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RIDE 2020 – Part 4

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The afternoon parallel sessions were harder for me to select. In the end I opted for one being led by David Baume as I had met him earlier in the day and thought he seemed interesting and interested in other people’s ideas and thoughts. A good combination overall.

This was coupled with a session about teacher training which was well presented and seemed quite interesting on a few levels but I used the time to catch up with my work email and Twitter – sorry!

David Baume was presenting on course design and pedagogy – something I thought may be of use to me at work.

He began by listing things which we *know* about learning. While he rattled these off as if they were absolutely basic information I noted them down. Having begun MAODE from a setting outside of education and with an education which did not include teaching – I had found that often there was an assumption I knew things which I did not know. This kind of thing was typical of that:

  • Clear structure and framework, scaffolding, supports
  • High standards are expected
  • Learners acknowledge and use their prior learning
  • Learning is an active process
  • Learning takes lots of time – on task, in practice
  • Collaboration with other students and with the staff
  • Giving and receiving and using feedback

The vital connection between learning theory and teaching practice should be absolutely obvious but it was an image I had not previously visualized.

David then had a few strong things to say about the assumptions underpinning distance education as practiced and experienced by many:

Distance learning (wrongly?) assumes:
  • Students learn by watching recorded videos
  • Students learn from reading
  • Students learn from discussion in forums
  • Students demonstrate learning by writing essays
  • High level academic capabilities can be developed by, and tested by, MCQs

We then broke off into small groups to discuss what alterations we could make to our own teaching practice. This was less than ideal as I am not a teacher or a learning designer. In retrospect I realized that I could have applied some of the principles to a 90 day education program I manage at work, but hindsight is, as ever, unhelpful! I’m usually good at ‘blagging’ but feedback time was dreadfully awkward as I made up something a bit stupid!

The day ended with a quick insight into the back rooms of the London University and a couple of glasses of red wine with an OU colleague who has become a friend. There has been much theorized about the inferior quality of online learning vs ‘real’ learning but my OU experience has shown that to be a flawed position. Online learning has so much to recommend it – for flexibility and depth and breadth and so many things. Online friendship also has much to recommend it – the sniffy ‘not a real friend’ attitude entirely mistakes how well online communication – both synchronous and asynchronous – can foster real friendship with its associated support, and fun and laughter. Whilst I am enthusiastic in promoting the value and genuine friendship an online relationship can foster… it was very VERY nice to be across a table sharing a drink, a rant, a giggle and putting the world to rights. Sadly the virus mean the hug had to remain virtual for this time!


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RIDE 2020 - part 3

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Monday, 16 Mar 2020, 21:02

The after lunch keynote by Martin Weller was a significant hook in getting me to this conference. He really is the 'David Beckham' of the eLearning world and getting a retweet AND an email from him at the end of 2019 made me (almost) squeal with delight!

His speech was delivered online. He had blogged that he would not be attending which, given the Covid19 crisis, was understandable albeit still disappointing.

I took few notes! His speech was entertaining and engaging and far too enjoyable to risk missing buts by noting thoughts down! The theme of the conference overall was disruption but Martin's main point was the the word 'disruption' had been used too often in an unhelpful, and often destructive, way and that maybe we should move away from the word in the context of technology enhanced learning.

In some instances disruption had been a by product. This is the way I most quickly think of 'disruption' in the context of learning, I consider the rapidity with which the internet and the computer became an everyday part of life and how education, learning, teaching and pedagogy had to react to a rapidly changing landscape and hugely altered expectations. This kind of 'disruption' is - perhaps - what we mean by the phrase 'necessity is the mother of invention'. In this case we could rewrite it to say 'invention leads necessarily to new birth' (the new birth is clumsy - I mean new ways, new ideas and new methods).

The second kind of 'disruption' is as an explanatory theory. This did not strike as many chords with me! I am noteless!

The third kind of disruption was where disruption has been the goal and it's this type of disruption which has sullied the word beyond, according to Weller, redemption. He cited Uber and AirBnB - companies which saw a new way to create and simultaneously fill gaps in a market and rapidly move to more or less decimate the previous occupants of that market space. I don't think Weller was making a political comment about these specific companies but I think the idea of deliberate disruption was distasteful to him.

He included one of his trademark comic points which I loved! This applies to so much (Brexit, Trump!) and I think the lesson to not disrupt things for the sake of it is quite clear!


The questions for Weller were especially interesting. The one I most enjoyed was one which invited him to critique the disruption to education and learning caused by the Open University! He dealt with it well!

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RIDE 2020 - part 2

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Saturday, 14 Mar 2020, 16:39

I was extremely gratified to see the two parallel sessions I had been most interested in were happening consecutively in the same room!

The first was a 'last minute' choice. I had been speaking before the conference to Vicky Brown (@VickyBrownTLM) about my OU studies and how I was now 5/6 of the way through MAODE. I was telling her that I was already feeling somewhat bereft at the thought of my studies being over. I would probably have to self-fund anything further and I'm not sure that I can prioritise formal studying over the other expenses our family has. Vicky then immediately suggested 'microcredentials' which piqued my interest.

Interestingly this session took place mostly online. All three presenters were either 'self isolating' or unwell so all presented with their slides and a camera on the large screen. This did cause me to consider if we could do something similar at work.

Webinar screen with infographic and four screens of participants and presenters

The presenter was Professor Mary Bishop who seems to wear a plethora of hats meaning she is an accountant, an educator, an academic and an assessor! She made a lot of really interesting - and contextually relevant - points:

  • Free is great for democratisation and accessibility but it can lead to a perception of low value, or very generic themes (I can see how this happens. I am very on board, ideologically, with open education but I always have a nagging pragmatic concern about where the money comes from. I am sure there must be models which allow accessibility without compromising quality or the perception of quality - see next point.)
  • Potential model - learning is free but accreditation isn't. This seems a good idea. It begs the question of what is important - the learning or the badge. In principle the learning must be the most important thing as - if you had to choose one or the other - it's more valuable. However - I am certain that there is a cynical portion of society who would happily get the badge (accreditation, certificate, award) without doing the learning if they found a loophole which allowed such a thing. In this model you can do the course free of charge but would have to pay for the final assessment or even for the official badge.
  • Quality Assurance = critical The perception of low value or low quality must be refuted with high quality learning, qualifications and people.
The next half of the session was presented by Professor Kate Tatton-Jones and Luke Woodham and was about distance learning for healthcare professionals - my area of professional practice.

The old problem of technology only being used to augment and supplement rather than being used to its full potential to revolutionise was revisited!

We were directed to The Topol Review about preparing healthcare workers for digital education.

A few individual programs and specific issues were referenced but few solutions. Kate acknowledged that high level online learning could not realistically be learned using MCQs and stressed that creating high level, high stakes, material was challenging. Her own area of expertise is genomic medicine which is data heavy which makes it easier but this is not the case for every area.

She did briefly refer to the idea that student engagement with online material could be better assessed than using metrics such as length of time logged in, or on a given screen. One off hand remark to retina scanning to assess eye tracks across a screen gave me a glimpse into a possible future.

At question time a few good points were raised and interesting thought journeys initiated:
  • Good courses are built around a narrative - with a beginning and middle and an end
  • Good courses should be 'provocative' (they should provoke interest, engagement)
  • Practitioners should accept there is a ceiling for social engagement - whatever you do some people will 'lurk' - watch but not contribute
  • Online learning can be very useful for formative assessment even if, for now, summative assessment is more problematic/ difficult
  • The Stella Artois principle - good things are reassuringly expensive. Low cost or free resources are often low quality but even more often perceived to be
  • A way in is 'microcredentialling' - small stakes, low risk
  • The Royal Colleges (medical bodies) are beginning accept short activities / online courses and assign CPD approval
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RIDE 2020 - part 1

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Yesterday I attended the RIDE 2020 conference (Research and Innovation in Distance Education) at the University of London. I had fully expected the event to be cancelled as the nation is in the grip of (or on the cusp of) the Covid19 epidemic but the organisers decided to go ahead - albeit with a few precautions.

I was so happy to have gone to the event. I met three people who had been fellow MAODE students on various modules. 

Before it even began I found myself in conversation with a few people (networking!). Most attendees were academics and educators so attending as a student made me something of a novelty. One man (I later identified him as David Baume (@David_Baume) asked for my impressions of online learning (as this Masters Degree has been) in comparison with face to face learning (as my Bachelors Degree was). I have a lot to say about online vs face to face learning but I don't feel my own experience is a valid place to begin. I feel my main challenges in studying MAODE have been that it's at a Masters level rather than a Bachelors. Add into the mix the fact that the two a separated by over twenty years and I don't think my impressions are of much value! I later realised that one of the men in this conversation was Alan Tait (@AlanTaite) who was the chair of the whole event.

I took notes - old school - throughout the day and will post the stuff I wrote down! It's not a precis of the day but merely the nuggets which caught my attention!

The opening session was a panel in which three people gave ten minute presentations and then, after all three presentations had been given, the panel took questions. I didn't take copious notes but here's what I wrote:

Dil Sidhu - Coursera

Coursera is a technical platform - NOT a content creator. The intellectual property rights to the content remains with the creator / writer / original institution. (I didn't know this. I wondered if some of the programs we use at work could be added to their suite.)

They have a lot of data - millions of data points - and they use this to 'nudge' people with messages such as '80% of people who complete this activity will go on to complete the programme'. (These nudges are just the sort of thing I enjoy but my friend and colleague said she found them a bit patronising but I can absolutely appreciate)

Allison Littlejohn - UCL

I only made one note about Allison's talk but it was a powerful one - she explained that so often technology enhanced learning had been 'the classroom replicated'. She showed a powerful image of a teacher in a traditional classroom in which every student was represented by a laptop. The message of technology being used to maintain and perpetuate the traditional classroom model was powerful. Surely technology should do more than enable learners to attend class from a remote location?

Neil Morris - Leeds University

The phrase which Neil emphasised was 'unbundled higher education'. Instead of offering a complete degree program universities can now offer all of the elements of this program individually. The learner could theoretically build the degree step by step, or they could extract the learning they needed. This can be 'sold' as a great thing as it offers extended flexibility for the learner but Neil was honest in acknowledging that this system could actually extend inequality as learners might become tiered into those who gained their qualification bit by bit and those who got it all in the 'traditional way.' He also explained the academic concern that fragmentation of the curriculum had far reaching implications and that educators had legitimate concerns as to how this might present issues.

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