#openedMOOC begins October 1st

David Wiley and George Siemens are offering a new 6 week MOOC – Introduction to Open Education – on EdX at the beginning of October.

There is already a Twitter hashtag – #openedMOOC –  and you can enrol on the EdX website where you can also find the course syllabus:

Week 1: Why Open Matters
Week 2: Copyright, The Public Domain, and The Commons
Week 3: The 5R Activities and the Creative Commons Licenses
Week 4: Creating, Finding, and Using OER
Week 5: Research on the Impact of OER Adoption
Week 6: The Next Battles for Openness: Data, Algorithms, and Competency Mapping

I have signed up for the MOOC, mainly out of curiosity. My hope is that it will offer a fresh perspective and rekindle the enthusiasm I had for open education in the early days of the first MOOC in 2008, but which I have found increasingly difficult to sustain in the last couple of years.

Despite this, I remain an advocate of open education in the terms in which it was first offered. It would be difficult not to wish for a global democratic education system which offers free open access to all no matter what their circumstances – or is that an erroneous assumption? I am hoping this course will take a critical approach, encourage diverse perspectives and be willing to surface and challenge assumptions, such as the assumption that ‘open is good’, as implied by the header on the EdX course site.

Source of Image: EdX website 

In 2012 Stephen Brookfield wrote that “critical thinking involves three inter-related phases:

  1. Discovering the assumptions that guide our decisions, actions and choices
  2. Checking the accuracy of these assumptions by exploring as many different perspectives, viewpoints and sources as possible
  3. Taking informed decisions that are based on these researched assumptions 

(Informed decisions are based on evidence we can trust, can be explained to others and have a good chance of achieving the effects we want).”

It is getting increasingly difficult to recognise evidence we can trust. We know that over time ‘open’ has led to as many problems as solutions, not least the pursuit of ‘fame and glory beyond your wildest dreams. Or, at least, a few thousand views’ that David Wiley writes about in his blog post. Is this what we really want from open education? I have recently wondered whether one of the problems of ‘open’ in relation to networks is that it is so often discussed out of context, i.e. out of the context of the principles of networks expounded by Stephen Downes, who believes these to be autonomy, diversity, openness and connectivity. He has written about this many, many times over the years, but here is one reference.

Downes, S. (2010, Oct 26th). What is Democracy in Education?http://halfanhour.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/what-is-democracy-in-education.html 

I see these four principles as being interdependent, i.e. they should be thought about in relation to each other and the absence of one will have consequences for the others. For example, openness without diversity simply leads to echo chambers. In addition, autonomy is a key principle. An open network must respect personal autonomy. My perspective is that loss of diversity and lack of respect for autonomy is an increasing problem in open networks. Hopefully we will get to discuss some of these issues in the MOOC.

David and George  on their blogs, have asked that we create a 3-5 minute video sharing our perspectives and experiences regarding one or more of the weekly topics. I have exercised my autonomy by deciding not to do that but to begin my thinking here on this blog. But I will point you to the videos Stephen Downes has created in response to this request. He is always a hard act to follow!

Here is the first one:

And here are the links to the others, one for each week

Week 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPHYAFcUziA
Week 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVVULztlp1s
Week 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKaJNTgwHWc
Week 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3S3xOK6-GA
Week 5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ic1sRq46hys
Week 6: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT_IaZG797

Reference

Brookfield, S. (2012). Developing Critical Thinkers. Teachers College, April 20th & 21st. p.14 http://www.stephenbrookfield.com/s/Developing_Critical_Thinkers.pdf

Queen of the Mountain

This is the essence of how bizarre apps and social media have become. Here is the story.

At the beginning of May I took part in a charity bike ride in Bali. In the last 15 kilometres I came off my bike and broke my collar bone. It has taken me 4 months to get back on my bike, which I did a week ago. I would like to do a 45 mile charity bike ride at the beginning of October, if I can get my fitness back in time.

The intention today was to do about 15 miles and see how my shoulder stood up, but after about 4 miles my partner’s bike failed (he is a hand-cyclist with complicated kit), and I had to cycle home to collect the car to go back and collect him.

According to Strava, the app I use on my phone to let me know how far and how fast I have cycled, this was a nine mile round trip, which in itself is hard to believe. We had scarcely left home! And again according to Strava, this evidently makes me Queen of the Mountain. This is despite the fact that I did not sprint once, and the fact that nine miles is neither here nor there in the cycling scheme of things and that the bike ride was completely unsuccessful given our aims. I will continue to use Strava, but I could do without receiving these nonsensical emails.

An email referring to me as Queen of the Mountain seems even more bizarre given the mountains climbed by the cyclists competing in the Vuelta a Espana.

PhD by Publication and Collaboration

A PhD is always (as far as I know) an individual piece of work. The point is to make and defend an individual contribution to knowledge in your given field.  This emphasis on an individual contribution can make doing a PhD a long, lonely, isolating route to the award, as evidenced by the stories of depression, mental illness, dropping out and associated long-term feelings of failure often reported in articles such as in the Times Higher Education.

Those who cope with this either relish working alone and don’t need to discuss what they are doing even with a supervisor, or, more likely, they have been proactive in nurturing a supportive network around them of family, friends and colleagues. My PhD was neither long, nor lonely; even so I benefitted from the support of many friends, colleagues and my family.

 Gilbert and George 1976 – MENTAL NO. 2, 314 x 264 cm (Source of Image)

Officially, there seems to be no such thing as a collaborative PhD (as in the style of the artists Gilbert and George, who work together to create their art), although PhDs may result from collaboratively funded projects between universities and outside organisations and who’s to say whether an individual PhD thesis has involved collaborative writing, but that seems unlikely. However, I do know of a Masters dissertation where, unbeknown to the marker, to meet the deadline one chapter was written entirely by the student’s father. This was not even collaborative.

My own PhD (by publication) required the submission of a selection of published papers together with a supporting statement which expounded the overall contribution to knowledge in my field. Whilst my PhD thesis (supporting statement) was written by me alone, and could only be written by me because it incorporates work with eleven different research teams (i.e. none of my collaborators have had the same overall experience), all my published papers have been written collaboratively. I consider this to be a strength of my research for the reasons I have stated in the thesis (see pages 48-50 – Jenny Mackness PhD (Pub) 2017).

At an early meeting with my supervisor, Paul Ashwin, we discussed whether all the papers to be submitted should indicate the percentage contribution of each author. Some PhDs by Publication do this, but I strongly resisted it. It seems to me that an attempt to measure a contribution in a collaborative project works against the spirit of collaboration. As I explained in my viva (I was challenged on this), a contribution might range from coming up with the one key idea or identifying the key research paper that changes the direction of the research, to hours of data analysis. How would you put a measurement figure against these different types of contribution each of which is essential to the successful outcome of the research? In addition, in most of my collaborative research the work has been conducted jointly, i.e. all the authors have been involved in the different aspects and phases of the research, framing the research questions, collecting and analysing the data, writing the paper and so on. Although the lead authors in my papers have been recognised as the person who has taken most responsibility for the research and the paper, in my research there has never been an author who didn’t merit having their name on the paper. We have been mutually accountable and the research has been enriched by the diversity of individual and alternative perspectives which have helped to guard against subjectivity and bias.

In my thesis, I argue that collaboration was central and essential to my research. Beyond the world of the individual PhD student, it also seems to be central and essential to many if not most research projects. Examination of my literature review reveals that the majority of peer-reviewed papers are co-authored (see p.56 -78, Jenny Mackness PhD (Pub) 2017). Only a third of the papers in my reference list were single authored. As I write in the thesis, there have been recent calls for more multi-disciplinary research, international and diverse teams (see p.52, Jenny Mackness PhD (Pub) 2017). This type of research requires considerable collaboration skills. These are not easy skills to acquire. I wrote about this in the early days of my research – Reflections on Collaborative research. The thoughts I had then still stand, but despite potential difficulties, I think I will always favour collaborative research over individual research.

My ongoing experience of collaborative research and reflection on my PhD by Publication has made me wonder again why any PhD student must endure years of working alone when the benefits of collaboration are not only obvious, but ultimately necessary for a career in academic research.

Reference
Mackness, J. (2017). Learners’ experiences in cMOOCs (2008-2016). PhD thesis. Jenny Mackness PhD (Pub) 2017

PhD by Publication – Making a Contribution

Earlier this year I was awarded a PhD by Publication from the University of Lancaster, UK.   The process is not quite finished yet. I still must submit a hard copy and electronic copy to the library and wear the floppy hat at a ceremony in December. But for all intents and purposes it is a done deed.

Of course, I know of the criticisms of a PhD by Publication and I suspect that several of my colleagues and friends wonder about whether this is a ‘proper’ PhD. In this video, Tara Brabazon states very clearly that a PhD by Publication is valuable, but is not equivalent to a traditional PhD and that she wouldn’t allow a PhD by Publication to examine one of her PhD students who has been down the traditional 3, 4 or more years research route.

This begs the question of whether any one PhD is equivalent to any other PhD. Is a taught PhD equivalent to a traditional research PhD? Is a science PhD equivalent to an Arts PhD? Is a PhD from one university equivalent to a PhD from another university? Is one examination experience (viva) equivalent to another? And following Tara Brabazon’s argument, should a PhD by Publication be examined by a person with a traditional PhD? Surely the measure of the value of a PhD is not the number of years it takes or a question of who examines it, but the contribution to knowledge that it makes. I have read some PhD theses that scarcely mention the contribution made by three or more years’ work. I can understand this. Claiming to have made an original contribution to knowledge felt like the height of arrogance to me knowing, as I do, the work of many, many authors in my field.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, to apply for this route to a PhD I was required to write a supporting statement which

  • summarised each publication submitted,
  • outlined their interrelationship,
  • critically reviewed the current state of knowledge and research in my field,
  • indicated how my work has contributed to the field, and
  • commented on the standing of any journals and the reception of the publications as indicated by citations and reviews

At my first meeting with Professor Paul Ashwin, who would be my supervisor (it was very good of him to check my application before officially being my supervisor) he said that I needed to develop a rigorous, reflexive argument for an original contribution which will endure beyond the individual papers. I wonder how often PhDs result in an enduring, original contribution. My first attempt at writing an application fell flat on its face. Paul said he couldn’t see my contribution in the pages and pages that I had written covering the above listed bullet points. I was therefore asked to write a summary contribution statement before continuing with my application.

This proved surprisingly difficult. What exactly is a contribution?

Do the published papers (21 of them) count as a contribution? – No

Does that fact that the published papers have been cited (one of them 440 times) count as a contribution? – No

Does the fact that my papers have been blind reviewed (in total) by more than 40 reviewers, and peer reviewed by many more, count as a contribution? – No

Do the early empirical papers on the MOOC learning experience, which were amongst the first ever published on MOOCs count as a contribution? – No. Paul’s response to this suggestion was ‘So what?’

Does the fact that some of the papers address (but don’t fill) identified gaps in the literature count as a contribution? – Only in part.

So what will ‘endure beyond the individual papers and is original’? After about six weeks of puzzling over this, feeling like a complete imposter, starting and restarting numerous drafts, I finally submitted a summary contribution statement to Paul Ashwin and received the feedback that ‘PhD shines through your contribution statement’. Phew! I was ready to apply and include this contribution statement – Jenny Mackness Contribution Statement 02-06-16

However this summary statement is not in the final thesis. Ultimately, to avoid repetition, I summarised my contribution further under these headings:

  • A contribution to the literature on learners’ experiences in MOOCs
  • A contribution to understanding complexity in cMOOCs
  • A contribution to changing research processes

I am now confident that my publications have made an original contribution to knowledge, but how enduring this contribution will be I wouldn’t like to say. That is the real test.

PhD by Publication – Selection of Papers

In her book, PhD by Published Work, Susan Smith writes that one of the disadvantages of this route to a PHD is that ‘it is tricky to retrospectively shoe-horn diverse papers into a post hoc theme’ (p.34).

This statement seems to suggest that researchers jump from project to project that have no direct links between them. Maybe this is the case for researchers, associated with universities, who may have to work on projects which are not their principal area of interest, either because these projects bring in funding, or because papers from these projects will contribute to their University’s research excellence framework (REF). I can see that this might lead to diverse papers that are difficult to pull together, but neither of these constraints applied to me, since I have always worked as an independent researcher.

Despite this, it wasn’t immediately apparent to me which papers I should select for this PhD by Publication or what the focus of my supporting statement should be. I think there were at least three possible routes I could have gone down, depending on which and how many papers I selected for submission and which papers I left out. As Ian McGilchrist says on p.133 of his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World:

It is not just that what we find determines the nature of attention we accord to it, but that the attention we pay to anything also determines what it is we find.

Perhaps not surprisingly, in order to select papers, I first had to refresh my memory about these publications. Once a paper has been published I tend not to go back and reread it multiple times, but instead move on to the next research project. Although I knew the general gist of all the papers, I didn’t remember all the detail. So I started by working on a mini literature review of my own papers, critiquing them, summarising them, checking the number of citations and how and where the work has been disseminated. Looking back at my journal, I can see that I didn’t find this process particularly easy. It was time consuming and my first summaries were streams of consciousness rather than summaries. Ultimately, I ended up with the summaries of the papers I selected that are in Appendix 3 of the thesis – Jenny Mackness PhD (Pub) 2017.

To decide on which papers to select, I used Matthias Melcher’s Think Tool, which allows you to enter text into a mapping tool and look for links between the entered texts.

Since 2009, I have published 20 papers and one book chapter. I entered the Abstracts of all these publications into the Think Tool and as a result was able to create 6 groups of papers and identify cross-paper themes.

Interrelationships between all publications by group and keyword. (Figure 1 in the thesis, on p.16)

I blogged about this process at the time – A new mapping tool: useful for research purposes. From this process it became clear to me that whilst a large body of work was related to emergent learning, and I could have focussed solely on that, in fact even those papers resulted from participation in MOOCs and a deep interest in how learning occurs in these open environments at the level of the individual learner. I felt there was only one group of papers that diverged from this and that was the group that looks at whether and how learning design can be influenced by an embodied view of the world and a view of perception and action as enactive perception using all the senses, but even these papers originated from an interest in the design of learning environments.

Having decided on which groups to focus on there still remained the question of how many papers to select. For Lancaster University, there was no advice on the number of papers to be submitted other than that the material submitted must be “sufficiently extensive as to provide convincing evidence that the research constitutes a substantial contribution to knowledge or scholarship.” At this stage I went into the department to look at the PhDs by Published Work already awarded, to discover that there had only been three since 1999 (1999, 2003, 2010) and each of these was awarded to a member of staff in the department, who submitted 9, 11 and 10 published works respectively together with a supporting statement of around 40 pages, although I have seen other examples from Lancaster University considerably shorter than this. Ultimately, I submitted 13 papers and a supporting statement of 101 pages. I mention this not to suggest that the number of pages is in any way significant, but just to illustrate that it seems that at Lancaster University there is a wide variety of practice. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case across universities. The uncertainty associated with this was not easy to work with, but on the other hand seemed to mirror the unpredictable learning environments I have researched, where I have worked with no externally imposed rules or expectations.

Throughout this process I felt I was working in the same way I have always worked, i.e. working it out as I went along, and letting the process and structure emerge. One of my ‘critical friends’ who gave me feedback on the thesis after I had submitted but before the viva thought that my important work was related to the ‘Footprints of Emergence’ framework and emergent learning rather than the empirical papers and I think that my colleague Roy Williams, probably thinks the same, although he hasn’t said this. But the analysis of my papers, using Matthias Melcher’s Think Tool,  revealed my ‘golden thread’ (as Susan Smith calls it) to be ‘learners’ experiences in cMOOCs’, so that is what I focussed on.

On reflection and given the open structure of the PhD by Publication, I can see that in different circumstances at a different time, I might have selected a different set of papers and ended up with a different thesis. Now there’s a thought! But I’m not going to test out this idea  🙂

Why do a PhD by Publication?

Why do a PhD at all?

I have considered this question many times since I completed my MA in 1997 when I was asked by the awarding University department to continue to do a PhD. I declined. My job at the time was demanding and the MA, despite having really enjoyed it, had been a strain on me and my family’s patience! But a PhD was always in the back of my mind. In 2010, I considered it again and rejected the idea once more . During these years, I continued to work as an independent researcher with a variety of colleagues, producing a number of papers. At the end of 2015 I didn’t have any more research projects planned, so my mind turned again to the possibility of doing a PhD. It seemed it was a niggle that just wouldn’t go away. My eldest son sent me an email saying, ‘For goodness sake Mum, you’ve been talking about it for years – just get on with it.’

Source of image 

(I didn’t discover this book until after I had submitted, but I wish I had discovered it earlier)

There are many reasons for doing a PhD. I have friends who have completed or are working on research PhDs, i.e. they research a topic of personal interest for three or more years, or taught PhDs, where six taught and assessed modules are completed over the first two years, before embarking on a shorter thesis which takes two years or more. Reasons seem to be a combination of personal interest in the chosen topic and career incentives/ambitions and from what I have seen the award of a PhD can lead to new career opportunities. My reasons did not relate to my career, but they did relate to changing personal circumstances.

I have recently reached my eighth decade (70 as of last November to be precise) so a PhD as a career move was not relevant for me. In fact, it might mark the end of my research career. I haven’t decided yet. I needed to do it for myself. Although I knew that it was possible to do a PhD by publication, I thought I probably wasn’t eligible. Many Universities will only take members of staff to do a PhD by Publication.   When I went to Lancaster University in January 2016 to enquire about doing a PhD, I went with the intention of starting a full research PhD. It was Professor Paul Ashwin, Head of Department, who ultimately became my supervisor, who asked me why I wasn’t considering a PhD by Publication. Interestingly the Educational Research Department at Lancaster University, which has awarded my PhD, has no mention of a PhD by Publication on its website , but Paul found out for me that I was eligible at Lancaster University to do this, since I am an alumna (my MA) and I worked for nine years for an associated institution.

I didn’t fully realise until well into my PhD that this was the perfect route for me. Not only was it a wonderful act of retrospective coherence, a pulling together of eight years’ work, but it also came at just the right time and only cost me £600, which now that I am rarely paid for work I do and am living off my pension, was an important consideration. On reflection, although this was not a consideration at the time, it was also important that it didn’t take as long (18 months in total); at my age time is short and I have a lot of things on my bucket list to fit in 🙂

So what did I have to do for this PhD?

PhDs by publication in the UK don’t seem to be very common – and I am not talking about the kind of PhD which is assessed by the papers that are written and published as part of the PhD study. That kind of PhD seems quite common in some countries in Europe and in Canada. My PhD by Publication was different. It involved drawing on existing published papers and making the case for a contribution to the body of knowledge in the field studied (in my case – learners’ experiences in connectivist MOOCs). This act of retrospective coherence was particularly apt for me, since a lot of my research has been into exploring how emergent learning occurs in complex adaptive systems – namely open online learning environments.

Different universities have different requirements both for entry and for the thesis submission, for a PhD by Publication. In my case the application was as much work as the thesis submission, although that was partly my own choice as I decided to try and do most of the work (i.e. the Literature Review and mapping analysis of papers) upfront, leaving me less to do after acceptance.

The application requirements for Lancaster University were as follows:

  • a list of the publications to be submitted: these may include refereed articles, authored chapters, authored books, and edited works. They may not include course readers, internally published material or unpublished seminar/conference papers, and 
  • a supporting paper: this should summarise each publication submitted, outline their interrelationship, give a critical review of the current state of knowledge and research in the applicant’s field and indicate how his or her work has contributed to the field.  It should also comment on the standing of any journals and the reception of the publications as indicated by citations and reviews

In relation to the length of the submission, there are no set word limits for the supporting paper which should accompany the submitted publications. The supporting paper must cover all the areas outlined in section 53(b) of the criteria (bullet points above) and the material submitted must be “sufficiently extensive as to provide convincing evidence that the research constitutes a substantial contribution to knowledge or scholarship.”  

If the application is successful, you would then work with an internal adviser to expand on the supporting paper, so this is not the final submission, basically it’s the starting point in order to ascertain if your work is at the appropriate level, i.e. PhD.

During the PhD I kept a comprehensive journal of all my thinking and progress on a private wiki which I only shared with Matthias Melcher, who was wonderfully critically supportive and encouraging throughout the whole process. What is so amazing about this is that we have never even met face-to-face. Matthias was there at the very start of my research into connectivist MOOCs. We ‘met’ in CCKO8 – the first ever MOOC.

Looking back at my wiki notes I see that I started to think about applying for a PhD in December 2015 and had my first meeting with Paul Ashwin at Lancaster University in January 2016. I submitted my application at the beginning of June 2016 and my thesis (supporting statement) at the beginning of December 2016. My viva was at the end of March 2017 and my final submission with minor revisions in May 2017. These were accepted June 2017. Through most of this time, I worked full time on the PhD.

Now that it is over, my family are proud but relieved that life can finally go back to normal. My eldest son’s response this time was, ‘Well who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!’

PhD by Publication

Today I can christen this mug which was sent to me by my friend and collaborator, Mariana Funes (herself a Dr of long-standing) at the end of March, when I was told by my examiners that I had been awarded a PhD subject to three minor revisions.

This evening I have heard that these revisions have been accepted. Here’s the proof:

I have viewed the revisions to Jenny’s thesis submission suggested by the examiners at her viva on the 30th of March. I can confirm that they have been undertaken thoroughly and the account and justification of her contribution to knowledge is clear. I recommend that she should now be awarded the degree of PhD.

Professor Murray Saunders, Internal Examiner, Lancaster University, UK

I have a lot to reflect on and say about this PhD, principally because it was a PhD by publication – a bit of a different animal. I still have to be formally awarded this PhD by submitting a bound hard copy to Lancaster University (UK) library and attending an award ceremony in December, but given the revisions have been accepted, I now feel I can add PhD to my signature and post my PhD here on my blog.

But most important for me at this stage is to acknowledge my collaborators, without whom this PhD would not have been possible – I will write more of this later – collaboration and PhD aren’t two words that normally go together. So here is a copy of the Acknowledgements section in my submission.

Acknowledgements

I have been encouraged and supported by many people since I started researching learners’ experiences in MOOCs in 2008. Everyone acknowledged here has played a significant role in the act of retrospective coherence that is this PhD submission.

John Mackness has been a staunch critical friend throughout this process. Matthias Melcher has also, over these years, been hugely supportive, challenging my thinking and broadening my perspectives through ongoing online discussion. Stephen Downes, Mariana Funes, Debbie Simpson and Roy Williams all provided comprehensive and very helpful comments on my final draft. Many thanks to you all.

All my work has been collaborative. I have learned so much from the generosity, friendship and expertise of my collaborators. Special thanks are due to Roy Williams, with whom I have collaborated on many papers, for his unerring courtesy and kindness and for introducing me to new ways of thinking. I am also indebted to all my other collaborators; Frances Bell, Mariana Funes, Karen Guldberg, Simone Gumtau, Regina Karousou, Liz Lovegrove, Sui Fai John Mak, Elpida Makriyannis, Matthias Melcher, Jutta Pauschenwein, George Roberts, Rhona Sharpe, Charlene Tait, Carmen Tschofen and Marion Waite. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with you all. It has been a privilege.

Thank you too to Allison Littlejohn for her timely advice on applying for a PhD by published work and to my supervisor Professor Paul Ashwin for encouraging and supporting my submission for this award and for his astute feedback on my drafts.

Final thanks are due to my External Examiners Professor Sian Bayne and Professor George Veletsianos and to my Internal Examiner, Professor Murray Saunders.

And here is the whole document – Jenny Mackness PhD (Pub) 2017

As with all PhDs the process has been a significant learning experience, which I have recorded as I have gone along, starting in December 2015. I will be writing more blog posts about this process as a PhD by publication is still not a very common route to this award and certainly not a PhD for which the papers have been written before applying.