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Not with a bang....

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

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

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

And it's felt oddly chilled!

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

Anyway - onwards to block 4.

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Heuristic?!

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A heuristic evaluation is a usability inspection method for computer software that helps to identify usability problems in the user interface (UI) design. It specifically involves evaluators examining the interface and judging its compliance with recognized usability principles (the "heuristics"). Wikipedia

I've honestly never heard the word heuristic before (and I know a lot of words!)

Once more I am up against an OU activity task which I barely understand and feel utterly ill equipped to complete.

Our group project has done what many projects seem to do - rapidly mushroomed from being something theoretical and distant into being a fully fledged and almost complete project. After weeks of discussions and foundation work the actual thing feels like it has suddenly appeared. And now I am supposed to go and use it and find everything I can which is wrong with it!

There are a number of problems with this!

1. My personality means that I neither like to receive or give anything which can be perceived as criticism! Rob, my team mate, has done a phenomenal job and the tool created is looking really good. Are there things I would change if I had both full creative control and vastly improved technical skill - of course. Is there a single thing that I think is sufficiently bad that I want to create extra work and further debate - NO!

2. The 'heuristic' templates are complicated! I am unsure - even having read them all a few times - whether we are looking for broken links, unclear instructions, design features we don't much like, things we wish were there but aren't, things we wish weren't there but are.... it seems we have to connect every little quibble with some theory. This is making the whole task seem impossible.

3. Time is short. We need to get this done so only small things can realistically be changed. But I don't know what is small and what isn't because I have not got the faintest idea how this tool was built! It is not an exaggeration to say my heart leapt when it became obvious that Rob was a Moodle expert. (Cut me some slack though - I made the original template of the website!)

4. The site looks good. Any issues I have with it don't seem to fit the dominant heuristic model about usability. (Again - what exactly does it mean?!)

Anyway - I shall try to work it out.... again! And I also want to get a bit more done on my personal reflections about this project. I keep reminding myself that this accounts for 72% of the overall grade! ha


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Chickens and Eggs

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Saturday, 15 Jun 2019, 14:47

An academic setting, with its fake contexts and imagined personas, can ask that a learning program be designed, or a learning tool be developed, in a specific order and way. In real life the the learning program must be fitted to an actual context with real people and programs are developed according to the capabilities of the available technology rather than developing technology to fit the ideal scenario.

I have experienced some frustration in this TMA03 process due to the very deliberate and linear way the activities have been set. Finding and describing the theoretical underpinnings of anything at all is something which hardly ever happens and when it does it is usually done retrospectively rather than at the start. While I understand that fitting the theory to the activity may seem backward it is the way most people operate most of the time.

I don't think this is usually a bad thing. Theory describes why and how things work but often our experiences and intuition enable us to make valid choices - which fit with theory - without us having to refer to theory beforehand.

I appreciate that the OU have tried to make the experience as realistic as possible by asking us to develop a context before developing a tool but the fact that we all know the end point makes this moot!


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Imposter Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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Task Focused

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Only 28%?

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After the joy of my TMA result yesterday I did some mental maths to work out how close I was to 'passing' the first part of H817.

And in doing so learned I only needed to get 20% in TMA03 to pass the continuous assessment part - and if I manage that I don't even need to bother with TMA04!!!

And that got me thinking about TMA03. The group work and project is so hard on lots of levels and yet it still only counts for 28% of the grade. I can see some reason behind this. Group work is often 'unfair' with some people contributing much more than others and even where the amount of contribution is even the quality may be vastly unequal. We all get the same mark for the group work component unless someone fails to contribute at all or that their contribution was sufficiently low that the tutor awards them a lower mark. Awarding several people a mark which was only earned by one or two is an inherent risk. Therefore - making the essay component of the assignment worth 72% allows appropriate differentiation to take place.

But I have worried, and stressed, and tinkered and toiled on the group project and barely done anything on the personal part. I can see that the effort for both parts of the assignment will be almost exactly inverse to the proportion of the marks.

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Leverage (aka taking advantage of your friends!)

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

We have chosen a context for our TMA03 group project - we are going to develop a technology based way for NQTs in secondary schools to keep a digital diary for reflection as they train.

In the end it was an easy decision - teaching is an area where reflection is already well established in professional training and practice and we all have some experience with teaching.

I know loads of teachers. I just thought I'd shoot a few of them a message asking about reflection in their own training and practice. Two have already proven very helpful to me in narrowing my focus and giving me a real vision of what already happens and why.

My first conversation was with an experienced secondary school teacher. (I have know him since he was 6 so calling him experienced is weird to say the least! But he has been qualified and working as a teacher for more than ten years so.....) Let's call him Ben (because that's his name!)

Ben mentors NQTs. He explained that reflection becomes second nature to effective and experienced teachers as they are always asking about how lesson plans, learning activities and individual encounters have worked. They reflect automatically on reasons things may not have been as effective as hoped, or what factors contributed to greater engagement and success than anticipated. Good teachers will seek to identify factors which impact on learning so they can be replicated or mitigated as appropriate. Ben spoke about how it is hard to avoid the process becoming a 'box ticking' exercise where facts get reported but application and evaluation are not part of the process.

My conversation with Ben crystallized  to me one of the core reasons that reflection is important for teachers. It is not enough to report back on why something did or didn't work - a sober assessment of the modifiable and fixed factors which affected the event must also happen if good practice is to be replicated and mistakes not repeated.

My second conversation was with my son who has just finished a degree in primary education. He has yet to do his NQT year but obviously has done a lot of placements during his degree and reflection has been part and parcel of that. Most useful in this conversation was learning about how he and his tutor / mentor used Padlet to converse, exchange notes and keep in touch. From what he says it was an ideal tool for a two way (mentor or tutor and learner) conversation where the learner can offer reflections and the mentor can guide them in becoming more effective in it.

My reading around the subject has led me to the 'acculturation' which I feel is key. What the NQT year aims to do is change trained individuals from students into practitioners. They must develop a new mindset so that they can operate as fully independent teachers at the end of the year. Becoming fully acculturated involves moving from 'reflective practice' being a mandatory part of the curriculum to being an automatic, intuitive and natural part of daily practice. It would be great if the tool we develop could enable that.

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The third rule of asynchronous and distributed group work

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I cannot express how much better I feel having had a web conference with 5 our of 6 of our team at the weekend. Making decisions is easy when someone suggests something eminently sensible and everyone just agrees! In a forum setting people seem a little more tentative in making suggestions for fear of being forceful (I assume) but some decisions simply need to be made.

As we are inventing our context as well as our platform, pedagogy and learning design we are in an unusual situation.Most learning design is created by people for a context which they have been presented with - not one they've invented. Most pedagogy and platform debates are framed by the platform that is available and the pedagogical values in place rather than inventing it all from nothing.

This openness can be exciting but also daunting. It's oddly easier to create a meal from a set of ingredients than to scour reciple books, go shopping and then cook, Too many options slow the process.

Because of that it's such a relief when someone says 'so... medics or teachers?' and someone else says 'I'd prefer teachers' and everyone goes 'fine' because most of us have no preference but don't want to step on the toes of those who do. And then, when that is decided, we get a bit of homework so that we can have a further discussion in a few days.

And in the meantime I am doing stuff. Nothing massive but peripheral and potentially useful things. Reading papers, extracting relevant quotes and writing a brief precis followed by my own take on it. I have added some stuff to the website - nothing  expect to make the final cut necessarily but scaffolding on which more can be done. It's hard to work on things which I know to be peripheral but a well rounded project needs the periphery. And foundational efforts make the rest of the work stronger and more secure.

RULE 3: Just do something

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Fell off the wagon :(

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In my last post I blamed the wait for my marked TMA for my feelings of disengagement but 2 weeks after I got it back I am only just properly logging in to my OU account. I have flitted in and out, I attended a tutorial (for which I was pretty unprepared) and I kept making plans to 'really get stuck in for a few hours this evening'. It's not been happening.

I do have a lot going on. My eldest child is, as I type, on a plane en route to Hong Kong where he will spend the next 5 weeks. He's been very chilled about it leaving me to complete the appropriate and necessary amount of worrying! My next child finished her A-level exams less than a fortnight ago leaving the whole household in a quivering heap of nervous exhaustion. I have two other children and a husband who have been somewhat neglected plus I have moved into a period at work which requires a fair amount of travel and diminished energy for study. Plus it is gorgeously sunshiny outside and studying is an inside activity. 

Thankfully an extension for TMA03 was agreed by my kind tutor! 

I imagine I can't be unique in a cyclical pattern of being 'in control' and 'on top of it' and 'coping fine' to the absolute opposite. 

Self directed adult studies require you to be a grown up. Absolutely no one harasses me to study. No one checks I am keeping up with the reading and the responsibility to log in and do the stuff lies entirely with me. Adulting is a skill which even an old woman of 44 sometimes finds tricky! 

Anyway - I now have the bones of my TMA3 together. I have started the activities for weeks 21/22 and I have looked at TMA04 and liked what I saw - it's more academic and less personal context dependent which is a relief. 

Just have to keep this up! What I really need is for my mum to draw a sticker chart and promise me a MacDonalds when I complete it! big grin

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Collaboration

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Thursday, 7 Jun 2018, 23:15

We are gearing up for TMA03 which is basically the plan for our EMA which is the big one. 

The final question we are the address in this short assessment is:

What is your current response (possibly very tentative at this stage) to the question: ‘To what extent do you find the concepts of “individual” and “collaborative” learning useful in understanding your experience of learning this year – whether on H800 or elsewhere?’

I knew that H800 (and MAODE more generally) would be a mostly solo exercise and I was happy with that. I am a full on extrovert but I have lots of outlets for this personality trait so I figured that a few hours alone at a laptop wouldn't hurt me at all!

In some ways I was right - I am finding that working at my own pace is very pleasing and that being able to investigate interesting tangents is satisfying (albeit time consuming!). What I hadn't banked on was the constant niggling question of 'Am I doing it right?' This need for affirmation can easily be satisfied by being in a peer group. 

The exchange of ideas and insights is valuable and collaboration in research vital. And I have missed that. I love the forums but they're not quite the same (especially as we are quite directed in our activity there).

I have found Adobe Connect frustrating generally. It's not quite similar enough to being around a coffee table; but tonight eight people from our tutor group met for over an hour to discuss TMA03, EMA and the course in general. It was so much fun and SO helpful. 

We also have a WhatsApp group and a Facebook group. People have started to follow each other on Twitter. I feel we are building really useful and productive relationships. I know I can learn a lot from these people and hopefully can offer them something as well. 
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