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.

Old paper, New paper

Photo of the Spines of the Readings in books

Morgan-Kaufmann Readings in…

This is really the introduction to another couple of posts – one where I talk about a relatively old paper of mine (just about ready to go), and the other where I intend to discuss a fairly recent paper (when I write that one). So if you don’t want a post that describes why I posted other posts then don’t read this post read those posts :-).

As with many other people who work in UK academia a *lot* of time and effort has gone into the preparation of of information for the UK REF (Research Excellence Framework) which is just about finished with. The REF occurs every few years (last one was in 2007) and has many complications and aspects. One of these aspects is that it uses published pieces of work to allow the panels to assess the value of work. This means a list of upto 4 papers are submitted for each person and those papers must have appeared between January 2008 and December 2013 (though preparation time means that realistically the limit is earlier than that). Anyway that is already too much about the REF, though I suspect it will haunt us over the next year or so until the results flow back.

The consequence is that we tend to ignore papers we wrote before 2008, and in a year’s time we will be starting to pay less attention to the papers that made it into the 2013 submission as we start to collate evidence for the next time around. A year or two back we had a discussion in IET about this and a good idea emerged which was to gather together some of our best past papers and make a book of the collected works with a bit of narrative.  The idea was that we could and up with something similar to the Morgan-Kaufmann “Readings in …” series that I still have on my shelves from when I started my PhD – then it was a great convenience to get some of the best papers on a subject without standing for hours at the photocopier. (Martin Weller also had an interesting version where we could use his meta-journal approach to collect things – definitely a good way to go.) For whatever reason (probably that REF thing) we have not got around to actually building the collection but the idea has stuck with me.

So my next post is the “Old paper” one where I will revisit a paper that I am particularly proud of that was written in 2004 and appeared in 2006 … Learning Design revisited.

My “New paper” is a trickier choice, tempted by the very latest paper submitted and *about* to appear but not quite wanting to tempt fate on that. Or a couple of recent papers on the theme of openness, or when I finally got something published on Activity Theory, or getting a chance to work on the theme of accessibility, or … – so will see exactly what I do in the next couple of weeks.