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: Learning Design revisited

For this post I am going to revisit an old paper for reasons described in my previous post on old paper, new paper.

The paper is:

McAndrew, Patrick, Goodyear, Peter and Dalziel, James (2006) “Patterns, designs and activities: unifying descriptions of learning structures,” International Journal of Learning Technology, 2(2-3), pp. 216–242, [online] Available from:

Picture of the IJLT issue that the article appeared inIt appeared in a Special Issue (actually double issue) of IJLT which meant that there was some delay from writing to publication so the paper itself came out of some study leave time spent in Australia in 2004. I was very kindly hosted by Peter Goodyear at the CoCo research centre at The University of Sydney. The whole visit was wonderful in many ways. Part of the time was working with Peter and with James Dalziel from Macquarie University on the different perspectives we each brought to considering the ways that teachers design their materials. As the person with the study leave time I carried out the integrating task in the paper, but what was key was the brainstorming sessions in Peter’s office and a visit up to James’ base in Macquarie to see his work.

While our views overlapped, the paper presents three different perspectives which were each led by one of us: Peter on patterns, James on LAMs and myself on Learning Design. At the time IMS Learning Design was very visible and had expectations that it could provide an integrating framework from shared designs through to playable systems.

With the benefits of hindsight it might have been thought that we could say which perspective was the “winner”. But hey I am an academic so it is not going to be that simple. There has been some recent reflections on the over-enthusiasm for precise ways to describe learning designs, i.e. IMS Learning Design has not met all its hopes.  In the paper it says:

“… IMS Learning Design … may not provide significant support for exchange of understanding and reuse in a [way] that recognises adjustment to context and draws on the skills of both the original designer and those of the teacher involved in the reuse.”

Flow chart from Architecture to Pattern to Instance to Run

Figure 3 from the paper

I think that what has emerged is more a hybrid of the different approaches. Perhaps not as directly as suggested by the paper’s outlining of an alternative form of James Dalziel’s LAMs system, but with a broader aim to help share approaches and help people think of alternatives. It certainly should not be said that learning design has failed to have impact, especially here at the Open University.

After my work on the paper I have spent a period less directly involved in learning design research, focussing rather on open education, however things have certainly moved forward. The OULDI project which combined external support from Jisc and internal focus on updating module design inside the OU culminated in a set of tools and the running of the OLDS-MOOC (more on that in a paper and evaluation report). The publicly released tools demonstrate the hybrid approach: unlike IMS LD the output is not intended to be a full playable encoding of the “unit of learning”, it goes beyond patterns in using a range of tools to capture and represent the stages in a way that measures some of the impact, and while it mirrors LAMs in having a relatively easy to use toolset it does not integrate with a student facing component.

Flow from Design to Activity to Analytics to AnalysisThe OULDI work, not surprisingly, fits with the way we do things here. A team approach that needs clear steps (stage-gates) and multiple perspectives. Learning design is then communication but also an essential part of understanding expectations on learners which can lead into making effective use of learning analytics. In the 2013 Innovating Pedagogy report the point is made that there is a cycle from design to activity to analysis and back to design (the report was collaborative so not quite sure who to credit for this – maybe a mix of Doug Clow, Rebecca Ferguson and Mike Sharples) . Without the design part the chance to actually do something with what we measure is much reduced.

To bring things up to date learning design is a also a key element in the METIS project (see the recent METIS newsletter). There learning design is used to structure workshop designs and introduce the tools that help capture ideas. For the pilot workshop inside the OU the focus was on designing collaboration, not on learning design itself. Perhaps this demonstrates that the learning design approach has matured; no longer a novelty to be introduced (as it very much was in 2004) rather an assumed need to design learning in 2013.

This post started with a look back on my paper from nearly 10 years ago. It has ended with more connections to current work (of others more than myself) than I expected – and plenty of signs that Learning Design is of more importance now than then – but maybe no longer part of the hype cycle.

Starting out with MITx 6.002x

Typical signing up page

I have finally become a student again! What is more I am now enrolled with MIT(x) and it did not take a huge fee or any tough entry requirements. I am one of the 90,000 people who clicked the enroll button and signed in. For me there are several motivations:

  • I work on Open Educational Resources and feel I should experience what it is like to learn from them (I nearly did this with Sebastian Thrum’s AI course and regretted not going through when I spoke to an enthusiastic Seb Schmoller about his experience on the AI course).
  • I know some MIT folk and they come up with some interesting directions that it would be good to see in more detail. So this could feel like going in undercover and this way I needn’t feel bad about not doing the assignements but …
  • I nearly set out to do a course like this as an undergraduate. In the end I took Maths but always wondered if I should have taken electronic/physics. So I would like to do this for real.

So what has it been like? Well actually it has been quite hard! The level is fairly high and I have found in the first week that I have been integrating trig functions, differentiating using the product rule and writing rather a lot of symbols on pieces of paper! I have also found it quite rewarding – a bit like suduko on steroids. Puzzles that I really have to work at – and then carry on working on late at night. So far I have managed to come out the other side ok as luckily the “homeworks” all multiple attempts, I have a feeling that I have yet to get anything completely right on the first attempt.


The course itself has:

  • Videos to watch – these are sequenced and mixed with exercises. They are captioned but as Brandon Muramatsu points out in his post 6.002x Video: First Impressions they could have done this a bit better. Proper captioning would make quite a difference for me as I find I would rather read the words than listen and set things at 1.5x to help speed things up. (I think the team are listening though as it now remembers that I like video at 1.5x and I think at first I had to keep resetting that.
  • A huge textbook. This is a commercial book that you could buy but is available free. But in the free form it is quite annoying only page by page access and no downloading it all. I would really like this on my kindle and that is not possible, and I think actually the conditions would say that I cannot engineer it myself.
  • Discussions and a wiki with hints and feedbacks. The discussions are using a system that I think is called Askbot and so is based on Q&A rather than discussions as such. This might limit the chance for the community itself to form and is getting a bit unwieldy. There are also groups on other places such as facebook – but I have not explored those.
  • Exercises to work through. These typically ask questions and then you enter responses which are judged. Then you can look at the answers if you want or try again. The answers are often numeric.
  • Tutorials running through in videos worked examples. I have not watched many of these and it is quite hard to know what they will cover without watching them through.
  • Homework. These are similar to the exercises but you do not get the option to see the answer, These are fine – but they are quite challenging. Typically they extend well beyond the work covered in the videos and are difficult to match to the textbook as well.
  • Labs. These use a circuit simulator where you build up circuit diagrams and then calculate values or run a trace.

For me the homework has become the driver – quite revealing in itself though not a surprise to find assessment is taking over. The time I have spent was probably not far off the 10 hours in the first week but then a bit less as too much else has been going on in the second week.

I am enjoying doing the course though if the difficulty scales up I might fall by the wayside. I am not seeking to be critical in this post but I do agree with Brandon that a bit more effort to get the accessibility working better is needed. For the learning process I would normally expect stronger alignment between the materials and what is tested as well but actually having the homework as puzzles in themselves is quite interesting. I can then carry out a treasure hunt to see where the clues are hidden (in texts, videos, other exercises, discussions and out there in google search land).

I am not sure 6.002x should count as “Open Educational Resource” (OER), it is built on some materials already released on MIT’s OpenCourseWare site. But the addition of the textbook, the closed access to the course itself and that nothing in the design encourages transfer to another site make it more a free course than an open one.

At this point there is just time to sign up (first homework closes 18 March). So if you like mathematical puzzles, wonder if you should have done/should do electronics, and are interested in how open learning works this could be just the thing!

Higher Education Leadership Summit 2010

I am attending the Higher Education Leadership Summit in London tomorrow (11 February 2010) which should be an interesting experience in many ways. Not least because I have been asked to provide some “live blogging” along with 3 other people working across the different strands of the conference. Cloudworks is being used to provide a place for sharing the blogging. So hopefully there will be plenty to see at

Future of homework with Xtranormal

My colleague Martin Weller put a little movie that he made over lunch with Xtranormal on his blog. Martin always picks up on the latest tools and applies them to his work in really interesting an insightful ways. Whereas I delegate! So last night when my daughter for her Year 4 homework had to write a very short mini-play to understand scene-setting and dialogue. I remembered Martin’s demo and logged into Xtranormal on the Asus in our living room. Actually I couldn’t get it to work as it was a bit tricky using the small screen on the Asus – but while I went off to help with getting dinner on the table – my daughter worked it out.

Anyway here is the result of her (and a little bit my) work. (I will embed it when I get that to work – link for now! Proper embedding doesn’t seem to work on WordPress so picture with a link will have to do)

An incredibly easy to use tool with impressive results and ideal for this bit of homework. I am not sure whether it will be like my fling with Animoto where I only think of the occasional thing to do with it. But I have just found myself in a research group meeting proposing it as a way to present/support argumentation develop linked to work on inquiry in school age children, so maybe worth a follow up.

Watch the birdie!

This year we again have a pair of blue tits in a nest box by our house. The nest box has a camera in it hooked up to our TV via a DVD recorder. Blue Tit TV is definitely the best channel we have and the female has just settled down to brood her 10 eggs – laid one a day over the last 10 days, though she wouldn’t start laying unit he proved that he could bring her caterpillars!

Last year we uploaded quite a few videos on my son’s youtube channel. Not sure if we will do so many this year but it is fascinating and definitely educational. Things that I found out: how blue tits sleep, that he finds the nest then gives it up, what an angry blue tit looks like, and more.


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