Category Archives: Learning Technology

FutureLearn Pedagogy Platform: does big matter

Went to a webinar yesterday: OWLET – Open Webinars for Learning and Enhancing Teaching from University Campus Ipswitch. First time using Hangouts. (does not afford “proper” chat).

There were according to the G+ post 9 people who “watched” Mike Sharples, Professor of Education Technology speak on “Innovating Pedagogy”.

Very much a “presentation” with some interaction at the end. Mike spoke much about the big numbers on FutureLearn courses and MOOCs generally. The focus shifted. Was that Future Learn, the Open University, or everyone studying everywhere on things called MOOCs (or similar) or even just DL? There were, or I took, implications that big really was better.

There was much mention of social constructivist pedagogy framed in a wide millennial disruptive discourse of “drivers” for change. The avalanche rumbles on. A long list of literature-was reviewed on change and innovation. Woah! They spotted MOOCS. In twenty twelve! They are now noticing badges and analytics.

The talk was quite focussed on the massive (OpenU DL is massive) and analytics. Badges will be next year’s big boom? You read it here first ;-)

The Future Learn platform attempts to facilitate relationship between people. Peer evaluation and feedback is not anonymous. Real names used throughout. But, tutors did not appear to be engaged in a participatory way. I asked about the role of the Associate Lecturer in Future Learn. FutureLearn is relying on the “power of the crowd.” Junior academics and PhD students are “monitoring” discussion. If you want added tutorial support you can get it but you have to pay for it.

Much Britishness is promoted and is distinguished by an underlying pedagogy. (Is it?)  Connectivist and instructivist approaches were contrasted. Individualised teaching was also put aside. Could not compete on technology.  So they took a deliberate approach to design based on social constructivist and experiential learning: (see John Hattie). Design principles are or aspire to be realised through:

  • visible learning pathway
  • goal directed
  • social
  • conversational
  • rewarded
  • reputation management
  • contribution to social capital (following, liking)
  • review and feedback including automated acquisition of “sentiment” content
  • peer review
  • MCQs
  • Branching pathways and breadcrumbs.

And to do all the above in internet clock (tight time) cycles.

Interesting in all the talk of massiveness there were only 9 people in the hangout. Take out the presenter and facilitator is 7 and 3 of those were from Oxford Brookes. A tight circle of people thinking about Open Online Learning practice. I briefly feared it might be me one-on-one with Mike Sharples. Thankfully Richard Francis joined the room. We got a lot out of it. Thank you. But, the conversational tools in the webinar/Hangout were difficult. Maybe I just didn’t find the chat interface. Richard and I used the “Question” facility to chat. But that confused us and the presenters. Another viewer suggested using the G+ stream of posts. But, both interfaces loaded each post with so much relational context, that ironically the conversation decohered.  There did not appear to be a possibility for the audience to take the audio mic and actually ask a question.

[Makes me feel the Adobe connect decision we have taken is the right one at the moment.]



Designing FSLT14 week 3 – a reflection

Week three is a fulcrum point in the #fslt14 open online course: First steps into learning and teaching in higher education. I have decided not to introduce a new tool, wiki or Google Doc at this point. I had briefly considered a doc-based exercise developing Kolb and Activity Theory.

In addition to two short (4 min) video talks (with transcriptI – you do not have to listen to or watch!), I do intend to do a “cycles” (Kolb) v. “frameworks” (Activity Theory) summary (4 min) video and invite participants to continue the discussion, but that would be a lot to get through in a week of this course!

I decided to keep week 3 activity based in discussions. I thought it should build on what went before so I have linked it to the Collaborative bibliography. It is reflective in that it asks participants to ask themselves why students learned on their course.
It uses this course as a model. Tries to explain why we think people learn in this way. Makes our course underpinnings clear.

My explanation (theory) is that learning takes place here (not everywhere, necessarily) because it is:

  • Outcomes led (Laurillard 2002), there is a curriculum and aims. The programme is validated by Oxford Brookes University and contributes towards Higher Education Academy professional recognition as an Associate Fellow (HEA 2011).
  • Experiential, self-evaluative, practitioner-centred, pragmatics – what works – drawing on your own experience (Dewey 1916; Dewey 1997; Kolb 1984).
  • Activity-based, social constructivism; we do or make things in groups – maybe communities, using tools, with acceptable practices (criteria) and different roles. (Vygotsky & Luria 1934; Leont’ev 1978; Engeström 2001).
  • Dialogic (Bakhtin 1981) we talk synchronously and asynchronously, even back into deep time (Henderson 2013).
  • Reflective (Brookfield 1995), bringinging experience into scholarly evidence through four professional “lenses”: self, students, colleagues, the literature.
  • Participatory (Warhurst 2006; Whitchurch 2008), tutors engage as and with participants.
  • Community-located (R. Scollon & S. W. Scollon 2001, Wenger 1998) disciplines, institutions, others, work, the world and society.

It links forward to the assessed Virtual Conference presentation. It asks participants (probably as a teacher or tutor of some description) in respect of a course, with which they are familiar,  to explain why and how the learners learned.

In terms of Kolb, participants who engage in the discussions in week 3 will have gone round the cycle once and one more time around will largely crack the conference.

What you get? Tea Lab

What you test. You get what you inspect not what you expect. That said, tonight I tested my webcam and the podium computer in Brookes Boardroom 1 where we are hosting Tea Lab tomorrow. I was fully expecting it not to work on at least three fronts: the composite USB webcam/microphone, the room audio output to speakers, and the Java version. But, today it worked! So what can I do but hope that the same fates attend tomorrow. Now just to think about how to let it happen.

Musing on simultaneous remote presence for T-Lab

We (OK, I) made a bold (OK, foolish) assertion that T-Lab meetings would be live broadcast for those who wanted to participate remotely.

This could be achieved with various solutions:

  • a Wimba Classroom in a Moodle site as long as the kit in Boardroom 1 can handle it. AND as long as people could get into the Moodle without too much hassle.
    • Is there a web cam in BR1 or can one be installed easily?
    • Can Wimba work outside Moodle?
  • a Google Hangout live streamed to YouTube (which I have seen work once and fail spectacularly once)
    • But can we do this with our Google Apps for Education?
  • a Bb Collaborate session on Sylvia Currie’s SCOPE community
  • LiveStream through my LiveStream account (flakey with the personal free version)

Ideally I would like the G+ Hangout solution. But can we do this in our G Apps for Education set-up?

A note on content, courses/curricula, and credentials

This note recounts a potted recent history of developments to do with online content and courses and speculates about the future of credentials in respect of the purpose of a university.

When learning management systems (LMS) or virtual learning environments (VLEs) were in their infancy around the turn of the century, faculty opposition to their introduction was sometimes expressed. Two reasons were often given (among others): if I put my lecture notes on the web no one will come to my class; and variations on a personal IPR theme: the students, the university or third party institutions will steal my content. Content was considered “king” and as long as universities and academics “owned” the content, their position was secure

MIT, with the Open Courseware initiative shattered the content-is-king myth. All the content from a leading university was made freely available: curricula, syllabus, reading lists, slide sets and exam papers.

The defensive focus shifted to courses. It wasn’t the content per se that was important. What the faculty and the institution did was select, organise, interpret, analyse and re-present content through curricula presented in courses (or modules, blocks, units, etc): sequenced events of limited duration (often a semester) presented in various modes (face to face and at distance)..

In 2007 groups of academics started to offer open online courses, hosted at universities but not requiring enrolment or a fee. This open online course movement became truly massive (MOOC) in 2011 when Stanford and MIT began to offer open online courses. From these beginnings spin out ventures (Coursera, Udacity, EdX, FutureLearn and others) started offering open online courses to the higher education “market”.

Now academic defensiveness has shifted. It is not the content and it is not the course or the curriculum that are offered uniquely by the university and faculty. It is the credential. Universities can award degrees and the degree, backed up by quality assurance processes is the guarantor of learning quality and the unique proposition which protects the value of the university.

Is it?

There is a movement towards micro-credentialling, or “badges” which I suggest is more important that many faculty and academics allow. I wrote briefly about badges here. I suggest this movement will continue the trend of opening up the university proposition and further challenge the role of the university in society.

Activity and interaction in #fslt13 open online course

The #fslt team sat down today and thrashed out the mid-level detail of how the four activities that are at the heart of this course will work this time and how badges will be awarded for completion of activities.

We had some principles to work with. Learning is dialogic. Everyone has the opportunity for peer feedback. Assessed and non-assessed participants will mix as equals. Peer feedback works best in small groups,  therefore feedback groups should have a max size of 5. Peer feedback has to be opt-in. It is an open course. You can make your own way through. We struggled over persistence of peer feedback groups. Benefits and detriments both ways, but we decided that we had to allow for all sorts of variable participation. If people want to self-organise a persistent group that could be done but the course default will treat each activity grouping independently. We wanted consistency in the interface We didn’t want to use a different subset of tools for each task. We know MOOCs are daunting and want to keep it as easy as possible for participants.

Continue reading

MOOCs and teaching: a reply to Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes is unfairly hard on teachers and teaching in this post (The Great Rebranding), or may have fallen into a (rare) category error. Yes, given the way the world is organised the 25:1 or 50:1 ratio of students to teachers can be seen as a luxury that few can afford. Downes says, “Having one instructor for 20-50 people is expensive, and most of the world cannot afford that cost.”

MOOCs (x or c) provide some remediation. The cMOOC model is a radical challenge to institutionalised education. But, I do not think it is the elitist preciousness of “instructors” – or not JUST their preciousness – that seeks to preserve a 25:1 kind of interaction. I do not really even need to preserve the 1. But, I care a lot to preserve the 25, or some number between maybe 7 and 35 people as an optimum size for a culture circle, a seminar, a class… or a tutor group.

And, I do think there is something useful about having skills to help the 25 or so to learn. I do think teachers are – or can be – important. If this is a luxury, that is a problem with the world of money and power, not the form. I have made suggestions in this direction in recent posts about stadium rock and my big question. Teaching does not have to be done by institutionalised academics. Groups can self-organise. Freire struggled with the problem of educators who were not from the social milieu of those in education. There is a fine line between liberation and neo-colonialism.

We, as human beings, need to have meaningful relations with other human beings in order to learn meaningful things. I do not suggest we can’t learn stuff on our own from books or other forms of resource-based learning. I do not mean that this stuff is not (or cannot be) meaningful. But to put whatever we have learned into practice we need to do it with (or for or even to) other people. As far as I can see the purpose of learning is to be able to have some kind of influence, some autonomy, some self and community realisation. Media of all forms can be a surrogate or a simulation for some of this. We can practice with a tape in front of a mirror. But at some point we are going to have to inter-act (I hyphenate deliberately) with other people.

Therefore the challenge for me in working with a team to design a MOOC about learning how to teach in higher education (#fslt) is how to make sure that this MOOC is about enabling people to communicate with other people.

Drop ins: MOOCs and the price of learning

As an undergraduate in the US in the early 1970s, it was not uncommon for there to be people in our classes “auditing” the course. (Auditing in the sense, “listening”, i.e. attending but not enrolled.) While auditing was supposed to be governed by regulations there were a range of practices from entirely informal dropping in, to what amounted to full participation in all but the exam. There were supposed to be fees payable for auditing but as far as I could tell actual practice was to go under the radar and simply ask the prof (lecturer) if she or he minded. Mostly they didn’t. This practice was so wide spread there was even a national network TV comedy drama about it: “Hank”; “He’ll get his degree/ His Phi Beta key/ And get ‘em all for free!/ That’s Hank!”. Being an American comedy drama, Hank also ends up marrying the Dean’s daughter, . The point is that a college degree was expensive, but access to the knowledge was free to those with the gumption to drop in. I audited Latin at the local state university before coming to Oxford to study historical and comparative linguistics. As far as I could tell the Classics Department was delighted to have someone interested come to classes.

MOOCs remind me of this practice of dropping in under the radar.

But times have changed a lot. Everyone teaching in higher education has a much less certain tenure, and that tenure depends to some extent on bums on seats in your class. If there are uncounted heads that doesn’t help your job security. But, on the other hand, the Internet makes learning so much more accessible.

MOOCs invert the ratios of enrolled participants to drop-ins. In FSLT12 this was the cause of some tension. Were the enrolled participants the “real” participants?

We will have to work this year to make sure that on the one hand, people who have paid for an accredited course feel that they have got their money’s worth, but equally on the other not to devalue the drop-in seekers after open knowledge.

MOOCs Stadium Rock or folk clubs

Choose your metaphor. The discourse around MOOCs is congealing around a set of qualities. Bigger better; inherited authority; transmitted knowledge; cognitivist construction; solitary interaction with content. To some extent it is a matter of taste. Or learning preference. Or community. I saw the Police play Twickenham once. It was OK. Entertaining. But nothing was challenged. Nothing was changed. A few childhoods were relived. 50,000 people left with all they knew reaffirmed and comforted. I have never been to the Reading festival or Glastonbury. I love little local bluegrass festivals, folk clubs, jazz bars. Even in strange towns. I don’t just hang out with my friends. Though I do seek a level of homophily: people who share some interests. Sessions. Lock ins. Dad rock in pubs challenges my categories but I would rather enthusiastic semi – competence over slick synthetic commercialism any day. It saddens me that the values of slick synthetic commercialism seem to be driving higher education. And it saddens me that moocs are being conflated with stadium rock learning. It seems unlikely to me that transformative learning will arise in massive settings. Yes, for some, content will be transmitted, things will be learned and many will have their world view affirmed. But for challenging conventions give me seminars, reading groups, learning sets – most of the time.

The reification of Learning Design

This is a reflection for the OLDS-MOOC on the  underpinning principles that I apply when designing and developing educational interventions at various scales.

When IMS LD was developed it aimed to address what were seen as limitations in SCORM (or here)  and IEEE LOM. Learning Design (LD) as a learning technology software specification was intended to address what was seen as the pedagogic limitations of specifications originally developed to underpin computer aided instruction in operations training contexts, particularly the AICC: Aircraft Industry CBT Consortium, and nuclear industry which were addressing the problems of updating mechanics and fitters, who dealt with hugely complex, safety-critical systems, which were continually being updated and retrofitted with new bits. However the computer-based training paradigm was believed to be inappropriate for many of the kinds of learning interactions that took place in most university contexts, where often valuable learning outcomes were unexpected, where knowledge was uncertain or emerging, or where there were differences of opinion and interpretation based in beliefs, disciplinary identity or ideological perspective (see Koper 2005).

Now, it seems the conversation has moved way beyond software specifications, but the term learning design is becoming reified as something other than simply the sum of its two parts. While I do accept that there are bodies of practice and principles, such as constructive alignment, which can guide our thinking about learning and teaching and which do amount to design principles, I am uncertain, any longer, of the value of a “thing” called learning design. As Wenger is well known for saying, “Learning cannot be designed, it can only be designed-for: that is frustrated or facilitated” (Wenger 1998).

I normally avoid angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin semantic arguments, but for me learning design as a thing holds two flaws: the first, implied above, is the derivation of learning design and its assumption of independent – almost disciplinary – status. The second, related to the first, is the connotation that learning itself is a thing, a “package”: the error that Wenger was trying to point out. Yes, we do use the term “learning” as a synonym for “body of knowledge”, but fundamentally, for me, learning is a process: something that people do, and – importantly – do together rather than something that people have. If I have something, I can give it to someone else. Whereas, for me, while I might be able to give someone a book full of knowledge (or a lecture, etc), they will ultimately have to learn (a verb not a noun) it for themselves. I cannot learn it for them. As Wenger said, I can facilitate or frustrate that process of learning.

I do have principles that I apply when I develop an activity, a workshop, a course, a programme. These are based in social constructivism, actor network theory (Law 2004), activity theory (Engeström 2001), dialogics (Bakhtin 1981), third-space theory (Bhabha 2004), and marxism (and maybe other -isms and -ologies). These principles find expression through constructive alignment (see Biggs and Tang 2007), Brookfield’s (1995) critical reflection, appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider et al, 2003), Freirian community and learner-centred practices (see Freire 1970, 1974) . I am not embarrassed by taking an open outcomes-led approach with clearly stated assessment criteria, that none-the-less admit unexpected and emergent outcomes even while specifying much or even most of the syllabus. But, would I call my principles a learning-design approach? I suppose I could, if I had to. And, for the purposes of the OLDS-MOOC, I guess I have to.

Bakhtin, M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Trans.). Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.
Bhabha, H. (2004). The Location of Culture. Abingdon: Routledge.
Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching For Quality Learning at University: What the Student Does (3rd ed.).
Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publlishers.
Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D., & Stravos, J. (2003). Appreciative inquiry handbook. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive Learning at Work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1), 133 –156.
Freire, P. (1970). The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.
Freire, P. (1974). Education: the practice of freedom. Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative.
Koper, R. (2005). An Introduction to Learning Design. In R. Koper & C. Tattersall (Eds.), Learning Design (pp. 3–20). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
Law, J. (2004). Actor Network Resource: An Annotated Bibliography, Version 2.3. Retrieved from here.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.