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A missed week and a heap of guilt

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 24 Feb 2019, 14:13

I flew out to India on 12th February and didn't return until 20th. Then I didn't log into my OU account until 22nd. 

I had prepared - kind of. I completed the week 9th-15th February before I left. I thought (optimistically) that I would immediately pick my OU stuff up and get the week 16th-22nd done after my return. Of course I hadn't allowed for jet lag, tiredness and other 'post holiday' commitments in my blithely made assumption and thus I missed that whole week. I am hoping to catch up on the activities today (I began yesterday) and be able to start this week tomorrow. But I realise now how valuable it is to do everything at the same time as the rest of the group. I simply wasn't part of the conversation. I can read the conversation. I can add my points, ideas, perspective and so on but everyone else has moved on. This is unusual as previously I have often been 'first' to add to a forum, to offer my thoughts and I have had issues with that as well! 

Worse still there was a group exercise from which I was entirely absent. I feel a bit bad. I am usually diligent in group work as I never want to be accused on not pulling my weight but this time it is undeniable. Actually - I feel a lot bad! I also missed the introductory tutorial. Both of them! There was one the day I flew out and another the day I arrived home! Both could have technically been possible but both would have been very difficult to schedule in. I am now also concerned I have missed out on the relationship building and recognition side of the group. 

But I am back now. I have blocked out some time to properly 'catch up' and hope to be back on track quickly. I am confident I can catch up on the academic stuff - the papers, activities and so on. I am more concerned that I won't be able to catch up on the softer but equally important business of being part of the tutor group.

Time will tell. 

Here's a picture to prove I was in India! 


Anna on an elephant

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My experiences of Innovation

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I work for an internet-based company, so the very foundation of the business is based on innovation. The company began by running courses which were sold and promoted online. As time progressed online revision services were developed – initially a bank of MCQs then later things like lecture videos and model exam answers and consultations.

Later we added books and other physical revision aids, webinar courses, Livestream options for our main course, one to one sessions in person and by Skype. As a small business we are reasonably nimble and able to respond quickly to new customer needs and to expand into new areas. We are often able to develop new products and services very rapidly as there is essentially only one level of management, and a committed team.

We are always encouraged to suggest development plans. When new ideas are mooted they are extensively discussed and debated and often tried out. The smallness of the company allows us to ‘suck it and see’. There is no policy; another feature of the small company. We launched and then closed a side business in 12 months when it became evident that it would take more staff time and earn less income than we’d expected.

Because of this willingness to work collectively on new projects I am very willing to make suggestions both for new ideas, and also to develop existing ones further.

Examples of innovations I have been part of in recent years:

  • The introduction of a vicarious learning model for our facilitators
  • The development of physical revision aids – case cards, a revision calendar
  • The creation of an online service for international medical graduates who wish to practice in the UK
  • The extension of our online services to include a free mock exam as a sample
  • The creation of four separate courses of different lengths for aspiring med students
  • The creation of two new courses to complement existing courses to extend commercial opportunities and further help learners
  • Reworking existing courses to better meet client needs / preference

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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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PROMPT Criteria

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Part of the main activity of H817 Week 1 was to ensure we learn to recognize and source good resources going forward. The PROMPT criteria are, in my mind, quite obvious! I can imagine them being very useful in undergraduate studies but post graduate? Does this stuff really need to be spelled out?

On reflection (that is, after all, the point!) I can see that I have utilized a few short cuts to avoid falling foul of the criteria - principally I get my resources from the OU library and I filter for peer reviewed journals, and give algorithm preference to newer material. 

Peer review and simple dating must take care of the OMPT part of the criteria. My own preference may deal with the initial P although in my experience the peer-reviewed journals tend to look and read similarly to each other. The R is the challenge - partly because the huge number of resources available can muddy the waters and require increasingly specific and detailed search criteria. Secondly is my temptation to look for things which intrigue me rather than resources which will help me answer the question! 

PresentationGiven the age, condition and format of the information, is it as readable as it could be? Is the information clearly laid out and easy to navigate? Is it obscured by busy designs, animations or images?
RelevanceDoes the information you have found meet the need you have identified? Does it make sense in the particular context in which you are working?
ObjectivityDoes the author or owner of the information make clear their own and/or alternative views?
MethodIs it clear how the research was carried out? Were the methods appropriate? Does it permit the author to come to a sound and reasonable conclusion? Note that these criteria are particularly important when evaluating scientific and historical information.
ProvenanceCan the author or source of the information be considered a reliable authority on the subject?
Timeliness

When was the information produced? Is it recent or dated? Is it obsolete? Does the age of the information matter on this occasion?

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Second Life and other Simulation

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This Seely-Brown article we have been asked to read is over ten years old, so it is inevitable that what is discussed as cutting edge innovation will not seem quite so startlingly cutting edge in 2019! However – there are themes and patterns in the innovation which Seely-Brown refers to which have relevance today.

Second Life is something I have only ever heard of as being a bit dated. Like many other platforms which have attracted a large following there have been attempts to utilize the function for learning related activity even though the platforms were not designed with learning in mind and this is what my studies have focused on. What Second Life offers incidentally, rather than by design, is a simulated version of an existing educational or learning activity – in this case simulated lectures, tutorials and study groups. These activities have traditionally been situated but the internet has allowed a ‘virtual’ version to happen alongside, or instead of, the situated activities. Simulation of learning activities can expand the reach of the activity massively – to many more students in many more places. It can also extend the reach in terms of breadth of areas studied. Niche subjects may struggle to attract a sufficient cohort in any given physical university, but these may operate nicely as a globally situated study group. It is, in my opinion, a desire for these two extensions of reach which have necessitated and inspired the innovation education has seen in recent decades. More learners, more subjects to learn. 

Learners gathered within Second Life can collaborate and discuss, and even support and mentor one another, over the internet in a similar way as they can in a lecture hall.  Gallego et al. (2016) are enthusiastic about how students ‘feel’ like they are in the same environment even when situated across the world. Gallego et al. test the three hypotheses which suggest students will be more engaged if it is a) convenient, b) fun and c) social (essentially!) I looked most thoroughly at this paper as it was relatively recent and fit the PROMPT criteria of being well presented, relevant, objective, there was detailed description of the method employed, the paper was published in a peer reviewed journal and it’s relatively timely. The paper also claimed that upwards of 500 universities have a platform on Second Life.

Cheng, 2014, took a different approach and researched the way in which Second Life could be a useful pedagogical tool in which to engage learners with specific and preferred learning styles. The conclusion of their research was that some students will enjoy and engage with Second Life as a learning resource but this will be as a function of their preferred learning style (rather than the problem Seely-Brown addressed – the lack of physical space in educational institutions).  

My investigations about the current use of Second Life by educational institutions involved me googling ‘UK Universities using Second Life’. There was a flurry of activity around 2008 (inspired by, or inspiring the Seely-Brown paper?) but little else. My suspicion is that Second Life, as a proprietary brand, is little used. However – the questions it answered and opportunities it offered may not be.

I can absolutely see how Second Life can be used for learning and educational purposes. I also wonder if some of the functions available in Second Life are not only superfluous to any learning aims but also distracting from it. Does each student really need an avatar? Must tutorials be held in virtual gazebos on virtual tropical islands?! However – if Second Life is where students are it makes sense for educators and practitioners to meet them there. Just as Facebook does not offer any specific learning tools or educational functions it is still a valuable place for simulated learning activities to happen as that is where the students are.

Our OU group is one small testimony to the value of distributed study groups – we are scattered across the world yet, if my experience in H800 is anything to go by, are likely to operate in very similar ways as we would if we were gathered in a classroom (minus the coffee!). We have no avatars and will converse with voices and text. The superfluous, or extraneous, adds less value than it is worth. The important remains.


John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler (2008) ‘Minds on fire. Open education, the long tail, and learning 2.0’, Educause review, 17(February). Available at: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0811.pdf.�

Gallego, M. D., Bueno, S. and Noyes, J. (2016) ‘Second Life adoption in education: A motivational model based on Uses and Gratifications theory’, Computers and Education. Elsevier Ltd, 100, pp. 81–93. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2016.05.001.

Cheng, G. (2014) ‘Exploring students’ learning styles in relation to their acceptance and attitudes towards using Second Life in education: A case study in Hong Kong’, Computers and Education. Elsevier Ltd, 70, pp. 105–115. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.08.011.|


Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 6 Feb 2019, 09:52)
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Already behind!

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Monday, 4 Feb 2019, 16:37

The Open University Week runs from Saturday to Friday. In common with many people I work a Monday to Friday week most of the time so in H800 I usually tried to get a good chunk of my work done in the weekend. This meant I was often first on the forums! 

However - I have been working the last few weekends (and the last few weeks!) so here we are on Monday afternoon and I have not completed the 'tasks' assigned for the week (which doesn't end until Friday!) and I feel like I am being a slacker!

Initial reflections of H817 - the tutor group seems HUGE! I can't remember if it was this big in H800 (and I am sad I can't refer back to the conversations). The idea of trying to get to know that many people online is daunting. 

The initial reading from Seely-Brown - a familiar name - is literally making my brain squirm with pleasure! Just love the learning. 

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Starting H817, a learning journal

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 22 Jan 2019, 21:52

I am trying to get a head start on H817 as I will be away on holiday for a week near the beginning. My experiences of H800 convince me that this won't be the end of the world as long as I work hard before and after.

The first paper we had to read was by Park and is about the value of a Learning Journal. This immediately reminded me of some reflections I made in H800 and a little digging led me to TMA02 in which I wrote about the 'Blogging' activity. Unlike many of my OU compatriots I had found blogging as part of H800 to be extremely valuable. A place to record various trains of thought, to link areas of study to areas of experience and to expand on ideas sparked by tutor group discussions was both interesting and useful for my ongoing learning journey. 

This paper would have been so valuable but I didn't find it! I was gratified to see that Park had wrestled with a similar issue as I had discussed - if it's mandatory people may not get the value as they'll do it under sufferance; but if it's not mandatory people may not get the value as they probably won't do it! 

I didn't deliberately take five months off from study. The day I handed in my EMA I visited to 'what to study next' tab and found I had missed the deadline for October starts by only one day. I took this as a sign that my mind, family and laptop needed a break. (Dare I confess that my free evenings have become slightly dull?!) but I am now raring to go on H817. Especially as I have enjoyed the first paper so much!

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Alan Clarke, Thursday, 31 Jan 2019, 12:54)
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