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Anna Greathead

The Angry Blogger

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We have been directed to the blog of Audrey Watters a few times in H819. This is a brave choice for the Open University as she is, it's fair to say, highly critical of EdTech.

I knew little of EdTech before I began MAODE (at least in an academic sense - I had unknowingly been using and creating EdTech for ages!) and, like many new converts, have become excited by the development of new technology-enhanced learning innovations, and the potential for EdTech to revolutionise education, learning, and the world! This makes reading Watters' blog slightly uncomfortable as a lot of what she writes is critical of EdTech and uncomfortably valid! It cannot be denied that many EdTech innovations have not lived up to the promises made in the timescale predicted.

However - I remain hopeful. Although technology has not provided the revolution in learning first predicted, and hoped for, it has made a huge difference. After all - I am on my sofa on a rainy Tuesday studying for a Masters Degree without ever having met one of my tutors, and only having met my student colleagues after making specific arrangements. My learning in MAODE has taken place in asynchronous forums, online tutorials, watching YouTube videos, searching for online journal articles, writing blog posts, utilizing Google, researching on Twitter, creating surveys on MailChimp, using my laptop, desktop, mobile phone and tablet....  All of this would have been impossible fifteen years ago. EdTech is doing something right.

One thing I read today from Watters' blog was a critique of EdTech based on the fact that the introduction of EdTech into a classroom had not resulted in higher grades. EdTech had failed in improve the outcomes for an individual cohort of students. On the one hand I can see this is disappointing - one function of EdTech is supposed to be to better engage students which should lead to better learning and better outcomes. However I reacted against this as improved outcomes for students who were already in the classroom is not the sole, or even the principle, aim of EdTech. EdTech broadens the range of people for whom education is an option. EdTech improves the efficiency and  cost effectiveness of education. EdTech could (and should) allow more depth of learning based on greater opportunity to access resources about and collaborate with experts in niche areas.

I'm not sure if I want to read Watters' blog! I don't like my idealism to be challenged! But maybe that's exactly what I need if I am to become an effective practitioner.

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Anna Greathead

Work and work

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Two laptops, both in useThis is my view right now.

The laptop on the left is my work laptop. As I type there is a webinar ongoing with 60+ participants. They are all preparing for a professional dilemma exam and while my boss is doing the talking, I have to be logged on to help with technical issues and to answer any questions within my sphere of knowledge or expertise.

It's a bit tricky as I really don't have to sit there all day waiting for these events but I do need to be ready whenever one arises!

My point is that I am already engaged in online and technology enhanced learning in a professional commercial setting. The pivot to online learning has been very natural for us and a lot of our professional activity has been unaffected - even positively affected - by Covid-19. The fact that we have been doing this for years means it was easy for us to move existing programs online.

In the stretches of time I am not needed for the webinar (e.g. when the participants are doing an online mock exam) I swap laptops (the laptop on the right!) and trying and do some of my Master's work.

There is a certain irony to trying to fit studies about online and technology enhanced learning in between practice of the same!

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Anna Greathead

Artefacts - why Physical Things are Important

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 14 Apr 2020, 14:21

Young woman with a degree dissertation and a glass of champagne

This is my friend Rachel. She has just finished a degree at Reading University in Biomedical Sciences. This is here posing with her dissertation - which has just been submitted - a celebratory glass of something bubbly and a big smile!

My first thought upon seeing her post on Facebook was 'wow - those three years raced by!' but that was quickly followed by some suspicion! All of the universities are closed right now due to the Covid-19 lockdown. So Rachel is having this photo taken in her own back garden, not on the university campus. Her dissertation must surely have been submitted online. Surely no one is expecting Rachel to post this using snail mail....

And then I thought - even if Covid-19 wasn't a thing then surely Rachel would not be handing in a wadge of paper with her work on. Surely every dissertation nowadays is submitted as a file transfer, an attachment... possibly a USB stick. I doubt any paper changes hands in the average submission!

So why is Rachel posing with a booklet? I asked - as suspected she printed off the front cover and put it in front of a few blank sheets of paper for this photo shoot!

It got me thinking about how the loss of 'submission' as a ritual has led to more loss in other aspects of the university journey. Clicking 'send' is not a photo worthy event, a large file on your laptop does not look like it has required as much effort as a pile of beautifully printed sheets of paper.

Every year Rachel will see these photos as her social media accounts remind her of what she was doing a year ago, five years ago, ten, twenty, fifty years ago. Rachel's dissertation will never exist as an actual physical document (most likely) but these photos remind her of the effort she spent on this dissertation and the satisfaction derived from handing it in.

I wonder if one loss in the move the doing all of this stuff more efficiently and with less complication is that we also do it with less fanfare and with less respect to the hours and hours of effort sunk into the product.

When I finish (and hopefully pass!) MAODE I will be attending a degree award ceremony. I know I could get a digital certificate (I probably will) and I know I could have a paper certificate mailed to me but I feel that the effort I have put into my studies, and the pride I will feel in having achieved the degree, must be recognized by more than a PDF attachment.

Ritual is still important to human beings. So are artefacts. Maybe we need to find ways to incorporate this human need into the world of online learning.

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Anna Greathead

Back to the beginning.... again

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Weeks 1and 2 of H819 seem to be covering some reasonably basic (foundational?) things.

Finding a journal to review current research, reading an article or post and trying to identify (and then critique) the authors assumptions, claims and unfounded statements, assessing the structure of a literature review.

I am not trying to claim this is unhelpful. Indeed - the step by step instructions for a lot of this are *very* helpful and I wish I had begun my MAODE journey with these kinds of activities. On the one hand I may be rolling my eyes at having to review a literature review, on the other hand I am reviewing said literature review and spotting all sorts of structural techniques and visual aids which I could (and hopefully) will employ.

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Anna Greathead

MOOCs - a 2012 perspective!

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Our first activity in H819 was to read and comment on this article from 2012.

2012 wasn't that long ago but this article reads just like the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony - hopeful, idealistic, inclusive and, with the benefit of hindsight, shown to be a little bit naive.

I have yet to see the 'it' which the traditional model of face to face (or, at a push, paid for online) courses provide which cannot be replicated by MOOCs or their equivalent articulated; but 'it' clearly is a thing! The lecturer defensively says 'you can't put what we do online' without really explaining why, the former student nostalgically reminisces about learning to use a washing machine and joining a society and, whilst acknowledging this can be done for free, clearly doesn't want those rites of passage to end.

Again and again in MAODE I have had to contend with the fact that to many educators, teachers and practitioners - learning is a scared and beautiful aim and need not lead to any aim other than learning. Learners may, sometimes, agree - indeed some of those quoted in the article are on these MOOCs for the love of the subject. However - for many learners their education is very much a means to an end - and not just the end of knowing stuff, acquiring skills and understanding concepts - the end they're after is the certificate. There are even learners who will, if possible, circumnavigate the learning if they can still get the certificate!

I think the primary M and the O of the MOOC present separate problems. Whilst the article is at pains to stress how interactive and 'community based' the MOOC she went on the idea of a mass - hundreds of thousands of students -  on one course must mean a dilution of group identity and opportunities for group cohesion - and therefore those avenues of learning (significant) are much narrower. The O - open - is a laudable aim. But the pragmatist will ask 'but who is paying?' and 'how can something free have value?'. Even if people are willing to give up their time and skills for free (and they may not wish to do this in the long term) there are costs associated with any kind of endeavour like this which must be met by someone.

OCs (without the MO!) may well lead to a significant contraction of universities as we have known them. The online model can replicate many aspects of traditional university learning and the technological capabilities afforded by the internet can actually improve on some others. Costs can be lower and reach much further. Both good outcomes.

However - many universities measure their history in centuries and they have survived through various social, political and economic upheaval. I wouldn't bet against them!

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Anna Greathead

H819 begins...

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H819 has begun with a big reunion! So many familiar names and faces!

Even the first readings have got my mind abuzz so I'll go on the first of many mental journeys right here, right now.

Measuring 'success' in education is more or less impossible.

As this module is about research we are all being encouraged to think of an area of our practice, or of our interest, which we could plan some research to assess impact and success. I immediately felt cynical. There are so many problems.

  1. What is 'success'? Is it engagement? Enjoyment? Outputs? Application? Over what timescale?
  2. How do you control for ALL the variables? I mean every learner whether they're aged 1 or 100 is subject to an almost infinite and definitely unique combination of external variables. How can you possibly attribute any output (or whatever) to whatever educational input you're trying to evaluate?
  3. How do you control for the learning specific variables? Unless you're able to design a learning program with only one style of input (or whatever) then how will you know which activity led to which output (or engagement, enjoyment, application etc!)
  4. Ethics -  is it fair to experiment by trialing unknown and untested activities? The best way to get good (or usable?) data would be to isolate a single group and activity and use it in contrast to a control group.
  5. Time scale - at what point is it reasonable to declare an activity a success or failure? It goes back to defining success or failure. 
Throughout my MAODE studies I have found an internal conflict between thinking of learning as a sacred and lifelong human experience (as well as an endeavor), and the more pragmatic reality in which learning is a means to an end and we (as practitioners) are aiming to make the means as effective as possible and the ends as valuable as possible.
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Anna Greathead

The day when everyone wanted to know about eLearning

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A week ago we 'joked' on our WhatsApp group "What a time to be a practitioner in online and distance education!!!" except for now we know it's not a joke.

Covid19 is literally ravaging the globe and the new 'normal' for UK learners of all ages is about to undergo a tectonic shift - schools, colleges and universities will lock their literal doors and try to activate their virtual environments as quickly as possible.

The infrastructure for this is very mixed. Most universities will have reasonable sophisticated systems in place and most schools will have the facility to set work and send messages over the internet. What is different now is that teachers and educators who have (often effectively) used the internet to augment their practice are now having to use it as their sole tool. Most teachers will be able to set maths quizzes and direct students to good YouTube channels but few will have the time or support to review and revise their pedagogy in line with the new situation.

There is a lot of good will about. My Facebook feed is full of teachers all sharing this cut and paste message:

"Over the next few weeks if you are home-schooling / remotely / digitally educating your kids and you need assistance with understanding something that has been assigned for your child please reach out.

I'm a [subject] specialist.

I'd be happy to answer questions / support where I can."

Social media is also full of links to well known online resource banks such as Khan Academy, BBC Bitesize, OpenLearn and Seneca to name a few. Schools are sending out lists of links - perhaps acknowledging that whilst they build their own infrastructure they want their learners to engage with more general materials. Twinkl usually charge for access to their resources but are offering free subscriptions - becoming temporarily a provider of OERs!

It's all really interesting (once you distance yourself from the very real human suffering) and this crisis could well usher in a new era in which online and distance learning is better understood, studied, resourced and recognised.

On a personal note - I have a daughter home from university. She has just missed a few weeks worth of lectures and tutorials due to the university strikes. She is now at home for the 'foreseeable future' (though she's adamant that she'll return to university in April even if it is closed!). I expect her end of year exams will be cancelled - not a huge problem for a first year. She's engaged well and done well in her first two terms so I see no issue with her progressing to the second year.

I have a son in year 12. He missed two weeks of school around half term as their building was damaged by Storm Ciara. Year 12 (1st year A levels) seems the easiest group to send home! (It makes sense - they're old enough to not need parental supervision.) He has been sent a whole load of work but also a whole load of generic links to the websites I list above. He finds the idea of being taught by webinar quite entertaining. Thankfully he has a laptop, space to work and more intrinsic motivation than many his age.

I have a daughter in year 9. She is at school for two more days. We don't yet know what will be in place for her and I may well have to supervise more than I'd like to. Until yesterday she didn't even know her VLE login details. I'm banking on a (probably erroneous) assumption that year 9 isn't *that* important.

I also have a son who lives and works as a teacher in China. He's the safest of us all right now!

I have friends with children who have had their GCSE and A level exams cancelled. It's really hard for those who are well prepared and read, and those for whom poor mock results / predicted grades were a motivation to work harder.

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Anna Greathead

RIDE 2020 – Part 4

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The afternoon parallel sessions were harder for me to select. In the end I opted for one being led by David Baume as I had met him earlier in the day and thought he seemed interesting and interested in other people’s ideas and thoughts. A good combination overall.

This was coupled with a session about teacher training which was well presented and seemed quite interesting on a few levels but I used the time to catch up with my work email and Twitter – sorry!

David Baume was presenting on course design and pedagogy – something I thought may be of use to me at work.

He began by listing things which we *know* about learning. While he rattled these off as if they were absolutely basic information I noted them down. Having begun MAODE from a setting outside of education and with an education which did not include teaching – I had found that often there was an assumption I knew things which I did not know. This kind of thing was typical of that:

  • Clear structure and framework, scaffolding, supports
  • High standards are expected
  • Learners acknowledge and use their prior learning
  • Learning is an active process
  • Learning takes lots of time – on task, in practice
  • Collaboration with other students and with the staff
  • Giving and receiving and using feedback

The vital connection between learning theory and teaching practice should be absolutely obvious but it was an image I had not previously visualized.

David then had a few strong things to say about the assumptions underpinning distance education as practiced and experienced by many:

Distance learning (wrongly?) assumes:
  • Students learn by watching recorded videos
  • Students learn from reading
  • Students learn from discussion in forums
  • Students demonstrate learning by writing essays
  • High level academic capabilities can be developed by, and tested by, MCQs

We then broke off into small groups to discuss what alterations we could make to our own teaching practice. This was less than ideal as I am not a teacher or a learning designer. In retrospect I realized that I could have applied some of the principles to a 90 day education program I manage at work, but hindsight is, as ever, unhelpful! I’m usually good at ‘blagging’ but feedback time was dreadfully awkward as I made up something a bit stupid!

The day ended with a quick insight into the back rooms of the London University and a couple of glasses of red wine with an OU colleague who has become a friend. There has been much theorized about the inferior quality of online learning vs ‘real’ learning but my OU experience has shown that to be a flawed position. Online learning has so much to recommend it – for flexibility and depth and breadth and so many things. Online friendship also has much to recommend it – the sniffy ‘not a real friend’ attitude entirely mistakes how well online communication – both synchronous and asynchronous – can foster real friendship with its associated support, and fun and laughter. Whilst I am enthusiastic in promoting the value and genuine friendship an online relationship can foster… it was very VERY nice to be across a table sharing a drink, a rant, a giggle and putting the world to rights. Sadly the virus mean the hug had to remain virtual for this time!

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Anna Greathead

RIDE 2020 - part 3

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Monday, 16 Mar 2020, 21:02

The after lunch keynote by Martin Weller was a significant hook in getting me to this conference. He really is the 'David Beckham' of the eLearning world and getting a retweet AND an email from him at the end of 2019 made me (almost) squeal with delight!

His speech was delivered online. He had blogged that he would not be attending which, given the Covid19 crisis, was understandable albeit still disappointing.

I took few notes! His speech was entertaining and engaging and far too enjoyable to risk missing buts by noting thoughts down! The theme of the conference overall was disruption but Martin's main point was the the word 'disruption' had been used too often in an unhelpful, and often destructive, way and that maybe we should move away from the word in the context of technology enhanced learning.

In some instances disruption had been a by product. This is the way I most quickly think of 'disruption' in the context of learning, I consider the rapidity with which the internet and the computer became an everyday part of life and how education, learning, teaching and pedagogy had to react to a rapidly changing landscape and hugely altered expectations. This kind of 'disruption' is - perhaps - what we mean by the phrase 'necessity is the mother of invention'. In this case we could rewrite it to say 'invention leads necessarily to new birth' (the new birth is clumsy - I mean new ways, new ideas and new methods).

The second kind of 'disruption' is as an explanatory theory. This did not strike as many chords with me! I am noteless!

The third kind of disruption was where disruption has been the goal and it's this type of disruption which has sullied the word beyond, according to Weller, redemption. He cited Uber and AirBnB - companies which saw a new way to create and simultaneously fill gaps in a market and rapidly move to more or less decimate the previous occupants of that market space. I don't think Weller was making a political comment about these specific companies but I think the idea of deliberate disruption was distasteful to him.

He included one of his trademark comic points which I loved! This applies to so much (Brexit, Trump!) and I think the lesson to not disrupt things for the sake of it is quite clear!

The questions for Weller were especially interesting. The one I most enjoyed was one which invited him to critique the disruption to education and learning caused by the Open University! He dealt with it well!

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RIDE 2020 - part 2

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Saturday, 14 Mar 2020, 16:39

I was extremely gratified to see the two parallel sessions I had been most interested in were happening consecutively in the same room!

The first was a 'last minute' choice. I had been speaking before the conference to Vicky Brown (@VickyBrownTLM) about my OU studies and how I was now 5/6 of the way through MAODE. I was telling her that I was already feeling somewhat bereft at the thought of my studies being over. I would probably have to self-fund anything further and I'm not sure that I can prioritise formal studying over the other expenses our family has. Vicky then immediately suggested 'microcredentials' which piqued my interest.

Interestingly this session took place mostly online. All three presenters were either 'self isolating' or unwell so all presented with their slides and a camera on the large screen. This did cause me to consider if we could do something similar at work.

Webinar screen with infographic and four screens of participants and presenters

The presenter was Professor Mary Bishop who seems to wear a plethora of hats meaning she is an accountant, an educator, an academic and an assessor! She made a lot of really interesting - and contextually relevant - points:

  • Free is great for democratisation and accessibility but it can lead to a perception of low value, or very generic themes (I can see how this happens. I am very on board, ideologically, with open education but I always have a nagging pragmatic concern about where the money comes from. I am sure there must be models which allow accessibility without compromising quality or the perception of quality - see next point.)
  • Potential model - learning is free but accreditation isn't. This seems a good idea. It begs the question of what is important - the learning or the badge. In principle the learning must be the most important thing as - if you had to choose one or the other - it's more valuable. However - I am certain that there is a cynical portion of society who would happily get the badge (accreditation, certificate, award) without doing the learning if they found a loophole which allowed such a thing. In this model you can do the course free of charge but would have to pay for the final assessment or even for the official badge.
  • Quality Assurance = critical The perception of low value or low quality must be refuted with high quality learning, qualifications and people.
The next half of the session was presented by Professor Kate Tatton-Jones and Luke Woodham and was about distance learning for healthcare professionals - my area of professional practice.

The old problem of technology only being used to augment and supplement rather than being used to its full potential to revolutionise was revisited!

We were directed to The Topol Review about preparing healthcare workers for digital education.

A few individual programs and specific issues were referenced but few solutions. Kate acknowledged that high level online learning could not realistically be learned using MCQs and stressed that creating high level, high stakes, material was challenging. Her own area of expertise is genomic medicine which is data heavy which makes it easier but this is not the case for every area.

She did briefly refer to the idea that student engagement with online material could be better assessed than using metrics such as length of time logged in, or on a given screen. One off hand remark to retina scanning to assess eye tracks across a screen gave me a glimpse into a possible future.

At question time a few good points were raised and interesting thought journeys initiated:
  • Good courses are built around a narrative - with a beginning and middle and an end
  • Good courses should be 'provocative' (they should provoke interest, engagement)
  • Practitioners should accept there is a ceiling for social engagement - whatever you do some people will 'lurk' - watch but not contribute
  • Online learning can be very useful for formative assessment even if, for now, summative assessment is more problematic/ difficult
  • The Stella Artois principle - good things are reassuringly expensive. Low cost or free resources are often low quality but even more often perceived to be
  • A way in is 'microcredentialling' - small stakes, low risk
  • The Royal Colleges (medical bodies) are beginning accept short activities / online courses and assign CPD approval
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Anna Greathead

RIDE 2020 - part 1

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Yesterday I attended the RIDE 2020 conference (Research and Innovation in Distance Education) at the University of London. I had fully expected the event to be cancelled as the nation is in the grip of (or on the cusp of) the Covid19 epidemic but the organisers decided to go ahead - albeit with a few precautions.

I was so happy to have gone to the event. I met three people who had been fellow MAODE students on various modules. 

Before it even began I found myself in conversation with a few people (networking!). Most attendees were academics and educators so attending as a student made me something of a novelty. One man (I later identified him as David Baume (@David_Baume) asked for my impressions of online learning (as this Masters Degree has been) in comparison with face to face learning (as my Bachelors Degree was). I have a lot to say about online vs face to face learning but I don't feel my own experience is a valid place to begin. I feel my main challenges in studying MAODE have been that it's at a Masters level rather than a Bachelors. Add into the mix the fact that the two a separated by over twenty years and I don't think my impressions are of much value! I later realised that one of the men in this conversation was Alan Tait (@AlanTaite) who was the chair of the whole event.

I took notes - old school - throughout the day and will post the stuff I wrote down! It's not a precis of the day but merely the nuggets which caught my attention!

The opening session was a panel in which three people gave ten minute presentations and then, after all three presentations had been given, the panel took questions. I didn't take copious notes but here's what I wrote:

Dil Sidhu - Coursera

Coursera is a technical platform - NOT a content creator. The intellectual property rights to the content remains with the creator / writer / original institution. (I didn't know this. I wondered if some of the programs we use at work could be added to their suite.)

They have a lot of data - millions of data points - and they use this to 'nudge' people with messages such as '80% of people who complete this activity will go on to complete the programme'. (These nudges are just the sort of thing I enjoy but my friend and colleague said she found them a bit patronising but I can absolutely appreciate)

Allison Littlejohn - UCL

I only made one note about Allison's talk but it was a powerful one - she explained that so often technology enhanced learning had been 'the classroom replicated'. She showed a powerful image of a teacher in a traditional classroom in which every student was represented by a laptop. The message of technology being used to maintain and perpetuate the traditional classroom model was powerful. Surely technology should do more than enable learners to attend class from a remote location?

Neil Morris - Leeds University

The phrase which Neil emphasised was 'unbundled higher education'. Instead of offering a complete degree program universities can now offer all of the elements of this program individually. The learner could theoretically build the degree step by step, or they could extract the learning they needed. This can be 'sold' as a great thing as it offers extended flexibility for the learner but Neil was honest in acknowledging that this system could actually extend inequality as learners might become tiered into those who gained their qualification bit by bit and those who got it all in the 'traditional way.' He also explained the academic concern that fragmentation of the curriculum had far reaching implications and that educators had legitimate concerns as to how this might present issues.

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Presentation Star Certificate

I wasn't expecting this!

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

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

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

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

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Anna Greathead

Deep in EneMyA Territory!

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The EMA accounts for 60% of the final grade for H818 and I am right in the middle of 'it gets worse before it (hopefully!) gets better' stage.

I have three documents (parts 1, 2 and 3) open, I have six Firefox windows open and a total of 30 tabs open.

Each of my three documents is already over the word count. And none of them is close to being complete (in terms of satisfying the brief) or decent (in terms of academic language, referencing or coherence).

Experience should be telling me that I am always like this a week before a deadline and (thus far!) I have always submitted something complete, decent and which received a good mark.

Sadly - experience is telling me no such thing! Paranoia, with her irritatingly loud and strident voice, is telling me that I can't keep getting away with it! I clearly do not belong on this course at this level and this time they will notice and call me out!

So on the battle goes! I will continue to fight the word count, the library, the search function of Open Studio and my own imposter syndrome!

Send provisions please!

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Anna Greathead

Sustained or Scattergun?

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If I could go back to October 2019 I would tell past-Anna this one thing about H818 - I'd say identify a couple of people who engage a lot with the course and comment on every single thing they post. Search out their blogs, twitter accounts and any other platform they frequent and comment there too! Don't stop doing this after TMA02 is done and dusted. If they stop posting stuff then hound them until they do!

My issue with part 2 of the EMA is that it requires 'sustained' engagement with two other projects. I have made dozens and dozens of comments in Open Studio and have generally been in the upper quartile of 'engagers' with H818 (I think) but I am struggling to find anyone who I would class as having been the recipient of my sustained involvement in their project as it developed.

I emailed Simon (the tutor!) in the hope that he might have an innovative and inclusive definition of 'sustained' which I could implement (see what I did!) but sadly his bar is even higher than my own. He says that even if I have only commented a couple of times on the poster development, and a couple of times on the abstract development, and a couple of times on the conference development, and a couple of other occasions then that would be fine! So - as long as I have engaged 8 times.... hmmmm.

And even the people with whom I have engaged the most - (typically 4 or 5 comments) - there is a problem. A lot of my 'engagement' is little more than 'I really like this' or 'you spelled survey wrong in paragraph 2'.

I know that we were told this nearer the start but I content we were told and not told! I am going to search out new H818 starters in April to give them the heads up I needed and didn't get! How's that for good networking practice?!

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Anna Greathead

Questions from the Conference

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I found blogging really scary. How do you overcome that Anna?
I suppose, in common with everything we find scary, by doing it! It's only scary if you are worried there is a 'wrong' way to blog. There is a million right ways to blog and no wrong ways (assuming you're not planning to incite crime!).

I didn't think of it as an online filing cabinet. That's interesting.
We store so much online now - photos, diaries, documents. A blog can be an extension of this.

Did you look at whether bloggers used PCs, laptops, tablets or phones and whether that's shifted?
I didn't even think of this! It could have been an interesting diversion but I don't think it would have changed my focus or conclusions. The caveat to this is where a blog tool doesn't have functionality over many platforms.

There are already loads of channels for online discussions (discussion rooms, etc.). Is there anything about blogs which you think make them more effective than other channels (you might be about to answer this!)
There are lots of online discussion spaces but a blog is one where you get to ask the opening question! Plus it can fulfill so many other functions too.

I have found myself not blogging as have felt it needs consistency in terms of frequency of posts etc - lacking inspiration to do this has stopped me engaging fully. I wonder if this is another reason for lack of engagement.
You blog for *you* and not for your audience (or at least that's what I do). If I don't post for a while I don't feel guilty. As for inspiration - I find blogging allows me to record and expand on moments of inspiration in my studies but also has trained me to look for inspiring and thought provoking things to post about. It helps me both record and seek interesting and engaging subject matter.

That's one of my concerns too - if I started I feel I'd have to post regularly to maintain continuity and 'presence'. I wonder if there is a link with people using the blog privately?
Your blog is for you. You can (depending on the tool) opt for a range of privacy settings. If you seek to gain and maintain an audience you might want to post regularly and publicly. If it's just for you and / or a small group of people then you can blog exactly as you wish.

I did this for a while when I lacked confidence.
The blogosphere can feel like a lot of people shouting for attention but it's just as full of private people who selectively record and sometimes share their journeys in an accessible and cloud based way.

good recommendations Anna - I think the OU blog tool could be improved.
Definitely - and thanks

I use pen and paper. I've kept a journal for years; I guess the difference is that I don't share them. I wonder how many blogs that are shared are actually read by anyone else?
I used to journal using pen and paper for years and years. I didn't share them but it was always at the back of my mind that my notebooks may be found and published posthumously! I don't know how many blogs are read regularly - as a percentage of bloggers probably not many. But - I have not actively sought engagement and yet I have (to date) almost 40,000 views on my blog. I must be posting about something that someone is interested it! That's NOT my motivation though - just a realisation that sometimes we can undervalue the things we put out into the world. Just because we don't think anyone will be interested doesn't mean that no-one will be.

Oh wow. How do you keep the files you have stored if you lose it when you leave? Do you lose it immediately?
I think there is a 3 year 'grace period'. I will certainly be investigation how I am able to keep mine. As it is a 'public' blog then it will probably remain viewable to all but I may well lose access to continue contributing. If I had know how useful I was to find blogging I may have started using another tool. That said - the convenience of the OU blog tool means I can easily reach it when I am studying and want to record a thought or idea.

I agree - I don't think students are necessarily 'aware' of it. Wouldn't say it's flagged up at all on any of the (UG STEM) modules I tutor.
There are definitely some STEM students using the tool and, I was told, it's far more heavily used in some STEM areas. Some of the posts I reviewed went completely over my head they were so sciencey!

the question of whether to oblige (or very heavily encourage) students to use blog posts is really interesting - I remember this question coming up in H800 with 'making' students use discussion boards by it being part of assessment. Do you think the benefits would justify making it part of assessment?
I think that mandatory use of the blog may, for some, spark a very useful learning habit. I think the problem with it is that people are just told 'blog about it' and they often have no idea where to begin. I think that if learners were directed towards a few examples of good blogs as examples it would reassure them that there isn't a correct method and that the tool is there for them - not they for the tool.

DO you think an OU Blog is a training tool before considering a tool like Wordpress?
Possibly - less functionality does mean easier so for a complete novice the lack of bells and whistles may actually make the whole process less intimidating.

How often did bloggers look back over their -- or others -- blogs?
I didn't ask. I can say that I look over my own blog quite often. I am not very engaged with anyone else's though!
Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Saturday, 14 Mar 2020, 17:01)
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EMA - a game of three halves!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Redemption of Twitter

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I have a love hate relationship with Twitter. On the one hand I have found myself embroiled in a lot of nasty arguments (mostly with Brexiters, Tories, Trump supporters and so on) but today Twitter, and WhatsApp were wonderful examples of 'backchannels' where conference observers discussed and commented and sometimes giggled a bit!

So here's some Twitter screenshots! They made me smile and, I think, demonstrate the softer side of networking. And by soft I mean 'hard to define' rather than 'unimportant'. The soft stuff is VERY important.

Twitter screen shot

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Anna Greathead

The conference and the lost page

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It's fair to say I was nervous! It all began ok. Tech set up was fine and my slides appeared as they were supposed to.

I began to read my notes, click through the slide show... all was well....

And then my notes and my slides didn't match! I had lost my place. I didn't quite 'die' but it was close.

I now know exactly what happened. I had printed my notes out and, to save paper, I had printed it double sided. This meant I read one side, turned over the sheet, read the second side, discarded the sheet, read the top side of the next sheet and so on.... I got mixed up and discarded too soon. I stumbled.

People were very kind and said I had coped well, and that my project came across anyway but I was super frustrated. So I recorded the conference presentation as I wish I had managed to do it!

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Huuuuuge Imposter Syndrome

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So the presentation is tomorrow at 9.10. Slight hiccup in that my teenage children, who would usually be at school, won't be as their school was damaged by Storm Ciara. Suddenly the 9.10 feels like a blessing as they will most likely be in bed and not on the internet!

Suddenly my entire endeavour - the poster, abstract, project, presentation, script - feels like it was thrown together by an earnest and slightly geeky ten year old. Everyone else has much more impressive sounding project titles and (I fear) much more academically slanted projects to present in a much more academic style.

I am terrified. And I am first.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Friday, 14 Feb 2020, 09:36)
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Presenting the "Paper"

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My paper about the OU blog tool specifically, and the use of blogs in education and learning more generally is far from written. In fact - I have a whole heap of data and a lot of ideas but only the faintest of conclusions and nothing like a logical narrative in my internal thinking about it all. This does not bode well for presenting the 'paper' which has not only remained unwritten but is still, as I write, unplanned.

I have decided to make my presentation mostly narrative in style. I cannot be alone in finding academic and statistical presentations somewhat difficult to concentrate on and enjoy! I want to use the words people said to me (actually wrote to me) above to demonstrate some of the statistics I have gleaned from my post analysis.  

That said - I have hit a bit of a wall. I have created a presentation which is okay but I am not convinced it is as good as I can make it. I have to submit it on Tuesday so I don't have a lot of time to play with but I'm going to have a go at sketching out my paper in my detail so I can make sure I can do as I have been asked - present my paper. As things stand I am more likely to find myself writing a paper to expand my presentation! Less than ideal!

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Who, Why, What and How....

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My project title was developed after, oooh, about three seconds of careless consideration!

However - my throwaway but catchy words have actually helped me form a mental structure of the eventual project output which has eased my general panic over the last couple of weeks (possible a bit too much!).

Who blogs?

Who used the OU blog tool? In short - not many people. I have been unable to get official figures but there are around 168,000 OU students and about 50,000 public blog posts each year. Given that a small number of blog users are quite prolific and a lot of individual student blogs consist of a single post (or three at the maximum) it's not unreasonable to assume that usage is low. Of course there may be private blogs in the system too but even assuming a generous 'three times as many' it still means that each OU student uses the blog tool less than twice each year. The blog is only open to current students and staff.

Why is there a blog tool?

The blog tool is part of a suite available to OU students. Different courses may feature different extra options but the blog tool is part of StudentHome. The potential for the blog is a part of the body of research and theory surrounding technology enhanced education - practitioners can see how it could function as a reflective learning journal, an online collaborative space or a 'can't be lost' repository for ongoing work and activity. There is lots of sound pedagogical research surrounding the activities which blogging is thought to be a technological enhancement of but somewhat less about how much it has (so far) fulfilled the theoretical promise.

What do people blog about?

The blog post analysis revealed a few indisputable patterns.

1. Some people who blog a lot often simple use their blog as a journal. There may be some reflection within it but essentially it's a diary.

2. Other people blog a lot and their posts are short, thought provoking, amusing.

3. Some people only blog when their tutor requires it.

Defining the 'right' way to blog is counter to the aims of reflective or collaborative practice but it doesn't look like this tool is principally being used for either of those things.

How can good blog use be encouraged?

I have got a lot of comment here from OU students (past and present) and some tutors, VLE designers and other experts. I hope to add narrative from different perspectives here. There are many stories of good blog use.

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Attention! Reflect and Collaborate!

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Now the TMA is done and the conference presentation scheduled it's time to do the actual project and write the actual paper!

I have a whole heap of 'data' now - most of it is essentially qualitative. To be honest I prefer quantitative data - I'm not a scientist but I find numbers easier to draw a conclusion from than words. This is especially true in this case where my quotes are often quite definite and strong and entirely contradictory to each other! The fact is I have not been able to get any firm numerical data from the OU. (I will keep trying - there are a few weeks to go) and my numerical data is based on a google search about the number of OU students and the number of blog posts which are visible.

My initial assessment is that the OU blog tool does not work well for collaboration. Unlike external blogs it is not really easy to subscribe or keep track of who commented on what. OU students have other tools within the VLE, and outside of it, where they can collaborate much more easily. This observation is supported by an analysis of a sample of OU blogs - comments are rare and long comment thread even rarer.

However - the OU blog tool can (and does) work well for reflection. Reflection need not have an audience (indeed many express a preference for their work to be private) but it seems not only possible to gain insight and understanding from other learner's reflections but it seems almost commonplace.

I'm hoping to collate key quotes from all of my research to date to, if not draw a firm conclusion then, offer insight into barriers which discourage effective blogging and keys which encourage it based on the testimony of OU blog users.and OU non-blog users.

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Poster and Abstract - The Who, Why, What and How of the OU blog

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 14 Jan 2020, 20:18

The value of reflection and collaboration is broadly accepted within learning and education. Reflective journaling and collaborative work have long been part of ordinary and common learning and studying practice. As with so many aspects of pedagogy the advent of the internet has offered new technological enhancements to augment traditional activities – extending their reach, convenience of use, functionality and a network of examples of good practice. 

In this presentation the way in which OU students use the provided blog tool to reflect and collaborate will be described and insight into how further such activity can be encouraged will be given. 

The blog is potentially, and reportedly, a valuable tool for both reflection and collaboration – the main two aspects considered within this paper (Mohamed 2013, Byington 2011).  The blog can provide a learning journal which cannot be lost, within which there is a search function and which can, if the writer desires, provide support and encouragement to numerous other learners.  The blog could enhance and extend the capacity for collaboration to be less bound by geographical and synchronicity constraints.

Including a blog function within a VLE is a way which institutions can offer access to these benefits to their learners at little expense or effort. However – provision of a tool is not, on its own, enough to guarantee effective use, or indeed any use. A blog tool is not an example of a feature where ‘build it and they will come’ seems have much validity! (Shana, 2015)

There are many reasons learners may not perceive the value of blogging: they may perceive it as an additional and unwelcome chore; they may lack confidence with the technology; or they may simply feel that they have little to contribute. Unless students use the tool neither party gains any benefit.

Yet blogging cannot become a ‘requirement’ and remain useful. Collaboration and reflection cannot be truly effective unless undertaken voluntarily and formulaic reflection or mechanical collaboration will not confer any benefit and may be counterproductive (Chang 2019, Fernsten 2005, Musanti 2010). Institutions can encourage learners to reflect and collaborate (using a blog) in the hope that benefits become obvious and habits form, and for some learners this will be enough to begin their blogging journey with all the associated benefits. For others it won’t be - and those learners may benefit from other tools to facilitate reflection and collaboration.

In this paper there is

  • an analysis of a sample of public blog posts on the Open University VLE.
  • results of a survey asking OU students if, how and why they use the blog tool provided
  • details of deeper conversations about how individuals have benefited from, or not, using the blog tool
  • a literature search detailing blog use in reflective practice and collaboration within learning
  • applications for learners, educators, institutions and within wider extra-learning contexts.

This presentation may be of interest to VLE developers, online learning designers, students and tutors.

Key Words: Blogs, Reflection, Collaboration, Learning Design, Virtual Learning Environment


Byington, T. A. (2011) ‘Communities of practice: Using blogs to increase collaboration’, Intervention in School and Clinic, 46(5), pp. 280–291. doi: 10.1177/1053451210395384.

Chang, B. (2019) ‘Reflection in learning’, Online Learning Journal, 23(1), pp. 95–110. doi: 10.24059/olj.v23i1.1447.

Fernsten, L. and Fernsten, J. (2005) ‘Portfolio assessment and reflection: enhancing learning through effective practice’, Reflective Practice, 6(2), pp. 303–309. doi: 10.1080/14623940500106542.

Mohamad, S. K. et al. (2013) ‘Pattern of reflection in learning Authoring System through blogging’, Computers and Education. Elsevier Ltd, 69, pp. 356–368. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.07.031.

Musanti, S. I. and Pence, L. P. (2010) ‘and Navigating Identities Collaboration and Teacher Development ’:, Teacher Education Quarterly, 37(1), pp. 73–90. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ872650&site=ehost-live.

Shana, Z. A. and Abulibdehb, E. S. (2015) “Engaging students through blogs: Using blogs to boost a course experience”, International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 10(’, International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 10(1), pp. 30–38. doi: 10.3991/ijet.v10i1.4240.

Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 26 Feb 2020, 23:27)
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Word counts... again!

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I had no idea where to begin with the 2000 word part of my current TMA so I began a narrative describing the process I've been through in producing the first two parts of my TMA and the project I am working on.

Got to 1800 words.

Of just nicely written but unreferenced narration!


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Abstract... noun and adjective!

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

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

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

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

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

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