Innovations, crowds and a bit of Direction

IET watermark consisting of letter ietI have just started a new role within the Institute of Educational Technology coming in as Acting Director as Josie Taylor steps down and retires. I have worked with Josie from my very first days here in IET 14 years ago. We constructed the funding bid to HEFCE for the Knowledge Network (or as we termed it then UNLOCK – University Networked Location of Community Knowledge) and set up the UserLab as a way to manage having several EU/internationally funded projects in the same area at the same time. Working closely with Josie as I have shadowed her over the last few weeks has been a great introduction and I am happy to say that I am able to take on IET in a good state.

Photo of Jennie Lee Building at The Open University in Milton KeynesIET has slimmed down to now have  about 90 staff in total across academics, researchers, academic related and support staff.  But IET’s research is healthy and the works it carries out inside the university seems more in demand than ever. All universities are having to cope with changes in how students view them, how they have come to study and the different options they now have. Perhaps the impact on study at the OU have been even bigger as it is a university that operates across all four nations as well as through Open Educational Resources. The OU needs to cope with various systems and in particular with the way part-time study has to adjust to the requirements for loans imposed on students from England. That is a major change that needs to be reflected on in terms of learning design, accessibility, data analytics and quality enhancement. All aspects where IET places a major role within the OU.

A big topic for this year is the coming together of learning opportunities around free resources. My research lies in this area, with the OER Research Hub, and the OU has brought together universities and other organisations from the UK and beyond in FutureLearn. This is an innovative way to lower the barrier to taking part in courses (in fact while typing this I though why not actually join the latest offering of a FutureLearn course from the OU on Ecosystems – the elapsed time from thought to registration was just under 2 minutes).

FutureLearn and its Massive Open Online courses (MOOCs) is only part of a broader approach to OER for the OU. There are also direct open courses, such as OLDSMOOC and H817Open (both operated out off IET) and continuing investment in OpenLearn, iTunesU and YouTube from the OU’s Open Media Unit. Not forgetting great BBC programmes.

Cover of Innovating Pedagogy reportThe work on the Innovating Pedagogy reports, which I was pleased to be able to be part oded helps us reflect on what this means for pedagogy. The 2013 report balances various options and considers 10 areas but one that is coming out as more prominent is how what we do with students is more and more overlapped with what is happening in the world. In the report this is seen as “Crowd-learning” and Mike Sharples in an article in the Times Higher speculates that perhaps 2013 is the year of the crowd. I had the chance to present on the Innovating Pedagogy report at the recent EADTU conference in Paris, already blogged by Leigh-Anne Perryman on the site. My own slides (below) covered the pedagogic lessons from the open universities and how the innovations we report are helping review these.


Restructuring 2.0

Martin Weller across on his blog has written about how we have just been reviewed where we work at IET. The review has plenty of reasonable anlaysis but ends with a suggestion that IET splits in two and bifurcates – which if it is not handled carefully might lead to chaos, or at least some effort spent in the wrong place.Bifurcation diagram


Martin’s post considers what happens when reorgs strike. I agree with his view that we ought perhaps not be so tied up with how we actually are organised, as Martin puts it 

Actually, I think that with new ways of connecting, it’s not that the reorg should be more prevalent, but rather that organisational structures, which are often physical organisational structures, are increasingly irrelevant.

However I have another reference point for thinking about organisational change and that is the book the Dilbert Principle. I picked this up at the airport a few years back and found it shaped by view of how management works (even though there are several warnings to ignore such books and reminders that you are reading the management advice of someone who draws cartoons for a living). In the book Scott Adams makes some good points against “one off” activities with restructuring as the prime example of such activity. So  I feel very cautious about setting off down that route. However if we can do something more about changes in ways of working, picking up on knowing what we are doing and why, building on the latest tools so that structure and boundaries matter rather less then I think the review and the push for change could do us some good. 

Open space as a good working environment: 9 possible principles

I wrote earlier about the mixed feelings that I had about moving from old office oriented space to a new open plan building. At the time it looked like we might end up moving across into rows of desks with not enough space to get us all in. Well things have moved on a bit and it looks like IET will have a less complete move into the new building, which will lower pressure on the space and we also have a little bit longer to plan. Another change is that in the new management structure I am working with Grainne Conole and Martin Weller to oversee part of IET the “Technology Enhanced Learning” (TEL) group. Chatting to Grainne earlier this week we found that while we are not sure exactly what we want we felt like there were some principles that ought to allow good working space. Here is my attempt to list some of those principles:

  1. Space that a visitor would envy – the it looks great to work here (even if it isn’t!)
  2. That the building works with different levels of capacity – everyone there to almost no-one there
  3. A choice of place and styles of work e.g:
    • Easy chairs plus display plus whiteboard (we have some really nice Smartboard 600is)
    • Tables and chairs to chat or work with a laptop
    • Desks with good screens and keyboards (not necessarily cpus though)
  4. Expect everyone to have a laptop/notebook (could be Asus eee PC or Apple Touch)
  5. Flexible space where people can change location and cope with areas of overload (everybody in)
  6. Not planned around a desk space for everyone
  7. An area of ownership for each person – where your files are and paper can be found from day to day 
  8. Joint responsibility for tidyness and impression on visitors – care for the environment
  9. Space for hard work and continuity when it is needed – but not all the time for everyone

Well that is my first pass – there is perhaps a bit of conflict in there and I know from talking to colleagues that ownership matters but I think we need to trade some of that for flexibility and space. We need to go from fantasy to furniture order in less than a month but I am a lot more hopeful than I was in October!