OLnet regular meetings

As well as iSpot, one of my big current projects is OLnet, which aims to research Open Educational Resources (OER) and the OER community, and to support the OER community in developing its research capabilities.

We want to model being open in what we’re doing, so we’ve decided to liveblog our regular team meetings – you can see my notes from our first trial today over on the OLnet site. I probably won’t crosspost everything here and there, so if you’re interested, you’ll need to track the OLnet news as well as my blog!

Speckled Computing and Education

Liveblog from Technology Coffee Morning, Jennie Lee Labs, 9 September 2009, given by Eileen Scanlon (IET) and D K Arvind, Director f the Speckled Computing research consortium at Edinburgh University.


For Eileen, it’s the Personal Inquiry project – large collaboration with Nottingham. Inquiry learning in science; a little over halfway through a 3y project.

Hardware is all reasonably off-the-shelf equipment for scientific data capture. Literature-grounded method of supporting the inquiry process by involving young people in empirical work; technology is a way of enabling them to work through an actual cycle of focused investigation, rather than a simulation. Examplar topics: microclimates, urban heat islands.

A lot of previous work to support inquiry learning is about modelling phenomena and processes, often using simulations.

Student feedback says they appreciate real data collection. Project is not tackling issues of modelling and immediacy of feedback.

SensVest, developed at Birmingham as part of Lab of Tomorrow project – vest with accelerometers. Results from pilot trials not very positive.  Hypothesis was that this would be better than looking at readymade or simulated graphs; but not clear that it was. Thought could be because of delay in feedback.

So conversation here is about comparing predictions of a model with data collected in a real-time sense.

Speckled Computing

D.K. Arvind – a high-level overview. Funded by EPSRC. Not in to the technological detail. Work by concetrating on underlying science and technology to realise the specks, and networks of them – specknets – working very closely with domain experts to see how the specks can be used in applications.

Internet has 1 billion hosts today. IPv6 will support >35 trillion separate subnets, and each one in turn can connect millions of devices. Potential capacity to name/connect every grain of sand. Smart objects – smart meaning objects know something about their environment, and location-aware – not necessarily absolute, but relative: who are my neighbours.

Vision: endow persons/objects with sensing, processing and wireless networking capabilities. Aim to bridge the physical and virtual worlds. (Just what I’m interested in!)

Sensor intelligence as a telecom service – plural services, access agnostic.

Specks: minature programmable devices which can sense, compute and network wirelessly. Autonomous, rechargeable, energy scavenging (e.g. photovoltaic cells tuned to internal lighting – focus on built environment). Specks non-static and unreliable – design protocols for expected failure and intermittent connectivity.

Tens/hundreds of specks collaborate as dense programmable network – a Specknet.  Fine-grained distributed computation – the resources (energy, bandwidth, computing) are scarce here. Thirty years ago (or more!) the integrated microprocessor replaced box of different electronics with a single unit, led to a revolution. So here, encapsulate sensing, processing, and networking in a single ‘device’. If these are unobtrusive, lightweight … This is an enabler technology for Ubiquitous Computing.

Family of devices – 8-bit (med) client, can connect up to four sensors with 32-bit (large) microserve first, miniaturising to give 8-bit 5mm cube client. Freespace optics as comms – useful when devices are stationary. Would love to put sensors in e.g. the Jennie Lee Labs – because they’re static, can have line-of sight. Very small, low-power lasers. When on people, need radio – but that’s wasteful of energy because you radiate in all directions rather than directionally.

Next device: ‘Orient’ – 3-axis gyroscopes, accelerometer, temperature – attach to the limbs, calculate orientation on the devices themselves: leads to real-time capture of 3D motion – liberated from the studio. Lots of applications.

Also: Energy Neutral (EN) platform – capturing energy from photovoltaic sens.

Current motion capture methods: 1. Studio based with cameras, many cameras, reflective markers attached to person; grab info from 6-8 cameras, stitch together to get 3D view – computationally/memory-intensive post-processing. Not real time unless very high-end. Expensive – £30k ?per hour. Occlusion is a problem when capturing multiple subjects – need more cameras, but makes more post-processing.

2. Motion-capture suits. Wired suits, lycra, with a bulky base station/backpack which routes the sensor data to a high-end machine to do the processing (like Gollum).

3. Joint angle sensors. Bulky exoskeleton, cumbersome, hinders movement – not widely used.

So want: fully wireless, real-time and interactive, easy to use, ‘banalise the technology’, democatise its usage. Parallel with desktop publishing.

Orient Motion Capture system – currently sensors are about 30mm, need to miniaturise. (Video using Motion Builder for capture at http://www.specknet.org)

Can use real avatars: telepresence; bipedal robots operating in a harsh environment – use entire body as interface. Also in games.  Unobtrusive participation in simulations combining real and virtual players – ‘serious games’.

Applications – lots – Digital media (motion capture, games, sports); Health – with Lothian – looking at:

  • Congestive Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD non-invasive monitoring of breathing (devices on the chest wall) – can do analysis/monitoring remotely, with patient at home;
  • Intensive care
  • Clinical gait analysis – not just a few minutes in the hospital, but captured over, say, a week – is there variation over the day, different surfaces, slopes and so on. Much richer information for diagnosis.
  • Physiotherapy. Program them with ideal movement, track improvement over time. Transfer data. Can see how well they’re doing.


Showed avatar control to Linden Labs (Second Life). Not keen because would flood their network.

Edingburgh Science Festival 2006 – learning in informal settings. Put sensors on break dancers (8-10 year old), give them ideas about physics e.g. angular momentum, centripetal forces and so on, based on their breakdances. Competition – who can spin on their head fastest. Not saying you’re teaching – surreptitiously getting them to do things.

Golf swing analysis – challenging, limited bandwidth, 2-3 hour tour round club. Data coming in to mobile phone.  Modelled as double pendulum – arms are one pendulum, connected to club which is the other. Equation of motion for double pendulum using Newton’s Laws. Get visual feedback of swinging club in the plane – angles between parts of the arm and so on. Applied sports science unit with biomechanics people helping interpret.

Interacting with robots – Trying to program behaviour, especially standing on one leg, walking etc, is done with heuristics, army of programmers over weeks. Can we capture human motion, analyse, run it on a simulator with physics engine, then select candidates and run on a real robot.  (Extend life of robot by being selective in which gaits to use!)  Get training data from human, segment in to phases. Fantastic videos of arm swinging, standing on one leg, sit-ups: and a great walk by a robot, with no human intervention in the learning algorithm.

“You need to demonstrate before anyone will start adopting these things” – very true.

Health scenarios – Need to validate data. Breathing rate during ventilation – breathing rate validated all the time. Can capture coughs, overall activity – e.g. go to sleep, turn right/left etc. Prosthetic limb adjustment – done by eye at the moment; with their capture data, can make it much closer to the normal/optimal setup. One example – couldn’t do it for climbing up a slope, but can now.

Speckled Computing Applications CEntre (SPACE)

Exists to evangelise! Encourage people to experiment with the technology.  About fifteen applications project, very keen – due to funding! – to see the technology applied, and making a difference.

Example: projectile motion. Take a soft ball with Orient device inside. Instrument thrower with three devices. Thrower throws ball, can detect instant when ball leaves the hand, so only acceleration due to gravity thereafter. Expect an arc defined by good old equation of motion. Study in inquiry learning: try using tangible interface to support learning the laws of projectile motion. Masters student had a first attempt at this.

(The research question here – for me and people like us – is what can you do if motion capture is cheap, easy and near-ubiquitous? Exciting!)


Don’t detect physical location, but can infer it. Treat human body as articulated system of rods. Marker system requires precise placing of markers on parts of the body – here can be anywhere.  Camera-based gives you position information, but have to infer orientation and acceleration.

256-times a second capture. Do-able because done on the devices themselves, so can be done in real time. Base station 33g, sensors 13g. Sensors can talk to each other, but here they all talk to base station.

Feedback not just visual, but audio – a tone – good e.g. in physiotherapy or golf swing. Give audio feedback on how close it is.

Visual feedback on phone for golf – haven’t done any evaluation. They demonstrate they can do it, then work with end users to evaluate it. They work on the speck inside, improving, miniaturising. Applications are collaborations.

Ball-throwing example: very interesting question as to whether the embodied action of doing it makes a difference versus looking at graphs/models. You find the literature says more about the confusion in dealing with messy data. The physics ed literature believes in immediacy and theory-building – but not proven that this is better. Could be that the finding is that you learn better without going near to real things! Some research not finding much difference – or more difficulties in real-world data. Lot of rhetoric about real, authentic experiences as important for learning … but needs to be explored, and can be now. Motivational side is a better argument than representational.

iPhone would’ve been a good bet; have worked on WindowsCE and don’t much enjoy it. Using those in experiments with NHS Lothian. You need a load of software, it’s messy. Happy to work with people to do stuff on more phones, but that’s not their zone. Delighted to work with people to port it – can give you the hooks etc.

Possible applications in Formula 1, Nokia open lab network.

Dance also – tango dancers. Can get metrics about e.g. coupling of motion between leader and follower.

Separate centre for applications, several students, is geared up to use stable versions of their platforms, very open to collaboration.

Motor-control skills development in pre-school children. Ten-week study in a nursery, currently analysing data. Longitudinal study, exploring whether you can spot developmental difficulties.  Previously only possible in very expensive, constrained environment of a lab.  Now can do in ecologically-sound environment – where they normally play.

Wii only gives you acceleration; here get the biomechanics of it.

Technology in PI and ERA projects

Liveblog notes from IET Technology Coffee Morning by Eileen Scanlon and Mark Gaved on Technology in PI: Personal Inquiry and ERA (Enabling Remote Activity) projects: Challenges and lessons learnt.

(I liveblogged a previous talk on ERA (Enabling Remote Activity) last December.)

Personal Inquiry

PI – 3y EPSRC/ESRC TEL programme funded. Scripted learning envrionment to guide learners through inquiry process. Oakgrove School KS3 geography students (N=300); GCSE Urban Heat Islands, across MK and Northampton; Year 8 Microclimates, around school grounds. First pilot run with 80 (!) students in 2008, second one large too – so calling them ‘trials’ rather than pilots.

Social issue: the flight from science in schools. Difficult to persuade young people of relevance of science to their lives. So inquiry important theme in project to make the learning of important scientific principles relevant to you as a young person – hence Personal Inquiry. Focus on formal and informal settings, and devices including personal mobile technologies and shared classroom displays.

‘Scripted inquiry learning’ has some ‘studied ambiguity’ – building on the  ‘discovery learning’ literature.  Also more technical meaning of ‘scripted’. Inquiry learning lit review as first stage, shared model of Inquiry Process. Took that representation, rendered it as an Activity Guide (or orchestrate, direct, or be ordered about the inquiry process), with support for what you need at each stage: Find our focus, Decide our hypothesis, Plan our methods, Collect our data, Present my data, Write my report.  Shift from collective to individual – exam board requirement to be individual – so working in groups to collect, but then individual inquiries.

Lot of technology: ultramobile PCs – Asus Eee PC; Scienscope data loggers and sensors (CO, temperature, IR irradiance, anemometer, humidity) – rugged, precise, quick to report; standalone GPS – Garmin eTrex; digital cameras – Canon A460 Powershot digital cameras (‘Sir, we’ve taken 500 photos already and don’t have room for any more’!); wifi – standard 802.11; OU web server; web-based Activity Guide as coordinating interface. Data saved locally on Eee when mobile and don’t have the network.

Enabling Remote Activity

Remote access: Enabling mobility-impaired students to participate in geology fieldwork and complete learning objectives. SXR 339 Ancient Mountains, one-week residential school in Scotland.

Remote collaboration: Group work involving students split between field and lab locations; one-day trial.

Geologists want to see both the big picture (view of whole land feature) but also very close-up.

Technology: server/client – Sony laptops, Asus Eee PC; video – IP security cams, Eee built-in; images – digicams, wifi cams; audio – walkie talkies, VoIP phones; transient wireless network – Linksys access points, external antennae on lighting stands, 12V batteries; local web server; web-based interface.

The ideal mobile device – looked at PDA, phone form, normal laptop, Asus Eee – Asus Eee settled on, but not perfect.  Portability is a challenge – but groupwork helps since can distribute some problems, e.g. weight. Multiple cabling and multiple devices not helpful – so built-in webcam in Eee halves number of batteries; wifi camera simplifies cables/card transfer; walkie talkie headsets free up a hand.  Power another one – full days in field, battery/generator, overnight recharging.

General points across both projects

Web-based interface big win in ERA and PI. Interface very familiar, little training needed. Continuity of field and built environments on different machines.  Issue of field machine browser connecting to local server (need later sync – challenge with large numbers of machines) or connecting to remote server (requires connectivity – challenge in the field).

Connectivity on the edge: tension between interesting locations and well-connected locations.  School networks not designed for roaming connectivity; poor line-of-sight in field.  Firewall issues too.  Local connectivity hard but backhaul even more tricky.

Bridging environments tricky. Solutions to technical issues may work (network keys, proxies, transitions) but social issues may override (e.g. teenagers grounded from internet use!).

New ways of teaching – technology fitting in to existing practices. Challenge of orchestration between multiple tutors and researchers – scaffolding by scripting (PI) is one solution.  (Although this requires intensive preparation and thinking-through by researchers beforehand; not ideal for lightweight usage that’d facilitate abduction/appropriation by the teachers/tutors themselves. Always a big challenge for tech innovation learning research projects – including at the OU. How do you get the great mass of teachers able to pick up the tech and redeploy it to meet their needs? Good examples as models from research projects help.)

Need pragmatic, participatory design – tutors/teachers and students crucial input but are very busy.

Graceful degradation – always have a Plan B – teachers/tutors do this by instinct anyway, technology needs the same approach, including fallback technical solutions: spares, redundant communications routes, etc.

Scaling issues: identical setups helps, but takes time to set up/turn around 30 machines – real challenge on a daily basis. Needs room and power to do it. “How many sockets do you want in the new building?” “Oh, 88 should do us.”

Summary points

  • technology intervention changes the learning activity – transformation of practice
  • test in field (in authentic contexts) as much as possible
  • important to co-design activities (participatory approach)
  • evaluation of interventions crucial but challenging (practicality, control groups)
  • need sustainability and exit strategy

(… which I think stand as very good general points for most technology interventions in teaching – or indeed any teaching innovation)

Scholarship of Teaching

Liveblog notes from a research-based symposium on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 23 February 2009.

John Richardson introduces.  Starting point is always Ernest Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered. Boyer’s aim was to get administrators off the professoriate’s back. First time teaching considered as an activity for scholarly inquiry – brief chapter but influential.

Sue Clegg (Leeds Met), What do we mean by ‘theory’ in debates about the scholarship of teaching and learning?

Wants to muddy the waters, and pose some questions rather than supplying answers. Focus on link and theoretical frameworks to/from your discipline-of-origin. (I’m some way from mine!)

Pat Hutchins & Mary Taylor Huber (paper in special issue of AHHE) – theory is “the elephant in the room”, question of quality, basis for legitimacy claims – not a neutral question.  Mere descriptions of practice deprecated. Theory is at the higher level in disciplines and gets you the most credit (in sociology, at least). SoTL is highly democratic (in that all academics can do it), but researching it is becoming professionalised – journals are now just as competitive as any disciplinary ones. Usually a claim for superiority for one’s own version of theory – especially the approaches to learning. Graham Gibbs “we’ve cracked the theory”, now just need to tell people; she doesn’t subscribe to that.

Theories are variable and not unitary/singular; tied to fundamental ideas about epistemology and ontology. Look to the work the theory is doing for us (which is a question that depends on what your epistemology is, of course).  The complexities of HE, students, etc, mean that it’s ‘highly unlikely any one form of theory will suffice’ because a singular theory limits the scope of our understanding.

(Tension between eclectic/multi-theoretical and depth/rigour.)

‘Trading zone’ metaphor; not judgemental relativism. ‘Approaches to learning’ lit illuminates questions but doesn’t exhaust them, people in that tradition never claim it does.  Maryellen Weimar on reading lit within disciplines – see general pattern and singularity. Though is ‘more likely to produce insomnia than enlightenment.’ But we overestimate the difficulty of talking across disciplines.

Two arguments about disciplinary epistemologies and theories of SoTL. First about limits – philosophical point. Second socio-cultural about shape of disciplines.

Limits – humanities/social science easier to draw on for accounting for messy human stuff of teaching and learning. Experimental natural sciences frustrated by this messiness, desire for evidence stronger. Methodologies and approaches ‘are designed for dealing with different sorts of stuff’, because of the nature of the things being inquired in to. In (some) natural sciences can actually achieve experimental closure – very rarely the case except trivially in the social world. So disciplinary limits to using disciplinary approaches for SoTL. More controversial because of Governmental drives for evidence-based policymaking, which usually means RCT. (Has written a lot about it.)

Shape of disciplines – tend to move, break, split, emerge. New interdisciplinary areas in C19th/C20th; C21st ecology, globalisation, indigenous knowledges – the big challenges come from outside the Academy. Particularly in SoTL, challenges come from students. Discovery science is also in deep trouble too, though. Giddens etc on Mode 1 & 2 knowledge production. SoTL should aspire to be very broad in its approach.

Theory/practice links – Donald Schön on epistemology of practice. Positivism from industrial/military complex is useless for scholars, need to reinvent. Worth re-reading, pose different questions now. Gap between hands-on doing and abstract theory – law-like explanatory frameworks (‘approaches to learning’). Knowledge is created in the concrete practice and cannot be simply disconfirmed by abstract science since its knowing depends in large part on retroduction from practical experience. Andrew Collier, opera singing example – need to know about the mechanisms of voice production, but the act of singing is a visceral knowing.  Teaching (and other scholarly practices) are like that – you know when it works. (! interesting epistemological claim, verging on mysticism)

Tacit knowledge: SoTL has a tension in applying standards (peer review, evidence) as scholarship of discovery -gaps remain which are not resolved. Tricky questions about variability of applying standards – action research, teacher research, SoTL traditions all differing.  Other professions have had to wrestle with this too. Problem of the tacit and whether and how it can be represented.

SoTL challenge to teachers is to improve through evidence – parallel with discovery science. How to give scholars who teach the same status as those who research. Evidence that practice can improve without articulation – teachers who don’t reflect can improve more; not everything has to go through the loop of reflection. Real problem here. If purpose of SoTL is to improve teaching, scholarship is not the only route. So not sure that more theory will necessarily improve practice; might not be very good theory.

Papers aren’t very good because they’re “only descriptive”, not theoretical. (Me: theory isn’t the sine qua non, but you do need analysis.) Concrete/abstract, masculine/feminine, dualisms present in the debate. We should tolerate a little theoretical promiscuity and generosity before we start theoretical turf wars. We are a very young field. Creativity will come from the gaps.


For some people, reflection doesn’t improve practice. Should we worry that it’s a distraction from trying to improve the thing you’re trying to do?   We know our students fake it – they simulate reflection. And we do it to – we give people what we want. Ask students to reflect ‘and it doesn’t have to be true’, to create space to write differently.

(Me: Socratic question of the unexamined life not being worth living – and my view that it’s more that you don’t know whether the unexamined life is worth living or not. And academia is fundamentally about knowing, so we have to examine life. Whether it makes practice better or not is in many ways immaterial.)

Genius born-or-made argument, practice at the root. (Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours to be an expert idea.)  We need to look at practice, at the tacit. Renewed interest in Craft practices. Social critique of the devaluing of craft – culturally important too.  If you ask students or colleagues, will tend to agree, but fail to articulate why. In SoTL we reward not the good teacher but the one who can talk the increasingly hegemonic language of SoTL. For some colleagues it’s not popular; not that they’re dinosaurs, but theory/practice gap.

Mick Healey, Exploring the Nature and Experience of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Breslow et al 2004 – ‘One of the key ways to engage colleagues in their development as critical and reflective teachers […] is to stimulate their intellectual curiosity’ – appeal to professionality, not ‘it’ll make you a better teacher’.

Boyer’s four scholarships – discovery, integration, teaching (in the centre), application.

Activity – scan list of statements about scholarship of teaching, and rate (from Healey M, 2003). Raises whole issue of distinction between SoTL, scholarly teaching, excellent teaching, and so on. Tried this exercise in several contexts with people who are in the field/interested. Generally not a clear consensus – but some clear trends. 90% like Martin et al (1998), 75% liked Healey 2000 a,b ad Cross &Steadman 1996. <50% on some others.

Levels of engagement in pedagogic investigation (Ashwin and Trigwell 2004 p122) – purpose, evidence process, results: 1 to inform self, 2 to inform group, 3 to inform wider audience. All are SoTL, but researchers in level 3, but lot of SoTL is at levels 1 and 2. Not totally agreed with.  Mick Healey reckons going public – coming out – is the key element. Rare to have a positive conversation about teaching, but beginning to change.

Disciplinarity – pragmatic about a discipline-based approach. (Healey 2000)  If you can talk their language, they’ll listen. So in geography, use of case studies worked well to engage colleagues. Now starts with case study/example then introduces theory, more effective that way. (!) Start where the learner is.  But Anthropology Network set up to re-capture SoTL in their field in to their language; using their methods to investigate teaching.

Institutional cultures and reward systems vary. So SoTL experienced differently.  Also varies by nation – literature cited on SoTL differenet in North America (US) vs UK/Europe/Australasia. Large initiatives in UK, FDTL, CETLs, NTFs, HE Academy.

Four ways to link teaching and research: 1 do research on learning; learning about other’s research learning to do research; get students to do research.

Diagram – based on Healey 2005 – Curriculum design and the research-teaching nexus –  Two axes: students as participants vs audience, emphasis on research content vs processes and problems. Differentiates four approaches research-tutored (Oxbridge model), research-based, research-led and research-oriented. Inclusive diagram, all teaching fits in there somewhere.

Graham Gibbs – most significant of the processes for ehanching quality is the reward for teaching excellence. (1995). Then last week’s THE, HE Academy (2009), 92% thought teaching should be important in promotion, 43% thought it was.

Another exercise – nine case studies. People’s experience of SoTL varies. University of Sydney, very top-down – Scholarship Index – distribute 2-3% topslice on basis of points score based on e.g. 10 pts (recurrent) for a qualification in university teaching; 2 points (once-off) for refereed article. Is changing behaviour. Contrast with Liverpool Hope where they got interested people together over lunch.

SoTL is contested, differently experienced. Need to be aware of that. To take SoTL seriously is needs to be recognised in the promotions/reward processes.

Carolin Kreber (Edinburgh), Conceptions of SoTL: Envisaging a ‘Critical’ scholarship of teaching and learning

We tend to think of SoTL as the scholarship of discovery in the domain of teaching and learning, and that’s problematic.

Conceptualising SoTL – a socio-cultural model would predict that different disciplines would influence this. (Huber & Morreale 1997). Often SoTL conceptualised as pedagogical research; rarely as ‘learning about teaching’ and sharing what one has learned in less traditional ways.

Talk about teaching has increased, greater visibility. The dominant agenda is the valuing of research over teaching –  the structural problem is that this is not addressed because SoTL seen principally as research.

Lee Andresen (2000) on features of ‘scholarship’ – it’s what you’d aply to any proposition in the field of research or theory.

Aristotle’s three intellectual virtues – episteme/theoria (science, formal discovery of ‘truth’), techne (craft, what makes for best practice), phronesis (ethics). (Fiona Salomon 2003) Techne vs phronesis – techne aimed at establishing effective means to chosen ends; phronesis is discerning the desirability of ends.

Episteme – techne is the action-research/practice research challenge, very hard. But maybe Phronesis help select theory from Episteme used in practice/Techne.

‘Education is at heart a moral practice’ (David Carr 2000). Six ‘universal’ standards for scholarly performance (Glassick et al 2007) – but the goals themselves need to be examined too.

SoTL model: involves content, process and premise (critical) reflection on: teaching and assessment strategies; student learning; educational goals and purposes – with the aim of identifying and validating knowldge claims in these three domains. (from transformative learning theory Mezirow 1991; Kreber and Cranton 2000) Process reflection – instrumental learning (techne), communicative learning (linked to phronesis). Premise reflection – phronesis – leads to emancipatory learning.

The scholarship of teaching is concerned not so much with doing things better (‘techne’) but with doing better things (‘phronesis’). – Lewis Elton 2005.  (Very true in new technology context.) SoTL is/should be about questioning what we’re doing.

A ‘critical perspective’ – asking ‘Why do we do the things we do, this way? Is there a need to change?’. (Barnett and Coates 2005 on scholarship of curriculum … which seems separate from SoTL, shouldn’t be).

Implication for SoTL practice: address what students learn, and why they learn – as important as how they learn.

“In a time of global turmoil, what transcendent purposes will this ideal academy serve? In a time of great wrongs, what injustices will it right?” – David Orr 1990

Crucial question: At this time, in this context, what is it that deply matters to us with regards to the role of the university in society and the education or students receive.

One might argue that what is ultimately in the interest of society (and learners) is the achievement of learners’ sene of authenticity, ad move towards greater authenticity. Students moving to find their own voice, critically engaging and making it public to engage in critical dialogue with their peers.

Authenticity and motivation: To do what is rewarded (ext); To do what is personally rewarding (int); To do what is good (int).

Being authentic is a) to get clear about what one’s own deliberations lead one to believe, and b) to honestly and fully express this in public places. (Guignon 2006). Scholarship is (should be?) like this. Many ways of going public in SoTL other than refereed journal articles and conferences. E.g. critical engagement with colleagues.

John Nixon, Melanie Walker are doing this stuff but you don’t hear about it.

(Note to self: this makes SoTL an unabashedly political question, and a moral one. Don’t know much about politics as an academic discipline beyond intersection of history, philosophy and economics.)


Doing what is in the interests of students – may require a teacher to go against the dominant culture of the department. Often as a teacher you are compromised. Is a problem; so need these more critical discussions. The postgrad teaching programmes can contribute to this.

Distinction between a good scholar and a good teacher? Value in practice and theory. Soon as talk about scholarship, not happy with scholar having all knowledge based pre/non-theoretically on experience. To qualify as scholarly/ship, must be informed by what we’ve come to understand. Often don’t look at the lit on the purpose of HE, not consulted widely, but is interesting. Also important to go public in some way; to engage in critical dialogue with peers where our knowledge can be contested. (Key point of epistemology in a general sense – James would be going on about Popper right about now.)

Challenge to us as a community to talk about the purposes of our institutions. Rather than claiming our authority from having happier students, happier administrators (more qualified students out), need to engage in a moral activity, phroenesis, which might not make them happy.  There have been periods where people have argued very hard about curriculum – e.g. impact of feminism – not taking on the institution but what we want to do with this group of students. These debates have gone on.

Contrast between access – here we have what we teach, we’ll make it possible for you to access it if you’re non-standard – and inclusive – where we reconsider what we teach to include more people, teach differently and different curriculum.  E.g. in South Africa, very sophisticated debate about this because of the situation.

Authenticity – problem where the teaching has two tiers (as in OU) – quite commonplace to have course team talking to each other and developing theories of what they’re doing, but less authenticity than perhaps those more constrained by actually meeting students and seeing how they respond (ALs). Institutional problem of authenticity for the OU.

(If SoTL is/should be about challenging curriculum … hard to have that embedded in reward processes. Resisting the co-option/appropriation of SoTL by management – e.g. points-based schemes – is bound to create resistance.)

Plenary discussion

Ongoing question – is SoTL research? For John Richardson, it’s research when I’m doing something I wouldn’t normally do. Students would know if I was doing teaching, and they’d know if I was doing something funny – e.g. giving out a questionnaire. And when it’s research, have to consider ethical dimension and standards and supervision. Distinction – what’s the purpose? SoTL it’s to enhance the teaching. Research it’s to improve understanding, may not make things better for students. Parallels with clinical research – benefit to future people. But problem with that is all about techne; equating empirical with research.  But agree that empirical research does need ethical analysis.  There is probably more unanalysed SoTL data (qualitative particularly) than can ever be analysed.

So John is not a scholar of T&L, that’s what teachers do to enhance their own practice, and university teaching and learning as a whole.

Issue with the appropriation of SoTL by university management. Tension between recognition (double-credit for SoTL journal articles) and the moral, political challenge to curricula, which isn’t going to get you recognition because you’ll ipso facto have to be taking on the institutional power.  And if scholarship of teaching is the scholarship of discovery you’ve lost a whole aspect. But done better in the US. (Cornell getting the NY Times ‘best college’ award for writing in the disciplines, overtly a teaching intervention – was Ivy League, copied elsewhere, would like that to happen in the UK elite.) Over 200 colleges signed up to CASTLE, many big ones. Conferences in the States, it’s not a badge of weakness to say you privilege teaching. Our problem (UK) is the single-source of funding (overwhelmingly government). Envy of the Liberal Arts College tradition – take teaching seriously.

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.

Martin Bean: Looking Ahead: Mission, Values and Opportunity

Martin Bean is the OU’s Vice-Chancellor designate, and will be taking up his post later in the year.  This is his first opportunity to address the OU community, and it’s been wildly popular, with tickets required for the lecture theatre, overspill, and videoconference.  The Communications group are out in force to marshall the loyal troops. I managed to get a ticket and have secreted myself quietly on the back row to take quiet blog notes.

His quote on appointment was very encouraging:

It is an honour to have been selected as the next Vice-Chancellor of The Open University. It is a unique and amazing institution that has changed the lives of millions through its commitment to furthering social justice and to making higher education and educational opportunity accessible to all. I look forward to combining my passion for education and technology to lead The Open University over the coming years, as we continue to provide innovative and high quality distance education solutions to meet the needs of the 21st Century

Social justice right up there, and with his techie management background, he could be just the right person for what is a really challenging time for the OU.

(He walked past me, sat on the corner, shook hands, and invited me to Tweet away!  Helped that I was sitting in the back corner.)

Current VC, Brenda Gourley, introduces him.  Says she can’t wait for him to be VC.  Runs through his CV – a tremendous track record, international connections.  Over to him.

Know it was a big surprise to be working with Mr Bean, nobody is more challenged by that than he is.  At least people don’t forget his name.  People want to meet him, and know why he wants to be a VC.  Answer is more why the OU, than why a VC – it’s because of everything you’ve achieved and stand for.  “I’ve always loved learning, had bad experiences, but OU has given me confidence […]” – OU student feedback about life changing, in airports, train stations, etc, he gets that everywhere now.   Wants to be with us “for the next 40 years”.

(He’s good with an audience, good judge of mood and joking, self-deprecating, compelling speaker. Was better before he went in to Powerpoint stepwise reveal mode.)

Link to UN Declaration of Human Rights Article 26 “right to educaiton, and he equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”.  Universities role is questioning, help people understand – a change agent.  We are special, we are open, we broke the mould. (Now ‘we’ rather than ‘you’.) Have proved don’t have to sacrifice quality for scale.

VC described many of you as missionaries. They said it was never happen, it was mocked, “blithering nonsense”.

The OU has led through acts of imagination, delivering high quality education to people who had problems of access, of all sorts. Let’s get our imaginations working together again. In the 40y ahead we’re going to face a lot of challenges, will take a lot of imaginations.

So easy to make decision to come here.  Close alignment of his personal mission and OU mission:

  • Everyone should have the ability to access high quality HE.
  • HE must become more open and flexible – have done a tremendous amount but much to be done.
  • Innovation happens through research, people, process and environment – technology is just one enabler.
  • HE needs to be relevant, personalised, engaging and student-centred – social:learn, Web2.0, 3.0
  • It’s important to nurture communities of learning
  • Partnerships are essential to maximise results – must open up private, public, employer, government partnerships. Thoughtful, don’t sacrifice mission or quality. But essential
  • Economic prosperity is underpinned by quality education at all levels.

His Values:

  • Belief in people at an individual level – protect rights of individual, start and finish of social justice
  • Open, honest and respectful communication – tell him what you don’t like
  • A never ending positive attitude – this will annoy many of you over the coming years. Says, What can we do, not woe is me.
  • A belief in making a difference.
  • Teamwork makes sense
  • Be inclusive yet decisive – get many data points, but you have to decide and move on – be careful with questions you bring to my desk, you may get an answer
  • Never be shy to ask for help
  • Celebrate success – e.g. wonderful success in RAE, feel good about that

The Future:

  • HE important in light of the crisis
  • HE can’t be produced at the scale needed on the traditional model. – John Denham “unacceptable that eLearning is a sub-quality experience vs traditional” and then gave example of OU moving to new media not sacrificing quality, MB delighted to hear it.
  • Dist ed market will grow rapidly and be increasingly competitive – US has large for-profit DE sectors. Difference between them and us is profit/shareholder value. Our cause more noble.  Need to understand them and stay in front, and never sacrifice our mission and values as we compete with them.
  • Technology will shift from content centric to people centric – very enthusiastic on this.  Our ability to embrace, extend and take OU innovation and quickly mainstream it – is terribly exciting and a business imperative
  • ‘Flat world’ puts skills agenda on Government policy agenda
  • Financial crisis uncertainty, but also unprecedented opportunities for change – will put presure on everyone, who knows for how long.  While everyone else is looking at the downside (which we must), but (his optimistic side) says will put pressure on to address skills gap, help citizens to get employable skills, realise what they want out of their lives.  Will help world sig themselves out.

Cites John Gray, Success and Sustainability: Tertiary Education’s Global Challenge – must be

  • Responsive,
  • Effective,- Quality. Supported Open Learning model – cannot sacrifice the quality. Can’t use quality as an excuse not to innovate and be responsive.
  • Efficient – Pressure. Not a business but sometimes need to act like one, allocate resources right.

Shows OU Futures – declares that we do not need a whole new set of priorities, they’re great.  Evolve, develop nuance, though. The plan we have is the right plan.  More thoughts to come, though.

Getting Started, wants to

  • Get to know you and our students.  Will get out and about very quickly, is stealthy in a cube environment. Not just MK, expect to see a Bean near you very quickly.
  • Get insight in to how University is perceived, without responsibility, so will seize the day. Doing already. Everyone has an opinion of you! Reputaiton is strong.
  • Listen – asks lots of questions, from lots of angles
  • Hit pause – wait before answering every question (mother said to put this in), important not to jump to premature conclusions, and don’t ask him to. Needs to understand the history, is very very important.
  • Give feeedback – take what he learns and communicate back
  • Draw on and make great use of your expertise.

OU student feedback – quote from Kerzy Lando, 84, BA Hons, “Life has taught me several lessons …”

Honour and privilege to stand … on this riser they’ve given me so you can see me.  I am in awe of the opportunity to be part of the community you’ve built.

Q & A

(his phrase for it)

Brigid Heywood – MB “Hello Brigid”. – Value of education should take note of, also climate change. What can we do?

MB: Climate change is going to require every human to get behind.  OU response is multidimensional: what we do with our working practices, and how we deliver our programmes, reduce travel needs.  Contrasted brick and mortar or click and mortar.  Then what we teach.

Lots of questions with same theme (and much polemic): When does the OU intend to go cross-platform?  Non-Windows computers.

MB: What a surprise! Where did that question come from?  Couldn’t be more delighted at the question.  Technology should provide as much freedom of choice as possible.  Firm believer in interoperability.  (Knows what that means.)  Fraser and I are debating but I’m determined to get an iPhone, because it’s fit for purpose, it’s the best device.  Microsoft was just a waypoint in his career in the intersection of technology and education.

Darrell Ince: Tension between university and business requirements, impinge on academics.

MB: We do have to face this, have new entrants in our world, playing with a different playbook. Will require us to be knowledgeable, and adjust to it.  Am never going to sacrifice the mission or quality or how we serve our students.  We’re not a business but we have to act like one – intelligence on trends in the marketplace, shifting student demands, government policy shifts.  Inclusive and decisive – we will need to keep pace.  The DE marketplace worldwide is on fire, 25% to 55% compound average growth rate, don’t join that and stand still.  1. Be open and don’t deny.  2. Compare what’s going on with our mission and value.  Then formulate a competitive response.  Faster than ever before.

Martin Weller: Shortest question of the day. If you could overcome one challenge in your tenure, what would it be.

MB: Being short!  Good question.  Touched on it already: scale, and quality. All must work on that, with technology.  All you missionaries, pack your bags, we’re off again.

Nottingham (in the room): Gordon Lammie – joined in 1970. Been through many different periods. Financial situation. Agre with being a good employer.

MB: Personal belief, nobody should be denied doing what they want to do in life.  (Not a policy answer …. yet.)

Web – Ian Gilmour – OU Wikipedia entry describes BBC’s role in establishing OU, who is our partner for next 40y?

MB: Everybody! Partnerships really important, multi-broadcasting partners.  Unbelievable work with iTunesU.  Multi-casting partners.  Look at all educational content, develop fit for purpose.  Multiple types of course development models, done some, must do more.  Work with other universities – beyond and in UK.  Public sector tremendously important.  Private sector can be important – as employers (to help them meet their needs, and union reps). Make your best analysis of what partners you need based on your priorities. But OU never worked in a vacuum.

Jeff Johnson, MCT: Found presentation inspiring..  How can I tell you what I’m doing?

MB: We need to set up some good fb loops.  In prior roles, f2f, out and about, structured things (e.g. focus groups).  But at MS your life is your inbox.  When gets here, has learned to triage an inbox.  Will run sessions like this too. Without filters.  Use tech tools coupled with what we can do f2f.  In companies, have used web-based collaborative groups, can talk to remote people without having to travel, very time effective, environmental.  Voice of people back to him is very important.

Josie Taylor, IET: Was inspiring. In particular, that is a human right to access education.  The ELQ issue, a problem on financial side, but is also a potential barrier for onward HE.  Are you ready to engage with British political system?

MB: I’m Australian, I love a good fight.  Way to early to comment on the details.  But did due diligence to look at the external environment – ELQ today, but will be something else tomorrow.  Role of VC – active constructive dialogue with legislators – but have courage to respond appropriately and take action to remain healthy.  Real skill is not about ELQ, but about the fight.  Really easy to fight for something he believes in, and he really believes in the OU.

Carmel McMahon (Assoc Dean in OUBS): International opps for OU?

MB: Believes in bringing our offerings to people throughout the world. OU held up as the example of SOL at a distance that got it right.  Academic and policy world knows who you are.  Now need to be deliberate and creative about … country-by-country issue, or states and regions even.  Where to focus our efforts, partners, business models – but must return value to University – either promoting extending mission and values, but also to balance with business agenda.  Don’t do the collegiate thing of sharing all our collective wisdom and give birth to a competitor who forgets where they come from.  Hardest part is showing what your unique value is, you have done that already.

Clare Cortesky, research student: What are we doing wrong?

MB: I do believe you’re doing most things right.  Wrong: amazing innovation in pockets in OU – e.g. technology of the day vs tech of tomorrow, quality and scale rapidly.  Need to do better job letting world know about our innovation, which is not understood, “you’re doing what?”.  Have to speed up appropriately how we unlock innovation.  Can honestly say it’s not a matter of fixing something that’s fundamentally broken, matter of reigniting the imagination to do it all over again, only faster.

What can OU learn from MS, Yahoo! and Google?

MB: Who?  From MS, tenacity.  MS don’t usually get it right initially, but we’ll stick at it until we come up with a way of making it work.  Yahoo – saw power of bringing people together through Internet; not just browser, but vision of transforming how people interact. Google – everybody else was iterating on what already had; Google said what’s the transforming thing people do with Internet, it was simple, it was search, so needed more sophisticated way of retrieving meaningful content. Leapfrogged entire industry, revolutionised software industry, ever-new suite of stuff wrapped round it.

He appreciated the questions, much more enjoys a dialogue than prepared remarks.  “Look forward to working with you!”

Update: I made a Wordle of these notes.

Mashing up the PLE (Tony Hirst)

Notes from a seminar (slides) by Tony Hirst.

PLE=Personal Learning Environments.

Gilbert Ryle – notion of category mistakes (in The Concept of Mind); happens when people talk about PLEs as things – they’re not, they’re environments: you can’t point at them.  Also figure/ground illusion (vase/faces) – edges are the key.

Contrast to VLE – which is a thing (e.g. Moodle).  A PLE is not (just!) the personal version of one – but there’s a figure/ground thing, the VLE could be part of it.  A PLE is the students’ bag of stuff: literal stuff (laptop, phone, bits).

PLE is open, controllable, public; VLE is closed, private, you-can’t-edit.  [But: control/privacy to enable experimentation for learning – safe to get it wrong.]

Edges between VLEs and PLEs. OpenLearn has made a big effort to make the content portable.  Materials are stuff in a learning environment, and have alternative formats: print (single HTML file); XML; RSS feed; OU XML; IMS Content Package; IMS Common Cartridge; plain ZIP of all the html files and media assets; Moodle Backup. This export bit is the edge – can do the figure/ground swap here.

Mashups – using Glue Logic (not actual glue).  Live demo of sucking content from OpenLearn – leaving a trail of bookmarks as he goes on Delicious, tagged ‘elcple’. Copy RSS link from OpenLearn course/module.  Use in places like PageFlakes, Netvibes, iGoogle

Uncourses blog – trying to do in real time as a blogged course: ten weeks to study, so ten weeks to write. All done on WordPress at Digital Worlds. Category and tag feeds so it’s “self-disaggregating”. Link structure is emergent (in the sense that he didn’t plan it in advance).  Categories and tags are … basically confusing on WordPress.  Module coming to deliver posts (RSS items) as a drip-feed over time, starting when you want it.

(Flock and Firefox tip: can right-click on any search box on any site and ‘Add a keyword’ for that search.)

Mashups are not production systems, they’re flaky.  (Pageflakey.) – in response to having Yahoo Pipes problems in his PageFlakes setup.

Box.net is like MyStuff that works” – can share files, make them droppable, clicking in a browser will ‘just work’.

Grazr as an RSS reader on turbo – can wrap RSS feeds together in to OPML files.

Glue Logic – lives here http://ouseful.open.ac.uk/xmltools/dwCommentFeedsOPML.php (aka http://tinyurl.com/4vq4nt) – takes parameters and produces OPML feeds out of, say, all comments on posts with a particular tag. “It’s easy to use” [But not documented anywhere?]

Microsoft Live Search – you can add search results as a feed by adding &format=rss to the search URL.  E.g. orange smarties.

Autodiscoverable feeds – your browser can subscribe to it.

Tony’s OPML dashboard as a way of messing around with RSS/OPML files.

StringLE – a String-and-Glue Learning Environment.  The sample site sort-of works but is suffering from linkrot somewhat.

Pipework – Yahoo Pipes.  Live demo of taking Wikipedia data on city populations and putting them via a Googledocs spreadsheet on to a map.

Medium and message (liveblogging debate round 2)

Today, the OU’s Vice Chancellor, is giving a speech to Council (the OU’s governing body – like the Board of a company) and an internal audience on ‘Scholarship in the Digital Age’.  She will be speaking “about the impact of new technologies, including Web 3.0, on the University’s business: how it affects teaching, research and the student learning experience”.

I’m really encouraged: this is exactly the focus we as a University need to be taking.  And I’m not just saying that because it’s my area and so I obviously think it’s important. (Although there probably is an element of that.)  I’ve said before that the VC is reading the right stuff (e.g. Here Comes Everybody) and there was further proof in the internal publicity for the talk – it was accompanied by a big copy of the xkcd Online Communities map:

But I’m also worried about whether to bring my laptop or not.  Last time I liveblogged from a talk by the VC, people complained – entirely reasonably – that I was disturbing them with my typing – which I was.  I did a post arguing (not entirely clearly) that the fact that such typing was disruptive showed that we have a mountain to climb in getting the OU to where we need to go. The discussion generated more traffic – and blog links – on here than anything else I’ve written, and ended up with me realising that by (inadvertently) reinforcing the stereotype of laptop users as antisocial inconsiderate types, I’d set things back, not forward.

Just to be totally clear: I am not saying that people are wrong when they say they are being disturbed.  They are being disturbed, and that impairs their ability to hear and understand what’s going on.  And with this particular presentation, people who aren’t (yet) natural laptop users and bloggers are the ones who really need to hear it: us techies are the choir the VC is preaching to here.

So do I bring it or not?  If I do, it’ll disturb people.  If I don’t, we lose (some of) the benefits of doing just what (I expect) the VC will be exhorting us to do.

Happily, our Comms team have come up with an excellent compromise: there’ll be a blogger area outside, with a screen showing the VC, and we can hammer away on keyboards to our hearts’ content without disturbing people who find such things distracting.  (There may even be sufficient power sockets!)

It’s not ideal – to exclude this group from the room itself is a little unfortunate.  But I’d rather leave the people inside free of distractions from technology so that they can come to love (appropriately used) technology.

… and I’m also going to try to keep the meta-discussion about liveblogging separate from the actual stuff, at least on here.  I’m sure there’ll be all sorts of stuff on Twitter.

TEL Away Day: learning activities

Grainne – learning activity competition – we all write learning activities on bits of paper, stuck up on wall around the outside of the room. Everyone rate them *, **, ***. Ask is this giving you good ideas? Online? Web2.0? (All learning activities will go in to Cloudworks.)

Interesting real-world process process similar to social networking/Digg etc – I came late to looking at them and noticed which were the ones with a lot of annotations and paid more attention to those. Which is what the conversation is centring around.

Interesting stuff about appraising ideas about learning activities. Issues about scale and reuse. They are context free, though, which makes it hard to make concrete. As an array of things without a purpose makes it hard to sort or select.

More feedback collected on the IET WetPaint site. 3rd place was Tina about blogs. 2nd was Patrick with the instant video vox pops. 1st was Canan with discrepant events – she gets a box of chocolates.

TEL Away Day: second session

The meeting accounting is running at nearly £2600 as we return from coffee.

Instant feedback from the small groups captured by Patrick’s little video tool as talking heads over coffee. (May be available later online?) There’s a general feeling of skepticism bordering on cynicism about some of them but some enthusiasm. Boundaries between the personal and the professional/work worlds – some people mix them seamlessly (apparently) but some people experience a lack of separation between work and other life as very problematic already.

Patrick is going to suggest things we should do:

  • Let’s give Twitter a try. No compulsion but that’s where people will gather. Follow PlantOUTEL if it’s not already following you (so we can see all the TEL people’s Twitter accounts).
  • Wikis – I did a (private) wiki for last year’s conference – but we can use WetPaint, pbWiki, etc, and there is an IET wiki again. Should use for monthly and quarterly reports.
  • Blogs – encourage people to try – let Juliet/Will know and they’ll put it in to the aggregator.
  • KMi tools – do play with them.  Can we occupy Cohere (Compendium?) to support IET’s ideas?
  • Ning – have a look at the Ning Anesa and Rebecca have set up.