An alternative perspective on the meaning of ‘open’ in Higher Education

With the rise of MOOCs there has been much speculation about the meaning of ‘open’, particularly with respect to the Higher Education business model.  It is clear that ‘open’ can be interpreted in a number of different ways.

In relation to MOOCs the term ‘open’ relates principally to open access, i.e. anyone can attend – there are no entry requirements. This could apply to face-to-face courses, as when University lecturers welcome members of the public to attend their lectures, and to online courses, where anyone with an internet connection and the appropriate technology can attend the course.

‘Open’ is also often associated with ‘free’, as in open resources on the web which can be freely downloaded and according to the creative commons license can be ‘customised’ to suit the user’s purposes.

Perhaps most significantly for Higher Education, ‘open’ can be associated with transparency, which involves a way of ‘being’ or a ‘state of mind’. Martin Weller has raised awareness of the need for scholars to be ‘open’ in his book ‘The Digital Scholar’,  and ‘open research’ and ‘open journals’ are steadily gaining momentum as a way of working.

Open access and free courses in which all learners and teachers freely share their expertise is thought by followers of many MOOCs, particularly the original cMOOCs, as the means to democratize education (See Fred Garnett’s blog post for further thoughts about Building Democratic Learning).

Will this mean the end of Universities as we know them? From the work that I do with different Universities, not just in the UK, but also around the world, I don’t think so, at least not yet. Some institutions are still struggling to get lecturers to work online at all, never mind be ‘open’ online. It may be that we have to wait for this generation of lecturers to retire before we have an entire population of University lecturers who are ‘open’ scholars. Although technologies are developing at a speed inconceivable a few years ago, and the number of MOOCs being offered is daily increasing, things tend to move slowly in Higher Education.  The recent Horizon Report on Higher Education sees openness and MOOCs as key trends, whilst at the same time stating that ‘Most academics are not using new technologies for learning and teaching, nor for organizing their own research’.

So, if the adoption of ‘openness’ is going to be a slow process, what are the alternatives? In recent work that I have done on the development of  ‘closed’ online courses/training packages, which are paid for, it has been interesting to realize that maybe a ‘step’ towards an understanding of the meaning of openness is through collaboration across institutions and countries. Whilst this does not address ‘open’ as in ‘free’ nor ‘open access’, it does begin to address ‘open sharing’ and what it means to ‘be’ open. It’s a long step away from ‘open’ as advocated by the first MOOC in 2008 (CCK08), but it’s a beginning.  This approach also keeps the money coming in, as exemplified by the following two projects I have worked on:

  1. A government funded project to develop training materials to be delivered to schools across the country. This project used the funding to bring together 7 regional groups to collaboratively work on developing the training materials, which to date have been delivered to 9700+ people. At their most basic level these training sessions and materials are free, but schools pay for more advanced training and materials.  This project not only developed high quality training materials, and in monetary terms provided a return on investment, but through adopting a collaborative approach, developed an online network/community which would continue to share expertise.
  2. A project initiated by a publishing company to develop online courses for Higher Education, through a highly collaborative international and cross institutional approach. Purchase of the courses is required up front in return for the opportunity to influence the authoring and development process, the possibility of customizing the courses to suit the individual investing institution and implementation support from the publishing company. This collaborative approach also promotes networking and open sharing between institutions within countries and across the world.

These are just two examples of how apparently ‘closed’ developments within Higher Education are becoming more open.

So perhaps institutions that are struggling to get their heads round how to become more ‘open’ whilst at the same time preserving a viable business model, could think more in terms of increasing national and international collaboration and cooperation.

19-04-13 Postscript

Stephen Downes has responded to this post as follows:

Jenny Mackness proposes, “maybe a ‘step’ towards an understanding of the meaning of openness is through collaboration across institutions and countries. Whilst this does not address ‘open’ as in ‘free’ nor ‘open access’, it does begin to address ‘open sharing’ and what it means to ‘be’ open.” I don’t know. I’ve observed collaborations across institutions for decades, without a corresponding increase in openness. It could be that such collaborations (and the fund-seeking that preceeds them) actually distracts from openness.

I have to say that ‘I don’t know’ either – or whether such collaborations might distract from openness.

My thinking in making this post was around the question of how to reach or convince people who resist ‘openness’ of the value of and need for ‘openness’, and what a possible approach to the business model issues might be.

#digitalbadges: SCoPE seminar on Digital Badges

Screen shot 2012-12-04 at 20.13.25

(screenshot from Peter Rawsthorne’s presentation)

Peter Rawsthorne is facilitating a lively two week seminar in the SCoPE community on the concept and implementation of Digital Badges. This is how he describes his intentions for the seminar

During this two-week seminar we will explore digital badges from concept through to implementation. The seminar will focus on the possible pedagogies and technology required for implementing digital badges. We will also take a critical look at the current state of digital badges with discussion of the required and possible futures. If you have a few hours to read and discuss focused topics and participate in two mid-day webinars then please join is this lively learning experience focused on digital badges.

As well as the discussion forums there are two web conferences – the first took place last night. Details of the seminar and conferences can be found here – http://scope.bccampus.ca/mod/forum/view.php?id=9010

The seminar has been designed to be task driven and with the intention of awarding badges on completion, based on a 3 badge system design

  1. Learner badge – person introduces themselves to the group via the discussion forum and contributes to a couple of discussion threads. Mostly, they could be considered lurkers (much can be learned through lurking)
  2. Participant badge – person introduces themselves to the group via the discussion forum and actively contributes to 7 of the 12 primary discussion threads, also participates in one of the two lunch-and-learn sessions.
  3. Contributor badge – does everything the participant does with the addition of contributing;
    • by designing badge images
    • creating a badge system design for another curriculum
    • blogs about their participation in this seminar series
    • other creative endeavours regarding digital badges

The daily tasks that have been posted so far are

Task 1  

  • Identify a merit badge you earned during your lifetim
  • Describe how you displayed the merit badges

Task 2   

  • Identify the digital and internet technologies best suited to create a digital merit badge
  • Describe the technologies that could be used to attach (reference or link) the learning to the digital badge

Task 3  

  • Identify the completion criteria for any badge you have earned (traditional or digital)
  • Describe the hierarchy or network of badges

Task 4

  • Identify a variety of sites that issue badge
  • Describe the skills, knowledge and curriculum the badges represent

Some sites that reference badges that have been mentioned in the forums…

From the synchronous webinar last night Peter Rawsthorne made the point that there are 4-5 billion people on the planet who are not attending school. How will their achievements/accomplishments be recognized? I think the idea is that learning that happens outside traditional settings should be honoured and recognized.

Screen shot 2012-12-04 at 20.14.29

(Screenshot from Peter Rawsthorne’s presentation)

At this point I feel a bit skeptical about the whole thing, but it is very early days. Three questions I have at this time are:

  • Will badges promote quality learning or will they simply encourage people to ‘jump through hoops’?

For example – I notice in the discussion forums that there is in fact, very little discussion. The tasks are being completed but there is little discussion about them. Completing tasks does not necessarily lead to quality learning.

  • Will badges be ‘recognised/valued’ by employers – will they need to be?

Verena Roberts in last night’s webinar wrote ‘Do badges need to lead to something, or identify a person’s passion?’ For me, I don’t need a badge to identify a personal passion, but I might need one for my CV, depending on the context and my personal circumstances.

  • Will badges stifle creativity and emergent learning?

There has been discussion about how badges fit together and Gina Bennett (in the webinar) thought that the ‘Scouts’ have the badge thing really figured out.  But for me that model is based on a very ‘linear’ way of thinking about learning, whereas research has shown that even small children (for example when learning mathematics), don’t learn in a linear way – they go backwards, forwards and sideways. Frogmarching children (and adults) through a curriculum has always been a problem for curriculum design and the award of badges based on a linear approach might just reinforce this.

The challenge of ‘openness’ in small MOOCs

An interesting discussion on the Pedagogy First course blog has sparked off further thoughts about issues around ‘openness’.  This post is, in part, a response to some of the thoughts posted by Alan Levine, and the responses of others, which have provoked this further thinking.

Martin Weller has said that ‘Openness is a state of mind’.   Overall I agree with this, but is openness context dependent? My mind isn’t your mind, my experience might not be your experience, my location won’t necessarily be your location and so on. How we understand and experience openness is individual to each learner. Carmen Tschofen and I discussed this in our paper  –  Connectivism and dimensions of individual experience.

No place is  it more important to remember this, than in a small course/community/MOOC in which novice learners are working alongside ‘expert’ or experienced learners and where the topic is learning to teach.

FSLT12  was such a course, and so too is Pedagogy First – they are both small open online task-oriented MOOCs  focusing on developing learners as teachers/lecturers/facilitators, with an emphasis on developing an understanding of pedagogy. In addition, both these courses are offered for assessment, so, for example, an assessment requirement of the Pedagogy First course is for regular blogging and open sharing of completed tasks; the first task for assessment in FSLT12 was open reflective writing.

‘Openness’ in these circumstances is no mean feat.

Experiences of learners new to working in online environments have been well researched (Sharpe and Benfield, 2005). Feelings of over-exposure, isolation, inability to cope with navigating the online environment, inability to cope with the abundance of information, the lack of visual cues to support interpretation of others’ comments, feelings of disorientation, not knowing how to balance time on and offline, feelings of anxiety and intense emotional responses – are all common examples of how people new to the online environment might feel.

But in an open course we have people with these experiences working alongside ‘veteran’ MOOCers who are familiar with the chaotic complexity and hustle and bustle of the open MOOC market place. These veterans enter an open network knowing what to expect.

So how do we bring these two groups together?  In the Pedagogy First course, there has been a call for mentors, meaning that there is an expectation that experienced MOOCers will support novice MOOCers.

As part of the Pedgaogy First programme we have been asked to buy the book –  Susan Ko and Steve Rossen (2010) Teaching Online: A Practical Guide (3rd ed) Taylor and Francis – and I am looking forward to reading what it has to say about initiating newcomers into an online course. My copy is in the post!

In the meantime I am revisiting my well-thumbed and very familiar copy of Gilly Salmon’s book ‘e-Moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online’. In this she presents a 5-stage model for facilitating online learning.

Gilly Salmon 5 stage model

http://www.atimod.com/e-moderating/5stage.shtml

In my experience, following this model helps to avoid a lot of the pitfalls associated with online learning. Salmon recommends starting with ensuring access, as has been done in the Pedagogy First course, and focusing to begin with on socialization, which she says helps to ensure the success of an online course.

Socialization will of course continue throughout the course, but it is necessary at the beginning to develop the sense of belonging and trust needed to enable later, weightier and more challenging discussions. Salmon says these discussions happen at Stage 5 –  ‘different skills come into play at this stage. These are those of critical thinking and the ability to challenge the ‘givens’ (p.48).

So how does this relate to ‘openness’ in small connectivist MOOCs such as FSLT12 and Pedagogy First? My thinking following discussions in Pedagogy First is

  •  ‘Openness’ as a ‘state of mind’ takes time to develop. It is not a given and cannot be assumed. It should not even be expected, if we believe in the autonomy of learners, i.e. freedom to choose. But if we want it in our MOOCs (thinking here of MOOCs as ‘courses’ as in the case of Pedagogy First) then we should allow time for ‘novices’ to work through the 5 stages of Gilly Salmon’s model.
  • Veteran MOOCers may need to hold back, or at least carefully consider how their posts might be interpreted by novices. This doesn’t necessarily apply to an open network or even to a MOOC such as CCK08, but I think it does apply to a MOOC that has been designed for novices and where there is a recognition that novices will need mentoring.
  • For me when I facilitate or convene an online course/MOOC I hope that the course design/environment will encourage the development of autonomous and connected learners who embrace openness, alternative perspectives and diversity, and engage in critical thinking, stimulating dialogue and reflective learning. This will not happen if they ‘drop out’ in the early stages. One of the criticisms of MOOCs is the high drop out rate.

Stephen Downes has said, to teach is to model and demonstrate, and to learn is to practice and reflect.  So maybe modeling and demonstrating, practicing and reflecting on Gilly Salmon’s model is not a bad place to start for small task-oriented MOOCs.

And finally, perhaps in the case of small MOOCs it is easier to think of them as open courses rather than open networks. Maybe this would bring a different perspective to the way we work in them and what our expectations might be.

Pas de Deux online partnerships

Today I was really warmed by an email I received from a colleague I am working with in which he wrote that the work we are doing together is ‘ a great pas de deux’.

The description of Pas de Deux that I found in the first few lines of this website  –  I think perfectly describes the working relationship that I have been fortunate to have with many colleagues, both men and women.

Pas de Deux is French for “Step of Two” and is what partnering is called in ballet. By dancing with a partner the lady can jump higher, take positions she would never be able to on her own, and “float” about the stage as she is carried by her partner. A partner allows a man to extend his line and show off his strength.

It also reflects Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development –  but I prefer the Pas de Deux analogy as it is less one sided and suggests that both in the partnership benefit, but in different ways.

In the working relationships I have, I am usually the one who, through the partnership, is being helped to jump higher than I could on my own.  This makes me feel very fortunate, but also to wonder sometimes, whether I should in some way be doing something more.  The idea of a ‘Pas de Deux’ partnership, is very helpful, as it points out that even those being lifted can have a positive effect on the lifter.

What is most interesting is that for me these Pas de Deux partnerships have come about almost entirely as a result of my online activities and in particular in participating in MOOCs. Why this is the case I have no idea. I find it an intriguing question.

Wikis for project management, research and personal use

This year the tool I have used the most to support my work has been a wiki. I have found it an invaluable tool, for both working in small research groups and working in large and small project teams.

My wiki of choice is PBWorks – although I am also familiar with Wikispaces, but only through the work of others, i.e. other people have set them up and registered me as a user. I started using wikis in 2008. I can’t remember now why I chose PBWorks in preference to other wikis, but think it must have been because at the time it appeared more intuitive and easier to use.

I have created 15 PBWorks wikis and am a user of another eight.  Only one of these is an upgraded site (i.e. paid for, because we needed more space for the project). Working on a wiki is not all ‘plain sailing’, but for me the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Things that I still find difficult are:

  1. The way the formatting changes when you copy from a document into the wiki or copy into a document from a wiki page. The loss of formatting can be time consuming to correct.
  2. I sometimes have problems constructing Tables in a wiki page.
  3. I sometimes think an embedded discussion forum would be useful. I think Wikispaces has one – but PBWorks does not. It is possible to embed an open source forum, but it feels a bit ‘messy’.

I should say at this point that I have never attended any of the online training sessions offered by PBWorks, so I probably don’t know what I don’t know 🙂

Things that I really like:

  1. The potential for promoting collaborative and/or cooperative working, with open sharing and the breakdown of hierarchies. This is of particular benefit in project work. In a project I am working on at the moment, the project team, project funders, project evaluators and prospective clients all have access to the project management wiki – which means that the working process of the team is visible to all. This of course means that whether the team is meeting its deadlines is visible to all, but it also means that the work and efforts of the team, the questions they are grappling with and the complexity of the task are also all visible to everyone. This helps to break down any ‘them and us’ thinking.
  2. The fact that all the documents being worked on are in the same place and it is possible to keep track of which version is being worked on. I can still remember those days of working in a group on a research paper and getting in a terrible muddle with sending edited versions and drafts by emails which crossed each other – the stuff of nightmares!
  3. The fact that it is possible to include multi-media, so that audio, video, PowerPoint presentations and so on can all be accessed in the one place. A wiki can be a colourful and lively space.
  4. That a wiki can be for anything. I also have a personal family history wiki, where I have collected stories from the family, old photos and even audio interviews with older members of my family – the best is my mother, now in her mid-80s singing. She still has a lovely voice and remembers all the words of the old musicals.

Things I have learned about wiki management:

I manage most of the wikis I work in, so over the years I have become better at setting them up in a way that makes them easier to use, although people new to wikis can find still them intimidating.  These are some of the things that I do to help ‘wiki novices’ to navigate the wiki more easily.

  1. If it is a wiki which will be used by people who are unfamiliar with wikis, then an attractive welcoming front page, with images and colour can help to draw people in.
  2. I usually have a ‘Start Here’ page, which explains how to use the wiki to get the best out of it, the protocols, etiquette etc. for that particular wiki.
  3. I offer to help via email or Skype. Skype is a useful tool for talking through wiki navigation.
  4. A ‘Sandbox’ page can be useful i.e. a page where people can play and try things out without worrying whether they are going to ‘mess up’ the wiki pages.
  5. It is very important for the person managing the wiki to ensure that navigation is, and remains, as easy as possible. This means keeping the wiki tidy through ongoing ‘wiki–gardening’. For most wikis, this means ensuring that folders are well organized and that documents are always placed in folders (particularly important for projects where there are a large number of resources). It also means keeping the Sidebar tidy and well-organised.
  6. For wikis which are used to share large numbers of resources, then it is helpful to keep the Sidebar to a minimum of pages and to use each of those pages as a Contents list to linked pages (a bit like designing a website).
  7. It also helps to ask people to identify themselves when editing a page  by preceding their edit with their initials and the date in brackets. If there are not too many people in the wiki group, each person can also edit in a different coloured font, which makes them immediately identifiable. The ‘strike-through’ tool, is also helpful in ensuring that what has been edited out remains visible. In Word, this would be equivalent to ‘Track Changes’.

What have I forgotten? What do I not know? There is bound to be something, if not a lot, but nevertheless, wikis have been my most useful tool this year.

Update 23-11-16

Further information about how to use wikis for project management has been provided by Randolph Preisinger-Kleine

http://www.discuss-community.eu/working-on-lifelong-learning-projects-3/item/286-using-wikis-for-project-management.html

Social Artistry… A new idea?

Social artistry in the context of educational change was the subject of Nancy White’s presentation for changemooc this week.

I haven’t come across the term before – but everything I have heard this week and read suggests that the ideas are not necessarily new – just expressed differently to fit our changing context in relation to learning in a digital age.

So what is it? It’s interesting that when we can’t explain or define something, we end up with falling back on the argument that defining something can often destroy what you were trying to capture. This argument was put forward earlier in this Mooc in relation to defining Moocs – and was put forward again in the Friday online session this week. Half of me understands the dangers of pinning something down with a definition, especially too early in people’s understanding, but the other half says we need some common understanding or terms to be able to discuss it at all.

This is what I picked up from another rushed week.

A social artist is a person who creates a social space for learning – and is not the same as a social reporter.  A social artist invites you to engage – listens, empathises, values, validates, amplifies and most of all asks the questions that will create the social space needed for learning.  A social artist connects people and encourages participation, which in turn leads to reciprocity, reification of ideas and a developing shared history.

Jean Houston writes (in 2004) an interesting article about social artistry and Fleming Funch as long ago as 1995 summarises the key skills of a social artist having attended a talk by Jean Houston.

In 2008 David Wilcox talked to Bev Trayner and Josien Kapma about social reporting as opposed to social artistry and blogged about Etienne Wenger’s reference to social artists

In September of this year Etienne and Nancy were discussing the same ideas in their presentation at the Share Fair in Rome  – where the importance of social artists being able to work in both the vertical and horizontal systems of accountability in organizations was also discussed – i.e. with the hierarchy and with peers. This is significant for a social artist’s ability to influence change.

And then – this week Nancy talked with Giulia Forsythe, Zach Davis and Tim Owens in DTLT Today  as well as in changeMooc about these ideas.

The question came up – is this any different to what the best teaching or the best facilitating has always been? I am struggling to find a significant difference. There might be some differences in terms of the technologies we now use for connecting people and the scale (size) of the networks in which ‘social artists’ work, but my feeling is that the skills mentioned above – listening, connecting, questioning, empathising and so on are what the best teachers have always done (see for example, the work of Lisa Lane ) and the skills that Fleming Funch lists on his post are the skills of a good learner. So maybe a quality of a ‘social artist’ is also to be an effective learner.

I think Nancy’s right – focussing on the words ‘social artist’ does not help. It’s the process we need to be talking about and how this might be changing in our changing educational environments.

14-11-11 Postscript

I have just come across this blogpost by Jupidu – Are we Social Artists? – which is great not only for the thoughtful reflection on the question, but also reminding me that Etienne Wenger has written an essay on social artistry – which I know I have somewhere in my computer files. It obviously did not resonate at the time, but maybe it will now.

Is our Education System in Crisis?

Tony Bates – gave us an interesting presentation on Sunday evening – Managing Technology to Transform Teaching – http://change.mooc.ca/archive/11/10_17_newsletter.htm – which many of us who work in HE as teachers or as managers of technology could relate to. Tony asked us a lot of questions and provided us with access to his recent book, where even more questions are raised. But a key question in his presentation was:

“Can universities or colleges change from within, or do we need new institutions for 21st century learning?”

Three of my ChangeMooc colleagues (see below) have responded to this on their blogs (and maybe others too that I haven’t yet become aware of)

As you would expect, they each have a slightly different perspective on how Tony Bates’ question should be answered – actually it’s two questions in one.

So I thought I would add my own perspective and respond to the first part of the question– Can universities or colleges change from within – based on my own ‘personal’ experience, so probably not very objective.

My experience is that change has to be from within and without. From without, because sometimes people get very comfortable in their ‘teaching/learning’ ruts and they need a ‘bolt from the blue’ to get them to at least question what they are doing. My experience in the UK has been that these ‘bolts from the blue’ often come from the government and associated agencies – with their grand and usually highly stress-inducing schemes, which are rarely properly funded or alternatively wastefully throw money away. But sometimes they are needed – as in the case of institutions that are failing their student.

Occasionally these ”bolts from the blue’ can come from ‘closer to home’, such as when a new Principal takes over your institution and decides to ‘sweep with a new broom’. Sometimes the new broom is needed – sometimes it’s just plain meddling.

So that is change from without – it has its positives and negatives.

However, anyone who is a parent knows that change from within can be suggested, encouraged, facilitated – but not forced, unless you are a parent dictator or want a revolution on your hands! A child/learner/employee may not want to change and can be resistant to change. I have had a lot of experience of resistance to the use of new technologies for teaching or anything else. So it is crucial that we can facilitate change from within – mainly by empowering people and inspiring them with a powerful and shared vision. Ultimately each person has to adopt the change for him/herself, but with the right leader and the right leadership style – and for me that is not a hierarchical style unless it is a crisis situation in which in case it might be needed/justified, such as in failing systems. But outside of a crisis situation ‘Distributed Leadership’ might be a better model, although other models might also be considered, such as ‘Servant Leadership’.

Here is  ‘true’ story of a crisis situation to illustrate what I mean.

College X was a failing institution. Teaching was poor, staff morale was low, student retention was very poor, recruitment was poor – basically everything was poor. This was an institution that had no vision, no leadership and little possibility of change. The new principal, however, understood that in a crisis clear leadership, clear vision and commitment to change is needed. On his first day in the job he gathered all the staff together and asked for their commitment to change. He said he had noted that the institution was in need of decoration – the walls were bare and in poor repair. The staff could show their commitment to change by bringing an unwanted picture from home and mounting it on a particularly unsightly length of wall. There were 300 members of staff in the institution, so by the next week he would measure their level of commitment to change by the number of pictures on the wall. On the following Monday there were many more than 300. The crisis was on the way to being over – he had won commitment to change – and it was owned by individual members of staff. Change would not be easy but it had had been facilitated to be more from within than without.

But this story begs the question of whether we think our education system is in crisis or not. If not, then change will be slower, but will move forwards at a measured pace. Academics are academics because they question and evaluate how they should behave/teach in their specific contexts.  If change is to be from within, then they will change, when and if they feel the need to or they feel the situation needs it. There are many pockets of excellent teaching practices that make innovative and creative use of advancing technologies, but also many excellent teachers who as yet are not using these technologies.

So I think the answer to the second part of the question –  do we need new institutions for 21st century learning?”  – depends on whether we think our education system, whatever context we are in, is in crisis.

Final Thought – is it not so much about technology or pedagogy as about change management?

Postscript – Some more blog posts relating to this topic

Sui Fai John Mak

http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/change11-what-sort-of-changes-are-required-in-our-education-system/

http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/change11-on-educational-leadership/

Jeffrey Keefer

http://silenceandvoice.com/2011/10/18/managing-technology-in-higher-education-a-discussion-undiscussed-change11/

Jaap

http://connectiv.wordpress.com/about/

PPS – see links below for responses from Tony Bates

http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/10/21/change-11-week-6-managing-technology-the-discussion-so-far/

http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/10/23/change-11-week-6-managing-technology-final-thoughts-and-closing/