Tuesday, 23 April 2013

From OER to cMOOC to github: A proposal for Open Education

I have been a learning technologist for 10 years and in that time I have seen at least 3 VLE silos being emptied or recycled or replaced. Change is inevitable when it comes to technology, for sure, but is this the type of change we want, especially as we interact with different learning systems as we continue our professional development. We silo off our knowledge in different platforms and have to remember where such and such resource is, or where so and so had that interesting discussion when we come to plan our new lessons/ resources/ courses.

I want to tell a story about OER and make a proposal against the silo-isation of online knowledge.

When I first came into contact with OER, back in 2002, the buzz seemed to be about resource sharing (re-useable learning objects). I was working creating flash animation 'learning objects' at a healthcare faculty, and the talk was of sharing, and sharing alike. Concepts of 'creative commons' became widespread, and there has been much education on the different derivatives of creative commons, which inspired some people to share their resources with popular OER engines such as JORUM. JORUM is very popular in the further education sector, and the content is free (as in free to download and use), but it is not AS free (as in free to modify and contribute back as a derivative of). When I was designing learning objects, I doubted the objects I was creating were completely re-useable off the shelf. Most would require a bit of modification before being re-used.

Note 1: Always give source files to repositories like JORUM to enable re-mixing.
Note 2: In FE it seems many good resources are often shared without any attribution.

Main Point: OER repositories are still knowledge silos, and a true conception of 'open' would not silo-ise knowledge but give capability to use/ re-use/re-share. This is the 'library model' of OER, and uniquely deals with 'resources' in the traditional sense (powerpoints, pdfs, swfs etc.)

Others said: OER should not all about the resources, it's also about the interactions we make with each other, so the platforms need to be 'social'...

Recently, the concept of a cMOOC has emerged. What is a cMOOC? It seems to me to be a cross between a course (in that it has a narrative) and a community of practice (in that it works by networking, co-creation and open interchange of ideas). They are unique platform-wise in that they encourage the participants to use their own webspaces and blogs to collaborate, so in one respect are moving the line of 'open' a little by at least letting the users create their own silos under their own control (keeping all their MOOCs in one place), and then use the standard networking tools to 'follow' or 'syndicate' others' silos for future posts.

The ocTEL MOOC has a unique tool which scrapes the web for '#ocTEL' and syndicates the links into it's 'reader' app. This is another move forward in that the silos of knowledge within different users' webspaces are syndicated to the ocTEL webpage. So ocTEL becomes a meta-silo of knowledge in this respect, and I can 'star' the articles that are of interest to me, so I have my personal silo of others' silos.

I think it has certain limitations though, which I would like to address in my proposal for the de-silo-isation of knowledge and the full opening of educational content. This is where I think the github approach is needed.

Github allows you to make modifications to a codebase, and contribute it back to the overall project. OER repositories don't give you this 'linking' or 'derivative' capability, which would be nice, but, as some people rightly pointed out, learning cannot be reduced to resources and people should have ownership over the spaces in which they co-create, so the centralised OER silo project runs into further problems...

In the spirit of Actor-Network theory, I do not think we should make a distinction between the interactions with resources perhaps through an OER repository and the interactions with other people perhaps through their blogs. I think we should consider all these 'learning transactions'. In online learning, these transactions can always (usually?) be reduced to a digital asset.

My proposal is for a system to enable tagging, collection and sharing of 'learning transactions' and the capability to recognise derivatives of a transaction and where that fits in the 'tree'.

For example, each resource that I 'star' in the ocTEL reader should be hashed and scooped into my online learning 'portfolio' in the github type learning platform. This would also give other users the capability to add this transaction to their own 'portfolio',  and it all adds up to giving any user the capability to create their own courses out of arrangements of public 'transactions'. In this respect the difference between my proposed system and existing repositories is that my proposal is 'horizontal' (if thats the right word) whereas the 'library system' has a traditional vertical 'order' to it.

But doesn't the 'edu-github' just become another silo?
Not if there is a standard behind the process of turning some online content into a 'transaction'. The standard could be adopted by mainstream VLEs as a method of importing content.

I would appreciate any comments or suggestions about this...

Monday, 15 April 2013

Sugata Mitra, understanding teaching practice ad hominem and the role of the LT

Just responding to a forum post on the #ocTEL website and though I would write this down as a blog.

Having spoken with Sugata at the 2009 ALT-C, it was clear to me that the idea of 4-5 kids working together was the key, and the problem solving inquiry based learning style. He certainly has a style that makes this type of learning fun, and a personality to back this up, which makes me think if this success is a result of him (ad hominem) or of his pedagogy.

I wonder how well these ideas ‘scale’ or ‘transfer’ too. For example i have read critiques of Montessori practice that point right back to her (ad-hominem) as the success factor. I wonder how much this can be said of Mitra’s methodology, (or homeschool for that matter)…

I guess what I am coming to is that I believe it is the ‘personality’ of the tutor as much as anything that motivates learning. Learners will adapt to their tutor's style if s/he has passion for the subject.

 I think this is problematic from a tech perspective as the ‘techs’ are trying to create ‘replicable’ or ‘transferrable’ pedagogic situations but they will work one year and then fail mysteriously the next, and then work again.

The ‘learning’ part of ‘learning technology’ means that suddenly all the rules of ‘technological development’ (eg. replicability, consistency) do not apply any more. 

This is a headache in one sense, but when we start to fit the technology around the tutor (ad hominem) as well as the learning context or educational content, we can stop worrying about trying to embed technology in the same way and concentrate on personalised technology choices that empower people to teach and learn

It certainly broadens the task of an LT, but I think that with the diverse array of technology choices, the conversations we have with tutors can be more along the lines of ‘what do you feel comfortable with trying’ and less the exasperated ‘but don’t you see that if you use lecture capture, VLE, [take your pick] it will be better for everyone’.

Its like taking the constructivism that eLearning bods cherish, and actually applying it to our own practice – ie taking our tutors one step at a time into their ‘zones of proximal development’ rather than forcing new technology paint-by-numbers style on peoples working practices.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


I have just been to the first webinar of the #octel mooc https://sas.elluminate.com/m.jnlp?sid=7565&password=M.DE7761F09D9A3D6F03A998E592ED6D, where the chat window was discussing the pedagogy behind moocs, whether it is anything new, whether we can accredit from a MOOC (how can we do the marking) and other things...

To continue this thread I thought I would write down a list of projects that could have been labelled MOOC, had the term been invented yet.

iTunes U
iTunes U offers free content, from a proprietary (but free) software (iTunes). The content is hosted by the universities and fed to iTunes U via RSS. Not sure when this started, but the content is multimedia only (podcast, video), OPEN FORMATS (mp3, mp4), and arranged into courses (lecture 1 - lecture 10). I have 'attended' several Philosophy courses on iTunes U from the heavily produced (Justice with Michael Sandel) to the less so (one on Nietzche by Oxford U seemed to be nothing more than a voice recorder in a tutors pocket).

My question is to what extent does the MOOC offerings now (coursera, udacity, edX, ocTEL) enhance or change this model?

If the answer is that the other platforms have p2p communication tools and self-assesment, then to what extent does the Coursera/ Udacity MOOC platform differ from Moodle, which is open source, scalable, multimedia and open standards rich? Also a place where you can control your own content without giving it away to the coursera or udacity platform (which I believe is in the legal agreement with publishing through them)

My gut is telling me that iTunes U is no good today because it is too free. Nobody knows who has downloaded what. The other systems want you to enrol (ie give up your data), which I can only presume is profitable from a silicon valley point of view... iTunes U content is more capable of enabling 'offline' learning, as online access is not a pre-requisite, once the recordings are downloaded.

note... I do not work for iTunes U, but i think it is a good focal point for comparing what we have today.

Moodle has been around for around 15 years now. It has always been open source, and for many years has been able to host video, quiz, discussion (wiki) activities. Why has nobody developed a moodle site and allowed thousands to self enrol for free? 

I know this is very possible because my University has an open Moodle site (https://openlearning.lancs.ac.uk) which anyone can self-register and self-enrol on courses. This was intended to be a hub of open content and courses, much like the MOOCs, but  perhaps more familiar? The problem is engaging tutors to see the point in opening their courses. It offers them or the university nothing (unless it is surrounded by the hype associated with FutureLearn, in which case...)

Seriously,  we've been co-creating for a long time with Wikipedia to create the single largest body of knowledge in existence.  I've talked of the university of Wikipedia half heartedly for a while now,  but maybe some wiki plus discussion combination it seems at least viable. Needs a 'course format' to fit the bill here though.

Educational tablets

These are pretty new to the party, but is this the Panacea for mass education? An tablet with subscription based educational content. You can see other publishers quickly joining this game to e-leaning-y-fy their textbooks and sell units. And it fits the bill for 'university in my pocket' and 'off the shelf' technology.

I can see these selling like wildfire across schools and colleges, who want to present a tech-forward approach, and have existing subscriptions. But is the pedagogy any good, or is it good just for autonomous rote learning.

The whole thing makes me think that the game is still pretty open in terms of sales (there is lots more money to be made in Coursera courses or orange tablets), but fairly closed in terms of the pedagogy 
  • is this orange tablet a modern learning machine that supports autonomous fact collecting from animated resources - probably
  • is coursera making a splash because of enrolments, rather than something new in the teaching game - probably

I'm for taking moodle and adding the toolset (such as extended RSS Reader like the ocTEL reader) to enable the massive educational experiences. That way the platform is always open for people to download and re-mix, in a way that is not possible with Coursera and Udacity.

Can anyone else think of 'the others' in this race for massive-ified education or have something to add to my post

Please comment!!

Monday, 8 April 2013

RSS - you'd think it had gone the way of Google Reader

Just trying to subscribe to the interesting blogs on #octel. Why is it so difficult to get an RSS feed from Wordpress or Blogger? It's hard just to find the link..

Is RSS going the way of the Google Reader, or is there time left yet?

Who does the driving? Technology or pedagogy?

Thought I would blog on this one. Please do comment if you have anything to add.

Perusing through the ocTEL mailing lists, I have noticed that a few people are talking about who does the driving in this relationship. The commonly held view is that pedagogy should come first and technology should be its slave. It is religiously cited by Learning Technologists and academics against their ISS division.

This blog post wants to make you think about whether this is such a no-brainer.

Taken from a post on the JISCMail list:

The temptation given the many different technologies evolving every year is that we say “How can I adapt my teaching to make use of this technology” rather than “Is there a technological tool out there that will enhance what I do?”

How can I adapt my teaching to make use of this technology? vs Is there a technological tool out there that will enhance what I do?

My take is that reality is less clear cut than this. Most innovation happens in the no man's land or 'the rub' in between pedagogy and technology, and who is to say what is the 'driving' force, when both conditions are necessary? When you are considering the adoption of a new tool, it can be useful to run it past your existing pedagogical practices, but that is no guarantee that your learner's experience will improve as a result. It may get worse as you get used to the new tool. The risk here is that you are perfecting the 'mechanical horse', rather than rethinking the learning process.

The question goes further back than this. Are my current teaching practices appropriate? Who do they serve? I think the problem is that online technology and traditional teaching are not always comfortable bedfellows. The technology wants to disrupt everything in its purest form, and the traditional teacher wants to domestic-ise it. For example, many teachers ask me how best to use the VLE, but behind this question is 'how best can I use the VLE in support of my lectures?', so it gets used as a resource repository, a self-testing centre, and sometimes an FAQ. 

9 times out of 10, teachers are not looking for this answer: 

"get rid of your lectures and spend that time co-creating knowledge with your students in online discussions and resource sharing exercises"

they are looking for this:

"why don't you try adding MCQs so the students can do formative quizzes, and the VLE will do the marking?"

So the internet-as-p2p-communication tool gets used an a autonomous 'hole in the wall' portal for fact checking.

This is because most teachers will compartmentalise their 'VLE stuff' away from their 'lecturing stuff' so hobble its potential from the start by not integrating the VLE activities with their classwork. For the student to take the VLE work seriously, there must not be a break in between classwork and VLE mediated homework. (You're surfing the same wave, right, albeit with different feeling 'sections' and 'bowls')

Getting back to the main question (Is there a technological tool out there that will enhance what I do?), the argument could now be framed:

What can (careful use of) this technology bring to my students? which puts the technology back in the driving seat, at least rhetorically (and perhaps thats where this question belongs full stop).

I think the recent rapid emergence of new technologies such as podcasting or mobile real time communication really makes us rethink this chicken and egg question. Sometimes technology will afford something you haven't already thought of, or suddenly make possible a new way of communicating (such as using public channels on lecture captures for peer support and resource sharing) which can enhance practice in unexpected ways. Similarly poor use of a tool (such as not moderating forums or over use of MCQs) will inhibit the learning even if the theory is right.

It is certainly easier to evaluate each new technology on the basis of how it affects our current practice. We need to first question if our current practice is acceptable, or if it hobbles the potential of the technology. e-Learning takes us back to the primary question, not to be used as a gloss for existing practice.

Perhaps it ends up like most domestic car sharing arrangements: both parties get a chance to drive sometimes, but always with the 'support' of the other half (shouting out instructions and directions, sometimes down the phone at someone else)      :-)

(and isn't it all really about getting there, safely, without the kids falling out or being sick?)

Thursday, 4 April 2013

xMOOCs, cMOOCs and what I might get from #octel

MOOC is a popular word buzzing around universities at the moment, and some people are talking about Udacity, Coursera, FutureLearn like they are going to be the be all and end all for higher education. Much of the content for these platforms is video, and there has been some notable one-off successes in terms of class size and retention rates, mainly in the states, backed up with venture capital.

Just to stop here:

the reduction of education to video clips of content concerns me as it seems like stage 1 in justifying the status quo of further elitism in the current system. "Let them eat cake..." or something like that... ('watch it on catchup')

There doesn't appear to be a lot of new pedagogy, for all the fuss, and the lack of a human teacher to help us understand or curate these 'assets' places more value on the 'asset' itself, which may or may not be good, discoverable, understandable, copyrightable, formatted etc.

So, we have these 'clips/ assets' interweaved with discussion forums, which for a long time has been the mainstay of distance teaching, or informal education. So again nothing new here.

So far.

Going back a little. The video heavy/ 'traditional model' MOOC (xMOOCs) have had the first say (Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity), made the first splash, but we must remember the story is at the beginning. I declared my concern above, not to condemn MOOCs totally as a conspiracy to increase HE elitism, but to make clear that arguments need to be made carefully, lest we drift in this direction.

What of all the discussion though? I have already declared my cynicism that 'there is something new' in the pedagogy of MOOCs, and 'normal' people have been learning skills online (autonomously driven, socially supported) through forums and communities since the 90's. The MOOC in this respect is a 'wrapper' around the informal conversations that were happening anyway, and this is where the ocTEL platform comes in. As an aggregator of hashtags across the web, uniting the monolithic communities that have supported each other for nearly a decade, and all out of a WP installation. Now that seems more like something new.

So this is what I hope to get out of ocTEL. More understanding of what the 'discussion' part of MOOC has to offer (cMOOC) and how the content and discussions are best archived and curated for my future reference.

And with some luck and a bit of magic, this will appear on the ocTEL website now!! :-)