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Jane Hart has once again asked for people to vote on the top ten tools that they use when working online. She has been doing this annually since 2007. This is a helpful prompt for reflection on whether my use of technology has changed over the past year and if so why, and if not why. I am not very adventurous in adopting new tools. Technology doesn’t interest me enough to want to experiment with tools I am unlikely to find useful in my every day work. I can remember clearly being shown Second Life a few years ago and knowing that I would never want to spend time trying to learn how to use it, and now it isn’t mentioned very often, or not in my circles, so I don’t regret not engaging with it. I am not afraid of technology, even of Second Life, although I was in the very early days, when I remember that I even resisted having a computer at home. All that struggling to use BBC computers in primary school classrooms, way back in the 80s, really put me off to begin with. At that time I would never have thought I would end up working as an education consultant mostly online.

These days, these are the tools I use and what I use them for.

Personal, private communication

Email: I still use this a lot and for many things it is still my preferred mode of communication, although I recognize that this has become easier since I have been independent and no longer receive hundreds of institutional emails, which have been copied to everyone, like I used to in the old days. Email does not work though for discussion about research, because it’s difficult to keep track of the ongoing conversation and edits.

Pbworks Wiki: I use this a lot for collaborative research. I find it a fantastic tool for this. Not only can we keep all the resources and data in one place, but we can also discuss papers and ideas. I also use it for shared reading, e.g. to discuss a book. I spend a lot of time in my wikis and see that I now have 34 wikis in my list (not all currently active), most of them set up by me.

Skype: This is a great tool for personal communication and team meetings. And it’s free! I use Skype quite a lot. I prefer it for meetings. I have never liked the phone, so I don’t particularly want to Skype for ‘chat’.

iPhone: I am not of fan of phones and only use them when no other form of communication will do the trick. In the past few weeks I have spent what I consider to be an unreasonable number of hours changing my phone provider. I hate how difficult they make this.

Personal Resource Curation

Mendeley: This is where I collect all the research papers that I am interested in, read them and make notes on them. I really like that it is so easy to cite references from Mendeley. There are public groups in Mendeley and although I am a member of some, I do not really engage with them.

Evernote: I use this for making a note of interesting websites and online sources. It is easy to use and organise and complements the PDF/Word documents that I collect in Mendeley.

Feedly: This is where I gather RSS feeds to all the blogs I am interested in, but I am a slow reader (not good at skimming), so I don’t get to read as many as I would like to keep up with. I am more likely to read blog posts if they come into my email.

Flickr: This is semi public/private. I store nearly all my photos on Flickr, but I only allow some contacts to see photos of my family. I don’t like seeing photos of myself online, so I can empathise with others who might feel the same and don’t assume that everyone is happy to have their photo posted online. I tend to take photos as memories of places I have visited and found visually stimulating.

Kindle: I have just bought a Kindle PaperWhite. I love it. I already have a collection of books that I want to read – all in the palm of my hand – and it is sympathetic to my ever failing eyesight!

Public communication

WordPress: My blog is very important to me. It is a place where I publicly reflect on what I am thinking about in relation to my work. It helps me to do this reflection. I don’t very often use my blog for reflecting on more personal issues.

Facebook: I don’t really like Facebook very much, and as such don’t post there very often, but a lot of people that I like use it, so I tend to look at it most days to see what they are up to. I am a member of a few Facebook groups.

Twitter/Tweetdeck: I am also not a huge fan of Twitter, although I can see its advantages for sharing ideas. I find I have to trawl through a lot of ‘dross’ to find the gems. I like Tweetdeck for conferences. I find I can follow a conference very well online, at a distance, by creating a conference column in Tweetdeck.

Google+: I have an account, and I share my blog posts there, but it has never really resonated with me and I don’t really use it for anything else or follow it.

LinkedIn: I also share my blog posts on LinkedIn. My profile is actually a bit of a mess and I should do something about it, but I’m not sure what the benefits of LinkedIn are.

Blackboard Collaborate: This is not free for large numbers but it’s great for webinars, although Adobe Connect is also not bad these days. I have tried Big Blue Button in the past – but not recently. I could definitely find use for a reliable free tool that could host large numbers of participants for a webinar.

Presentations

Powerpoint: I’m not really a fan of this from the receiver point of view, but I haven’t yet really worked out why. I think it’s because presentations are necessarily more didactic than would be my choice. I still use it, but try to have as little text on slides as possible, although I know that this doesn’t help people who are listening to recordings.

Prezi: I have used this twice. For me it needs to be used judiciously for specific purposes.

Word: I use Word every day. I am now questioning whether Word is always used for presentation. I think it is – even if that presentation is only to myself. I am working in Word now, to write this post.

Camtasia: I use this for recording online presentations. I also use it for research purposes and when I am working on projects which require interviewing people.

Research

Survey Monkey: I have used this quite a lot. Going back to check, I see that to date I have created 23 surveys in Survey Monkey. I used to have a paid account (unlimited questions), but now I use the free account (up to 10 questions). I find it a really useful tool to get started on gathering empirical data. Email and Skype can be used for follow up.

Sharing

Dropbox: Apart from the tools I have mentioned above, I use Dropbox – for sharing large files, such as videos.

Excel: This remains a very good tool for gathering large amounts of data for analysis. For example, I used it extensively in a project where I was working with 21 Universities and synthesizing their work on a variety of funded projects.

Searching for information

Browser: I use Google Chrome. Before moving to Chrome, I used Internet Explorer and Firefox. I have had fewer problems with Chrome. But sometimes Chrome fails me and then I use Safari.

I also search for information through Google Search, Wikipedia, YouTube, Google Scholar and Google Translate.

I know I should use a variety of search engines. Perhaps this is what I need to work on for next year.

TOP TEN TOOLS

So which are my top ten tools? I know I use other tools as well as the ones I have mentioned here, such as Diigo, ScoopIt, JustGiving, Moodle and so on. This makes me wonder why I have focused on the tools above. On her site Jane Hart tells us ‘how’ to vote – but as far as I can see she doesn’t stipulate what ‘Top Ten’ means. Does it mean the number of times, or how often you use a tool? Does it mean how useful you find the tool? Does it mean how easy you find it to use the tool? Does it mean that it is free? And so on.

I’m going to select 10 based on the frequency with which I use them, either every day or at a minimum every week – and as such there are some important ones (to me) missing from this list. Here is my Top Ten, created according to this criterion.

  1. Google Chrome (that’s where I start each day)
  2. Email – Yahoo (that’s my next stop at the beginning of each day. I reply to emails as necessary and save them to my folders)
  3. WordPress (I check comments and stats every day and might write a post, if I have something to say)
  4. Facebook (I check what my friends/connections are doing, but find myself constantly asking why I am doing this. It feels a bit like voyeurism, since I rarely post in Facebook myself)
  5. Tweetdeck (I scan the different columns for new posts which contain information which is relevant to my work. Occasionally I find something. I am very grateful to those who retweet my tweets)
  6. Word (then I get down to it and start writing. Usually the writing gets copied into another site, e.g. PbWorks, or WordPress, or an email etc.)
  7. Flickr (I usually have a backlog of photos that I want to edit and upload. I like to see what other Flickr contacts and users have posted. I am always so impressed by the openness and creativity of others)
  8. Kindle (This is very recent. I read something every day on my Kindle PaperWhite. I can upload PDFs and comment on them and also upload a whole wishlist of books I hope to read. I read every night before sleeping. It used to be tangible hard copy books, but I find the Kindle easier. Will I be missing the hard copy books by this time next year?)
  9. PbWorks (I don’t think a week goes by without adding to or commenting on text which has been uploaded to one of the wikis that I collaborate in. This is where I experience the most in depth discussions in my working life).
  10. Evernote (This helps me to remember and store those weblinks that I often come across serendipitously and which I don’t have time to read in the moment).

I realize that this post is a bit like our work on Footprints of Emergence in which we (Roy Williams and I) create a visualization of an emergent learning experience in an open learning environment (See this open wiki for details).

In drawing these footprints we realize that the reflective process is dynamic and can change from instance to instance, so maybe if I were to list my top ten tools tomorrow they would be different. But this is my list for today and now.

The video/audio recording of the presentation that Frances Bell and I gave at the ALTMOOCSIG conference last month has now been posted. Many thanks to Mira Vogel  for organizing this event.

We were asked very early on (by a Rhizo14 participant) whether our presentation would be recorded – so here is the link. to all the presentations including ours.

https://lecturecast.ucl.ac.uk:8443/ess/portal/section/6f625859-7a2a-4100-a698-7fa18bdf7994

During the presentation we mention that we wrote about our research into rhizomatic learning to date, and preparation for the presentation, in a series of blog posts prior to the conference. Here is the post with information and links about this.  And here is a link to the complete Prezi that we prepared for the presentation.  The video/audio covers the most relevant slides, but we stopped short of showing them all. (I haven’t yet discovered how to embed a Prezi in WordPress!)

It has been interesting to listen to this recording. I opened it with some trepidation, as I wasn’t sure how well our presentation went, but on hearing the recording I was pleasantly surprised that it is more coherent than it felt to be at the time, and that in a very short session I think we managed to cover the main points we wanted to make and allow time for questions. We received four questions. All were interesting, but perhaps the one that was most relevant to research about MOOCs at the moment was raised by Marion Waite who asked whether our research was/is ethical. This is a question that we have been discussing with Mariana Funes and Viv Rolfe in relation to researching learning in MOOCs in general, not just the Rhizo14 MOOC.

For feedback on the day by various conference participants, see this blog post – responses to the moocs which way now conference . Many thanks again to Mira Vogel for pulling this together.

Fred Garnett has also spent some time putting together a Slideshare which summarises the presentations made during the day. Here it is.

British MOOCs; a Curated Conversation from London Knowledge Lab, University of London

Thanks to ALTMOOCSIG for a stimulating event which has given us plenty to think about.

Beyond Assessment slideshare

 

This was the third in a series of 3 talks that Stephen Downes gave in London this week.

Jul 11, 2014
Keynote presentation delivered to 12th ePortfolio, Open Badges and Identity Conference , University of Greenwich, Greenwich, UK.

ePortfolios and Open Badges are only the first wave in what will emerge as a wider network-based form of assessment that makes tests and reviews unnecessary. In this talk I discuss work being done in network-based automated competency development and recognition, the challenges it presents to traditional institutions, and the opportunities created for genuinely autonomous open learning.

For recordings of all three talks see OLDaily

Beyond Assessment – Recognizing Achievement in a Networked World
Jul 11, 2014. 12th ePortfolio, Open Badges and Identity Conference , University of Greenwich, Greenwich, UK (Keynote).

Beyond Institutions – Personal Learning in a Networked World
Jul 09, 2014. Network EDFE Seminar Series, London School of Economics (Keynote).

Beyond Free – Open Learning in a Networked World
Jul 08, 2014. 12th Annual Academic Practise & Technology Conference, University of Greenwich, Greenwich, UK (Keynote).

This was perhaps the most forward thinking and challenging of the three talks. I wasn’t at the talk, but listened to the recording. What follows is my interpretation of what Stephen had to say, but it was a long talk and I would expect others to take different things from it and interpret the ideas presented differently.

Educators have been wrestling with the issue of assessment, how to do it well, how to make it authentic, fair and meaningful, how to engage learners in the process and so on for many, many years.

Assessment has become even more of a concern since the advent of MOOCs and MOOC are symptomatic of the changes that are happening in learning. How do you assess thousands of learners in a MOOC?  The answer is that you don’t – or not in the way that we are all accustomed to – which is testing and measurement to award credentials such as degrees and other qualifications. This has resulted in many institutions experimenting with offering a host of alternative credentials in the form of open badges and certificates.

Stephen’s vision is that in the future assessment will be based not on what you ‘know’ but on what you ‘do’ – what you do on the public internet. The technology now exists to map a more precise assessment of people through their online interactions. Whilst this raises concerns around issues of privacy and ethical use of data, it also means that people will be more in control of their own assessment. In the future we will have our own personal servers and will personally manage our multiple identities through public and private social networks. Prospective employers seeking a match for the jobs they want filled can then view the details of these identities. There is some evidence that learners are already managing their own online spaces. See for example Jim Groom’s work on A Domain of One’s Own.

Why might new approaches to assessment such as this be necessary? Here are some of the thoughts that Stephen shared with us.

It is harder and harder these days to get a job, despite the fact that employers have job vacancies.  There is a skills gap.  The unemployed don’t have the skills that employers need. We might think that the solution would be to educate people in the needed skills and then employers could hire them, but employers don’t seem to know what skills are needed and although learning skills inventories help people to recognise what they don’t know, these inventories don’t help them to get to what they do know.

Education is crucial for personal and skills development and more education leads to happier people and a more developed society. The problem is that we confuse the outcomes of education with the process of education. We think that we can determine/control learning outcomes and what people learn. See Slide 14

instructional design

But useful outcomes are undefinable (e.g. understand that …..) and we need an understanding of understanding. Definable outcomes such as ‘recite’ and ‘display’ are simpler but behaviourist (Slide 18).   There is more to knowing than a set of facts that you need to pass the test.  Knowing something is to recognise it, in the sense that you can’t unknow it.  Stephen used ‘Where’s Wally’ as an example of this:

Wallywhere's wally

Knowing, according to Stephen, is a physical state – it is the organisation of connections in our brain. Our brain is a pattern recogniser. Knowing is about ‘doing’ rather that some mental state.

My understanding of what Stephen is saying is that if we believe that knowing is about pattern recognition, then achievement will be recognized in how good learners are at pattern recognition as evidenced by what they ‘do’ in their online interactions. ‘Assessors’ will also need to be good at pattern recognition.

Learners are increasingly more sensitive to the patterns they see in the huge amount of data that they interact with on the internet, and machines are getting closer to being able to grade assignments through pattern recognition.  As they interact online learners leave digital traces. Big data is being used to analyse these internet interactions.  This can be used for assessment purposes. But this has, of course, raised concerns about the ethics of big data analysis and the concern for privacy is spreading – as we have recently seen with respect to Facebook’s use of our data. (Slide 55)

Facebook research

A move to personally managed social networks rather than centrally managed social networks will enable learners to control what they want prospective employers to know about them and human networks will act as quality filters.

Stephen’s final word was that assessment of the future will redefine ‘body of work’.

assessment of the future

All these are very interesting ideas. I do wonder though whether it’s a massive assumption that all learners will be able to manage their own online identities such that they become employable. What are the skills needed for this? How will people get these skills? Will this be a more equitable process than currently exists, or will it lead to another set of hierarchies and marginalisation of a different group.

Lots to think about – but I really like the move to putting assessment more in the control of learners.

This was Stephen Downes’ second talk in a series of 3, which he is giving in London this week. This is how he introduced it on his blog Stephen’s Web 

In this presentation I look at the needs and demands of people seeking learning with the models and designs offered by traditional institutions, and in the spirit of reclaiming learning describe a new network-based system of education with the learner managing his or her education.

Although I have only listened to the recording of this talk, I found it more interesting than the first talk, which I listened to live, having been a delegate at the conference, although there was plenty of interest in that one too. What I like about Stephen’s talks is that he doesn’t pull any punches. He always challenges my thinking.

The thrust of this talk, from my perception, is, as the title suggests, that learning is no longer in the control of institutions, but increasingly personal and in the control of learners as they occupy a networked world. There is a distinction between personal learning and personalized learning. Institutions don’t understand personal learning because personal learning has to be in the control of the learner. It is made to order. Learning is built not from a kit but from scratch. Institutions think they are catering for personal learning, but in fact are offering personalized learning – which is ‘off the shelf’ learning; one package with a bunch of options.

There is evidence that today’s students are demanding change and want more control. Learning is no longer about remembering. The content, nature and means of learning are changing on a daily basis. Learning today is more about play and socializing. Lecturing is also changing. Lecturing today is not so much about content as creating the potential for dialogue.

A particularly challenging point that Stephen made was ‘Do away with models’ – learning models and design models.  The right model is no model. New versions of old models don’t produce results. It is obvious that people learn differently, have different objectives, priorities, goals and times when they want to learn, but if you use a learning model you are attempting to predefine the outcome, whereas learning should be about discovery and exploration. I would also say from the work I have done with Roy Williams, that we need to recognize that  learning will often be unpredictable and emergent. (See Emergent learning and learning ecologies in Web 2.0)

Autonomy rather than control is the essential in education. Autonomy does not mean no structure, it means choice of structure. Personal learning is based on self-organization and self-organizing networks. Learners need to reclaim management and organization of learning. The way forward will be for students/learners to have their own personal web server and run their own web services from their own home networks.  The University will be a box in your living room. Learning should be cooperative and networked. It is not content that is important, but the making of connections. Learners need networking skills.

What do we need from institutions?

We do not need

  • more models, more designs
  • more learning theories
  • more standards, measurement and centralization
  • more control
  • more of making the same mistakes

We do need mechanisms to support people in learning and bettering their lives. Institutions need to think in terms of serving many different people in many different ways and supporting personal learning, rather than attempting to control and personalize learning.

*************************************************************************************************

And here is an interesting blog post about this talk by Sonja Grussendorf – Beyond institutions: Stephen Downes at NetworkEDGE

See also Arun Karnad’s post:

The Royal Observatory

At the beginning of this week I was in Greenwich, London for the first time in my life. On Monday I travelled up the Thames from Embankment to Greenwich Pier by Clipper (another first) and stood on the decks of the Cutty Sark.The Cutty Sark

On Tuesday I spent the day at the University of Greenwich’s APT2014 Conference, the reason for the trip.

University of Greenwich Queen Anne Court (1)

On Wednesday I stood on the Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory.

The Meridian Line

A key question asked in the main exhibition room of Flamsteed House  at the Observatory is ‘Where am I? This related to how you can work out your exact location on the open seas, by knowing how to fix your latitude and longitude positions. But ‘Where am I?’ seems such an important and relevant question for an educator and although I didn’t visit Flamsteed House until the day after the Greenwich conference, I found myself constantly wondering where I am in relation to the discussions that were held during the conference.

One of the main reasons for attending the conference was to hear Stephen Downes speak. Where am I in my understanding of what he had to say and the implications of what he had to say? Here is the link to a recording of his full talk, Beyond Free – Open Learning in a Networked World  and this is the Abstract for the presentation:

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 10.00.41

This was the first in a series of 3 talks that Stephen is giving in London this week. He started his second talk, Beyond Institutions: Personal Learning in a Networked World – given to the NetworkEDGE conference at the London School of Economics on Wed 10th July – with the words: If you feel unfulfilled at the end of this talk, it’s because it doesn’t really have a beginning and doesn’t really have an end, i.e. it’s the middle talk in a series of three. I have only listened to the recording of this second talk.

I did feel somewhat unfulfilled after the first talk. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the conference – I thoroughly enjoyed it, attended some interesting sessions and talked to some great people, but at the end of the day I felt that a lot of questions had been raised but not many answers had been found. These questions were around what we mean by ‘open’, what we mean by ‘connected learning’ and what do universities understand about open, connected learning – not only what do they understand, but what are they doing about it, what are they becoming as a result of open learning in a networked world – and are they becoming what we would hope they become? As Stephen said, ‘Institutions are what we make them’.

This thinking about unanswered questions made me wonder whether the idea of flipped classrooms, which was mentioned in the opening talk by the Vice Chancellor, should be applied to conferences. Should we engage with the ideas to be presented by the keynote speaker before the conference, and present a discussion paper/workshop as a result of that – so that the key questions can be discussed.

The points I took from Stephen’s talk were that

‘Open’ means open in all senses, particularly in the sense of open sharing of thought processes, and should be the default position in Universities. Free and open access is not enough.

But Universities are resistant to openness in the sense of open sharing, and content providers do not want people to have free and open access. The promise of open resources has not materialized.

Open access makes a massive economic difference to users, but cost IS the problem for universities because universities see online learning in terms of money making.

The issue is not finding innovative ways of teaching, but innovative ways of learning.

The bulk of MOOCs are created in the image of traditional courses, but this was never the intention of the original cMOOCs.

Change in Universities is slow – too slow.

None of these points came as a surprise. None of them is unfamiliar, but challenging Universities to become more ‘open’ can be a risky business for employees and those that do can land themselves in trouble, as Stephen pointed out in his presentation. (See slide 29 for an example).

In general people seem to be more aware of the risks than the benefits. A new lecturer at the conference said that ‘openness’ is a risk for someone like her who is new in the job and trying to establish a reputation. Sheila McNeill, who was a panel member at the end of the day, urged this lecturer to be brave and just go for it. I wonder whether being strategic about openness is more important than being brave. Sharing openly doesn’t mean that you have to ‘bare your soul’ – there are other ways of sharing. A more impersonal and less risky approach is reporting. If open sharing doesn’t come easily then share what you have discovered to be useful, rather than your own work or personal thoughts. As Stephen said in his second talk to the London School of Economics, every learner is different and reacts to each learning scenario differently.

The Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor, also on the panel, seemed to recognize the difficulties when she said that open sharing in the form of lecturers recording their lectures and openly sharing them, is a risk to the University’s reputation – but she also acknowledged that a major issue for an institution is the need for cultural change. As she put it – universities will have to wait for some staff to shift or die before this culture change can be achieved.

Stephen asked for a show of hands for who was tweeting the conference proceedings and a show of hands for who had recorded their conference presentation.  Some were tweeting, but only one person had recorded their presentation. The person sitting next to me during the final panel session was inspired and enthusiastic about what she had heard during the day, but said that she had never taught online and had never taken an online course. It was all new for her.

For me, the concerns raised about openness should not be brushed aside. Questions of whether an academic’s or an institution’s reputation can be damaged by openness need to be discussed. The benefits or otherwise of openness need to be articulated. For me, it is not about whether you tweet at a conference or record your presentation and upload your Slideshare; all these can help to model a spirit of openness, but it’s more about trying to understand why openness is necessary and how we can all be supported in understanding and doing this. Ultimately, isn’t it about personal values and educational philosophies?

So I came away from Greenwich feeling that many questions had been raised, but that they were left hanging. I would have been interested in more discussion about whether there is agreement about the changes that Stephen suggested Universities need to make and if so how they will make these changes. But I have now listened to Stephen’s second talk to the London School of Economics, which helped me to understand the context of the first talk. Inge de Waard has blogged about it here: Fabulous ideas: economics, innovation, #education  and I hope to return with another blog post.

A big thank you to Simon Walker, Gillian Keyms and colleagues for organizing a thought-provoking event, and to all at Greenwich, particularly the students, who were so helpful, friendly and welcoming.

Yesterday Frances Bell and I gave a presentation at the ALTMOOCSIG – The Rhizome as Metaphor for Learning.

A Rhizo14 participant, Maha Bali, has asked: How did it go?

I haven’t really had a chance to discuss this with Frances yet (we had to rush off at the end of the day to catch our respective trains), but I have mixed feelings. I will start with the positives and then discuss the not so positives.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day. More importantly it was very useful for our research. Although we haven’t finished collecting data yet, preparing for a presentation gave us a push to really think through where we are up to. Our decision to write four blog posts about our research before we gave the presentation was, on reflection, both a good and a not so good idea – but more good, than bad. For me the blogging really helped to articulate our current research questions and clarify what we could and could not cover in the presentation. The negative side of this was, for me, that I then had so much in my head that it was difficult to present the ideas associated about rhizomatic learning concisely and with meaning. I think we ‘waffled’ a bit!

My long time research collaborator, Roy Williams, was also at the conference. This was great, because having worked together for so long now, I knew he would tell us straight up how he found our presentation – and he did!  He said that although he found our presentation thought-provoking and interesting (perhaps he was being kind and that was the sweetener before the pill :-)), he said it wasn’t sharp enough – and he was right. I sensed this even as we were speaking. But interestingly I think Roy and I also have this problem when presenting our work on emergent learning. We just have too much that we want to say and ideas around rhizomatic and emergent learning are not easy to communicate in a traditional form or to an audience who we cannot assume has ever thought of them before. Making a short concise presentation can end up short-changing the ideas being presented, but if it is not concise then people are either not going to listen, or get confused. This is one of the dilemmas. Frances and I hoped that by blogging about our planning for the presentation, we would overcome both these difficulties, but of course we cannot assume that anyone has read the blog posts.

Another dilemma is that rhizomatic learning by its very association with rhizomatic thinking and the work of Deleuze and Guattari as expounded in their book A Thousand Plateaus (1980) – resists approaches to hierarchical and arborescent ways of thinking and writing. This was very challenging and despite our best efforts I don’t think we succeeded in communicating what this might mean for education.

However, we did think carefully about this and designed our Prezi accordingly but in the presentation itself, I think we failed to communicate the difficulties that we think we are up against. But see the Prezi for the presentation and for an explanation see our four blog posts – Rhizo14: Emerging Ambiguities and Issues.

It is interesting that I don’t think we are alone in feeling that the research process is messy and perhaps needs a rethink to enable us to consider new ways of thinking about teaching and learning. In her keynote for the conference, Diana Laurillard said of her own MOOC – ICT in Primary Education

‘If you have to take a critical stance you have to be on the inside’.

Stephen Downes has also raised the problems of thinking about research in new ways in his recent presentation  –  Digital Research Methodologies Redux 

And George Roberts has made an interesting post today reporting on a keynote by Marlene Morrison (Oxford Brookes) at a conference he attended today, which focused on countering methodological stagnation.

…..Prof Emeritus Marlene Morrison (Oxford Brookes), … gives a radical barnstorming keynote challenge: “Educational administration, ethnography and education research: countering methodological stagnation. Provocative tales from an ethnographer.

George’s post maybe of interest to the Rhizo14 group that are engaged in auto ethnography research.

It would be easy at this point to say, as a few of our survey respondents have said, that rhizomatic learning and thinking, by it’s very nature is something that cannot be researched. But then how will we ever know that it is worthwhile to think of the rhizome as a metaphor for teaching and learning? It could be, as some of my most valued connections have said, that there is nothing in the idea of rhizomatic learning that makes any sense or is worth spending time on; or it could be that the metaphor has some uses, but is incomplete, as some of our survey repsonses have said; or it could be that Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas about rhizomatic thinking really will help us to make a paradigm shift in teaching and learning. Frances, Mariana and I haven’t got far enough in our data analysis to make any comments about this as yet.

Finally thank you to those who showed an interest in the work we are doing and raised questions or commented on our work during the ALTMOOCSIG conference day. For me these were – my trusted collaborator Roy Williams, my online friend Fred Garnett who I have met a few times face-to-face – who thinks that the metaphor is not helpful because it is about plants rather than humans, my colleague Marion Waite from Oxford Brookes University –  who raised the all important question of ethics in this type of research, and a new connection I made – Dr Helga Hlaðgerður Lúthersdóttir – who was the only person who came to talk to me about Deleuze and Guattari and I am convinced knew more about their work than I did :-)

BUT, my collaborator Roy Williams, said of our presentation – ‘There was at least one elephant in the room’.  I would say there were three – community, curriculum and convener – but although all these three seem to be significant for us in our research, we haven’t yet finished our data collection and we haven’t yet completed our data analysis. So they will have to remain as elephants in the room, until we have something sensible to say that can be backed up by evidence.

So Rhizo14 – which way now? For me we need to decide whether this is worth pursuing or not, and if so why?

MOOCs – Which way now? This was the question for the ALTMOOCSIG day conference (Friday June 27th) which was hosted at UCL.

As an independent consultant and researcher, I have to think carefully about where to invest my time and resources. This was a free conference (thank you ALT, Mira Vogel and Fiona Harvey), but of course there were expenses involved with travelling from Cumbria to London – but it was well worth it.

All the sessions I attended were interesting and thought provoking and there was a very good atmosphere – relaxed and friendly, but intent on discussing the issues. For an excellent post about some of the sessions see George Robert’s blog – Open online courses: ALT MOOC SIG.

Two sessions that I attended that George did not, were Ronald MacIntyre’s Workshop – ‘Open Education and the Promises we make’– and Matt Jenner’s session ‘MOOCs: it’s not about the money’.

In Ron’s workshop, our group had a lot of fun drawing what we thought about the promises we make in open education – or rather the wonderful Fiona Harvey did the drawing.

ALTMOOCSIG

Overall, I think we decided that promises are being made in the name of MOOCs but many are not being fulfilled.  Not really a surprise. The divide between learners and their teachers is getting wider, as teachers and institutions focus on their ‘star’ status, marketing, brand and coffers. There was  quite a bit of cynicism around about the value of MOOCs, not just in this workshop but throughout the day generally, despite there being examples of excellent practice. Some that stand out for me from the presentations I attended were:

  • Patrick (Paddy) Haughian’s presentation – ‘Beyond the selfie – social learning in a connectivist environment’. Comments that Paddy made which interested me were:

‘Contribute content and allow the content to drive it’

‘Assessment is the problem’

‘It’s all about making – be creative – create artefacts’

These comments although reported out of context here, seemed to resonate with some of the thinking Frances Bell and I have been doing for our own presentation on rhizomatic learning (see Rhizo14: Emerging Ambiguities and Issues for further information).

  • Aidan Johnston’s presentation – Storytelling through MOOCs. The story in question was told in the context of the University of Strathclyde’s Introduction to Forensic Science MOOC, which attracted thousands of participants, who attempted to solve a murder case.

These presentations showed very good use of technology for creating and running a successful MOOC, but it must have been at some cost, particularly if, for whatever reason, the MOOC cannot be run again, e.g. presumably Strathclyde’s MOOC built around the story of a murder can’t be used again if the object was to solve the murder.

The other session I attended that George has not reported on, was at the end of the day when Matt Jenner got us to think about the benefits of MOOCs and asked us to use voting response systems to share our opinions, which was a very good way of covering a lot of ground quickly and having a lot of fun at the same time. See Matt’s blog for details – What’s the benefit of MOOCs?

As well as the (out of context) comments that I noted from Paddy Haughian’s presentation, there were a few other comments that I similarly made a note of during the day (also reported here out of context):

Diana Laurillard. ‘If you have to take a critical stance, you have to be on the inside.’  – an interesting perspective for researchers.

Fred Garnett.  ‘We need new metaphors for learning.’  ‘If you try and bring a community together, you create a hierarchy’.

Alexander Griffin.  ‘A good building is one that relates to its context. We have to understand our own context’. ‘Learning [is good] when you don’t know it. Teaching when you don’t know it is even better.’ i.e. don’t know that it is happening.

Shirley Williams. ‘It’s dangerous not to steward courses’  (with reference to Wenger et al.’s book Digital Habitats – stewarding technology for communities)

Ronald MacIntyre. ‘Widening access does not equal widening participation.’

How much further forward were we at the end of the day in answering the question – MOOCs – which way now?

Its no longer a question of whether it can be done;  institutions with the resources can design and run MOOCs which will be enjoyed by participants. MOOC conveners can learn from each other and the technology is available.

Cost clearly continues to be an issue – in terms of time and money, even though Matt Jenner tried to focus on the benefits of MOOCs, saying it’s not about the money.  Shirley Williams from Reading University talked about paying undergraduate and postgraduate students to support MOOCs, others talked about the cost of producing videos etc. and then there is the cost of the tutor’s time, especially if running a MOOC is additional to a tutor’s normal workload. Is this sustainable?

It seemed to me that people are beginning to wonder what it is all for – not what are the benefits, but who benefits.  I am always struck by how rarely the early MOOCs, such as CCK08 are referenced in this respect or at these events. What came through very clearly for me in CCK08 was an intention to think differently about pedagogy, and the necessity to think about how teaching and learning can be aligned with the needs of living in a digital age. Focussing on this still might help to answer the question – MOOCs – which way now?

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