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 oerresearchhub.org site. My own slides (below) covered the pedagogic lessons from the open universities and how the innovations we report are helping review these.

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An Agile Hypothesis Sprint: what do we know about learner performance?

The structure for the research for OER Reserach Hub is built around 11 hypotheses that we are testing through our work with collaborating organisations, fellowships and background studies. We are now at a stage where the collaborations are well underway and surveys are producing data and we want to bring together the views from the team around the hypotheses and reflecting on our research.

On an away day at the beginning of June we took some lessons from Agile Programming to become Agile Researchers and carried out an Hypothesis Sprint, involving Sprint Boards, T-shirt sized tasks, burndown velocity and mini-scrums!

Guided by Martin we picked one of our hypotheses and focused in on achievable tasks, reporting quick progress and then getting a reasonable result all in one morning. The method appears to work well and if it does give us more of what we need then expect we will expand…

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