open university

The importance of digital literacy in learning online

Fig. 1. Mozilla Webmaker Digital Literacy Map

Learning online for a degree means that over a number of modules, sooner rather than later, you are likely to master a number of these digital literacy skills; the more the better.

Navigation, search and credibility and vital for any student. Can you find your way around the web and your university’s virtual library, the student forum and Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? Can you search elsewhere for credible results – remembering to tag and cite these?

Learning online you may never need to code, but other ‘building’ skills are important; the basics of this blogging platform for a start, remixing and re-blogging and accessibility issues.

Connecting might be the most important skill and habit to acquire: sharing, collaboration and community participation are what make the Open University learning experience so special. ‘Connectivity’ is considered by academics such as George Siemens to be the learning theory of the 21st century; that by taking part, connecting and commenting you and others benefit from the insights gained, mistakes corrected, problems solved, issues understood, theories tested …

While ‘openness’ is a state of mind that takes a bit of getting used to; some make feel it is ‘exposure’ or compromising their privacy. Others simply prefer to get on with a task alone, and therefore with less disturbance. You can see that I am an exponent of openness and connectivity.

Open and free learning needs to preach to the converted

Fig. 1 My big sister and me

‘Preach to the converted’ is the mantra of advertising; increasingly it should the mantra of e-learning, and especially of Massive Open Online Courses which are both open and free. Give potential students what they want in a way that they are already open to. Don’t force feed platforms and tools that are foreign to them, nor pander to the book, pen and notebook when by its very nature if you are learning online you are in front of a computer screen. Think more in terms of the needs of the student, than of the willingness of the faculty to give this kind of e-learning a go. Engage someone with a background in communications.

‘Preach to the converted’ ties into the need to know who your students are – in all their diversity. There’s a bunch of personas used by the Open University to help with this. We’re a handful of shifting types across a spectrum of some 12 personas. This helps educators design for hidden, massive audiences.

Fig.2. The Santorini Museum

Big Sis and me both wanted a book from the Santorini Museum.  

We’d done the Akrotiri excavation and did the museum in our separate ways (family event on the island with people arriving at different times and staying in different place. When we met up we agreed immediately at the frustration at no having a shop at either location. You whet your appetite on a subject are ripe for a bit more. I even started looking for a two week course on Archaeology in Future Learn. No book. Not much of a website. Ample content with each artefact.

Visitors to museums are converts; not just easy to sell postcards and tea-towels too, but ready to learn and suckers not just for ‘the book’, but just as prepared to come to the talk, even, these days, to sign up to a taster course.

Facebook Positivity Challenge

Fig.1. United Kingdom and Ireland

Prompted by nieces and my sister I have now joined the Facebook ‘Positivity’ challenge.

You post three positive things a day for five days then nominate three others to do the same. I have written 15 ‘Positivities’ already and will adjust and prioritize each day. My wife, Great Britain and learning something everyday (with a plug for the Open University) got a mention today. When I was eleven or twelve I pencilled in all the counties of England, Scotland and Wales where I had visited – parents divorced and living in Cumbria and Northumberland got that one started, with cousins in County Durham and North Yorkshire, and then trips to Scotland and Lincolnshire, London and Oxfordshire. The rule was I had to spend a night in the county. Before I’d taken a look at the above map (and not taking into consideration boundary changes) I guessed that bar a few counties I had stayed in all: largely as work producing training and information videos has had me on overnights all over the shop (nuclear power industry, manufactures, retailers, Post Office, pharmaceuticals …), and Northern Ireland courtesy of a girlfriend of 18 months. Looking again I think I could add that I’ve never stayed in Essex, nor many of the Welsh Counties (or valleys), a couple still in Northern Ireland and probably a couple in North Eastern Scotland even if I have driven through. I started the same kind of thing on the 98 departements of France and guess that I’ve ‘done’ a good fifty, once again, thanks as much to TV work repeatedly travelling to far-flung, non-touristy destinations for a TV news agency I worked for. I miss travelling.

A few years ago I took up the challenge of posting a photo a day in Blipfoto; I took this one step further and determined, with the need for some criteria for editing a day’s pictures, to posting something ‘to feel good about’ – this task is similar, though potentially more abstract if the idea, rather than the image comes first.

The value of networking face to face not just online

In the spirit of doing something different in order to effect change I attended a ‘Get Together’ organised by Wired Sussex and took the attitude that i would be open to everything and say ‘yes’ to all. Over two hours I listened to, shared with and learnt from Neil, Gerry, Olly, Karla, Tristan, Simon, Michael … and ‘TV Simon’ as I will call him to differentiated from business managing Simon16 (number of employees). I only remember the people, what they said and names to faces as, shared with them, I did this thing of pegging a face to a place on a familiar journey – walking through the house. And so I found Carla at the front door designing jewellery, Gerry on the stairs coaching folk in life skills, Tristan enteringmy bathroom talking agile eaterfalls, Kanban abd SCRUM techniques while Simon was on the landing with our dog – his blonge haird and scruffy beard in keeping with our blonde Labradoodle perhaps? Olly was in the garden talking to John, while Neil moved away and subsequently left. These are only those I met. There is no so much to follow up on: things to do, things to research, people to get back in touch with. So here’s me making some kind of public promise to do so, including having a business card by the time of the next meet up. I own the domain name ‘Mind Bursts’ which is where I plan to seed ideas and seek ways for them to flourish and bare fruit.

Much of the conversation came from my experience of the Open University’s Master of Arts on Open and Distance Education in general (graduated in 2012) and the module H818: The Networked Practitioner that ends tomorrow having submitted End of Module Assignments last week.

The Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education in images

20140311-141837.jpg

I’ve created, screengrabbed, mashed up and photographed my way through four years with the OU – seven modules. I should share more of them or turn it into an eBook or some such – a six hour long SlideShare? There are over 1600 images.

Would you prefer to read widely or pick the brains of experts?

Reading a history of the Armistice after the First World War – I’m a few years ahead of the centenary of 1914, I learn the Lloyd George preferred the former: picking the brains of experts was preferable to reading widely. Studying with Open University can be neither: reading is tightly focused by the content provided and you are penalised rather than admired for reading widely: you are supposed to stick to the text as it is on this that your tutor will assess you. And the participation of experts is random: my seven modules with the OU has had some of the more prominent names of distance and open education as the chair and as tutors, though more often they appear only in the byline or tangentially not daining to take part in discussion or debate – it is their loss and ours. Nor should I sound as if I am denigrating the tutors as here my expectation has come to seek in them an ‘educator’ – not necessarily a subject matter expert, but a facilitator and an enabler, someone who knows there way around the digital corridors of the Open University Virtual Learning Environment. Studying with the Open University can also be both: it depends so much on the course you are taking and serendipity. If you are goash you ought to be able to approach anyone at all in your faculty – not that you have much sense of what this is. You can read widely simply by extending your reach through references courtesy of the OU library, though I think what is meant here is a more general and broad intellect, that you take an interest, liberally, in the arts and sciences, in history and politics …

Being online affords a thousand opportunities to both read widely and to pick the brains of experts; what this requires is Web 2.0 literacy – the nous to drill deep when you read in a way that has never before been possible, unless, perhaps you have been privileged enough to have ready access to and the time to use one of the world’s elite libraries and your father or mother is a senior academic, government minister or captain of industry who loves to hold ‘house parties’ at the weekend. For the rest of us, there is now this new landscape – if not a level playing field (there are privileges based on cost and inclusion) – it is one where, with skill, guile, knowledge and experience you can gravitate towards and rope in the people and the books.

Learning at the speed of desire

Fig.1. My whirlwind of postgraduate learning. (c) J F Vernon (2013)

For a brief period I have been a registered student at three universities: Oxford Brookes (FSLT14), the Open University (MAODE H818)  and the University of Birmingham (MA First World War). This is what my mind needs to feel I am ‘in the flow’. Live TV does it too – behind the camera, anything can go wrong, or go right.

The first two online and the latter campus based. My motives for joining FLST14 were to push my learning towards education in Higher Education and applied learning in business – as a practitioner I’ve been making the transition from production and learning services to the education side for a good decade – seeking to be part of the learning process rather than creating resources at a distance. First Steps into Learning and Teaching 2014 (FSLT14) came along where I have had a brief window and for an opportunity to revisit, understand and apply this process of reflection it worked where previous efforts to crack this have failed. I’m also, in some respects, testing from a professional perspective different learning platforms and approaches.

I’ve done three MOOCs in as many years – some huge, one so closely managed it was like a formal MBA module. I’ve done and nearly completed a FutureLearn MOOC too (WebSciences) and enjoyed taking part in another FutureLearn MOOC on Hamlet (University of Birmingham) as an observer. I can see myself doing a couple of these a year: they replace an inclination of buying hefty, coffee-table non-fiction books on a thing in the belief that ownership alone will result in the transmission of knowledge from the page to my head. For the last decade I’ve applied the same principle to eBooks which hasn’t worked either. I need to be reading the things for a reason – increasingly this is because, voluntairly, I need to respond with a book review, intelligent intercourse in a seminar or in an essay that will be assessed and graded.

It is interesting to be back in class: lectures and reading lists with essays to write, but the comparison I make for FSLT14 is with other online modules.

Where, for me FSLT14 worked so well as that it clearly knows what it can and cannot deliver. It is a Bonsai tree, not the entire forest. It might even be a cherry-tree haphazardly trained along the back wall of the garage if I am to continue the metaphor. This is a blessing. More is definitely less.

I’ve been on modules that say it is 14 hours a week but it quickly becomes apparent that it is more like 22 hours – sometimes they excuse this by having ‘Optional’ activities, but these are ambitiously long, even indulgent reading lists set up us students to feel we may be failing or inadequate if we can’t or don’t take an interest in these. I am not a strategic learner; I expect those responsible for the learning design to do this. If you go to the trouble of putting a book or paper it is because you expect students to read it – rather than, what I feel the academic is doing – showing off how much they have read. Research shows that activities that are marked ‘optional’ are not done. I find, where I do these any effort lands on deaf ears – no one else could give a monkey’s … That said, I’ve also just completed an OU heavy-weight H818: The Networked Practitioner.

Here the commitment and presence of the Chair was palpable and of enormous value. As students it is encouraging to us to have those who designed a course to show maintain their presence.

On the one hand you have the course content, designed and posted online, on a railway track learning journey that is suitably detailed, but never overwhelming. You can battle on alone, or join in. With fellow students this is straight forward, it is simply a matter of sticking your head over the garden fence on a regular basis and returning the compliment of someone commenting or providing feedback to do the same to them … while being mindful as you become one of the experts to look after those who may feel on the edge of things. How, when and if the tutor is a presence depends on if they go by their contracted hours, or are indulgent enough as a vocational educator to be around. I feel a tutor should host their group. Over four years, and seven modules I’ve had seven tutors, of course, though seen and probably remarked on the actions, behaviours, strengths and weaknesses of at least another 14 tutors. Some what the French call ‘animateurs’ – they galvanise their group; others are withdrawn, very academic and correct – but brilliant in their own way. Others become, for want of a phrase ‘one of the lads’. I’m less certain that this works or is appropriate – not in primary, secondary or tertiary education. And so on. The worse are the ones who simply are not there. Who seem to have less idea what is going on than their students and as you’d expect a student who is struggling to do start to winge and make excuses. I’ve never had to do it so I ought to be more circumspect; I am sure that it can only be reasonable to expect tutors to work their contracted hours. My view of education and being an educator is more Socratic. I expect their presence.

With seven significant online postgraduate modules under my belt this is of course not the typical picture: some are heavily based on reading, others on activities with assessments patterns to suit. Mentioning the ‘traditional’ course I am doing, actually 1000 pages to read per week is clearly excessive isn’t it? You give up lie-ins and TV, and other hobbies …  (By the way, I share regularly in the OU Student Blog platform thoughts and hopes with someone who has now completed 21 postgraduate modules with the Open University. I think this equates to four degrees!!)

Fig. 1. Muir Woods. One visit wasn’t enough. I spent three days in here.

I describe my inability to see the wood for the trees as I was too busy enjoying being a woodsman.

I could not stand back and reflect on what had taken place – not during the course, though perhaps a few months later. I return to this horticultural metaphor as I found with FSLT14 that I could fit it in, no more, no less. I could see it for what it was and admired its focus. During FSLT14 I feel I have become fluent in the language of education. It has been the tipping point, the moment, where like learning a new language you feel the fog has cleared.

This has been possible because of its modesty and humanity – there is an intimacy in the connectedness that I haven’t found elsewhere – perhaps in specialist interest groups in LinkedIn and Google+

Fig.2. Dr. Zbigiew Pelczynski taking his grandson for a walk

Our feedback session felt like an Oxbridge Tutorial; I’ve had the privilege of learning through that system as an undergraduate but took it for granted thinking that it was how all university’s could do things. There is significant value in a few people being able to talk around a topic and have enough time to take in what people were saying. And of course, the global reach of this is such a revealing way to consider your own position and practice. My insight on the Oxbridge tutorial system – I was an undergraduate thirty years ago, has been embellished by marriage to the daughter of a prominent Oxford tutor and personality, Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski. I interviewed him about the tutorial system and shared this online. Ever since I’ve pondered how Web 2.0 could be used to give tens of millions the Oxbridge tutorial experience – some institutions are doing this already. The Webscience MOOC I did, though hosted by two University of Southampton professors, was populated, on rotation I think, by four PhD students each week. This meant, as we have come to expect using communications platforms, that more often or not, a reply came to whatever you posted in a few hours, or sooner – rather than days later or not at all. As an online student you start to recognise the pattern a tutor has – never on a weekday, never at the weekend, only on a Tuesday. That’s their plan, but it feels like a gross misappropriation of powers they ought not to have … to effectively ignore you until they can be bothered. All should and could be receiving updated posts on an RSS feed.

Fig.3. Something I drew.

Setting out to become a ‘Master’ of anything at all – ‘Open and Distance Education’ has received my attention, though four years ago I was interviewed to take an MA in Fine Art.

True! It has taken this extra year, a couple of modules beyond graduating with the MA, to feel that I can describe myself as a ‘Master’. It’ll be another six years before I can, some theorists think, a ‘Scholar’. But I, like John Seely Brown, do not believe in this ‘10,000 hours’ thing – I’ve read the original research paper on musicians learning violin at the Berlin Conservatoire. Playing a musical instrument does not readily translate to anything else or everything else, especially where most violinists start at the age of 4. Which is when Picasso picked up a paint brush under the tutelage of his father, an art teacher from the local university. What were your learning at age 4 that you have developed into an expertise ten or twenty years later? Picasso, in his words, could paint like Rubens by the time he was 14. And we know about Mozart. There’s value in starting young and sticking with it: swimming anyone? Singing too.

Web 2.0 allows ‘learning at the speed of need’, to prefer learning over TV or the gym, over friends and relationships, walking the dog and the garden.

I have for the last five months been working on two MA degrees in parallel – not something I would have considered even three years ago. Not only do I think it is doable, I think, with the right course, you can contain it to the 14 hours a week each requires. The magic, the synergy, the insights that come from this greater intensity is, going back to it, what Oxford and Cambridge expect when they ‘hot house’ students through their short, eight week terms. And how many hours are they expected to put in? At the Oxford Internet institute I was advised that the MA students would be doing 44+ hours a week. Intensity works once you are up to speed. For this means getting myself into ‘the flow’ as Mihaly Csikzentmihayli puts it.

On Loving the Open University – hours after submitting a 5000 word assignment. Give me more!

Fig.1. Love steps in the snow. Spotted outside the Michael Young Building, home to the Open University Business School

I have a unique insight on the Open University. I graduated with a Masters in Open and Distance Education in 2012, worked at the Business School for a year and have done further postgraduate modules since – not just here but at other institutions too.

I know what you get:

  • An online system and support network that is second to none: clear, robust, intuitive and friendly.
  • You gain from educators who are just that – wedded to the process and their subject.
  • And you gain most of all from the fabulous network of contacts and friends that you make – even if you never meet them, you have a myriad of ways to share your thinking and ideas online.

In the course of my duties I interviewed some twenty MBA international students during a residential school in Brussels – what a great, inspired and positive bunch. These were people in business, with aspirations, as start-ups, from the established to the new kids on the block, and from right around the globe. For this residential week they flew in from the US, from Japan and Russia … and everywhere in between or around the corner. That is the nature of the beast – International.

And then, perhaps like so many of us, you finish one module and itch to join another. Personally, I will never stop learning and have found no better way to achieve my goals than with the OU. My next step? After a lifetime of failing to do so, to learn French well enough not simply to understand it and to speak it …. but to write it too. That module starts in October 2014.

Then there’s the MBA. I had the most wonderful time on the module ‘Creativity, Innovation and Change’.

A five minute presentation on facilitating a creative workshop

Challenged over the last couple of weeks to create a 10 minute presentation as part of the Open University postgraduate module H818:The Networked Practitioner (part of the Masters in Open and Distance Education) I’ve barely had time to reflect on this experience when I find for Oxford Brookes University I am creating a 5 minute presentation as part of their online course First Steps into Learning and Teaching 2014 (FSLT14).

A 5 minute presentation takes twice as long to write than a 10 minute presentation.

Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte. Blaise Pascal

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.

Anything less than a minute is a TV commercial and might take months to get right.

I’ve known this ever since I took an interest in working in TV (Drama short on Channel 4, otherwise 150+ videos in L&D)

I am at least starting to get the tools I use to sing:

  • Picasa for my cloud based albums of pictures
  • Brushes to layer images
  • Studio to turn images into graphics

Both these for the iPad (I love the tactile)

Other Apps are available.

My issue with the FSLT 14 brief concerns the assumption that a non-wordy presentation – PowerPoint has been banned, any text may only appear on the overlay – is that the first, second and third rule of any ‘audio visual’ presentation such as this is (to quote Alfred Hitchcock):

‘the script, the script, the script’.

You have to write words to rationalise and order the visual.

You write a script in two columns: one describes what you see (the most important), the second what you hear (which is likely to be the spoken, or acted word – as well as sound effects and music).

This format works

Anyone familiar with a screenplay or TV script will be as capable of reading such a script and seeing that happens as a conductor can read a score and hear the music.

It remains word heavy.

Galleries of images and instant search for images is both distracting and limiting. They encourage the ‘creative’ to shoehorn inappropriate, compromise and copyright images into their work.

Far better, not that I’m about to do it, is to stick to the words in the script (easily edited and re-written for effect) and at most doodle an impression of an image: I like using a drawing pen on a large sheet of cartridge paper, though a stylus on the screen of an iPad might do.

So, I’m locked down in ‘writing mode’ at the best time of the day on the best day of the week – early on Sunday morning.

And I’m sharing this practice online. Though currently my expectation of feedback is limited. I miss the way were over a decade ago writing in Diaryland. Feedback guaranteed on the 24 hour cycle as fellow bloggers picked it up around the globe. I know what’s happened, and this blog is testament to that given that I transferred content from 1999-2004 to this space – I have spread myself too thinly.

Who knows what I am writing about anymore?

In this first years it was a balance of writing and the personal following authors who did the same and that group of us who were ‘always there for each other’ had one thing in common – the desire to develop a ‘voice’ and have stories to share.

It may only be five minutes, but I need at least to remember that this is a story – that above anything else, narrative works. The ten minuter I completed and presented earlier this week was too worthy, too explanatory. Let’s see if I can evoke the feelings that came from the workshop I ran:

  • risk
  • laughter
  • revelatory
  • results

Let’s also see if I can write what in my heart I want to say, rather than trying to write what anonymous others expect to hear. I do so loathe guides on assignment marking which can reduce something exploratory, that should have momentum and flow, into a ‘tick box exercise’.

Onwards.

And the first thing I do?

I turn to Brushes and draw my own graphic and will see if I can, like Julian Stodd, settle on a graphics style rather than relying on images purged from the Web. I want to use my own photos, but this too requires that I take pictures that deliver the right message.

A couple of hours later I have this.  And on reflection, prefer the process of devising your own take on someone else’s graphic, just as one ought not to quote verbatim from other authors, but interpret your take and understanding of their thinking.

 Based on Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (Kolb, 1994)

REFERENCE

Argyris, C, & Schön, D (2007) ‘Organizational Learning’, Bloomsbury Business Library – Management Library, p. 78, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 23 February 2014.

Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

FURTHER READING

James Atherton http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/experience.htm

Ed Batista http://www.edbatista.com/2007/10/experiential.html

Roger Greenaway http://reviewing.co.uk/research/experiential.learning.htm#3