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.

Primarily aimed at students to:

“*explore the educational uses of Web 2.0 tools and services;
*familiarise themselves with a range of useful applications for study-related purposes;
*highlight good practice in the use of social software and the internet, in general.”

the toolkit consists of a number of sections including video/audio/quizzes and input from real students about their views of what digital literacy means to them and how digital engagement can enhance job prospects. Other topics covered include online identity, collaborating online, personal learning environments and using other people’s online content responsibly – which sounds a lot less scary than copyright :-)

A great open resource for students and staff anywhere. Well done to all the team involved in creating and releasing it.

More resources around digital literacy are also available from the Jisc Design Studio.

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.

Why we need more Rhino’s like Erica promoting digital literacy

I was delighted to take part in the University of Southampton’s 2nd digital literacies conference (#sotonmooc) event yesterday. I gave a presentation on my experiences of being a student on MOOCs. However, what really made the day for me was hearing from some “real” students about the range work they have been involved in as part of the University’s DigiChampions project. The project has been incredibly successful in getting students involved in the concept of digital literacy and getting them to provide support to their peers in a whole range of ways as this video rather neatly explains.

The development of digital literacies is increasingly been recognised as vital for the success of our student population both whilst they are studying and also when they move into the workplace.

“By digital literacy we mean those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. “ (JISC)

It was fantastic to hear students share so eloquently their understanding of the importance of being able to use social networks effectively – not only for studying but also to improve their chances of getting a job. As we watched student created videos and a range of other presentations, it was clear just how much the students appreciated the innovative approaches of modules such as “living and working on the web”. Having time to develop skills and networks as part and parcel of undergraduate activities has certainly seemed to pay pretty significant dividends in terms of students developing contacts with potential employers and in several cases in terms of them securing a full time job. Watch the video to see for yourself.

But what about the Rhino I hear you ask? Well another one of the student driven projects is Erica the Rhino. Erica is a cyber rhino, who is being developed in a truly interdisciplinary way.

I thought this was just a fantastic project. I’m now following Erica on twitter and looking forward to hearing updates from when she is released into the wilds of Southampton. We need more projects like this.

Many thanks to Fiona Harvey and Hugh Davies (and everyone at Southampton involved in organising and running the event) for inviting me. It really was inspiring to hear from the students.

More information about the day is available from the event website. It will be being updated with presentations (and I think recordings) over the next few days. You can also catch up on the tweets and pictures from the event here.

Acting on Assessment Analytics – new case study

Despite the hype around it, getting started with learning analytics can be a challenge for most everyday lecturers. What can you actually do with data once you get it? As more “everyday” systems (in particular online assessment tools) are able to provide data and/or customised reports, it is getting easier to start applying and using analytics approaches in teaching and learning.  

The next case study in our Analytics series focuses on the work of Dr Cath Ellis and colleagues at the University of Huddersfield. It illustrates how they are acting on the data from their e-submission system, not only to enhance and refine their feedback to students, but also to help improve their approaches to assessment and overall curriculum design.  
At the analytics session at #cetis13 Ranjit Sidhu pointed out that local data can be much more interesting and useful than big data. This certainly rings true for teaching and learning.  Using very local data, Cath and her colleagues are developing a workshop approach to sharing generic assessment data with students in a controlled and emotionally secure environment. The case study also highlights issues around data handling skills and the need for more evidence of successful interventions through using analtyics. 

You can access the full case study here

We are always looking for potential case studies to add to our collection, so if you are doing some learning analtyics related work and would be willing to share your experiences in this way, then please get in touch.

Badges? Certificates? What counts as succeeding in MOOCs?

Oops, I did it again. I’ve now managed to complete another MOOC. Bringing my completion rate of to a grand total of 3 (the non completion number is quite a bit higher but more on that later). And I now have 6 badges from #oldsmooc and a certificate (or “statement of accomplishment”) from Coursera.

My #oldsmooc badges

My #oldsmooc badges

Screenshot of Coursera record of achievement

Screenshot of Coursera record of achievement

But what do they actually mean? How, if ever, will/can I use these newly gained “achievements”?

Success and how it is measured continues to be one of the “known unknowns” for MOOCs. Debate (hype) on success is heightened by the now recognised and recorded high drop out rates. If “only” 3,000 registered users complete a MOOC then it must be failing, mustn’t it? If you don’t get the certificate/badge/whatever then you have failed. Well in one sense that might be true – if you take completion to equate with success. For a movement that is supposed to be revolutionising the (HE) system, the initial metrics some of the big xMOOCs are measuring and being measured by are pretty traditional. Some of the best known success of recent years have been college “drop outs’, so why not embrace that difference and the flexibility that MOOCs offer learners?

Well possibly because doing really new things and introducing new educational metrics is hard and even harder to sell to venture capitalists, who don’t really understand what is “broken” with education. Even for those who supposedly do understand education e.g. governments find any change to educational metrics (and in particular assessments) really hard to implement. In the UK we have recent examples of this with Michael Gove’s proposed changes to GSCEs and in Scotland the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence has been a pretty fraught affair over the last five years.

At the recent #unitemooc seminar at Newcastle, Suzanne Hardy told us how “empowered” she felt by not submitting a final digital artefact for assessment. I suspect she was not alone. Suzanne is confident enough in her own ability not to need a certificate to validate her experience of participating in the course. Again I suspect she is not alone. From my own experience I have found it incredibly liberating to be able to sign up for courses at no risk (cost) and then equally have no guilt about dropping out. It would mark a significant sea change if there was widespread recognition that not completing a course didn’t automatically equate with failure.

I’ve spoken to a number of people in recent weeks about their experiences of #oldsmooc and #edcmooc and many of them have in their own words “given up”. But as discussion has gone on it is apparent that they have all gained something from even cursory participation either in terms of their own thinking about possible involvement in running a MOOC like course, or about realising that although MOOCs are free there is still the same time commitment required as with a paid course.

Of course I am very fortunate that I work and mix with a pretty well educated bunch of people, who are in the main part really interested in education, and are all well educated with all the recognised achievements of a traditional education. They are also digital literate and confident enough to navigate through the massive online social element of MOOCs, and they probably don’t need any more validation of their educational worth.

But what about everyone else? How do you start to make sense of the badges, certificates you may or may not collect? How can you control the way that you show these to potential employers/Universities as part of any application? Will they mean anything to those not familiar with MOOCs – which is actually the vast majority of the population. I know there are some developments in California in terms of trying to get some MOOCs accredited into the formal education system – but it’s very early stages.

Again based on my own experience, I was quite strategic in terms of the #edcmooc, I wrote a reflective blog post for each week which I was then able to incorporate into my final artefact. But actually the blog posts were of much more value to me than the final submission or indeed the certificate (tho I do like the spacemen). I have seem an upward trend in my readership, and more importantly I have had lots of comments, and ping backs. I’ve been able to combine the experience with my own practice.

Again I’m very fortunate in being able to do this. In so many ways my blog is my portfolio. Which brings me a very convoluted way to my point in this post. All this MOOC-ery has really started me thinking about e-portfolios. I don’t want to use the default Coursera profile page (partly because it does show the course I have taken and “not received a certificate” for) but more importantly it doesn’t allow me to incorporate other non Coursera courses, or my newly acquired badges. I want to control how I present myself. This relates quite a lot to some of the thoughts I’ve had about using Cloudworks and my own educational data. Ultimately I think what I’ve been alluding to there is also the development of a user controlled e-portfolio.

So I’m off to think a bit more about that for the #lak13 MOOC. Then Lorna Campbell is going to start my MOOC de-programming schedule. I hope to be MOOC free by Christmas.

Cetis Analytics Series Volume 2: Engaging with Analytics

Our first set of papers around analytics in education has been published, and with nearly 17,000 downloads, it would seem that there is an appetite for resources around this topic. We are now moving onto phase of our exploration of analytics and accompanying this will be a range of outputs including some more briefing papers and case studies. Volume 1 took a high level view of the domain, volume 2 will take a much more user centred view including a number of short case studies sharing experiences of a range of early adopters who are exploring the potential of taking a more analytics based approach.

The first case study features Jean Mutton, Student Experience Project Manager, at the University of Derby. Jean shares with us how her journey into the world of analytics started and how and where she and the colleagues across the university she has been working with, see the potential for analytics to have an impact on improving the student experience.

University of Derby, student engagement factors

University of Derby, student engagement factors

The case study is available to download here.

We have a number of other case studies identified which we’ll be publishing over the coming months, however we are always looking for more examples. So if you are working with analytics have some time to chat with us, we’d love to hear from you and share your experiences in this way too. Just leave a comment or email me (

Bye bye #edcmooc

So #edcmooc is now over, our digital artefacts have been submitted and reviewed and we all now move on.

I thought it would be useful to reflect on the final submission and peer review process as I have questioned how that would actually work in a couple of earlier posts. The final submission for the course was to create a digital artefact which would be peer reviewed.

The main criteria for creating the artefact were:

* it will contain a mixture of two or more of: text, image, sound, video, links.
* it will be easy to access and view online.
* it will be stable enough to be assessed for at least two weeks.

We had to submit a url via the Coursera LMS and then we were each assigned 3 other artefacts to assess. You had the option to assess more if you wished. The assessment criteria were as follows:

1. The artefact addresses one or more themes for the course
2. The artefact suggests that the author understands at least one key concept from the course
3. The artefact has something to say about digital education
4. The choice of media is appropriate for the message
5. The artefact stimulates a reaction in you, as its audience, e.g. emotion, thinking, action

You will assign a score to each digital artefact

0 = does not achieve this, or achieves it only minimally
1 = achieves this in part
2 = achieves this fully or almost fully

This is the first time I’ve done peer review and it was a very interesting process. In terms of the electronic process, the system made things very straightforward, and there was time to review draft submissions before submitting. I’m presuming that artefacts were allocated on a random basis too. On reflection the peer process was maybe on the “lite” side, but given the scope and scale of this course I think that is entirely appropriate.

My three allocated artefacts were really diverse both in style, content and substance. Whilst reviewing I did indeed reflect back on what I had done and wished I had the imagination and time of some of my peers, and I could have spent hours going through more but I had to stop myself. Overall I am still satisfied with my submission which you can explore below or follow this link.

2/2 all round for me and some very positive comments from my peers, so thank you – although as one of my reviewers did point out I maybe did push the time limits a bit far:

“The choice of the media is also apt but I guess the only little drawback is that the artifact far exceeds the guidelines on how big the artifact should be (actually it’s a gist of the entire course and not a little five-minute artifact!). “

Overall I really enjoyed #edcmooc, it made me think about things from different perspectives as well as confirming some of my personal stances on technology in education. It was well paced and I liked that it used openly available content where possible. Now I’m bit more experienced at MOOC-ing didn’t take up too much of my time. The course team made some subtle adjustments to the content and instruction over the duration which again was entirely appropriate and showed they were listening if not talking to everyone. I didn’t feel a lack of tutor contact, but then again I didn’t interact in the discussion spaces as much as I could have, and this is also an topic area where I was relatively comfortable exploring at my own pace.

It’s also been quite a counter balance to the #oldsmooc course I’m also doing (which started before #edcmooc and finishes next week), but I’ll share more about that in another post.

Also feel free to assess my artefact and share your comments here too using the criteria above.

**Update, I’ve just received an email from the course team. Apparently the process didn’t work as smoothly for some as it did for me. They are investigating and encouraging people who couldn’t share their artefacts to use the course forums. Hopefully this will get sorted soon.

Tin Can API new solution, same problem?

I’ve just caught up with the SoLAR webinar featuring Megan Bowe talking about the Tin Can API. Tin Can is being supported by ADL and is in many ways an evolutionary step from the SCORM heavily content driven approach to a specification that is much more flexible and context and activity driven.

It is being designed so that it can work with SCORM content but also pull in data from a multitude of other sources. The idea is that this data is stored in a Learning Record Store (LRS) on top of which reporting or visualisation (of particular interest of course to the SoLAR community) can sit. Being concerned with storing activity data it has used bits of the activity streams spec but is adding to that to make it more relevant for learning activity. There are also similarities between it and RDF. Tin Can is based on actor/verb/object statements which has a familiar subject/predicate/ ring to it and it also uses URIs. However Tin Can is as Megan put it not as “chatty” as RDF.

The spec is at very early stages and work on it has only really being going on for about a year. It is taking a very open development approach which is always good, and there does seem to be growing interest in it from vendors. But it does suffer from the age old problem of adoption. Megan was very up front about the difficulties in building LRS’, but if you have a lack of LRS’s then there is a following lack of reporting/visualisation layers for people to experiment with. The initial support (not surprisingly) seems to be coming from the commercial training sector. One example of this is MapDeck, a powerpoint aggregation and remix tool which uses the Tin Can API primarily in its search functionality. Megan also highlighted Tappestry (a mobile interface) which I have actually downloaded but to be honest never quite figured out how to incorporated into my daily activity. I think that might be more a personal #fail than a technical/UI one.

Of course. like any specification, to get traction takes time and as Megan said they are still at the “baby steps” stage just now, and I think the initiative should be given credit for taking a radical shift from the SCORM model. Getting past the baby steps stage is going to be quite a challenge and I do wonder if in education initiatives like iBloom which Lorna reported on recently might detract development activity away from building the kind of LRS’ advocated by Tin Can. There was also some discussion about the use of LTI (which connects systems and can pass limited amounts of data at the moment), but again it seemed that this is probably a next stage development. At the moment I think it’s fair to say that LTI and Tin Can are looking at slightly different types of system connections.

Anyway if you are interested in finding out more I would recommend having a listen to Megan’s presentation and looking at the Tin Can API website.