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All the stuff I work on around the digital world

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Article in Distance Learning in China on Obama's technology-centred vision for education reform

This is the full English Text of the Distance Learning in China article mentioned in the blog article about the growing role for education technology possibly posing a risk to US Government.

Obama puts e-learning at the centre of US education politics. Good or bad ?

A five-year agenda for e-learning in American universities was set by President Obama in a vision he outlined just before the students and teachers returned to college for the 2013-14 academic year. During a three-day marathon of speeches at Universities from Buffalo, New York to Lackawanna, Pennysylvania in August 2013, the President outlined proposals and published documents which faculties and learning technologists have been digesting ever since

Obama has trained his guns on the quality of US Higher Education, and the rising cost of access to it. No surprises in that: we all knew there were problems, as tuition fees have risen about twenty times faster than average incomes and a clear majority of students require more than six years to graduate. The system needs a fix and everyone knows it.

The big news for American education technology professionals is that Obama in his vision is tasking them to deliver the change. From now on, e-learning practitioners will not deal with just learning, but also with a social and political agenda around equality, competitiveness, and maintenance of standards. Previously this would have been the job of legislation. Now the ball has been thrown to e-learning.

The origins of the challenge lie in the success of recent education technology innovations that solve deep problems in the system. Obama’s paper praised online teaching breakthroughs such as MOOCs, which offer access to high quality learning at no cost to millions, and “flipped” or “hybrid” classrooms where students watch lectures at home and online and go to campus so that faculty can challenge and extend their learning. The US administration is optimistic about the power of these technologies to revolutionise education, and the paper suggests new benchmarks on cost and efficiency. Good use of technology is now expected to reduce costs by between 40 and 70% and improve the efficiency of learning by between 10 and 25%.

This puts e-learning at the heart of university reform because, as Obama points out, modern online systems make it possible to measure and compare Universities as never before. Online learning at its back end yields massive data outputs on course access, learning progression, and cost per qualification. That data is to be harnessed and colleges are to be assessed for funding on the basis of performance data. The old funding model – payment by size of student roll – will be killed dead after 2015.

We are already seeing a scramble to install so called “learner analytics” tools inside Universities. I work for the leading provider of these products, Desire2Learn, which was singled out by Obama as an e-learning tool that helped students to do better. The phone has been ringing non-stop from Universities in UK and USA with enquiries about their statistical optimisation software for learning. The tools use advanced business intelligence methods to track and improve every learner’s progress by machine learning algorithms. Without such tools, colleges know they will lose money.

It was never the vision of the pioneers of e-learning, that their platforms would provide the data that makes the measuring-stick for financing their schools. But in these cost-conscious and quality-obsessed times, that is what has happened. Even the learners are joining the party: clever private operators are taking the data from e-learning systems and launching commercial applications to help students to evaluate and select colleges.

There’s an irony here which only the professional community of learning technology will appreciate. E-learning had its birth as a radical tool for extending education to those who had no access. Now it is to be harnessed for the security of the bourgeoisie – the Obama slogan for this initiative was “a better bargain for the middle class”.

What have been the reactions?

Concerns were immediately raised about the quality and fairness of the data on which University performance will be measured. Other critics charged that the ideas were not really radical: the Higher Education sector has for a long time used scoreboards to monitor quality. The technology-led innovations such as MOOCs and “flipped classrooms” have been familiar for many years to e-learning professionals.

However, these were grumbles. By and large the Universities now accept that data from their learning systems will drive their financial futures, and that costs must be controlled based on performance. Score after round one: Obama 1, Universities 0.

But in this contest, much is still to play for. The real question is whether American politicians would really have the courage to close off the funds for the institutions that are not measuring up to standards. To cut grants to colleges whose students aren’t learning well enough will create very bad headlines – it won’t be the students’ fault, yet they will suffer the consequences. However, as Chinese colleagues already know, it is sometimes necessary to shake the weaker players out of the system, in the interests of everyone. This is all about politics – which should not not be our concern as e-learning professionals.

However, there is a risk which does concern the e-learning community more closely, that these new financial pressures could distort the way we use e-learning systems. When data from online learning platforms start to influence a college’s cash flow situation, their value to professors and the e-learning community becomes less. What would you do, if your college president asks you to push the students to log more hours on the system in order to save the college budget ? Me too. But is that right for the learner ?

E-learning’s greatest asset, its transparency and uncorruptibility, may be at risk in America as the technology of learning moves into the centre of education politics.

Can learning policies threaten a nation ? The Chinese think so - maybe

I write a regular column on learning technology for the e-learning publication with the world's largest readership. Not Times Higher Ed, not Education Chronicle... no, it's Distance Learning in China.

My most recent feature was about Obama's education proposals, "A Better Deal for the Middle Class". The English Text is in a separate blog entry.

The Chinese magazine writes an English summary for the contents page. In September, it looked like this:

Through a mixture of translation errors and perhaps wishful thinking, the last sentence completely misrepresented my argument. According to this version, I argued that the move of learning technologies to the core of educational systems, may pose a risk for the US Government.

The publishers have apologised, explained the error as a translation mistake, and agreed to clarify things in next month's edition. Perhaps there was also some fuzzy or wishful thinking here: in working with Chinese e-learning colleagues over the years, I have noticed they are quick to investigate risk, threat, or bad practice in other nations. For the record: what I did argue, was that the use of learning platform data, to set college funding levels, might threaten online learning's advantages of transparency and uncorruptibility.

But this funny little error had me thinking. Maybe there is a grain of truth in it. Every educational development eventually puts a sovereign government in the firing line. Britain is moving private enterprise to the core of education delivery - and unquestionably this presents a risk (or an opportunity, depending on your viewpoint). China, in giving e-learning a central role in its Development plans, took a risk, has reaped tangible national benefits. So the same ought to hold true when President Obama enthrones technology at the heart of teaching and learning. At the level of a broad generalisation, it can't be dismissed that Government faces risks from this. But the abstract possibility needs to be tested out on specifics.

How actually might education technology put US Government at risk - when it appears to deliver benefits around affordability, cost and participation ?

I'm going to think about this in subsequent blogs, but one starting point is a set of manifesto points put up by Diana Laurillard, of Institute of Education/London Knowledge Lab. Thanks to Stephen Brown of De Montfort University for pulling these out as a stimulus to a session on MOOCs at this week's upcoming meeting on Research and Innovation in Distance Learning and e-Learning organised by Centre for Distance Education at University of London.

Here are Diana's manifesto points, which were originally posted to ALT members on discussion forums. I think they are good point to start investigating how a technology in education could betray, or jeopardise, national interests.

1. Formal education is not a mass delivery consumer industry but a client industry – we do not deliver knowledge to students, we try to nurture each individual's intellectual knowledge and skills to their highest potential level.

2. Formal education is not an emergent property of group discussion but a contract with a student to take them to a criterion or normative level of capability, which it is objectively agreed and therefore not up to them to define.

3. A university degree requires personal guidance, feedback and accreditation in terms of this agreed standard – and this is labour intensive and therefore expensive.

4. Higher education for some proportion of the population should not be free because it would have to be funded out of taxation, and yet it confers a financial advantage on the beneficiary, which lower-paid unqualified taxpayers should not be required to fund (so a graduate tax would be a better way to fund HE).

5. Experimentation with online pedagogies of the kind found in MOOCs has been available to us for over a decade. We should not have needed the MOOC phenomenon to start experimenting with technology-based pedagogies for the benefit of our existing students.

6. MOOC pedagogies fit the 'professional development' pedagogic format of 'presentation + peer discussion', with no expectation of feedback, assessment or accreditation, as in the cMOOC, with an optional certificate of 'attendance'.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Methods for reviewing MOOC blogature

How to digest and interpret blogature - this was raised in a question put to me by Vivien Rolfe of De Montfort University who is doing a paper at OPENED13 on 'strategies for searching wider internet and blogature [Vivien's term] for information'.

Vivien writes, following my Maturing of the Mooc report which, unusually for a formal literature review, made wide use of internet content that was not peer reviewed:
As you have highlighted they are rich sources of opinion, and often contain research data that people haven't got round to publishing.

Good observation by Vivien, that the emergent forms of knowledge production that replace publishing and peer reviewed articles are heavily reliant on web product and tools for building knowledge - and this calls for us to be critically aware of our practice.

So in the interests of Openness, here's a description for Vivien and anyone else who is interested, of the method we used when compiling the UK Government Report The Maturing of the MOOC

The approach to working with blogature on MOOCs was composite and improvised.

Starting point was to identify the most widely followed and cited bloggers in the field of ed-tech. This included those who blogged under their own moniker, and in umbrella blogs (like e-literate) and as guest bloggers in specialist titles. My key criterion was to tap the blogs of people with knowledge and influence. I felt it was not adequate, to merely review the blogs that were big on the web. For a couple of issues which I felt were important, but where I knew the field was slow and dozy (FE, developing world) I pushed a bit harder into more obscure and less well followed blogs in order to reach relevant content. But by and large, this was an adhoc blogger establishment on the topic.

Once I'd got a list of key writers in blog format, I -
- Analysed their blog rolls, citations, and comments to check for others I might have missed
- Used search term MOOC within the blog pages of these authors to identify relevant articles
- Also looked under their twitter feeds using the #MOOC tag to check what else they had read and thought worthy of passing on.

So there was a method up to this point.

Inevitably, my choice for review and critique in the publication, after I had made this selection of articles by these writers, was partial and not methodical. The output was too large to read all, let alone report. So the tried and trusted researcher's method of a lot of fast skimming, and a little focused analysis, came to my aid.

One perhaps could have applied also at this stage some kind of methodological criteria such as recency, number of comments/trackbacks etc, but I didn't. I merely applied judgement and knowledge of the field in choosing the elements of the blogature that made it to the report. The only safety checks to ensures that did not introduce distortion, were having two experienced senior reviewers on the writing team, each with a particular institutional focus, and giving the draft final text to four knowledgeable experts for a glance. My other personal rule, was that if a blog had generated an exchange or critical response among my core of key writers, it always deserved proper reading.

Search engines were very much a back-up at the very end, just to be sure I hadn't missed stuff that was popular but yet not reported in the professional discourse. Web searches didn't throw up much analytical writing on the topic that I didn't already know, actually. But there could have been circularity in my method, so it was important to get the outside perspective of search as a control.

For Maturing of the MOOC, we did an exercise of testing the Search Results Page (SRP) for the term MOOC over several weeks, at weekly intervals, using both Bing and Google engines. This allowed us to index the type and sentiment of web referrals to blogs, and to evaluate the volume of blogging on the topic as opposed to other content such as ads, journals, course listings etc. This was not an exercise in locating blog content, rather in recording how the websearch snapshot of the issue evolved over time. It threw up some intriguing suggestions. I'd like to think more about how this kind of web tracking exercise could be improved and automated by researchers. Search Engines aren't "clean" - they are contaminated by ones own search history, the algorithms' interpolation of information about you and your interests, and the evolving nature of the algorithms themselves. However, they do tell us something.

What worried me, when I was conducting all this research in the way described above, is that any method around blogging privileges individuals of authority, existing networks, and the ongoing debates of those with a vested interest in the phenomenon. It foregrounds a discourse that is Western, articulate, English-speaking, post-holding, institutional, continuous and engaged. Other voices that were important, reporting experiences that were significant, might be overlooked if they did not conform to this social and discourse framework. I responded to this risk in two ways.

Content about failure and rejection is not as frequently found as the number of drop-outs from MOOCs suggests it should be, so where I found it, I gave it more editorial weight than it deserved on the basis of frequency. Additionally, I gave the research a slight twist (and this is my personal political trait, and I don't claim it's a reputable method) I looked in a number of fringe, controversial, politically/geographically slanted and subaltern fora. These included: a Francophone and marxian perspective from Le Monde Diplomatique, some Chinese, Indian and African educational research networks I know, and teacher and student networks (often amplified through Unions) expression a rejection of MOOCs. Another technique I use to locate such voices is to search strings like "rubbish MOOC" or combinations like "terrible", "MOOC", "harm" to see if there is an undercurrent of dissenters. These did throw up a broader range of content and I was glad to have found it. As it happened, the brief for this publication (Education Policy in a developed economy) did not require them to be cited or analysed. But I was able to point to their existence and advise a watching brief on them.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Higher Education Expo shows changing ideas about students

Dropped into Higher Education Expo today.

From the sessions, I sense the big noise in HE is around the end of the dominance of the 3-year residential model. This is now marginal to most institutions. The energy is now around part-time, professional, mature student and corporate learning, with distance technology, personalisation, mobile, BYOD, asynchronous etc the key functions for any platform.

Also struck by the buzz around Student partnerships. This now is the top concept in learning design. Boss of HEA Philippa Levy said: uplifts in student engagement, success, satisfaction etc have not been well delivered by any toolset (bad news for platform makers Blackboard D2L etc...) or by any institutional reforms (bad for University managers. But impact is being driven by giving students a place as partners in designing the learning experiences.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Starting Problems at Wide World Ed course

Wide World Ed's first MOOC #WWEOpen13 on Online Instruction for Open Educators was due to kick off on Monday and I vaguely had it in my head that something should be happening about it around now, but nothing did.

Today, I get a mail from course leader Jenni Hayman saying I have to go into the Open Courses platform and set my notification settings to receive mails from them. Seems as if the high number of no-shows had alerted them to a problem.

Of course the Open Courses server is "down for maintenance" so I can't do the settings. This may be a sensible timing for server maintenance for WWE - they are still fast asleep and it's 4 am over there. I'm in London and ready to get my MOOC underway.

Lessons for MOOC organisers.

1. Set default communication to email notification. This channel, for all its faults, ensures people do turn up at the right time and place.

2. There is no such thing as scheduled server downtime in the MOOC space. It's global time.

But one encouraging thing in this mess. The MOOC lead instructor, Jenni Hayman, spotted quickly that the MOOC participation patterns were not looking right, and presumably investigated fast and got the answer fast. That tells me two more useful things.

3. MOOCs are now a stable and standardised enough format, that the instructors have a good feel for what ought to happen

4. There's still no technology better than a smart person dedicated to their job.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

MOOC bonanza for online learning practitioners

I noticed the impressive array of MOOCs on the subject of online learning and education more broadly. Ten underway or about to start. Looking at this list (pasted below) I'm impressed that

Nearly all the platforms are offering something in this space
There's a broad range of audiences targeted, from practitioners to strategists
It's not hard to find MOOCs on these topics, using mooc-list.com but about half of these were not listed on that site, i had to look on the platform sites
Paid MOOCs at price points like $49 are now quite common

E-learning and Digital Cultures (Coursera)
Edinburgh (a repeat of the April MOOC – very popular)
Start Date: Nov 4th 2013
This course will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for the ways in which we conduct education online. The course is not about how to ‘do’ e-learning; rather, it is an invitation to view online educational practices through a particular lens – that of popular and digital culture.

Teaching Online: Reflections on Practice (Canvas.net)
Kirkwood Community College
Start Date: Oct 21th 2013
This course invites your critical reflection on the methods of online instruction; beliefs and potential bias of the online learner; policies and rules and how they align with course objectives; tone and the purpose of communication.

Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom (Coursera)
Irvine, California
Start Date: Nov 11th 2013
Learn about emerging trends and technologies in K-12 virtual instruction. Join us as we explore this dynamic landscape and investigate how we can more deeply engage students in the virtual classroom through the use of innovative practices and technologies.

Teaching with Moodle: An Introduction (Moodle)
Start Date: Sep 1st 2013
Moodle’s first official MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) aims to gather teachers and anyone interested in using a learning platform to enhance teaching and learning. Teaching with Moodle: An Introduction is a free course designed to provide a good foundation and context to Moodle. The course covers the basics of the open source (and free!) learning platform, including how to set up and effectively use Moodle in teaching.

Web science: how the web is changing the world
Southampton University (UK)
Explore how the web has changed our world in the past 25 years and what might happen next.

Big Data in Education
24 October 2013
Columbia University
Education is increasingly occurring online or in educational software, resulting in an explosion of data that can be used to improve educational effectiveness and support basic research on learning. In this course, you will learn how and when to use key methods for educational data mining and learning analytics on this data.

Student Thinking at the Core
27 January 2014
This course explores how teachers can capitalize on what students bring to the classroom - their ideas, perceptions, and misunderstandings - to advance the learning of all students in the class, a practice we call “leveraging student thinking”.

Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’
Kris Olds and Susan L. Robertson
24 March 2014
Bristol University
This course is designed to examine an array of issues related to the globalization of higher education and research. The main objective of the course is to enable students to better understand how and why universities are engaged in the globalization process, as well as what the key implications of this development process are.

Digital Literacies 1
San Diego State University
4 November 2014
What’s in your digital teaching toolbox? Do you have the tools you need to reach 21st century learners? This course will introduce you to digital technologies and show you how to integrate them into your classroom/webspace. Learn how to combine pedagogy and technology to create a more effective educational experience for students—and get continuing education unit (CEU) credits while you're at it.
Digital Literacies 1 is part one of a two-part series.

Hybrid Courses – Best of Both Worlds
Oct 21
Renton Technical College
Are you an educator? Double your impact by taking advantage of both the classroom and online environments. Explore methods to effectively combine the two formats and build a class community that engages students and supports active learning in any subject area. For educators both new and experienced.
To receive a certificate of completion from the instructor the students must complete one of two options for the final project.

Open University Learner Analytics policy and thinking preview

Belinda Tynan and Simon Buckingham Shum of the Open University used the MOOC on Learning Analytics to preview some of their thinking around analytics.

The slides are here

Friday, 11 October 2013

MOOC session on Analytics by JISC's Adam Cooper in George Siemens MOOC

Good session by Adam Cooper in this fascinating and high-level MOOC session from Abathasca's George Siemens on Learning Analytics. The discussion is about the context for analytics in HE. That ranges from how analysts are staffed into academic teams: specialist data-wranglers or onboard faculty with mentoring. To how we relate analytics to pedagogy and power structures in HEIs

One rewarding issue was: why analytics focusses on dropout rates. Interest of University Management and Learners may be shaped by competing views of what success looks like. Administrators treat success as a binary outcome. If success equals completion rate, administrators want analytics that focus on marginal students to get them through. But Educators are employed to serve the interests of all students. They will want analytics to focus on depth of the learning experience.

Another hot question: should educators review LA reports before faculty gets them ? Faculty may see crude metrics and not appreciate significance. A good example in Adam's contribution was an observation pulled out by faculty from a report:

flagged for action because 74% of students felt they were well supported by their supervisor compared to 80% in similar institutions

What, asked Adam, is the right way to interpret this input from analytics ? What sort of variation would one expect. Is 80% or 75% within the acceptable level ? Is normal statistical variance accounted for with the 5% ? The mere fact of having numbers can generate wrong actions.

The obstacles to adopting Analytics from Adam's JISC research are worth showing. It shows the human factors are the big story:

I welcome George's conclusion: let's go beyond evaluating what analytics do, and start evaluating what is their impact.

OU's Simon Buckingham Shum made a perceptive critique of systems that focus on student success outcomes.

The risk is that "optimise student success" comes to be operationalised solely in terms of that which can be measured automatically. So our analytics embody our pedagogy

Let's talk about this course now as a MOOC

Is it a MOOC ? No. It is an erudite seminar, held online, in a standard environment (Blackboard collaborate) with all its pros and cons. However, it allowed me (albeit on replay) to drop into a quality and depth of discussion on a topic where the knowledge base is still held by individuals, rather than textx. To achieve a similar level of learning by other means would have had me spread across two or three conferences, or trawling around the net for hours. So it was effective, whatever we want to call it.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Faculty and Management disconnect on technology

Dartmouth's Professor of Learning Technology Joshua Kim blogged in Inside Higher Ed his report of the Atlanta Teaching Professor Technology Conference

Kim picked up on something I often note in HE's: the disconnect between ed-tech innovation at faculty level, and a brake of ignorance or fear at campus management level. Good work gets ghettoised. Best practice (or even any practice standards) are not spread across all student experience.

Here's his take:
What they spoke about was a lack of opportunities to share this work with campus administrative leaders. Classroom innovations are often invisible to the wider campus. Faculty realize that getting their administrative and academic leaders to understand and talk about these innovations is an important goal in order to sustain and spread this work.

That's the teacher's viewpoint. The effects came out from the learner's perspective at the student survey event I ran with D2L at ALT-C2013, where students described their experiences with technology. Their single biggest frustration was that there were no level standards of practice across their courses. Different professors used technology in different ways.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Who owns what you post in a MOOC

Educause who have done a calm and comprehensive forensic job on the copyright issues in MOOCs

Optimism is their note: a discussion can sort out all the issues. Not so sure. As they point out, the MOOC by its scale, extent, and ownership is headed for a clash with the old assumption that faculty holds the rights in its content. There is institutional copyright, and even student copyright.

The small print in the T and Cs you sign when you enter a MOOC as a student is scary:

By submitting or distributing User
Postings to the Site, you hereby
grant to [provider] a worldwide, nonexclusive, transferrable, assignable,
sublicensable, fully paid-up, royaltyfree, perpetual, irrevocable right and
license to host, transfer, display, perform, reproduce, modify, distribute,
redistribute, relicense and otherwise
use, make available, and exploit your
User Postings, in whole or in part, in
any form and in any media formats
and through any media channels (now
known or hereafter developed)

Educause in the end ducks the questions: my text-finder locates 22 question marks, and none of them is answered.

Fair Use is the only regime that seems to hold any hope for a copyright solution to using third party material in MOOCs, but here Educause admits that a Fair Use justification would depend on the use of the material being "transformative" rather than "cut n paste".

If MOOC contributions are, at least for the most part, derivative copying - then there is trouble ahead.

Friday, 4 October 2013

MOOCs article in Times Higher Ed Supp

MOOCs: from Mania to Mundanity in Times Higher Education Supplement yesterday got a nice wordcloud from Simon Rae

The technology boils 900 words down nicely to the single message: MOOCs mean the University is moving online.

Comparing Two MOOCs

Comparing two MOOCs on a similar topics in online education.

I am signed up for Wide World Ed's first MOOC on online learning. It's Online Instruction for Open Educators #WWEOpen13 and it starts in a week. Dave Cornier and Terry Anderson are the instructors. It's on the Desire2Learn Open Courses platform.

I am also signed into a MOOC on the deployment of learner analytics. This isn't from any educational organisation, but is presented by George Siemens a global expert on this topic. It's already started. It's on the Canvas network platform.

Looking at the marketing, welcome and sign-up experience:

Wide World's online instruction MOOC made the offer clear in terms of what I would gain from the MOOC

After fully completing the course you should have new skills to:

Lead online learning and facilitate a community of practice
Apply current adult and distance learning theory to your teaching strategies
Utilize a variety of online teaching tools, including open education resources
Design engaging and effective online practice activities
Begin to establish your reputation and brand as an experienced, open, online educator

The course description page also made the instructors visible so I got a good feel of their position.

George Siemens' MOOC on Learner Analytics had a shorter description, was more inward focussed, and less sense of personal contact

Full course description

In spite of growing interest in analytics in education, most states / provinces / countries have not yet developed a systemic approach to learning analytics. Small-scale analytics projects in learning settings are helpful in advancing learning research, but do not provide the value of a systemic and strategic focus. Many interventions, such as alert systems, recommender systems, or student success systems, require cross-departmental and system-wide approaches. This online learning analytics symposium (#LAS13) will review how various institutions and regions around the world are planning and preparing for integrated and systems-wide learning analytics deployment.

Both login procedures were smooth and instant. Immediate registration.

The stage of welcome and course start in the Learner Analytics MOOC is an email from George Siemens with the links to Week 1 reading. It offers a chance to reply to the mail - which turns out to be a tutorial on the messaging system of the platform.

The welcome on the Wide World Ed MOOC (scheduled a week behind the Learner Analytics MOOC) is a holding page until the course starts, with links to the platform, queries etc.

So far, so good