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.