Archive for the ‘Open Learning’ Category

Open Education 2030

April 16th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) –part of the Joint Research Center of the European commission –  is calling upon experts and practitioners to come up with visionary papers and imaginative scenarios on how Open Education in 2030 in Europe might look with a major focus on Open Educational Resources and Practices, in different education sectors.

The foresight scenarios submitted can be normative or descriptive, idealistic or provocative, critical or imaginary, reflective or polemic, imaginative or concrete, comprehensive or selective, general or specific. They should be both inspiring and scientifically sound.

Submissions are free to choose any angle, subject, approach, but they say the future vision and/or scenario should address the key question of how Open Education in 2030 in Europe might look, and include the role of OER.

More details from the EU Europa website.

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What might open learning mean in 2013?

January 7th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

A new year and it is time to return to the blog. I have been back in work for a week but bogged down with a project financial report. Anyway happy new year to everybody.

New year is traditionally the time bloggers make their predictions for the year ahead. There doesn’t appear to be anything startling in predictions for educational technology. As Stephen Downes says

I’m always thinking about the future of learning technology, even if I don’t write about it so much these days. This is partially because it has become a bit predictable. Learning will become more open and content cheaper and easier to produce – hence, the move to flips, MOOCs and son-of-flips-and-MOOCs will continue. Computer hardware will continue to outpace need, so we’ll see an increase in cloud and virtualization. Always-connected and mobile will continue to grow and increase capacity with LTE and processing power, so we’ll see always-on learning. And then of course there are the things that have happened in the past, which are the easiest to predict, things like 3D printing, gamification and analytics. All good. These are the easy predictions, and everyone is making them.

He goes on to make an interesting prediction that publishers will regain power from the move to HTML5 which is harder to use than previous mark up technologies. I am not so sure about this – there are a growing number of software development kits which may make HTML5 quite easy to use.

I also think the move towards open learning needs a bit of unpicking. Open could and should go way beyond higher education institutions offering MOOCs – be they of the c or x variant. Way more important for me is the potential for knowledge to be shared openly and to be applied in context. Always-connected and mobile moves learning out of the classroom and into the context in which both knowledge might be acquired practically and at the same time applied. And if learning analytics could be extended beyond its present institutional focus to look at real life learning there is the potential to merge learning and knowledge development as well as formal and informal learning and develop a whole new ecosystem of learning. That is my hope and my prediction for 2013.

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Seven things we have learned about MOOCs

November 11th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

With the explosion of interest in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), both in numbers of courses and students, and in press reporting on the rise of MOOCs, it is worth thinking about the significance of all this. Here is a short version of five things that we have learned – a longer version (possibly) to follow.

  1. There is a huge pent up demand for education. MOOCs provide free and flexible access tot hose who could not previously take part in education. That includes not only from poorer countries with a limited education infrastructure but also from rich countries. And whilst some of the demand my be due to people wishing to improve their qualification, for many others the main motivation is personal interest.
  2. After a long period when Technology Enhanced Learning was seen as a supplement to traditional systems or as only for more technologically confident learners, Technology Enhanced Learning is now part of the mainstream and for many learners may be the mode or context of learning of choice.
  3. Education is now a global industry. National borders are no longer a barrier to participation in on-line courses and universities are being forced into international alliances to deliver courses to a global student body. At the same time, investors see Technology Enhanced Learning as an opportunity to develop new markets and are pumping money in accordingly.
  4. There does not seem to be any confidence about what the future financial market is for MOOCs. Some institutional managers see it as an way of recruiting more paying students to their university, others talk of a future market in selling accreditation.
  5. The new so called X-MOOCs such as Udacity or Coursera offer little in terms of new or radical pedagogies. Instead they rely on relatively well established approaches to online learning. However, they may reflect the growing experience in developing online courses and the reduced cost and ease of production of videos and, for students, the ease of access through ubiquitous connectivity.
  6. MOOCs are disruptive to the traditional university model. However such disruption may be more from globalisation and the financial crisis than from the introduction of new technologies per se.
  7. Innovation comes from outside the institutions. Despite being ignored in the popular press, MOOCs were developed and pioneered by people such as Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier (See Stephen Downes’ MOOC blog for more). The so called c (connectivist) MOOCs were far more innovative in pedagogic approaches but the idea was taken over and adapted by the mainstream institutions once they had proved their viability and attraction.

 

 

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Disruptive Education

October 29th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Last Friday, Fred Garnett and I made presentations to the weekly virtual Teaching and Learning Conversations (TLC) organised by Cristina Costa and Chrissie Nerantzi from Salford University. The title of the conversation, which took place on the Blackboard Collaborate platform, was disruptive education.

Fred lives in London and I was also in London for meetings, so we decided to meet up at the Westminster Hub (more on that later this week). And it was great fun! Fred and me both shared our presentations and so it evolved into a genuine conversation. I don’t know about the others, but i learned a lot (including that there is nothing like face to face proximity for a real conversation. We both agreed that globalisation is probably more disruptive to educatio0n at the moment than the introduction of new technologies, which are only an enabling factor.

I will post my slides tomorrow (and a link to the recording which seems to be broken at the moment). Here are Fred’s slides – slightly changed after the session. I especially like his distinction between disruption applied to education, which he says needs

  • new distance learning resources
  • new business models
  • globalisation
  • competition
  • capitalism
  • You!

and disruption applied to learning, which needs:

  • critical pedagogies
  • new collaborations
  • human-scale
  • Per to peer
  • social
  • Us!
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European Conference on Educational Research: the Podcast (Episode 1)

September 25th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Last week we broadcast three live internet radio programmes from the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) in Cadiz. Here is the first of the programmes.

ECER is a huge conference, this year attracted some 2700 participants. It is run by 27  networks who each put together their own programme. The networks cover a wide range of topics – from Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations to Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures to  Social Justice and Intercultural Education.

We wanted to reflect the diversity of the networks in our programmes and at the same time try to capture something of the feel of the conference. I don;t know if we succeeded but it was a lot of fun and also hard work.

Many thanks to the Pontydysgu crew: Nic, Jen, Dirk and Maria.

Programme participants (in running order)

  • Jennifer Collins – From the EERA office talks about her role in the conference
  • Tina Besley & Michael Peters – University of Waikato, New Zealand talk about their network’s research into Intercultural Education and Dialogue
  • Danny Durant – From the Institute of Education, London, talks about ECER London 2014
  • Kerry Facer, Helen Manchester & Howard Baker – Discuss their research into Open Learning
  • Phil Mudd – From Routledge Press talks about e-publishing and the threats and opportunities it poses to traditional modes of publishing
  • Vox Pops – Roving reporter Jen Hughes pounces on unsuspecting delegates to find out what they think about the conference

Programme length: 30 minutes

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The Great Disruption?

September 12th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

This years meme at ed-tech conferences is disruption. There seems to be two opposing discourses. One says that education is not in a period of disruption – rather that the system is evolving to take account of the possibilities that technology offers for teaching and learning.

The other says we are entering a period of disruption with the existing system fundamentally unable to respond to needs and that the take up of technology will lead to fundamental change. The rush to deliver and accredit MOOCs is seen as the tipping point.

I think both sides are wrong. Firstly there are massive differences in different countries. Whilst there is little doubt of the speed of change, uncertainty and even disruption in the US and UK higher education sectors, in Germany and the Netherlands, for example, life seems to be going on as before.

What this suggest to me is that it is not technology as such that is the major factor in disruption. Rather it is social and ideological drivers which are leading to the more apocalyptic scenarios. We probably have reached a tipping point in that the use of technology for learning is becoming mainstream. And the availability of high quality learning opportunities outside the classroom means that educational institutions can know longer claim a monopoly on learning or knowledge. Equally the power of smart phones is opening up new contexts for learning. Of course these developments will lead to changes – particularly in pedagogy – within institutions.

But the promise of such developments is to extend education to all who wish to learn, rather t5han the present minority who are able to access higher education.

But this i9s a political and social decision. Technology can be used in many different ways – for good and for bad, In the US and in the UK the technology argument is being used as part of an ideological drive to extend the remit of capital to include education – in other words to privatise education. And of course the new private institutions will be  driven primarily by the need to make a profit – rather than by pedagogical imperatives.

Lets look again at MOOCs. the early MOOCs – now known as c-MOOCs – were developed by people like Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Dave Cormier and Jim Groom. The idea of massive open online courses was not to make money. Quite the reverse : they were struggling to find models to sustain the programmes. They were motivated by the idea of new pedagogical approaches to using technology for learning.

Now MOOCs have been picked up by the mainstream system. Coursera is an international consortium of elite universities using a proprietary platform to deliver free online courses. Apart from their use of video these courses are somewhat traditional in their pedagogic approach. At last weeks EFQUEL conference, Jeff Haywood, Vice Principal of Knowledge Management at Edinburgh university, a founder member of the Coursera consortium, was quite explicit about their interest in MOOCs. We are there to make money, he said. And if we do not make money within four years we will close the MOOCs down (it is worth reading Audrey Watters extremely amusing account of the education session at the TECHCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco earlier this week).

Same technology – but very different pedagogic approach and motivation. So it is not technology per se which is the driving force behind the great disruption. Rather it is the economic crisis and political and ideological responses to that crisis. As a society should we be retaining free education and investing in education as a response to the fall in productivity and high levels of unemployment. Or should be be seeking to cut back by privatising education? That is the real debate.

 

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Who owns the e-Portfolio?

September 4th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Over the years I have had a fair bit of interest, in this diagramme, produced in a paper for the the e-Portfolio conference in Cambridge in 2005.

I has some discussion about it with Gemma Tur at the PLE2012 Conference in Aveiro. And now Gemma, who is writing her doctoral dissertation in ePortfolios, has written to me to remind me of our discussion. Gemma says:

I thought I could add that eportfolios built with web 2.0 tools may have another process which is based on networking. Cambridge (2009, 2010) argues about the construction of two selves, the networked self and the symphonic self. The first is about documenting learning quickly, in everyday life, taking brief notes with short and quick reflection, sharing and networking. The second is about presenting learning, reorganizing learning, linking learning evidence, with longer and more profound reflection… no networking in this final stage, as it is an inner process

As I am working with learning eportfolios, with web 2.0 tools, networking is a learning process for my students. Therefore, they are building their networked self.

So, if I argue networking is an eportofolio process of web 2.0 eportfolios, who owns the process? Looking at your article and your illustration, I thought it could be a process owned by both the learner and the external world. If networking is a process of sharing, visiting, linking, connecting, commenting, does it mean that it involves both the learner and the audience? this is what I thought before you told me that it is the learner’s process for sure.

So do you think that definitely I should argue that it is only owned by the learner? Then although it could need someone else to comment and connect, in fact, the act of networking is the student’s responsibility? is this the reason why you think that?, do you think I should argue it is owned by the learner?

These are interesting discussion impacting on wider areas than ePortfolios. In particular I think the issue of control is important to the emerging MOOC discussion.

Returning to Gemma’s questions – although I have not read the paper – I don’t think I agree with Cambridge’s idea of he networked self and the symphonic self – at least in this context. I think that networking becomes more important when presenting learning, reorganizing learning, linking learning evidence, and longer and more profound reflection. these processes are inherently social and therefore take place in a social environment.

However it is interesting that social networking was hardly on the radar as a learning process in 2005. And when I referred to the ‘external world’ I was thinking about external organisations – qualification and governmental bodies, trade unions and employers rather than broad social networks. Probably the diagramme needs completely redrawing to reflect the advent and importance of Personal Learning Networks.

However, despite the fact that personal social networks exist in the external world (the ‘audience’), I think the owner of the process is the learner. AZnd I would return again to Ilona Buchems study of the psychological ownership of Personal learning Environments. Ilona says:

One of most interesting outcomes of the study was the relation between control and ownership. The results show that while perceived control of intangible aspects of a learning environment (such as being able to determine the subject matter or access rights) has a much larger impact on the feeling of ownership of a learning environment than perceived control of tangible aspects (such as being able to choose the technology).

Personal Learning Networks are possibly the most important of the intangible aspects of a learning environment. The development of PLEs (which I would argue come out of the ePortfolio debate) and the connectivist MOOCs are shifting control from the educational institutions to the elearners and possibly more important from institutions to wider communities of practice and learning. Whilst up to now, institutions have been able to keep some elements of control (and monopoly through verifying, moderating, accrediting and certifying learning, that is now being challenged by a range of factors including open online courses, new organisations such as the Social Science Centre in Lincoln in the UK and Open Badges.

Such a trend will almost inevitably continue as technology affords ever wider access to resources and learning. The issue of power and control is however unlikely to go away but will appear in different forms in the future.

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Mendeley Open API

August 25th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Mendeley’s Open API Approach Is On Course To Disrupt Academic Publishing, according to TechCrunch. They say: “Mendeley’s ecosystem has now produced over 240 research apps drawing on open data from its database under a Creative Commons license. Those generate more than 100 million API calls to Mendeley’s database per month….The information fueling this ecosystem is being produced by the scientific community itself, putting a social layer over each document and producing anonymised real-time information about the academic status, field of research, current interests, location of, and keywords generated by its readers. The applications can cover research collaboration, measurement, visualisation, semantic markup, and discovery…

Mendeley’s tools now touch about 1.9 million researchers, pooling 65 million documents and claims to cover 97.2% to 99.5% of all research articles published. By contrast commercial databases by Thomson Reuters and Elsevier contain 49 million and 47 million unique documents, respectively.”

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Technology Enhanced Learning, Dialogicality and Practice

August 21st, 2012 by Graham Attwell

I like writing position papers! This is the second submission for the  Alpine Redezvous  workshop on the topic of TEL, the Crisis and the Response. This position paper is co-written with Dirk Stieglitz and Ilona Buchem.

We are aware of the increasing concerns about the commodification, monetarisation and privatization of education and academic labour. We also acknowledge the concern that the current mode of [neo-liberal] late-capitalism relies on “the continuous extension and validation of the infrastructure and the optimistic discourses of the new information technologies” (Hoofd, 2010)

However, rather than focus on concerns about the role of technology in the organisation and control of the educational infrastructure, in this position paper we which to examine the potential – and potential contradictions – of technology for learning. This in turn, leads to a focus on pedagogy, defined here as the theory and practice of teaching and learning. Technology is not pedagogically neutral – all technology enhances or hinders particular approaches to learning.

It is not hard to criticize the uses of educational technology in institutions. In its earlier phases technology was used to manage learners rather than facilitate learning. In its latter phase technology is being deployed both to commodify and monetarize knowledge (and the academic labour which produces such knowledge) and at the same time to sell education as just another consumer product (hence the present hype around so called learning analytics). Almost inevitably, attempts to develop an alternative ecology or milieu and an alternative pedagogy – such as MOOCs – are being absorbed by the dominant culture. Interestingly, in this regard, we can perceive the contradiction between an understanding of academic staff who wish to open up new horizons for learning to students with the concerns of the students who wish only to receive the necessary knowledge to achieve the credentials for which they believe they have paid. This in turn reinforces push technologies to support funnel delivery of learning objects to receivers (clients or customers). And despite the hype about the uses of technology by digital residents, repeated surveys have shown very limited use of social technologies by students to create, rather than consume digital artefacts and knowledge.

However, there is an alternative perspective. The almost indecent rush to commodify academic knowledge through the use of technology[1] may, to some extent, be driven by a realization that knowledge has escaped from the walled garden of the academy.

We would argue that the education systems grew in response to the needs of industrial capitalisms (in this respect it is informative to note that many Victorian schools in the UK were deigned to look like factories and were organised on a factory model). Despite the efforts of communities and organisations such as the Miners Hall, the Workers Educational Association and the Mechanics Institutes (and similar bodies and movements in other countries than the UK), access to education – and knowledge – was largely a monopoly of the education system, which in turn was ideologically driven by the needs of capitalist enterprises.

Despite the efforts of institutions and others – including publishers – to maintain control of knowledge, the internet allows an abundance of access to knowledge and learning, especially through informal and self managed learning. In a study we undertook of the use of information and communication for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises in six countries in Europe, in 106 case studies we found only one instance of the use of ICT for formal learning. Yet we found numerous uses of technology for informal learning (although often the users did not recognize this as learning themselves). We found:

–       the web was the platform for learning

–       in most cases the managers did not know such learning was happening

–       there was more likelihood of learning taking place where people had more control of work processes

–       learning was sometimes driven by just in time needs stemming from the work but was often driven by learners’ interests

–       learners had little interest in formal accreditation or credentials and no interest in assessment

Such learning often took place through contacting friends or through participating in informal, online communities of practice. Support for learning was through peers or those who Vygotsky called a More Knowledgeable Other and learning was largely self-directed.

Learning was heavily contextual, depending on both the subject and level of learning, the nature of the problem or the culture of the community.

Through a combination of the physical workplace and subject based culture and the culture of the online interactions, users were making new meanings for their own practice. This chimes with Bakhtin’s reasoning that others or other meanings are required for any cultural category to generate meaning and reveal its depths.

“Contextual meaning is potentially infinite, but it can only be actualized when accompanied by another (other’s) meaning, if only by a question in the inner speech of the one who understands. Each time it must be accompanied by another contextual meaning in order to reveal new aspects of its own infinite nature (just as the word reveals its meanings only in context). (Bakhtin, 1986, pp. 145–146).”

Akkerman and Bakker suggest that boundary crossing and the understanding of learning as a process that involves multiple perspectives and multiple parties is “different from most theories on learning that, first, often focus on a vertical process of progression in knowledge or capabilities (of an individual, group, or organization) within a specific domain and, second, often do not address aspects of heterogeneity or multiplicity within this learning process.”

Akkerman and Bakker advance “four dialogical learning mechanisms of boundaries:

  1. identification, which is about coming to know what the diverse practices are about in relation to one another;
  2. coordination, which is about creating cooperative and routinised exchanges between practices;
  3. reflection, which is about expanding one’s perspectives on the practices; and,
  4. transformation, which is about collaboration and co-development of (new) practices.”

The interesting point here is the relation to practices, and to dialogical learning processes, as opposed to the reified and top down nature of knowledge acquisition through institutional online learning and traditional TEL.

We suggest that if the TEL community is to contribute towards a response to the crisis, that response requires a move from a focus on formal knowledge transmission through educational technology controlled by institutions, to a perspective of supporting community knowledge acquisition and self directed learning focused on practice.  It equally requires a change in developmental approaches with technology co-developed with the communities of practice. Interestingly, it could be argued that such a change, although explicitly opposed to the use of TEL to commodify formal education, would provide a better social and economic use of technology in existing economies.

References

Akkerman, S. F., & Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary crossing and boundary objects. Review of Educational Research, 81, 132-169, http://rer.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/0034654311404435v1?ijkey=4LKMx60v0wQzc&keytype=ref&siteid=sprer

Bakhtin, M. (1986). From notes made in 1970-71 (V. McGee, Trans.). In C. Emerson, & M. Holquist (Eds.), Speech genres & other late essays (pp. 132–158). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Hoofd, I. (2010), The accelerated university: Activist- academic alliances and the simulation of thought, in ephemera 2010 www.ephemeraweb.org volume 10(1): 7-24



[1] See for instance http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/coursera-hits-1-million-students-with-udacity-close-behind/38801 although it is notable that this trend differs in different countries and economies

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The MOOC debate

August 1st, 2012 by Graham Attwell

There is an intense debate going on about MOOCs at the moment. As  Nellie Deutsch explains in an excellent post entitled Loveless MOOCs:

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) began with the idea of connecting for learning via personal learning environments (PLEs) using blogs, wikis, google groups, and Moodle. According to Wikipedia, the term MOOC is said to have started in 2008 by Dave Cormier and Bryan Alexander “in response to an open online course designed and lead by George Siemens and Stephen Downes” (wikipedia). However, MOOCs have changed from the idea of connecting with others for learning to the more traditional content delivery format as demonstrated by Khan’s Academy, MIT’s and Standford.

Now a group of elite universities have launched their own MOOCs using Coursera (a proprietary course management system)  developed for the universities and with many other private and public educational institutions planning their own MOOCs the debate is underway.

Stephen Downes and George Siemens have characterised the difference as between C type MOOCs (C as in connectivism) and X type MOOCs (I am not sure what the X stands for). I am not sure this helps clarify things. Indeed, I think the term MOOC is now being used for almost any web based course and as such is losing any real meaning

So what are the differences.

The first is intent and motivation. The original MOOCs run by Siemens and Downes were designed to open up learning to all who wished to participate – thus the Open in the name. The business model – in as much as their was one – was based on a limited number of participants being enrolled as formal students in one of the sponsoring institutions. The new MOOCs appear to be driven by  the desire to charge for online courses, as a way of increasing enrolment on other formal courses or by charging for certification.

The latter has pedagogic implications.

Pamel McLean reports on her personal experience on her blog:

I’ve started my history of the Internet course with Coursera. I’m very interested to see how it works. It’s assessed, which I was not expecting, and find highly demotivating. I don’t really want to “master” the  cource materials.  I just want a familiarise  myself with what it covers, and how it does it.  However assessment and a final judgement of having passed or failed brings in all kinds of new dynamics. I feel a need to demonstrate to “the powers that be” that I’m not a failure, but I didn’t enrol in order to prove anything to them. I enrolled to take what I wanted from the course. Only a few hours in and I feel pushed towards jumping through hoops. I think they have only three categories “pass”, “fail” or “dropout”.

This is not the only pedagogic difference. Siemens and Downes based their MOOC on peer support through the use of social software and Web 2.0 technologies including Forums, Blogs and Twitter, webinars and internet radio. They also invited an impressive list of guest speakers who gave their time for free. Thus the model was based on peer and interactive learning through community connections, with links to participant activity being harvested and shared.

The new MOOCs are evidently not based on such a model. In fact they really just seem to be traditional on-line courses, albeit repackaged.

Furthermore, Downes and Siemens promoted the development of Personal Learning Environments with participants encouraged to develop their own learning environment including whatever applications they chose. This is very different to the closed world of Coursera technology.

I don’t agree with Nellie Deutsch’s assertion that the attitude the elite universities are choosing to take is “if you can’t join them, break them”. Instead I think they are trying to take what is clearly a successful and ground breaking innovation and trying to mold it to fit their own pedagogic and business models. But at the end of the day I don’t think what they are promoting are MOOCs, at least not as they were originally conceived.

Postscript: there are an increasing number of efforts to curate the MOOC debate – I particularly like Networked Learning – Learning Networks by Peter B Sloep which picks up well on the key issues under discussion.

 

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