Published in Science!

Cover and pages from article in ScienceIn my mini-series of posts on papers there is a brand new one that I am rather proud of. The paper came out of conversations with Eileen Scanlon just after we heard that she was to become the new Regius Chair in Open Education. The focus was around the “known knowns” of open education, particularly as there has been a slightly strange period of reinvention of ideas for online and distance education around MOOCs. The idea of known knowns is actually quite useful (but the resonance with Donald Rumfeld’s statement is not) and so we have refined the approach leading to a short (2-page) article that is appearing in the Educational Focus section of Science Magazine. This reflects a very kind connection from Candace Thille (my co-Director on OLnet when she was with the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University) and the great support of Brad Wible the editor at Science.

Working with Eileen has been a very good experience and has taken us back to looking at the history and writings on what we know through 40 years of being The Open University, coping with the way things are changing but also the way things remain the same. The article is very short and had many references trimmed in the edit so I hope we can go on to produce a longer version giving more of the background. Brevity does mean focus, and I think that we have kept the four main lessons we wanted to communicate and also some of the lessons that matter more for science education (Eileen’s own focus area for many years).

The article also grew a stronger link to MOOCs. The first version tried hard not to mention them as there is actually much more going on in open education than just MOOCs. The title in the end though does capture some of the intent to encourage people to not reinvent, rather learn. The four lessons from the article can be summarised as:

  1. Build on distance learning pedagogy. Starting from classroom experience misses on what we know about engaging learners at a distance.
  2. Plan to help learners who need support. MOOCs most easily meets the needs of the experience but offers a path for those under served by other educational offerings. If we can push ourselves further to design for their needs then everyone will gain.
  3. Recognise the power of well-designed assessment. Self-directed learning needs integration and motivation to make sense for the learner. Bringing in assessment in intelligent ways can make all the difference to enable a learning experience to make sense for the learner and for society.
  4. Ensure quality by working together. Working in the open and online also means that we have different ways of working. Building a complete organisation, such as the OU, does not need to be the answer but there are three steps to quality that should be there: judge whether fit for broadcast, bring people together, and test the technology. In brief always ask at least one person whose opinion you respect “is this ok?”.

The article itself is now out in the 20 December edition of Science, though they have a relatively enlightened attitude to republishing so I think we will be able to provide open access to our article in time.

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.

My MOOC learning so far: MITx, Google, Coursera and a little bit of edX

MITx 6.002x certificate

Last year I blogged about my early experience with the MITx course 6.002x Circuits and Electronics and always meant to follow it up with a further post to say how things ended up. The good news is that I received my certificate completing the course with (just) enough to gain an A grade and quite a satisfying feeling. As a leisure activity I enjoyed the challenge but rather worryingly found out that I responded more to the assessment driver than I expected – I think I might have been more pleased with myself if I had been cooler and more laid back about actually getting the (officially meaningless) certificate. One year later the content has faded away and I have not designed or analysed any electronic circuitry 🙂 but I am still very glad I took it.

Since then I have taken part as a learner in three further MOOCS.

  1. The Google Power Searching MOOC – this was interesting as it uses Google’s Course Builder. Much easier than the Maths of MITx 60002x and not that engaging. But it has meant I now use the advanced tools in Google a bit more than I did before so has made some impact on my work efficiency.
  2. The eDx course in programming in python CS50x. This is my “failure”. I made three attempts get started and got caught out by multiple logins so gave up at the first hurdle. Not completing puts me in with 90% of others (actually for this course via Katy Jordan’s useful summary of MOOC completion, in with 99.1% of the others).
  3. Coursera’s rerunning of Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning course. This is a classic alongside 6002x. Rather lighter though with a strong programming element. Very assessment driven. Two or more assignments every week which have to be in the same week the content and questions are available. Just finished and I made it to the end completing all assignments and programming. Overall slightly slicker than the earlier 6002x experience. But I will only watch videos on high speed and again ended up reading assignments and transcripts rather than watching videos. I *might* have an application for what I am learning in reanalyising some survey data but still not sure it quite fits with what I have learned.

Scatter diagram of completion of MOOCs v numbers enrolled

MOOCs continue to be interesting learning experiences. My use for slightly off the side professional development fits well with their strengths and seeing them as a leisure activity. The assessment driven group also shows up in the analysis reported in an interesting paper by Daphne Koller, Andrew Ng, Chuong Do, and Zhenghao Chen . Using techniques explained more fully in the Coursera course I have just take they demonstrate both a mathematical explanation of completion (i.e. to model those taking courses as two populations; those who complete, and those who don’t – the trick is to know which is which) and also cluster people into different groups based on factors such as how many video lectures have been viewed against the assignments completed..

Heat diagram of lectures attended v assessments completed

There are some signs that MOOCs may have peaked a bit. I think there is more to come and courses are evolving so that they will have a roll in learning in the future. What that future is I am less sure of, for me the link with formal is not clear – as a good way to carry out learning for interest they are fine – however that does not meet all of the hopes that we have for open learning.