Digital literacies toolkit

Earlier this year I presented at conference at the University of Southampton, and I was really impressed by the presentations, and work, of the students who were there, as I reflected in this blog post. The University is really pushing ahead in terms of providing real engagement opportunities for students with its Digital Champions project, and now the eLanguages Research and Development group have released their Digital Literacies Toolkit.

Inuagural Open Badges (Scotland) Working Group Meeting

Bill Clinton isn’t the only one creating a buzz about the open badges movement at the moment. Perhaps with slightly less coverage than the Clinton initiative, yesterday saw the first (Scottish) open badges working group meeting.

Organised by Grainne Hamilton at RSC Scotland, following the success and interest shown at their recent Open Badges Design Day, the meeting was very well attended with a group of really enthusiastic practitioners from across the Scottish education sector, many of whom are already implementing badges. There was also good representation from key agencies such as the SQA and the Colleges Development Network.

What struck me about the meeting was how much real buy-in and activity there was for badges from schools to colleges to universities. Whilst there was a lot of diversity in approaches (most people implementing badges are still at pilot stages), there were also a number of common themes of interest for future developments including badges for staff development purposes and the sharing of implementation of “badging” through VLEs in particular Moodle and Blackboard.

One of the great selling points of badges is their potential to bridge the gap between achievement and attainment of formal qualifications and give people (and in particular students) more opportunities to present things which aren’t recognised through formal qualifications. This was a prime motivator for many at the working group as they want to be able to allow students more ways to showcase/sell themselves to potential employers, and not have to rely on formal qualifications. This of course links to developments around e-portfolios.

There was also a lot of interest in using badges for staff development within colleges and universities. RSC Scotland is already paving the in this respect as they have developed a range of badges for their online courses and events, and a number of colleges are beginning to use badges for staff development activities.

Over the coming months a number of sub-groups will be forming around some of the key areas identified at yesterdays meeting, setting up a shared workspace and of course, most importantly sharing their work with each other and the wider working group, and of course the rest of the community.

If yesterday afternoon was anything to go by, there will be lots more to share around the development and implementation of badges. I’m certainly looking forward to being part of this exciting new group, and thanks again to Grainne and Fionnuala and the RSC for bringing this group together and their commitment to supporting it over the coming year.

IT departments – the institutional fall guy for MOOCs?

The Fall Guy

The Fall Guy

(Image from IMDB

As Martin Weller pointed out earlier this week there are a growing number of MOOC metaphors being created. As I’ve been following the tweets from today’s “#moocapalooza ” (a hashtag I think invented by David Kernohan) a.k.a. Open and Online Learning making the most of MOOCs and other Models Conference I think I need to to add the Fall Guy to Martin’s list, particularly after reading this tweet.

I’m going to try and not too much in this post, and I apologise for taking this tweet at face value and out with its original context, but . . . Isn’t this just another one of those MOOC myths that twist the reality of what happens within institutions to suit the “education is broken we must build something else” mind set? As Martin Hawskey and Lorna Campbell both said in response to David’s tweet it’s not the systems that are the problem.

I’m going to stick my neck out (not too far) and say every technology you need to run a MOOC is available within every University. I’ve not seen anything in my adventures in MOOC-land that has made me think “oh wow, wish we could have one of those back in the non-MOOC world”. There are VLEs, blogs, wikis aplenty. And IT departments do a sterling job in keeping these running for all that “non MOOC stuff” that Universities do. You know, the dull and boring things you need to do “traditional” teaching.

Yesterday during a webinar on analytics and assessment and feedback, Rachel Forsyth (MMU) shared some of their learning system analytics data. Since the beginning of this year they’ve had over 8 million hits on their mobile interface which allows students to access key information like assessment marks, timetables and reading lists. At key points of in the year they have over 100,000 assignments being submitted electronically. I suspect many institutions are working at this scale. So I don’t think it’s a question of IT department’s not being up to delivering MOOCs, I think it’s more that they have quite a lot to do already and adding another potentially x000,000 of users is not something that can be undertaken lightly, or without any cost implications.

Investing in internal IT resources isn’t seen as a key part of MOOC development strategy. Why would it be when Coursera etc have been able to get money to build systems. In many ways using an external platform like FutureLearn is a very sensible option. It means that experiments with MOOCs can take place without putting additional strain on existing resources. We all know, or should do by now, that there’s no such thing as a free MOOC and that includes the infrastructure they sit within. So let’s not let another myth develop that the HE sector don’t have the technology or the ability to deliver MOOCs. They do, it’s just that it’s already working at capacity delivering their day to day business.

In a galaxy far, far, far away . . .

Do you ever get the feeling that you are living in a parallel universe? I do. Particularly this week when the “Major players in the MOOC Universe” infographic was published by The Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It was retweeted, google+’ed everywhere almost instantly. But this wasn’t a view of the MOOC universe I know of, there were quite a few bits missing. A bit like the “World Series” this was an almost completely U.S centric view. The big bang MOOC moment certainly didn’t happen slightly north of this universe.

Despite the efforts of informed commentators such as Audrey Watters, to correct the new revisionism of the history of MOOCs, the U.S centric vision seems to be winning out. Martin Weller’s response to Donald Clark’s take on MOOC developments eloquently states a number of my concerns about revisionism and the development of MOOCs and the so called MOOC wars.

But I can sort of see myself in this universe, all be it, in a very small dark corner. I can see, and know who the “big shiny lights” are in the centre, and dream of being part of the rebel alliance, and becoming an apprentice of Obi Weller Kenobi . . .

Yesterday though I felt almost like I had crossed into the 13th dimension. I entered a place where no-one had heard of MOOCs. Yes that’s right – they hadn’t heard of MOOCs. My colleague Lorna Campbell and I had been invited to the Scottish eLearning Alliance Local Authority SIG meeting to give an overview of our work. Lorna spoke about open educational resources, and as is my want of late, I did a bit about MOOCs. Unsurprisingly for increasingly cash strapped local authorities the free part of open was very attractive. Those in charge of developing and running training programmes are always looking for new ways to enhance their offerings. However as the discussion progressed it became clear that there is still one key missing ingredient that all the open content and courses in universe(s) don’t include, and that is time. You need time to engage with learning. Although online provision of education/resources has fundamentally changed access points, it hasn’t meant that we need less time to engage.

As you know dear reader, I have done my fair share of MOOCing over the past few months. It’s probably been the best (well actually it’s been the only) PDP I’ve done in my eight years with Cetis. But I am in an incredibly privileged position where I have been able to combine professional and personal development. I have been able to legitimately use some work time to contribute to a number of courses, and in turn in my own small way contribute to some of the wider discourse and dialogue. So although I was delighted to read that Coursera are now going to be providing course for K12 teachers, I couldn’t help but have a slight sinking feeling of this being staff development on the cheap. Will teachers be given some legitimate study time and recognition to take part or will it just be the really motivated ones (who probably aren’t the ones who really need this time of development) that will just “find the time” to take part? Will there be state wide flipped classrooms for teacher staff development ? Wouldn’t it be great if there was?

There’s also a huge assumption that everyone has the (digital) literacies needed to engage successfully with any kind of online learning. This was a key concern for some of the people at yesterday’s meeting. There’s a reason distance learning providers such as the OU have developed extensive study skills resources for their students. A MOOC on MOOCing isn’t daft idea, it just sounds slightly daft when you say it out loud.

Anyway I guess to end this slightly rambling post, that we need to remember that despite the hype in “our” universe(s), there’s a whole set of parallel universes that haven’t heard about MOOCs yet. They could very well benefit from MOOCs and from open education in general, but education is more than resources and courses. It’s about human interaction and time. In our rush to create new universes let’s not forget these universal principles and cherish the time that a University degree gives to students and indeed the time that any educational experience deserves.