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Bumps in the Road

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H818 feels quite different to either H800 or H817.

Both of my previous modules felt solidly academic even though the delivery, assessment and teaching was done differently. I basically knew that I had to do the activities, do some extra reading, write an assignment which answered the question and was internally logical and then I would succeed.

H818 feels, already, like it might present of a challenge. There is a very strong push to produce something to 'publish' rather than a piece of work which will demonstrate to your tutor that you have understood the course and grasped the relevant concepts.

The word 'networked' obviously provides a clue but the extent to which we are to be working as a group n H818 scares me a bit! Group work in H817 was difficult!

Plus I am having to get to grips with yet more OU resources which don't quite match proprietary equivalents in terms of usability, intuitiveness or appearance.

Argh.

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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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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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Taking Stock

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Friday, 17 Jan 2020, 11:32

I'm a week behind on activities (I think the whole group is and I think we are ahead of some of the other groups).

The first page of the fortnight which began a week ago used the words 'take stock' of what we had done so far.

Distributed group work has been challenging but also satisfying. I have been forced to learn and adopt new things but have also had the opportunity to show what I could do already. So here's my top ten of the project so far.

  1. I have learned how to use Google Docs. This is hopelessly tragic as I realise how ubiquitous it is. However - now I know I know. It's been quite intuitive and I'll definitely use it going forward in different contexts
  2. I set up a website! It's merely a Google Sites one but using the power of...err.... Google I did it. I really did it as a scratch pad for my own experimentation and I fully expected someone else to come along with something flashier and better (which would have been fine) but the team are editing it and it's coming together
  3. Working with people about whom I know essentially nothing has been surprising, frustrating, fun and difficult. In real life we often may have to work with people we don't know well but working with people we neither know nor can see brings up challenges I wouldn't have anticipated
  4. A good team leader is the crux of a project like this. I think of myself as a natural leader but I am so SO grateful that Vicky has been the Team Leader. She was the obvious choice (though she graciously suggested to the others that I could do it) and she's done brilliantly. I can see how much she is having to do and co-ordinate.
  5. Sometimes it feels like you need to be seen to be doing something more than actually doing something. I'm not proud of this but I am self conscious that anyone might think I am a slacker!
  6. Waiting for other people to do their 'bit' is frustrating in the extreme when you can't do your bit until they're done. I blame no one for this - I am fully aware that all six of us have complicated lives and that we all fit our studies around the rest of it rather than fitting our lives around our studies but when I have free time but can't get on with much.... I get a bit antsy!
  7. There is always something you can do! This flies in the face of the previous point I know! You can never have too much background information and reading on board (though you do need to know when to stop - there is an infinity of information and a finite word count and deadline). Reading around the subject - even if I don't directly feed it into the group - enables me to make suggestions and raise issues I would not have thought of otherwise
  8. Choosing the first thing (in our case the context) can take ages. As can making any firm decisions later on. Everyone wants to have a say and wants everyone else to have a say too. It is all too easy to waste time trying to ensure you arrive at absolute consensus. Pragmatically this is almost impossible and agreeing to an acceptable, albeit imperfect, route forward enables movement.
  9. Cross cultural and cross time zone working presents challenges which are hard to quickly overcome. Our team members are spread over 12 time zones - a conference altogether is not going to happen. This is simple logistics. What is less simple is the cultural mores, references and markers which are the stuff of daily conversation but which can inadvertently exclude people.
  10. Reflection is so important in every area of learning. Just as I have found this blog crucial for chronicling my OU journey I can see how properly facilitated reflection could be invaluable to anyone embarking on a new profession, study path or adventure.
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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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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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The second rule of asychronous and distributed group work

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One of our seven team members has not showed up at all yet. He is in Bangladesh so it's not as if we an pop around to see if he is OK!

Another team member is still snowed under by the last TMA. He will be up and ready to join in when he's submitted it in a few days time but so far his input has been sporadic.

A third team member lives in Dominica so is many hours behind the rest of us. When we work in the evening he is still at work, when he works in the evening we are tucked up in bed!

A fourth member is struggling a bit with the technology. Her computer struggles with all the apps we are trying to use to collaborate best.

A fifth member is impressively taking the lead on a lot of things and has been unanimously elected team leader. My fear is that it would be all too easy to let her get on with it unsupported.

And then there is me. I am enjoying the collaboration a lot more than I expected to. Now some clearly defined tasks and goals are emerging from the vague gloom that is the spec I can envisage a final project.

The thing is that collaboration carries so many risks. Non-engagement is obvious. 'Over engagement' can look great as it gets stuff done but it can allow people to get an easy ride when a competent team member simply does it all. Busy-ness can sound like an excuse but for our team - all of us a juggling work and other commitments with our studies. We know that the best of intentions aside - life simply happens sometimes and our time and energy must be directed elsewhere. Technological failure is part and parcel of everyday life! The downside of the hyper convenient technologically enhanced lifestyles we now enjoy is that success or failure feels like it hangs on our internet connection speed!

RULE 2: Everyone on the team has their own challenges and circumstances. We all need to be willing to take up some slack, and sometimes acknowledge that we've dropped a few balls. That's team work.

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The first rule of asynchronous and distributed group work

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Group work is often tricky - getting everyone to agree to something is never easy and getting a majority which is palatable to those being overruled can be even harder!

In Block 3 were are collaborating on a group project which is, by design, both distributed and asynchronous. I feel much better prepared now we have a group WhatsApp and a Slack account (is account even the right word?). It feels like communication is underway and I can already see how some of the tools will be really useful.

One of our first activities is to identify potential problems and potential solutions and I have gone all badass! I have proposed that any idea or suggestion get a shelf life. If - after a defined amount of time - no one has objected or offered and alternative then consent is presumed. I realise this sounds pretty hardcore but the only way to make good progress on this project and get to all of our milestones en route to the final assignment is to keep moving. Waiting for someone to log in and make a comment is polite but it wastes the time of those waiting.It's true that someone may be ill, have a family crisis or even a weekend away - the reason people fail to participate may be entirely valid - but with six team members we may easily lose a couple of weeks if we wait for all of these events to resolve.

So

RULE 1: Assent is presumed if no indicative (an objection or an alternative) comment is made within 24 (or 36?) hours of a suggestion being made

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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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Collaboration over the Internet

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This week's activity is a group one. Our tutor group has been split into small groups and we are to complete an activity together. Have to confess that I groaned. I have exchanged a few messages with these people but I haven't heard their voices (my fault) and I don't know them AT ALL. I then scooted forward and looked at the next few weeks and the assessments and it seems group work is a far more dominant part of H817 than it was in H800. This makes me groan for a couple of reasons.

Firstly - it means I can't do work according to my schedule. In a non group-work week I would have finished my activities by now. The way my schedule works means I have more time at the start of the week than the end. 

Secondly - it means that if I totally misunderstand something then I, and I alone, get the associated fallout. No-one else is relying on me getting stuff right!

Thirdly - collaborating is tricky with people you don't know - even more so when your opportunities to get to know them are limited by having a solely online relationship. I often find I dominate in group work being naturally garrulous and an extrovert. In a group around a coffee table I can spot cues which show me if others are getting irritated by this and can back off... or I can see if I am in a group of people who are grateful when someone assumes to role of 'chair'. 

On the plus side - I also felt very apprehensive at the start of H800 and ended up doing well. Being a bit stretched is, according to the constructivist model, crucial to learning! 

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Reflections after a day at a university

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018, 23:28

I've spent today with my daughter who is applying to universities for 2019 entry (she's planning a gap year) and we have been at Lancaster University.

Part of the day was spent with current students in the course she is likely to take. One student - Lewis - said these things which I though it worth recording:

"I find I don't learn that much from my lectures, I learn far more from talking about it at my tutor groups afterwards."

"They record a lot of the lectures. Some people watch them rather than go to the lecture but it's also useful if you want to check on something and can watch it again later."


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