Friday, 17 July 2015

Open education - FOS Day 5

So here we are - at the final day of FOS, and the final scenario. This time it's about the concept of open education. The scenario presents an academic who feels uncomfortable about making his material available freely. He has devoted a great deal of time and effort to producing the material for the benefit of his students, and he doesn't feel it is fair that someone else should just be able to come along and use his material 'off the peg'. He feels that they should create their own materials, just as he has done.

I have encountered this view so often in my academic career, and I have to confess that I have even held similar views myself in the past. I can even recall colleagues speculating that external examiners only took on the role so that they could see how things were done at other institutions and steal all the good ideas!!

Fortunately I realised some time ago that the benefits of being open far outweigh the perceived disadvantages associated with loss of ownership. If you are willing to share your resources then you can benefit from access to other peoples resources. Furthermore, by making your resources openly available, you subject them to scrutiny which can lead to enhancement of those resources. So - the concept of openness is based on mutuality. However, this openness will always be susceptible to abuse. What do we do about that? I think the answer is .... nothing! If some people just take your resources but give nothing in return - so what? Yes - they have gained something, but have you lost anything? In my view you haven't. You still have those resources. Intleectual property issues can be adequately addressed by Creative Commons licenses.

For me, once I had accepted this viewpoint, it changed my outlook with regard to openness.

I have become increasingly interested in open education practices over the past few years. I took part in a JISC-sponsored project a few years ago to produce a set of open education resources (OERs) for the built environment. The project was called ORBEE (Open Resources for Built Environment Education) and I contributed three learning packages in the field of Building Adaptation and Conservation. I've just checked the website, and sadly it no longer appears to be live, so I can't link to it. My involvement with the project really raised my awareness of the whole OER scene, and the use of Creative Commons licenses.

I have also taken part as a learner in two MOOCs. One was an Irish History MOOC run by Trinity College, Dublin under the Future Learn banner, and the other was the Carpe Diem MOOC which Gilly Salmon ran at Swinburne University in Australia. These were very different experiences with quite different levels of engagement, but both were interesting in their own ways.

I would like to explore open education practices in more detail. I'm currently working my way through Martin Weller's book (The Battle for Open) and it is a useful foundation to explore the area.

I'm afraid I don't have time to create anything today, as this is my last day before going on leave and I'm trying to tie up loose ends. However, I will highlight a fantastic open resource which I recently discovered. It brings together a wide range of creative resources. I like to use a lot of images in presentations, and the photography resources available here are absolutely brilliant. It's called Makerbook 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Communities and collaboration - FOS Day 4

Day 4 already, and another scenario. This time it concerns an academic who is designing a postgradute programme with a focus of workplace learning. She is concerned that students won't engage in online communities in the way she is hoping, and won't see the value in participating in online communities.

She is right to be concerned! It is incredibly difficult in my experience to achieve the level of engagement required for an effective learning community. I have experienced the benefits of such a community as a learner, but have always struggled to get my students to engage as I would like them to. I think the main reason for this (if I'm being brutally honest) is that I have tended to use the concept of a community as an optional extra in my modules rather than fully integrating it. In order to operate effectively I think the idea of the community needs to be reflected in the learning outcomes and embedded in the learning activities and the assessment.

In the scenario presented, I would suggest the following approaches:

  1. The learning outcomes could include a reference to working collaboratively in an online environment. 
  2. The scheduled learning activities could effectively require participation in, for example, discussion boards or wikis.
  3. The assessment criteria could require students to demonstrate how they have drawn on their participation in the community.
Additionally, I would refer again to the importance of learning design (apologies for going on about this all the time). The programme should be designed to build the community, rather than designed around the content with the community added on afterwards. Gilly Salmon promotes an approach to learning design which she calls Carpe Diem, and is based on her 'Five-stage model'. 
Gilly Salmon's Five-stage model. Image source:

Of particular relevance in the context of this scenario is that the first two stages involve 'access and motivation' and 'online socialisation', so the course is designed to ensure a transition into the community,

By coincidence, in my current seconded role, working on a university-wide project related to learning and teaching, I have been developing a framework for 'internal' communities of practice as a means of sharing best practice. This has been challenging to say the least, but I think we are making some progress and we are starting to get some buy-in from colleagues. 

I'm going to cheat a bit here. I'm not going to create a comic, but I am going to include a graphic of the framework which I have developed with colleagues here at Westminster to show how we would like our communities to operate. This hasn't been approved internally yet, so it is still very much a work in progress.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Supporting learning - FOS Day 3

Today's scenario centres on a student who is unsure of the value of maintaining a blog in connection with her course. She writes her reflections but is never really sure whether anyone looks at them and she therefore wonders whether it is worth actually publishing them to a blog as opposed to just writing up notes in a Word document.

As on the previous two days, I have some sympathy with the views of the student. It is hard to maintain the motivation for writing blog entries when you don't think anyone is actually reading your posts. It can seem like simply writing for ourselves rather than a wider audience. In response to this, I think I would make two points:

  1. Firstly, the act of writing is itself valuable in forcing us to reflect on our experiences and synthesise ideas from various different sources. This aids our learning significantly.
  2. Secondly, whether we realise it or not, we do generally write in a different style when we know it is going to be published to a wider audience, whether this is public or just, for example. the other students in a tutor group. We thus tend to articulate our views more clearly, and the process of distilling complex ideas into words which can be read by others (as opposed to just ourselves) can be quite productive in terms of our own understanding.
So - I would encourage the student to persevere. How about looking at other students' blogs and commenting on them, and using the opportunity to invite them to comment on yours? Get the dialogue going yourself.

(Confession: I don't necessarily practice what I preach!)

I know from bitter personal experience how difficult it is to get students to engage effectively online. I have used discussion boards, blogs and wikis, all with limited success. I refer again to comments I made in response to yesterday's activities: learning design is critical. The online learning activities have to be designed as an integral part of the curriculum rather than an optional add-on. When I  did my course with the OU the most effective online discussions were typically linked to an assessment. For example, the assessed work was required to draw on (and specifically cite) discussion board entries. 

Some people think that John Biggs' concept of constructive alignment is a bit 'old hat' now, but I firmly believe that it holds true whether we are designing for face-to-face or online. Essentially, the learning outcomes, the learning activities and the assessment & feedback all need to be aligned. Far too often students are presented with learning outcomes at the start of a course or a module, but are given no guidance as to how those learning outcomes are to be achieved.

When a 'constructive alignment' approach is adopted, the learning activities and the assessment and feedback provide the scaffolding which enables students to reach the learning outcomes.

Images source:  

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Flexible pedagogies - FOS Day 2

The scenario provided today is based around a student who has signed up for an online course because there was no equivalent face-to-face course available locally. The student finds the course very challenging because of the lack of interaction, particularly with a tutor. He feels so isolated that he is considering giving up the course.

I sympathise with his point of view, and can understand how online students can feel without a clear sense of direction. The lack of engagement (both student/student and student/tutor) inevitably leads to feelings of isolation and this becomes particularly acute when students are facing challenging aspects of the course. There may be no sense of a shared experience and no mutual support network. In my view this is largely due to a poorly designed and/or poorly delivered course. Technology, when used effectively, has the potential to create fantastic learning experiences, even when the course is delivered entirely remotely. In this case it would appear that the course design is not making effective use of the technology.

I did a PGDip in Online and Distance Education with the OU, and in three years I didn't have any F2F contact with either tutors or students, and yet it was one of the most engaging learning experiences I have ever had. That's because it was properly designed.

Promotion of flexible pedagogies has been one of the main challenges I have faced over the past couple of years. I have been trying to encourage greater use of blended learning approaches amongst colleagues, and trying to enthuse students about it. I have had limited success. I think this is due to a certain amount of fear of technology, but more importantly I think there is a real lack of understanding about what BL really is. Many staff think if that put their Powerpoint slides on the VLE then that's BL. When staff do attempt to use BL more effectively, they often simply overlay online activities on top of existing traditional learning activities. The result is that students get overwhelmed, and if they have the choice they will simply avoid the online stuff.

If I could come up with a plan I think I would solve my problems! I think there has to be serious commitment from senior management (as opposed to just lip service) and a real focus on learning design.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Digital literacy and identity - FOS Day 1

OK, so here I am back on my blog and feeling rather guilty. I haven’t posted to my blog for over a year, and it has taken a little nudge to get me back on here. That nudge has come in the form of my involvement with an online course called FOS – Flexible, Open and Social Learning

The course is being run over five days from 13th to 17th July. The activities for Day 1 are based around the theme of ‘digital literacy and identity’. We are to respond to a scenario in which someone has been asked to create a digital portfolio, but is not convinced of the value of such things, and seems to be very sceptical about the whole notion of a digital identity.

I can empathise with the view expressed in the scenario. My lack of commitment to my blog is evidence of my own doubts about the value of an online presence. I have tended to blog only when it accompanies a specific activity, and yet I enjoy reading other people’s blogs and I think I often get a lot out of it. I suspect that the root of the issue is a lack of confidence in my own views. If I’m not convinced that what I’ve got to say is of any interest to anyone else I tend to shy away from blogging. I have felt similarly about Twitter. I use Twitter a lot, but predominantly as a consumer rather than a contributor. Again – I think this comes down to confidence in what I’ve got to say.

I suppose that one way of looking at blogging is that the value lies as much in the process of self-reflection, as in sharing your views with other people. I’ve often likened blogging to shouting into a darkened room. You don’t know who is there listening and, unless you get responses, you don’t know whether anyone is actually interested.

I would like to think that my own digital literacies are reasonably well developed. I make use of a wide range of digital resources and have quite well-established strategies for managing them. Having said that, I am sure I can learn a lot from others, and I think I am always open to alternative approaches.

I try to encourage the development of digital literacies in my students, and I promote the use of various technologies to support students. I have provided detailed guidance to students on the use of some of these technologies.

I have recently been involved in an initiative at Westminster to develop university-wide elective modules. I wasn’t actually part of any module team but was helping the teams to think about alternative approaches to module design. I was struck by the fact that none of the teams really considered using online approaches in their module delivery. This gave me an idea to develop an elective module around the theme of digital capabilities and to deliver it almost entirely online. I haven’t yet done anything further with this, but maybe this course will give me some ideas to take forward.


I think I need a bit more time to create my map of digital me, but I would like to have a go. Watch this space.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

My first MOOC experience

My experience of the Carpe Diem MOOC

I've been getting my first experience of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) over the past few weeks. Since MOOCs went mainstream around 2011 there has been a somewhat hysterical reaction in the media, with many commentators suggesting that MOOCs signaled the end of higher education as we know it.

MOOC Hysteria by CogDogBlog  Licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
I must confess that I initially viewed MOOCs with a degree of scepticism, both in terms of their educational value and on purely commercial grounds. However, earlier this year I became aware of the Carpe Dime MOOC which was being offered by Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia which sounded interesting. It was based on the Carpe Diem learning design process devised by Professor Gilly Salmon. It provided me with a great opportunity to learn more about something I was interested in, whilst also gaining experience of participating in a MOOC.

The MOOC took place over a six week period in March and April and typically required a commitment of around three hours per week. Over 1200 people around the world registered for the MOOC, and everyone was allocated to a group of between 25 and 30 participants. The delivery platform was a Blackboard open platform called CourseSites, and since I am used to working with Blackboard in my own institution I found the look and feel of the site very familiar.

The course was concerned primarily with the Carpe Diem Learning Design process, so the actual content of the course was kept to a minimum and the focus was on working collaboratively with other participants to go through the process.

Positive things I took from the experience

  • I learnt about Carpe Diem learning design and I think I will be able to apply aspects of this in my own practice. 
  • I was introduced to several different perspectives on learning design issues, as contributed by various other participants.
  • I gained additional experience of collaborating online, which highlighted several factors, both positive and negative
  • I made contact with several people from around the world who, i would like to think, I could contact again in the future.
  • I experienced at first hand what it was like to participate in a MOOC. This provided me with several ideas about how we could run such an initiative at my own institution.

Negative aspects

  • There seemed to be a very high drop-out or non-participation rate. I understand that this is fairly normal for MOOCs, but I would say that in my group of around 28 registered participants there were only around five or six who were active.
  • The low participation rate made it very difficult to establish working collaborations. This in turn had an impact on momentum in the group exercises. If you happened to find yourself allocated to a group where participation was very low, I suspect your experience of the MOOC would be far less positive than that of someone in a successful group. I wonder whether more thought needs to go into the arrangements for establishing groups at the start of the MOOC. 

Overall verdict 

My overall experience was undoubtedly positive. Badges were awarded for completion of the weekly activities, and a certificate of completion was issued to all participants who successfully completed all activities. 

The experience obviously didn't put me off MOOCs because I subsequently registered for the Open Course in Technology Enhanced Learning (ocTEL) which has just begun this week, and I will write more about that in due course.


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Pipes, platforms, public performances and backstage activity: a Change Masterclass

How a 'Change Masterclass' helped me to put things in perspective

On Tuesday 25th March I attended a Change Masterclass in Manchester concerned with implementing change. It was run by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and was very effectively facilitated by Helen May and Andrew Fleming. The fact that there was a fairly small group of delegates meant that there was plenty of useful discussion.

My particular interest in the event was as a result of my ongoing involvement with the Learning Futures Programme at the University of Westminster. I have recently been asked to take the lead on one of the projects in the Learning Futures Programme -  Transforming Learning and Teaching - which seeks to bring about genuine change within the university, with a focus on enhancing the learning and teaching experience for both students and staff. Originally, it was proposed that a Project Manager would lead the project but it has been decided that the Transforming Learning and Teaching Project should be led by an academic, and I am therefore going to be seconded to the project for 80% of my time. 

Whilst I am excited about taking on a new role I also feel a certain sense of trepidation at leading a project which will involve quite significant changes. The Change Masterclass helped me to put things in perspective and enabled me to view the role in a different light. 

Having reflected on the experience over the past week, here are the main points which I think were relevant for me:

Public performance and backstage activity
I had been thinking about my new role very much in project management terms, as that is how the job was originally envisaged. I was therefore expecting the role to be all about deliverables and Gantt charts and budgets and risks and so on. What I've realised is that programmes which seek to bring about genuine cultural change within an organisation cannot rely solely on project management approaches if they are to be successful. What really matters is change leadership. Buchanan and Boddy (1992) refer to the idea of 'public performance and backstage activity'. The 'public performance' of those responsible for bringing about change (change agents) may have to be one which follows the traditional project management approach, in which everything is presented rationally and logically. However, behind this public performance there is a lot of 'backstage activity' through which support is gained and resistance is dealt with. This backstage activity will typically involve a lot of listening, negotiating, selling ideas, and building relationships.  Being a change agent therefore involves following the script and presenting the traditional role of project manager to those who require evidence of formal progress within the system, but actually doing a lot of the 'political' work behind the scenes, backstage. 

Being positive
It is vitally important to focus on the positive. Change is too often presented as a solution to a problem rather than an opportunity. Of course there will be resistance to change, but rather than fearing this resistance we should embrace it as evidence of engagement.

Pipes and platforms
Good communication is critical but we need to think about how we communicate. The analogy of 'pipes and platforms' was used. In 'pipes' there is a linear flow: information is produced at one end and pushed out to be consumed at the other. With 'platforms' the information isn't just pushed out, but rather it is placed on a platform where users can engage with it and contribute to it. The best example to distinguish between pipes and platforms is to consider traditional TV channels as being 'pipes' whilst YouTube is a 'platform'. The internet has facilitated a shift towards the 'platform' model in many areas of our lives and enabled us to engage in more meaningful communication.

Goals and unintended consequences
We obviously have to be clear about our goal, even though we may not know exactly what the goal will look like, nor how we will actually get there. Nevertheless, we should at least be clear about why we are heading there. Having said that, the final outcomes of any change programme can be completely different to those envisaged, and may even be counter-intuitive, so it is unwise to plan everything in minute detail. We need to be flexible and agile, and capable of responding to emerging ideas and other factors as they arise.  We can never be absolutely certain about the impact which changes will have on an organisation, and it is not uncommon for unanticipated side-effects to emerge. These side-effects can be both positive and negative.

Buchanan, D., and Boddy D. (1992) The Expertise of the Change Agent: Public Performance and Backstage Activity. New York: Prentice Hall