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Learning Analytics according to Wikipedia

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As if often the case in Wikipedia, the article on Learning Analytics began as a quick summary and rapidly mushroomed into a far more extensive treatise on the subject. However - the initial definition has had few versions. It changed in the first day, then again a couple of years later, but the sentence written in 2013 is the same as the sentence which opens the article today. The difference is that in today's article this opening sentence is followed by over 4000 words of further information.

Learning analytics is the use of data and models to predict student progress and performance, and the ability to act on that information - 23rd August 2010

Learning analytics is the use of intelligent data, learner-produced data, and analysis models to discover information and social connections, and to predict and advise on learning. - 24th August 2010

Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs. - 1st September 2013

I usually like to begin my investigations about an unfamiliar subject with a read of the associated Wikipedia article. I realize that it's not a peer reviewed, 'reliable' source but it is often succinct, accessible (especially to to the non-expert) and well written with good clarity. The learning analytics article is none of these things and it reads as an article written by committee (which is, of course, exactly what it is!).

The impression that the whole article gives me is that the subject of 'Learning Analytics' is as vast, as nebulous, as complex and as multifaceted as the two words would imply. H800 challenged every internal impression and idea I had about the concept of 'learning' so I am keenly aware of how 'simple' ideas can become mosaic when investigated and the word 'analytics' gives us no expectation of a simple and easily defined concept! Put two big concepts together and the creation of a gargantuan concept seems also inevitable!

The simple sentences above describe aspects of learning analytics. My impression is not that those who change the definition claim what is stated is incorrect, but that it's incomplete and inadequate. The extra information, text, ideas and paragraphs don't detract from what has been previously written as much as adding to, augmenting and complementing it. There are a multitude of associated concepts which overlap with Learning Analytics but the edges of each concept is blurry and undefined.

I suspect a concise definition which will satisfy everyone is impossible to develop but by looking at the areas everyone agrees with we can draw some conclusions. Such commonalities include:

  • Data - the data is described as 'intelligent' and processes related to collecting, collating and analysing this data are all part of the definitions. Data is an inescapable part of Learning Analytics. It's the key ingredient and without data there can be no analytics.
  • Discover, understand - data can enable a great deal of knowledge to be amassed and that knowledge can lead to understanding of crucial patterns within learning and teaching
  • Prediction, modelling, advising and optimising - four different but overlapping ideas in this context. The way in which the data is used is part of what makes Learning Analytics what it is. The purpose of LA is, at least in part, the improvement of the learning journey for the individual and the cohort.

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Not with a bang....

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TMA03 - the group work assignment - is done. It's been a blast and a trial.

I am truly impressed by what we have devised and created. If it were a real product I would have high hopes for it being successful.

But the last week has felt somewhat anti-climactic. We (sensibly) got everything we needed to do finished by the end of last week and left this week for us to write our individual reflections.

And it's felt oddly chilled!

I didn't feel too stressed. I wasn't rewriting sentences and paragraphs until the early hours of the morning. I submitted it - unsure that it was exactly what was required - without fanfare, relief or panic!

Anyway - onwards to block 4.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Monday, 1 Jul 2019, 18:26)
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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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Chickens and Eggs

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Saturday, 15 Jun 2019, 14:47

An academic setting, with its fake contexts and imagined personas, can ask that a learning program be designed, or a learning tool be developed, in a specific order and way. In real life the the learning program must be fitted to an actual context with real people and programs are developed according to the capabilities of the available technology rather than developing technology to fit the ideal scenario.

I have experienced some frustration in this TMA03 process due to the very deliberate and linear way the activities have been set. Finding and describing the theoretical underpinnings of anything at all is something which hardly ever happens and when it does it is usually done retrospectively rather than at the start. While I understand that fitting the theory to the activity may seem backward it is the way most people operate most of the time.

I don't think this is usually a bad thing. Theory describes why and how things work but often our experiences and intuition enable us to make valid choices - which fit with theory - without us having to refer to theory beforehand.

I appreciate that the OU have tried to make the experience as realistic as possible by asking us to develop a context before developing a tool but the fact that we all know the end point makes this moot!

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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.

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Vicky Devaney, Sunday, 26 May 2019, 16:42)
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The Return of the (Dreaded) TMA02

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Saturday, 25 May 2019, 18:57

I was actually at a National Trust tea room when my WhatsApp started to buzz with the news of the TMA02 results being out. This could have gone either way - I could reward myself with a lovely cream tea if I did well, or I could console myself with a lovely cream tea if I didn't do well!

I couldn't get my feedback on my mobile phone but I could log in and get my score..... and I did well! So much better than I was expected - a full 20% higher than I was braced for. Celebratory cream tea it was!

I'd found TMA02 hard work - I had a good idea but I found it hard to demonstrate a good theoretical grounding for it and had struggled a LOT with the word count. I understand that the OU don't want to make their tutors mark 10,000 word essays but sometimes the word limit is so restrictive that keeping within in is only possible at the cost of good examples, ideas and quotes.

I got home and immediately got my feedback. In light of the word count issue I was someone bemused to find many suggestions for extra things I should have discussed or points I could have developed further! Absolutely no comments to indicate which bits were superfluous! OU marking protocols are clearly devoid of irony!

But either way it's been good. I calculated that I now have 17.64% of the 40% I need to pass H817 and 35.28% of the 40% I need to pass the OCAS. That is not a bad place to be in when I have only completed 21% of the overall work and 42% of the OCAS marks available. 

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Leverage (aka taking advantage of your friends!)

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Friday, 17 Jan 2020, 11:33

We have chosen a context for our TMA03 group project - we are going to develop a technology based way for NQTs in secondary schools to keep a digital diary for reflection as they train.

In the end it was an easy decision - teaching is an area where reflection is already well established in professional training and practice and we all have some experience with teaching.

I know loads of teachers. I just thought I'd shoot a few of them a message asking about reflection in their own training and practice. Two have already proven very helpful to me in narrowing my focus and giving me a real vision of what already happens and why.

My first conversation was with an experienced secondary school teacher. (I have know him since he was 6 so calling him experienced is weird to say the least! But he has been qualified and working as a teacher for more than ten years so.....) Let's call him Ben (because that's his name!)

Ben mentors NQTs. He explained that reflection becomes second nature to effective and experienced teachers as they are always asking about how lesson plans, learning activities and individual encounters have worked. They reflect automatically on reasons things may not have been as effective as hoped, or what factors contributed to greater engagement and success than anticipated. Good teachers will seek to identify factors which impact on learning so they can be replicated or mitigated as appropriate. Ben spoke about how it is hard to avoid the process becoming a 'box ticking' exercise where facts get reported but application and evaluation are not part of the process.

My conversation with Ben crystallized  to me one of the core reasons that reflection is important for teachers. It is not enough to report back on why something did or didn't work - a sober assessment of the modifiable and fixed factors which affected the event must also happen if good practice is to be replicated and mistakes not repeated.

My second conversation was with my son who has just finished a degree in primary education. He has yet to do his NQT year but obviously has done a lot of placements during his degree and reflection has been part and parcel of that. Most useful in this conversation was learning about how he and his tutor / mentor used Padlet to converse, exchange notes and keep in touch. From what he says it was an ideal tool for a two way (mentor or tutor and learner) conversation where the learner can offer reflections and the mentor can guide them in becoming more effective in it.

My reading around the subject has led me to the 'acculturation' which I feel is key. What the NQT year aims to do is change trained individuals from students into practitioners. They must develop a new mindset so that they can operate as fully independent teachers at the end of the year. Becoming fully acculturated involves moving from 'reflective practice' being a mandatory part of the curriculum to being an automatic, intuitive and natural part of daily practice. It would be great if the tool we develop could enable that.

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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.


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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Edited by Anna Greathead, Monday, 13 May 2019, 22:59

We got a somewhat panicky (or at least a panic inducing) message from our tutor today warning us that falling behind at this stage could be very problematic further on in the course. Although I had started on the activities for the week I was painfully aware of my inadequacy in some areas of technology and was waiting for someone more competent in my group to take the lead.

We have a nice WhatsApp group and a Slack... account? page? thing?! as well.

Anyway - I thought I would have a go with the 'create a site' activity - not with a view to being in charge of the site but so I could have a bit of a go before everyone else arrived! Had a huge panic when the OU instructions took us to an OU Google Docs page which is no longer active. I knew I *had* an OU Google Docs account because my laptop was keen to default there yesterday but I couldn't find out how to access it.

Then, after a few frantic messages on WhatsApp, I read the 'introduction to Block 3' and this was all explained.

However - I thought I would have a go at building a simple website anyway! And I did it! It's not flashy or exciting but it is a thing!

It's a small victory but conquering my fear of the technology is surely a key part of MAODE!

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Second Guessing

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I handed my TMA in two days early. I wasn't happy with the final section but I didn't have any ideas on making it better and  was reasonably happy with the rest of it. I weighed up the choices of having a weekend or battling for two more days and probably only being marginally more happy by the end of it and chose the former.

I relaxed for a few hours!

Then my H817 colleagues started chatting on WhatsApp and I started second guessing myself. Had I misinterpreted one of the questions quite significantly? Had I missed out a few major points? Had my desire (need) for a weekend without TMA pressure become the death knell of my Masters dreams?

I opted to leave it. I reviewed the question. It's possible I misinterpreted the question but, upon reviewing it, I am confident that the interpretation I went with is entirely valid. I may have missed a few major points but I used every single word available and I made lots of edits to be as succinct as possible. I did need a weekend without TMA pressure and, whatever happens, my Masters Degree dreams do not rest on this single assignment!

So I spent a couple of hours this afternoon starting TMA 3! It's a group project so I couldn't do anything substantive but I did an initial library search. I wrestled with Google Docs and Slack (man - if anyone needs tutoring on learning technology I will be first in line - my grasp of the theory is much better than my competency with the actual software!) and I did the first block 3 activity. 

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Cut and paste

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 8 May 2019, 19:31

Word processing is a technological enhancement to learning right?? It's certainly a technological enhancement to assignment writing. 

Writing an assignment in report form is a new skill for me and something I didn't have to do in H800. Post graduate study was challenging, even daunting, but I did feel confident that I knew how to write an essay. Writing a report is something I have not done before except for TMA01!

Today I actually reached the word count and have something I could submit. It wouldn't be my highest scoring assignment but I think it would comfortably pass. I won't submit it right now. I will spend a bit of time every day reading, re-reading, polishing, editing, reconsidering and rewriting but essentially I am on to the accessories rather than the outfit. 

I was struggling a lot over the bank holiday weekend because my report was so unbalanced. I worked out an approximate word count for each section based on the percentage each section would count towards the final mark and endeavored to keep the ratio approximately the same. One section which should have accounted for 20% was taking 30% of my word count and another which accounts for 30% of the mark was only using up 20% of the words. And then I realized than a few key points were simply in the wrong section. Cutting and pasting a few paragraphs between them rectified this main problem almost immediately. 

The final three sections are extremely context specific and I was struggling to find a way to include references to justify my position and suggestions. I queried this on the group WhatsApp then went to bed. Upon waking this morning it occurred to me that I could just google the section question and search within the OU library. I opened WhatsApp and discovered that my colleagues had suggested I do just that (and had kindly omitted the 'duh!' I so clearly deserved!)

Anyway - here's to a few days of reading the same 3000 words over and over in an attempt to ensure I neither repeat myself (repetition), omit key facts (hesitation), or go off subject (deviation)! If only I were playing 'Just a Minute' - the whole process would be a lot less time consuming!

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When the horizon gallops towards you: a reflection on the word count

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There are two types of people in the world:

1. Those like my son who see a word count as a distant horizon. Such people develop complex ways of adding words where none are needed. They may, when writing about Cecil the lion, say something like 'Cecil's brother (who is also a lion)….' just to add five words. The more dishonest among them may write a whole load of stuff at the bottom of the page and colour the text in white hoping that the tutor who marks the paper will trust the word count reported in the document statistics. (I don't think my son ever did the dishonest thing here but he certainly fell into the '1732 words left to write' end of the spectrum.)

2. People like me who view the word count in the rear view mirror and then have to navigate the complex process of reversing! Deleting carefully crafted sentences, truncating carefully selected quotes, shaving every connective, descriptive or emphatic word I've used. 

In TMA02 (in common with every assignment in my OU journey to be fair) I began in camp one. I sat at my laptop determined to do 500, or 1000 or even just an unambitious 200 words before I went for more coffee. And then, as a means of procrastination more than anything, would do one more search in the library with slightly altered terms.... and then another.... and then just one more.... and then I would have so many ideas, examples, quotes and arguments that I realized that whilst the word count was still distant I had become fueled up to such a degree that overshooting it was inevitable. 

So now the scope of my imaginary project has had to shrink massively. It's the only way I can properly fit it into the word count! I will be very VERY annoyed if my feedback comes back with a single comment about how I could have started with a wider vision or expanded further on how the project may expand! 

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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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Podcasts as a part of open education

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Thursday, 25 Apr 2019, 13:35

I am a podcast geek and the further my OU studied take me the more I a convinced this technology is both under rated and under utilized (though I must confess to having done a sneaky search to check that it was them, and not I, who had under utilized the podcast!)

The OU does produce a number of podcasts around disciplines as wide ranging as learning Italian (amongst many other languages), creative writing, astronomy and project management. I cannot describe how helpful I would have found additional instruction about the theories of education or a glossary of key terms at the start of my studies. Whilst there are resources I could have found and read, having something to listen to on my commute, or at the gym, would have made use of some time in which I couldn't read or watch.

That is, I think, the strength of the podcast - it uses a spare sense (hearing) in times and spaces where other resources aren't useful. There is something quite special about hearing experts explain their expertise. I often understand things I have heard explained better than things I have read. 

Outside of my OU studies I listen to dozens of podcasts - some for entertainment but many for learning as well. The learning is pretty non-linear and scattergun as I can only listen to material which has been produced. An institution like the OU would be in a position to create short (or long) series on the fundamentals of hundreds of subject matters. This would not only be useful for people studying those subjects but may simply be interesting for those who love to learn outside of formal structures. 

Podcasts are free and easy to access. They make use of the one commodity we all have in equal measure and which cannot be bought or sold - namely time. I hope, in time, a podcast version of YouTube with the vast choice of professional and amateur content, every subject under the sun and ease of access and sharing will develop. 

Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 28 Apr 2019, 18:25)
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Rhizomatic learning

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Friday, 19 Apr 2019, 11:19

Were you convinced by rhizomatic learning as an approach?

The video was inspiring in many ways and I was convinced - partly! I think the idea of abandoning the traditional 'talk, test, certificate' model of my entire formal education is disconcerting enough for me to resist any suggestion that another better way may be available. I can certainly see that rhizomatic learning is something which happens organically in informal learning (and informal learning must make up at least 90% of our learning over the span of our lives). The learning through experimentation could be rephrased for young children as 'learning through play' which is commonplace as an ideal. I also could really see the value of the approach in areas of learning where new ground is being broken rather than old ideas and facts being internalized and understood. I can see how this approach could, for example, be invaluable in cutting edge research - though I guess I would call it research rather than learning. Somehow the word 'learning' to me involves gaining information (or insight, understanding etc.) which is already known (or seen, understood) by others. 

Could you imagine implementing rhizomatic learning?

No. I can see that I have been engaged in it but I cannot understand a way in which you could 'implement it' which sounds very top down and inorganic. I suppose you could plant 'seeds' (ideas? problems?) and see if and how they grow or are approached. 

How might rhizomatic learning differ from current approaches?

It's hugely different from formal education and learning as I have experienced or witnessed it. I think it is commonplace in other contexts where 'learning' may happen but the language used is more 'development', 'problem-solving', 'brain-storming'. 

What issues would arise in implementing rhizomatic learning?

It would require learners who were prepared for a vastly new experience! The absence of a start or end point, the absence of markers along the way would be disorienting to people who had always 'learned' differently. 

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I have been doing the stuff - honestly!

I even wrote a long MOOCs post which I didn't quite finish and publish but which then disappeared.

Having been a big fan of the blog I am now frustrated by being directed to blog posts rather than forum posts. It's not as easy to engage as a group on a wide range of blogs rather than one page of forum discussions. 

I am finding the material interesting but not mind-blowing. Once I get the point I can usually anticipate what issues will be raised and what problems will be identified. I suppose this represents my learning about the subject matter and also adopting a mindset which is sensitive to that learning. Of course I occasionally hear a point I hadn't thought of but this is less often than before.

I shall plod on with the activities but I shan't blog or engage with them all - often because I have little to add.

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Vicky Devaney, Friday, 19 Apr 2019, 21:08)
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Big OER, Little OER

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One learning context I have not really explored in my MAODE so far is my status as a Sunday School teacher! I have, for over 30 years, been teaching children of all ages (from creche to teenagers) Bible stories, Christian values and faith-based approaches to life.

It is this context which has helped me to distinguish best between big and small OER!

Despite the decline in religious attendance in the UK, the market for Sunday School materials is clearly robust as there is a wide range of materials available for purchase. For many years these were in the form of books and photocopiables but now nearly all ae web based. These materials offer a weekly syllabus (often part of half termly curriculums) and there are detailed lesson plans with multiple activities to select from according to your context. Since the services becoming web-based there has been an increase in the use of audio, visual and slideshow activities as well as the more familiar games, craft and worksheet type activities. These resources are centrally produced by various Christian organizations by people with experience and expertise. They are usable, reusable, customizable and – to some extent – sensitive to context. This is, within the Christian world at least, an example of big OER.

The advantages of these resources are that they are well developed and reliable. An entire lesson of activities can be selected from a wide range of choices and adapting activities to suit is straightforward and at the discretion of the teacher planning the session. The disadvantages include cost (the resources are good value but not free) and occasional doctrinal differences (ideological differences). The teachers must have access to the web and usually a printer and some other resources. It can also take control of the subject matter away from the teachers where material is dated and following it in order is recommended.

If a church chooses not to use these kinds of resources they often develop their own curriculum. I also have experience of this as a Kids Club worker – Kids Alive is a Friday evening club I have been involved in for 16 years. We could not find resources which matched our vision for Kids Alive so developed our own. We now have a four-year rolling programme and simply repeat the years in sequence. We have created a large resource which we use as a guide – we often make alterations to fit the current context but the ‘jumping off point’ it set. I can imagine that churches who develop their own curriculum may share their work with other groups, but the resources will be much more context specific and less full developed. The potential for small groups, like churches, to share their work is great and potentially untapped. Hundreds of people may well plan much the same lesson every week! A central bank of resources could be very useful – but things such as colouring sheets, work sheets and puzzles can already be found. Many of these banks contain resources previously created by an individual and uploaded for the use of others.

This kind of little OER is undoubtedly less slick and less ‘complete’ but also more organic. It’s much more collaborative and shared. The economy of sharing, rather than buying, creates a different kind of value to the resources.

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Sustainability Models

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The three models given in the Wiley paper essentially modelled the 'three bears' from the Goldilocks story! 

The MIT model is big, ambitious, well funded. There is a while department of paid staff. Monies have come from foundations, private donors and other support sources. The budget runs to the millions of dollars. 

The USU model is middle sized! There is a small staff and they engage the services of volunteers and make supporting the project part of the coursework for students on some related courses! The budget is around 5% of the MIT budget and the scope is much more narrow. 

The Rice model is the budget option! It works by utilizing the quid-pro-quo economy over cold hard cash. Multiple institutions contribute and benefit. The project is described as a 'passion project'. 

When trying to apply real examples to a neat model system there is always a certain amount of dissatisfaction. Real life examples may have created the models but each other example could legitimately become its own model and few fit neatly into any category; in fact most stubbornly resist classification including the four we've been invited to look at! Crucially - what was lacking in Wiley's models was a commercial model where the learner pays for a service and resource which have been paid for in advance by investors rather than philanthropists. 

Coursera looks closest to the MIT model in size and scope with slick resources and courses but in Coursera the courses are accredited and only available for a fee. There is also a lot of institutions contributing to the service which would be more in keeping with the Rice model. There is little information about funding on the site but it does seem to operate mostly on 'pay per study' indicating it is a commercial enterprise with a profit motive driving the development of the services.

BCCampus is funded by the tax-payer (presumably Canadian ones) and other grants. It has paid staff provides open text books free of charge. This is closer to the MIT model in funding and access though it seems to be a slightly smaller operation so may be closer to a USU model. 

FutureLearn is another service which operates on a 'pay-per-learn' basis. There are free versions of some of the shorter courses but accreditation costs (a certificate of achievement) and there is clearly a push to ensure clients opt for the paid service. It doesn't fit into any model fully but looks comprehensive and slick and advertises links with a number of universities. Aspects of it fit within all three models. 

OpenLearn is developed and provided by the Open University. There are hundreds of free courses which appear to be developed entirely within the confines of the Open University. None of the free courses come with formal accreditation but there are digital badges and statements of participation. This actually appears to be closest to one of the Wiley models of all four examples - the MIT model. This appears to be an inhouse OU project and it is free to users. 

Wiley's models sound comprehensive but the lack of the 'paid study' option is limiting. It is obvious that an easy way to ensure sustainability in anything is to make it commercially viable. (That said - I am excited to see how many fascinating and free things I can learn online. In the early days of the internet I used to lose whole days clicking on links within Wikipedia.... this looks like a much more expansive and satisfying version of the same thing!)

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If you want to use my blog posts....

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We are now starting to think of the legal side of OERs. It maybe is not first and foremost in the minds of people motivated by a pure and uncomplicated devotion to the sacred space learning to hold within our society but it's important when the pragmatic realities of living under capitalism bite. 

The infographic given is very useful but, I suspect, simplistic. However - given that I, and Mr O Pen, have a lot in common it's useful for this exercise. Both myself and Mr Pen have created 'resources' essentially to help ourselves. I blog about my OU journey to help me reflect upon, commentate on and record my learning and Mr Pen creates resources for his own classroom. Neither of us have invested huge amounts of time or money into the venture and neither of us created with the intention of making OERs. I think the issues that he and I are considering are vastly different to an institution which may have spent a lot of time and money creating entire curriculums and courses. 

For me I would like:

  • Attribution: Mr Pen may find that his videos could lead to further income or job offers etc but I have no such hope! The best I can hope for is a few citations! I would want to be cited if used though - mainly because you simply don't know where this could lead.
  • No derivs: If someone were to reuse a blog post of mine I would want the whole thing reproduced. In text it is easy to take a sentence out of context and imply it means something the author did not intend. Add in my light-hearted, ironic and sarcastic style and this risk seems ever more significant! 
  • Non-commercial: if anyone gets to make money out of my ramblings I would want it to be me!
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NOT working for badges!

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Week 8 is a funny one. The two main activities are both long, involved and somewhat complicated. And they both will win me a Credly badge. I expected to find this motivating as I love a sticker chart but actually it isn't! (They're not even 'real' badges but merely digital images!

The first activity was about the main issues of OERs. I read this a dozen times and then read the paper and wrote a 500 word post on the three best things about OERs! I don't know how that happened either! The paper I was using was one of the two we were directed to choose between (the other wouldn't open in its entirety without me having to conduct some online jiggery pokery) and doesn't seem to have the information within it to answer the question asked. Getting a bad TMA score is one thing but being told you can't have a meaningless Credly badge may be too much for my poor psyche to cope with! 

I realized I had written 500 words of something different to what I was asked for and decided to move on to the next activity (maybe revisiting the first later) and it's more of the same! Design a 6 week program using OERs to teach a group of learners (our choice!) digital skills! I realise that we are engaged in a broadly similar but bigger version of this but the prospect of designing another is not exciting me at all. 

Interestingly - the week 8 tutor group forum is very low on activity and engagement. Maybe my fellow students have found this week of activities as uninspiring as I have. 

Anyway - for now I am going to get started on week 9. I shall revisit week 8 at a later time.... maybe. 

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Ed Jones, Sunday, 31 Mar 2019, 07:51)
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