Open Scotland, the twitter story

Yesterday Cetis, in collaboration with SQA, ALT-Scotland and the Jisc RSC Scotland hosted the Open Scotland Summit. The event, brought together senior managers, policy makers and key thinkers, will provide an opportunity for critical reflection on the national and global impact of open education (see Lorna’s blog post for more information and background to the event) .

There was a lot of really engaging discussion over the course of the day and we will be following up on that over the next week with some more detailed reflections and other outputs. However, to give a quick flavour of the day and the discussions it inspired, I’ve pulled together a summary of the #openscot twitter back channel.

Meanwhile back in the real world . . .

We’re all very guilty of getting caught up in our “own wee worlds” and sometimes it we all need to just “step away from the computer”. I recently did just that. I had a week’s annual leave, and came back to the usual overflowing in-box.

In one sense I felt I’d missed a lot, but have the reassurance of colleagues and networks who can bring me up to speed if necessary. It seems we are just about over the threat of MOOCs too (see Martin Weller’s post. Universities as we know them are no longer doomed – hurrah, people might even stop using the word – hurrah, we can all move on to the next shiny thing. But there has been a lot of (justified) concern about licences, terms and conditions (see Lorna’s excellent post on FutureLearn’s t&cs ).

But then yesterday I was sharply reminded that what I had missed in a week is really nothing compared to what is actually being related and shared to the wider community. So much just passes everyone by. I was asked to speak on a BBC Scotland Radio show about MOOCs. I know, not exactly hitting the big time, but hey it was the Fred MacAulay show :-) – he’s on Radio 4 sometimes and even gets on the telly every now and again. What struck me when I was speaking to the researcher and during the (very) short interview is how taken “normal people” were by the notion of having more and free access to education. In the UK anyway, most non ed tech people have missed all the hype (and angst) and are actually more interested in just finding out about how they can find ways to learn some “stuff”. So hopefully we can, as Martin says in his blog, take comfort that “back in the real world” people really do want more “access and experimentation and not hype and commercialism”. The big messages are getting across, however slowly it seem to us.

If you are at all interested the interview is available to listen to again via the BBC iplayer (the interview starts at 5mins 20 and last a little over 5 minutes and I did manage to blow the “MOOCs started in America” myth.

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.

Deconstructing my (dis)engagement with MOOCs part 2

Following from my early post, I’ve attempted to use the classifiers outlined in the #lak13 paper on disengagement in MOOCs, in the context of my experiences. Obviously I’ve modified things a bit as what I’m doing is more of a self reflection of my personal context -so I’ve made the labels past tense. I’m also doing a presentation next week at the University of Southampton on the learner perspective of MOOCs and thought that these classifications would be a good way to talk about my experiences.

Firstly here are the MOOCs I’ve signed up for over ( the ? years are when I was aware but not active in MOOCs)

MOOCs I've took!

MOOCs I've took!

Now with the course engagement labels

My MOOC engagement with labels

My MOOC engagement with labels

And finally aligned to trajectory labels

My MOOC participation using trajectory labels

My MOOC participation using trajectory labels

A big caveat, not completing, disengaging and dropping out does not mean I didn’t learn from each he experience and context of each course.

More to come next week including the full presentation.

Deconstructing my own (dis)engagement with MOOCs

No educational technology conference at the moment is complete without a bit of MOOC-ery and #lak13 was no exception. However the “Deconstructing disengagement: analyzing learner sub-populations in massive open online courses” paper was a move on from the familiar territory of broad, brush stroke big numbers towards a more nuanced view of some of the emerging patterns of learners across three Stanford based Coursera courses.

The authors have created:

” a simple, scalable, and informative classification method that identifies a small number of longitudinal engagement trajectories in MOOCs. Learners are classified based on their patterns of interaction with video lectures and assessments, the primary features of most MOOCs to date . . .”

” . . .the classifier consistently identifies four prototypical trajectories of engagement.”

As I listened to the authors present the paper I couldn’t help but reflect on my own recent MOOC experience. Their classifier labels (auditing, completing, sampling, disengaging) made a lot of sense to me. At times I have been in all four “states” of auditing, completing, disengaging and sampling.

The study investigated typical Coursera courses which mainly take the talking head video, quiz, discussion forum, final assignment format and suggested that use of the framework to identify sub-populations of learners would allow more customisation of courses and (hopefully) more engagement and I guess ultimately completion.

I did find it interesting that they identified that completing learners were most active on forums, something that contradicts my (limited) experience. I’ve signed up for a number of the science-y type Coursera courses and have sampled and disengaged. Compare that to the recent #edcmooc which again was run through Coursera but didn’t use the talking head-quiz-forum design. Although I didn’t really engage with the discussion forums (I tried but they just “don’t do it for me”) I did feel very engaged with the content, the activities, my peers and I completed the course.

I’ve spoken to a number of fellow MOOC-ers recently and they’re not that keen on the discussion forums either. Of course, it’s highly likely that people I speak to are like me and probably interact more on their blogs and twitter than in discussion forums. Maybe its an arts/science thing ? Shorter discussions? I don’t really know, but at scale I find any discussion forum challenging, time consuming and to be completely honest a bit of a waste of time.

The other finding to emerge from the study was that completing and auditing (those that just watch the videos and don’t necessarily contribute to forums or submit assignments) sub-populations have the best experiences of the courses. Again drawing on my own experiences, I can see why this could be the case. Despite dropping out of courses, the videos I’ve watched have all been “good” in the sense that they were of a high technical quality, and the content was very clear. So I’ve watched and thought “oh, I didn’t know that/ oh, so that’s what that means? oh that’s what I need to do”. The latter being the point that I usual disengage as there is something far more pressing I need to do :-) But I have to say that the experience of actually completing (I’m now at 3 for that) MOOCs was far richer. Partly that was down to the interaction with my peers on each occasion, and the cMOOC ethos of each course design.

That said, I do think the auditing, completing, disengaging, sampling labels are a very useful addition to the discourse and understanding of what is actually going on within the differing populations of learners in MOOCs.

A more detailed article on the research is available here.

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.

Preparing for the second wave

Last Friday I was delighted have been invited to the “what are MOOCs?” staff development seminar at Newcastle University

I started the day with a presentation around the the history, pedagogy, myths and media of MOOCs, followed by Sian Bayne who gave a very open presentation about the experiences at Edinburgh and in particular of the #edcmooc. Suzanne Hardy (based at Newcastle) then reflected on her experience as a student on the #edcmooc, and also raised some very pertinent points for fellow staff members on the potential opportunities and pitfalls of developing MOOCs as part of institutional provision.

Suzanne’s storify provides an excellent summary of the day which I won’t try to replicate, and there will be an links to all the presentations as well as more commentary on the UNITE blog very soon.

It was, as ever, really useful to hear the thoughts of “normal” staff members. By that I mean your average lecturer/support person who doesn’t know much about MOOCs, hasn’t been a student on one and who has only heard bits and pieces about the whole phenomenon and isn’t part of the edtech twitterati. Newcastle, unlike Edinburgh, but like many Universities not just in the UK but around the world, hasn’t been part of the “first wave” of activity. So what are the institutional benefits to becoming involved now that the initial splash is over? Is it a case of just having to be seen to do “something” to keep up with your peer institutions? Or can you afford to take some more time to see how things play out? As Sian emphasised throughout the day, there is an awful lot of research that needs to be done to show the actually effectiveness (or not) of MOOCs. (This recently published survey of teachers experiences although mainly US based is a step in that direction) .

As Patrick McAndrew pointed out during his keynote at #cetis13 perhaps what we really need to think about is less of the “m” and more of the “o”. In other words concentrate on developing and sharing open practice and resources and in turn open courses/content which meet specific institutional aims. As we all know there are many variations of open. And again Patrick as pointed out, by using one of the big MOOC providers you could be putting at least one more barrier in front of your “open” course.

I suspect that for a number of the UK institutions in the first wave of MOOC activity, the reputational benefits are the key driver. Many of them can afford to underwrite the costs of developing and running the courses in the short term without having to think too much about the longer term benefits/costs or indeed any potential lock downs/change of service agreements from platform providers.

Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing for those institutions not involved with MOOCS just now, to take a step back to consider the most beneficial aspect of MOOCs for their aims and objectives before trying to become part of the second wave. And in the meantime, like this well know VC, encourage more insight and reflection for both staff and students with a try before you buy (or sell!) attitude.

My presentation (with thanks to #ds106 participants for many of the images)

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.

Alone and together, thoughts on #edcmooc week 4

Week 4 of #edcmooc is drawing to a close and I find myself in a similar position to last week re articulation.  We are again grappling with what it means to be human but the readings and resources have pointed us in the direction of post humanism.  I think I may have made a small break through in that I have a suspicion that the course team are just teasing us and actually want us to sign up for the MSc so we have the space to reflect and write in proper “academese” about all of this :-)

So I’m just going to pull out a few random thoughts which have been running around my head this week.  Post humanisim – my very basic response is “it’s all a bit scary” but I am as they say a bear with little brain.  Having had a few days to mull things over a bit, I’m not sure we can ever actually know what it is to be post human as we are always evolving.  What the course has illustrated of course is that now, more than any point in our history, technology is becoming closer to being an integral part of our human evolution. Science fiction is increasingly becoming science fact.  The launch of testing of google glasses with “ordinary” people this week highlighted how virtual/enhanced reality is another step closer to our everyday reality. We are increasingly creating, curating our digital trails. We are recording and sharing our activities (memories?) more than ever before. As an aside  I got access to my twitter archive this week and spent a half hour or so laughing at my first tweets from 2007. My 2013 self was slightly distrubed by the “open-ness” of my 2007 self. Back then I only thought I was “tweeting” to four or so others. But back to #edcmooc.

True Skin one of the recommeded videos for this week illustrated potential of technology to track, share, destroy and rebuild. Going back to science fiction/fact, it, and the other recommended videos, highlighted how visual effects technology is allowing us to depict increasingly realistic future scenarios.  True Skin is a world where you can pay to store  your memories and then download them into a new body when your (often technology enhanced) body has worn out. A sort of techo enabled re-incarnation, except you don’t have the random element of maybe coming back as a tree.

Thinking of reincarnation got me thinking about religion and wider (non digital) culture.  I have a nagging worry that the resources in this course have been very western (and in particular North American centric). Is this really where the next evolution of humanity will be driven from?  Are we just consuming a homogenised version of our potential cultural evolutionary path? What about views from the BRIC countries? I can’t make an informed comment because I honestly don’t know. Could our western dystopian fears be reduced by some input from other cultures with different views on what it means to be human, the role of reincarnation, views of the soul etc? 

One of the other recommended readings this week was an well known article from 20008 by Nicolas Carr called “Is google making us stupid?”  

In the article he laments the loss of his own and others concentration to read for prolonged periods of time. We are all so used to hyperlinks and multi-tasking and bite sized consumption. It’s a view which still worries many, particularly those involved in education.  I freely admit that I am becoming increasingly adept at skimming and scanning, and quite often don’t read things ‘properly’. But I do love the fact that I am able to read reports, books etc on my ipad and don’t have to damage my shoulder even more by carring heavy books/reports around.  Conversely I relish reading “real books’ now and do make a conscious effort to take time away from the screen to do that.

Checking up on what Nicolas is writing about just now it is quite intersting that his latest blog post is about how students actually prefer real books to e-text books.  We like the convenience of ebooks/readers which techology has brought us, but we still like good old bounded paper.  

As I was reading this and thinking about increased connectivity, switching off etc I was reminded of Shelly Turkle’s Alone Together Ted Talk where she highlights the paradox of our “culture of distraction” and how being increasingly connected with the ability to “mult-life” gives us the “illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”

The alone together concept is particularly relevant for MOOCs.  As a student, you are (in the the #edcmooc instance ) with over 40,000 others, sharing, debating, tweeting, facebook-ing, google+-ing, google-hangout-ing, (or to use the proper terminology, students are increasingly becoming transliterate). Despite the frenzy of activity there are, imho, only a few real touch points of engagement. I would argue that this is a good thing.  

Despite the normal drop off in activity after the first week, there are still over 7,000 people contributing. I’ve been quite up-front in a number of posts about various MOOCs I’ve been involved in about being, to put it bluntly selfish, about  my input.  I can’t work on a 1:7,000 ratio, so I engage as and when it suits me.  I have made some really useful new connections and strengthed some exisiting ones.  I work within my digital literacy comfort zones in a way that suits me. I can wander away from the set curriculum and work within my context. I don’t really like online forums, so I don’t use them. I have made a couple of posts to #edcmooc but I find them a bit scary and potentially confrontational. I’m probably missing out on some great stuff – but I am comfortably with that.

I like to think that what MOOCs have actually done is allowed me the space to be alone AND together with my fellow students. Just now in my personal evolution, that’s a place I’m very happy to be in.

#edcmooc week 3 – computer says no

It’s been a very reflective week for me in #edcmooc as we move to the “being human” element of the course. In week three we’re being specifically asked:

“what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?”

and more specifically:

“Who or what, in your view, will define what it means to be human in the future? Who or what defines it now? These are crucial questions for those of us engaged in education in all its forms, because how we define ‘desirable humanity’ will inform at the deepest level our understanding of how and why education might be conducted and why it matters. Paying attention to online education foregrounds these issues in a new way, helping us look at them afresh.”

Fantastically chin stroking stuff :-) As usual there are a good range of readings and videos. David Hopkins has written an excellent critique.

I’ve had quite a surprisingly emotional response to all of this and I’ve been finding it difficult to articulate my thoughts. Maybe it’s because the resources and questions are making me question my own humanity. As educational technology is central to my job and takes up a huge amount of my life, and I am a fairly optimistic wee soul perhaps what’s been nagging away at me is a fear that I am contributing, without thinking of the consequences, towards a horribly dystopian future where we those that can afford it are bio-engineered up to the max, controlled by technology which allows us to think humans are still in control whilst it plots humanity’s demise.

On the other hand, my other reaction is that this is all a load of academic nonsense, which allows people to have never ending circular discussions; whilst in the ‘real world’ the rest of humanity just get on with it. We’re all going to die anyway and our species is just a blip in the history of our planet. For some reason this phrase from Little Britain keeps running through my head, it seems to sum up the wonderful way that humans can subvert technology.

As I’ve been reflecting on my experiences with technology in an educational context. I have to say that overall it has been the human element which has, and continues to be, the most rewarding and most innovative. I’ve seen online education offer alternative access to education at all levels from the most under-privileged to the most privileged. Technology has allowed me to connect with a range of wonderfully intelligent people in ways I would never imagined even less than 10 years ago. It has in many ways strengthened my sense of being human, which I think is fundamentally about communication. I still get very frustrated that there isn’t equal investment in human development every time a new system/technology is bought by a school/college/university, but I’m heartened by the fact that almost every project I know of emphasises the need for time to develop human relationships for technology to be a success and bring about change.