to announce that you can now hear this fascinating interview in full!

Introducing Barbara and De Anza College

Listen to Barbara introduce herself:

Barbara on De Anza College, the students who attend and some of the challenges they face. Quoting Martha Kanter “we accept the top 100% of students who apply” Barbara also tells us why she doesn’t use the term “remedial”:

OER has an important role to play at colleges such as De Anza. Barbara told us…

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LASI@MK learning analytics summer institute

Together with Bart Rienties, I hosted visits from Shaun Boyd (NMIT, Australia, Victorian Higher Education and Skills Group Fellow), Shreeharsh Kelkar (MIT), and Adam Cooper (CETIS, Bolton) on 8 July 2014.

We organised a Learning Analytics Summer Institute (LASI@MK) event in association with these visits. This formed part of the worldwide series of LASIs organised in conjunction with the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR). The event was also associated with the European-funded Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project.

LASI@MK included short presentations from:

  • Linda Price on the long history of learning analytics at The Open University
  • Avinash Boroowa on the development of an ethical framework for learning analytics
  • Doug Clow on the systemic implementation of learning analytics
  • Vicky Marsh on links with quality enhancement and quality assurance
  • Shailey Minocha on the use of learning analytics in virtual environments
  • Zdenek Zdrahal on predictive modelling
  • Adam Cooper on the LACE project

It also included more extensive presentations by

  • Denise Whitelock on the SAFeSEA project
  • Shaun Boyd on the implementation of analytics at his institution
  • Shreeharsh Kelkar on MOOCs, software and the study of learning.

Understanding student mindsets

At the beginning of July, working with one of our pro-vice chancellors, I presented to our vice chancellor’s executive (VCE) about understanding student mindsets.

We made the links between mindsets and learner persistence. Keeping students on board is a two-way process, universities retain and learners persist.

No matter how excellent a university course, students are likely to be distracted while studying it by significant life events. This is particularly true for part-time students, whose studies continue for longer. When the going gets tough for our students, it’s not good course design that gets them through, or good teacher support alone (though that certainly helps). Our students also need the resilience to carry on, and to cope with the extra challenges that life throws at them

This is where mindsets come into the picture. How can we help our students to develop persistence and resilience; how can we help them to understand that ability is not innate but is the outcome of focused work, and how can we help them to develop a deep approach to study? Research shows that it is possible to change mindsets, but to do so across a university requires systemic change.

Learning analytics: answering the FAQs

The conference venue: Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow

At the end of June, I was invited up to Scotland, to talk about learning analytics at the Society of College, National and University Librarians (SCONUL) summer conference. I focused on some of the frequently-asked questions about learning analytics, with the emphasis on the role and perspective of libraries in this area. What are learning analytics? Why are they used? How can they be used to help produce desired learning outcomes? What different types are there? What are the ethical issues? How can they be used in libraries?

Learning analytics FAQs from Rebecca Ferguson

Why don’t we talk about PLEs anymore

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Wed, 23/07/2014 - 09:42

I know some people will immediately respond to this title by declaring “I do! And look at all these other people who do”. And yes, there is a PLE conference. But my sense is that we don’t use the term, or more significantly, discuss the concept of Personal Learning Environments, like we did in 2010 say.

This is not to disparage the term or work on it, I think it was very useful to frame the difference in the way we began to operate when all these new, easy to use tools suddenly became available. I’m interested from an educational technology perspective in what the decline in its usage tells us. Google trends backs my impression up that we don’t talk about it as much, and given that terms tend to linger, I would suggest that it shows it definitely isn’t a hot topic amongst ed tech people:

If you accept for now the premise that it isn’t discussed as much, then what does this tell us? There are a number of possible reasons:

  1. It’s become commonplace, so drawing the distinction between your set of tools and an institutional learning environment isn’t necessary. It’s a bit like saying “my phone is mobile!”
  2. It’s become absorbed, so it is seen as an extension of the LMS, or rather the LMS is just one other part of it. We don’t differentiate between tools for different settings because the boundaries between personal and professional have been blurred.
  3. There has been a shakedown in the market, so actually we’ve all settled on the same few tools: Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, Slideshare, plus some other specific ones. My PLE looks pretty much like your PLE, so it’s not really a Personal one anymore. Just like with the early days of search engines, we don’t talk about whether you prefer Lycos or Webcrawler now, we just Google it.
  4. It wasn’t a useful term or approach. There were projects that attempted to get data passed between LMSs and PLE tools, or to set these up for people, and in the end people just opted for some tools they found useful, and didn’t feel the need to go further.

For some of these reasons you could argue that the PLE was a success, it made itself redundant as a term, which illustrates it reached penetration. For others you could argue it was maybe a case of academics inventing something that wasn’t really there. For me, I found it a useful way to think about these new tools and moving away from pre-packaged solutions, but that’s become second nature now. Anyway, it’s useful to revisit terms and see what they tell us about the current situation. I shall now go into hiding from the pitchfork (some hand-crafted, some mass produced) wielding PLE mob.