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The Project (capital T, capital P)

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H818 is different to my previous modules. It requires the ongoing development of a single idea / project which is mooted in TMA01, developed in TMA02, presented in the conference and reflected on for the EMA.

The project must have something to do with Openness and also fall under one of the subject areas of inclusion, innovation of implementation.

I have two ideas - neither of which seem ideal but both of which kind of interest me. I am awaiting specific tutor feedback to see which one I should pursue:

1. OU Blogs - who uses them for what

The OU blog has been a revelation for me. I have found it exceptionally useful in a reflective capacity but also for expanding ideas which have piqued my interest and about which I have wanted to explore further. I didn't expect to gain a lot of traction but I have had over 30,000 views of this blog (although far fewer comments and interactions than you might expect). I am really interested to see if other students have found their blogs similarly, or differently, useful and whether the tool is working the way envisaged by the OU initially.

I can imagine getting data from my current and previous OU student groups but also being able to source further OU students through Twitter, Facebook and simply by searching existing blogs for comments and interactions.

I would speak to a small number first to develop good survey questions based on their experiences and comments. Once I had developed a good survey I would place this online and invite as many people as possible to respond. I would include an option to engage in a deeper email conversation for people willing and able to share their experiences more deeply.

Although the OU blogs are not entirely open unless the student allows this they are an example of students producing work which is available to others to reference, discuss and consider. The blog system can promote collaboration and networking as well as promoting reflective practice.

I think that the umbrella here would be implementation and that the presentation of a paper detailing research and findings would be most obvious.


2. Facebook Groups - who uses them for what

My employer administers a number of Facebook groups. A company page, a closed resource page and a private study group page. In total there are over 22,000 members (though obviously many individuals are part of more than one of the groups). The different pages operate slightly differently and garner different levels, and different kinds of engagement. I would be interested to analyse and measure this to see how the groups are being used to distribute educational resources, facilitate collaboration and encourage networking.

It would be difficult to gain consent to use individual's data in the specific report about these groups but as I will be mostly classifying and analysing posts (rather than the people who make those posts) I wonder if this is a less important consideration. I suspect there may be a fine line to tread here and the importance of developing a robust ethical position could not be overstated.

The advantage to this project is that it could enable my employer to better administer and utilise the groups to commercial and educational advantage. This may mean that I am free to use work time to do some of the research!

I think this also most comfortably sits within the 'implementation' area as it is a tool being used to implement many good learning habits and resources. This could be presented as a paper or possibly a workshop on how to best engage people using Facebook.

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Is Big Brother Listening? Social Learning Analytics

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The opening paragraph of this paper by Dawson et al. neatly summarises a major weakness with learning analytics - that the data gathered is gathered incidentally rather than with pedagogical intent.

The obvious question to ask is 'what data would be more useful?' and then 'how can we collect that data?'

Social Learning Analytics is based on the premise that the answer to the first question is 'information about the interactions between learners' based on the observation that knowledge is increasingly distributed and learning has become less about learning knowledge from a 'wise sage' and more about connections and collectively held knowledge.

The second question - how can we collect that data? - presents a problem. It is not difficult to track forum contributions or similar within an institutions VLE. The interactions can be automatically tracked and the length, time of and words within those posts can be classified and codified but the assessing the quality of engagement requires human input. This is merely the first issue: most interactions between students don't happen within the VLE. However slick an institutions VLE is it is unlikely to be as intuitive, familiar and easy as platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. Students will opt for easy for them over helpful for the institution.

The idea of any institution monitoring and analysing my Facebook and WhatsApp conversations is creepy!




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Big Data and my favourite companies

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Costa Coffee is my favourite of the high street chains and I buy coffee from there about once a week on average. This article announces the companies intention to use 'big data'. The article is short of specific details but gives a few broad motivations behind the initiative. These are:

  • "to rapidly generate insights that create value for our business"
  • "provided more accurate decisions"
  • "significantly decreased the time required to understand the impact of each new idea"
  • "technology that can pinpoint cause and effect, allowing management to examine how their decisions alter the performance of their companies"
The detail is commercially sensitive but the big picture is that the behaviour of customers, branches, products and initiatives will be tracked, analysed and the results of the analysis used to make decisions.

Tesco is my main supermarket and the way it uses artificial intelligence and big data is described in this 2017 article. This article interestingly takes the angle that the way big data allows a company to anticipate, or even predict, the buying preferences of its customers is to be applauded and is appreciated by customers. It also describes how 'big data' is being used for supermarkets to regain control which was lost in price wars which left them less able to differentiate between the way customers interact with different brands based on factors other than price. As you would expect with any commercial enterprise the motivation is entirely commercial. Providing the customer with a better experience is only useful in so much as it may generate further spending and therefore greater revenue for the business.

There are 134,000,000 results for the Google search "Big data" Facebook. That's not surprising given the amount of data which Facebook have about their users, and the fact that they have 2 billion users. This 2018 article lists impressive figures about how much data is amassed and how quickly the data held is increasing. It makes the more obvious points about tracking activity of users but then adds these four less obvious ways in which the use of 'big data' can be observed:

  1. Tracking cookies: Facebook tracks its users across the web by using tracking cookies. If a user is logged into Facebook and simultaneously browses other websites, Facebook can track the sites they are visiting.
  2. Facial recognition: One of Facebook’s latest investments has been in facial recognition and image processing capabilities. Facebook can track its users across the internet and other Facebook profiles with image data provided through user sharing.
  3. Tag suggestions: Facebook suggests who to tag in user photos through image processing and facial recognition.
  4. Analyzing the Likes: A recent study conducted showed that is viable to predict data accurately on a range of personal attributes that are highly sensitive just by analyzing a user’s Facebook Likes. Work conducted by researchers at Cambridge University and Microsoft Research show how the patterns of Facebook Likes can very accurately predict your sexual orientation, satisfaction with life, intelligence, emotional stability, religion, alcohol use and drug use, relationship status, age, gender, race, and political views—among many others.
It then lists some features of Facebook  which are only possible because of 'big data' such as the flashback feature, the 'I voted' feature (which may be encouraging more people to vote) and services such as profile photo overlays to show support for various causes or events. 

Many of the ways in which Facebook uses big data seem benign and even fun. The platform uses the data it holds to remain engaging and keep the attention of its users. This ultimately makes advertising on the platform more lucrative and drives Facebook's profits.

A useful run down of how big data is used in other industries can be read here. Analytics have already changed our world. It seems likely that, as technology improves this process will accelerate.

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Asynchronous Collaboration

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 15 Jan 2020, 13:11

Not going to lie - I am finding this hard. 

I see no reason to assume that the other four people in my group are slacking off - after all I disappeared for a week to go on holiday, there are days I don't do any OU work at all due to other commitments and sometimes my dipping into H817 is unfocused and little more than a passing glance. (Although one of them has been AWOL all week!)

That said - I am frustrated that we haven't really completed what we were supposed to. There was a flurry of urgency in the week - an online poll, a WhatsApp conversation, a Padlet was set up, emails were sent and then not much has happened collaboratively since then. I have done some things, including a Wiki document which could morph into the final project; but I am painfully aware that I can't do this alone and that I might be getting it all wrong! I'm even paranoid enough to have wondered if the others have set up a separate group from which I am excluded due to my evident ineptitude! 

Collaboration is clearly a good thing. I don't think there is any real argument about that. But collaboration between people who are complete strangers, living in different times zones to one another, all collaborating in their spare time and with a ague brief as to what they're aiming to achieve is, let me assure you, hard work! 

So here's my check list of what would make this task easier!

1. Everyone participating from the beginning. At first there was a lot of waiting around for all of the group to join in. In hindsight this wasted the first half of the week. Whilst it's very democratic to want input from everyone before getting started it's impractical when you are unsure that everyone will give any input. 

2. Clearly designed brief with examples. We are all new to H817 and (I guess) many people are also new to the Open University, Post Graduate Studies and MAODE too. The brief we had was hard to pin down. It would have been better if it had been more 'essay' structured - 'outline the strengths and weaknesses of a chosen technology and evaluate how said technology has encouraged innovation or represented innovation in e-learning. Use examples from your own and / or other contexts'. Having to create a scenario and agree on it took ages. If a scenario is what is needed for later than give us one! 

3. Accept that contribution will be uneven and sporadic. Different people will be able to contribute to any project differently. One of our group set up a Padlet - great idea in theory but it was not immediately editable. I set up what I thought was a Wiki page which everyone could edit but it turns out to have been as secure as a bankers vault and I had to copy and paste it in an email to someone else to publish properly! I am most free on Tuesdays and at weekends. I usually cannot manage any study on Fridays. I imagine my group mates have similarly complicated schedules. 

4. Use WhatsApp, Messenger or some other proprietary platform to communicate. Exchange email addresses. If I were to make one recommendation to the OU it would be to make the forums a lot more like a Facebook comments thread. I am literally on Facebook for my entire waking life. My phone is rarely more than a foot away from me and any and all Facebook notifications are seen within minutes. Ditto WhatsApp, Messenger, email. I open my OU page maybe once or twice a day. It's rare that an OU forum post needs my immediate attention but  I could answer a query more immediately or ask a question and get a quicker response if it were more like Facebook. Our group WhatsApp group has been the place where most of our informal discussion has happened and from which we have directed one another to the work we've begun.

5. Try and replicate the situated group experience by exchanging the odd joke! A shared love of Red Dwarf (and red wine) led to a short but fun exchange. As a consequence I feel more connected to one of my group mates and therefore more able to effectively work with them. 

6. Don't expect the situated group experience to be very similar to the distributed group experience I have concluded that asynchronicity is the key issue. We are working on the same thing but not at the same time. We cannot, therefore, be certain that we are sharing fully the aims, objectives, vocabulary and understanding necessary to produce effective work. There will be misunderstandings and there will have to be compromise. 

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Imagine if....

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We have been looking this week at the value of institution specific virtual learning environments (VLEs) versus other general internet platforms which may be more familiar to learners. 

I love Facebook. I was an early adopter and I still log on several times a day. I use it for socializing, debating, organizing, asking questions. I find the layout and features very intuitive and each new version adds more usability and value (although I bitch about it like everyone else for a few weeks after it starts to look different!)

I would like if more of our H800 / OU experience was more like Facebook. I'd prefer if the forums were presented in that way - so I could respond to individual comments rather than adding to a thread. I'd like to be able to 'like' a comment without having to comment on it. I'd like to be easily able to add links and pictures (it's not hard in the forums, it's just easier in Facebook) and I'd like to be permanently logged in on my phone as well as my laptop. 

At present Facebook may not offer the specific features necessary for the whole course. Private areas can be organized but maybe not secure enough to ensure appropriate privacy. Handing in assignments may be tricky without first publicly posting them online. It would also require everyone had a Facebook account which I know may not be what everyone wants.

I would love it if Facebook could develop an associated service called 'Facebook Scholar' or similar with the appropriate functionality. 

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Using Twitter

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 12 Jun 2018, 15:12

A few years ago I was sent on a few 'Using Social Media' workshops which were being offered to the employees of SMEs. 

The funniest one was the 'Facebook for Beginners' class in which it became very obvious, almost immediately, that I was far more expert than the tutor! I was an early adopter of Facebook and I knew my way around!

It was a bit like that this week. I have ebbed and flowed in my Twitter use for the past few years but I have, at various points, being quite active and I know my way around. I know about finding people and hashtags, I know how to send a tweet to a specific person, I know how to reply to another tweet and effectively begin or join a conversation, I know how to include a link. I even know how to shorten the link! 

I confess, though, I had not thought of Twitter as being useful before. I've used it to promote products at work and I've used to moan about panelists on Question Time (and judges on Strictly!), and I've used it to 'microblog' my activities. 

I looked at one article posted by Lynne (who is in my tutor group) but couldn't find any other content under the #H800 hashtag. Have other students not got this far yet or have they not used the hashtag? It wasn't part of the instructions yet was instinctive to me. 

Lynne's article looks interesting but I was on my phone so didn't risk my eyesight trying to read it in full. It was a tad old and suggested huge numbers of students use Facebook as a key part of their university application research - something I strongly suspect is no longer the case (young people don't use Facebook much - their parents are there!). However - the abstract and introduction did introduce the issue of 'blurring' caused by Facebook - the blurring of personal and professional, private and public, social and individual, opinion and information. I think this is a key quality (note - not a strength or weakness) of Web 2.0. Old distinctions, even firm demarcation lines, don't apply in the same way when we are online. 

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The narrowing of the digital divide

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 15 May 2018, 23:00

One of the activities I plan to write about in my TMA is the Global Digital Divide. When doing this activity a few weeks ago I looked at the region (ha!) of Africa (a pretty big region!) and speculated that the provision of OERs by western universities would be unlikely to be helpful to most people in Africa as internet connectivity was both rare, poor and expensive. I looked up infographics to show how the undersea cabling simply didn't reach Africa as strongly as it reached North America and Europe.

https://www.submarinecablemap.com/#/

I assumed that the vastness, and relatively emptiness, of the African continent meant that stretching the infrastructure from the coast inland simply hadn't been done and therefore, the videos, quizzes, resources and lectures being provided 'for free' would not actually contribute to the improvement of the learning environment for Africans but rather sit there uselessly - an unusable but expensive white elephant. 

However - this was based on the information linked to by H800 - mostly at least 5 years old. 

I've now done some much more up to date research (aided by the hive mind that is Facebook and specifically three computer-y friends who exploded with geekiness upon being asked for advice and information!) and see that the global digital divide is narrowing - pretty much before our eyes in a visible way. 

This website is full of very up to date information about the whole world and if, how and why it connects to the internet. 153 pages of fascinating data. Yet not one which expressly refers to learning or education. Lots about social media, banking, commerce... but no learning.

I also was linked to this initiative by Facebook which also fails to explicitly refer to education and learning except for two video diaries of learners - one school boy and one adult learner. It addresses connectivity and some of the technical efforts they are making to address the shrinking inequality. 

Other projects were linked to which had the aim of both strengthening the internet connection in Africa, and utilizing it for the common good in various ways - though education was, once more, notable in its absence. 

So it's back to the drawing board! I think that 10 years ago my planned plea for OERs to be made in text form, avoiding bandwidth munching pictures and videos, would have been right on the money! However - now I think I will have to rethink. Maybe the same problems which always faces schools in Africa will be the key - simply having buildings, teachers, uniforms and equipment will continue to be the challenge. The equipment may be more technological, and the teachers may need more training and the buildings may need internet connectivity.... yeah - there's still 1000 words in that!

 


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Paralinguistic Cues

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 2 May 2018, 15:34

Don't you just love it when you get the vocabulary to succinctly define and describe an idea you've been struggling to articulate?

I got that this morning when reading Price et al. describing the research carried out about students perceptions depending on whether they experienced face to face tutoring, or online tutoring. 

In my last TMA, and in various forum posts, I have expressed my own unease with the online tutoring format. I fully accept that MAODE - being the study of online and distance education - would be subject to some ironic eyebrow raising if face to face activity constituted any of its activity but the complete lack of 'being in the same room' as my tutor and tutor group is something of a gear change for me and one which is a little sticky! 

It's funny because I am very adept and comfortable in written forum situations - Facebook is my online home - and I find the forums very satisfying if not as user friendly as Facebook (I'd love to be able to 'like' a post rather than comment on it, I'd like to be notified if someone responds to something I have posted, I wish that the 'threads' of conversations were more easily defined so we could see who was replying to whom etc.) but I am finding the online rooms more tricky.

My idea is that were we all in a room together the tutor would be able to see if someone looked confused, and conversely if someone looked like they'd had a lightbulb moment! People struggling to articulate an idea wouldn't be talking to a broadly silent online room but may be assisted and prompted by their peers and tutor. If someone was desperate to make a contribution that would be evident by their body language, and if someone hadn't managed to get a word in edgeways then it is easier to identify a person who hasn't contributed rather than a voice you haven't heard. These paralinguistic cues enable a smoother and, for me at least, more satisfying encounter. 

I absolutely concede that this may simply be 'my problem'. I am an extrovert (a pretty garrulous one!) and this means of communication (a group chat so to speak) is entirely new to me. I am hoping to get more adept at it, and more comfortable. I also think the technology is not quite up to speed yet - there appears to be a delay in the voices (much like an international phone call from years ago) which further complicates the interaction. 


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Block 2 and this gets real-er

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We are now a week and a bit into Block 2 and it feels different. I had my doubts in Block 1 but I did, at least, feel like I was understanding the material. I may have been interpreting it wrongly but I was understanding it on a level! 

Block 2 has started in a very different manner! Firstly I have not yet received a mark for my first TMA and am feeling mildly insecure about that. I really want a mark.... but I really don't want a bad mark! 

Our first few activities were to do with Learning Design (which I think means lesson planning!) and I have been confused! It took me a while to realize that all eight lesson plans were for the same lesson and it was the actual lesson planning design template which we were assessing. This, once it became clear, was actually interesting. I have asked my Facebook friends (loads of teachers there!) how they plan lessons. I have had a number of responses but they've mainly been to do with sticking to the curriculum than with the template they use. I need to find a way of asking the same question in a less ambiguous way. I can see that a good lesson plan may make the process of teaching, and learning, more satisfying even if the essential elements of the lesson were unchanged. 

I've also decided to go back to basics and become a bit more familiar with some of the basic theories of learning. The words 'behaviourist' and 'constructivist' are being used as if we should know what they mean... so maybe I should! Early on in H800 someone linked to a marvelous website which gives concise and easy to understand definitions so I plan to read them, blog about them and refer to them as I move forward. 

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