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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

Open Scholarship

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 15 Jan 2020, 13:12

I can already see that my personal leap forward in H818 is a renewed grasp of what open scholarship is - not least because of the keynote talk by Martin Weller which opened the H818 conference in 2018.

Martin described how, as the internet began to move into educational settings and learning environments, paradigm shifting predictions were made. When a bleak future is foretold then it is hardly surprising that the steps en route to the predicted outcome are resisted!

As Martin astutely points out - we have not seen the end of the university, nor has the theoretical promise of the MOOC actually altered the landscape of learning forever. We have, however, seen a definite and significant change in the way the learning and teaching is conducted and experienced. We have also seen a similar change in the way the scholarly research and debate.

My studies within MAODE have incorporated quite a lot of thought and discussion about OERs (Open Educational Resources) but I confess that the idea of data being made available for repeated analysis by researchers with different hypotheses had never occurred to me! (I had rather thought that an OER was mostly a sharable and editable lesson plan or learning resource).

The idea of Open Journals seemed to be a non-starter to me as I considered how both authors and journals would be paid for their work but the talk made me realise that many authors may be happy to be 'paid' in citations and reach. (I assume they have income from elsewhere?).

The use of blogs and social media within learning has been a common theme within MAODE but Weller made me consider again that these are not necessarily inferior to journals and conferences in their impact as they may afford a wider reach and greater engagement and connection.

My blog here is close to 30,000 views as of today. I do check the blog counter. I do get some pleasure from the idea that someone, somewhere, has found my ideas and reflections to be valuable. I even like the fact that I know various MAODE colleagues have cited me! Is this blog on a par with an academic journal? Probably not if someone is looking for closely researched and data driven conclusions but maybe if someone is looking for the honest experience and reflections of someone studying, using and providing online education and learning.

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Anna Greathead

Big OER, Little OER

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One learning context I have not really explored in my MAODE so far is my status as a Sunday School teacher! I have, for over 30 years, been teaching children of all ages (from creche to teenagers) Bible stories, Christian values and faith-based approaches to life.

It is this context which has helped me to distinguish best between big and small OER!

Despite the decline in religious attendance in the UK, the market for Sunday School materials is clearly robust as there is a wide range of materials available for purchase. For many years these were in the form of books and photocopiables but now nearly all ae web based. These materials offer a weekly syllabus (often part of half termly curriculums) and there are detailed lesson plans with multiple activities to select from according to your context. Since the services becoming web-based there has been an increase in the use of audio, visual and slideshow activities as well as the more familiar games, craft and worksheet type activities. These resources are centrally produced by various Christian organizations by people with experience and expertise. They are usable, reusable, customizable and – to some extent – sensitive to context. This is, within the Christian world at least, an example of big OER.

The advantages of these resources are that they are well developed and reliable. An entire lesson of activities can be selected from a wide range of choices and adapting activities to suit is straightforward and at the discretion of the teacher planning the session. The disadvantages include cost (the resources are good value but not free) and occasional doctrinal differences (ideological differences). The teachers must have access to the web and usually a printer and some other resources. It can also take control of the subject matter away from the teachers where material is dated and following it in order is recommended.

If a church chooses not to use these kinds of resources they often develop their own curriculum. I also have experience of this as a Kids Club worker – Kids Alive is a Friday evening club I have been involved in for 16 years. We could not find resources which matched our vision for Kids Alive so developed our own. We now have a four-year rolling programme and simply repeat the years in sequence. We have created a large resource which we use as a guide – we often make alterations to fit the current context but the ‘jumping off point’ it set. I can imagine that churches who develop their own curriculum may share their work with other groups, but the resources will be much more context specific and less full developed. The potential for small groups, like churches, to share their work is great and potentially untapped. Hundreds of people may well plan much the same lesson every week! A central bank of resources could be very useful – but things such as colouring sheets, work sheets and puzzles can already be found. Many of these banks contain resources previously created by an individual and uploaded for the use of others.

This kind of little OER is undoubtedly less slick and less ‘complete’ but also more organic. It’s much more collaborative and shared. The economy of sharing, rather than buying, creates a different kind of value to the resources.

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Anna Greathead

Sustainability Models

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The three models given in the Wiley paper essentially modelled the 'three bears' from the Goldilocks story! 

The MIT model is big, ambitious, well funded. There is a while department of paid staff. Monies have come from foundations, private donors and other support sources. The budget runs to the millions of dollars. 

The USU model is middle sized! There is a small staff and they engage the services of volunteers and make supporting the project part of the coursework for students on some related courses! The budget is around 5% of the MIT budget and the scope is much more narrow. 

The Rice model is the budget option! It works by utilizing the quid-pro-quo economy over cold hard cash. Multiple institutions contribute and benefit. The project is described as a 'passion project'. 

When trying to apply real examples to a neat model system there is always a certain amount of dissatisfaction. Real life examples may have created the models but each other example could legitimately become its own model and few fit neatly into any category; in fact most stubbornly resist classification including the four we've been invited to look at! Crucially - what was lacking in Wiley's models was a commercial model where the learner pays for a service and resource which have been paid for in advance by investors rather than philanthropists. 

Coursera looks closest to the MIT model in size and scope with slick resources and courses but in Coursera the courses are accredited and only available for a fee. There is also a lot of institutions contributing to the service which would be more in keeping with the Rice model. There is little information about funding on the site but it does seem to operate mostly on 'pay per study' indicating it is a commercial enterprise with a profit motive driving the development of the services.

BCCampus is funded by the tax-payer (presumably Canadian ones) and other grants. It has paid staff provides open text books free of charge. This is closer to the MIT model in funding and access though it seems to be a slightly smaller operation so may be closer to a USU model. 

FutureLearn is another service which operates on a 'pay-per-learn' basis. There are free versions of some of the shorter courses but accreditation costs (a certificate of achievement) and there is clearly a push to ensure clients opt for the paid service. It doesn't fit into any model fully but looks comprehensive and slick and advertises links with a number of universities. Aspects of it fit within all three models. 

OpenLearn is developed and provided by the Open University. There are hundreds of free courses which appear to be developed entirely within the confines of the Open University. None of the free courses come with formal accreditation but there are digital badges and statements of participation. This actually appears to be closest to one of the Wiley models of all four examples - the MIT model. This appears to be an inhouse OU project and it is free to users. 

Wiley's models sound comprehensive but the lack of the 'paid study' option is limiting. It is obvious that an easy way to ensure sustainability in anything is to make it commercially viable. (That said - I am excited to see how many fascinating and free things I can learn online. In the early days of the internet I used to lose whole days clicking on links within Wikipedia.... this looks like a much more expansive and satisfying version of the same thing!)

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Anna Greathead

If you want to use my blog posts....

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We are now starting to think of the legal side of OERs. It maybe is not first and foremost in the minds of people motivated by a pure and uncomplicated devotion to the sacred space learning to hold within our society but it's important when the pragmatic realities of living under capitalism bite. 

The infographic given is very useful but, I suspect, simplistic. However - given that I, and Mr O Pen, have a lot in common it's useful for this exercise. Both myself and Mr Pen have created 'resources' essentially to help ourselves. I blog about my OU journey to help me reflect upon, commentate on and record my learning and Mr Pen creates resources for his own classroom. Neither of us have invested huge amounts of time or money into the venture and neither of us created with the intention of making OERs. I think the issues that he and I are considering are vastly different to an institution which may have spent a lot of time and money creating entire curriculums and courses. 

For me I would like:

  • Attribution: Mr Pen may find that his videos could lead to further income or job offers etc but I have no such hope! The best I can hope for is a few citations! I would want to be cited if used though - mainly because you simply don't know where this could lead.
  • No derivs: If someone were to reuse a blog post of mine I would want the whole thing reproduced. In text it is easy to take a sentence out of context and imply it means something the author did not intend. Add in my light-hearted, ironic and sarcastic style and this risk seems ever more significant! 
  • Non-commercial: if anyone gets to make money out of my ramblings I would want it to be me!
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Anna Greathead

Rethinking OERs

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I'm not sure if it was the emphasis in H800 but my impression of OERs was definitely skewed towards creating resources which could be utilized in developing nations - my thinking about it was related to it being on basic platforms, accessible with lower tech hardware and less reliable internet access, and having a philanthropic motivation underlying the whole project. 

It was only upon reading the Downes paper that the possibilities for OERs in the developed world - even the richest and most privileged corners of the developed world - occurred to me. 

The saddest thing about reading the Downes paper was that it is eighteen years old and the optimistic (and, to my mind, entirely  reasonable) future he envisioned has not arisen.  

I now need to read the next three papers to find out why!

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Anna Greathead

Zero Sum Education

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

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

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

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

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


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Anna Greathead

Innovation and Openness

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H817 is about openness and innovation so OERs (so beloved in H800 - NOT!) are a natural early place to begin. 

The idea of OERs is simply wonderful - a huge collection of educational and learning resources and programs which can be sourced without charge via the internet enabling access for both students with niche learning requirements and also for learners with access limitations (due to geography, disability, wealth etc.). 

I like the idea of this being innovation - it's hard to remember how game-changing the internet has been in all areas of our lives because it's been so game changing! The opportunities it offers for many sectors of society, including learning, are only limited by our imaginations and the technology keeps getting better and offering further opportunities with each step forward. I definitely like the fact that it's open. The democratization of knowledge across national, ethnic and wealth classes must be a good thing! 

I enjoyed the McAndrew and Farrow paper because it was backwards! OERs are already out of the imagination of their creators, available to the masses and a reality for millions - all before there has been time to debate and develop and good robust pedagogy and theoretical underpinning of this new and very new feature of learning and education. This 'backwards' feature is inevitable when the world moves and changes rapidly as it has in the internet age but it is hardly new. Most theory is developed retrospectively though it may, naturally, also be used to inform the development of new products and plans, and to optimize and rationalize old ones. 

As is often the case where there is an acronym - a word by word analysis is of great value:

  • Open - things which are easily available to many / most. 
  • Educational - things designed for learning, not where learning is an incidental effect (So a video about the physics of space travel rather than a film such as Star Trek in which you might learn some principles about space travel)
  • Resources - I would characterize these as being artefacts (papers, worksheets, videos, audio clips, books) rather than people (experts, teachers).

Some of the 'innovations' we've looked at some far don't feel very innovative in 2019 but give examples of the use of new technology to implement new ideas. As is often the case - the first uses of a technology quickly become outdated and soon feel clunky but this does not make them less innovative - it simply makes them a step en route to what we now consider 'innovative' which will, in turn, seem outdated and clunky! 


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Anna Greathead

TMA02 - the panic settles in!

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I want to finish TMA02 by Friday 25th May so I can go on holiday with my family and have a week off. 

This means I now have 8 days to complete the assignment. 8 days to organize my 1000s of words of disorganized notes and quotes into coherent and logical discussion points! 

Here's my plan:

1. The Global Digital Divide - a PowerPoint Presentation

I want to present how the internet growth in Africa (specifically - it's true elsewhere too) is much more driven by smartphones operating on 3G and 4G than by more familiar (to us in the developed world) laptop and broadband set ups. Many OERs have been developed and made available which should help teachers and learners in Africa but it depends on what those OERs are. If they're videos - especially HD videos - then the data munching will make viewing them expensive and potentially time consuming and jumpy! Plus - if they're watching it on a smartphone screen the picture will be so small that only one or two other people can even share the experience. 

I am going to suggest that the growth of smartphones should impact how teachers choose to teach and how learners can best learn - and especially how the developers of OERs should proceed! 

2. The Net Generation - 1000 words

It seems so intuitive that growing up with the internet will make you qualitatively different that actually suggesting students are still, in the essentials, much as they've always been sounds blasphemous! My argument here is not that student have changed due to the internet but that education has not changed for decades. It is not fit for purpose now - with all the available technology and resources - but it wasn't really fit for purpose before then either. The technology has presented new challenges and new solutions but using technology for the sake of it without a well grounded pedagogy is a fruitless as refusing to use technology because 'chalk and talk' worked very well for hundreds of years! 

I want to suggest that practitioners must be strategic in how they employ technology and learners still need to put the brain work and metaphorical elbow grease in! 

3. Blogs and blogging - 100 words

Reflective learning fits neatly into the social constructivist theory of learning and learning journals and learning diaries have supportive literature going back decades. The blog is a new, and I would argue, improved version of this. Firstly it's much harder to lose and much easier to edit. Secondly it can (if the writer wishes) engage other students and tutors in debate and conversation. Thirdly it provides a record of a learning journey which adds to the resources for future learners. 

Practitioners who employ this reflective tool are providing scaffolding which will, all being well, result in learners becoming self-directed, independent and not teacher dependent. Learners writing a blog may find it extremely useful for organizing thoughts, having a moan, reflecting on a side tangent and planning a TMA!

4. How would I redesign blogging in H800 

I would incorporate it with the forums. Lots of people write long reflections in the forums (fora?) and I am sure they also have long reflections about less specific questions and about the tangents and active mind inevitably travels. It is a shame if these thought processes and reflections are lost to the rest of us because they don't neatly fit into a forum question. As a learner I would benefit greatly from this - and for more interaction with my own blog posts. 

Making reflection a mandatory activity is fraught with difficulty! I'm going to have to think about it!

5. Which aspects of ‘learner experience’ do you think should be investigated – either on H800 or in your own context – and which methods would you use to do so?

I haven't got here yet! I guess I ought to look to my own context as a professional rather than as a learner given that my last activity was learner based. Maybe I could assess how much doing endless practice MCQ questions benefits a learner over more visual, interactive or 'deep learning' methods. 

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