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Blinkered to Learning Opportunities

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 2 Feb 2019, 14:06

 

I'm worried that eLearning is too prescriptive. This will depend of course at what level a student is being taught. Primary is different from Tertiary. At primary there is stuff you need to know, at tertiary you can be expected to explore around the subject. However, believing that a student can pick up everything in the most suitable way simply from what is put before them is surel a mistake.

The online learning I have experienced is rather of this type. You are blinkered to anything other than the content presented to you. This might work for some people, or even most people, unfortunately for me, I know this approach does not stimulate me at all.

I am trying to become a certified Google Educator Level 1. This is fairly basic communications stuff, though with some parts of the Google Suite I never touch. The 'learning' is repetitively of the same type and format: read a bit, watch or listen to a few examples, typically a teacher reading a portaprompt off camera (always from the US) in tones that lean towards sales pitch rather than candid revelation. My Teflon brain smells a rat and won't buy it. There are interludes to complete a multiple choice quiz. When you have done this for 12 hours and studies as many units you sit down to a formal 3 hour online test. I don't respond well to having been expected to wear blinkers all the way through the training, and remain blinkered during the test There is no room for manoeuvre: there is their way or the wrong way.

How many MOOCS are of a similar ilk? The learning is a kind of conveyor belt where through reading, answering questions and watching videos you are supposed to become conversant and more importantly a competent practitioner.

I need to be set tasks, I need to fail at these tasks and been corrected, I need to be recognised and rewarded when I get something right. Over time, a lot of time, what I am doing, why I am doing it and how I do it makes sense. This is what I call practical learning. I do best when such learning is on the job. I do best when two years in I am faced with an exam. The narrative of my learning follows the Hollywood Arch which builds towards a climax. I cannot abide coursework because my first efforts are invariably terrible. Here at the OU I was known to get grade in the 40s or 50s. It took a couple of years to reach the stratospheric heights of grades in the 80s (and one 92).

Take the blinkers off. Don't put your students in blinkers, Expect them to venture far and wide. Encourage them to look around, and therefore click around the many resources they can find and be informed by. 

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Learning How To Learn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 14 Aug 2018, 06:05

For tweens and teens.

A simplified digest of Barbara Oakley's incredible MOOC on Coursera 'Learning How To Learn'. The last time I looked this had had over 1.4 million students.

Having done this MOOC myself I later signed up to be a mentor. This is mostly meet and greet rather than teaching support. We help keep people going.

I recommend 'How to Learn' as a great introduction to the topic before tackling the material aimed at undergrads and post-grads. I simply find this a great way to refresh my knowledge.

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Whose benefiting from MOOCs?

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This fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review, with Daphne Koller contributing. Anyone on the Master of Arts Open and Distance Education will have followed Daphne Koller from the days of the earliest MOOCs that she created.

Whose benefitting from MOOCs?

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Things I am learning this week

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Part portrait of Jonathan Vernon prepped for copying to canvas

     Fig. 1. Prepped for canvas: Self-portrait

 

Some new, some from scratch, I am on a learning frenzy:

  • Race Sailing a 'Streaker' (Wednesday evenings and Sunday)
  • Life Drawing (choices of classes in Brighton 6 days a week)
  • Life Painting (choices of classes in Brighton 3 daysa week)
  • How to put in a raised bed in the garden using sleepers (if it stops raining)
  • iMovies (painfully!)
  • Converting a VOB file to an MP4 file (Grrrr)
  • Fixing my long lost AOL account. (It has taken me years to get around to this. In 1996 I got JFVernon@Compuserve which was converted to aol. I had Jonathan@aol.com for a while)
  • How to be a 'Mentor' on Coursera's 'Learning How to Learn' MOOC
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How we learn online

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 16 May 2016, 22:29

In my last post I featured Gilly Salmon: great video isn't it? But is it still current. I rather think three things have caused a major shift in the kind of 'learning design' that Gilly Salmon suggests:

1) There is next to now need to have human interaction from the course team, or moderators in the form of PhD or MA students making a contribution to discussions. 

2) Her 'Five Stage Model' works for an Open University 'distance learning course' where a group of 12-16 students are assigned an 'associate lecturer' to watch over things, mark assignments, answer questions and act as a catalyst to discussion. However, this no longer works where there are 10,000 students (or a lot more) on the course.

3) Who is paying for it? There are two key considerations regarding students paying for the course they do: a) by paying a fee (always relative to their ability to pay) they are more likely to complete the course b) a model that is designed to be 'free', and free of other long term funding or cash flow is doomed for a myriad of business reasons.

This is how the model works. Self-explanatory? This student blog platform is a piece of the 'Green' - it is a technical response to allowing students to share and discuss stuff. Yellow is anything you are asked to do as part of your course: watch a video, read some text, answer some questions. collaborate on a paper. Blue is your associate lecturer. In truth it also includes your fellow students. I found back in 2010 that those on their last module of the MAODE were, with a couple of exceptions, happy to engage, point things out and explain a concept. You get to play this role when three years later you are on your last module.

Here's how I've re-interpretted Gilly Salmon's five stage model;

Flow chart using coloured bricks to explain Gilly Salmon's Five Stage MOdel

My version of this, based on the many MOOCs I have done, not least through FutureLearn, but especially through Coursera, is that the model in 2016 needs to look more like this:

An idealised flow chart for a module of online learning that uses coloured building bricks

This is what I feel works:

Testing almost from the start. This could be just TWO questions in a so called 'multi-plechoice quiz' but it is a start and it established a precedence. This builds to maybe 8-12 questions at the end of a week of learning (say 2 hours) where participants are expect to get 80% right before they continue. Why not? Where's the value and what is the point in continuing with a course where you already don't understand 60% of what has just been taught. A 40% pass mark is far too low. 

In reality, in a MOOC, there is no, or next to no 'blue row or column'. It is quite impossible, for not impossible, for a member of the course team to be engage in the learning experience. There are exceptions. If you happen to be online at the same time then it is cool when the author of the learning drops in: there words are hung upon, as happened with Barb Oakley in her 'Learning How to Learn' from Coursera.

A vital row, or column I am missing - perhaps I should replace that blue row, is, of necessity the moments when the course creators need to be persuading those who can pay to purchase the course and a certificate, say £35 ... especially where a course has another five weeks to run. In part, it is this payment that engenders some greater commitment to see it through to the end. 

There are always options to complete the MOOC for free: typically by offering your skills as a voice spotting errors or suggesting improvements. 

There are other ways to 'monetise' a MOOC: the author having 'the book of the course' and the platform having some percentrage rights to the sales. A MOOC that gets 140,000+ participants will get a lot of books sales. Barb Oakley's books went to the top of the New York Factual Books charts.

 

 

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How we learn online keeps me up at night!

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 8 May 2016, 06:39

Ideas that are encouraged to fester mature at the most inconvenient of times

Often I find that I am up in early and keen to put my thinking into practice

Currently I am trying to develop a simple notation to show, share, explain and develop online courses. During the MAODE I completed in 2013 we often used flowcharts, one with an OU software package - these could become a bit tricksy. My answer was to set up plans of MDF shelving in the garden and get out a chess set to try and show the relationships between the required components.

Common thinking is that there are three parts to creating online learning: technical, human support and, of course, us students. Technical means the platform, its ease of access and intuitive use; human support means, in the case of The OU, the course chair, associate lecturer and us student (those who are familiar with the setup and the subject matter are encouraged to, and enable to help newcomers to the ways things are done, and to the subject when you get stuck).

 Professor Gilly Salmon presenting a 'how to' video on YouTube for Swinburne University on the 'Five Stage Model' of e-learning

Prof Gilly Salmon talks us through 'the building blocks' of an online course 

Of note is a short, charming and engaging presentation made by former OU Business School Senior Lecturer, and now Prof Gilly Salmon at Swinburne University in New South Wales. Here, like a Blue Peter presenter, she uses a set of kid's coloured building bricks to talk us through the components required to make an online course (OU style) that works.

How Gilly Salmon uses green, yellow, blue and red building blocks to show how to plan an online course.

Green = Technical

Yellow = The students or 'learners'

Blue = Human support (i.e. in OU Land the 'associate lecturer')

Red = Assessment

As I am trying to develop a shorthand, language or 'notation' to be able to compare and create online course, I invested in my own set of building bricks. Once again I set up a length of MDF in the garden to play around with ways to communicate the nature and order in which these components appear.

The results have been enlightening.

It is extraordinary what happens when you start to get stuff out of your head, and especially valuable not to be confined by the parameters of a piece of software: it is so easy, and so necessary, when thinking things through to be able to play around with the pieces.

Gilly Salmon's 'Five Stage Model' revisited 

A colour photograph of a choice of coloured building bricks used to help explain Gilly Salmon's FIve Stage Model for e-learning prepared by Jonathan Vernon MAODE

Gilly Salmon's 'Five Stage Model' for e-learning using the bricks she used in her seminal video

For simplicity's sake, let's say that this 'Five Stage Model' is for a five week module from the OU.

The bottom row of green bricks represents the Learning Management System (LMS) on which the learning appears. The technical side of things includes accessibility, web usability, reliability and good 'design architecture' i.e. it works well, is clear, intuitive, reliable and follows the most common user behaviours for anyone online in 2016.

The middle row of yellow bricks (and one red one) represents learner activities, from a gentle introduction to the platform to engaging in activities, which typically includes nothing more complex that watching a video, reading text and doing research or doing a multiple choice quiz. The red brick represents formal assessment: at The OU, this would be a Tutor Marked Assignment (TMA) or End of Module Assignment (EMA).

The top row of blue bricks represents the human interface between the students and the education institution, in this case The OU. Here, typically, we are talking about live and as live contact via various platforms, though it can include phonecalls, 'online hangouts' and even a residential component to the course. At The OU there is an assigned Tutor or Associate Lecture who 'handles' a group of 8-12 students. It is this practice that is impossible to scale when it comes to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). You cannot employ 2,000 tutors to manage 16,000 to 24,000 students. Some MOOCs of many more participants than this!

It is this component too that is increasingly blended into, or comes out of the technical side of things, or from the students themselves. Firstly, increasingly detailed and easy to use Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) answer typical enquiries that students have, increasingly the ease of use of a platform is such that little to no support from the 'team' or 'Technical Help Desk' is required. At the same time, students are formally enrolled to conduct 'peer review' and when several do this for each submitted assignment a grade is come to in this way. The degree of student interaction, and the benefits of collaborative knowledge construction through this, is far harder to get going and sustain without the proactive role of the tutor or a moderator. When 'classes' are smaller, MA and PhD students are sometimes given a role to act as a catalyst for engagement and to answer enquiries and deal with some problems.

My own take on the 'lay-out' of a 'typical' MOOC is pedagogically different.

I believe that 'assessment', of the micro-quiz and multiple choice variety, is a crucial component of e-learning. This is engagement that obliges participants to think, even to struggle and repeat parts of the content, until the knowledge that matters begins to stick. Gilly Salmon's model is one for 'distance learning' while today, especially the MOOCs coming from Coursera, test you from the start. This might be as simple as interrupting a six minute video piece with a two question 'quiz'. I liken this to a teacher in class pausing, putting a question then taking an answer from one of the raised hands, or picking someone out. It makes you aware that you need to listen. You want to get these questions right even if they don't count towards anything. It is a form of light gamification, while also preparing you for an 8 or 10 or more part set of questions at the end of a component of the learning where the answers need to be right, and are based on these earlier interjections. It matters that these are a genuine challenge, that the pass mark is 80%. An easy ride isn't one that leaves you with much recollection of what you have been studying. A tough ride, as I find, and applaud, however frustrating, requires you to do a the week (typically a couple of hours) over, and sometimes over again ... until you can pass. 

 A colour photograph of a model flowchart of a Massive Open Online Course using a set of coloured building bricks

Jonathan Vernon's take on phases of the ideal 'Massive Open Online Course' where constant assessment is key

Here, drawing on the wide variety of online courses I have done: creative writing, photography, web science, language learning, history, psychology, medicine and the arts, climate change and more, I have tried to envisage an ideal format. Of course, subject matter, subject level and other criteria would immediately causes adjustments to this.

My five phases are:

Technically the platform needs to be solid. This technical side now encroaches on student support, not just from FAQs, but other ways the content and technology can step in to do what a person would have done in the past (and still does in blended courses). There might be video, there might even be some kind of AI to nurture some of the many thousands of students taking a MOOC. There is some kind of testing from the start. This might be nothing more than a check that students have understood some components of the introduction, but it gives them a taste of things to come; they will be doing these 'quizzes' regularly. If interaction between students can be encouraged then here, as early as possible, they need to be online in a 'social' like environment.

The second phase gentle eases students into learning proper. The technology is a solid 'bridge' into the content. Support is done through the platform for the most part rather than needing to call on a person. With many thousands on a course in many times zones around the globe how can a call centre of technical people be expected to be available?

The second phase repeats the second with more learning: the yellow brick. And a touch more testing.

With phase three we are up and running: support for activities, which can be as inventive as the course creators want and the technology and budget permits. Content is delivered in a variety of ways and testing continues in a style and manner that by now, if not a little later, will be formal, requiring an 80% pass rate.

Phase five, which segues into a phase six of sorts, is crunch time: formal assessment with a tough, longer quiz that has built on previous ones and a peer reviewed written assignment too. These need to be constructed with extraordinary skill and care given that students will be marking each other's work, and where many, if not most, will not have English as their first language. As well as testing there should be a chance here to gather one's thoughts, to reflect and even go over some of the learning in the course.This might also be the time for those who have become friends during the course to pick up the conversation on Facebook or in a LinkedIn group. It may also be the moment when you buy 'the book' on which the course was based, or sign up for the next module in the series. 

In future posts I will use this approach to 'strip down' and re-assemble a number of MOOCs. For example, 'Learning How to Learn' from Coursera written and presented by Barb Oakley. I should also look on MOOCs I have done on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), on Photography and a variety of other subjects. 

 

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Still reflecting on two days of intensive listening, discussing and brainstorming the future of education at the Coursera Partners' Conference at The Hague, The Netherlands I conclude that education is becoming a branch of medicine: there is a science to education through neuroscience and psychology.

Digital learning, which draws a mass attendance and participation through 'Massive Open Online Courses' can be analysed, duplicated, shared, repeated, improved and gradually made universal. Might 'fixing math' or even reading across millions be akin to a Polio vaccination?

Ways are being found to educate 'on mass' and to deliver to millions a common level of achievement. Coursera, and organisations like it, are educating the world: anyone, any time, any where.

Only access is getting in the way: a broadband link or opportunity to stream or download content, take part in discussions and submit assignments; money to purchase the gadget - increasingly as smartphone over a tablet or laptop; time away from the daily task of staying alive: fetching water, gathering and preparing food, raising a family, working and completing chores; cultural objection to some receiving an education ... freedom from oppression in the home, community and the politics of the region or country. Otherwise 'the world' can join in; hundreds of thousands take part in MOOCs.

Coursera has over 18 million learners. FutureLearn, starting a year later, is catching up with 3 million.

Coursera thinks of itself as a movement; some of its educators, such as Barb Oakley, are becoming its prophets.

She has a readership, a following and fans.

There are early and late adopters: those who jump at innovation and others who shy away from it.

A study of 'The Diffusion of Innovations' would be of value. Why do some academics embrace learning online, the opportunity of sharing knowledge, ideas and thinking with hundreds of thousands rather than a handful of students at a time? Are they the ones who stuck with the horse and carriage when the motorcar came along? Are they the ones who use a fountain pen on lined paper rather than a wordpressor?

Should be picture them as medieval knights with armoured helmets designed not to protect the head from blows from outside, but to keep the contents of their brain contained? Will they join the party?

What are the barriers to MOOCS from the most traditional educational establishments and their educational practices?

Can, for example, the 'Oxbridge Tutorial' be taught online? LearningOnline2016Academia I put this question to a gathering of Coursera staff and Coursera Partners at the 5th Coursera Partners' Conference.

The question I posed became the focus of the brainstorming session: in groups we scribbled as many reasons for resistance on Post Its which were duly adhered to a conference room wall, pondered over, grouped and categorised. Looking at some of the reasons it was felt that some institutions, faculties and individual academics simply feared the new and its disruptive force: Learning Online, or 'e-learning' despite its universal presence on campus through networks and WiFi is a practice or behaviour that may appear interesting in theory, and is used vicariously by all in practice where content and research online blurs the boundary between library and online resources, but it 'isn't for them'; they 'don't do online' - something they say with sorrow in their eyes, not unlike when people say they 'don't do Facebook' or 'don't have a TV' - some people prefer to avoid change, or leave it to others. Is it an age thing? Are younger academics more in tune with the new ways? The connectedness of social media dilutes the tutor-student relationship.

A student may have their feet on campus, but their head 'in the cloud'. Why shouldn't they take a free online course from another institution while they attend lectures, seminars and tutorials at yours. Already they will draw papers and publications onto their laptop from digitised libraries rather than needing to wait in line to call something up from the stacks. I fear that some educational institutions, those with a history of 750 years to hold them back, will suffer the way EMI has in the music industry. Perhaps one day neither academics, nor the students who follow them, will need these institutions. They'll become museums; after all, they are already a tourist honeypot. Colleges at best will reinvent themselves and through the likes of AirBnB rooms will be let out on a rolling basis to a vast, shifting body of students at different stages of their education pass through all year around. Instead of the annual crush to fill examination halls, these rooms too will be used the year round as no other close scrutiny of student learning than the written examination can be found or relied upon.

LearningOnline2016Workload  

Knowing academics, more so in research than teaching, they can operate in silos and cliques.

Some cherish the privacy of their study and doing everything alone. The problem for them with this new way of learning is the feeling that only they could instigate and produce what they see as an exchange of knowledge that needs to pass from their heads to those of their select few students. Not having worked 'in the real world' of collaborative corporate teams they don't understand the need for partners and facilitators to get their content into a consumable online, digital form. Perhaps they don't know how easy it can be. Perhaps, it wouldn't be surprising, they are perfectionists. They look at what is online and find it flawed or trivial.

Often they don't understand it. They know their subject, but beyond the paper, lecture or tutorial they haven't used a mutable,  interactive, connected, mass medium of knowledge transfer such as the MOOC.  

At best they confess that it is 'not for them' but invite you to talk to their younger colleagues. Or the American in the faculty. Where lies the answer: they should and could turn to their colleagues, the PhD students and undergraduates.

LearningOnline2016Bureaucracy 

The idea that bureaucracy gets in the way is not unusual for any institution or organisation facing change.

No matter the size some organisations find change easier than others. There has often been good reason why in the past change has taken time. Better to get it right and take a few years over it, that rush in early and get it wrong. There have been casualties in the race to put educational content online. A blended learning environment of sorts exists whether institutions and academics want it or not; students will communicate and share online, important collections, papers and books have been digitised. It may be a tough call to expect an outsider to instigate change. Some educational establishments are like the Vatican, a walled city of ceremony, hierarchy and procedure.  

  LearningOnline2016Status If we think of Oxford, my alma mater was Balliol College, and Cambridge by default, the examples of 'traditional' institutions that on a global scale hold top ranking faculties across many subjects still are these collegiate, federal institutions encumbered by the buildings from which they operate?

Colleges, quads, studies and staircases, common rooms and dining halls, libraries and chapel? Are they encumbered by the times they keep: short, intense terms with a pattern that sees written examinations taken annually? Or does the digital ocean wash through them regardless? It is ironic that the Oxford Internet Institution, founded in 2001 encourages and even embraces multi-disciplinary, cross-faculty collaboration and learning, yet there are no MOOCs of its own that it can study. Education has become part of the science of the Web. Or can Oxford bide its time? Watch others succeed or fail then in good time leap frog the early adopters? It has the resources: the manpower and financial backing.

Why then did Harvard not produce its own learning platform?

LearningOnline2016QualityControl

 

Some learning online gives it a bad name. In time institutions such as Oxford will have the evidence to make up their minds. What works and what does not. What will find a fit with Oxford, and what will not.

Academics will work with learning designers and programmers, they will have analysts picking through performance and results, stars will be born and great minds discovered.  

IMG_0288

 

In the context of this brainstorming sessions 'replication' came to mean the transferability or otherwise of current education practices to the online environment.

In particular the discussions was around assessment and grading. Institutions have different models and practices of course, with attendance mattering to many, and course work the way, whilst at Oxford and Cambridge the end of year and final exams remain the focus of academic effort and probity. Replication of what we do offline and putting it online doesn't always work. Our 'desktop' on our computers does not have to look like a desk - though for a while in the 1990s some did. Some tests can be conducted online and identity proved. It isn't so hard, The Open University has found, to identify someone who has been a student of theirs. Coursera, in the various courses, quizzes and assessments I have submitted want a screengrab of your face - cheats could overcome this for now, but the level of ID match, as passport control services in international airports are showing, can be hugely improved. Recreating the 'Oxford Tutorial' will be the subject of another post.

While the intimacy of a tutor to student one to one each week is hard to scale up to cater for hundreds of thousands at a time, there are qualities to forums and online discussions that are akin to this. FutureLearn has found a way to manage threaded discussions that run into a thousand posts or more: you can pick out a handful of commentators to follow, and therefore create your own bespoke 'study group' for example. A senior academic may 'drop by' in person, though more likely PhD and MA students will take part for the learning benefits to them to have a surrogate teaching and support role.

LearningOnline2016CorporateRelationships

Time is money. Intimacy is costly.

The tutorial system, where a senior academic for several hours a week sits with a small group of undergraduates, say two or three at most, requires time, space and place. Often these tutorials are one to one. The student isn't charged £100 or £200 an hour, but if a figure were to be put on it, accounts might want to add an hour. They may not be lawyers, but the advice and support they give to an individual student could be charged in six minute increments. How do you scale it up? Artificial Intelligence? If anyone could or will do it, might a virtual Stephen Hawking one day take multiple physics tutorials where you the student interact with an avatar?

It all comes down to money.

For most of the seven centuries of its existence the students resident in Balliol College where there through privilege: they had the time and money to indulge a higher education. For a few decades it was free. In England a grant took you through your first degree, and if you wanted to take a second you often could. This indulgence, in England at least, is over. Oxbridge, like other universities in England (it differs in Wales and Scotland) can charge £9,000 per academic year - a fraction of the real cost, and nothing like the $45,000 a year in might cost for a student in the US. In much of 'continental' Europe higher education is still state, or department funded. There is understandable resistance to put online and in theory give away for free, what others are paying for - whether that is the individual, or the government or region through grants or subsidised loans.

However, where we are citing Oxford and Cambridge, compared to many educational establishments they are both wealthy and able to call for donations from wealthy individuals and organisations. Cost should not be a barrier to an Oxbridge MOOC. Though, looking at MOOCs from Harvard, one has to wonder if money, and the perception it brings in production values, is off putting? If you ask 200,000 wannabe engineering students from around the world if they'd like to study at Oxford, Harvard or Cambridge how many might say 'no' ?

It is interesting that the MOOC 'Learning How To Learn' by Barb Oakley of the University of Michigan, 'shot' in her basement and produced for around $5,000 could have more students enrol than ALL Harvard's MOOCs combined. With simplicity and authenticity comes psychological accessibility. Barb Oakley is approachable, perhaps these 'elite' institutions are not? It has taken Oxford, for example, nearly 40 years to address the gender imbalance and imbalance of 'private' to 'state' educated students. For too many, the perception of the 'dreaming spires' of Oxford is one of exclusion, academic snobbery and inaccessibility.

LearningOnline2016Brand

So does it all come down to 'the brand'.

Ironic that in a discussion on concerns that elite educational institutions have over change that such a modern, marketing term should be used. If Oxford can be brand savvy, then surely it is savvy enough about all other corproate practices and can, or is embracing change? But will it, or a faculty, or a professor with one strand be the first on the Coursera platform? Or will they use Edx or FutureLearn? Will they mix it up ... or will they, or are they, creating their very own, exclusive, platform for 'massive, open online courses'?

Finally, when is a MOOC not a MOOC?

For all this talk on the MOOC as some kind of immutable way forward for learning, while the 'masssive' cannot be denied with hundreds of thousands enrolling and tens of thousands completing such courses, how do you define 'open' when parts of MOOCs being closed to those who can pay a few to be assessed, or pay a fee for access to certain parts of a course? And is it 'online' if it can be downloaded? As soon as you have it on your device it is potentially as unconnected to the outside world as a book.

We are all learning how to learn online.

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Coursera Partner Conference 2016

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 22 Mar 2016, 04:19

Gumption and enthusiasm has me attending the Fourth Annual Global Coursera Partner Conference at The World Forum, The Hague, The Netherlands ... The World, I feel like adding. 

Four years ago I will have been in my final modules of the Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education and wowing Daphne Koller's TED lecture on the future of learning. She went on to co-found Coursera.

Well, I've sat behind her in conference, brushed passed her in various meetings, breakouts and hallways and all in all behaved like a shy fan. I'll introduce myself to her: everyone does, I've met so many of her team. I'd be wrong to compare it to being at 'Court' and trying to gravitate towards the 'centre of power' - there's no snobbery at all, just a preponderance of Americans with laid-back California shuffling up against the perceived formalities of Europe.

I'm here, in The Hague, (first time to The Netherlands) because of an online discussion at the conclusion of the Coursera MOOC 'Learning How to Learn' a few days ago. Dr Barbara Oakley invited her online students to come to the Marriot Hotel on Sunday night for a 'meet up'.

I realise now that this was a 'reach out' to some of the 14,000, or was it 140,000 students who did this short online course in January this year. I made it 30 minutes late to the meet-up having flown in on the EasyJet flight from Gatwick. It was like fans at a book signing (books were signed). 

Registered to attend the 4th annual Coursera Partner Conference.

I had convinced the organisers that I was responsible, genuine, interested and willing to contribute, and come out for three days.

And yes, I met Barbara Oakley, the course chair, author and presenter of 'Learning How to Learn'. She spotted me looking sheepish and us Brits are (and do), came over, must have recognised me from a profile photo (the one above that I use everywhere) and made me feel welcome, acknowledging a short email exchange we'd had that morning that had given me the green light with the organisers. 

Two hours of 'networking' with Barb's other students who had come in from within 50 miles of the Marriot Hotel, The Hague and my first moments of the conference are done.

Yesterday the 4th Coursera Partner Conference started at 6.00am.

I was out of the hotel door at 7.00am and making small talk with other delegates ten minutes later. The very first person I met, from California, turned out to have 'gotten' into the Coursera Conference under the same pretext as me: a 'student' of online learning, a 'student' of 'Learning How to Learn' not an official 'partner' ... and soon keen to hear all about the MAODE, which I 'sold' to her.

Just over 12 hours later I was trying to leave the conference, after keynotes, breakouts, workshops, poster pitches, creative brainstorming, and friendly banter and networking at every coffee and meal break. I say 'trying' because I realised that as I left the World Forum (a vast, to my eyes 'Commonwealth' like UN edifice) that I was taking a mental break from it all by 'looking for a picture' and photographing some colourful chairs in the entrance lobby.

The World Forum, The Hague - Lobby Chairs

 

I say 'trying' as a delegate, one of the 550 or the 600 I had not yet met, offered to take my picture thinking I was itching to do a selfie and we soon got talking about the conference, and because she is Dutch, the wonders of The Netherlands and The Hague. She thought I'd have been better off staying in a hotel in the city Centre, a 10 mins tram ride up the road. She recommended which museums I could fit into my 1/2 day I have given myself on Wednesday.

Jonathan Vernon in the lobby of The World Forum, The Hague, The NetherlandsIronically, I was taking photographs as part of another Coursera course I am doing" 'Photography: Basics and Beyond', a hobbyist one.

I got back to the hotel and even found the energy to do 30 mins of that: I know from experience never to get behind with studying - a little bit everyday is the only answer. 

Writing up a day that packed in a week's worth of experience

I'd like to think I have a couple of weeks of thinking and writing to sort through it all. I realise now I ought to have recorded the '30 second pitches' of all the 'Posters' I stood beside (these are infographic summaries printed onto A1 sheets of academic papers - in this case on studies into e-learning, and of Coursera MOOCs in particular).

I also have a career to press on with

I am currently 'advising' indirectly a couple of faculties via the backdoor as 'alumni' in geography, history and the creative arts. I am also hoping that the University of Sussex will bring me in for interview (Learning Technologist), and I suppose, writing here because I am with nervous excited about to apply to The OU (again) to take up a role in the Institute of Educational Technology (IET) supporting the design of online learning.

Nothing like catching it at the last minute: the application has to be in Noon Wednesday. I will be heading for Schiphol Airport then so I've got to cut and paste my CV into the OU format, and get my 'Personal Statement' written this evening. (Over at FutureLearn you just link to your LinkedIn profile and that use that as your CV). 

So, I'm still blogging 'here' and perhaps soon to be back at The OU. 

I see I missed my sixth anniversary of starting this blog - that was a month ago. I haven't exactly posted much this last year. 16 or so entries? I posted every day for several years and right through my graduate course 'Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education'. Maybe, at last (about time), that will pay off. 

The content I share from the 4th Coursera Partner Conference will be written with the respect it deserves. Some information is under a press embargo for another week, whilst the detail in some events or content I will only share in any detail in my 'learning blog' 'Mind Bursts' with the OK of the organisers. I met people who use competitive platforms, such as EdEx and Udacity, so it might not be a problem. I haven't met anyone who uses The OU offshoot 'FutureLearn' as a platform. They're not so dissimilar. 

 

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23 ways to a FutureLearn fix

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 6 May 2015, 08:56

The courses I've done with FutureLearn over the last 18 months.

  1. World War 1: A history in 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Medicine and the Arts: The University of Cape Town 
  3. The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick 
  4. Understanding Drugs and Addiction. King’s College, London 
  5. World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism. University of Leeds 
  6. Explore Filmmaking: National Film and Television School 
  7. How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham
  8. Start Writing Fiction: Fall 2014. The Open University
  9. Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: The Open University 
  10. World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham 
  11. World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World: University of Glasgow 
  12. How to Succeed at: Writing Applications: The University of Sheffield 
  13. Introduction to Forensic Science: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow 
  14. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: University of Birmingham 
  15. Climate Change: Challenges and Solution. University of Exeter
  16. Managing my Money: The Open University
  17. Community Journalism: Cardiff University
  18. Developing Your Research Project: University of Southampton 

Those I'm on or have pending

  1. World War 1: A 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Start Writing Fiction: Spring 2015: The Open University
  3. Monitoring Climate From Space: European Space Agency
  4. Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum: University of Leicester
  5. Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales:  The Hans Christian Andersen Centre
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Who are we?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 13 Apr 2015, 14:53
From E-Learning VI

Fig.1. © University of Cape Town CC-BY-NC-ND

It has been a lifelong, and rather futile quest of mine expressed in writing and art, diaries, blogs and stories and fed by academic study and non-academic spiritual and cranky pursuits to understand who I am - not what I am. There is in consciousness something rather odd going on that no amount of research into my ancestry, or to living relatives, no amount of writing or painting or visualising of ideas can explain. Is it not a trait of being a teenager to feel alien to the world? Although in my fifties I don't think the euphoria of being a teen is a phase I've yet to pass through smile Fascinating. I could study neuroscience or get drunk and paint a mural on the side of the house like Jackson Pollock, but I don't think it would get me any closer to finding an answer ... even if I had fun doing so. To sum it up for all of us, to excuse and explain all behaviour from Gandhi to Hitler, from Hockney to Terry Gilliam, Richard Dawkins to Robert Winston, I simply think that each of us is unique - yet ironically society and others repeatedly fight to contain us. 

I've been prompted to express this by a question posed to participants on the course 'Medicine and the Arts' from the University of Cape Town on FutureLearn. 

An utterly absorbing, heartfelt conversation so sympathetically and convincingly shared. Worth of many return visits and further deep study. I'm driven by a limiting interest in everything. My curiosity knows no bounds - which is limiting, as it might be enlightening. It is easy to visualise the dog chasing its tail, though in my mind, excusing the vanity and narcism of it I see myself more as that omnipresent foetal child from the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

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8 key ways to compare MOOCs (online courses)

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 7 Apr 2015, 10:41

Fig.1 Mosaic by featured in the University of Cape Town FutureLearn course 'Medicine and the Arts'

Don't call MOOCs MOOCs, they are 'courses.'

Don't even call them online courses. I suppose therefore, don't call it e-learning either or even online learning ... it is simply 'learning'.  I am on my eighth or ninth course with FutureLearn. I may have three or four open at any one time and complete two of these at least. I love 'Medicine and the Arts' from the University of Cape Town while I am both maddened and intrigued by 'The Mind if Flat' from Nick Chater. I'm certain that online courses longer than a couple of weeks should not be treated like books or TV programmes. What works best, as the University of Cape Town shows, is to get the entire team involved. They have a lead host and presenter who each week introduces several colleagues, something like four to six each week. It is stimulating and necessary to hear from so many different voices. 

1

The Platform Provider

Brand and technical aspects

Think of this as the channel. It has both technical and brand qualities. Is it smart? Is it current? Does it all work faultlessly? Is it intuitive? Is it simple? I've done many FutureLearn courses but struggle every time with Coursera and EdX.

2

Funding/Cost or Cost Benefit

You can’t make a movie in $125,000 dollars. If a 30 point 16 week distance learning course from the OU costs £1.5m to produce should a 3 week MOOC cost up to £300k? It's a poor comparison is the cash cost may be a fraction of this: a university team's job is to plan a programme of teaching anyhow. What matters is how a budget is spent. The learning designer for an online course is like the scriptwriter for a movie: they provide the blueprint. Is the investment worth it?

3

The Subject matter

Are you true to your subject? Don’t try to be something you are not. Is it ‘made’ for an online course, rather than shoe-horned from a regular, traditional ‘classroom’ lesson plan? Would it be better served on a different platform in a different way? Can you teach sports coaches or movie directors online? Or rather, what can you, and what can you not teach them? Are you fully exploiting the affordances of the platform and easily linked to alternatives on the Internet?

4

Audience

Who do you attract and is this the same as who you get? Who do you attract by level of education, age, gender, culture and location.  Are you getting the audience you want as participants? The contribution participants make is crucial. Are there enough active voices to sustain this? Be aware of the extreme differences in digital literacy skills and competences. Do you know your audience? How do you relate to those who start the course?

5

Champions

One advocate over more than a couple of weeks will tire. It will feel like an ego trip any way. How good is the mix of contributors? Both in what they have to saw and show, and their levels of and variety of experience. An online course is not necessarily akin to a TV documentary that can be carried by a single presenter. Is it a one man show or a team effort?

6

Objective

What are the hidden and implicit goals? To attract students, to build reputation, for the good of mankind? To make money? To massage an ego? What do results say in terms of those completing a course? Doing assignments and getting to the end then singing the praises of the team? Another guide can be whether as a production fulfils the initial Creative Brief. Both qualitative and quantitative research is required to provide answers. 

7

Your Brand and production values

Is is possible to stay true to your own brand, even have a distinct image, when on someone else’s platform? Are the values of the design, creation and delivery consistent with the standards and image of your institution?

8

Assessment

These must never be taken lightly. There are examples of trite, ill-thought through multiple-choice quizzes: these are a learning opportunity. A good quiz makes you think, challenges your knowledge, and provides feedback whether you get it right or wrong. Bravely 'Medicine and the Arts' has both quizzes and a regular written assignments. These are not onerous yet some participants are scared by a 300 to 500 word piece of writing. They oblige you to read back through the week's activities before replying. 

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Medicine and the Arts: probably the best online course I have yet come across

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I've been learning online since 2001. I took my MA ODE between 2010 and 2013. I am still here. I've done between eight and twelve FutureLearn courses - finished six 100%. I am struck by the quality of the course from the University of Cape Town called Medicine and the Arts: both as a piece of e-learning and for its content I believe it to be the best of its kind and a fine example to any university or institution planning a course such as this.

I'll run through the criteria I posted here earlier and consider what it is that makes it work. These include accessibility, variety and quality of speakers, the professionalism and quality of all things from art work, copy and video production, the 'less is more' approach that keeps things simple, the engaging conversations with fellow participants and the involved of educators too.

 

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Reading and writing with fresh eyes

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2015, 07:37
From Writing

Fig.1. Philip Pirrip is confronted by the 'fearful man, all in course gray ... '

Start Writing Fiction is a FutureLearn Course. Its content makes up part of an OpenLearn Course. It is a thread in the Creative Writing Course here at the OU.Three months on having completed the course it is about to repeat. I'll be there.

From E-Learning IV

Fig.2. How we learn in the 21st century. J F Vernon E-learning (2011)

We learn through repetition; not simply learning by rote.

We learn through passing through the same loop over and over again. There is nothing so special about graduation, gaining an MA, a PhD or achieving the lofty status of 'professor' so long as you are willing to climb, as if on a thermal, one focused ever ascending loop seeing the same thing over and over again in new light, until, through insight or height from the ground you see something new and have something new to say.

There are some key lessons to learn from 'Start Writing Fiction; (SWF)' though it is never the whole story - for that you need to sign up to a graduate course on Creative Writing. There's plenty to work with though. I look forward to being reminded what matters. It kicks off again on 27th April and runs for three months. 

Reading matters as much as writing.

The precocious child who read copious volumes and gets into literature in their early teens has an advantage. I was slow to read and reluctant to read. The only novels I may have read as a child were forced on me through school. Even in my teens as I read 'Great Expectations' and 'Silas Marner' for O' Levels and 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' for A' Levels I did say like a parrot: If I picked up an 'B' grade at both levels it was only because I regurgitated precisely what I had been tutored to put down.

Over three decades later, 33/35 years later to be exact if I check my diary from that time, I am reading Dickens with fresh eyes.

My late mother bought me a second hand edition of all the Dickens novels. I never read one. I now have 'Great Expectations' for free courtesy of 'Project Guttenberg' on my Kindle. I am reading it with lessons from 'Start Writing Fiction' in the front of my mind. SWF concentrates on the key, though not only component, of good writing: character. I am chewing over every line of Dickens with a rye smile on my face: I see what he's doing with Pip, with the escaped convict from the hulk, his older sister and her husband Joe the Blacksmith, with Miss Haversham and Estella. If 'character is plot' then the plot moves, in a series of steps, over the heads of each character. We are carried by Pip with repeated moments of laugh out loud insights to a child's perception and feelings for the world. How had I not see this before?

For the umpteenth time I am doing what doesn't come naturally to me: I should be painting, not writing.

Intellectually I feel like the child who is left handed who had than arm tied behind his back as a child to force him to write against his will with his right. I have managed well enough, but it is against character and it is too late to correct? I need to work with words as the text that describes what I see. Text has other values too of course. It can carry a story beyond a single canvas.

A creative writing tutor, editor and author - former opera singer and opera director - Susannah Waters in reviewing my writing on a retreat last September gave me more than SWF can do on its own. An A4 sheet torn in half offers the following tips on 'Scene Building:'

  • Who am I?
  • Stay in the person's head
  • Put me in the place

She expands on these.

Every line of 'Great Expectations' is in Pip's voice, written as autobiography much later in life, in the moment, capturing for now, his wonder, fear, feelings and hopes. It helps me enormously as I try to construct a story of my own set  in the couple of decades 1966 to 1986, rather than 1820 to 1860. Characters don't change, technology and society does. It helps me to contain my imagination and fears as I feel it falling apart. Character will hold it together; each character needs to surprise. 

I wish I could find the link to the BBC Radio 4 programme in which an author, Michael Morpurgo or Alexander McCall Smith talks about writing; it was on over the last three weeks. Or was it on TV?! Tips and devices were spoken of, but what had most resonance for me was the idea that an authors wonder at even the most mundane creates interest for the reader. 

I used to discount Dickens as old fashioned; I now feel that I am reading Dickens with the same wonder of someone who has broken through the fog of a new language and is becoming fluent. Can I now translate this into my own writing? For now the juggling game I am playing is my writing in one hand, Dickens in the other.

Sharing where I stand matters hugely. Knowing that others are following my journey and are supportive matters: it keeps me going. Being online matters. It is the next best thing to standing on a soapbox in the local park and reading passages from my efforts. Feedback matters as it guides you.

On this retreat last September we read out our work, actually Susannah read my piece for me as I wanted to hear it from a different voice. We were around an open fire in a cottage in Devon. Telling stories around a fire takes you back to the origins of storytelling; what must you say to hold their attention, to keep them entertained, to make them cry (I did with that one), to make them laugh, fear, hope, clap, get angry ... and ponder, even panic over the outcome. In that story I had a soldier in the First World War slowly sinking into mud, up to his chest and neck ... screaming for life.

 

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Recreating that OU student feeling

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 24 Mar 2015, 12:13
From E-Learning VI

Need to plug a gap between courses or just can't stop e-learning?

I'm currently fighting my cerebral way through:

The Mind Is Flat

Understanding Drugs and Addiction

Community Journalism

Medicine and the Arts

Each has something to recommend though the humdingers are 'Understanding Drugs and Addiction' and 'Medicine and the Arts' : beautifully and thoughtfully done. Education as entertainment? 

 

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What's it like doing a free online course that works?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 9 Feb 2015, 08:24

In earlier posts I've likened the courses on FutureLearn (don't call them MOOCs) to a good hardback book. This misses a crucial element: the connectivity with other students (I prefer to call then participants). I would therefore say, looking for a few lines to explain the appeal to the ignorant, that it is like joining a book club: everyone has the same thing to talk about.

The current course that I love is "Exploring Filmmaking' - storytelling is universal, and that's what this is about. 'Boyhood' winning the BAFTA last night also reasserted the joy, pleasure and value of stories about our lives as they are without special effects, superheros, drugs or murder: Growing up is drama enough.

 

 

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Why everyone should have a look at 'Exploring Filmmaking'

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 5 Feb 2015, 05:56
From E-Learning VI

Fig.1 Once I directed film ... I once directed a film. It was short, like my career.

I'm pointing you in the direction of this wonderful example of a free course from FutureLearn (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Open University) that has just started because I believe you, a friend, your kids, or a colleague may love it ... and even transformed by it.

Explore Filmmaking

This is 'e-learning' of the highest calibre: so easy to do it's like watching TV while using Twitter.

With a little guidance.

I've lived and studied online learning for five years with the OU. I've been so hooked I've kept doing MAODE courses after I completed the MA.

From FutureLearn, my platform of choice having tried and studied all the ones that matter, I can share examples of courses for PhD WebScience candidates, History of the First World War MA students, first year Geography undergraduates of Climate Change and even those in their A' Level year. There are plenty of general ones too: 'How to succeed at: applications' and 'How to succeed at: interviews' from the University of Sheffield give you what you need, right when you need it.

This one, well, go see.

I think it's one for everyone with an interest in storytelling and the magic of putting it on the screen. We've all seen a movie, right? Enjoy as a viewer, a lover of storytelling, a drama hopeful in any role, or someone who knows such a person.

I wish I was 16 again with a parent who cared about the arts as a career looking over my shoulder saying 'that's for you.' Instead, like so many of us I don't doubt, I was told 'get a proper degree, get a proper job'. Sometimes the best advice is also the worst. The 'proper' degree has never worked, it's not me. Not my first degree, not my second from the Open University. I'm not work shy. I'll work 20 hours a day if I'm fed, clothed and watered. I just lack the ability to conform, however hard I try, however much my edges are scraped off, however old and ignorant I become. 

Go see.

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Bambi meets Godzilla and Exploring Filmmaking with the NFTS

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Feb 2015, 07:49

Fig.1. When Bambi met Godzilla. Short film as recommended in 'Exploring Filmmaking'

I must share with you another FutureLearn course ... MOOC by another name. This is 'Exploring Filmmaking' from the National Film and Television School. It is rich, fun, and very busy with people of all ages from around the world. 

I can given many reasons for joining in (started yesterday), for those interested in e-learning then it follows a pattern that is common to all Futurelearn courses. They're becoming for MOOCs what Dorling-Kindersely became for books. 

I had to share this short film too. 'Bambi meets Godzilla'.

 

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The Oxbridge Tutorial is up for grabs

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 29 Jan 2015, 11:07

I have been studying full-time for a year - an MA in a traditional university with lectures, book lists and online completing eight MOOCs and even trying to start a module with the OU - I gave up on L120 due to some intractable technical hitches with audio and video.

My goal hasn't been to gain yet further qualifications in subjects I love, but to experience first hand the variety of approaches to learning that exist. Back to the classroom and online. The MOOCs I have done on FutureLearn are highly 'transactional' - I believe the way huge threaded discussions are managed and can be managed successfully recreates what some consider to be the Holy Grail of learning in HE, the 'Oxbridge tutorial' where a subject expert sits one to one or at most one to three to discuss a topic, set each other straight, and then return every week, or twice a week to do the same. Experience and research shows that even in a MOOC with 25,000 starters, in a threaded discussion that has 3000 posts, that groups of learners form: typically a mix of experts, keen learners with some knowledge and complete beginners. These groups can last the duration of a two month course and spill out into other platforms and meeting up face to face.

Transition education. Not a revolution, just building on the best of what has gone before and gradually taking others along with it.  

I like that after 700 years of keeping the approach to themselves that the 'Oxbridge Tutorial' as a way to learn is, online at least, open to anyone. 

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How do MOOCs compare?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 27 Mar 2019, 16:42
From E-Learning VI

Fig.1 Unexpanded mindmap using 'SimpleMinds' on 'How do MOOCs compare'.

There are tens of thousands of Massive Open Online Courses available. Their proliferation increasingly requires some means to differentiate types, to standards, and by review. Undoubtedly branding will have a role to play: it being easier to choose because the subject is delivered on a known and  trusted platform, such as Coursera, Udemy or FutureLearn.

What are they brands though? Like a well-known publisher such as Dorling-Kindersely? Or a brand of cornflakes? Courses are often the product of a specific university, but does this help when a course will vary also by faculty, and in particular by the role and lead taken by a subject matter expert.

The variables are considerable.

There are a couple of review sites which aggregate MOOC lists, such as MOOC List and CourseTalk. These, like reviews on Amazon, rely upon participants of a course to come in a post. I think of it as the TripAdvisor for e-learning. How reliable are these? It'll take years to bed in and impact on the product.

Meanwhile, as I still do several MOOCs in parallel I am trying to think about the kind of criteria:

  1. The Platform Provider
  2. Funding
  3. The Subject
  4. Audience 
  5. Champions
  6. Objective
  7. Brand
  8. Platform (Technical features)
  9. Cost
  10. Production
  11. Institution
  12. What next?

1. The Platform Provider

There are too many for one person to consider. And ample complexity requiring parameters. Some are not, or are no longer Massive and Open because they are closed, exclusive and paid for. Udemy has many thousands of short courses online, all with a price for participation, self-paced and lacking a sizable cohort to generate valuable 'connectedness' and 'collaboration', both important, identified theories of learning that have a significant part to play in e-learning. Funded by venture capital Udemy needs cash flow. EdX comes from Ivy League US universities Harvard, MIT and Berkeley offering undergraduate and postgraduate level, term long courses at a demanding academic level. They have no UK equivalent: neither Oxford or Cambridge have come on board. Although Edinburgh is on both EdX and FutureLearn. Whereas LSE and a few other top UK players are yet to have a presence. FutureLearn is a new, though rapidly expanding player: a wholly owned subsidiary of the Open University with partner institutions from around the globe, typically the UK and Commonwealth Countries, though with three partners from China too. It is the platform I am most familiar with having complete six MOOCs with another four on the boil. They make it look easy and I love learning in conversation with others. The Khan Academy is aimed at schools, while the likes of TED lectures, iTunesU and podcasts are all lectures online in one form or another, rather than complete courses with clear steps towards achieving specific learning objectives.

I am attempting to compare platforms, approaches and institutions by comparing delivery of MOOCs on Climate Change. There are probably a dozen, all variations on a theme, though the science shouldn't be different, even if the delivery is. They are: Exeter on FutureLearn, Melbourne, San Diego, Penn and British Columbia. I studied geography as an undergraduate so feel better able to form a judgment. 

2. Funding

Funding is complex, but it matters because 'he who pays the piper, plays the tune.' Largely funded by VC money the US MOOC providers are pressured to take fees, seek donations and sell certificates and other services. To a Brit used to the BBC anything with advertising in it, especially in relation to learning, smells of hogwash. On the other hand, branding and open sponsorship may be a necessary way forward. Even Wikipedia cannot do it for free. Once again, my knowledge is in the first instance at first hand as a 'participant' who has studied 'at a distance' with the Open University and paid for it, who has taken courses as CPD the traditional way at evening and weekend workshops, though also online by subscription. I have even paid heftily for a formal assessment which gained me a distinction and 10 credits towards a university degree. 

There is no 'free' learning: it is financed somehow. Learning takes time and therefore to plan, produce, put online and support. Even where the cost is carried internally as the learning is seen to have promotional or reputational value, it is coming from someone's budget. The relationship between the OU and the BBC, and the BBC and other British institutions is an interesting one as the assets the BBC creates by definition are owned by the tax payer so should UK citizens pay twice for something they have already paid for? The BBC though, like many others, create and provide content for use in learning under a Creative Commons licence. 

Funding, in tertiary education, comes from many sources, not least government subsidy, grants for research and sponsorship. Creation of Open Learning meets criteria, especially in relation to research, to publicise and share research findings. The dry academic paper is being superseded by, or at least complemented by, online offerings: a podcast at least an Open Educational Resource (OER) at best. 

3.The Subject

Who decides on the subjects to 'publish' as a MOOC? Publishers and broadcasters make choices for commercial reasons, often based on perceptions or demands of the audience. Are MOOCs create in response to student and participant needs and demands, or the product of individuals and faculties simply wishing to 'give it a go' or develop and share their pet subject with others. Is everything suitable for a MOOC? Is the subject, title and delivery considered in the kind of editorial committee that exist in TV, Radio or Print ... or is to more piecemeal and fragmented? Individuals and departments in universities traditionally operate in silos, indeed, many chose to be in academia, especially research, in order to focus on their niche interest without undue disturbance or interaction. I can see MOOCs that are championed by an individual, by a faculty and by a university. Inevitably some will be less well received than others. In all media there are hits and misses. Understanding what works, and what does not, is fascinating. Often it is like wondering why, in a small French town, one restaurant is packed, while the others are quiet. Though they are yet to produce them, I would expect and hope for MOOCs on art from St.Martins, MOOCs on sport from Loughborough. I would expect to see a MOOC on the First World War from Niel Ferguson. Why has a world leader, such as the Oxford School of Geography and the Environment, a no.1. faculty in the no.1. university thus far stayed away from MOOCs? They have podcast. They're on iTunesU. They stream some lectures and seminars. The next step is not so great. Or is it a case of a cautious institution taking careful note of research done on MOOCs. They are no panacea and maybe the step towards something that will have a better fit: exclusive, income generating ... 

4. The Audience

I resist calling those who do MOOCs students because their profile and behaviour of those I have done and studied is not of students, whether from school, at university or postgraduate. They are older, but not 'adult learners', far from needing the education, many have a Masters degree ... it is telling that discussions are anything but deferential towards the 'young' professors and even younger PhD students who present and moderate many of these MOOCs. Often the MOOC participant, who form the kind of TV audience that sits forward and interacts, is an MA student of the subject who may have ten or twenty years applied experience of the subject in business, government or teaching. For example, the MOOCs I am looking at on Climate Change always have vocal participants who have considerable experience 'in the field' for environmental agencies or oil companies. The academics are put on the spot, always rise to the occasion, and will surely learn from the experience as much as we 'students' do. Where therefore diversity and access? As TV producers know how in a digital world to cater for audiences of different ages and interests, so educators creating MOOCs will need increasingly to engage media professionals who know better how to target, appeal to and retain specific audiences. Whilst those creating MOOCs may wish to attract potential students to their undergraduate courses, I suspect that it is at best the teachers of such students, rather than A'level students who are getting involved. 

 5. Champions

Reputations of innovators in e-learning and whose talks go viral in a TED lecture become champions of online learning. Some become a brand that tens of thousands turn to. As free courses proliferate the bluntest and most effective branding is to have a champion, the educator at celebrity. We know that those with a TV profile with a following already will attract the most interest. In TV, even in corporate learning and development, the appeal of the broadcaster or presenter speaking on behalf of the educators is common place. Not all educators are broadcasters. It matters to have someone champion the course. If you want to study, for example 'Climate Change' and can choose between a dozen providers of a MOOC, who do you go with?

6. Objective

In formal learning objectives are the goal on which the learning is designed and assessments are undertaken. You are tested on what you are taught, and if you can prove that you have learnt what the material teachers you gain a grade of some kind. This in turn goes towards a qualification, or transferable credits towards a degree or diploma. This may appear clear, but there are other objectives at play: attracting students, even dissuading them if places are hugely oversubscribed. There are obligations to publish research. There are desires to join the 'e-learning race' and gain insights through doing even if it is not yet fully understood where the movement is headed. What does the course provider want from a MOOC? More students? Establishing or developing the reputation of an educator or department? Competing with others who are 'up there'? Because they have the funding? Vanity? Not to miss out?

7. Branding

The digital world is a free for all. It is competitive. Whatever you can imagine, someone is doing it. I was staggered to learn that the MOOC providers couldn't be named on the fingers of one hand. I think there are over 50 if you're counting and include various hybrids and anomalies. Many, many more if you venture into MOOCs that are not massive, or open ... say content created for internal use across a huge multinational. Sometimes these commercial sites and platforms are the most innovative, and of course, the best funded, for example, in supporting training in investment banking for brokers. Virgin produces e-learning for internal use - it is surely a natural step to create something open and online? The OU, with the BBC and at arms length FutureLearn makes a compelling, reputational sound brand. If anyone knows how to create e-learning that is attractive, appealing and of value this is the team. There are cultural differences though with MOOCs out of North America looking more like a multi-media version of Scientific American to the FutureLearn MOOC that is 'Look and Learn' - fun and accessible. 

8. Technical aspects of the platform

My expertise does not lie in picking apart and comparing the underlying technologies that support the different platforms. I can however relate to the discussions that have, for example, explained Facebook's success compared to MySpace ... that there were, or still are, underlying technical problems on MySpace that prevented its becoming as attractive as Facebook. I have taken and followed learning online since 2000 - joining the MA in Open and Distance Learning (MAODL) in 2001 while creating online learning through a web agency for commercial, broadcast and government clients. Our understand and aspirations for what was needed or could be achieved fell short of what bandwidths and the technology then could deliver, even if we spoke about 'stickiness', collaboration, likeminds and fun. 

9.Cost

The OU boasts that a multi-million BBC production such as 'The Blue Planet' is the kind of visual extravaganza it can now incorporate into, or complement with distance and online learning, a far cry from the black and white hippy in sandals presenting in front of a whiteboard as lampooned by Smith and Jones in the 1980s. It isn't as simple as saying costs, like those in the movie business, are divided between creation and distribution, though it is a useful starting point. In this instance the means of distribution is an interactive platform, that has certain affordances because of its underlying architecture and the skills, direction and motivation of the programmers. The content that is made available for, or put into this environment will vary widely based on the experience of the educators, the team they have around them, and how this is structured and led. In TV and print, a producer or publisher is the lead, or chair of such a group ... not the 'creative' whereas in academia the academic invariably feels they are the lead and should instigate decisions, sometimes without acknowledging that they have no expertise in 'external communications' or the platforms and approaches they want to adopt. Money is not set aside to use an external producer or production team, with sometimes, the results being self evident. Fine, perhaps, in a former age, for an internal audience of undergraduate students, but no longer adequate for a far more demanding open audience.

10. Production

Multimedia, which is what this is, draws on expertise that is a combination of skills that in the past would have been more easily denoted as radio, conference, print and TV. Production values and experience in all of these is required when creating online content because decisions should be taken in the context of the learning materials as to what will work best at different times, for different kinds of content. Also recognising the need for varieties of approach and making these appropriate. I have taken, or tried to take, modules that are back to back presenter to camera, as if listening and note taking for many hours is an adequate or doable learning process. On the other hand, I have been engrossed by an entirely 'gamified' Rosetta Stone as an iPad App - rich, complex, repetitive and at times tiresome, but effective as a language learning experience. Not all, or rather few educators, are natural broadcasters. Accepting their strengths in front of a lectern and not taking them out to walk and talk or present on location unless they can clearly do it, requires production skills. There is a language for conducting interviews using a single camera, and for recording multi-camera seminars. If the technician who sets up the kit has no understanding either of framing, or of editing, the result, however good the lighting and sound, will jar. These are all production values that need have to be bought in, or developed to a suitable standard inhouse. Audiences have expectations of certain practices across the media types. Poor practice in use of PowerPoint, for example, is not simply distracting ... people will quit a course on a whim. 

11. Institution

Increasingly leading players in many fields are coming to see that to offer open learning online is a natural progression from things they have already been doing for a decade: putting content online in websites. delivering short courses face to face, even recording podcasts for release as audio or video. There is less mystery behind how to create content and less need for owning and financing the platform. What we are seeing today, is the same transition that occurred as blogs migrated from do-it-yourself coded webpages in 1999/2000 through the first readymade platforms such as Diaryland and LiveJournal, to the 'off the shelf' ease and sophistication of WordPress. Indeed, for MOOCs, the commercial platform Udemy is offering a platform to commercial players.

Institutionally could early adopters trump the laggards? Might the likes of Phoenix and its global reach of associated universities trump traditional hubs of learning like Oxford and Cambridge which are currently proving reticent to engage? Or will inertia, reputation, funding, research and expertise see them grow into e-learning and their substantial foundations? 

Whilst it may appear that the Open University was made for the digital age, can a UK institution be a global player? What happens when an Oxford or a Cambridge can do what the OU does? Or don't they ever want to? Over the last 35 years the percentage of students at Oxford from private schools has shifted from 72/28 to 48/52 .... still not representative of the national split, but moving with determination to being accessible and diverse. Ironic then that staying out of online learning is perceived as necessary to preserve their tradition of tutorial based learning that by its very nature can only be elitist and exclusive. 

12. What next?

This is the hardest question and the one everyone wants an answer to. My guess is better than many another's because I've been riding this wave for several decades through linear video-based learning, to interactive and then online. Thanks to the OU over the last five years I now have the language to explain what has gone on and so make a reasonable stab at what comes next. There are several learning theories that can explain the way we learn, but only a few that describe learning approaches that are suited to the online experience: connected and collaborative learning are what makes MOOCs work. Although there are platforms too, such as QStream and Rosetta Stone that are in effect old-fashioned learning by rote or immersion with repetition constructing meaning. There are subjects, such as medicine and languages, which are suited to this approach. There will be increased fragmentation. We are, if you like, where the printed book was five hundred years ago. The book had yet to develop into multiple printed forms from the novel to the pop-up book (!) or diversify across every subject. Though change is far swifter, the variety of forms, by audience, by subject, by approach and duration is yet to flourish into the thousands of types I can envisage until there is a plethora of MOOCs as there are, or have been, magazines in the past. Some affordances are yet to be realised: feedback into FutureLearn, by way of example, is one way to measure and act upon ideas offered 'by the crowd'. Reasoned responsiveness will see the platform they have now move in regular steps into a different, and different forms. Logic suggests, to suggest an extreme example, that the tools, approaches and affordances of a platform catering to primary school children will be different to one aimed at PhD students. On the other hand, both of these groups find something on TV. With the exception of Ragdoll's 'In the night garden' which is loved by infants and PhD students in equal measure smile 

There will be unforeseen consequences. Will 'leasure learners', a stalwart of the OU migrate to MOOCs where there are no fees, just as much learning and a far greater sense of community engagement? Will MOOCs, as the OU does with an MAODE module, be something that runs in parallel with a formal module. In this instance students in the closed learning MAODE being joined by an open MOOC audience for a period of months. I can envisage an enlightened educator using his/her MOOC to support self-directed learning online, while also acting as the backbone for a formally taught series of classes where they use the readily package content of the MOOC to support their delivery. 

Those who want and need the kind of learning the MOOCs offered do not make up the bulk of the audience. How will those young people coming out of higher education who crave a university degree learn at this level when they don't have the funds to attend in person? How, when it comes to assessment, can they afford what remains an expensive process - sitting an exam or submitting a paper for formal scrutiny and grading under stringent criteria relating to potential plagiarism and to sustain standards?

For all their openness and credentials to support access and diversity do MOOCs simply 'preach to the converted' - refreshing an interest for those with a degree, or two, already? Where might a degree taught online be achieved instead of a set of A'Levels. Will it become normal to have more than one degree so raising the bar even higher for those who simply wish to get to first base? 

Is there, as was in the earliest stage of the Internet, a language bias with most MOOCs invariably delivered in English?

What else? 

Restricted access. Poor broadband. Lack of resources to run the MOOC. Lack of means, either time or money to do them. 

 Looking at it another, perhaps more subjective way, I'd like to know about:

  • The Wow factor
  • Usability
  • Changed Behaviours
  • Whether people act upon the learning experience
  • Learning Objectives achieved or not
  • Stickiness: Are people suitably engaged to stay with it and beyond?
  • Reputational
  • Mandate
  • Fun
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What's a MOOC from FutureLearn life? It's as easy as turning the pages of a book

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 7 Jan 2015, 11:12

My interest is e-learning. A decade ago it was web-based learning and before that it was online learning ... as compared to 'offline' learning on an intranet or in a computer learning centre. Across this period, whether on Laser disc, CD-rom, DVD, or online the key words to describe a successful piece of learning might include: easy to use, intuitive, effective, measurable results, gamified and impressive. 'Impressive' for a corporate client has always been important - they want to see how their money is spent. It matters to jazz a thing up, to find a way to deliver exception creative qualities in both the ideas and the execution of these ideas. In H.E. this 'impressiveness' has been thin on the ground the experience and view of H.E. that someone talking to camera with a slide show or whiteboard will do the job; it doesn't, not any more.

At the risk of writing a list I want to think about the 'enhanced learning' experiences that have impressed over the last 15 years:

Audi Shop DVD - Gold Award Winner at the IVCA awards. Stunning animated 3D animations of the engine. Like a 3D animated Dorling Kindersley

What are you like? - Gold Award Winner at the IVCA awards. An interactive life and career guide for teenagers done in the style of 'In Betweeners' and 'Some Girls' - nailed the audience with creative tone and visual effects. This won BAFTAs, the IVCA Grand Prix and NMA Effectiveness Awards. 

Ideafisher - first on floppy discs, then a CD. It did in the 1990s what various websites do today by linking vast collections of aggregated ideas and concepts that it filters out and offers up. The closest I've felt to AI for creativity.

MMC - online marketing courses. These were, for me, in 2010, an early example of stringing the face to camera lecture together with course notes to create a course. Still more like a self-directed traditional lecture series but the volume of content was admirable and some of the tools to control the viewing and reading experience were innovative.

TED Lectures. Are they learning? Or are they TV? Are they modelled on the BBC's Annual Reith Lecture series? Top of the Pops for the lecture circuit so tasters and Open Education Resources for grander things. 

Rosetta Stone - iPad App

Pure simplicity. I love these. I gave a year to an intermediate course in French, learnt some grammar and fixed several problems with my pronunciation. Like that game 'Pairs' you play as a child: a pack of cards with pairs of images on one side that you pair up. With considered, only sometimes over art-directed photography. Repetitive, always in the language you are learning. The next best thing to being dropped in amongst native speakers as an infant. It just works.

iTunesU - The History of English in One Minute.

Not so much a course as a series of stunning and memorable cartoon pieces that galvanise your interest. The next step is to follow through with a free trial course through OpenLearn and perhaps a nudge then towards a formal course with the Open University proper. 

FutureLearn - the entire platform.

As easy as reading a book. I've done eight of these and have another three on the go (two for review rather than as a participant). Across the myriad of subjects and offerings there are differences, all gems, but some are more outstanding than others. It is no surprise that those MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) produced by the Open University are some of the very best; it's what you'd expect with their experience. Other university's shine through for their confidence with the the platform too, for example, 'How to read a mind' from the University of Nottingham. 

MOOCs I love enough to repeat:

Start Writing Fiction: From the Open University

I may have been through this a couple of times in full and now dip back into it as I get my head into gear. I'll do this as often as it takes to get the thinking to stick. It's working. I read as a writer. I will interrupt a story to pick out how a succinct character description works.  I'm also chasing up a myriad of links into further Open University courses and support on creative writing. For example: next steps, creative writing tasters, and audio tasters on iTunes. 

MOOCs I may repeat next year ... or follow similar topics from these providers:

Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: From the Open University with the BBC

World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World: From the University of Glasgow with the BBC

MOOCs I admire that target their academic audiences with precision:

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham

Shakespeare's Hamlet: From the University of Birmingham

Web Science: How the Web is changing: From the University of Southampton

 

 

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How are different MOOC platforms shaping up?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 6 Jan 2015, 13:55

The competitors for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are fragmenting, some into commercial learning and development where payment is easier to take, for specific skills training such as graduate induction and by profession, say law, accountancy, banking and pharmaceuticals. These are MOOCs that are neither massive nor open anymore. All see the value in improving their learning approaches, and to attract and identify the very best potential candidates, but open education should be for everyone, not a replay of an elitist model of the last millenium. Peter Stockwell puts the qualities and potential of FutureLearn very well at the end of the first week of the ‘How to Read a Human Mind’ in which he commends the contributions made by participants, how the most scholarly step in to explain and assist the novice, and the ‘wiki nature’ of the course allowing educators to rejig their module as it is represented. 

By comparison, efforts to use alternative platforms such as EdX, Coursera and Udacity I have found to be such direct reflections of formal, campus based training that they prefer an approach that fails to exploit our burgeoning digital literacy. The learning environments are dated and labyrinthine. The only successes I have had here has been where educators have taken a closer interest in the activity of the students, but this could only be achieved by their committing additional time: taking part in discussions and adding additional content on the fly, which cannot be the long term modus operandi of a ‘massive’ course with thousands, even tens of thousands of participants. If universities expect MOOCs to deliver plausible candidates for formal courses this doesn’t need to impact on the quality or nature of the experience, it does however require a mindshift in the way universities expose and reveal their educators and teaching methods.

 

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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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An exploration of the MOOC

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 17 Dec 2014, 19:37
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. My mash-up of a correct answer to a quiz in the FutureLearn course from the University of Nottingham 'How to read a mind' that ties in directly to The OU course on the same platform 'Start Writing Fiction'.

As these MOOCs complete I have a few weeks over Christmas to reflect on a busy year of Moocing about and to catch up with regular coursework on L120, assisted with a necessary business visit to France.

My MOOCing is enjoyed all the more while reading Martin Weller's new book that covers MOOCs, 'The Battle for Open'. These are interesting times indeed.

With friends yesterday I evangelised about MOOCs on FutureLearn and found that what worked was to describe a MOOC in layman's terms as the equivalent of a hefty, hardback, coffee-table book you buy because you have an interest in a thing. Let's say it is architecture. The book is written by an expert with engaging photographs, charts and maps. From time to time you indulge yourself. A good MOOC is similar, different and better. Online you have an expert who leads the course. The introduce themselves, the course and perhaps the team. And then over the weeks they drop in to say something with a pre-recorded video piece or text. They may even appear from time to time to contribute to the discussion: though you may miss them if the thread is running into the hundreds. 

I explained how threaded discussions work: that there can be thousands of comments, but you know everyone is talking about the same thing. That if you don't get a point you can ask and someone offers a response. You may still not get it. So you ask again. Once again, there is a response. You may do this a few times. Even come back to it a day or so later, but you are likely, eventually to see something that says it for you - your fellow students have fulfilled the role of the tutor that a tutor could never manage: they only have one voice and they can't give up the huge number of hours - there is one thread in 'Start Writing Fiction' that runs to 7400 posts.

These are filtered in three useful ways: activity, following and your comments. In this way you either look only at the lates posts, the posts of those you are following: say 10 out of 23,000 or, of course, you look back at your comments.

It works.

As for my graphic? Does obscuring the writing assist with anything? By making an effort to read the question are you any more likely to remember it?

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How to read a mind

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 15:03

 How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham[Two Weeks] Fig.1. The image I've used for a decade to represent my blogging under the pseudonym 'mind bursts'.

79% Complete

Four activities remaining to complete. A touch more academic than some. I guess this is undergraduate English Literature, but third year. Or is it pitched at postgraduate level. I have had to spend more time with the reading than I expected in order to grasp the main thesis relating to ‘Theory of Mind’. It is proving complementary to ‘Start Writing Fiction’ as it shows how we conceive of, and follow imagined and real characters in a world, in our heads, that is always part factual, part fictional.

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Thoughts on the FutureLearn MOOC platform

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The new world order, not so much the 'flipped classroom' as turned inside out then put through the blender - and brings aspects of education back where it always used to be: part of open human experience rather than locked away and institutionalised.

FutureLearn is worth exploring.

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