Last weekend, a motley crew of designers, students, developers, business and government people came together in Edinburgh to prototype designs and apps to help learners manage their journeys. With help, I built a prototype that showed how curriculum and course offering data can be combined with e-portfolios to help learners find their way.
The first official Scottish government data jam, facilitated by Snook and supported by TechCube, is part of a wider project to help people navigate the various education and employment options in life, particularly post 16. The jam was meant to provide a way to quickly prototype a wide range of ideas around the learner journey theme.
While many other teams at the jam built things like a prototype social network, or great visualisations to help guide learners through their options, we decided to use the data that was provided to help see what an infrastructure could look like that supported the apps the others were building.
In a nutshell, I wanted to see whether a mash-up of open data in open standard formats could help answer questions like:
- Where is the learner in their journey?
- Where can we suggest they go next?
- What can help them get there?
- Who can help or inspire them?
Here’s a slide deck that outlines the results. For those interested in the nuts and bolts read on to learn more about how we got there.
Where is the learner?
To show how you can map where someone is on their learning journey, I made up an e-portfolio. Following an excellent suggestion by Lizzy Brotherstone of the Scottish Government, I nicked a story about ‘Ryan’ from an Education Scotland website on learner journeys. I recorded his journey in a Mahara e-portfolio, because it outputs data in the standard LEAP2a format- I could have used PebblePad as well for the same reason.
I then transformed the LEAP2a XML into very rough but usable RDF using a basic stylesheet I made earlier. Why RDF? Because it makes it easy for me to mash up the portfolios with other datasets; other data formats would also work. The made-up curriculum identifiers were added manually to the RDF, but could easily have been taken from the LEAP2a XML with a bit more time.
Where can we suggest they go next?
I expected that the Curriculum for Excellence would provide the basic structure to guide Ryan from his school qualifications to a college course. Not so, or at least, not entirely. The Scottish Qualifications Framework gives a good idea of how courses relate in terms of levels (i.e. from basic to a PhD and everything in between), but there’s little to join subjects. After a day of head scratching, I decided to match courses to Ryan’s qualifications by level and comparing the text of titles. We ought to be able to do better than that!
The course data set was provided to us was a mixture of course descriptions from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, and actual running courses offered by Scottish colleges all in one CSV file. During the jam, Devon Walshe of TechCube made a very comprehensive data set of all courses that you should check out, but too late for me. I had a brief look at using XCRI feeds like the ones from Adam Smith college too, but went with the original CSV in the end. I tried using LOD Refine to convert the CSV to RDF, but it got stuck on editing the RDF harness for some reason. Fortunately, the main OpenRefine version of the same tool worked its usual magic, and four made-up SQA URIs later, we were in business.
This query takes the email of Ryan as a unique identifier, then finds his qualification subjects and level. That’s compared to all courses from the data jam course data set, and whittled down to those courses that match Ryan’s qualifications and are above the level he already has.
The result: too many hits, including ones that are in subjects that he’s unlikely to be interested in.
So let’s throw in his interests as well. Result: two courses that are ideal for Ryan’s skills, but are a little above his level. So we find out all the sensible courses that can take him to his goal.
What can help them get there?
One other quirk about the curriculum for excellence appears to be that there are subject taxonomies, but they differ per level. Intralect implemented a very nice one that can be used to tag resources up to level 3 (we think). So Intralect’s Janek exported the vocabulary in two CSV files, which I imported in my triple store. He then built a little web service in a few hours that takes the outcome of this query, and returns a list of all relevant resources in the Intralibrary digital repository for stuff that Ryan has already learned, but may want to revisit.
Who can help or inspire them?
It’s always easier to have someone along for the journey, or to ask someone who’s been before you. That’s why I made a second e-portfolio for Paula. Paula is a year older than Ryan, is from a different, but nearby school, and has done the same qualifications. She’s picked the same qualification as a goal that we suggested to Ryan, and has entered it as a goal on her e-portfolio. Ryan can get it touch with her over email.
This query takes the course suggested to Ryan, and matches it someone else’s stated academic goal, and reports on what she’s done, what school she’s from, and her contact details.
For those parts of the Curriculum for Excellence for which experiences and outcomes have been defined, it’d be very easy to be very precise about progression, future options, and what resources would be particularly helpful for a particular learner at a particular part of the journey. For the crucial post 16 years, this is not really possible in the same way right now, though it’s arguable that its all the more important to have solid guidance at that stage.
Some judicious information architecture would make a lot more possible without necessarily changing the syllabus across the board. Just a model that connects subject areas across the levels, and school and college tracks would make more robust learner journey guidance possible. Statements that clarify which course is an absolute pre-requisite for another, and which are suggested as likely or preferable would make it better still.
We have the beginnings of a map for learner journeys, but we’re not there yet.
Other than that, I think agreed identifiers and data formats for curriculum parts, electronic portfolios or transcripts and course offerings can enable a whole range of powerful apps of the type that others at the data jam built, and more. Thanks to standards, we can do that without having to rely on a single source of truth or a massive system that is a single point of failure.
Find out all about the other great hacks on the learner journey data jam website.
All the data and bits of code I used are available on github
Writing in Booksprints
A booksprint is a facilitated, highly structured intensive writing process. This booksprint ran for two and a half days, involved four people and was facilitated by Adam Hyde. The aim of the sprint was to produce a synthesis and summary of the technical outputs of the UKOER Programmes Once a chapter is written it’s passed on to another author, not for editing but co-creation. The initial author does not “own” the chapter. During this sprint each chapter was re-written by three authors. The team used Booki.cc open source authoring platform to facilitate the collaborative writing. Booki is much like other collaborative writing applications but incorporates additional tools for ebook creation. By the end of the two and a half day sprint the team had written a 22,000 word book. Some of the authors were concerned that the quality of the writing would be compromised but this does not seem to have been the case. Colleagues who have read and reviewed the book have all responded positively to it.
Booksprints are ideal for people who have a shared conception of a topic and want to present it together, or alternatively want to present different aspect of a topic. The content has to be material that is already known to the authors. This is not unlike the situation lecturers are in when they are producing course materials. Booksprints could be an excellent way to produce educational resources as it’s an inherently open approach to content production. We talk a lot about sharing educational resources but we don’t talk nearly enough about sharing the effort of creating those resources. In order to produce really high quality resources we need to share the task of content creation
For further information on booksprints, see booksprints.net
Libraries, OA research and OER: towards symbiosis?
Leeds Metropolitan University have established a blended repository to manage both their research and teaching and learning resources, including OERs. They have been involved in a number of JISC funded projects including the Unicycle UKOER project. The blended repository was originally based on Intralibrary and they have now implemented Symplectic. There has been considerable emphasis on developing research management workflows.
Open access to research is changing dramatically in light of Finch and role of institutional repositories and there are synergies with Creative Commons potentially being mandated by Research Councils UK. Nick also referred to Lorcan Dempsey’s recent posts on “Inside Out” libraries, which focus on the changing role of institutional repositories and libraries.
Leeds Met have worked closely with Jorum and Nick said that he believed that the new Jorum API is a game changer which will allow them to close the institutional OER circle.
Why bother with open education?
Presenter and authors: Viv Rolfe & Mark Fowler, De Montfort University
Session: LT77, #abs77
De Montfort have undertake a huge body of OER work since 2009. OER is incorporated into the institutional strategy for teaching an learning and OER is also is part of the De Montfort PG cert course.
Despite this, when the team interviewed senior executives about OER, none could name any major institutional projects. They saw the marketing potential of OER but didn’t appreciate the potential of OERs to enhance learning. There is a distinct lack of buy in from senior staff and a lot of work is needed to change their mindsets.
Student researcher Libor Hurt undertook a student survey on attitudes to OER. 28% had heard of OERs. OERs are used to supplement lectures and for informal learning. They are seen as being good for catching up with complex subjects but are less used to study for assessments. Students overwhelmingly share stuff with each other, usually through facebook and e-mail. This is naturally how students work now and could have a major impact on OER down the line. Students also loved producing OERs, lab videos and quiz MCQs. However while students are happy to share within the university, they are less happy about sharing their OERs with the public, or those that are not paying fees. Institutional strategies need to be mindful of this and need to communicate that universities are not giving away whole courses, they are just sharing some of the best bits. Only a few students cited plagiarism concerns as a reason not to share. From a student perspective, there is a real tension between paying fees and sharing OERs
It doesn’t matter if everyone in the institution isn’t sharing, as long as there are enough to get momentum going. However it is important to get senior managers on board, OERs need to be enshrined in institutional policy.
Taking care of business: OER and the bottom line
Talking about open in a closed education system is a lightening conductor for many thorny issues – power, control, ownership, identity, pedagogy, technical infrastructure, cultures, policy, strategy and business models. The OER space is a very productive but scary space.
Media is about coproduction and teaching is itself a form of media production. Coventry fell into open learning with the #Phonar and Creative Activism #creativact courses which opened up their classes. Rather than having courses led by individuals, they now have teams of people all thinking and operating in different ways. Professional partners have also shown an interest in participating in these courses. They are thinking about how they conceive the design process of teaching, and are working with students and professional partners to let content evolve.
OER is a political problem, you need to lobby senior management. OERs don’t just open up content, they change institutional practice. There are many unintended consequences and we need to deal with new educational and economic models of co-production.
From the blurb:
Between 2009 and 2012 the Higher Education Funding Council funded a series of programmes to encourage higher education institutions in the UK to release existing educational content as Open Educational Resources. The HEFCE-funded UK OER Programme was run and managed by the JISC and the Higher Education Academy. The JISC CETIS “OER Technology Support Project” provided support for technical innovation across this programme. This book synthesises and reflects on the approaches taken and lessons learnt across the Programme and by the Support Project.
This book is not intended as a beginners guide or a technical manual, instead it is an expert synthesis of the key technical issues arising from a national publicly-funded programme. It is intended for people working with technology to support the creation, management, dissemination and tracking of open educational resources, and particularly those who design digital infrastructure and services at institutional and national level.
You may remember Lorna writing back in August that Amber Thomas, Martin Hawksey, Lorna and I had written 90% of this book together in a Book Sprint. Well, the last 10% and the publication turned in to a bit of a marathon-relay, something about which I might write some time, but now the book is available in a variety of formats:
- If you want glossy-covered paperback, then you can order it print-on-demand from Lulu (£3.36); if you’re not so fussed about the glossy cover and binding then there is a print-quality pdf you can print yourself.
- If you have an ePub reader you can download, there is a free download of an epub2 file.
- If you have a Kindle, you can download the .mobi file and transfer it, or if you prefer the convenience of Amazon’s distribution over whisper-net you can buy it from them (77p, they don’t seem to distribute for free unless you agree to give them exclusive rights for all electronic formats).
- finally, if you prefer your ebook reading as PDFs, there is one of those too.
All varieties are free or at minimum cost for the distribution channel used; the content is cc-by licensed and editable versions are available if you wish to remix and fix what we’ve done.