Monday, 20 October 2014

What does a typical learning technologist look like?

Don't read any further than this paragraph. Just take 10 seconds to sit back and visualise a learning technologist. Think of them in work. Are they at a desk? Do they have lots of kit around them? Is their office like a store cupboard brimming with cables, old desktops computers and printers. Keyboards and mice? Ok you can read on now...

I've just finished an asynchronous written interview with @hopkinsdavid related to the chapter I'm writing in the upcoming #EdtechBook. I suggested to him that the interviews would be great in a video format, and began to visualise the scenes with each of the authors. I quickly thought that each of us would be sat with varying pieces of technology surrounding us - computers, laptops tablets and smartphones. Maybe even having some code on a screen. In fact, David sent through the latest book cover the other day, and as well as those obvious things, there are some printed books (remember them?), a coffee mug, a video camera (more kit), a satchel, a kit kat and a twix (ok, they're just for +Sheila MacNeill).

But then I sat back and thought about this. My chapter discusses the variety of people that hold learning technologist positions and the things they do on a day-to-day basis. Do they fit this mould? Is that a representative picture of all of the learning techs I've worked with?

I think the answer is a resounding no! 

Learning technology is primarily about learning. The technology comes second. We're always quick to put pedagogy first and technology second, so why do visualisations of learning technologists emphasise the technology so much? By these views, we could be programmers or web developers. In fact, some LTs may even do these roles. But all of them? Is it representative?

I think this isn't just questioning the visualisation of learning technologists in general, but I also wonder if this might harm the role through such a techno-determinist portrayal, or at least put a dent in the message we often try to portray to academic staff....

Would love to hear your thoughts on this one...

Peter
@Reedyreedles

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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Instructional Design Quality of MOOCs

I came across an interesting paper this morning - Instructional Design Quality of MOOCs in the journal 'Computers & Education'. The abstract reads:
"We present an analysis of instructional design quality of 76 randomly selected Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The quality of MOOCs was determined from first principles of instruction, using a course survey instrument. Two types of MOOCs (xMOOCs and cMOOCs) were analysed and their instructional design quality was assessed and compared. We found that the majority of MOOCs scored poorly on most instructional design principles. However, most MOOCs scored highly on organisation and presentation of course material. The results indicate that although most MOOCs are well-packaged, their instructional design quality is low. We outline implications for practice and ideas for future research."
So, MOOCs aren't great from an instructional design perspective. Tick.
MOOCs are well organised and presented. Tick.

It was an interesting read. My first impression went something like this - let's say what we think is good practice, and then see if these MOOCs live up to what we say is good practice, even though we know what the answer is a big fat No!

But as I read on I think I was being harsh as there is more rigour to study, but it still leaves me with a few questions.
Firstly, how would traditional face-to-face undergraduate courses fare in this experiment in comparison with MOOCs? There is a whole lot of chalk and talk still taking place in HE - the analogue counterpart to many MOOCs, and I wonder if they would be less organised. Granted it would be difficult to sample...
Secondly, whilst the instrument used looks reasonably comprehensive (albeit rather subjective) it's not clear if the researchers went through every single topic in each of these MOOCs.
Finally, although the authors tip their hat towards such research, it would have been nice to see some comparison between MOOC platforms e.g. Futurelearn vs Coursera, etc. That is of course, if some of the points in the instrument are even related to the platform or if it's solely course design.

Regardless of my questions, it's still an interesting read. Head over to the journal to read for yourself (sorry if it's behind a paywall)...

Peter
@Reedyreedles

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Monday, 29 September 2014

#LTHEChat : A Weekly tweet chat dedicated to L&T in HE

As some people will already know, the Bring Your Own Device for Learning initiative was a great success. One of the key highlights was the flurry of activity around the synchronous tweet chats that took place on each of the five evenings.

Reflecting on the 'non-course', Sue and Chrissi suggested we could try to introduce a more general regular tweet chat outwith #BYOD4L. So after months of deliberation and back bench heckling, we can now introduce #LTHEChat - a weekly tweet chat that will cover a whole host of topics related to learning and teaching in higher education, and participants will be able to vote for topics that we could cover in future weeks.

Details

Twitter Hashtag: #LTHEChat
Twitter account: @LTHEChat
When: Wednesday evenings, from 8-9pm
Launch: Wednesday 29th October, 8pm
Website: http://lthechat.com
Facilitators: Sue Beckingham, Chrissi Nerantzi, David Walker, and me, Reedyreedles.

So we hope you all get involved and look forward to tweeting soon :-) If you have any suggestions for topics to discuss in the earlier sessions, feel free to tweet one or all of us!

Peter
@Reedyreedles

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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Paper - Staff experience and attitudes towards TEL initiatives

As I've blogged previously, last year I done a reasonably large 3 phased piece of work to audit existing practice within my Faculty at the University of Liverpool, as well as survey academic staff and students. Well I'm happy to say the staff survey part is now published in the latest volume of Research in Learning Technology.

The staff survey didn't exactly receive a huge amount of responses but I think it's of interest because of the topics it covers. I hope people find it useful anyway.
Further to earlier work carried out by the student union (SU) along with strategic discussions regarding technology-enhanced learning (TEL), this research aimed to identify the attitudes and experience of teaching staff in relation to specific uses of technology in learning and teaching. Data obtained through an online questionnaire (n=100) suggest that teaching staff are generally agreeable to the need for consistency in the virtual learning environment and identify specific criteria to be included within ‘minimum standards’; have some experience and interest in solutions to enable online submission, marking and feedback; and whilst there is more resistance, there was still interest in the provision of recorded lectures. Respondents overwhelmingly identified lack of time as a significant barrier to engaging with TEL, as well as other factors such as lack of skills and support.

Reed, P (2014) Staff experience and attitudes towards Technology Enhanced Learning initiatives in one Faculty of Health & Life Sciences. Research in Learning Technology. 2014, Vol 22.

Peter
@Reedyreedles

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Beginning the PhD journey #phdchat

CC BY-SA flickr photo by quinn.anya

So as of the 1st October, I'll officially be a part-time PhD student. I'm registered within the University of Liverpool and supervised by Helen O'Sullivan (internal) and Chris Jones (external) from Liverpool John Moores University.

I'll be studying the use of social media within medical education, and in particular looking at how student use of various social media tools and practices. Or at least I think that's what I'm going to be looking at - I've been open in that this is an area I'm interested in (SoMe) and have reasonably good access within our School of Medicine. I've engaged in some literature early on and hope that a systematic review will help narrow down exactly what it is I am asking.

I'm sure this will be a challenge, especially given mini-me will be arriving in November, and I'm really looking forward to learning more about research and being a researcher. I've done bits of research over the years and published a few times, but I'm aware there so much for me to learn. I'm also conscious that I will have to curb the varied topics I'm really interested in.

So here goes....

So as well as the other stuff a blog here, there'll be some #PhDProgress posts as well :-)

Peter
@Reedyreedles

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Monday, 15 September 2014

The VLE vs 'Whatever'...

Sheila MacNeil's recent post 'Living with the VLE Dictator' really got me thinking and questioning the role of the VLE and the different narratives bounding around HE at the moment. From her post, I came across D'Arcy Norman's post: 'On the false binary of LMS Vs. open', and via a twitter discussion between Sheila and Martin Weller, to this post by Jim Groom and Brian Lamb on Reclaiming Innovation.

For quite some time it's felt like everyone is against the VLE. The cool thing to do is to rip it apart and be 'disruptive' (a term in itself which I hate). Remember 'the VLE is Dead' debate? These go beyond Blackboard Vs Moodle Vs Whatever. Often the debate is about the actual presence of any restrictive, centralised, corporate, closed, VLE. But I have many issues with these debates and as Sheila points out, getting rid of the VLE would cause mayhem.



The reality of higher education today is that some mechanism is needed to support learning, teaching and assessment (and its administration, etc). We have the VLE. Yes we know VLEs are not the most innovative products in the tech industry, but do they really need to be? My work in surveying students to attend to VLE Minimum Standards / Baseline suggests what they're asking for is relatively basic stuff - access to information (contact details, etc), notes/slides or even recordings of lectures, and to be able to submit their work online. So just because students practically live in Facebook, it doesn't mean we have to be there. And just because they'll create groups and discuss work there it doesn't mean we should control it. Or even replicate it.

Now I don't mean to pick apart Jim and Brian's post here as I respect both of them massively, but there are just too many points that I disagree with - so what I have to say here is less about me disagreeing with them in particular, but more with these popular debates that have been circling for a while.

The notion that the closed VLE encourages silos is hugely false. Yes I'm an advocate of openness as well but the culture within HEIs is not all that open. Yes there are certain places doing good stuff and some wonderful people doing amazing work, but by and large the 4 HEIs I've worked at over the past 10 years balk at the idea of putting their content 'out there' (and even more so at level 7 where content == CPD income). I've worked on funded OER projects but beyond the scope of the project and its funding period, rolling that innovation out wider is unbelievably difficult. So no, the VLE doesn't encourage silos, it is the modularisation of education which is inherently silo based, and thus is reflected in the system which serves and supports it. A drastic change to the structure, administration and teaching of higher education will be followed by a more reflective/reflecting system.

Something else I disagree with is the view of doing everything possible to 'minimise reliance on an enterprise VLE'. This is awful advice, not least because generally, the institutional support is there to ensure the system is available and working. Those free and open services you might come to rely on could start to charge (as we've seen many times) or even worse, close shop all together. That would also be relying on academic staff to be skilled enough to find and use an open site to publish on, and then confident enough to be able to migrate content to a new platform when shit hits the fan.

On a related point, I kind of recognise that VLEs don't encourage wider digital literacies or web skills, they only develop skills that are useful to that setting and irrelevant when the student leaves. Well, to some degree this is true, but navigating a 'clunky' VLE is not a million miles away from navigation a clunky web, and the practice of communicating in a VLE forum is not a million miles away from interacting on some other platform. So there is some transferability there, but that situation wouldn't be any different if we used Wordpress or anything else out there - we'd be conditioning people to a particular system. Furthermore, D'Arcy highlights his 'Law of eLearning Tool Convergence' which is relevant, in that: "Any eLearning tool, no matter how openly designed, will eventually become indistinguishable from a Learning Management System once a threshold of supported use-cases has been reached". I believe this is true. The very nature of education and its accountability and quality processes demand control. Going off piste just wouldn't work!

The reality of 'disruption' in education is not what many commentators suggest. Yes MOOCs have got the attention of the media and of many VCs, etc, but to think that they will completely transform education is a huge falsity. What was the last thing to truly disrupt education - and I mean to disrupt it so much that it fundamentally changes learning, teaching and assessment? The web as a whole, yes. An individual system, not so much.

I think many commentators have to be either utopian or dystopian about technology in HE. Considering those at either end of a continuum, you'll find 'Reality' somewhere in the middle. Technological advances will seldom have a truly disruptive effect on higher education because it is not a tech industry. It's a people industry. And as such, the success of any technology will ultimately depend on a) how it's implemented and b) how it's received by the people that use it (students and staff). That's not to say technology doesn't or won't have an impact, but we're talking about higher education here. Things take waaayyy toooooo long to change!

Peter
@Reedyreedles

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Thursday, 11 September 2014

Thoughts on eFeedback

CC BY-NC-SA flickr photo by giulia.forsythe 
I know every now and again there’s a discussion about why we include the ‘e’ in eLearning. Or maybe even eAssessment. Surely after all this time it can be taken for granted that technology plays a part in our daily workflows and subsequently has a role in assessment and feedback?

I’ve been giving some thought to the ‘e’ in Feedback lately and wondered, does it even matter? What role does technology - the ‘e’ - have upon the student experience of receiving (good) feedback? What proportion of students are really all that bothered about the feedback in the first place? Some literature suggests up to 20% of students don’t collect their feedback. Other literature suggests students only access feedback if their mark differed from what they expected. I’m also pretty sure I read something about students not returning to ‘old’ feedback e.g. last year’s work. [I'll try to dig out these links/papers again].

For those students that are concerned with feedback, what actually constitutes ‘good’ feedback? I think ‘good’ feedback has to boil down to scaffolding students to achieve the set learning outcomes e.g. improving performance and perhaps feed into future assessments. Literature might tell us there can be a trade off between quality and timeliness of feedback. For example brief but timely feedback might be of more value than more detailed feedback provided 4 weeks down the line. So there’s a balance to be had here. Time Vs Detail.

So where does the ‘e’ fit in here? Beyond the obvious benefits of reduced paper and travel, does it matter?

To muddy the water further, I wonder what students evaluate as being good. Is it the same as what we think, pedagogically, is good? I’ve seen some work that suggests students liked receiving audio feedback as it was something they could return to easily or that it was more personal and had more of a human touch to it. However, my own work showed that less than half of students in my survey (n=860) were interested in receiving audio feedback - is that because they may never have experienced it? Other work has suggested formative audio feedback did not improve student performance in summative work (in comparison with written feedback sample). So I think questioning the impact of the 'e' here is valid so that we can really introduce systems, processes and procedures that are fit-for-purpose.

I think ultimately, students would accept good/useful paper based feedback over poor eFeedback. But moreover, I wonder if we might reach a point where what we think is good from a pedagogical perspective doesn’t align with how students evaluate it/us in the NSS. What will happen then? Do we change our practice so students really are customers or consumers or do we stick to our pedagogic argument? With the invasion of silicon valley into the education landscapes, this could be an area to watch.

 Peter
@Reedyreedles

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