CALRG40: Afternoon

Liveblog notes from the afternoon at CALRG’s 40th anniversary, 19 October 2018.
Rays of Creusa

Vision 3 – Teams can successfully teach any number of students at a distance

Patrick McAndrew

(Rebecca Ferguson is sadly unable to attend and present)

Berrill is a challenge for presenting – you can see the people in the room, yawning, and you also know that people will come to you the next day.

The OU is one of the largest universities – in terms of students, in terms of full-time equivalents. And coming up, we are nearly in to the top 20 of students studying full time!

Patrick shows a photo from Rebecca of me (Doug) at a statue showing someone pouring knowledge in to their head and reading a book.

Teaching is when someone acts to help someone learn. “To make someone less inclined to do something” – as in “I’ll teach you to throw rocks at my windows”. Amusing. But here, teaching is causing someone to learn.

What underpins that are a series of beliefs, with a lot of evidence: distance learning works, and anyone can learn. A more open approach to being a university can be effective. Distance education works. That was a challenge for this university. The push to ensuring we have sufficient quality has driven us for many years. One was the formation of an Institute of Educational Technology. Being effective at teaching at a distance, and using technologies. Now synonymous with small devices and computers, but more broadly is how we approach how we teach. Our belief is anyone can learn. We are open to any student studying with us. Have put up work from the early 2000s with a model of pass rates, connects to Bart’s work, predictive models and machine learnings. What can we predict about what the student body does? Jim Peard has done this work, annual update. Three groups of factores – student previous experience, student motivation, module difficulty/match. One key factor is whether they have previous experience of study. As soon as they’ve done one module with us, their previous experience drops down the list of predictors.

Foundations on Supported Open Learning. But also understanding how we design. Derek Rowntree’s work. A lot of work on communication. If you’re not familiar with Diana Laurillard’s conversational framework, get familiar with it.

Also, working at scale. Currently (2011, UNESCO work by John Daniel), there were 165m people in tertiary education, projected to peak at 263m in 2025. Would require more than four major campus universities (30,000 students) opening every week for the next fifteen years.

Support that scales. Several people have come to the OU to find out how we manage, the magic that enables the university to teach at the scale it does. The material design and the support. We have a resilient but not cheapest answer. Building in support, 1:20 or 1:25, if your process can operate at roughly that level, it’s probably going to work. It’s hard to make a resilient system that operates above that ratio. Enables us to give support to our students. A major part of what makes a difference for our students is the support from their ALs. High satisfaction levels around student feedback. The student doesn’t necessarily meet the person who gives the feedback, but we get the highest ratings for the feedback. Bart’s delivered another punchline – what we design makes a difference. The learning design matters.

Success at (moderate) scale. Martin chaired one of the first really large OU courses – 15,000 students studying for credit. T171 You, Your Computer, and the Net. 55% of OU students in England come from disadvantaged backgrounds, only 29% of full-time students do. This was an era when things were able to expand more easily, we could grow supported by the systems around us.

This was also when we started to operate at a truly massive scale – OpenLearn, launched in 2006, hit the 60m visitors mark last week. Open University on YouTube and iTunesU. We have more and more routes to get content through to people. The design is important. We’ve taken away one of our pillars of success – the support – and that means we lose some of the resilience and certainty in what will happen.

I said I’d come back to some of the challenges. There’s the challenge to us: for PT entrants to study in England, there’s been a 61% drop since the introduction of the high cost student loan system. We are no longer as big a university as we were at the end of 2010. The other set of challenges is what happens to our students – from the number who start to register, then who confirm they are starting study, then actually starting, then paying their fee, then keeping going, then completing, then passing. Not everyone makes it to the end point of that journey [something like half by eye from his bar chart].

We are changing our approach. Work on the right start, so students find out in the first three weeks they’re on the wrong course, we haven’t necessarily supported them well. Targeted communication, bridging from one piece of study and the next, and different measures of success – a degree isn’t the right qualification for all our students – a Certificate in HE can be a major achievement.

There’s also being more radical. THe OU was radical in the beginning, and a radical move in 2012 setting up FutureLearn. Are universities the right structure? Changes in support models? Alternative pedagogies? Different attitudes? This is beyond our control.

Pedagogy at scale through MOOCs – led by Mike Sharples. And Rebecca Ferguson has led work looking at what research tells us, within the OU’s own FutureLearn provision. A lot of the lessons are the same: make use of effective distance learning pedagogies; offer well-designed assessment. The largest ever MOOC was the British Council English language course on FutureLearn, with (from memory) 500,000 students on a single presentation.

Rebecca’s also looked at how educators at other univerities experience developing MOOCs. Developing expertise: develop educator teams; identify and share effective learning design. FutureLearn makes the communication element more visible. How do we make this part of the education ecosystem? People still want accreditation. We’re working with FL towards accreditation.

Other pieces of work. Beck Pitt has been working with BizMOOC, to produce a MOOC Book. Shi-Min Chua, how people communicate and how we can support discussion at scale. Francisco Iniesto, how accessible are MOOCs, looking at producer, and learner perspectives. Tina Papathoma looking at the educator perspective.

We are struggling with how to maintain our scale in the current environment. Reaching out to the world, carrying out good research to support it.


Tim – What’s the claim for superiority of FutureLearn compared to others based on?

Patrick – It is owned by the OU [applause and laughter] It has a different approach to pedagogy. More involving, can see it impacting. It’s the pedagogy, the ownership, and the partners.

Eileen – When we visited Coursera, they were interested in FL’s good design for mobile devices. Because of the timing, it was a year after Coursera, and understood that mobile devices were important. Also, the idea of pedagogy around social learning at all. Nobody else had thought that through. Mike has an interesting slide on the use of the forum equivalent, and the forums not being separate but in the design. Also, Diana says it’s the best one.

Diana – From experience.

Science World Reflection

Vision 4: Learners engage enthusiastically with science learning

Eileen Scanlon, Thea Herodotou

If you join an interdisciplinary group, your birth discipline can leak out. Long list of collaborators, and past projects. One was Collaborative Learning in Primary Science – originally turned down by a reviewer who couldn’t see the point of learning in groups. Conceptual Change in Science, Alternate Reality Kit, The Talk Factory, Personal Inquiry.

Many theses – from Eileen’s own (Modelling Physics Problem Solving) to Citizen Inquiry in informal settings. We’re digitising our theses, and are going to make that avaiable online.

Some old photos from news in schools, an original Mac SE.

Considering a trajectory for new learners – informal to formal, passive to active, solitary to sharing, learners to teachers. One key step on informal to formal is the Open Science Lab. Originally, a mix of experiments to support formal teaching, but also informal science, an iSpot link. Use of technology to make such experiences available to others is important to us.

The PI project was a bit of bricolage. 2008/9 was just when mobiles were becoming available to help students connect experiences outside the classroom with those inside. Developed an approach to personal inquiry, could be an interest in aspects of yourself, of your environment, or of your community. Personalisation, and inquiry learning needs a lot of scaffolding. Outcome includes a good book, and exhibition at the Royal Society.

With the work for school kids, in the first instantiation of the OpenScience lab, we did some experiments, with Simon Kelley, around moon rocks, to see if the approach worked pedagogically in OU teaching. Just because you’ve worked with school children and technology, doesn’t mean they’re not applicable in OU teaching. We, CALRG, always took a broad approach to which approaches would inspire us and apply to our work within the Open University.

Another experiment, also with Simon Kelley, is some experience with the Virtual Microscope. Thea and Maria Aristeidou (and Mike and Eileen) have done some evaluation. It aimed to explore how students use and engage with virtual microscopy, and what teaching approaches work better for students who study practical science. Contrasted blended learning condition with wholly online one. Mixed methods study, learning analytics, survey, interviews. Blended students were more satisfied with how the virtual microscope is integrated in the module and greater perceived learning improvements (observation skills) than online students. There was a big difference in how it was used – in blended, it was introduced by a tutor and was complementary to a physical one. Online it was the only way to see the images; the learners felt a need for tutor to complement the activities.

Several projects on science learning across settings – Citizen Inquiry. Between citizen science and inquiry learning. New book on Citizen Inquiry, recently published. Active engagement in science, citizens defining their own research agenda. Not just natural and physical sciences, can be social and applied sciences. There are 12 case studies of citizen inquiry.

Started with nQuire-it project, funded by Nominet Trust. Website, and Sense-it application, can capture data using your phone. Whatever data you capture can be uploaded to the nQuire-it platform. A community developed around weather, Maria Aristeidou led. Also worked with the Centre for Policing Research and Learning, to help police understand what the community needs. Latest collaboration, was with the BBC Tomorrow’s World, redesigned the platform. It has open and closed missions, and others. Presented at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. An example – My Life, My Data, #MyTomorrow. Run with the BBC.

Latest work, collaborating with organisations across the world, NSF, Wellcome and ESRC. Three museums – London, SF, and LA, and UCD, OU, and Oxford. LEARN Cit Sci . Museum-led citizen science programme, coastal biodiversity, uploaded to iNaturalist.

The vision – learners engage enthusiastically with science learning. Open learning, inquiry learning, mobile learning, enabling the learner’s transitions between formal and informal settings and contexts can offer benefits for science learners.


Andrew Ravenscroft – the word ‘disadvantaged’, how do you define that?

Thea – Chidlren or young people who don’t have opportunities ot go to museums, or families not well educated. Museums have activities to go to those communities, to raise their science capital.

Kim Issroff – How science has changed over 40y, and how pedagogical approaches have changed.

Thea – Eileen?

Eileen – A good point, particularly in relation to last points Thea made. Citizen Science as a credible activity. Muki Haklay was tweeting furiously because people were questioning the quality of cit sci data. The notion of being an active science learner has been around for 40y. One of the issues around practical work experience is engagement with practical science became difficult in the secondary curriculum. Noticed as we went round schools, we worked with geography rather than science teachers. They enthusiastically bit our hand off for pilot projects to their whole year groups rather than just 20 or so students. They had got in to science investigation as a way to help young people develop their understanding of geography. They assumed students knew what a hypothesis was. In science teaching, a move away from data collection. There were enquiries, but the activity was managing data that had come from elsewhere. Interesting mismatch cross disciplines about what we assume children will have learned in different contexts. Anyone should understand what a scientific investigation might deliver from them, whether a community group measuring pollution in a creek, or a group of kids deciding they wanted to look at how food rots if you leave it outside a fridge.  Science as even more relevant to daily life. How we include people has changed over the intervening period.

Thea – Research shows people find STEM as not interesting, or boring, or for the gifted ones. What was happening was only a few were involved in science. It wasn’t accessible to the citizens. The idea developed that science was just for a few. We are trying to show there are way to learn science, and give the support to do so.

Tim – You’re too diffident. You can be stronger about the claims you make for nQuire. Look at Zooniverse. Citizen Science and nQuire work is an unambiguous success. The question is how do we get citizen mathematics, or citizen philosophy. The one that has the unambiguous tick is the collective study and engagement in science.

Eileen – We’ve managed to broaden the types of inquiry. Koula has used nQuire to do cultural heritage enquiries. There’s a lot of interest in our work from other museums than just science museums. That’s a strong direction the work might go in.

Diana – The Muki Haklay, it was about data that is used as a research output to demonstrate things about London. There is an issue about how oyu assure the quality, comprehensiveness of the data you collect. You’ve been talking about citizen science as an educational process. But when it’s a process of data gathering, you do have to address data quality, but he didn’t.

Eileen – We do both with iSpot – it’s for learning, and for real science data gathering. The solution is to have seeded experts on your platform to help with identification, then by continuing participation on the platform, through a reputation management platform, develop a more robust way of QAing the observations.

Janice – Before we launched iSpot, we engaged the expert biological recording community. A big job was signing them up, getting their expertise on. That’s the model we’ve used. Get the experts on board. They assist with the verification process. We badge them with the specific expertise they have.

Eileen – In 1975, as a science faculty course manager, we had measurement of SO2 pollution. People filled in a form, we sent them kits where they measured SO2 in their local area. They sent the forms to me, I checked the readings were at least within 100 of where they should be. We had a live BBC programme to report their feedback every year from 1975 onwards. Paper in New Scientist that credits the cohort of OU students.

Thea – With Zooniverse and iNat, partners on LEARN Cit Sci. On iNat, developed a machine learning technique that gives you ideas about the correct answer. Zooniverse, the identification is cross-checked across at least three volunteers.

Diana – That’s a much better answer.

Allison – Do you think the fact that questions, or tasks in science can generally be broken down in to smaller ones, so many people can come together, makes it in some ways simpler to have citizen science rather than citizen philosophy? How do we move forward to bring this together?

Thea – We try to break this down through the design on the site. We structure the steps of the inquiry process. The challenging thing is what kind of questions they can put down – so they’re do-able and can be answered. So young people had ideas about going to space and doing things that couldn’t be done. It needs some scaffolding from experts to narrow them down to link to a conclusion.

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Author: dougclow

Data scientist, tutxor, project leader, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist, online learning expert, and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in a wide range of contexts and industries.

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