OUConf10 – Open Teaching (third session)

Here’s my liveblog notes from the third session of the OU Conference 2010, Open Teaching, from the morning of Wed 23rd June 2010. As before, the full notes are all in Cloudworks, but I have gathered them all here for convenience.

Notes from Tony Hirst – Open Course Design

Been working on T151 for about 18 months now.

When the OU started, was open to people, places, methods and ideas. Today about how we can be more open in our production of course materials.

People across the world are familiar with the OU from the 70s and 80s because our material was available by the BBC, broadcast early mornings or Saturday afternoon. Numbers appeared on blackboards, and practical things on screen. Much of our teaching content was available for public view, via the BBC. It was part of courses.

As time moved on, the last 10 years or so, most of our broadcast output is less to do with courses. Print material was available in libraries, but largely pay-to-play. This is changing – we’re taking our print content open through things like OpenLearn, and AV material (not broadcast but given to the students) through YouTube and iTunesU. Now full circle to opening up our content to a wide audience via the web.

But the mode of production is not necessarily open. Production can take several years to write a course, can take 5-10 academics 18 months to write. Authors will write, come back for multiple reviews.

T151 Digital Worlds – part of the Relevant Knowledge programme, Wanted to write it in public, in almost real time. Ten weeks of content in 20 weeks, writing blog posts. Lasted about 15 weeks as an experimented. Hosted on http://digitalworlds.wordpress.com – chose hosted WordPress because it’s restrictive about what you can embed, a bit like Moodle. Also gives you RSS with everything, for flexibility. Wrote blog posts on series of topics according to a curriculum developed with other academics, in the form of a FreeMind mind map. Each post 500-1000 words, took 1-2h to write, 10min-1h to work through.

Writing in these blocks created lots of little content atoms, and they in turn embedded things like YouTube movies. Blog post ideal packing container for that.

Not a single, fixed linear narrative, but can have emergent narratives. GraphViz visualisation (http://www.graphviz.org/), showing reverse trackbacks where a blog post has a reference to a previous one – shows how the arguments and tracks developed over time.

Formal course took a resource-based learning approach – digital worlds uncourse blog posts were the resources. Also had questions, readings, AV – YouTube since easy to play on many devices, and links to other relevant content. At the moment all hard-coded in to the course. But in principle each area could be populated from a live feed maintained by someone else.

Within each topic, wanted students to explore and issue, be doing something (using GameMaker to build a game, and submit it optionally as part of the assessmetn), share (through Moodle forums, and also wikis), and demonstrate – doing something and demonstrate back how far they’ve got. Encouraging students to share to get feedback, share problems with e.g. programming or design. Simon yesterday mentioned risk of dropping students in to a mess of web with no structure – have probably pushed this as far as you can with T151. But on the whole students have been engaging well.

Around the topic explanations, Tony writes a short 800-word reflection on the questions in the light of the resources, but stressed that it’s his opinion only, and students are welcome to challenge it. Trying to get away from two ideas: firstly that there’s a single route through the course (a fiction even with traditional courses, students pick and choose); secondly that educator is expressing the one true answer. Particularly true for games design, there are multiple perspectives. Because there was a lot of 3rd-party resources, had a Google Custom Search Engine to search over just those resources, a constrained part of the web.

As well as the Moodle environment – or within it – have a Skunkworks area in a wiki, where course team put ideas not officially sanctioned but there for use if they want it. One thing there is a FreeMind mind map of all the resources in the course. A single mind map for the whole course. Students can annotate their own copy of it.

Finally – assessment via short questions, testing their knowledge of programming GameMaker. But main part is to write a game design document for a game, and choose either a set of essay questions, or build the game they designed and send in screenshots with explanations. Wanted to do authentic assessment that works all the way through the course.
Advantage of having digital worlds content out on the blog is that it continues to get traffic and serve as an advert for the course – traffic spikes when the course is running, but a reasonable background level of interest.

Blog at http://ouseful.info and Twitter as @psychemedia


Grainne: How many students on course?

Tony: Pilot had 40 invited participants, first full presentation had 130, current has just over 200.

Clare: Exploring, demonstrating, doing, sharing – how widespread was sharing?

Tony: In October presentation, had calls to action on a lot of topics, have frame-setting question and ask to share on that, participation on that was good. Current course, on forums getting 30-40 posts a day (roughly); game sharing not as much as it was on previous one, not sure why. Many OU courses have this dynamic, sometimes work better than others, don’t know why. Scene-setting questions are too literal at times. Clay Shirky presentation from Media Gov 2.0 where he contrasts participation in LA Times wikitorial with Apps for Democracy – LA Times editorial rewrite had no opportunities to surprise, no participation. Apps for Democracy said ‘surprise us’ and people did. It’s not as interested for dynamics for the forum if you don’t have that opportunity.

Janet Haresnape: Impressed with length of time to put course together. Sits on course teams spending months. What proportion of your time were you allocating to write on this? 101 jobs at the same time, or immersed in this?

Tony: I’m always trying to do 101 things at the same time. The Digital Worlds material on the blog took about 15 weeks. Putting the course together for Moodle presentation, with editor and AL, over about 12 weeks, less than half of my time. A lot of things I’d do with respect to the course I would do for multiple other reasons as well. For e.g., pulling together resources for a topic exploration, also using that as way to mine the blog for micro-courses and how content could be pulled out of that system. Everything had multiple agendas for doing it.

Janet: Very dependent on having the kind of job where work on the course team is relevant to the rest of your job?

Tony: Yes. Large part of my job is looking at emerging technologies and working with them very quickly, looking for quirky ways of recombining them. Came in with AI background, very much problem-solving. We should be immersing ourselves in the technologies, seeing how we can use them to learn. Model for T151 is almost a travelogue in part, his journey through that material – he was learning as he was writing the blog. Course is a more formal curriculum around that. Was learning about the topic and the technology as well.

Linda Wilks and Elton Barker – Digital Humanities and Classics Confidential

Talking about activity in the Arts Faculty about the Digital Humanities project.

Project has funding, four professors on it, plus Linda and Elton one day a week. Overarching aim is to promote digital humanities within arts – humanities research agendas, processes and outputs – particularly dissemination. Promotion and evaluation of digital/social technology on humanities for good or for bad.

Identified six projects to focus on – and blog at http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/dighum (Intranet only) – grateful for comments. Want it internal to encourage Arts Faculty colleagues to engage with each other.

Seminar programme – one coming up next week, speakers from British Library and others. Have made many links to other projects and activities.

Several Arts Faculty project provide access to research outputs:

Reading Experience Database (RED – http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/RED/index.html),

Classical Receptions (http://www2.open.ac.uk/ClassicalStudies/GreekPlays/Projectsite/welcom.html). The Classical Receptions project has JISC funding to use linked data.

HESTIA www.open.ac.uk/Arts/hestia/index.html – collaboration between classicists, geographers and IT people. Use Herodotus texts on war between Greece and Persia. Place names mentioned are captured and investigated through map technologies like Google Earth and GIS systems.

Arts Faculty have section on iTunesU – many arts academics thinking about what could be a podcast in course of production. And presence on YouTube – eg. Gill Perry Prof of Art History. Informal add-on to course material, is not usually the course material itself. Trying to move away from talking heads approach and making this more interesting and engaging. Also good presence on Open Research Online (http://oro.open.ac.uk) – the OU open database of research outputs.

Finally, specialised websites developed. Not under OU Arts banner but is linked. Philosophy Bites (Nigel Warburton), many interviews with philosophers, very popular, fan page on Facebook! Classics Confidential, on Nigel’s model. Aided by IET running a Podstars project, gave Arts faculty a Flip camera, went away and played with it. Another Classical Studies person – Jessica Hughes – worked with Elton, did interviews with other people. Inspired by Doctor Who Confidential, behind-the-scenes look in to research in the discipline, and what gets people excited, why they think it should be read by everybody. Has been absolutely fun. Get to see the personalities, very interesting.

Key issues identified:

  • Financial constraints, people move away when funding stops, hard to keep them going. Written in to the bids for sustainability but is needs to be funded.
  • Secondly rights (IP) vs openness – grappling with as she’s writing articles: do you put them up on the web or save them for a journal?
  • Third, essence of research vs tech advances – a lot of the source material is hidden away in archives. Temptation to go for material that’s already been digitised, but that distracts from material that might provide even more interesting research output.
  • Fourth – barriers vs access

Website collecting all this together: www.open.ac.uk/Arts/digital-humanities/index.shtml

Joe Smith – Open to Knowing About Climate Change

Research on learning and teaching about climate change, and why open-ness has particular significance for that topic. Also wants to talk about NEAT project.

howing NASA’s composite image of the Earth from space. A really nice thinking tool for thinking about relationship between humans and the natural world, has changed a lot in a short space of time. Sent as a Christmas card by John Naughton about 6 or 7 years ago.

Worked on environment and comms issues from social science perspective, and media decision-makers since early/mid 90s. Summarise all of that period as most of us taking the lazy and easy routes. Has been a tendency for senior policy and research people to say ‘the science is finished’, ‘IPCC consensus’ as if it’s a hard, finished, complete object. Also as if we’re dealing with children, spare the detail and just cram their mouths with knowledge. And cheap tricks from NGOs and sometimes Governments. And an unhelpful tendency to view the substantial body of people who are skeptical – not just the active bloggers, but the 30-50% people skeptical of the science or policy – rather too many villains to handle if you want a working majority.

Where might we go instead?

On research: climate science is not just unfinished but unfinishable – one of the most ambitious things humanity has set itself. Need to reclaim language – skepticism is positive part of science and journalism. Move from witch hunts to bullshit detection. Contribution of social sciences and humanities should be more than an add-on: a lot of that work hangs on the question of who is vulnerable, who’s responsible and what opportunities are presented.

On learning: we should turn down the volume that this is something to be frightened of – climate change and biodiversity are fascinating and compelling questions, not just frightening. Bring energy to teaching and learning – it’s a time of exhilarating changes, much to debate. This idea under-represented. Sense that we already know how to act on these problems, there are a whole set of unresolved questions, makes for compelling learning.

On scholarship: Trust and expertise comes out. Some of what’s happened in media communications is not that a broad swathe of people are skeptical but now more able to. But editors responded very aggressively to sense that they’d been logrolled by the science and NGO community. The fact that there was uncertainty hadn’t been explored. UEA Climategate couldn’t have been better timed in terms of attracting editorial attention – they weren’t just bored of the topic, but had a sense of having been rolled. How might we respond as researchers in the new environment? Digital scholarship means the open-ness of web and social media can illuminate research processes as much as results. Would not have been great costs to climate researchers holding quite large parts of their work in the open. Issues about who contracted it, privacy issues. But same researchers, working today, might respond differently to queries they got then. Interdisciplinarity may become a more comfortable practice. Attracted to OU by long history of interdisciplinary environmental teaching. Web and social media might help us to a better job there. Have learned that we might want to get used to frayed edges as we develop our teaching as we open out the processes. One footnote – there are moments when it’s important to be closed. We think that’s the case when we haven’t finished a thought, and with research materials/processes around human subjects with respect and sensitivity – not just ethics committee obligations but behaving as good researchers.

Project developed as one response to the new conditions: Creative Climate – soft launch six months ago, piloting, experimenting – http://www.open.ac.uk/creativeclimate – only a holding page. Formal launch December. Idea about storytelling, diaries. Global web diary 2010-2020, key decade in human history. Convening diaries from research, policy, NGO, business communities. Also borrowing from Mass Observation project – public web postings. Not just about climate change – urbanisation, resource use, biodiversity also important. Links with BBC. It’s an experiment, a work in progress over the whole decade.


Simon: Any initial impressions about contributions people are bringing in – not so much videos uploaded or comments – but the architecture of participation. Different people playing different roles, bit like Wikipedia?

Joe: Interesting and difficult question. Populating front of site with diaries as a kick-off. Audio and video diaries commissioned from freelancers and volunteers, at COP15 conference last December, worked well, nice range of voices, diverse. Used format of five questions, same offered as guiderails for user-generated content, all to date have come in as text. Haven’t rolled out the invite except in very discreet ways, so very few entries, by accident. Anxious that using these five questions giving quite same-y responses. Want in next pilot phase to encourage wider range of submissions. Professionals helping – natural history unit piloting getting diaries from e.g. places, things, species – that they’re covering.

Markuos: Do you think that the topic of climate change is simply at the sharp end of changes that need to happen to current research systems in all subject areas?

Joe: Particularly true of highly-contentious topic like climate change. Research community not noticing what was happening in social media. Raising questions for all research practices. Really introduction to how we might behave elsewhere. Mira: I have a question but prefer to write it. Given that open/democratic environments are vulnerable to entryism (e.g. the Climate Research journal back in 2003, as I understand) do you anticipate this, and how can you accommodate it, while keeping faith with openness?

Joe: Fear is people might come in and cause havoc. The project is open, anyone can come and post. Have to have registered with a real identity, debating whether it has to be public. We’ll know who they are. Interested in the intellectual journey of people who come in like that. PhD student will be interviewing some of the prominent climate ‘skeptics’ and hopefully getting some diaries. Doesn’t insulate us from the risk of getting something very unbalanced.

Simon: Heard from Tony about accelerated course development, 20 weeks to produce a 10 week think. Thinking about rapid development of learning resources off the back of this?

Joe: If I had a few spare weeks and others besides. Will be remaking the second and third level environment courses in the next 2-3 years. Course teams likely to form are interested in the project, I’m interested in how the project can work hard for the whole OU. Might not be creating whole courses – but open to that if the resources are there. But more substantial gains likely to come from working collaboratively across the environment project area. Thinking about commissioning media collectively rather than course-by-course. Might help with how we can block out some quick and responsive materials. Would be great to have a hand-holder for climate skepticism debates over the last twelve months.


Question for Linda and Elton – any intention to open up the digital humanities blog to all?

Linda: Wanted to encourage discussion within the department, thought about Moodle, Twitter, all sorts of things. Decided to go for blog approach, extended mini-essays with comments encouraged. Keen to encourage discussion within the faculty hence why closed within the OU. Will now consider opening it more widely now the trial is over.

Simon: Question for Tony – assuming that your experiment’s a success, what’s the next step for the OU to take it to the next level?

Tony: Couple of things. One thing was its way of production. Another was how we might use resources that are there within the course – things like custom search engines around websites referred to, that’s trivially generated. Creation of things like FreeMind mind map, or Compendium – those alternative representations of how to navigate the course, can be generated from OU XML. Production – stop encouraging people to draft materials in public. On ?T316 was helping with rewrite, there instead of large blocks of text and review, was much more conversational and small chunks of text. By blogging drafts of course materials in public, available to course team but is in public so changes how you write it, other people can comment on and hopefully improve, and advertise the course.

Simon: Did you have other engaged educators, or were you just hoping that people would pick it up?

Tony: Announced the experiment through blog and through other people working on games-related courses. A number of OU staff and ALs commented and emailed. And external assessor runs a games course elsewhere, followed the blog early on, and by posting a comment on it that was the introduction to Tony – that was how he was found as an external assessor. Done in the raw, rather than giving a final version of the course, often too late for changes before the course goes live. Could influence with time to make changes.

Simon: Way to generate courses faster and in front of more people.

Linda Wilks and Elton Barker: what about quality control? Not all authors are as skilled as Tony…

Tony: The more you write the better you get at writing, and the more you read. Rules of writing on the web – first, assume that nobody will read it. Second, then if they read it they’re supposed to be reading it. If they don’t understand they’re free to challenge you, and if they’ve seen something wrong, they’re likely to challenge you.

Tony: Giselle about attitude in chat – absolutely. Writing in public, changes your attitude that you’re writing the one truth. Trying to express an opinion that’s my understanding, may be more informed than some of the readers. Attitude to being criticised – I want to make a contribution, but I want to check my understanding. Putting a marker down, if someone wants to improve that, that benefits everyone. Joe’s comment about a team of 6-7 people feeling public enough – not as wide a range as on the public web, good to draft stuff for them too. Audience is self-selecting, very few people get slashdotted, will be relevant – either experts or people who are self-directed learners, and questions will be ones students will have, makes materials more robust at the drafting stage.

Nigel: I wonder if it also changes from introspective feel of some (of our) materials to more of an open dialogue?

Tony: You’re inviting commentary back, so it is more conversational. Any comments you do get back, allows other people to influence the approach you take to a topic. Traditional OU style is to write SAQs, in-line questions, to reinforce. If writing in public, people interject, shows where you need checking.

Nigel: Conversational is where I was going. Idea of opening it out, really hits what I’m looking for.

Helen Milner (UK online centres) – Digital Inclusion: Opening up learning

Helen is director of UK Online Centres, network of some 6000 centres.

www.slideshare.net/helenmilner and @helenmilner on Twitter.

Not going to say a lot about what they do at UK Online Centres, but can have questions. Big audacious target is working with Martha Lane Fox to get a million people online by 2013, the next three years, have just gone over 50,000 since the 1 April.

Talking about digital inclusion and why that’s important.

The web, who doesn’t use it and why, opening up education, some people won’t access that, the new opportunity of not having any money and maybe being bolder because of that.

What will the next web look like? We don’t know. My journey – started in 1985 working on ‘web’ things – the national database for TTNS, online communications tool, walled garden for schools & colleges. Took 8000 schoolchildren to a different country every week in 1986 on WorldTour, wrote up menus, itineraries – a bit Web 2.0. It’s now about scale, 300m people on Facebook, Google a verb and noun, iTunesU with lots of students doing short little bites, many not in UK. Goal for future is to make UK most connected country.

We do pretty well – a few years ago we were among the best connectivity in terms of internet use as a percentage, are getting above 80%. Cheaper broadband has helped. All the other countries (Scandinavia mainly) are small geographically.

A woman called Liz came in to a centre and said ‘I want to google … Everybody’s doing it.’ Had no idea what it was. For us here, internet is essential, daily tool.

We are doing well, but not good enough. Moved from 35% (in 2006) never used internet to 20% (in 2009). Phenomenal that one in five people have not done it. 35% of houses don’t have internet, 49% of everybody without access are in D&E, double proportion of population. In 2010, there are 5.3m non-users who are both 55+ and in C2DE social group. Over 55 non-users is 7.1m, C2DE non-users is 6.9m. Almost 25% of non-internet users are under 55.

Social equity – 93% of people under 70 with a degree are online, about income levels and age. But some people are over 70 and online, including Helen’s Mum. Event in Greenwich, met new online older users to get awards.

Does it matter if they’re not online and they don’t want to be? Recently started Internet users are more confident in ability to find work. Direct financial benefit of using broadband at home is £276 (for lowest income); 1/3 households not online missing £4.4bn savings. Ability to use computers/internet has a salary premium.

So why not?

Asked C2DE people recently started internet why they started – was first and foremost to stay in touch with friends and family. Second for access to goods and services (savings, and niche). Third to pursue hobbies.

Why non-users don’t: mainly because don’t perceive they have access. Second not interested, third didn’t know how. Barriers remain the same over time – Access, motivation, skills and confidence.

Why open up education? Basic skills we take for granted are part of learning.

Who won’t access it if we do things online? If they don’t have access, motivation, skills and condience? There are notspots in the UK where no broadband; government commitment to sort that out.

Budget deficit – there is money, public, private, third sector, and effort where there’s no spend at all.

Only 15% of people in deprived areas have used government online service in last year; I and people like me shouldn’t have choice over how I interact with public services when they can be delivered well online – think I should have to use online channels for all services where there’s an online option – and use the money instead to make a proper safety net for people who can’t access online services.

Mira: who are ‘people like you’?

Helen: People under 70 with a degree.

srdawes: what about supporting local post offices though – do you want them tyo disappear?

Helen: Safety net is face to face, support services, for people who find it difficult online – either because no access or skills and confidence, need facilitation. Isn’t enough join-up between POs, CABs, uk online centres, Local Authority one-stop shops, etc. Let’s stop spending money to give me a choice, and spend it to help people who haven’t got the choice.
Potential savings of £900m/y if get 10m excluded online and do one single online interaction with Government.

Half of people using UK online centres go on to buy computer and broadband, and many are socially excluded. Those 50,000 people have made huge steps.

Paul – example – made redundant twice, West Midlands car industry. Lots of jobs only online. Came to UK online centres, now has a job in car industry, using a computer every day.


Q: What would be a good number for access? 90%, or more?

Helen: I want to do the maths. I want as many as can be using the Internet to interact with public services. Don’t want to think I’m someone who thinks we shouldn’t talk to each other. This is wonderful and convenient but the computer should not replace all of our interactions. We can definitely get up to 90% – Iceland and Greenland up there already. Are very specific geographies. But we could. Should look at everybody who is below retirement age is online. Physical disabilities, ok to have trusted intermediary, carer, friend, who helps them to take part in online service world.

Clare: Lot of questions in chat about quality of online access – you might be online, but broadband speeds might be slow, might be put off that they’re slow to upload or don’t work.

Helen: Complements each other. If we want to have 100% connected country, got to sort those problems out. If the value to the public purse is there, and to the online industry, there must be even more imperative to get those bits of the country online as soon as possible. Don’t work for the Government (but funded by them), but this Gov like the previous one has commitment to minimum access to 2Mbit connection for every person, every minute of the day. Will still be people who don’t understand benefits, or are fearful. 10% of not-online older people would rather bungee jump than learn about the Internet.

Karen Cropper: Skills levels. Talked about the connection. Few years ago in voluntary sector, pushing ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) – basic levels of skills that people need. People do need a basic level in a range of different bits of software.

Helen: Two answers. One is there’s less public funding for courses like ECDL and CLAIT, but more emphasis around digital skills. Available online – online basics – a review of basic ICT skills by Estelle Morris last year. Basic curriculum, mouse, email, searching, internet safety. Digital literacy curriculum, free of charge on web. Working with English as second language – available in 28 languages, from Microsoft. Very different to ECDL. People need to be confident ICT users – don’t need to know how to word process, or a spreadsheet – but need to know what a mouse is, how the internet works, how it fits in to their lives.

chris doyle: the poorer families and small SMEs can’t afford any access

Helen: Families, there’s a roll out of the home access programme, around 300,000 families free computers and broadband if have 7-14yo children. Last Govt had big investment for children. UK Online Centres in most deprived areas of England, so access there, most public libraries provide access and help. Again, graph where UK moves from middle to top end of numbers of users in population – also because we have competitive and inexpensive broadband market. Savings still, for even poorest families, are remarkable. In every town there are recycled computer programmes. Cost is a barrier, but while infrastructure there where people can get access and support, everybody does have access some way or another.

Nigel: People in prison don’t get internet access, and won’t be. And when released are disadvanted. Working with prisons, virtual campus?

Helen: Yes. Also have done work in prisons about 10 years ago. Put computers in to prison wings. The prison officers were locking them up, didn’t want the prisoners to have access. Now having a computer suite with whitelist of internet sites. Increasingly more internet access in prisons. Capital grant money to some prisons.

Martin: Had Frank Rennie yesterday, on Isle of Lewis. First developed study centres – for people to get computer access initially. But now have good access at home, but want to keep the study centres because they like to come together and have a chat. Importance of that face-to-face.

Helen: People often come back even if they’ve developed the skills and have the access. Talk about user journeys, what will motivate/inspire them, what support they need, where they’ll go next. Trick is to turn people who want to come back in to being volunteer tutors. Most UK online centres do other things as well as this – e.g. recycle bicycles as well as computers. Engage people. Learning about one thing, like the internet, can spill over in to others. Can be informal. Need to challenge people – some people do same course over and over again.

Anna de Liddo/Also De Moor: You say that to support uptake of the internet one of the main barrier is skill: But do skills primarily follow motivation, or vice versa? What main focus in facilitation?

Helen: It’s a good question and there isn’t a good answer to it. Sometimes people say they’re not interested but are scared of not knowing how to do it. Our courseware has reading age of 9, because may also be poor literacy. If you have negative feelings about it, you’re not going to develop skills.

Martyn Cooper: What about access for disabled people? Not all the issues are at the computer end, some are at the website end.

Helen: Yes. We do do a lot of work with organisations that support people with disabilities, including physical, sight, hearing impairment. About action on people who run websites that are not accessible. Can support people with disabilities to have access/skills, but still issues with websites. Hope this Govt will pick up big push to ensure that public-sector provided websites are all accessible. Organisations running inaccessible sites should be named and shamed, or cut off. Public money should not be spent on sites that are not accessible by everybody in the country. There is a long way to go. Perhaps crowdsource a name-and-shame site.

This work by Doug Clow is copyright but licenced under a Creative Commons BY Licence.
No further permission needed to reuse or remix (with attribution), but it’s nice to be notified if you do use it.


Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.