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Affirmation!

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Presentation Star Certificate

I wasn't expecting this!

I mean - I made a definite stumble in my presentation and there's no way anyone didn't notice as I made direct reference to it a dozen times!

Fighting the idea that I got a 'sympathy vote'! I know I didn't give any sympathy votes.

Three of the six people I voted for also got an award. My favourite from the first session didn't which was off as the presentation and subject were so interesting and well explained.

The EMA is in. And I am a few days away from beginning H819. Enjoying a slight rest from study but feeling guilty with all the free time I have!!!

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EMA - a game of three halves!

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Now the H818 conference is done and dusted it's time to turn our attentions to the EMA. Unlike my previous MAODE modules this counts for 60% - not 50% - of the final grade of the module.

It's an unusual EMA because it's far more reflective than academic. This is not in my comfort zone even though it should, in theory, be no harder.

  • Part 1: I must evaluate my own project from a critically reflective perspective. Manageable...
  • Part 2: I must evaluate my own project in comparison to the projects of two of my course mates and demonstrate sustained engagement with the development of their artefacts and presentation. More or less impossible.....
  • Part 3: I must evaluate my own journey as a networked practitioner referring to relevant theory. Manageable...

My problem with part two is that I have commented widely - but not deeply. I have breadth rather than depth.

That said - I am not sure any of us can demonstrate 'sustained engagement' with the projects of other students. What exactly is 'sustained engagement'?

My plan at the moment is to get great marks on parts 1 and 3! Based on my module averages I can get 60% without even doing part 2!

So - what could I have done differently or, maybe more pertinently, what could have been done differently?

I could have been more engaged. But - I was pretty engaged. I probably wasn't the top engager but I think I was in the top quartile. I could have been more strategic and decided early on which projects would be my 'top two' and consciously engaged with those students about those projects. This would, however, have been to the detriment of my networking with the other students and possibly to their projects.

Or - the university could have grouped us into smaller groups of 5 or so students. The module Open Studio page quickly became very crowded and hard to navigate. Had we been in smaller groups we would have been able to keep track of a smaller number of projects and been able to see them progress and make meaningful suggestions and comments. This was achieved to some extent by the fact that a smaller group of us have an active WhatsApp group. I felt more inclined to see how Anna, or Bindi, or Allyson, or Robert's projects were progressing because we had a relationship through this group. (There are other members too!), Had this smaller group been slight facilitated by the OU (maybe based on project type?) then maybe this could have been more easily achieved within the VLE as well as outside of it.

Anyway - I am sure you all recognise procrastination when you see it....




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Abstract... noun and adjective!

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Part 2 of my current TMA is to produce an abstract about my eventual conference presentation (for which the poster is also a part).

I must have read hundreds of abstracts but somehow I have not got a firm idea on how to produce one myself - especially as it is about a piece on ongoing work and not something which is completed.

We have been given 500 words which seems really long. Most abstracts I have read are a longish paragraph of a maximum of 200 words - more often about 150 I would say. They are, for me, an indication of whether the paper is what I am looking for or if I have stumbled here by using vague search terms or attracted by an intriguing paper title.

The advice we have is, in the OU style, nice and vague! Whilst this has frustrated me a lot in my OU journey I am starting to realise that deliberately vague instructions may be designed to give us plenty of room to manoeuvre rather than as a trip wire!

Anyway - I intend to have a good bash at this abstract tonight. Wish me luck!

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Post TMA Slump

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Friday, 17 Jan 2020, 11:32

Does anyone else find it almost impossible to login to their OU account in the days immediately after they've submitted a TMA? I have just submitted my ninth OU TMA and must accept that this is my pattern. There seems no avoiding it!

I means I have a busy few days as I try to catch up but, if I am honest, I mostly sketch over the activities in the week immediately after a submission.

Anyway - I'm now five days post submission so I'm back here. Writing a procrastinatory blog post to delay any actual work by a further few minutes!


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Quid Pro Quo

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Friday, 17 Jan 2020, 11:32

Interesting development.

We are all starting to share work in the Open Studio area. The idea is that we share our work, thoughts and so on and get feedback from our tutors and each other.

I have shared a post (similar to the previous blog post) about my ideas for the TMAs, conference presentation and EMA. A few people have fed back to me with encouraging and helpful comments. And I have sought out their work and endeavored to do the same. It just feels right and fair!

Now the logical thing to do would be to look at everyone's work, identify where I had genuine insight and knowledge which may be useful, and contribute mostly in those areas. However - we are not logical creatures. We are relational creatures. I can already see how small communities are likely to form between people who may be working of different kinds of project but who are at the same kind of stage and who have been encouraging and helpful to one another so far.

I have decided to pursue the OU Blog idea for this module. I have found the blog - this blog - to be such a useful tool in my OU journey and I want to see why it's been so great for me and how the tool could be better utilised to ensure other people also benefit from the opportunities for reflection and connection it offers. Not to mention the validation of 30k views and numerous citations in other people's work.

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The Open Architechtural Studio or the Great British Bake Off

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Friday, 17 Jan 2020, 11:33

The vision of an open studio within which individuals pursue their creative projects in full view of their peers offers, as John Seely Brown explains, opportunities for critique, feedback, individual progress and group progress. I can immediately see how various individuals with special skills or experiences could help those with different skills and experience (and vice versa) to enable improvement in the outcomes for all.

I cannot think of an example where I have been in this kind of environment but I did immediately picture the Great British Bake Off tent! (The analogy would also work with the Sewing Bee, Throw Down and all similar talent shows!). The Bake Off is a competition so participants should not really help one another but they do! (I know it's generous editing but bear with me!) You periodically hear someone ask a question and, from benches around the tent, people call out their knowledge based on their own experiences. Bakers will sometimes look around the tent and see that their competitors are doing something different from them and it makes them second guess or review their own timetable and process. Imagine if all of those participants were not in competition but working in concert with one another - maybe to cater for a huge posh garden party! If all of that skill were pooled then the sum total of, the quality, of the ensuing product would be so much better than it would be when individuals work alone.

I love the theory. However - I am not very good at receiving criticism however constructive! This aspect of H818 may be a challenge!

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Pedagogy.... what is it again?

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There have been a number of activities I have got stuck on this week. The material is interesting and accessible but the questions we are supposed to consider as we reflect on it are not!

The activity about the paper by Dyckhoff et al. was really interesting and especially got me ruminating on how learning analytics makes use of data which is incidentally collected - the key word being incidental. The data sets created in learning (and everywhere) are huge and contain a lot of detail about various aspects of life but the data is not collected to be analysed. The analysis happens due to the availability of data, the data is not collected for the purposes of analysis. The prospect is that 'easy' research is done using available data to drive pedagogical change rather than pedagogically useful data being collected in order to drive pedagogy.

This is not to say that learning analytics based on big data are not useful. They might not answer the exact questions which learners, educators and institutions would choose to ask, but they do answer questions. As with any big data set - extracting the useful data from the background noise requires finesse and insight.

This blog about library usage is rich with data driven analysis. Libraries generate data by monitoring access (typically by swipe card, PIN code, login), engagement and activity. Modern libraries - often buildings which could house nothing but internet access to digital books and journals - generate even more specific data. Libraries do still have collections of physical books and journals but as archives are digitalised and new material exclusively published digitally - these will eventually start to shrink. People seem to have an emotional attachment to 'books' (try any conversation comparing a Kindle e-reader to a 'real book' to see!) but researchers are hopefully more pragmatic and appreciate the convenience of not only being able to search for literally millions of publications in seconds but also to search within them for particular chapters, references and sentences.  This access to more and more information must impact on the pedagogy of those who teach learners who use libraries. The blog makes the point that data can show correlations but not necessary causation. However - correlation may be enough to provide interventions when a student may be struggling, or redesign when a learning activity fails to inspire engagement.

The final article by Lockyer et al. describes the difference between checkpoint and process analytics. I like these distinctions. There are echoes of summative and formative assessments within it and I feel confident I can grasp their meaning! Within my OU journey the institution can easily assess me using checkpoint analytics - they can see details of my socio-demographic status, they know when, where and for how long I log into the VLE, they know how often I post in the forums (and in my blog), they know what I search for in the library and they know my assignment scores. What they don't know (because the data cannot be automatically mined) is the quality of my forum and blog posts, the level at which I engage with activities and assignments, how many of the library resources which I click on are actually read in any meaningful sense. My tutor may be able to make a valid guess at these factors. The area in which process activities could generate data would be in evidence of inter-student collaboration and communication but as our group work (and study-buddy friendships) operate outside of the VLE, there is not way for the OU to be able to monitor them. (If they did there could be privacy concerns as well).

 

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Not with a bang....

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TMA03 - the group work assignment - is done. It's been a blast and a trial.

I am truly impressed by what we have devised and created. If it were a real product I would have high hopes for it being successful.

But the last week has felt somewhat anti-climactic. We (sensibly) got everything we needed to do finished by the end of last week and left this week for us to write our individual reflections.

And it's felt oddly chilled!

I didn't feel too stressed. I wasn't rewriting sentences and paragraphs until the early hours of the morning. I submitted it - unsure that it was exactly what was required - without fanfare, relief or panic!

Anyway - onwards to block 4.

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Imposter Syndrome

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I remember being so grateful when someone who knows this stuff (a psychology graduate and trained counselor) told me about Imposter Syndrome! I thought I was the only one!

Anyway - that's been the story this week. I made a case study spreadsheet which has, apparently, been very helpful. I got it done reasonably early in the week which was good as I have been ill for a few days and unable to do a lot more. It was also helpful because my work was a foundation for other tasks which needed to be done and I was off the hook for them!

But it couldn't last forever. We had another web conference in the week about which I remember little. I was taking codeine and whilst it all made sense at the time I don't really understand the next steps!

Nevertheless I had a go this afternoon at two activities. I have produced *something* for each of them but I am extremely cautious about them both and think (as ever) that it will all be wrong and I'll be found out as someone who simply does not have what it takes for post graduate studies! I've been expecting to hear this from my tutor at every assignment point for over a year... somehow hearing it from a class mate would be worse! Less private for a start!

Group work is getting better. I've made my peace with the fact that we won't all be equally active or productive. And that includes it being ok for me to have a light week once or twice. Overall I know I have been a useful team member (at least if judged by participation and output) and I must be satisfied with that. I am seeing that what we are collectively producing is actually pretty decent. Six heads are better than one.... thought I might argue that three heads are better than six but that's another blog post!

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Task Focused

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It's funny how someone can say something to you which gives you immediate and significant insight into your own self in some way and enlighten you to something you had never noticed but was probably very obvious to everyone around you!

One such instance for me was my boss at work telling me I was very 'task focused'. By this she meant that I very much enjoyed having a fixed task to work through. At it's most basic level I can enjoy a bit of data inputting - seeing the lines add up on a spreadsheet gives me a very slight frisson on pleasure! A bit more fun is being asked to create or write 100 information cards about a range of medical issues. Being able to tick a few more off at the end of the day is very satisfying.

At work I create elaborate virtual (and real!) 'sticker charts' to track and reward my progress through a long project. I like to know that I am 18%, 23%, 48%, 79% or 92% if the way through! The problem is - in real life projects never really finish - or they don't finish at 100%. In real life you'll get to 92% and the project will be pulled, or put on the back burner for later, or taken forward without you having quite finished your bit. Or you get to 100% and find you've finished the fun bit but that the rest of the job is fiddly and frustrating and dull.

In the group project I have been waiting for something which fits into this mold to come along! I am able to do all sorts of tasks and competent in lots of things but a big project I could patiently munch away on is what I wanted!

So now I am analysing various case studies (found by me and my group mates) according to the STARR framework. The idea is to spot ways in which case studies are like, and unalike, our project and maybe spot some pitfalls we can avoid and some great ideas we can appropriate. I've created a colour coded spreadsheet and everything!

This will most definitely keep me busy tomorrow (Tuesday is usually my main study day) and maybe for a couple of evenings beyond that too! Fun fun fun!

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Taking Stock

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Friday, 17 Jan 2020, 11:32

I'm a week behind on activities (I think the whole group is and I think we are ahead of some of the other groups).

The first page of the fortnight which began a week ago used the words 'take stock' of what we had done so far.

Distributed group work has been challenging but also satisfying. I have been forced to learn and adopt new things but have also had the opportunity to show what I could do already. So here's my top ten of the project so far.

  1. I have learned how to use Google Docs. This is hopelessly tragic as I realise how ubiquitous it is. However - now I know I know. It's been quite intuitive and I'll definitely use it going forward in different contexts
  2. I set up a website! It's merely a Google Sites one but using the power of...err.... Google I did it. I really did it as a scratch pad for my own experimentation and I fully expected someone else to come along with something flashier and better (which would have been fine) but the team are editing it and it's coming together
  3. Working with people about whom I know essentially nothing has been surprising, frustrating, fun and difficult. In real life we often may have to work with people we don't know well but working with people we neither know nor can see brings up challenges I wouldn't have anticipated
  4. A good team leader is the crux of a project like this. I think of myself as a natural leader but I am so SO grateful that Vicky has been the Team Leader. She was the obvious choice (though she graciously suggested to the others that I could do it) and she's done brilliantly. I can see how much she is having to do and co-ordinate.
  5. Sometimes it feels like you need to be seen to be doing something more than actually doing something. I'm not proud of this but I am self conscious that anyone might think I am a slacker!
  6. Waiting for other people to do their 'bit' is frustrating in the extreme when you can't do your bit until they're done. I blame no one for this - I am fully aware that all six of us have complicated lives and that we all fit our studies around the rest of it rather than fitting our lives around our studies but when I have free time but can't get on with much.... I get a bit antsy!
  7. There is always something you can do! This flies in the face of the previous point I know! You can never have too much background information and reading on board (though you do need to know when to stop - there is an infinity of information and a finite word count and deadline). Reading around the subject - even if I don't directly feed it into the group - enables me to make suggestions and raise issues I would not have thought of otherwise
  8. Choosing the first thing (in our case the context) can take ages. As can making any firm decisions later on. Everyone wants to have a say and wants everyone else to have a say too. It is all too easy to waste time trying to ensure you arrive at absolute consensus. Pragmatically this is almost impossible and agreeing to an acceptable, albeit imperfect, route forward enables movement.
  9. Cross cultural and cross time zone working presents challenges which are hard to quickly overcome. Our team members are spread over 12 time zones - a conference altogether is not going to happen. This is simple logistics. What is less simple is the cultural mores, references and markers which are the stuff of daily conversation but which can inadvertently exclude people.
  10. Reflection is so important in every area of learning. Just as I have found this blog crucial for chronicling my OU journey I can see how properly facilitated reflection could be invaluable to anyone embarking on a new profession, study path or adventure.
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The second rule of asychronous and distributed group work

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One of our seven team members has not showed up at all yet. He is in Bangladesh so it's not as if we an pop around to see if he is OK!

Another team member is still snowed under by the last TMA. He will be up and ready to join in when he's submitted it in a few days time but so far his input has been sporadic.

A third team member lives in Dominica so is many hours behind the rest of us. When we work in the evening he is still at work, when he works in the evening we are tucked up in bed!

A fourth member is struggling a bit with the technology. Her computer struggles with all the apps we are trying to use to collaborate best.

A fifth member is impressively taking the lead on a lot of things and has been unanimously elected team leader. My fear is that it would be all too easy to let her get on with it unsupported.

And then there is me. I am enjoying the collaboration a lot more than I expected to. Now some clearly defined tasks and goals are emerging from the vague gloom that is the spec I can envisage a final project.

The thing is that collaboration carries so many risks. Non-engagement is obvious. 'Over engagement' can look great as it gets stuff done but it can allow people to get an easy ride when a competent team member simply does it all. Busy-ness can sound like an excuse but for our team - all of us a juggling work and other commitments with our studies. We know that the best of intentions aside - life simply happens sometimes and our time and energy must be directed elsewhere. Technological failure is part and parcel of everyday life! The downside of the hyper convenient technologically enhanced lifestyles we now enjoy is that success or failure feels like it hangs on our internet connection speed!

RULE 2: Everyone on the team has their own challenges and circumstances. We all need to be willing to take up some slack, and sometimes acknowledge that we've dropped a few balls. That's team work.

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Progress?!

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Monday, 13 May 2019, 22:59

We got a somewhat panicky (or at least a panic inducing) message from our tutor today warning us that falling behind at this stage could be very problematic further on in the course. Although I had started on the activities for the week I was painfully aware of my inadequacy in some areas of technology and was waiting for someone more competent in my group to take the lead.

We have a nice WhatsApp group and a Slack... account? page? thing?! as well.

Anyway - I thought I would have a go with the 'create a site' activity - not with a view to being in charge of the site but so I could have a bit of a go before everyone else arrived! Had a huge panic when the OU instructions took us to an OU Google Docs page which is no longer active. I knew I *had* an OU Google Docs account because my laptop was keen to default there yesterday but I couldn't find out how to access it.

Then, after a few frantic messages on WhatsApp, I read the 'introduction to Block 3' and this was all explained.

However - I thought I would have a go at building a simple website anyway! And I did it! It's not flashy or exciting but it is a thing!

It's a small victory but conquering my fear of the technology is surely a key part of MAODE!

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Second Guessing

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I handed my TMA in two days early. I wasn't happy with the final section but I didn't have any ideas on making it better and  was reasonably happy with the rest of it. I weighed up the choices of having a weekend or battling for two more days and probably only being marginally more happy by the end of it and chose the former.

I relaxed for a few hours!

Then my H817 colleagues started chatting on WhatsApp and I started second guessing myself. Had I misinterpreted one of the questions quite significantly? Had I missed out a few major points? Had my desire (need) for a weekend without TMA pressure become the death knell of my Masters dreams?

I opted to leave it. I reviewed the question. It's possible I misinterpreted the question but, upon reviewing it, I am confident that the interpretation I went with is entirely valid. I may have missed a few major points but I used every single word available and I made lots of edits to be as succinct as possible. I did need a weekend without TMA pressure and, whatever happens, my Masters Degree dreams do not rest on this single assignment!

So I spent a couple of hours this afternoon starting TMA 3! It's a group project so I couldn't do anything substantive but I did an initial library search. I wrestled with Google Docs and Slack (man - if anyone needs tutoring on learning technology I will be first in line - my grasp of the theory is much better than my competency with the actual software!) and I did the first block 3 activity. 


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Cut and paste

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 8 May 2019, 19:31

Word processing is a technological enhancement to learning right?? It's certainly a technological enhancement to assignment writing. 

Writing an assignment in report form is a new skill for me and something I didn't have to do in H800. Post graduate study was challenging, even daunting, but I did feel confident that I knew how to write an essay. Writing a report is something I have not done before except for TMA01!

Today I actually reached the word count and have something I could submit. It wouldn't be my highest scoring assignment but I think it would comfortably pass. I won't submit it right now. I will spend a bit of time every day reading, re-reading, polishing, editing, reconsidering and rewriting but essentially I am on to the accessories rather than the outfit. 

I was struggling a lot over the bank holiday weekend because my report was so unbalanced. I worked out an approximate word count for each section based on the percentage each section would count towards the final mark and endeavored to keep the ratio approximately the same. One section which should have accounted for 20% was taking 30% of my word count and another which accounts for 30% of the mark was only using up 20% of the words. And then I realized than a few key points were simply in the wrong section. Cutting and pasting a few paragraphs between them rectified this main problem almost immediately. 

The final three sections are extremely context specific and I was struggling to find a way to include references to justify my position and suggestions. I queried this on the group WhatsApp then went to bed. Upon waking this morning it occurred to me that I could just google the section question and search within the OU library. I opened WhatsApp and discovered that my colleagues had suggested I do just that (and had kindly omitted the 'duh!' I so clearly deserved!)

Anyway - here's to a few days of reading the same 3000 words over and over in an attempt to ensure I neither repeat myself (repetition), omit key facts (hesitation), or go off subject (deviation)! If only I were playing 'Just a Minute' - the whole process would be a lot less time consuming!



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When the horizon gallops towards you: a reflection on the word count

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There are two types of people in the world:

1. Those like my son who see a word count as a distant horizon. Such people develop complex ways of adding words where none are needed. They may, when writing about Cecil the lion, say something like 'Cecil's brother (who is also a lion)….' just to add five words. The more dishonest among them may write a whole load of stuff at the bottom of the page and colour the text in white hoping that the tutor who marks the paper will trust the word count reported in the document statistics. (I don't think my son ever did the dishonest thing here but he certainly fell into the '1732 words left to write' end of the spectrum.)

2. People like me who view the word count in the rear view mirror and then have to navigate the complex process of reversing! Deleting carefully crafted sentences, truncating carefully selected quotes, shaving every connective, descriptive or emphatic word I've used. 

In TMA02 (in common with every assignment in my OU journey to be fair) I began in camp one. I sat at my laptop determined to do 500, or 1000 or even just an unambitious 200 words before I went for more coffee. And then, as a means of procrastination more than anything, would do one more search in the library with slightly altered terms.... and then another.... and then just one more.... and then I would have so many ideas, examples, quotes and arguments that I realized that whilst the word count was still distant I had become fueled up to such a degree that overshooting it was inevitable. 

So now the scope of my imaginary project has had to shrink massively. It's the only way I can properly fit it into the word count! I will be very VERY annoyed if my feedback comes back with a single comment about how I could have started with a wider vision or expanded further on how the project may expand! 

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Happy 50th Birthday Open University

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 28 Apr 2019, 16:28

If you didn't watch the fantastic program presented by Lenny Henry giving a precis of the whole ethos, life and times of the OU then please get to iPlayer ASAP and catch it!

I am unexpectedly moved and inspired by the history I just watched and the future I just envisioned. As a MAODE student it even seemed very educationally relevant. 

The open ethos of the Open University, the way resources have had to be created entirely to fit that ethos and courses designed with that ethos central to the pedagogy, the way that the OU has collaborated with other bodies, the way that the OU has utilized every emergent technology for the purposes of learning.... in fact.... was the whole show someone's MAODE dissertation?! 

Whilst I did put on the show as a slight 'TMA02 procrastination' activity I am now feeling full of enthusiasm! 


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AWOL

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I have been doing the stuff - honestly!

I even wrote a long MOOCs post which I didn't quite finish and publish but which then disappeared.

Having been a big fan of the blog I am now frustrated by being directed to blog posts rather than forum posts. It's not as easy to engage as a group on a wide range of blogs rather than one page of forum discussions. 

I am finding the material interesting but not mind-blowing. Once I get the point I can usually anticipate what issues will be raised and what problems will be identified. I suppose this represents my learning about the subject matter and also adopting a mindset which is sensitive to that learning. Of course I occasionally hear a point I hadn't thought of but this is less often than before.

I shall plod on with the activities but I shan't blog or engage with them all - often because I have little to add.



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Zero Sum Education

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Monday, 18 Mar 2019, 21:39

The first activity this week is to write blog posts about our experiences of Open Education and then  to comment on each others posts. I have found this interesting and thought provoking. Firstly - I had to accept I still don't have all the relevant terms properly defined in my head!

When reading the post of a colleague who is based in Belize, Central America, this evening I had a mini-epiphany! 

Education used to be a zero-sum game. Everyone who got a place at university deprived someone else of that place. Every person reading a book from the library deprived someone else of reading it at that time. Every resource associated with learning - desks, classrooms, books, pens, display boards, teaching hours - were finite and could only be used by one person or group at any one time. 

The internet - and the concept of Open Education - has changed that. Whilst access to people for personal interaction (tutors, practitioners, experts, lecturers) is still finite access to their work isn't. Accreditation, certificates and awards may still be controlled and rationed by institutions but the materials they teach are much less so. As automation takes over some of the roles previously filled by people then access to the expertise and the recognition will become even wider too.

 

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Strategic? Relaxed? Insightful? Lazy? My approach to the TMA

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I worked very hard on TMA01 this Tuesday and again on Wednesday evening. And then I didn't look at or think about it until Saturday lunchtime. I realise this may cause some raised eyebrows but let me share my rationale:

1. This TMA makes up a mere 10% of the eventual score of the assignments of H817. Not to put too fine a point on it.... it's not that important. I just need to pass - get 40%.

2. The brief is somehow specific and vague. (As evidenced by a long, involved and somewhat panicky WhatsApp conversation amongst the H817). There is every chance I have interpreted it right... or wrong! Chopping and changing it along with every new thought won't guarantee the right conclusion.

3. (And most importantly) I often return to work I have not looked at for a little while only to be staggered by my own brilliance! I know that sounds terribly arrogant but getting some distance really can help you see what you've already achieved. 

So now I hope to finish it and hand it in today. Two days early. 


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Online Multiple Choice Question Banks

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MCQs are a major part of my working life and were a major part of my H800 EMA. I (foolishly!) suggested them as the focus for this week's group activity and now I feel the pressure of being the 'expert'! 

My initial thoughts about MCQs were that they had been utilized as a cheap and easy tool. They're easy in physical form (quick to mark, easy to grade) and ideally suited to an online environment (clicks, data tracking, easy to mark, easy to grade). I expected to find that MCQs were generally considered as a somewhat lazy and that their use had been a triumph of pragmatism over ideology. I did find some papers taking this position but was surprised to know how useful MCQs could be and how online technology had made MCQs a core part of online learning. The fact that they worked well with early software started it off but they've continued to be used for a few very good reasons. 

Here's a few thoughts I have arrived at in praise of the online MCQ bank!

  1. Gamification! Doing well in an online test can earn you a badge, or a point, or a level. All of these things are virtual but being able to track your own progress (especially in comparison to the rest of the cohort) really can motivate a certain personality type!
  2. Knowledge! Memory recall may be the lowest form of knowledge but it's also foundational to many other kinds of knowledge. In some subject areas there simply are large numbers of terms, concepts and facts which must be learned to master the subject, MCQs are ideal for quick tests to see if these facts are embedding.
  3. Understanding! A well written MCQ can ask a question indirectly and test comprehension and logic as well as knowledge.
  4. Data! This is useful for the learner but even more useful for the institution who can access the massive data bank a large MCQ bank can generate. The data is quantitative, straightforward to analyse and gives a good picture of the way the learners are progressing. Properly analysed data can identify areas of the curriculum where students routine struggle, or disengage. It can therefore lead to adjustments in teaching style and resources to address the weaker areas or extend the areas students find straightforward. 
  5. Ease and cost! Just because something is straightforward and relatively cheap (marginal costs are minimal) does not make them poor. Whilst it is important to invest properly in well written questions and a good software platform to present them online, the cost is low compared to many other teaching methods where there needs to be more face to face engagement. 
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A missed week and a heap of guilt

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 24 Feb 2019, 14:13

I flew out to India on 12th February and didn't return until 20th. Then I didn't log into my OU account until 22nd. 

I had prepared - kind of. I completed the week 9th-15th February before I left. I thought (optimistically) that I would immediately pick my OU stuff up and get the week 16th-22nd done after my return. Of course I hadn't allowed for jet lag, tiredness and other 'post holiday' commitments in my blithely made assumption and thus I missed that whole week. I am hoping to catch up on the activities today (I began yesterday) and be able to start this week tomorrow. But I realise now how valuable it is to do everything at the same time as the rest of the group. I simply wasn't part of the conversation. I can read the conversation. I can add my points, ideas, perspective and so on but everyone else has moved on. This is unusual as previously I have often been 'first' to add to a forum, to offer my thoughts and I have had issues with that as well! 

Worse still there was a group exercise from which I was entirely absent. I feel a bit bad. I am usually diligent in group work as I never want to be accused on not pulling my weight but this time it is undeniable. Actually - I feel a lot bad! I also missed the introductory tutorial. Both of them! There was one the day I flew out and another the day I arrived home! Both could have technically been possible but both would have been very difficult to schedule in. I am now also concerned I have missed out on the relationship building and recognition side of the group. 

But I am back now. I have blocked out some time to properly 'catch up' and hope to be back on track quickly. I am confident I can catch up on the academic stuff - the papers, activities and so on. I am more concerned that I won't be able to catch up on the softer but equally important business of being part of the tutor group.

Time will tell. 

Here's a picture to prove I was in India! 


Anna on an elephant

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Already behind!

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Monday, 4 Feb 2019, 16:37

The Open University Week runs from Saturday to Friday. In common with many people I work a Monday to Friday week most of the time so in H800 I usually tried to get a good chunk of my work done in the weekend. This meant I was often first on the forums! 

However - I have been working the last few weekends (and the last few weeks!) so here we are on Monday afternoon and I have not completed the 'tasks' assigned for the week (which doesn't end until Friday!) and I feel like I am being a slacker!

Initial reflections of H817 - the tutor group seems HUGE! I can't remember if it was this big in H800 (and I am sad I can't refer back to the conversations). The idea of trying to get to know that many people online is daunting. 

The initial reading from Seely-Brown - a familiar name - is literally making my brain squirm with pleasure! Just love the learning. 

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Intitial ponderings on learner's owrnership of their learning

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The main part of TMA04 is an essay in which we discuss the following question:

‘Learners now have ownership of technology-enhanced learning.’

I have done a fair amount of thinking about this so far. I have been weighing up the ideas of learner agency and how far this equates to ownership. I have wondered which learners should own their learning - surely we don't expect pre-school children to hold this responsibility? How about people who simple must get their 'health and safety' certificate to comply with workplace regulations?

I have considered the idea from the point of view of exam boards and institutions who wish qualifications and awards to have consistency and reputation, and who represent the 'experts' in any given subject area.

At lunch time today my daughter, who is 18 and awaiting A-level results, asked what I was studying at the moment. I told her the question and she rolled her eyes and exclaimed 'I'm bored already' (not an atypical response - she's a scientist through and through and has yet to comprehend the fascination I have with the more existential and ephemeral questions posed by social science!). However - she did immediately follow up with 'I know what the answer is though' (told you she was a scientist!).

Her answer 'It's going to be somewhere in the middle.'

As we discussed what she meant I had to acknowledge that maybe she had more of a grasp of social sciences that I had realised! For every question for which there is an argument and a counter-argument there is unlikely to be a firm conclusion drawn by anyone which is close to either extreme.

And once more I am battling about the very nature of learning! One the one hand I am an idealist who believes learning to be a sacred and precious thing which need no end other than itself (hence I spend hours every day listening to podcasts about every subject I can think of, hence I try to read 50 books every year from a wide variety of genres, hence I sometimes find myself watching documentaries late at night about the design of junction 6 of the M6!) and then also remembering that part of the joy of learning is found in the achievement and affirmation accorded by a good mark, a certificate, letters after your name.

H800 is, to a large extent, a long thought process about how the rapid development of technology in the last 20 years has changed learning at every level and for every player and how we can envision further changes in the future. It is entirely possible, even probable, that one impact is the learner now has more agency and more ownership of their own learning.... but they still must share it somewhat with the people or institutions who will eventually assess them.

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Ready Player One

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 1 Jul 2018, 16:08

I am a reader. I have always read vociferously but in recent years I have tried to be more strategic in what I read. You know those lists... "100 books you must read to be well read"? Well - I fall for them and have spent the last few years alternately ploughing through dreadfully long and turgid worthies whilst also discovering sparkling and glorious classics I would never have discovered on my own! 

A book which has appeared on these lists recently (probably due to a Spielberg film!)is "Ready Player One" and it's also the book for summer with my book club (aka wine, gossip and snack night). 

And I am blogging about this because.... I am only on chapter 2 and I have come across an exquisite vision of technology enhanced learning. The sort of thing which the most optimistic H800er would weep with joy over! 

The first example of technology enhanced learning was a brief description of the virtual learning worlds the protagonist played in from babyhood. He describes how his mum and he went into these places together to learn much as a 5-year-old would describe a trip to the zoo or the museum. 

In the story all students who 'pass' one level of school can then go to a virtual high school. The school is replicated thousands of times so each 'site' only has a normal number of students. The virtual building they go to has glorious marble foyers and fabulous facilities. Students attend in avatar form - the avatar must match the gender, age and species of the student (no unicorns, dinosaurs or  so on). The students each have a virtual 'locker' in which they store their school supplies (presumably like a folder in a normal computer filing system) and attend lessons according to a timetable we would recognize as being a normal school timetable. Students have classmates - including friends, enemies, bullies, popular kids and geeks. But bullying can never get beyond verbal spats as the avatars cannot be violent to one another due to software precautions. Even verbal spats are controlled as any student can 'mute' any other student. 

I saw the film so I know I am unlikely to learn much more about the school but what fascinated me was how easily I bought into the idea. We currently have very poor examples of Virtual Reality - nothing like OASIS (the hyperreal virtual world in which the story takes place) can be created. It can barely be imagined. However - when I was 15 I could never have imagined digital photographs, email, social media. I remember the first time I could pause live television.... it was like magic.

Maybe the ideas of some educators are simply running ahead of technology. They are trying to use the clunky, newly developed and bug ridden technology of today to create the sleek and streamlined learning environments and opportunities of the future. Their students get frustrated and their learning experience is compromised by tech glitches. Other educators can see the technology is clunky, new and bug ridden and therefore see no reason to move on from the reliable chalkboard and glitch-free paper text book. But the technology is racing onwards. It won't always be clunky and the bugs will be eradicated. Maybe there will be a generation who 'attend' school with little more than an internet connection and a headset. 


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