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

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Implementing a university-wide change programme to promote blended learning: Where do we start?

Change is rarely easy, and universities are notoriously conservative institutions which are inherently cautious. The implementation of a change programme involving technology requires a delicate balance in order to bring about genuinely new ways of working whilst endeavouring to address the understandable concerns of staff. What approaches actually work?

At the University of Westminster we are embarking on a wide-ranging programme known as Learning Futures which aims to transform the student and staff experience by creating a streamlined, forward-looking and engaging curriculum. The programme comprises a range of parallel projects which address themes such as curriculum and assessment, learning and teaching, academic support, employability, internationalisation, and sustainability. Ive been involved in the learning and teaching strand of the Learning Futures programme since the start, specifically in relation to the promotion of technology-enhanced learning and blended learning approaches.

The proposed changes have all emerged from staff themselves in a bottom-up approach, albeit with the full support of the senior management of the university. The enthusiasm of staff in generating new ideas and their continued commitment in developing the projects has been a revelation. However, up to now it has largely been driven by a relatively small proportion of staff the so-called early adopters’– the committed minority who are willing to experiment and keen to innovate. As we move towards the implementation phase of the programme it will be critical to maintain momentum in the face of the resistance to change which is bound to emerge.

What resistance?
It is inevitable that there will be resistance to change, particularly change which involves the introduction of new technologies. As Wheeler (2014a) points out, there is a perception amongst some academic staff that technology will undermine their role and require the investment of a lot of time learning new skills. If there is resentment or distrust, this can be transmitted to students. 

Marshall (2010) suggests that the resistance to change may be borne out of a perceived lack of convincing evidence that technology actually benefits the students learning, despite the fact that, as Garrison and Vaughan (2013) point out, this is not a defensible position. Nevertheless, such resistance patently exists, and this invariably makes it difficult to get buy-in from the remainder of the staff.

We have a clear vision about where we want to be. We are obviously not starting from scratch, since technology is already used widely throughout the university and there are many examples of highly innovative practice. What we are seeking to achieve is a much more integrated approach to technology-enhanced learning where the technology is seamlessly embedded in our courses and both staff and students are comfortable with technology.

So, weve generated the ideas, we have the approval of senior management to proceed, and we have project structures in place. But now we actually have to move from the strategy to the tactics. Where do we start?

Ive been doing quite a lot of research around this, and there are obviously loads of issues to consider, but three immediate questions emerge:

1.       Should we assess the extent to which the institution is ready for change?
I have mixed views on this issue. I can see that there would be some value in assessing institutional readiness, but given that the decision has been taken to go ahead with the change programme are we just wasting valuable time? There is obviously a certain appetite for change, as demonstrated by the ideas and proposals already generated in the early stages of the programme. We could carry out an audit of existing practice, but this will probably take a long time and all it is likely to tell us is what we already know: that there are pockets of innovative practice involving technology but the majority of courses are delivered primarily through traditional means. What else could we do to assess our readiness?

There are tools available which are specifically designed for this very purpose. For example:
  • ELTI (Embedding Learning Technologies Institutionally) A JISC audit tool which is designed to inform the process of embedding learning technologies, assist in developing institutional structures, culture and expertise and to encourage cross boundary collaboration and groupings.
  • The eMM Framework (E-Learning Maturity Model) which is designed to measure the capability of institutions to sustainably engage in technology-supported learning and teaching.

Has anyone got experience of using these tools and if so, were they useful?

2.       How do we ensure that staff have the skills and confidence necessary to adopt technologies more widely?
It is highly likely that only those early adopters will feel comfortable working extensively with new technologies. Wheeler (2014b) highlights the importance of universities providing high quality, sustainable support to academics to ensure that they see the relevance of new technologies and gain confidence in using them. The recently published NMC Horizon Report2014 identifies the challenge of low digital fluency of faculty and proposes professional development for academic staff, not just in digital media skills, but also in the underlying concepts of digital literacy (Johnson et al., 2014).

Garrison & Vaughan (2008) indicate that the most common form of professional development involves skills-based training in specific techniques or software. However, they suggest that such an approach rarely has sufficient follow-up and ongoing support for academic staff, and thus the impact is minimal. They propose an alternative approach based around the idea of a Community of Inquiry in which local faculty groupings of eight to twelve staff engage in a continuous process of reflection and discourse about teaching problems where there is a focus on getting things done. The communities adopt a blended learning approach which combines face-to-face and online activities.

What approaches have been used at other institutions?

3.       What are the mechanisms needed to actually implement change?
What structures need to be in place to promote the widespread adoption of technology in learning and teaching? What does the change programme actually involve? Are there tools and techniques we can adopt as a vehicle for change. For example:
  • Peter Reed (University of Liverpool) suggests a spine of core technologies used across the institution with, for example, baseline standards for the use of the VLE together with online assessment, lecture capture and ePortfolios
  •  Keith Smyth and colleagues at Edinburgh Napier University have developed the 3E Framework to support the meaningful incorporation of technology into learning, teaching and assessment
  • York St John University has published a Technology-Enhanced Learning Quality Framework (which incidentally is based on Edinburgh Napiers 3E Framework) which sets out minimum expectations in a university policy document which all members of staff are expected to adhere to.

What other mechanisms have been used, and how effective have they been?

Your views?
I would be really interested in hearing from colleagues at other institutions who have been through similar change programmes and have experience of implementing change. Please feel free to add your comments or contact me directly.

Authors note: I should stress that I am just a member of the Learning Futures team at the University of Westminster I am not leading the programme. I should also add that the views expressed above are my personal reflections, and do not necessarily reflect the policy of the University of Westminster.

  • Garrison, D. and Vaughan N. (2008) Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
  • Garrison, D. & Vaughan, N., (2013) “Institutional change and leadership associated with blended learning innovation: Two case studies”, in Internet and Higher Education Vol. 18, July 2013
  • Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition [Online] Available from
  • Marshall, S(2010) 'Change, technology and higher education: are universities capable of organisational change?', Research in Learning Technology, 18: 3, 179 — 192
  • Wheeler, S. (2014a) The Survival of Higher Education (5): Recommendations
  • Wheeler, S. (2014b) The Survival of Higher Education (4) 5 Key Objectives   

Sunday, 12 January 2014

My new toy: the Samsung Galaxy Note 8

I got a new gadget for Christmas. I'd wanted a mini-tablet for a while and I read a lot of the reviews about the 7 inch and 8 inch tablets available. Invariably the iPad Mini always comes out on top, but I'm afraid I just don't buy into the whole Apple thing, and I've been an Android user for the past couple of years. Most of the reviews of Android tablets rated the new Nexus 7 as the best on the market and there's no doubt that it's a lovely piece of kit. However, I'd read a few very positive reviews of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, and I was attracted to the potential additional functionality offered by its in-built stylus - the S-Pen. All the reviews acknowledged that the Note was an excellent tablet but indicated that it wasn't worth paying around a £100 more than the Nexus just to get the S-Pen.

wasn't convinced. When I held the two tablets in a store, the Note just felt nicer in the hand than the Nexus. And I was really taken with the idea of the stylus. Then, just before Christmas I saw the Note on offer at PC World for the same price as the Nexus and I didn't hesitate.

I've been using it for about three weeks now, and the verdict is – I absolutely love it. It’s a lovely size, I think the screen is great and it is just so useful. And as for the stylus – I think it’s brilliant. It can be used in place of the virtual keyboard for any application that requires text input – whether it is word processing, emailing, note taking or web browsing. You simply write on the note pad at the bottom of the screen and it recognises the text. The example below shows me using it with the Evernote note-taking app. 

It's particularly useful with an app like Evernote, because once the text has been input you can then access that note from any device. I've already used it to make notes at meetings and to jot down thoughts and ideas, and it just works. 

The next thing I want to experiment with is marking up PDF documents. I think this might have real potential for assessing students' coursework which has been electronically submitted. I also want to try out an app called Lecture Notes which enables you save handwritten notes.

The only problem I've had with the Note is the stick I've been getting from the family because the thing is rarely out of my hand.