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Learning how to assess - not an AL

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 17 Dec 2014, 19:35
From E-Learning V

 

I'm doing my learning with The OU, but on another platform. I'm emerging from an extraordinary eight weeks on the 'Start Writing Fiction' MOOC on FutureLearn. This draws upon the 'Start Writing Fiction' OpenLearn content and on the various BA and MA Creative Writing courses from The OU.

What's worth reflecting upon as a person who has taken this journey is the nature of the learning process in a highly charged, collaborative and 'massive' environment, the community self-help spirit that is engendered, partly by its being free and open, but also because scale means that that percentage of people who are contributory and giving is large enough to make an impact. And finally, as a learning experience - have I learnt something? Does it 'change behaviours' ? which is the ultimate test of learning - you come out changed.

The course is about creative writing, with the emphasis in a few hours a week on one thing only: characterisation. 

I've taken the view that even if I finished the course a week ago, that it is still term time so I have a duty to stick around. As well as carefully going back through all seven weeks so far I have now done 16 reviews. The reward is always two way.

In this instance I see in every writer ways I'd like to get it right, as well as ways that I too need to stop getting it wrong. An hour spent on a review is typical, though not always possible if either the piece is brilliant and a greater joy each time I read it, or because the piece struggles to reveal that the author has taken part or taken in much at all from the last seven weeks. The reviewer cannot relive the course pointing these things out that have been missed. Perhaps this is the difference between me and a professional tutor or lecture marking an assignment and given constructive feedback. 

Even amongst thousands you get to recognise a hundred or so people who are active in the discussion groups, desperate to put right what they are getting wrong and willing to try anything - I'm in that category and can truthfully say that my writing has been changed for the better, forever. I hope with these reviews that I am able to put back in a fraction of what I have been able to take out. From the learning perspective my behaviour has been changed. I know that writing is 20% of the task, so now I bash on with it as fast as I can ... as the real job, the 80% is the edit. Maybe with experience the balance will shift a bit. More 30% to 70% as I get things right first time. 

There's a discussion about how reviews are shared out. The system has to be automated. I believe the participation at the start of the MOOC was 20,000 and has gone up to 23,000 even 25,000. I know that stats so an exponential decline (is that the right term) sees 50% never even start and another 50% drop out after weeks one or two. Under 10% complete, possibly under 6%.

Reviews of work cannot and are not carried out by ALs. The cost would be astronomic and it would take years. Instead we rely on peer review. Over the eight weeks, beautifully choreographed (learning design) there was been a review of a 250 word piece, then a 500 word piece ... and now the equivalent of our EMA and a 1000 word piece. Without exception people are finally understanding that 1000 words means exactly that. People had the ignorance, arrogance or temerity to post 2,500 word pieces in the firs assignment. Some ignore the course, but wanted people to review their brilliance sad This is what occurs on an open platform. 

Regarding these pieces occasional requests have been made to have all of these on public view so that we could pick and choose the pieces to review. It would be quite wrong though to reveal what can be a sensitive and personal exchange between author and reviewer in a very vulnerable moment. It would, as I've seen in open 'classes' turn into a bit of a bun fight where, in the worst instances, like in the playground, you get people applauding one author and ridiculing another ... or simply join in on the back of what others have said. i.e. the learning experience is thwarted, even abused. It matters that the reviewer knows that their own words matter, without being influenced by what others have written. That said, some reviewers take a cavalier approach saying they don't like a thing, and then saying no more. If that is a student's only review received you can well understand their frustration. Even with the numbers involved somehow these pieces need to be returned and churned through the system, ideally until three to six reviews are received each. More work needs to be done to help students do reviews too so that they feel confident about doing so.

What we all benefit from this process is both learning to review, and learning to receive feedback.

The recommendation I make to everyone is to keep reviewing until you become good at it. If and when you can master reviewing, then you will be in a far better position to fairly review and edit your own work - a lesson that has finally sunk in. Writing is easy, the fun part. Jazz writing I call it. Top of the head stuff. The editing is the pain that crafts a piece so that others can enjoy it too. This pain is reduced the better you get at it.

What's revealing here is, as I've seen in the reviews, is that there are pieces that suggest that the author hasn't learnt anything at all from the course. I cannot make that assumption, so I review on the basis that it is genuine. From a formal assessment point of view, as I've learnt as a student with The OU for four years, is that a tutor looks for repeated indications that the student is using what they should have learnt from the course - if that is not present then alarm bells should ring. How can I give them points?

The problem of course in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is that those who don't do the this task properly are especially taking away from genuine participants who want several considered reviews in return. Only if we get perhaps three or more reviews each will the 1 in 3 'non-review' be cancelled out.

Of 12 pieces I have come to expect 2 excellent and 2 ... how can I put it politely other than to say 'dire'. I'm not to know why this is, I can only judge what I have to review and have in mind the brief and the content of the course over the last seven weeks. Do some people paste in something they wrote months ago that has no bearing at all on the course? It seems that way. Might someone post in a piece that has been published, that is on brief? That is possible too. Of the remaining eight pieces these tend to be where errors and corrections based on the lessons of the course are most easy to make. It takes time. Time and focus. I admire those tutors, here and elsewhere who so clearly have gone to such lengths. Decades after the event I see lengthy comments on pieces for A levels from teachers who were clearly putting in a huge amount of work ... with no word limit on essays too.

In contrast, though not from The OU, I have had reviews of work that were laughable - one may have muddled me up with another student, while the other might have been written in the pub over a pint. One I made a polite complaint, gained 10 points and a distinction. The other I am about to challenge as this 'pub' idea might be close to the truth. And they are paid to assess a piece. In this instance the criticism over my missing a key point is unfounded as I make the required point a) in the introduction b) in the conclusion and c) developed the idea in the main body of the essay. Their comment, 'looks rushed' - which to my sensibilities is an indication of exactly how the tutor behaved - they are the one who were in a rush. 

Students need to be put on a confidence building exercise as they start university so that they feel, as fee payers, able to 'complain' without being stonewalled. This is another theme, but fee-paying students should and will change the attitude of institutions to their fee paying clients, rather than students on a grant-based 'freebie'.

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Design Museum

Week 7 'Start Writing Fiction' The OU @ FutureLearn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:12
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. My mashup from the FutureLearn App using Studio

I continue to wonder what impact FutureLearn will have on future models for e-learning platforms. I turn screengrabs into aide memoires like the one above. 

Comments on the 'Start Writing Fiction' threads are now down from 3000 per thread to a few hundred ... a fall out of 95% is usual for a myriad of reasons. It'll be interesting to find out how many make it to the end ... and in due course who ends up a published author, and most especially how many migrate from a FREE MOOC to a paid-for course with The OU. I have a sense that most on the module are over 60 and broke.

We've just listened to a handful of authors talking about the importance of reading.

I found this insightful and helpful across the board. I relate to Louis de Bernieres in terms of reading habits - different authors, same approach entering and re-entering writing/reading modes in months ... something I need to change i.e. write, edit and read a daily pattern. Patricia Duncker says she read and views everything - a philosophy of Francois Truffaut who I was a fan of, especially trashy novels in his case. And from Alex Garner I see the value of seeing a novel as a screenplay, even as a director setting scenes, something incidentally Hilary Mantel talks about in an OU / BBC interview - write in scenes. Succinct. No messing. It relates to her understanding of how we reader in the 21st century - that we are used to and know the snappiness of the movie and TV. She says that the lengthy descriptions of Victorian novels are no longer palatable. I take from this that we have far too great a vivid view of the world. We know what slums, jungles and places globally look like. We see through time in documentaries, and film and now online. You mention the mud of Passchendaele and most people can picture it from commonly shared photographs and documentaries. An editing exercise reduced 500 words to 50. Most novice writers grossly overwrite. This OU MOOC favours pithy craft. 

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Why some online learning works better than others

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 17 Oct 2014, 14:43
From E-Learning V

Fig.1 This is what a reading list looks like - too much of a good thing makes it a bad thing

I 'do' e-learning for two reasons:

  • love of a subject, or a desire to fill holes or build mountains in my knowledge
  • fascination in e-learning: what works and what does not.

FutureLearn is a magic platform

I love it's simplicity, clarity and intuitiveness. In the right hands it's the perfect cup of coffee. (and once a day takes about as long to consume)

Classy copy

The considered, edited and crafted content doesn't dick about: it is a brief talk, or walk and talk BBC documentary style opening (video), followed by a a dozen paragraphs of a succinct piece of required reading that is then opened to the 'floor'.

'Connectedness' is enabled

The threaded discussion looks more like this bulletin-board cum blog cum student forum. Perhaps, as this has developed over the last decade, is where the idea came from? As a bulletin-board each time you comment your thoughts are placed on the top of the pile: someone has to read it when they log in, or at least there's a  greater chance of that.

This connectedness is facilitated and encouraged further by alerts you get as others comment in a thread you've contributed to or started. 

Your contributions are sorted for you and so build, without you needing to do so yourself, into a threaded line of thought - you can see how you are learning, how your knowledge improves and your ideas develop.

There are parameters

There is a word count for each posting. 1200 characters I think and a time frame during which you can edit (15 minutes). 

There is a modicum of overload

We, as students, are the masters of the time we have, or want to give to a thing. We are also the ones who know and control the pace. It is too simple to say that some people read faster than others, so can consume more. We approach text in very different ways. What is crucial and done in the FutureLearn module I'm doing on the 1919 First World War Paris Treaty is the amount of reading offered. It is more than enough, but not overwhelming. It takes itself and its students seriously by saying that 'we think you can read all of this and contribute to the discussions in the time allocated - five hours a week'.

Module teams get it wrong when content is sparse or when they overload the student with that laziest of get-outs 'the reading list'. Getting it right requires effort, confidence in the subject you are teaching and a belief and understanding of the way people learn and the platforms and tools now available and how their evolving use impacts on learning. I'm doing a couple of FutureLearn modules: 'Writing Applications' at two hours a week, compares to World War 1: Paris 1919 at five hours a week. The contrast couldn't be greater. 

It's like the first offers you a small cup of coffee: no refills. Instant. You get it with milk whether you like it or not. While the second gives you a rich cup of coffee and, if you want them, a couple of refills. No more. There are parameters. 

FutureLearn keeps it simple

What matters are the words people type. There are none of the mess of unnecessary buttons provided here. Honestly. Keep it simple OU. They just muddle things massively. Where used they invariably take away from the ability to communicate. It is enough of a challenge to type on a QWERTY keyboard. Plain text does the job. In the hands of the amateur (all of us), being able to add colour, change font size and a whole lot more serves no useful purpose. 

Content is self-moderated by the group

A simple alert button allows you to flag something to let moderators know that something inappropriate is going on: hateful language, foul language, 'drunken' rants ... 

Go see

'There's something for everyone'.

 

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Gamification of the First World War

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 28 Aug 2014, 08:45

 Fig.1. The BBC's First World War 'game'

Powerful. Rich. Fast. Makes you think. The perfect morning opener to a history lesson - though the 'F***!' word would not be welcome. I'd question its use. Many soldiers were 'God fearing, church-going Quakers'. And it will be a barrier to its use in many schools. 

The idea of having linear drama interspersed with choices is a 'cross media' or 'multi-platform' gold standard that was dreamt about, even proposed, a decade ago - but quite impossible except at huge expense and on DVD. It offers an interesting way into narratives such as 'Sliding Doors' or 'Back to the Future' where you as the viewer and protagonist could make choices about what you do and how you respond. 

A detailed report in Creative Review

Watching Horizon last night on Allergies I was tempted to go online. Try transcribing what is said in these programmes and you might not fill a couple of sides of A4: they don't say much. For me this is a simple example of how video is often the last thing you need as a piece of learning: a TED lecture would be better, a dozen TED lectures better still.

For all the buzz and excitement around distance and online learning I wonder if the connectedness of the Internet and the gargantuan levels and variety of content is the e-learning legacy - creating the environment in which people can travel virtually rather than prescriptive learning.

More WW1 games from the BBC 

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New blog post

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Have you got yours?

One read through and before I know it I have my beady eye on a couple more Future Learn courses (done two, on two now) while my wife is looking for an OU science module and my duaghter fancies crewtive writing.

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Touch nothing!

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 16 Jul 2014, 10:26

Fig.1. A man up a very high mast with an electric screwdriver

Some instructions are very clear. You follow instructions with great care when you've got someone at the end of a rope and harness 25ft up a mast. Safety and hoist, but it can go wrong.

I keep reminding the skipper that it is nearly 20 years since I crewed so my knowledge of ropes is ropey. A little learning is worse than useless; it's dangerous. I need to remember and relearn what is what fast. A few new knots too. No doubt there is a refresher course online. An App for the idiot yachtsmen? Actually, some things, many things require you to be an apprentice, to shadow those who know what they are doing. It matters and helps that they are great, natural educators. When this guy came down he had the softest, clearest approach to pointing out a few things to me. We spoke for an hour on the history of Gibraltar, the regional weather and its nature ... and the smuggling of tobacco and drugs into the port. All over coffee and a lunch I pulled together for us.

This is an office. For a week it's my study too - free wifi from a cafe on the quay. Completing week two of a Future Learn MOOC on 'Starting your own business' and staring week one of a Future Learn on 'Writing a research proposal'. You text home. You Skype a call. And pictures tell their story as you post your route online. 

It's taken a while coming, but surely the technology truly is giving those who can work anywhere to do so? I so love England but I am so fed up with the weather - with chronic asthma and chronic rhinitis I have good reason to come and live on a windy rock. Gibraltar? So odd. Walked over there and stepped into 1970s Whitley Bay meets Newhaven by the Med, meets??? 

About to set off for five days, non-stop. Well, one stop as a German crew member is rather keen to see some sporting event.

The next first will be to helm my shift in the middle of the night. Misplaced trust is not a good way to learn, on the other hand taking responsibility for a thing is a reward in itself. 

 

Touch nothing!

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Visualising Instructional Design for e-learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 3 Jul 2014, 06:28

Fig. 1. 'Swimming Lanes' design for e-learning course on 'Starting a Business'. (C) 2014 Future Learn and the University of Leeds.

I keeping doing e-learning modules for a variety of reasons:

for the intrinsic value of the course (I have started companies a couple of times before, modest affairs, always profitable and want and even need to do so again. Simple, low turnover, service-based, a unique idea or product).

for the lessons I learn from the experience given my interest in e-learning. This is my third FutureLearn module, only two weeks duration. A wee piece of perfection. Informative. Clear. Applied. Enjoyable. Connected. Varied. If you study for the Master in Arts: Open and Distance Education (MAODE) you will come across and even create your own planning charts like the one above. This is a gem. It is so easy to see how the thinking has been realised. It is a pattern that is instantly transferable.

Clarity is crucial. Good design is simple. It is also a pleasure to look at.

Future Learn has some gems. E-learning is coming of age. 

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You do one and you hunger for more!

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I describe Future Learn modules to people as one of those expensive coffee table books rich with illustrations, with the benefit of having the author and fellow enthusiasts around the table. Works manual, 'how to' encyclopaedia? Anyone who is or has been an OU students knows the score. Self-directed, but with carefully thought through guidelines and activities.
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Future Learn

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Fig. 1. The above is a screen-grab. This is the link to Talk the Talk

These are an important step in expanding the appeal of e-learning - quality, free, online courses that serve multiple purposes: free learning, PR for the institution, feeding hungry minds ...

They typically require only two to four hours of your time a week - unlike the formal distance-learning degree programmes that require 16 - 22. Typically a very short video, some reading, some questions and research makes up each 'activity'. They are a taster of what these universities offer undergraduates, graduates and distance learners.

I've done two already (Web Sciences with the University of Southampton, Hamlet with the University of Birmingham), and a third of a similar ilk (First Steps into Teaching in Higher Education) offered independently by Oxford Brookes.

Explaining them to someone I described these as the 'new hard back', that sumptuous coffee-table book. You browse, you enjoy ... and then you engage. They are inspirational more than hardcore - though they do test your thinking with assessment too. Like one of these coffee-table books there's a bit of showing off too. And they're free. A great way to test the water in relation to self-directed learning online.

 

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F is for Future Learn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 6 Jun 2014, 03:49

  • Flickr

  • Forum

  • Facebook

  • Face to Face

  • Flipping (Flipped classroom)

  • Fingerspitzengefuhl

  • Future Learn

Surely I've missed a few Fs in my 'A to Z' of e-learning? An author? An App? I've added 'face to face' as this is the perennial argument against self-directed distance and online learning - Rosetta Stone a gamified way to learn a language lacks the currency of being there.

On Flickr for seven or more years I found myself sharing an interest in the First World War and Hastings courtesy of some photographs my grandfather had of his time there during early training in the Royal Air Force (just formed). Further links led to a lengthy interview for a research paper (UCL), BBC South East and BBC Radio 4. Since when the grandson of someone else featured in the photos has come forward. Flickr makes for an interesting story as it was developed as a games platforms then turned into something else. 

Facebook for learning? For informal learning. I don't see it yet. Correct me if I am wrong. Perhaps people are learning far more than they or we are aware. I keep Facebook to immediate family and friends. If I want to learn anything I got to Linkedin Groups. 

Fingerspitzengefuhl expresses what I feel we do an the human-technology interface - finger tapping on keyboards.

'Consider this medium as like talking with your fingers - half-way between spoken conversation and written discourse.' (Hawkridge, Morgan and Jeffs, 1997, quotes in Salmon 2005)

Future Learn is a bit of a new one and an unknown quantity. I've done a couple of MOOCs on future learn (Massive Open Online Courses). Will they and it be a passing phase? There will be competition. Every university will be MOOCing in due course. I admire their enthusiasm and simplicity: a short video, some content, some sharing and a quiz. An assessment. A buzz. 

Forums are a tool in the e-learning design of online courses. How they are placed strategically and whether they work and contribute to specific learning objectives is another matter. 

'Flipping the classroom' is hype. The expression may be used to imply or suggest the need for some kind of revolution in school teaching; I think not. Evolution yes. Teachers and classrooms still matter. It is a way into conversations on how learning technologies and resources are used though. Which is more than a TED lecture and the Khan Academy.

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'If you're not lost and confused in a MOOC you are probably doing something wrong'.

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'If you're not lost and confused in a MOOC you are probably doing something wrong'. Martin Weller (18:45 25th March 2013)

How things change in a year.

Far from feeling lost and confused I have felt engaged in a couple of Future Learn 'MOOCs'

Are these the new non-fiction book? Are they the branded game-changer akin to those lovely Dorling-Kindersley books? 

 

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What happens when connected as 'like-minds' six or seven such individuals 'collaborate' to perform some atrocity?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 2 May 2014, 14:34

Fig. 1. Dr. No

Society online is a society on speed and at speed - it might reflect society but in the Alice in Wonderland World Wide Web everything is faster, connectable and so warped in a way that transcends human scales of time, distance and decency. One sick, warped, isolated individual seeking out the pollution of the web to feed their fantasy and make it real, like Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in 2011 was, if you profile the population, 1 in 10 million.

What happens when connected as 'like-minds' six or seven such individuals 'collaborate' to perform some atrocity?

What indeed does the web afford 'networked' terrorist idealists such as AL Qaeda? Attending a seminar on cyber crime at the Oxford Internet Institute last year it was revealing and shocking to learn of the 'game of catch-up' played between the criminals hacking bank accounts and the banks trying to keep them secure. The head of internet security from Barclays paintied a picture that would make the scriptwriters of a James Bond movie go googled-eyed in amazement. Then, far from society creating the Web, the web world infects us 'on the other side' with paranoia and so CHANGES behaviour, gets AHEAD of society. It has happened to me more than once - in the early days of blogging back in 2002 I was 'flamed' visciously (malicious hate in comments and a breach into my blog that had this person editing my content and filling it with bile). I had this stopped and attempts were made to trace the character but for a period I was convinced that any vehicle pulling up along our street outside our house was 'him' ... and then this summer I put webcams around the house when we went away from a few weeks and only after the first week did I relax when I noticed that a brick hadn't come through the window and we hadn't been burgled or the house burned down. 

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Has much changed here?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 19 Sep 2013, 12:57

I'm delighted to say the the transformation is an enhancement and the improvements are seamless without any loss of what we had before ... a 'bulletin-board-cum-blog-thingey'. My previous post suggested I might have found a bolt-hole without Internet. It hasn't lasted.

I will get Internet access down the road (I had wanted a garden office but this desire became an insummountable barrier at home).

All that it requires from me is something I lack - self-discipline NOT to get distracted by email, which includes updated postings from forums and the likes of Linkedin (let alone a gaggle of family members on Facebook). AOL is the worst as I innocently go to check email and find 20 minutes later I am still clicking through the inviting gobbets of news and sensation that is offered. 

I had hoped to behave like the smoker trying to give up - I'll only smoke other people's fags. A very, very, very long time ago ... I can honestly say I have never smoked a cigarette since I turned 20.

Back to the Internet. Like Television.

Or diet. We are living in an age where self-control is vital. Having not had a TV for several months I was eventually pushed to buy one. Courtesy of Which? we now have a TV so Smart that it probably tells my brother in South Africa who is watching what .... we can Skype sofa to sofa. I just wonder if our antics could be recorded and posted on YouTube? Not my doing but any of the teenagers with the wherewithal just hit a record button somewhere.

In all this hi-tech I DO have a tool I'd recommend to anyone.

I've invested in an hour-glass. In runs for 30 minutes. While that sand is running all I may do is read and take notes. This might be an eBook, or a printed book, either way they are on a bookstand. I take notes, fountain pen to lined paper. What could be easier? The left hand may highlight or bookmark and turn a page, while the right writes?

This works as the filtering process of the knowledge that I am reading and want to retain needs to go through several steps in any case. The handwritten notes will be reduced again as I go through, typing up the ideas that have some resonance for me.

My current task has been 'How Europe went to war in 1914' by Christopher Clark.

I doubt my second thorough read will be the last. From notes I will start posting blogs and going into related social platforms to share and develop thoughts and in so doing be corrected while firming up my own views. I need this social interaction, to join the discussion if not the debate.

Meanwhile I will revisit Martin Weller's book on Digital Scholarship.

However swift the age of the Internet may be he suggests it will still take a person ten years to achieve the 'scholar' level ... whereas John Seely Brown recently reckoned this was now down to five years. i.e. through undergraduate and postgraduate levels and popping out the other end with a PhD in five years.

DIdn't an 18 year old who was home schooled just get called to the Bar?

She graduated with a law degree while contemporaries did A' Levels and finished High School and then did a year of pupillage I suppose.

The intellectual 'have's' of the future will, by one means of another, achieve degree status at this age. The Internet permits it.

School is far, far, far, far, far too lax.

It tends to the median if not the mediocre. Long ago it found a way to process kids as a genderless yeargroup instead of treading each student as an individual ... so let them skip a year, let them stay back a year ... allow them to expand and push subjects that appeal to them.

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