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Recent blogs from IET staff

Future of learning analytics: LASI Bilbao

I visited the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain, to give a keynote at the learning analytics summer institute there (LASI Bilbao 2016) on 28 June 2016. The event brought people together from the Spanish Network of Learning Analytics (SNOLA), which was responsible for organising the event, in conjunction with the international Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR).

Later in the day, I ran another in the LACE series of workshops on ethics and privacy in learning analytics (EP4LA).

Keynote abstract

What does the future hold for learning analytics? In terms of Europe’s priorities for learning and training, they will need to support relevant and high-quality knowledge, skills and competences developed throughout lifelong learning. More specifically, they should improve the quality and efficiency of education and training, enhance creativity and innovation, and focus on learning outcomes in areas such as employability, active-citizenship and well-being. This is a tall order and, in order to achieve it, we need to consider how our work fits into the larger picture. Drawing on the outcomes of two recent European studies, Rebecca will discuss how we can avoid potential pitfalls and develop an action plan that will drive the development of analytics that enhance both learning and teaching.

 


Ethics and privacy: JTEL Estonia

The series of LACE workshops on Ethics and Privacy in Learning Analytics (EP4LA) keeps expanding.

I worked with María Jésus Rodríguez-Triana on the programme for one of these events, which she ran with Denis Gillet at the 12th Joint European Summer School on Technology Enhanced Learning (JTEL Summer School) in Estonia, on 20 June.

Workshop outline

This 90-minute workshop aims to give participants an overview of the ethical and privacy issues in Learning Analytics. Furthermore, the workshop allows the participants to increase the awareness about how to implement LA solutions either as researchers, practitioners or as developers. It will consist of three parts:

Part 1 – Introduction: presentation of LA frameworks and guidelines for Learning Analytics regarding ethics and privacy.
Part 2 – Framework analyses: participants will be grouped to work in a specific framework. The teams will categorise those ethical and privacy issues that the participants are currently addressing in their practice, those that could be covered with a low-medium effort, and those that constitute a challenge

Part 3 – Discussion: An open discussion will follow, exploring the complexity of each framework and looking for potential ways of addressing them.


Validating qualifications

On 22 June, I travelled up to Durham with a team from the Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships at The Open University in order to carry out a validation review at New College.

We had been asked to validate the Cert ED and the Professional Graduate Certificate in Education courses run by the college, which does not currently have the authority to award qualifications at this level. Like many other colleges in England, it asked the OU to validate its courses, so that students completing those courses could receive certificates from The Open University.

Through its Royal Charter, the OU is able to validate the programmes of institutions that do not have their own degree-awarding powers or that wish to offer OU awards. Validation is an iterative process, carried out over a period of time, culminating in an event that brings together participants. The process covers ten areas:

  1. Rationale, aims and intended learning outcomes of the programme of study
  2. Curriculum and structure of the programme of study
  3. Teaching and learning
  4. Admissions and transfer
  5. Assessment
  6. Staffing, staff development and research
  7. Teaching and learning resources
  8. Other resources for students
  9. Programme management and monitoring
  10. Programme specification and handbook

The process requires close scrutiny of relevant documentation, discussions with staff and students involved with the programmes, and tours of the facilities. A very interesting day, and a chance to get a detailed overview of how two qualifications work in practice.


Possibilities and challenges of augmented learning

I was invited to write a paper for Distance Education in China, a journal which reaches out to Western academics and is willing to take on the task of translating papers from English. My paper was based on work published in Augmented Education, written by me, Kieron Sheehy and Gill Clough, which was published by Palgrave in 2014.

Abstract

Digital technologies are becoming cheaper, more powerful and more widely used in daily life. At the same time, opportunities are increasing for making use of them to augment learning by extending learners’ interactions with and perceptions of their environment. Augmented learning can make use of augmented reality and virtual reality, as well as a range of technologies that extend human awareness. This paper introduces some of the possibilities opened up by augmented learning and examines one area in which they are currently being employed: the use of virtual realities and tools to augment formal learning. It considers the elements of social presence that are employed when augmenting learning in this way, and discusses different approaches to augmentation.

数字化技术的价格越来越便宜,功能越来越强大,在日常生活中用途越来越广泛。与此同时,利用数字化技术进一步促进学习者与他们所处环境的互动以及对环境的 感知以增强学习的机会也越来越多。增强学习可以利用增强现实和虚拟现实以及许多能提高人类意识的技术。本文介绍增强学习的一些可能性并讨论目前正在应用增 强学习的一个领域:运用虚拟现实和工具增强正式学习。文章分析了基于虚拟现实和工具的增强学习所需的社交临场成分,并讨论不同的增强方法。

Ferguson, Rebecca (2016). 增强学习的可能性与挑战 [Possibilities and challenges of augmented learning]. Distance Education in China, 6 pp. 5–13.


Quality assurance of MOOCs: expert workshop

Next stop after the LAK conference was Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. There I took part in an expert workshop from 2-3 May 2016, organised by the Commonwealth of Learning, developing guidelines for the quality assurance and accreditation of massive open online courses.

The workshop was one of the elements in a longer-term study that resulted in the publication of  Quality in MOOCs; Surveying the Terrain, by Nina Hood and Allison Littlejohn in June 2016.

Abstract

The purpose of this review is to identify quality measures and to highlight some of the tensions surrounding notions of quality, as well as the need for new ways of thinking about and approaching quality in MOOCs. It draws on the literature on both MOOCs and quality in education more generally in order to provide a framework for thinking about quality and the different variables and questions that must be considered when conceptualising quality in MOOCs. The review adopts a relativist approach, positioning quality as a measure for a specific purpose. The review draws upon Biggs’s (1993) 3P model to explore notions and dimensions of quality in relation to MOOCs — presage, process and product variables — which correspond to an input–environment–output model. The review brings together literature examining how quality should be interpreted and assessed in MOOCs at a more general and theoretical level, as well as empirical research studies that explore how these ideas about quality can be operationalised, including the measures and instruments that can be employed. What emerges from the literature are the complexities involved  in interpreting and measuring quality in MOOCs and the importance of both context and perspective to discussions of quality.

Workshop participants

Australia: Adam Brimo

Canada: Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, Sanjaya Mishra

India: Mangala Sunder Krishnan, TV Prabhakar, K Rama

Japan: Paul Kawachi

Malaysia: Safiah binti Md. Yusof, Mohamed Amin Embi, Nurbiha A Shukor, Rozhan M Idrus, Nurkhamimi Bin Zainuddin, John Arul Phillips

New Zealand: Nina Hood

UK: Allison Littlejohn, Rebecca Ferguson, Nigel Smith


Learning analytics: visions of the future

My final presentation at the LAK16 conference was another session organised by the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project that built on our Visions of the Future work. This panel session brought participants together to discuss the next steps for learning analytics and where we are heading as a community.

Abstract

It is important that the LAK community looks to the future, in order that it can help develop the policies, infrastructure and frameworks that will shape its future direction and activity. Taking as its basis the Visions of the Future study carried out by the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project, the panelists will present future scenarios and their implications. The session will include time for the audience to discuss both the findings of the study and actions that could be taken by the LAK community in response to these findings.

Ferguson, Rebecca; Brasher, Andrew; Clow, Doug; Griffiths, Dai and Drachsler, Hendrik (2016). Learning Analytics: Visions of the Future. In: 6th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) Conference, 25-29 April 2016, Edinburgh, Scotland.

 


Learning analytics and accessibility

On the first main day of the LAK16 conference, Annika Wolff presented a paper on accessibility and learning analytics that we had authored together with Martyn Cooper.

Abstract

This paper explores the potential of analytics for improving accessibility of e-learning and supporting disabled learners in their studies. A comparative analysis of completion rates of disabled and non-disabled students in a large five-year dataset is presented and a wide variation in comparative retention rates is characterized. Learning analytics enable us to identify and understand such discrepancies and, in future, could be used to focus interventions to improve retention of disabled students. An agenda for onward research, focused on Critical Learning Paths, is outlined. This paper is intended to stimulate a wider interest in the potential benefits of learning analytics for institutions as they try to assure the accessibility of their e-learning and provision of support for disabled students.

Cooper, Martyn; Ferguson, Rebecca and Wolff, Annika (2016). What Can Analytics Contribute to Accessibility in e-Learning Systems and to Disabled Students’ Learning? In: 6th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) Conference, 25-29 April 2016, Edinburgh, Scotland.


Failathon: LAK16

Our second LACE workshop of LAK16 was the highly successful Failathon. The idea for this workshop emerged from an overview of learning analytics evidence provided by the LACE Evidence Hub. This suggested that the published evidence is skewed towards positive results, so we set out to find out whether this is the case.

A packed workshop discussed past failures. All accounts were governed by the Chatham House Rule – they could be reported outside the workshop as long as the source of the information was neither explicitly or implicitly identified.

Abstract

As in many fields, most papers in the learning analytics literature report success or, at least, read as if they are reporting success. This is almost certainly not because learning analytics research and activity are always successful. Generally, we report our successes widely, but keep our failures to ourselves. As Bismarck is alleged to have said: it is wise to learn from the mistakes of others. This workshop offers an opportunity for researchers and practitioners to share their failures in a lower-stakes environment, to help them learn from each other’s mistakes.

Clow, Doug; Ferguson, Rebecca; Macfadyen, Leah and Prinsloo, Paul (2016). LAK Failathon. In: 6th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) Conference, 25-29 April 2016, Edinburgh, Scotland.


Ethics and privacy at LAK16

A busy week at the Learning Analytics and Knowledge 2016 (LAK16) conference began with a workshop on Ethics and Privacy Issues in the Design of Learning Analytics. The workshop formed part of the international EP4LA series run by the LACE project.

The workshop included a series of presentations, and I talked briefly about findings related to ethics and privacy that had emerged from the LACE Visions of the Future study.

Abstract

Issues related to Ethics and Privacy have become a major stumbling block in application of Learning Analytics technologies on a large scale. Recently, the learning analytics community at large has more actively addressed the EP4LA issues, and we are now starting to see learning analytics solutions that are designed not only as an afterthought, but also with these issues in mind. The 2nd EP4LA@LAK16 workshop will bring the discussion on ethics and privacy for learning analytics to a the next level, helping to build an agenda for organizational and technical design of LA solutions, addressing the different processes of a learning analytics workflow.

Drachsler, Hendrik; Hoel, Tore; Cooper, Adam; Kismihók, Gábor; Berg, Alan; Scheffel, Maren; Chen, Weiqin and Ferguson, Rebecca (2016). Ethical and Privacy Issues in the Design of Learning Analytics Applications. In: 6th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) Conference, 25-29 April 2016, Edinburgh, Scotland.


Learning at Scale: Using an Evidence Hub

I took a poster about the Evidence Hub run by the LACE project to the Learning at Scale conference in Edinburgh, which ran just before the LAK16 conference.

Learning at Scale: Using an Evidence Hub To Make Sense of What We Know, Abstract

The large datasets produced by learning at scale, and the need for ways of dealing with high learner/educator ratios, mean that MOOCs and related environments are frequently used for the deployment and development of learning analytics. Despite the current proliferation of analytics, there is as yet relatively little hard evidence of their effectiveness. The Evidence Hub developed by the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) provides a way of collating and filtering the available evidence in order to support the use of analytics and to target future studies to fill the gaps in our knowledge.

Ferguson, Rebecca (2016). Learning at Scale: Using an Evidence Hub To Make Sense of What We Know. In: L@S ’16 Proceedings of the Third (2016) ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale, ACM, New York.


LAK16: Practitioner Proceedings

Together with Mike Sharkey (Blackboard) and Negin Mirriahi (University of New South Wales), I chaired the Practitioner Track of the LAK16 conference in Edinburgh and edited the Practitioner Track proceedings.

Practitioners spearhead a significant portion of learning analytics, relying on implementation and experimentation rather than on traditional academic research. The primary goal of the LAK practitioner track is to share thoughts and findings that stem from learning analytics project implementations. The proceedings of the practitioner track from LAK’16 contains 12 short papers that share reports on the piloting and deployment of new and emerging learning analytics tools and initiatives.

Papers accepted in 2016 fell into two categories.

  • Practitioner Presentations Presentation sessions are designed to focus on deployment of a single learning analytics tool or initiative.
  • Technology Showcase The Technology Showcase event enables practitioners to demonstrate new and emerging learning analytics technologies that they are piloting or deploying.

Both types of paper are included in the proceedings.

 


Ethics and privacy in learning analytics: special issue

Along with other members of the LACE project (Tore Hoel, Maren Scheffel and Hendrik Drachsler), I co-edited a special section of Journal of Learning Analytics Vol 3, No 1, which focused on ethics and privacy in learning analytics.

The section contained eight papers:

The volume also included our guest editorial:

Abstract

The European Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project is responsible for an ongoing series of workshops on ethics and privacy in learning analytics (EP4LA), which have been responsible for driving and transforming activity in these areas. Some of this activity has been brought together with other work in the papers that make up this special issue. These papers cover the creation and development of ethical frameworks, as well as tools and approaches that can be used to address issues of ethics and privacy. This editorial suggests that it is worth taking time to consider the often intertangled issues of ethics, data protection and privacy separately. The challenges mentioned within the special issue are summarised in a table of 22 challenges that are used to identify the values that underpin work in this area. Nine ethical goals are suggested as the editors’ interpretation of the unstated values that lie behind the challenges raised in this paper.

Ferguson, Rebecca, Hoel, Tore, Scheffel, Maren, & Drachsler, Hendrik. (2016). Guest editorial: ethics and privacy in learning analytics. Journal of Learning Analytics, 3(1) 5-15.


1940s weekend: Black Country Living Museum, Dudley

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Sat, 16/07/2016 - 19:02

First visit to the excellent Black Country Living Museum in Dudley today following a wonderful night at Dudley Town Hall for the C&BLE Summer 1930s Ball with the Bratislava Hot Serenaders. So very good!

It’s the museum’s annual 1940s weekend and you can check out some of my photos from today.

And if you’re curious to hear what BHS sound like…

They are playing a number of UK dates (inc.  Edinburgh Festival) so if they’re heading your way go see (and dance)!


How edtech should react to the next Big Thing

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Thu, 14/07/2016 - 08:32

This week has all been about Pokemon Go. Inevitably there are pieces about Pokemon Go for education. This happens with every technology that makes a popular breakthrough. I’m not going to comment on Pokemon here, I’m sure it’s fun, and it does raise lots of interesting sociological questions about Augmented Reality and physical space intersection. Instead though, after a good discussion on Twitter last night, I thought I’d look for more general principles regarding how educational technologists should react when the same thing happens again in three months time with some new piece of technology. Off the top of my head, here are my thoughts on what to do when the next “Future of learning” innovation arrives.

Pick the narrative battle carefully – a common reaction (well from me anyway) is to be dismissive. MOOCs, learning analytics, augmented reality – none of these are new. But just saying “it’s not new” doesn’t mean it’s not relevant, and can make you look a bit pompous. Sometimes though there are battles around narrative that are worth fighting. I bemoaned this the other day about the manner in which MOOCs are now seen as the first generation of online learning. The narrative here is worth defending not just for accuracy, but because the new narrative has implicit intentions: to establish the tech industry as innovators, not education; to promote commercialisation of education as a result; to control the narrative and therefore direction of development.

Extract what is actually interesting for learning – I feel there is a tendency to focus on surface characteristics, and rush off to replicate those. Instead, take a moment to reflect and think what is actually interesting about this development, and why it has people engaged. Then map that onto what we want to do with education (developing a generic “Aims of education” scoring sheet might be a useful thing here). It may be that, despite some surface similarities, once you do this, there isn’t much that is relevant for education. In which case, be prepared to ignore it.

Recognise the opportunity – while it is often the case that the things that make the headlines are not new (museums have been playing with AR for years), they do represent a breakthrough moment. There is no point decrying this, and saying “it should’ve been me (or this project over here)”. This sudden attention means things you might have wanted to do are now possible. Which brings me on to the next point.

Be experimental – the very worst thing to do is simply ape the commercial solution (hello MOOCs). So, just sticking Pokemon in your library might get some people through the door, but it won’t make them engage, and they’ll probably just leave litter in your nice atrium. Use the attention the new buzz has created to do different things that only universities can do.

I’m sure you will have other factors, but whatever they are, taking this higher level approach to every new technology will allow us to engage meaningfully, ignore hype and develop useful ed tech. I’m off now to capture a Jigglypuff in my garden.

Brexit silver linings

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Mon, 27/06/2016 - 10:09

Ok, this is my attempt to get out of the pit with this one, and find some positives. I don’t suggest all of these things will happen, but they might, as a result of the Brexit decision. They largely arise from the fact that it has been a disaster. Within hours the country was in financial and constitutional crisis, there was a Tour de France of backpedalling from Leave campaigners on their promises, it became apparent there was no plan and Britain had become the laughing stock of the world. By lunchtime after the victory the Brexit dream was dead, making it a contender for the shortest lived revolution in history. It now looks as though Johnson will seek a Norway deal. My guess is this will end up costing as much as we currently give and involve free movement of labour. Which pretty much makes the whole thing a monumental waste of time, but from the crisis we’re in now, a monumental waste of time begins to look like a pretty good deal.

So what might be the positives then? Here’s my attempt at happy face:

Closer EU union – rather than emboldening many exit feelings across Europe, I think they will now have a concrete example to look at and be able to say “that was a disaster, maybe this being in Europe thing isn’t so bad”.

The US is saved from Trump – in the US they may have thought there was no way a populist campaign based on lies, and targeting immigrants could be successful. Now they know it can and so can learn how to combat it.

A retreat from racism – there have been reports of an increase in racism as those elements feel emboldened by the result. However, it’s possible that once people actually see it, they will feel repulsed by it and rather than seeing a rise in racism, we are actually witnessing its death rattle. Okay, maybe this one is wishful thinking.

Political engagement of the young – many young people have felt very upset by this result (my own daughter is very despondent), but I think it will be a defining moment for many of them. They have been betrayed by politicians who have blatantly lied and used their futures for their own ambition, so they will need to get engaged themselves.

The last hurrah of newspaper influence – many who voted leave are already feeling tricked by the newspapers that promised a bold new future. In the future, Brexit will become a by-word for being duplicitous with the public and people will be more wary.

Being nice – I have been deeply touched by the nice comments from people around the world, sympathising with us in the UK. As Jo Cox commented we have more in common than that which divides us, and certainly I have felt this. At the same time of course there have been very painful divides and we will need to work hard to repair these. But to be reminded of decent humanity is a good thing.

The end of Europe as a topic – this has been such a divisive, unnecessary campaign that I don’t think anyone will want to go near the subject of Europe as a political topic for a generation. This will hopefully mean the end of Farage, one of the most despicable political figures in the last 50 years.

Now, I know there is quite a lot of wishful thinking in the above, and there is no need to tell me about all the negative issues, I’m very aware of them. But in the spirit of trying to have a group hug, my challenge is to post a positive possible outcome in the comments. We’ve got the rest of the internet to be angry in.

Yours, in despair

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Fri, 24/06/2016 - 07:14


The unthinkable has happened and Britain has voted to leave the EU. The nation stared into the abyss last week and I had hoped that would be enough to make it pull back, but no, it seems that 52% of my fellow Brits decided the abyss looked just fine and plunged in. I feel for my European colleagues who work and live in the UK. They must feel very uncertain about their future now in a country that has shown itself to be so aggressively anti-European.

This is a personal post, I’m not going to dissect the campaigns or implications here. I feel lost. It is not just the decision itself, but what it has revealed about the country I live in. Every aspect of the Leave campaign has illustrated that Britain is now a place where you cannot feel any sense of belonging. It demonstrated that being openly racist was now a viable political tactic for the first time since the 1930s. It was anti-intellectual, as experts were widely dismissed in favour of slogans. It was distinctly Kafkaesque when a rich city banker and aristocrat talk about fighting the elite, when a Prime Minister hopeful proudly boasts “I don’t listen to experts”. It was post-truth, with deliberate lies told repeatedly and no rational argument or model proposed. It was selfish, with most young people wanting to Remain, the over 65s who will the least affected, voted to Leave.

As a liberal, academic who tries to do research gathering evidence with European colleagues, this is pretty much my anti-society. It feels very different to when your side doesn’t win in a general election. I could always understand, even if I didn’t agree with, those choices. But my country has just voted gleefully for hatred and economic ruin. What am I supposed to do with that fact?

There have been many casual nazi references thrown around in this campaign. But the similarities are horrible – right wing demagogues coming to power by blaming the current financial problems on immigrants and employing hate based tactics. No-one in Britain ever gets to ask again “How did Nazi Germany happen?” In The Drowned and the Saved, Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi talks about letters he received from Germans. One of them seeks forgiveness, saying “Hitler appeared suspect to us, but decidedly the lesser of two evils. That all his beautiful words were falsehood and betrayal we did not understand at the beginning.” Levi replies angrily highlighting that Hitler’s intentions were always obvious. This sentiment will be expressed by the people who voted Leave in a few years time when the economy has worsened and things have lurched to the right too far even for them. “How could we have known we were being tricked?” they will cry. Yes, you were tricked, but only because you wanted to be. The facts were there but you chose to deliberately ignore them in favour of indulging self pity and rage. I will find it very difficult to forgive anyone who voted Leave for what they have done to this country and to my daughter’s future.

I know I should feel emboldened to fight on for the things I believe in, but at the moment I need to find personal tactics to get through it. This whole process has brought the full, boiling, rage of Brits to the surface and it’s been like living with YouTube commentators for the past few weeks. It has made me feel quite ill, and so I need to find tactics for dealing with the new reality, as the only thing I have at the moment is curling up in a ball in the corner. I’m taking a social media and news break for a while, I’ll walk my dog and try to tell my daughter that things will be ok.

Waking up on a Brexit morning

Professor Martin Weller's Blog - Wed, 15/06/2016 - 11:17

In order to get people to think through complex issues, one technique is to get them to envisage waking up the day after it has happened and imagining their feelings. Bizarrely, inexplicably, insanely, it seems that a British exit from Europe might actually be on the cards, so here is my attempt to imagine how I would feel on the morning of the 24th if that did occur. Note it is not an attempt to make reasoned argument (the Leave campaign seems largely post-rational and immune to any factual arguments anyway), but entirely a personal assessment. I think the emotions I would experience are as follows.

Anxiety – most observers seem agreed there will be a short to long term negative impact on the UK economy, with possibly an extra two years of austerity. After eight years of austerity, the thought of a deeper recession fills me with dread. In terms of universities we have just about accommodated the impact of fees, which has hit part-time study particularly hard. More uncertainty and lack of finance is unlikely to be a good thing. In addition a good deal of research funding comes from Europe, and although promises have been made to compensate for this, I feel the same money has been promised several times over, and in the end university research will be at the back of a long queue. I will also feel anxious about social cohesion – if we do enter a long, deep recession as a result of this national self-immolation, it will be difficult not to resent those who brought it upon us for no real gain.

Shame – I did my PhD as part of a European project and have been engaged with numerous research projects over the years. I collaborate and communicate with European colleagues on a regular basis. These interactions have been socially, culturally and intellectually enriching. I will feel a sense of shame that my country has chosen to abandon the European project.

Isolation – if you’re a large nation (the US, China) you don’t need to be part of a larger group. But generally it helps to be part of a collective social, economic, geographical group. Snubbing our local neighbours will make us more isolated in the world, as a nation. As an individual I feel that the campaign has not been one of project fear, but project anger. I’ve been dismayed by the casual racism, small minded mentality of many in the Leave camp (not all, there are justifiable reasons for being anti-EU). I will now feel trapped on a small island with angry people, grimly clutching their Tesco carrier bags and attempting to make a living by selling Royal Wedding souvenirs to each other. It doesn’t feel like a forward looking, progressive place to be.

Grief – like the end of a marriage there will be a sense of grief following the break-up. I am fully aware of the dubious history of Europe, but I do classify myself as a European. I like being with other Europeans. I appreciate that I am in a privileged position working in a university on joint research projects, so my experience is not the same as everyone else’s. Also I understand that the European Union isn’t devised for my entertainment. But in those European research projects is a microcosm of the grander European Project – people from different countries working on goals of joint interest, with shared values and celebrated differences. Whatever shape our relationships take with Europe following an exit, it will be much more difficult to realise this.

Of course Europe won’t disappear, I can still go on holiday there and attend conferences. But undeniably we will all wake up after a Brexit a lot less European. That is the point of it after all. And that fills me with sadness.

Non linear thinking

Will Woods's blog - Tue, 14/06/2016 - 14:13

I’ve been involved in supporting several workshops recently for the Open University around Leadership in Digital Innovation. This is one of the six strands of the new “Students First” strategy. We’ve run various workshops and events around this and we already have some great ideas coming through. The most recent workshop was to a select group of OU leaders about the leadership challenges (in my opinion we are all leaders, and personal leadership is what we should be developing here!).

The event was led by Dave Coplin the Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft and included a video by Martha Lane Fox, Chancellor of the Open University and creator of dot.everyone, and I’ve just seen that she is now on the board of Twitter.

I was  leading the online discussion which took place during the event and I thought it might be worth sharing with you some of my key takeaways (now I’m getting hungry).

Martha gave a great talk about the dangers of complacency and how organisations are either digital organisations or they are not digital (digital DNA?). The thing that most resonated with me however and was echoed by others was how we must be “..always and relentlessly focused on users”. This may seem obvious to most but in many ways it is easy for organisations to inadvertently do things that lead to greater separation with users. For me I believe that we have been neglectful when it comes to user testing for example compared to the rigourous approaches we had previously, we also don’t represent the users at senior level in the way we once did and I’ve been calling for the Open University to consider a “chief customer officer” rather than, or complementary to, a chief operating officer, so that the emphasis is advocacy of the students. Some Universities are creating a PVC (Student Experience) role for similar reasons. The introduction of TEF and quality measured against student satisfaction sharpens the focus in this area and as we look at student co-creation, co-production, student evangelists, students champions and student evaluators we also need to consider student advocacy.

Dave Coplin provided a inspiring and provocative talk on themes such as the end of the divide between work/life, with most people having access to better technology at home than at work yet we are forced to commuting in order to use lower tech in offices. He talked about us as a Victorian workforce still largely pinned to our desks to use connected technologies.  He talked about email, how it relies on us as the filter to the conversation moving further int he organisation, how most emails are not confidential and how we should ditch email as not the right technology. He talked about leadership changing to become about empowerment rather than control. He talked about lack of information flows across the organisation, about the potential for connectivism in work, about AI and predicting the future and about non linear thinking. He mentioned Skype Translator and how we no longer need to learn languages (yeah we all get the babelfish idea, but here I got uncomfortable about technologies reducing our ability for human discovery and improvement, language learning changes our brains and perhaps we shouldn’t just be so quick to lose that opportunity Dave? – to be fair he did say that we still need to develop core skills) and he finished off by saying that we need to focus on outcomes not process and concluded with the elephant powder anecdote which made a very good point about people doing stuff which adds no particular value.

After Dave’s provocations I led the online discussion and we had around six or seven people engaging in a stimulating discussion where we discussed topics including:

  1. How we are process driven and this affects how we manage change so we tend to have process led change which means we tackle little bits rather than the bigger goals and this seems to take away the creativity.
  2. How technology, when supporting our organisation, should be in the background and sometimes it appears to be in the foreground.
  3. The perceived tension between our regulatory and quality requirements and the need to take risk and innovate. We later concluded at our table that this was largely a demon of our own making (i.e. an internal perception rather than a reality) and that many universities find ways of working with QAA and regulatory bodies to manage the balance.
  4. Trust being a critical factor for the empowerment of staff at all levels.

Final there was a panel discussion with the Peter Horrocks (Vice Chancellor), Hazel Rymer (Acting Pro Vice Chancellor, Learning and Teaching Innovation) and Dave Coplin. Key quotes from that were “as Facebook say done is better than perfect“, “take the users with us on the journey”, “students as digital creators”, “everyone should have the opportunity to feed back”, “we need to challenge what we provide which is paid for versus what is given for free”, “we have gold standard bureaucracy”, “we must always and relentlessly focus on the user” and finally, a little controversially for a university “we should investigate what we can burn” (what are we doing that is of little value).

I’d like to hear your thoughts on these provocations, in the meantime I’m going to work with others across the OU to continue the discussion #OUDigitalInnovation

 


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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