Proud and happy to call myself a ‘Master of Arts’

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Mr Kung Fu – was he the master or the pupil?

When I completed enough modules early last year to graduate as a ‘Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education’ I felt like a fraud; I’d scraped through, more importantly I didn’t feel I was ‘fluent’ enough in the subject. One module, H817 had been replaced and had felt a little dated at the time. This is why I’ve ended up doing a couple more MA modules from the MAODE – I have only one missing from the full set (H817 Open) which I may do in due course. I could even put it towards an M.Ed (Masters degree in Education) for which I also need the compulsory 60 point module Educational Enquiry which next registers a year from now.

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Fig.2 The forgetting curve

Confidence to call myself a ‘Master’ and belief by others that I know my subject led me to being asked to join the Open University advisory panel on the MAODE and in the same week to join the board of advisors for a national educational body that recently met. Now I feel I have enough of ‘the knowledge’ at my fingertips. I prepared for this first meeting my searching through this blog: it shouldn’t surprise me to know how much I’d forgotten, studying why and how we forget is very much a part of education – it is summed up in the Forgetting Curve (fig.2) that Hermann Ebbinghaus thought up over a hundred years ago.

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Fig.3. SatNav (not me)

It intrigues me that no gadget we own can circumvent this: that in fact, take a SatNav for example, let’s assume that it takes you on a journey in the correct direction. Let’s say you keep using the SatNav regardless. You could probably turn it off after two or three of these trips as your brain lays down the landmarks in your longterm memory. Thinking of which, I think the SatNav makes an excellent model for e-learning; just image you need to learn 120 absolute facts as a junior doctor – you could have your SatNav ‘peg’ the facts to specific points of a familiar journey. When you sit the exam it’s then as easy as driving this route in your mind’s eye visualisation everyone of the facts along the way.

I wander, cloud like.

I’m writing up my notes from this national advisory panel and over the next four years can hopefully nod at the courses that appear on which I’ve had some influence. Still not there yet, but I’m one heck of a long way further on since February 2010 when I re-booted this malarkey.

The answer has to be a P.hD. And I guess the only place to do that would be with the Open University. I went off the boil on that one a year ago, though I did secure a couple of interviews but came away suitably crushed.

It will have taken by then, at least ten years, more like 12 or 13, to call myself a ‘Digital Scholar’.

What Maka Paka knows about learning

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Maka Paka on the prowl for someone’s face to wash … and random stones to stack, count and give away.

I adore In the Night Garden in my fifties, the way I loved The Magic Roundabout when I was six. I’ve worked for Ragdoll, met Pob, been to the Teletubbies set and follow the work and thinking of Andrew Davenport who recreates the world of the child as it learns to talk quite brilliantly.

Recently I was for the umpteenth time talking about the importance of understand how and why we forget before you try and get anyone, including yourself, to remember a thing, Watching Maka Paka (above) learning to count is a fabulous example of repetition, discovery and repeat.

Now, if I had “In the Night Garden’ I could learn baby talk in several languages; I don’t suppose its very different.

Who gets my things after I’ve taken my life?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

As a Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education I will give all kinds of things a go. I’ve done a few FutureLearn MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). This eight week course on writing fiction from the OU looks like being one of the biggest; the OU pedigree also shows – the thinking and ‘broadcast quality’ of the video pieces shows compared to material put up by some universities.

Activities, activities, activities I remember someone saying from the OU when it came to designing learning online. This course is a little bit of telling, a bit of doing, that a lot of sharing. You can be thinking up a comment and before you post there can be five or six posts ‘land’ ahead of you. There are 1000+ responses to a thread. To some this is daunting. To those not used to these environments it may be off-putting. When you get used to it its fine, like going to a huge nightclub in London that’s on several floors rather than a mate’s part in their front lounge.

In this exercise we watched a clip of a dozen folk going about the daily business; all had feature in the opening piece about writing, so most are ‘at it’ pen on paper, into the laptop or onto an iPad. We are invited to take a person or moment and invent a story from it. I had never consciously done this before and was delighted with the effect, not trying to figure out what people really are doing, but rather inventing something for them.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 2. From an activity in ‘Start Writing Fiction’ from FutureLearn

I have a young woman innocently keeping a ‘writer’s journal’ who I decide is writing suicide notes to five or six people; she puts a key from the bunch in each envelope, posts off the letters then kills herself. A bit morbid. I suppose I should now figure out why, and reveal what is behind each key.

Go see.

FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

See also how a shared, threaded forum such as this can be used to create a vibrant asynchronous conversation with several hundred, even thousands of people. Several things FutureLearn do which would work well here: word count limited to 1200 characters, 16 minutes timed out having posted to edit – then its done. A ‘like’ button and an easy way to keep abreast of comments left in a discussion you have started or joined without having to try to find it.

The connectedness of ideas by learning online – towards a new theory of learning

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. This IMHO is what learning has become in the 21st century – and how it got there

There’s more going on here than you may realise!

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Fig.2. Traditional top down learning

Two triangles, one above the other and linked with a down arrow suggests traditional top down learning … or simply knowledge transfer from someone who knows something to someone who does not.

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Fig. 3 By someone’s side

Two triangles, one facing the other, may represent a shift towards collaborative or horizontal learning in a formal setting, though for me it represents the learning you do away from the institution – with friends, with family ‘on the same level’ as it were.

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Fig. 4. Participatory and situated, networked learning on the periphery

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Fig.5 The thinking starts with Vygotsky and his research into behaviorist learning

It then progressed to the study and analysis of learning in communities

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Fig. 6. Activity Theory as conceived of and developed by Yrjo Engeström. 

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Fig.7 The interplay between two entities or communities coming together to solve a problem and thus producing something unique to them both (object 3) – a fresh idea.

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Fig.8. Activity Theory re-connected – breaking out

Though developed over some thirty years the structure of ‘Activity Theory’ as a model is breaking down because of the quality, speed and way in which we now connect overrides barriers and invades silos making communication more direct and immediate.

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Fig. 9 Activity Theory in a connected world

Everyone and everything is just a click away.

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Fig.10 Visualizing the maelström of original ideas generated by people sharing their thoughts and ideas as they form

The maelström of new ideas where people and groups collide and interact. Historically this had been in grounded ‘communities of practice’, whether a London coffee shop or the senior common room of a prestigious university, the lab, the studio, the rehearsal room … today some gatherings online are frequent, enabled by the Internet and no less vibrant as like-minds and joiners contribute to the generation of new ideas.

This, drawing on Engestrom via Vygotsky, might be a more academic expression of Open Learning. Here a host of systems, expressed in model form, interpose their drive to achieve certain objectives into the common whole. That mess in the middle is the creation of the collective powers and inputs of individuals, groups, departments or institutions. The Open bit are the connections between any node in one system, and any other node from any other one of the systems … which blows apart the actions within a single system, making them more open, though not random.

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Fig. 11 It’s going on inside your head.

fMRI scans reveal the complex way in which ideas form and memories are recalled and mixed-up, challenged and re-imagined. We are our very own ‘community of practice’ of conflicting and shared viewpoints.

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Fig.11. Perceiving brain activity as the interplay between distinct, interacting zones

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Fig. 12 Ideas enter your system, your brain and are given a fresh spin

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Fig.13 Ideas coalesce until you reach a point of understanding. The penny doesn’t so much as ‘drop’ as to form.

Where would we be without one of these. 98 billion neurons. A uniquely connected mass of opportunity and potential. This is where, of course, memories are formed and thoughts had. Increasingly we are able to share ideas and thoughts as we have them, typically through the tips of our fingers by sharing our thinking online, especially where it comes to the attention of like-minds, and troubled-minds – anyone in fact or strongly agrees or strongly disagrees enough to contribute by adding their thinking and revealing their presence.

My thoughts on a FutureLearn MOOC on the Treaty of Versailles that tried to conclude the First World War

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. World War One: Paris 1991. A New World ...

The content here, how produced, presented and managed by FutureLearn is the perfect catalyst for a diversity of contributors. As interested in the strengths and weaknesses of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) as a platform, this from FutureLearn is showing the value of many connected minds coming together and feeding of each other. It strikes me that as people group around a line of thought, with the educators and contributors, the kernel of a tutorial forms: ideas are offered, shared, adjusted, politely corrected, fed, developed and consolidated.

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. The clean design style of Dorling-Kindersley

It intrigues me to understand what the formula for success is here: the simplicity and intuitive nature of the FutureLearn platform; a clarity that in multi-media terms reminds me of those Dorling-Kindersley books; the quality of the ideas professionally, creatively and unpretentiously presented … and a topic that has caught the Zeitgeist of the centenary commemorations of the First World War and its consequences rather than the chronology of the battles and the minutiae of military tactics.

For someone who has studied seven of the eight or nine Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) modules my continued interest in e-learning is diverse; it includes however not the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) per se, but rather ways to escape the technology in order to recreate or enable the qualities that come from the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’.

Fig.3. An Oxbridge Tutorial (1960s)

I am specific here because these tutorials are not seminars, webinars or lectures, an ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ is typically either one-to-one, the ‘great mind’, the ‘subject matter expert’ and his or her student or ‘acolyte’ or one to two or three. The standard pattern of these is for the students deliver a short essay, around 2000 words, on a single topic from a reading list. In theory all the participants write an essay but only one reads his or her essay out that everyone then discusses. The tutorial lasts an hour. You have one a week … per topic. Some tutors, the natural and committed educators extend these tutorials into informal settings, picking up the conversation at meals and in other settings.

From E-Learning V

Fig.4. Learning from others: an exchange of ideas

You cannot simply transpose this kind of ‘tutorial’ to the Internet in the commercial sense as the educator hasn’t the time to give, repeatedly, an hour of time to just one, or two or three students. This is not the model that can support the educational desires of the 5 million in the world who crave a university place. Certainly, these students need peace, a roof over their heads, food and political stability and of course the infrastructure and means to own and operate a device that can get them online … a tall enough order, but smart phones could be as cheap as £10 within ten years … but then, it will be through the kind of connectedness between students, moderated and catalysed by the experts that this ‘tutor-like’ learning experience can be created.

I see it in this MOOC. I have seen it with a variety of activities in OU modules.

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Fig.5. My takes on ‘Connectivism’ as a burgeoning theory of learning 

‘Connectedness’ is a learning theory developed and espoused by George Siemens.

Why most published research findings are false

Why most published research findings are false

REFERENCE

Ioannidis, J A 2005, ‘Why Most Published Research Findings Are False’, Plos Medicine, 2, 8, pp. 696-701, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 12 February 2013.

What is learning?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Learning that is connected, socialised and shared

Does learning happen within the head of an individual, or is it mediated, situated and distributed?

Learning as an artefact is the potential informed or insightful response in an individual’s brain. Learning as a process includes the mechanisms of the brain and everything that person perceives around them – which must indirectly include everything they’ve laid down in their memory and how the subconscious responds to any of it.

What does a test or exam measure?

A test or exam can only be judged by how it is constructed and where and how it fits into a period of study – is the test part of the learning process or an assessment? Are the questions open or closed? Are their significant time constraints or not? So they should test what they were designed to test.

Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup – the wonders of FutureLearn, the Paris Conference of 1919 and the birth of the League of Nations

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup

How do you compare and mark a variety of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?

We need to treat them like one of those challenges they do on Top Gear, where Jeremy Clarkson – ‎Richard Hammond – ‎James May set off to Lapland in a Reliant Robin or some such and then get marks across six or so criteria. Hardly scientific, but it splits the pack.

So, let’s say we take THREE MOOCs, what criteria should there be? 

  • Commitment. What percentage of participants signing up complete the course?
  • Comments. I use the word ‘vibrancy’ to judge the amount and nature of activity in the MOOC, so this is crudely reduced to the number of comments left.
  • Likes. Another form of vibrancy where comments left by the team and by participants are ‘liked’. It has to be a measure of participation, engagement and even enjoyment
  • Correct answers. Assuming, without any means to verify this, that participants don’t cheat, when tested are they getting the answers right. This is tricky as there ought to be a before and after test. Tricky to as how one is tested should relate directly to how one is taught. However, few MOOCs if any are designed as rote learning.

You could still end up, potentially, comparing a leaflet with an Encyclopaedia. Or as the Senior Tutor on something I have been on, a rhinoceros with a giraffe.

It helps to know your audience and play to a niche.

It helps to concentrate on the quality of content too, rather than more obviously pushing your faculty and university. Enthusiasm, desire to impart and share knowledge, wit, intelligence … And followers with many points of view, ideally from around the globe I’ve found as this will ‘keep the kettle bowling’. There is never a quiet moment, is there?

I did badly on a quiz in a FutureLearn Free Online Course (FOC). World War 1. Paris 1919. A new world order … 

I think I got half right. I chose not to cheat, not to go back or to do a Google search; what’s the point in that. I haven’t taken notes. I wanted to get a handle on how much is going in … or not. Actually, in this context, the quiz isn’t surely a test of what has been learnt, but a bit of fun. Learning facts and dates is, or used to be, what you did in formal education at 15 or 16. This course is about issues and ideas. A ‘test’ therefore, would be to respond to an essay title. And the only way to grade that, which I’ve seen successfully achieved in MOOCs, is for us lot to mark each others’ work. Just thinking out loud. In this instance the course team, understandably could not, nor did they try, to respond to some 7,000 comments. They could never read, assess, grade and give feedback to a thousand 4,000 word essays. Unless, as I have experienced, you pay a fee. I did a MOOC with Oxford Brookes and paid a fee, achieved a distinction and have a certificate on ‘First Steps in Teaching in Higher Education’.

As facts are like pins that secure larger chunks of knowledge I ought to study such a FutureLearn FOC with a notepad; just a few notes on salient facts would help so that’s what I’ll do next week and see how I get on. Not slavishly. I’ll use a pack of old envelopes or some such. For facts to stick, rather than ideas to develop, the platform would have needed to have had a lot of repetition built into it. Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup.

Armed with an entire module on research techniques for studying e-learning – H809: Practice-based research in educational technology – I ought to be able to go about this in a more academic, and less flippant fashion.

Why some online learning works better than others

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 This is what a reading list looks like – too much of a good thing makes it a bad thing

I ‘do’ e-learning for two reasons:

  • love of a subject, or a desire to fill holes or build mountains in my knowledge
  • fascination in e-learning: what works and what does not.

FutureLearn is a magic platform

I love it’s simplicity, clarity and intuitiveness. In the right hands it’s the perfect cup of coffee. (and once a day takes about as long to consume)

Classy copy

The considered, edited and crafted content doesn’t dick about: it is a brief talk, or walk and talk BBC documentary style opening (video), followed by a a dozen paragraphs of a succinct piece of required reading that is then opened to the ‘floor’.

‘Connectedness’ is enabled

The threaded discussion looks more like this bulletin-board cum blog cum student forum. Perhaps, as this has developed over the last decade, is where the idea came from? As a bulletin-board each time you comment your thoughts are placed on the top of the pile: someone has to read it when they log in, or at least there’s a  greater chance of that.

This connectedness is facilitated and encouraged further by alerts you get as others comment in a thread you’ve contributed to or started.

Your contributions are sorted for you and so build, without you needing to do so yourself, into a threaded line of thought – you can see how you are learning, how your knowledge improves and your ideas develop.

There are parameters

There is a word count for each posting. 1200 characters I think and a time frame during which you can edit (15 minutes).

There is a modicum of overload

We, as students, are the masters of the time we have, or want to give to a thing. We are also the ones who know and control the pace. It is too simple to say that some people read faster than others, so can consume more. We approach text in very different ways. What is crucial and done in the FutureLearn module I’m doing on the 1919 First World War Paris Treaty is the amount of reading offered. It is more than enough, but not overwhelming. It takes itself and its students seriously by saying that ‘we think you can read all of this and contribute to the discussions in the time allocated – five hours a week’.

Module teams get it wrong when content is sparse or when they overload the student with that laziest of get-outs ‘the reading list’. Getting it right requires effort, confidence in the subject you are teaching and a belief and understanding of the way people learn and the platforms and tools now available and how their evolving use impacts on learning. I’m doing a couple of FutureLearn modules: ‘Writing Applications’ at two hours a week, compares to World War 1: Paris 1919 at five hours a week. The contrast couldn’t be greater.

It’s like the first offers you a small cup of coffee: no refills. Instant. You get it with milk whether you like it or not. While the second gives you a rich cup of coffee and, if you want them, a couple of refills. No more. There are parameters.

FutureLearn keeps it simple

What matters are the words people type. There are none of the mess of unnecessary buttons provided here. Honestly. Keep it simple OU. They just muddle things massively. Where used they invariably take away from the ability to communicate. It is enough of a challenge to type on a QWERTY keyboard. Plain text does the job. In the hands of the amateur (all of us), being able to add colour, change font size and a whole lot more serves no useful purpose.

Content is self-moderated by the group

A simple alert button allows you to flag something to let moderators know that something inappropriate is going on: hateful language, foul language, ‘drunken’ rants …

Go see

‘There’s something for everyone’.