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Happy 50th Birthday Open University

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 28 Apr 2019, 16:28

If you didn't watch the fantastic program presented by Lenny Henry giving a precis of the whole ethos, life and times of the OU then please get to iPlayer ASAP and catch it!

I am unexpectedly moved and inspired by the history I just watched and the future I just envisioned. As a MAODE student it even seemed very educationally relevant. 

The open ethos of the Open University, the way resources have had to be created entirely to fit that ethos and courses designed with that ethos central to the pedagogy, the way that the OU has collaborated with other bodies, the way that the OU has utilized every emergent technology for the purposes of learning.... in fact.... was the whole show someone's MAODE dissertation?! 

Whilst I did put on the show as a slight 'TMA02 procrastination' activity I am now feeling full of enthusiasm! 


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Welcome to the study on E-learning, Learning Technology and Technology Inspired Pedagogy

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 3 Mar 2019, 20:13

I found this article so useful. I wish I had read it a year and a bit ago at the beginning of my MAODE journey. I had lightbulb moments as I was able to clearly distinguish between a trend and a development, a technology and a device. 

The paper, taken as a whole, paints a bright future in which technology is used to specifically create learning programs and resources for individual people with unique needs. The opportunities for these people to learn in a place and at a time which is convenient to them are wonderful but better still they will be able learn via rich, contextual resources and environments whilst collaborating with experts, fellow students, learners from complementary and opposite disciplines. Their progress will not only be closely tracked to quickly identify any potential problems or missing elements before they become insurmountable issues, but it will be able to anticipate future issues and needs using the mounted swathes of data previously analysed. 

Of course - it is unlikely that every point in this paper will turn out to be accurate but it's definitely helpful to see what might happen, what is currently being thought likely. 

Anyway - here's my summary! 

Six Key Trends

1.    Advancing Cultures of Innovation: Flexible, responsive, agile. Emphasis on entrepreneurship. Making universities seed beds of innovative economic activity. LONG TERM

2.    Rethinking How Institutions Work: Working towards a better match between graduate academic skills and desirable workplace skills, alternate methods of delivery of education to growing, and more specific, body of students. “Education as a Service” (EaaS) – students ‘pick and mix’ what they learn according to their needs. LONG TERM

3.    Redesigning Learning Spaces: more access to high tech devices and internet connectivity. Change from libraries full of physical journals to access for more people to more online journals. MID TERM

4.    Shift to Deeper Learning Approaches: Learning To Learn; project based learning, problem based learning, challenge based learning. Primary goal of higher education to prepare learners for employment.  MID TERM

5.    Growing Focus on Measuring Learning: rethink on how to assess subject mastery. Students are producing exponential amounts of data which can be analysed. Students desire for immediate and continuous feedback. SHORT TERM

6.     Increasing Use of Blended Learning Designs: drawing the best from online and face to face learning.

Six Key Challenges

1.    Blending Formal and Informal Learning: Moving away from the ‘credit culture’ and acknowledging the value of experience, informal learning and that unqualified does not mean unable. SOLVABLE

2.    Improving Digital Literacy: Teaching with tech is different to learning from it? Lack of consensus on what digital literacy requires. SOLVABLE

3.    Competing Models of Education: Capitalising on emerging technology is not enough – new models of teaching and learning must be developed to engage students in a new, expanded and unfamiliar system. DIFFICULT

4.    Personalizing Learning: demand for personalised (bespoke) learning is there but it is not supported by current technology or practices. DIFFICULT

5.    Balancing Our Connected and Unconnected Lives: there is general concern about the balance individuals have of online vs offline portions of their lives. Educators must play their part in addressing that. WICKED – HARD TO DEFINE, LET ALONE SOLVE.

6.    Keeping Education Relevant Keeping Education Relevant: Education is not the guarantee of gainful employment it once was. Funneling students into STEM to make them ‘economically useful’ disregards the ethical voice of the humanities. Formal academia still has a higher status than vocational training. WICKED – HARD TO DEFINE, LET ALONE SOLVE.

Six Important Developments

1.    Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): Majority of learners own their own devices. Requires robust Wi-Fi. Rather than discouraging Smartphones in teaching environment, devices are being utilized. <1 YEAR

2.    Learning Analytics and Adaptive Learning: “Learning analytics has developed in three stages, moving from a focus on hindsight to foresight; the first stage was describing results, the second stage was diagnosing, and the third and current stage is predicting what will happen in the future.” <1 YEAR

3.    Augmented and Virtual Reality: AR = incorporating digital information into real work, VR immersive experience where the entire world is digital. Both provide contextual settings for learning. Particularly useful (so far) in medical training. 2-3 YEARS

4.    Makerspaces: Informal workshop environments in community settings where people create things in a collaborative setting. Use of 3D printers? 2-3 YEARS

5.    Affective Computing: Machines can be programmed to recognize, process and react appropriately to human emotion. Machines can be programmed to simulate human emotion. Machines can recognize bored or disengaged students. 4-5 YEARS

6.    Robotics: Increased use of robotics in industry will require more students to learn about, and innovate with, robotics. 4-5 YEARS


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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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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.|


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