Google Apps for Education

Many people have already mentioned that the Open University has adopted Google Apps for Education (including the OU official announcement, Will Woods, Niall Sclater, Tony Hirst, John Naughton). My department – the Institute of Educational Technology – hosted a workshop exploring the possibilities on 3 February. These are some notes I made in the discussion.

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The OU Is Only Ten Feet Away

Learning about the opportunities of Internet-connected TV with a Boxee application.

Liveblog notes from a Technology Coffee Morning given by Liam Green-Hughes, held in the Jennie Lee Building Laboratories, 16 September 2009.

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Martin Bean: A Journey In Innovation

Liveblog notes from watching (the Elluminate-mediated broadcast of) Martin Bean (OU VC Designate) keynote address at ALT-C 2009. Abstract:

Innovation in ICT continues to enable new and effective ways to open learning to all who seek it. The challenge for The Open University from the beginning was to deliver mass higher education on an individual basis. That challenge remains the same today. The Open University asks for no entry qualifications and delivers to over 200,000 students and users of their course materials each year. In this presentation Martin will reflect upon The Open University’s pioneering use of technology for large-scale delivery of educational opportunities over the last 40 years and contrast that with where The Open University sees the greatest opportunity for the application of ICT and innovation over the coming years.

Welcome. Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor Designate of OU Open University. Had been in the UK for two months; this is his first keynote speech. Shows his commitment to learning technology. He’s bringing together complex perspectives from two worlds: the commercial software platform world, and our world of education.

(Martin Bean arrives)

This is the place I like to be best, a pleasure to accept. This is the world he’s spent his entire professional life in – the intersection between education and technology, and bringing them together in a meaningful way.  International personal background. Spent last 15 years working in commercial software companies, all engaged in education. Last five at Microsoft & Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Then made decision to move from theoretical R&D to practical, last November.

This is also the way innovation comes to bear, same journey. Less about pivotal points, but we are custodians of a piece of a journey.

Innovative Scepticism – soundbits from a teacher’s conference in 1703 – ‘students today can’t prepare bark to calculate their problems. They depends on their slates which are more expensive. What will they do when slate is dropped?’; then 1815, students depend on paper to omuch. 1907, students depend too much on ink. 1928, students depend upon store-bought ink.  1941, students depend too much on fountain pens. 1950 ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in our country.

It’s always been up to us – who see the innovations – to bring education along for the journey.

Thomas Friedman, ‘The World Is Flat’ – changing landscape. Turbo-charged environment, Two years ago this talk wouldn’t have been broadcast like this, and wouldn’t have Twitter feedback and critique – which he will read afterwards (!).  It’s hard for institutions to accept this, and the role that we play in this.lifetime

Employment vs lifetime employability. Education is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s a lifetime experience. Shifting gears.

Changing nature of HE – three categories: Globalisation, Massification, Privatisation.

Globalisation – 2.5m students learning outside their home country. Bologna process, e.g. of initiative designed to facilitate this.  Unprecedented growth in distance education. In Singapore – 200 possible online MBAs – will do a degree in how to choose!

Massification – macroeconomic environment, some massive increases in supply, but generally the world can’t supply enough to meet demand if we stick with the traditional model.  So have to move from bricks and mortar to clicks and mortar. We’ve seen 20, 30, 40% increases in supply. But in Sub-Saharan Africa, 5% increase a year is nothing like enough.

Privatisation – Tax-funded education is in retreat mode. Private sector the fastest-growing. One in three students studies in a private HE institution.  Has very different motivation to other universities. At the OU, wakes up every day thinking about social justice, giving people access.  Private organisations, wake up every day thinking about shareholder value.  That makes them extremely formidable competitors – fastest-growing, massive uptake of technology, riding the wave of distance education.

So what do we see as our colective challenges?

UK and US overshadowed by India and China – number 1 and number 3 in the world. China’s R&D investment is massive; the rankings for research instutitions will be dramatically different in 20 years.  When PhD students went to the US, they used to stay – now they go home.

Need to educate citizens for new types of work.  UK for adults of working age, just shy of half are not qualified about level 2. If we’re to underpin UK as world leader, thriving and prospering, have to face up to skills agenda, right skills.

STEM is key for a competitive workforce – but is challenged.  Why critical? It fuels innovation. Only future for economies like UK, Australia, US, is innovation.

Increasing importance of sustainability.  Key times in history to make people uncomfortable enough to make a big change. Not about giving courses in green jobs, engineering environment – it’s horizontal, in to all teaching, research, leadership agendas.

Transforming information into meaningful knowledge. 21st media skills, sage on stage to guide on side. Rote memorisation and assessment over. School is like on an aeroplane, have to put all your confidence in someone up the front, and you have to turn off all your electronic devices.  Classic examination setting: put them in a room, take away all their tools bar a pencil and paper. Somehow we’re measuring 21st century skills?

Doesn’t believe that a Powerpoint has a constitutional right to start and finish (!), coming from Microsoft.

Student expectations

Many students never known world without web, sms, MP3s, etc. Heavy use, including social networking. Uptake of technology in homes, roughly 70% in 2008, when up by 2m homes in a year.  We need to continue conversation about access, but must get real about their expectations.

What do they want? Values: autonomy, authenticity, connect and share, creativity, constant stimulation. Priorities: friends, fun, music – real-time interaction and self-presentation. Likes: Devices, cool stuff. Hates: Complexity, bad design, costs, things that get in the way of expression. Really the Internet enables what students wanted before, but faster and at bigger scale.

Crisis of relevance in Higher Education. To be more relevant, blend digital lifestyles and digital work styles: don’t unplug them, make best of both. Future jobs will require those skills.  Lifelong learning – we can’t depend on young graduates. Continual development, learning in the workplace needs to be integral. Breaking down barriers between informal and formal learning – HE must remove artificial barriers, so people can knit pathways together to weave in and out of HE as they need. Our systems look like they’re designed to stop this.  That’s not what everyone needs, not what a quality HE experience should be. Must put learner in the middle; HE is about making sure that learner is at the middle, the support revolves around them.

So with those as backdrops – macroeconomics, student expectations … why is technology relevant? What is the opportunity for technology?

Firstly, expanding the reach of high quality education to all. (OER as one example.) Microsoft research – number one role for technology is expanding access to those who couldn’t otherwise.

Nurturing powerful communities of learning – formally and informally.

Enabling relevant, personalised, engaging learning. Classic textbook model, 4-year refresh, those days are done.

Giving educators more insight and more time.

Nothing new here – the thinking has been around for decades. Instead of lecture like this – all of this could’ve been done in advance, distributed notes. More about assessing where they at, what people got from it. Would allow us to have the most awesome conversation, really get down to where learning takes place.

Also about agile, efficient and connected learning systems. Data is a big challenge: locked up in silos, some home-grown, some off-the-shelf. Everybody wants to unlock the data. MIS or whatever, gives us access to the information we need just when we need it.

Role of technology, where it’s appropriate – but number one thing he’s learned in 25y in the application of technology is that it’s more about the people and the process than it is about the technology.  Why does technology innovation fail in our institutions? Nine times out of ten it’s because we think about the hardware and software and very little about the brainware.

Need to give all stakeholders time and energy, take care of them.

Segue in to talking about the Open University.  Four key themes (Open to People, Places, Methods, Ideas)- will not change, when he’s the VC in two weeks’ time.

(Video of OU history.)

If you’ve every worked for the OU, or been involved, learned, studied – look around – it’s about half the room (presumably mostly IET!). Awesome quest.

Not revolution but evolution.

Student support – it’s always been about personal, but now even more. The OU will ride the web wave to personal. 1.25m teelphone calles, 240k registrations, 800k student assignments, 33k qualifications – every year. We’re going to do this high-touch.  We will redefine our student journey and think about technology at every stage.

Will meet them where they live. If you think they want to hang out in your VLE – ha! – that’s the last place in the world.

Take advantage of changing delivery models, content creatin, consumption and manipulation. iPod would never have worked without Napster, which broke business models.  Same is happening of textbooks.

Being driven by Open Educational Resources – OpenLearn, 4m visitors since launch, very proud of it. Recognise overall initiative to change and lead, the whole sector. The SCORE initiative to help everyone else.

Access: big disruptive: it’s FREE. Free to browse, register, use, adapt, share. Very disruptive indeed.

Going multi-channel: build once, put in repository once, then go meet them everywhere, Miro, iTunes, YouTube.  Visual surfing in iTunes U, if you recognise it’s a place to extend your brand and bee visually attractive. Not a matter of putting lecture notes on to an iPhone, it’s a whole new generation of engaging digital content.  6.12m downloads, 64k visitors, 180k downloads a week. Lots of top-20 hits. Over 50% outside the UK.  How much does it cost? Very cost-effective versus putting signs on the side of buses.

Imagine if .. more than a podcast, but a learning application – the virtual microscope on an iPhone on a Martian meteorite.  Imagine a whole course on that – do it anywhere. That’s the next generation, it’s not just doing podcasts.

Education meets social networking – exciting, fast, disruptive, social (Eboy picture!).  SocialLearn – leveraging Web 2.0 for education, building bricks for a Personal Learning Envrionment.  Learner-centric – not an echo-chamber with comfort zones. Not just a web platform, but architecture of data and services. On Facebook, no breakthrough application for education; what we want is that.

Beyond social networking: moving from people like me, to people who challenge me; quick factual info to learning journeys/depth.

We can build what they want, meet them where they live, break down barriers between informal and formal learning.  Motivated learners are creating their own reuse and sharing models and contects.

Are we prepared to BE our own worst competition?


Australian, David Kennedy, Hong Kong: Wonderful to hear a VC talk about relationship of learning and technology. What will you do to the institutional structures which tend to reward other things?

MB: If we can’t prove the value proposition, sweep people up in what we’re doing, showing them the ‘why’, that we’re willing to invest in enabling the right people and processes, then we won’t break down those structures. Must be aware of two dominant forces: our faculties and academics. Much of this innovation needs to come out of the faculties. They are custodians of quality. Trying to do it skunkworks won’t work. Also the research agenda – OU doesn’t launch anything innovative unless we’ve done a lot of grounded research. Need compelling vision, investment, academics informing the quality, grounded in solid research – and will get it done.

Diana Laurillard, IoE, ex-OU: Changing nature of HE, massification. OU has been exploiting technology like this for ages. Personalisation – key, but difficult to achieve. Greater flexibility – not just of access, but in the way and what you learn.

MB: Diana’s little Apple logo shining at him distracted him from his Microsoft days. Browser is a beautiful thing for enabling multiplatform. When he puts the OU together, it comes through – the personal stuff that we do is key – the AL-student relationship, the peer groups, the phone call when they’re about to give up. Firmly believes we get rid of high-touch at our peril: technology can make this better, not get rid of it.  The platforms allow us to create much more of a personal experience. One AL with 18-24 year-olds (25% of OU students), encouraging them to set up their own Facebook group before the course starts, get to know each other. Across Europe, using Elluminate to create a high-touch personalised experience.  There is always going to be a place for physical touch, but the technology enables it in a special way.  Open Learn is an example of us seizing on technology when it really works. But totally agree, should’ve just said yes.

Shirley Alexander, Sydney Australia: Do students really want us hanging out in their space?

MB: Yes and no. They do if it’s meaningful and relevant. 13yo daughter describes her mother as a Facebook stalker. That’s not what he’s talking about, they don’t want us stalking them. But they do want us to take what they’re using and making it more meaningful for them.  E.g. socialLearn. They don’t want to leave Facebook and come to your VLE, they want to pull it in and stay in their world. Meeting them where they live is like that.  The long tail of learning, what the web provides, can take narrow areas of focus and let people come together. Take that further, giving them scaffolding to make it richer – that’s what he’s talking about. They don’t want us looking at their drunken photos.

John McAlister: Boundaries between FE, HE and schools, will the barriers continue to exist?

MB: For as long as our policymakers and all of us allow them to. We’re the only things standing in the way between primary, secondary, FE, HE working together. They technology exists, the desire from students exist, the funding models and credit models exist. But our courage to get it done isn’t there.

Debbie Cotton from Plymouth: Interested in SocialLearn. Some of our research suggests students switch of Facebook when they’re trying to learn. Do you imagine them flitting between social and learning activities? Students found that distracting.

MB: Those who want to turn it off mode; the net generation can live in a multi-stumulus mode. The real value of SocialLearn is that it’s a platform architecture, they can pull in things as and when they want to bring them in. It’s not designed to take them somewhere else, but be a layer that lets them work within an environment structured with informal learning environments. In closed beta, the UI is key at the moment. I’d rather be the one to figure all that out.

Learning in Digital Worlds: What are we talking about?

Prof Josie Taylor inaugural lecture, liveblog 7 April 2009.

Two great realisations. Looks at people doing stuff with things – it’s really about conversations. Diana Laurillard’s work. The greatest challenge for those involved in the communication revoulution is not technology but communication between people. Link to Pask’s Conversation Theory. Converse of control, deregulation, enrichment by divergence possible, cybernetic – participants could be computers as much as people.

Second realisation: Abduction (Peirce). Used heavily in design. Inverse modus ponens.

The ‘computational aura’ – dialectical relationship between technologies and conversation takes us forward; digital artifacts and humans jointly construct, divisions blur.

Prolog learners with Ben du Boulay, 1984-87. people not systematic in their logical thinking. Interpretative framework for people trying to understand complex machine behaviour is the human social framework.

Communicating through videotunnels (88-90), with Tim O’Shea, Eileen Scanlon, Claire O’Malley. Mediated eye contact and role in establishing collaboration on problem-solving.

Physics problem solving (90-94) – collaborative undestandings established through dialogue – negotiations around agreement.

MENO: Multimedia, Education and Narrative Organisation with Diana Laurillard et al (96-2000) – Narrative guidance, narrative construction.

Mobile learning (2005-2009) – Conversaional processes, Pask again. Conversation is means by which we negotiate differences and form transiently stable interpretations of the world.

So … established enough about the nature of human learning to support it through use of digital devices. But technology always changing, underutilised – confusing, worrying. Professionals not good at technology predictions.  Changes deceptive and misleading – we tend to muddle up surface presentation/format changes, accessibility/delivery, functionality offered, and functionality required.

Case study: Penguin Paperbacks. Before 1935, to read book, go to library. Cheap paperbacks changed this. Readers become buyers, business boomed, range increased, easy to get hold of. What actually changed? Mobility (vs hardback), access changed, contexts, cost. But functionality and skills required didn’t change. So changes only syntactic (format), but a revolution occurred.  We tend not to ask the right questions: What is the right size of book for optimal reading? What is the learning benefit of this change? We don’t need to innovate any more? What about people who can’t read?

Conceptual infrastructures: Ubiquity, Ambience, Flow, Grid: everyone has connection, carries connection, everything has one, everything works together.

Speckled computing – – autonomous, minute specks (1mm^3), collaborating as programmable computational networks called Specknets. Truly ubiquitous computing. Fine spatial and temporal resolution. Information appliances might not be explicit; highly diffused.

(With shift from multiple media to multimedia, our learning thinking was still valuable. Similar argument here.)

These digital artifacts as cognitive enhancers – makes it a semantic change.

Learning context of the future: network, grid, specknets – return of the intelligent machine?

Computers as participants in a cybernetic view of learning. Enable computers to work out how to work with us.

Theory of Mobile learning (Sharples, Taylor & Vavoula 2007) – focus is communictive interaction between learner and technology. Digital artifact is as much a participant as the human. Draws on Pask, Laurillard, Vygotsky (via Activity Theory), Engeström.

Two-layer model: human/task focused/semiotic layer – Engeström extended activity system. But also technological layer – with conversation between each level. Relationship between the two is dialectical. (Note to self: Just had horrible thought that actually these levels are end-on in a trad activity system, rotate through 90 degrees, not overlay – to follow up. Probably isn’t though.)

Interdisciplinarity is key – need educational technology and technology.

Grand Challenge for Computing: Research in Learning for Life. To conceptualise how learning environments will manifest. Not just incrementally extending current models of teaching and learning.

Conclusion: Technology potential People will retain control – but are lazy so likely to relinquish it. Digital artifacts geneate possibilities and options – humans must choose. Some artifacts may become intimately connected with human bodies.

Dewey 1916 p88 quote about learning in a mobile society a nice finish.

From exposition to enabling participation: the OU’s learning journey.

Prof Andy Northedge – Inaugural lecture. Liveblog 7 April 2009.

Starting question: Is an OU educationist any help?

What do we know about HE teaching and learning? Literature scanty compared to schools – especially when he started. How can teaching work at a distance? Many fundamental questions addressed by early course teams.  Teaching and learning acts separate, disconnect in feedback loop.

OU as an extraordinary test-bed for educational ideas – very new thing for academics to discuss teaching with each other: forced a discourse of practice. Also discipline of the market. (Stats a hard sell particularly.) So have to worry about whether students want to learn what you’re trying to teach – again a new thing. Students could walk away. Concretisation/reification of teaching, replication possible.

How has pedagogic thinking moved on in 40 years? (OU 40 years.)

D100: Unit 1 – starting with the fundamentals of human nature. Unit has its own purpose, to consider – i.e. exposition. Question ‘Why does man live in society’ – not a burning one for students. “I’m afraid the outcome is going to be pretty unsatisfactorey, but what can I do? You’ll just have to make allowances” – aim at academic peer audience? Start with broad, abstract theoretical foundations.

DD100 – crime – starts with ‘Tales of Fear and Fascination’ – consciously stylish and intriguing. No preamble, straight in to concrete direct questions. Student addressed in second person ‘you will look’ vs ‘it will consider’. Activity right up front. Colloquialisms. How are we – joint project – going to answer interesting questions. Work from your personal experience, ‘have a go’. Challenge to everyday assumptions. – teaching as supporting participation in meaningful, active dialogue.

1969: HE teaching largely unexplored, unquestioned. Hard to research tuition and counselling. Little theory applied.

Four models then extant.

Apprentice-scholar (Oxbridge tutorial) model. Teaching recommends texts, sets & marks tutorials, lectures are incidental. Teacher guide to lit, taskmaster, critic. Presumes well-schooled intake.

Lecture-centred model. Teacher as key knowledge source – must have sound, up-to-date discipline knowledge, select/synthesie/organise it, transmit by speaking with visual aids. Fear of not knowing enough as teacher. Teaching as tealling/explaining. Unproblematic, poor learning is poor attention. OU units as lectures-in-print – conventional lectures much criticised.

Constructivist model (Piaget, Bruner roots). Learning as active, exploratory, constructive process. Teacher provides conceptual dilemmas, scaffolding – not explanation. OU case material and activities. BUT which concepts are to be constructed? How do you know when they’re constructed well enough? Must students recapitulate history of discipline’s discoveries? (long process!)

Radical student-centred model. Real learning grows from within. Students pursue own agendas with supportive peer group. Learning within group process, teacher as facilitator.  (Stuart Hall lecture at summer school – students said was the best thing ever, changed everything – but couldn’t tell you what it was they’d learned.) One Technology, art and design course (TADxxx) was like this … but only one.

All used with claims of success. Not contradictory is we view learning as a multi-faceted sociocultural process : learning is becoming immersed in the ways of thinking, discoursing, doing – of a ‘knowledge community’ (i.e. discipline). Knowledge is what is shared within discourse, within a textual community – Bruner 1996.

Aspects of HE teaching and learning – Intellectual cognitive vs personal/social aspects; (one axis), outer aspects (discipline) vs inner aspects (within mental/social being of student.) Lecture – outer/intellectual. Apprentice – personal/outer. Constructivist – intellectual/inner. Radically student-centred – personal/inner. Good teaching makes all these happens.

Sociocultural account of learning – specialist discourse of a knowledge community. Different levels and modes of participation in a specialist discourse: Vicarious participation vs generative. [Link to generative internet stuff here – note to self: follow this up!] Peripheral vs central forums (radio tx vs specialist conference). Idiosyncratic vs convergent usages. Outsider identity vs insider identity.  Learning is progress on these 4, gaining intellectual and social power.

Learning is a fuzzy process. Can’t pinpoint it as it happens, recognise it in retrospect. This allows OU courses to be open entry and modular.  Can’t all be learning the same concepts, but all progress in ability to engage with the discourse. (Anecdote about reading a passage on causal relationships as casual relationships … and the students more-or-less made sense of it.)

Learning is the unwilled by-product of meaningful participation in discourse of a knowledge community. In the process, your mental organisation shifts and becomes increasingly congruous with discipline. Metaphor not storage of lumps, but invisible shifting of sandbanks in a tidal estuary. Teaching is mainly enabling participation in specialist discourse.

Map of unit difficulty perceived – highly variable on D101, but ‘too difficult’ usually over 50%. D102 starkly different results – all ‘about right’, >80% – because consistent narrative.

Socio-cultural model now: in K101 online project. Teaching number skills. In discursive subjects, students skip numbers stuff. Give little time, learn very little. Sociocultural model – Inversion of standard approach: have a go at a question, then get involved in the discourse.

Also need to help students learn to engage generatively – TMAs! But for another time.

Enabling LPP is what OU CTs have learned to do in last 40y!

Social media at the OU

Notes from OU eLearning Community event, 17 February 2009

Sarah Davies and Ingrid Nix are organising the events for the first part of this year.

New eLearning Community Ning site.

Social learning objects and Cloudworks – Chris Pegler

Juliette Culver is the developer of Cloudworks.

Chris draws a distinction between ‘social object’-oriented networks – delicious, Flickr etc where there’s a (learning?) object and more ‘ego-centric’ networks where it’s people connecting to people – e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.  Engeström claims that “social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object”. Hugh McLeod “The object comes first”.  Martin Weller along these lines too.  You need something to talk about.

Cloudworks – supports finding, sharing and discussing learning and teaching ideas, experiences and issues. In alpha at the moment. Working well at conferences/events to use as a site for storing discussion and debate.

Wants to see  more social conversations around reusable learning objects (RLOs) – metadata.

The OU in Facebook – Stuart Brown and Sam Dick

Almost all of the room are on Facebook, fewer fans, only 3 or so have the OU Facebook app.

8.5m unique users (accounts) in the UK. Top or second-top site in OU. About 5000 studying/graduated from the OU. Bit report – New Media Consortium/Educause Horizon Report – “Students and faculty continue to view and experience technology very differently”.

Many motivations for OU in FB. Open University page.

Open University Library – set up a Facebook page. A lot of their Wall traffic (biggest focus) is students looking for others on the same course. Is it a failure of our official web presence/support systems? Or is it understandable that they want a non-official/personal route?  Survey of students – bimodal, some really keen on FB, some really hate it.  Forum gets traffic too, building up started by students. Analytics (Facebook); 66% female 34% male. (Meta-comment: Facebook does age segmentation 13-17, 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45+! Rather lower-focused than many.)

Future plans: staff profiles, resource, helpdesk online chat, find/recommend resources. OU Library alreayd has an iGoogle gadget for searching the catalogue; want to embed in Facebook.

OU profile page – (possibly) biggest UK university page, >15,600 fans.

OU Facebook apps: My OU story (283 users). Course Profiles (6,222 users – something like 5% of current students, I’d guess).  Course Profiles helps with the “who’s studying/has studied course X” issue – can specify previous courses studied, current, future plans. Each course gives you: course details, find a new study buddy, your friends on the course, recommend to a friend, OpenLearn content, comments Wall. My OU Story – mood update, gives you mood history graph too. Post ‘Story’ which is a comment on how you’re doing.

Useful page showing all places where the OU wants to have a conversation with people – i.e. social networks with an OU presence: Platform, OU podcasts, iTunesU, Facebook, YouTube, OpenLearn, Twitter,, Course Reviews.

Data from Facebook apps is available for analysis … Tony Hirst is custodian (of course).

OU online services have a coordinating set of pages.

Setting up a social community site (Ning and Twitter) – Sarah Davies

Again with the division of social networks: object-centric, ego-centric, white-label.

Object-centric: Flickr, delicious, SumbleUpon, digg, imdb, LibraryThing, Meetup, SecondLife, World of Warcraft. Ego-centric: Myspace, Facebook, Bebo, LinkedIn. White-label: Ning, Elgg.  But categories are blurred.

Review of typical features of sites.  Analysis of sites as communities of practice – Lave and Wenger – Peripheral (lurker), inbound (novice), insider (regular) boundary (leader), outbound (elder).

Twitter overview. Tag tweets with #elcommunity to appear on eLC Ning site.

Ning overview. Demo of new eLearning Community Ning site. Originally set up for talk for ALs on Web 2.0 tools.

Work/social life mix. Intrusion/time intensity. Balance/tradeoff between VLE/OU-hosted stuff and external services.

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. Learning Innovation Office site, under development. Niall’s blog at

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.