Learning and Teaching at the OU

Presentation by Denise Kirkpatrick and Niall Sclater.  Or is it a presentation? It’s organised as a Human Resources Development Course – it’s an Open Insights Expert Lecture – with sign up, sign in and all the details going on the internal staff Learning Management System.  And there are feedback sheets to complete too.  “The subjects covered were:  relevant to my present work, background interest only, possibly useful for future work, of no interest”.  If it’s not relevant to my present work then either I or the OU have a bit of a problem.

Being told it’s aimed at new staff … which is news to me; perhaps I misread the course information?  Networking opportunities over coffee later.

Denise Kirkpatrick – Learning @ the OU

Welcomes new staff. We take the quality of our teaching and our student experience extremely seriously, we do it well but always want to try to do it better. QAA audit coming in March.

(Tony Hirst would be pleased to see the RSS logo prominently on her Powerpoint title slide. And I also note that it’s not using the OU Powerpoint template.)

Hard to draw a line between technologies for learning and teaching and those for the rest of your life; the line is blurred. But focus here is on learning and teaching.

Sets out generational view of technologies: BabyBoomers, GenX, NetGen/Millennials. Digital natives, who grew up using technology, it’s not seen as something different.  New generations approach technologies in a different way.  We as staff don’t come at the technologies in the same way as our (potential) students. A challenge.  Attitudes and ways of working are also important, NetGen are team based, they like to work like that.  Caveat: they’re broad categories, are exceptions.

Statistics – UK data – on tech use – from last year.  65% home internet (+7% on 07), 77% NetGen online daily, 91% NetGen use email (Wow – so 9% of them don’t?)  Childwise 2009 report – kids, much younger, are using techs a lot – 25% 5-8 year olds have net in their room, 13-16 almost all have mobiles.

We have mobiles, but we use them differently.  Some staff can’t work out why the hell you would want to deliver something to a device that’s so tiny.  But our students are so much more comfortable with mobiles. So we must investigate how to do it effectively.

Emerging themes in tech in ed: Blurring (f2f/online, in/formal); increased mobility; gaming; social networking; high-impact presentation/engagement techs; analytics, diagnostics and evidence-based ed; human touch; Learning 2.0?

Mobility – shows Google Trends on news about mobile learning.  iTunesU – new OU channel to deliver OU assets to students. (Interesting metaphor.)

Social networking – mentions social:learn, very exciting. Current and potential students are likely to use social networking in their daily life.

Mentions Twitter, virtual worlds – we have big opportunity to create social communities for our students who wouldn’t neesarily meet up.

Online learning gives us lots of data – we need to use that data, especially good with Quality hat on. (Big on analytics – again I can picture Tony Hirst smiling.)

Learning 2.0, don’t underestimate social aspect. Strongest determinant of students’ success is ability to form and partiipate in small groups (Light). ‘Learning to be’ supported by distributed communities of practice; productive inquiry; increasing connections & connectedness.

Has tech changed things? Leveraging potential of social learning (esp in distance ed); add community to content; acces to experts; access to peer review audience.

Examples; iTunesU, Openlearn, VLE, Learning designs project (Gráinne Conole, Cloudworks) – making teaching community-based, sharing practice.

Our challenge: towards a pedagogy of technology enhanced learning; and a scholarship for a digital age (esp for academics). We have always used technologies, for the last 40 years, but need to move that forward.

Q: How does the technology match against our current student age profile? We have a lot of baby boomers.

A: We deliver to the here and now, but our profile does have GenY and is increasing. Also planning for the future. Many baby boomers are confident tech users. Also many of our students – regardless of age – are demanding it. If we have evidence it’ll improve the learning experience, we should do it.

Q (Martyn Cooper, IET): Is there a qualitative difference between GenY’s use of social networking, rather than a quantitative one?

A: I’m not going to answer that one. We might think our quality is far superior, but … it’s a fertile area for research.

Q: Demographics, social advantaged versus disadvantaged – do technologies favour the socially advantaged? Tension with OU’s principles of open access to all.

A: Really important question, currently researching. Lot of unpacking needs to be done in to e.g. mobile phone ownership. Dilemma and a challenge, we have to keep tackling and pushing it. We put in resources to help our socially disadvanted students have access to the net. How much wider would the gap become if we don’t give people the opportunity to learn about that (tech) world?  It could disempower them to give them a route without tech. We have a wide range, it is possible to still study with us and have an almost predominantly print-based experience. But need to reconsider what access means and what our responsibilities are.

Q (Robin Stenham): How explicit are we making the use of social networking tools for group learning in terms of accreditation? Building transferable skills in to the learning outcomes.

A: An area we need to do more work. If we don’t expect access to tech, can’t base assessment on it. There are examples where people are starting to build that in. But haven’t done huge amounts of work, not widespread at this stage.

Niall Sclater

(presentation uses OU template)

Audience question: who brought a mobile? (nearly all)  Who ignored ‘turn off your mobile’? Two. (Including me.)  So please consider switching ON your mobile now.  (And lots of phone boot-up noises.) Impression given by ‘turn it off’ is the wrong one. Onus is on the presenter to make the presentation more interesting than the other competition for your attention (email on your laptop etc).

Focus of VLE is to make web the focus of student experience.  E.g. of old-school A3 print study calendar – contrast A103 and AA100 VLE view showing you the resources. The spine of the course is on the internet.

Encouraging collaboration: tools to help. Elluminate – audio conferencing, increasingly video too. Shared whiteboard. Quite a traditional class way – teacher writing down equations, something about maths that is best taught that way.  Online learning with maths this way, tutors have taken to it like ducks to

Maths Online (MOL) – eTutorial trial Feb 08 – 449 student, 136 staff. Most positive comments about interaction, tutor, convenience (being at home vs travel to tutorials), help. Least about preparation, software, good audio. Negative comments: mainly sound problems, but 50% nothing negative. Connection problems. (Niall has no broadband at home at the moment thanks to ISP problems.) Must bear in mind.  Positive feedback comments – ‘very close to the experience of a face-to-face tutorial’. Elluminate is not for a stand-up lecture with passive audience, it has tools for feedback (instant votes, etc). Give talk, move to next slide, monitoring IM chat backchannel and referred to it. Very skilled to do that; it’s completely different to what we’re used to. ‘gave me a feeling of belonging to a group’ – we couldn’t do this in the past.  If net gen are more collaborative (some evidence?) – is likely to be more important to our students. Evidence for many years that group learning can help.

Community building: Second Life, virtual worlds. Virtual worlds project about to kick off. (Great slide of people sitting down lecture-style in Second Life – only funny bit is that one audience member has wings, another is in fact a chicken.) Can try to replicate stuff lecture environment, everyone sitting in rows … or have something more interactive. Interesting how we transpose traditional models that aren’t necessarily appropriate – e.g. building copies of physical campuses, no need to visit an empty reproduction. So use spaces more imaginatively.

Building your online identity: Increasing student blogs. tags – research, wisdom, travel, karate. Personalisation.  Niall happy with LPs, cassettes, MP3s, transition across groups. Young people build identity through Facebook etc, tell the world their interests, relationships and so on. Gives you a much better network of people, professional and social relation brings you closer together.

Making content interactive: e-assessment with feedback, based on your answer. Use internet for what it’s good for.

Ownership and sharing: MyStuff – eportfolio system. Share documents, store for your benefit, tag them, share them with other students, tutors, future employer. Compile in to larger collection. Problems with MyStuff – user interface confusing to students, and is also very slow. Planning to replace, but will take a long time. Looking at e.g. Mahara (works with Moodle) and PebblePad, Google Apps for Education, Microsoft Live@edu.  Google Docs – instant speed even though hosted in US. We could use this for the content repository side easily.

Reflection: Templates for reflection on learning outcomes. (Glimpse of Niall’s browser toolbar – RSS feeds from Grainne, Tony, Martin, Alan Cann …)

Moodle grade book – rich data to tutors immediately after students have done test. Wiki report showing breakdown of activity/contributions – have some courses requiring use of wiki, this is one way of assessing.

Studying on the move – much hype, but we’re now having sophisticated platforms (iPhone, Android, etc). Can do so much more now. Many/most students will have very sophisticated device that will browse web, view course content, do quiz, etc, from wherever.

VLE and other systems – must be like accessibility, think about it from the start, ensure accessible from mobile devices. Like BBC sites at present – all our systems need to be built like that.

learn.open.ac.uk/site/lio Learning Innovation Office site, under development. Niall’s blog at sclater.com.

Thanks to Ben Mestel, Maths Online Team, Rhodri Thomas.

Q (Martyn Cooper): Accessibility and mobile learning. EU4All content personalisation responding to accessibility profiles and device profiles – optimise content based on both of those. Who reviews this?

A: We have a big project underway, want to bring you (Martyn) in, LTS.

Q: Diversity of devices very important for accessibility.

A: Indeed.

Q: (Carol ?, LTS): Google Apps. Why do we develop custom things when there are good apps already out there? It’s disadvantaging our students, less transferable.

A: Key questions grappling with. (mobile phone sound … but can’t find the source. Oh dear.)

Q: Not rude to turn off phones, it’s setting aside time. Would be rude to take attention away.

A: Maybe this is a net generation thing. Conferences have people using devices constantly; don’t find it rude any more, my duty to get people interested. But understand that people find it offensive.  Alas, experiment has failed.

Back to in-house vs external – have had endless debates with Tony Hirst and Martin Weller on this. Can create a ‘VLE’ online out of many things – but putting big burden on students to remember/learn many sites. Can’t assess accessibility.  Can’t guarantee service (but if ours we can do something).

Q: (Will Woods, IET): Students using Twitter, blogs, etc – staff stuck in email as main communication channel. Small clique at OU using Twitter. Can we improve internal channels? Cultural change?

A: Is an issue. Is a very email-based culture. Use it too much? Twitter … has its place, but can’t guarantee people are reading it. How do we move everyone on to new technologies? Should we try to? People understand internet is a bigger thing, less opposition to elearning. Thoughts in audience?

Q: Robin Stenham – Moodle tools give us many different tools to communicate, can share learning; forum tool vs Outlook. Moderating on forum can be very useful. E.g. using email ‘send in your expenses’ and everyone does reply-all. Misappropriating technologies. Gets 100 emails a day, of which 30-40 are streams/CC-in a discussion.

A: Yes, cognitive overload. Wiki a useful tool, putting some committee papers on wikis so don’t need them on the hard disk. (Denise) Points out that we’re encouraging people to use VLE tools themselves, so staff are experimenting with tools to understand how to use them with students. You can use VLE in your departments.

Q: Janet Churchill (HR Development): HR Development are trying to upskill staff in new technologies. Emailogic course from AACS to help people get most out of it, not inappropriately copying people in. Development opportunities now extending beyond trad training – now have secondlife presence for feedback sessions. ILM courses have online Plug – we have an induction process, online induction tool, looking for people to put in touch with external agencies to build an online induction tool that’s more engaging.

Move to general questions.

Niall: Interesting to analyse what’s going on in conferences. E.g. people commenting on and sharing what you’re saying. Can’t assume people are ignoring you.  But our experiment (on mobiles) has failed.

DK: Experiment hasn’t failed, just hasn’t given you the result you wanted.

Giles Clark, LTS: eTexts. Took view not to enhance our e-texts wrt print. Should we stay like that? Keep electronic version exactly as in print? Or further develop – insert animations, collaborative activities – or is that for surrounding VLE?

Niall: Is potential to do more with our online PDFs. Can’t stay still and go for common denominator. Paper will long have a role. Some quite happy to read on phone/device, could be generational.

Denise: Lots of exciting opps in tech, but accompanied esp for us with challenges. We as OU have to be able to do it at scale.  Can do sexy experiments with e.g. 30 students in a classroom.  But doing it with thousands of distributed students very different, scale. We need to be more efficient and economic, tough times. Hard decisions: nice bespoke examples, or go for scale for all courses. Must explore opportunities, cost out, see scalability – then answer.

Thanks to all.

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One Comment on “Learning and Teaching at the OU”

  1. andrew law Says:

    Very useful Doug – many thanks (alerted to this via Tony H’s twitter feed)


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