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.

Analytics in UK Further and Higher Education Survey

Over the past few months, we at Cetis have been involved in a number of analytics related activities, most notably our Analytics Series of papers and case studies. Although we know there are pockets of really exciting developments here in the UK, we are keen to find out more about what is actually happening in our Universities and Colleges. In order to give us (and the community) a more accurate insight we are launching our Analytics in UK Further and Higher Education survey. From teaching and learning to the library to registry and business intelligence, we need to hear from you!

The survey is quite short (12 questions) and has been designed to try and allow us to undertake a “lite” benchmark of activity in the UK sector. We’d really appreciate if you could take 10 minutes or so to give us your feedback. The survey will stay open until June 16. Once we have all the data we will of course publish the results. We will be sharing our initial analysis of the data at a session at this years ALT-C.

The survey can be accessed here, please feel free to pass the link on to any relevant colleagues.

Learning Analytics for Assessment and Feedback Webinar, 15 May

**update 16 May**
Link to session recording

Later this week I’ll be chairing a (free) webinar on Learning Analytics for Assessment and Feeback. Featuring work from three projects in the current Jisc Assessment and Feedback Programme. I’m really looking forward to hearing first hand about the different approaches being developed across the programme.

“The concept of learning analytics is gaining traction in education as an approach to using learner data to gain insights into different trends and patterns but also to inform timely and appropriate support interventions. This webinar will explore a number of different approaches to integrating learning analytics into the context of assessment and feedback design; from overall assessment patterns and VLE usage in an institution, to creating student facing workshops, to developing principles for dashboards.”

The presentations will feature current thinking and approaches from teams from the following projects:
*TRAFFIC, Manchester Metropolitan University
*EBEAM, University of Huddersfield,
*iTeam, University of Hertfordshire

The webinar takes place Wednesday 15 May at 1pm (UK time) and is free to attend. A recording will also be available after the session. You can register by following this link.

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.

Dear Sheila . . . The MOOC Agony Aunt Column

After much cajoling and numerous requests . . . well OK, one from Martin

I’ve decided to start a new, possibly weekly, feature for all of you out there who are grabbling with the numerous challenges of MOOCs. Whether you’re an instructor or student, this could the place you’ve been looking for to get some words of wisdom based on my vast experience MOOCs (cough, cough).

The questions (and answers) have started flowing already on twitter.

And in a more considered reply to Grainne’s question

Remember “M” doesn’t stand for “magic” it stands for “massive”. So on the instructor side of things, be prepared for a massive amount of extra (unpaid) hours reformatting and structuring your course. All content and activities have to be MOOC-ified and will only work on a MOOC enabled platform, other online systems just can’t cope with all the new and exciting MOOC pedagogical approaches you’ll be using. Then, when the course is running remember that if you have an introductory forum for students to “share where we are all from and why we’re here” you may feel the inclination to read them all and that will take a massive amount of your (again unpaid) time. So be strong, keep smiling and keep with the programme. By the end of week 2 most of your learners will have realised that they have far more pressing things to do and so the contributions will have dropped off to a number that is manageable for you to at least have a cursory glance over whilst your having a nice cup of tea and biscuit.

From a student point of view, remember “M” doesn’t stand for “magic” is stands for “massive”. It will take as much time and effort as one of those old fashioned distance, or even those that take place in real time in a real place (like a University) courses, to complete. But just remember you don’t actually have to participate, and can drop out at any time and go and do all that other stuff that you need to, and have a nice cup of tea.

Grainne, Owen – hope that helps and gives everyone else an idea of the scope and scale and contribution this feature could bring to the MOOC-ology or is it MOOC-oshpere?

As the comments/tweets flow in, I’m am also hoping to enlist the support and guidance of my former colleague Christine Sinclair (part of the #edcmooc team) but more importantly former agony aunt writer for the Jackie magazine.

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.

Learning analytics – a bridge to the middle space? #lak13

It’s not quite a chicken and egg situation, but there is a always a tension between technology and pedagogy. A common concern being that technology is being used in education “just because it can” and not because it has a sound pedagogical impact. Abelardo Pardo’s keynote at the recent #lak13 conference described how learning analytics could potentially sit in the middle space between technology and teaching.

Learning analytics could provide additional bridges between each community to help make real improvements to teaching and learning.  Analytical tools can provide data driven insights into how people interact with systems, activities and each other and learn, but in turn we need to have the expertise of teachers to help developers/data scientists frame questions, develop potential data collection points and contextualize findings. Abelardo’s personal story about his own engagement both with pedagogy and analytics was a powerful example of this. The bridge analogy really resonated with me and many other of the delegates.  I’ve often described, and indeed hope that, a large part of my job is being a bridge between technology and teaching.  

On the final day of the conference  there was a healthy debate around what the focus of the LAK conference and community should be.  On the one hand learning analytics is a relatively new discipline. It is trying hard to establish its research credentials, and so needs to be active in producing “serious” research papers. On the other, if it really wants live up its own hypothesis and gain traction with practitioners/institutions, then it needs to not only to provide insights but also accessible, scalable tools and methodologies.  The “science bit” of some of  the LAK research papers were quite challenging to put into a real world context, even for the enthusiastic data amateur such as myself.

However we do need valid research to underpin the discipline and also to validate  any claims that are being made.  Extension of action research projects could provide one solution to this which was encompassed by a number of papers. I’m a strong believer in action research in education, it seems a natural fit with how most teachers actually work, and also can provide real opportunities for students to be involved in the process too.  ( As an aside, like last year, I did get the feeling that what was being discussed was actually teaching analytics – not learning analytics, i.e it was still about teacher intervention understanding and what could be done to students). 

Part of what we have been trying to at CETIS with our Analytics Series, is to try and provide a bridge into this whole area. The set of case studies I’ve been working on in particular are specifically aimed at illustrating applications of analytics in a variety of real world contexts. But they are not the kind of papers that would be accepted (or submitted ) to the LAK conference. One suggestion my colleague Martin Hawskey came up with during the final day of the conference was the idea of a more “relaxed” stream/session.  

Perhaps something along the lines of the lightning presentations we used at both the UK SoLAR Flare meeting and the recent CETIS conference. This could provide a bridge between the research focus of the conference and actual practice, and give an opportunity to quickly share some of the exciting work that many people are doing, but for a variety of reasons, aren’t writing research papers on. Maybe that would  bring a bit more of an experimentation/what’s actually happening now/fun element to the proceedings.  

If you want to catch up on conference proceedings, I’d thoroughly recommend reading some of the excellent live blogs from Doug Clow, Sharon Slade and Myles Danson, which Doug has rather handily collated here. 

I’ll also be following up with a couple of more posts in the next few days based on some of the really exciting work I saw presented at the conference. 

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.