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Anna Greathead

Rethinking OERs

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I'm not sure if it was the emphasis in H800 but my impression of OERs was definitely skewed towards creating resources which could be utilized in developing nations - my thinking about it was related to it being on basic platforms, accessible with lower tech hardware and less reliable internet access, and having a philanthropic motivation underlying the whole project. 

It was only upon reading the Downes paper that the possibilities for OERs in the developed world - even the richest and most privileged corners of the developed world - occurred to me. 

The saddest thing about reading the Downes paper was that it is eighteen years old and the optimistic (and, to my mind, entirely  reasonable) future he envisioned has not arisen.  

I now need to read the next three papers to find out why!

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Anna Greathead

Representing Open Education

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The two articles I read to create this presentation were:

Alan Tait, (2018) "Open Universities: the next phase", Asian Association of Open Universities Journal, Vol. 13 Issue: 1, pp.13-23, https://doi.org/10.1108/AAOUJ-12-2017-0040 and

Bates (2015), ‘What do we mean by open in education?’

My original intention was to read the two most recent articles but I glanced at them all and found the Bates post complemented the Tait one in that they raise similar, although not identical, issues. 

Both posts raised issues which, as I read them, seemed like common sense. Of course - both go far beyond common sense but the explanations and writing were clear and explicit and made their points seem self evident. Hopefully you can get a decent flavor of the posts in my presentation below. 

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 26 Mar 2019, 12:43)
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Anna Greathead

Zero Sum Education

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Monday, 18 Mar 2019, 21:39

The first activity this week is to write blog posts about our experiences of Open Education and then  to comment on each others posts. I have found this interesting and thought provoking. Firstly - I had to accept I still don't have all the relevant terms properly defined in my head!

When reading the post of a colleague who is based in Belize, Central America, this evening I had a mini-epiphany! 

Education used to be a zero-sum game. Everyone who got a place at university deprived someone else of that place. Every person reading a book from the library deprived someone else of reading it at that time. Every resource associated with learning - desks, classrooms, books, pens, display boards, teaching hours - were finite and could only be used by one person or group at any one time. 

The internet - and the concept of Open Education - has changed that. Whilst access to people for personal interaction (tutors, practitioners, experts, lecturers) is still finite access to their work isn't. Accreditation, certificates and awards may still be controlled and rationed by institutions but the materials they teach are much less so. As automation takes over some of the roles previously filled by people then access to the expertise and the recognition will become even wider too.


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Anna Greathead

Experiences of the Vaguely Described

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"Describe your experience with open education. Is it just with the OU, or have you studied a MOOC, used open resources, or engaged with open access publications?"

So - a few questions? What is open education exactly? I'm not proud of it but I often start at Wikipedia - it's easy to find, usually understandable, and can give some foundational knowledge before you dive deeper.


And this is the first thing I see! (Note - must click on that blue italicized link later)

So Wikipedia give me these useful starting points:

1. Education

2. Without academic admission requirements

3. Typically online

So my experience of the OU MAODE program would not be included under the open education banner as I needed to submit evidence of my undergraduate degree in order to begin it. 

I did, at the same time as beginning MAODE, also start a basic maths program with OU though which was more in keeping with this definition of 'open education'. I did this because I am continually frustrated with my GCSE grade C maths and feel strongly I could have done more, better and further in maths had I been taught better at school. Also - my husband and at least 3/4 of my children are science-biased (don't want to label the 13 year old yet) and frankly they mock me for my inability to solve differential equations! I did the first two weeks of the lessons but then found it was too much as well as H800. There was no accountability, no sunk cost and no problem in simply stopping. No-one called me, no-one berating me for wasting money, time and effort and no-one apparently noticed. 

If it were not for point 1 I could claim hours of open education (on top of OU) every single week. I am a voracious podcast listener and listen to all sorts of people from whom I learn all kinds of things. However - that does not really qualify as education as it is not linear, directed and purposeful. For this reason I can't even claim they are open educational resources although I imagine there may be educational programs which utilize the podcast medium. 

I do wonder if the 'badge' system may actually motivate me though. I look forward to seeing how Credly works for me. Even the scantest of rewards, recognition or accountability may be exactly what is needed for me to move some of my general curiosity to formal enquiry.  

Permalink 4 comments (latest comment by Tabitha Naisiko, Wednesday, 10 Apr 2019, 11:21)
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Anna Greathead

Strategic? Relaxed? Insightful? Lazy? My approach to the TMA

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I worked very hard on TMA01 this Tuesday and again on Wednesday evening. And then I didn't look at or think about it until Saturday lunchtime. I realise this may cause some raised eyebrows but let me share my rationale:

1. This TMA makes up a mere 10% of the eventual score of the assignments of H817. Not to put too fine a point on it.... it's not that important. I just need to pass - get 40%.

2. The brief is somehow specific and vague. (As evidenced by a long, involved and somewhat panicky WhatsApp conversation amongst the H817). There is every chance I have interpreted it right... or wrong! Chopping and changing it along with every new thought won't guarantee the right conclusion.

3. (And most importantly) I often return to work I have not looked at for a little while only to be staggered by my own brilliance! I know that sounds terribly arrogant but getting some distance really can help you see what you've already achieved. 

So now I hope to finish it and hand it in today. Two days early. 

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Anna Greathead

TMA01 and innovations I would like to see in my context

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 10 Mar 2019, 19:35

TMA01 is not flowing! This is a shame as it's very well suited to me. My context is one in which innovations in eLearning and innovation generally is encouraged. Our ideas are often more innovative that software, technology, person hours and staff capacity can manage! I think I could write the whole document based on my ideas and experience but I know I've got to reference other experiences, ideas and attempts. This is what's killing me! The OU library can be like an Aladdin's cave of wonder.... or it can be otherwise!

So here's the bones of my TMA without the academic underpinnings - just purely a list of which innovations I think could work for us and why.

1. Adaptive learning - this is a grandchild of learning analytics. Learning Analytics tracks the engagement of individual learners - the number of times they login, the length of time they stay logged in, the number of clicks, the results etc. and this is used as a proxy for how hard the student is working. In fairness it's probably reasonably accurate for being so blunt. The use of cohort data - both current and historical - can enable some predictive analysis where patterns can be identified from former learners and recognized in current learners giving the learning institution some statistical insight into likely outcomes. If hundreds of students have been studied in the past and all of those who passed gained over 50% in a particular exercise then students scoring 49% can be identified and intervention can be offered. Adaptive learning is the third generation where the analysis of data from a large number of students is analyzed and a individualized learned program is then automatically generated. Learners who struggle with one subject area, or one type of exercise, or one question format can not only be identified but their own specific needs can be met by refresher sessions in their area of struggle, extension lessons on their area of strength and where subjects have been fully mastered the system can know not to revisit them. 

In my context this would be a HUGE amount of work. To begin with we would need to move to an alternative software provider which could collect tracking data. We would then need to retrospectively code our questions for subject area, skills being tested, question format and any other qualities which may make a difference (length of question, sophistication of language etc). It would take some years to be fully adaptive but we could, I believe, quite quickly be able to identify weaker subject areas and ensure learners were tested in these more regularly.

2. Bring your own device - this is exactly what it sounds like! The courses my company run are mostly to assist learners to prepare for an exam - all of the exams are onscreen. Currently we either show the question on a presentation screen for the number of seconds an average question takes in the exam whilst the students fill in an answer sheet, or we give paper handouts. Both options have weaknesses as neither prepare the learner for their actual exam. Marking can be tricky and the company has no means of tracking what the learners are doing. Under this idea we would require learners to bring a laptop (fully charged) to the course and use some means to enable them to all sit an assessment online. This would replicate the exam experience better and also potentially give the company useful learning analysis data. 

There are problems with this idea. Many venues simply would not have good enough internet access for over 100 learners to all login at once. Even fewer venues would have 100 plug sockets to allow 100 laptops to be plugged in at once. Even the instruction to ensure the device was fully charged would be inadequate if a long exam were to be taken. Arranging access to the exam could be done in a number of ways but from the company's perspective the concerns would be a) ensuring access could only happen at the course for copyright reasons, to protect the integrity of the experience for future delegates and to keep the online and course services separate; b) ensuring access was easily arranged so that there are no complex steps which may delay the start of the mock exam; c) having a few 'back up' laptops for genuine cases of 'laptop death' on the day or laptops being unexpectedly incompatible with our service. 

3. QR Codes - it is surprising how popular physical things are in this digital age and in recent months our physical products (revision cards, books, resources) have been very popular. It is good to be able to direct learners to places for further study in printed matter and the QR code is an excellent way of doing this. Acting as a 'bar code' a mobile phone can scan the code and open up links on the internet which can lead to vast amounts of further information. 

Generating a QR code is easy and adding it to printed matter is little more than a 'copy and paste' scenario. All of our QR codes will lead to pages which we own. If we link to external pages there is every chance the page will eventually be edited or retired and the code be rendered useless. Pages we own can link onwards to external sources but the control of that will remain with us. We are planning for QR codes to lead to mini question banks, video material, written resources and audio files. 

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Vicky Devaney, Sunday, 10 Mar 2019, 20:12)
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Anna Greathead

Learning theory and innovative pedagogy

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Thursday, 7 Mar 2019, 22:22

A few reflections about the 2019 Innovating Pedagogy Report. 

Playful learning - I think there may be some behaviourism underpinning this pedagogy. Play is, by definition fun, and behaviouism rewards the learner with something they enjoy or desire. I can imagine the gamification which playful learning seems closely linked to could easily be analysed as conditioning. 

Action learning - this seems very closely linked to connectivism and the idea that collectively we can be and know more than an arithmetic sum of our parts. 

Place based learning - I would put this idea mostly under the umbrella of constructivism. If I were to study the Roman Empire at length I would know quite a lot and a visit to Rome to see to Colosseum would be meaningful to me in a way in would not be to someone with no knowledge of the Roman Empire. Both of us would learn from our trip to Rome but we would be constructing a little more knowledge on to our existing knowledge. 

Some of the innovative pedagogies in the 2019 paper seem, to me, to be technologies rather than pedagogies. Drone based learning isn't a new way to learn - it's a new technology which will enable better, easier, more rounded or more engaging versions of existing lessons to be taught. 

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Anna Greathead

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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Anna Greathead

Technology in E-learning in my Context.

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 5 Mar 2019, 14:24

In my professional context the remaining three technologies are inextricably linked - we don't currently have software which enables us to track our learners so we don't have any data to drive assessment or to analyse learning or even to offer prizes! I would love to do this but I suspect that the cost of tracking software (with the associated legal ramifications and headache) would pale into insignificant against the cost of effective analysis of the data it would produce let alone the effective use of the data analysis in order to drive assessment and target future learning. 

If we were to change the software we use to provide good tracking data the other things we would have to do would include:

1. Retrospective 'coding' of existing questions to classify what skill, subject, knowledge and application they are testing

2. Retrospective and future  'coding' of our customers to enable two sided analysis 

3. The development of an analysis methodology and the appropriation of software to support that

All of this could be very worthwhile to provide our learners with targeted resources, personalized analysis of their strengths and areas for improvement and to identify any globally weak / strong areas so we can target future developments BUT pragmatically I don't think our particular market is large enough to justify the costs associated with this. 

Personally - I'm self obsessed enough to want to see analysis on my learning done by some formally recognized software! I am mercenary enough to want as many virtual badges and points as you can shovel in my direction! 

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Anna Greathead

Asynchronous Collaboration

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 15 Jan 2020, 13:11

Not going to lie - I am finding this hard. 

I see no reason to assume that the other four people in my group are slacking off - after all I disappeared for a week to go on holiday, there are days I don't do any OU work at all due to other commitments and sometimes my dipping into H817 is unfocused and little more than a passing glance. (Although one of them has been AWOL all week!)

That said - I am frustrated that we haven't really completed what we were supposed to. There was a flurry of urgency in the week - an online poll, a WhatsApp conversation, a Padlet was set up, emails were sent and then not much has happened collaboratively since then. I have done some things, including a Wiki document which could morph into the final project; but I am painfully aware that I can't do this alone and that I might be getting it all wrong! I'm even paranoid enough to have wondered if the others have set up a separate group from which I am excluded due to my evident ineptitude! 

Collaboration is clearly a good thing. I don't think there is any real argument about that. But collaboration between people who are complete strangers, living in different times zones to one another, all collaborating in their spare time and with a ague brief as to what they're aiming to achieve is, let me assure you, hard work! 

So here's my check list of what would make this task easier!

1. Everyone participating from the beginning. At first there was a lot of waiting around for all of the group to join in. In hindsight this wasted the first half of the week. Whilst it's very democratic to want input from everyone before getting started it's impractical when you are unsure that everyone will give any input. 

2. Clearly designed brief with examples. We are all new to H817 and (I guess) many people are also new to the Open University, Post Graduate Studies and MAODE too. The brief we had was hard to pin down. It would have been better if it had been more 'essay' structured - 'outline the strengths and weaknesses of a chosen technology and evaluate how said technology has encouraged innovation or represented innovation in e-learning. Use examples from your own and / or other contexts'. Having to create a scenario and agree on it took ages. If a scenario is what is needed for later than give us one! 

3. Accept that contribution will be uneven and sporadic. Different people will be able to contribute to any project differently. One of our group set up a Padlet - great idea in theory but it was not immediately editable. I set up what I thought was a Wiki page which everyone could edit but it turns out to have been as secure as a bankers vault and I had to copy and paste it in an email to someone else to publish properly! I am most free on Tuesdays and at weekends. I usually cannot manage any study on Fridays. I imagine my group mates have similarly complicated schedules. 

4. Use WhatsApp, Messenger or some other proprietary platform to communicate. Exchange email addresses. If I were to make one recommendation to the OU it would be to make the forums a lot more like a Facebook comments thread. I am literally on Facebook for my entire waking life. My phone is rarely more than a foot away from me and any and all Facebook notifications are seen within minutes. Ditto WhatsApp, Messenger, email. I open my OU page maybe once or twice a day. It's rare that an OU forum post needs my immediate attention but  I could answer a query more immediately or ask a question and get a quicker response if it were more like Facebook. Our group WhatsApp group has been the place where most of our informal discussion has happened and from which we have directed one another to the work we've begun.

5. Try and replicate the situated group experience by exchanging the odd joke! A shared love of Red Dwarf (and red wine) led to a short but fun exchange. As a consequence I feel more connected to one of my group mates and therefore more able to effectively work with them. 

6. Don't expect the situated group experience to be very similar to the distributed group experience I have concluded that asynchronicity is the key issue. We are working on the same thing but not at the same time. We cannot, therefore, be certain that we are sharing fully the aims, objectives, vocabulary and understanding necessary to produce effective work. There will be misunderstandings and there will have to be compromise. 

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Anna Greathead

Online Multiple Choice Question Banks

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MCQs are a major part of my working life and were a major part of my H800 EMA. I (foolishly!) suggested them as the focus for this week's group activity and now I feel the pressure of being the 'expert'! 

My initial thoughts about MCQs were that they had been utilized as a cheap and easy tool. They're easy in physical form (quick to mark, easy to grade) and ideally suited to an online environment (clicks, data tracking, easy to mark, easy to grade). I expected to find that MCQs were generally considered as a somewhat lazy and that their use had been a triumph of pragmatism over ideology. I did find some papers taking this position but was surprised to know how useful MCQs could be and how online technology had made MCQs a core part of online learning. The fact that they worked well with early software started it off but they've continued to be used for a few very good reasons. 

Here's a few thoughts I have arrived at in praise of the online MCQ bank!

  1. Gamification! Doing well in an online test can earn you a badge, or a point, or a level. All of these things are virtual but being able to track your own progress (especially in comparison to the rest of the cohort) really can motivate a certain personality type!
  2. Knowledge! Memory recall may be the lowest form of knowledge but it's also foundational to many other kinds of knowledge. In some subject areas there simply are large numbers of terms, concepts and facts which must be learned to master the subject, MCQs are ideal for quick tests to see if these facts are embedding.
  3. Understanding! A well written MCQ can ask a question indirectly and test comprehension and logic as well as knowledge.
  4. Data! This is useful for the learner but even more useful for the institution who can access the massive data bank a large MCQ bank can generate. The data is quantitative, straightforward to analyse and gives a good picture of the way the learners are progressing. Properly analysed data can identify areas of the curriculum where students routine struggle, or disengage. It can therefore lead to adjustments in teaching style and resources to address the weaker areas or extend the areas students find straightforward. 
  5. Ease and cost! Just because something is straightforward and relatively cheap (marginal costs are minimal) does not make them poor. Whilst it is important to invest properly in well written questions and a good software platform to present them online, the cost is low compared to many other teaching methods where there needs to be more face to face engagement. 
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Anna Greathead

Collaboration over the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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Anna Greathead

Connectivism - my thoughts

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The internet has changed things. It's changed things very rapidly and by things I mean all things including people. Knowledge, prior to the internet, was solid and dependable. Generally things were known and remained static. Even when changes in knowledge happened it too a long time to disseminate the new approach, idea, information so changes were slow. 

Now 'knowledge' does exist as before - like a mountain range subject to small and gradual changes but essentially fixed - but as a flower bed with weeds sprouting every few days and a constant cycle of growth and change. 

Knowing things became less important compared to knowing how to find out things. Why memorise the world's highest mountains when the information is stored and accessible within seconds on any smartphone? I need not learn something if I can easily and immediately collaborate with someone who already knows it. This was we both can get a deeper and more detailed knowledge of our own respective areas rather than duplicating a more shallow knowledge on each other's areas. 

It seems obvious that a new theory of learning is necessary as the nature of knowledge is so changed. 

Previously my knowledge was mine. I accrued and collected it. In connectivism the network of people and technology enables all of us to share a much greater and deeper collection of knowledge than the sum of the knowledge we would have amassed under the old way. 

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Anna Greathead

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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Anna Greathead

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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Anna Greathead

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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Anna Greathead

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?

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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Anna Greathead

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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Anna Greathead

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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Anna Greathead

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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Anna Greathead

Intitial ponderings on learner's owrnership of their learning

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The main part of TMA04 is an essay in which we discuss the following question:

‘Learners now have ownership of technology-enhanced learning.’

I have done a fair amount of thinking about this so far. I have been weighing up the ideas of learner agency and how far this equates to ownership. I have wondered which learners should own their learning - surely we don't expect pre-school children to hold this responsibility? How about people who simple must get their 'health and safety' certificate to comply with workplace regulations?

I have considered the idea from the point of view of exam boards and institutions who wish qualifications and awards to have consistency and reputation, and who represent the 'experts' in any given subject area.

At lunch time today my daughter, who is 18 and awaiting A-level results, asked what I was studying at the moment. I told her the question and she rolled her eyes and exclaimed 'I'm bored already' (not an atypical response - she's a scientist through and through and has yet to comprehend the fascination I have with the more existential and ephemeral questions posed by social science!). However - she did immediately follow up with 'I know what the answer is though' (told you she was a scientist!).

Her answer 'It's going to be somewhere in the middle.'

As we discussed what she meant I had to acknowledge that maybe she had more of a grasp of social sciences that I had realised! For every question for which there is an argument and a counter-argument there is unlikely to be a firm conclusion drawn by anyone which is close to either extreme.

And once more I am battling about the very nature of learning! One the one hand I am an idealist who believes learning to be a sacred and precious thing which need no end other than itself (hence I spend hours every day listening to podcasts about every subject I can think of, hence I try to read 50 books every year from a wide variety of genres, hence I sometimes find myself watching documentaries late at night about the design of junction 6 of the M6!) and then also remembering that part of the joy of learning is found in the achievement and affirmation accorded by a good mark, a certificate, letters after your name.

H800 is, to a large extent, a long thought process about how the rapid development of technology in the last 20 years has changed learning at every level and for every player and how we can envision further changes in the future. It is entirely possible, even probable, that one impact is the learner now has more agency and more ownership of their own learning.... but they still must share it somewhat with the people or institutions who will eventually assess them.

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Anna Greathead

Studying at work

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I have not been a good student! A busy life and a heatwave has distracted me (again - I know!) and I am once more starting a week having not completed the last one. Today we are planning a student 'meet up' in the online room though. We are to discuss our next assignment so I was keen to get going and at least get the bones of the thing lodged in my head. 

Although I am not supposed to be working, my daughter has got a casual summer job at my place of work (which is 90 minutes bus journey away from home) so I decided to come into work, do my studies (no distractions) and give her a lift both ways. 

So far it's ok but I do keep getting sucked into work stuff! 

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Anna Greathead

Teaching and technology - built in obsolescence?

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 17 Jul 2018, 16:48

An activity this week has been to read a long, but helpful, chapter by Conole about the ways technology has already impacted both learning and teaching, and the implications of these changes for future practice. 

This section caught my attention:

"The teacher–student nexus is also under threat. In an information-rich, Web 2.0 world where the focus is on user-generated content, peer dialogue, and co-construction of knowledge, the notion of teacher as “expert” and student as “receiver” makes little sense. Therefore, there is a disjuncture between student use of the technologies and academic use, with students increasingly developing their own sophisticated personal learning environment of tools and resources to support their learning" Conole 2011

The readily available, and vastly broad and deep, resources available to students could easily be imagined as a threat to the future of teaching as we have known it. For centuries the teacher's currency has been their knowledge - what they knew (and to some extent what they also knew about how to teach) was what they sold to the market. Now everything they know - plus a thousand times more information - is available at the click of a button. A book tells one story, a teacher may be able to tell a few stories, the internet has billions of stories. 

I asked my daughter (just finished A-levels) and a friend of hers this question:

If you had access to a wide variety of books, papers, articles, videos and other resources, could you have learned your A-levels without the teacher's input?

The answers I received were:

 "Yes totally." and

"Yes.... I think so. I would have missed talking about it with other students." 

Bearing in mind that these two are both highly motivated, mature students who needed no additional pushing to keep them on track (not necessarily typical!) I would not draw a firm conclusion. I am not even convinced it is true of them either but certainly the perception of 'teacher knows the stuff so I must listen in class' is not something they hold. 

But yet I don't like the idea of the teacher becoming defunct. Something in me resists the idea that humanity will cease to be the primary teacher of humanity. 

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Anna Greathead

Multiple Choice

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The multiple choice question is nothing new. It's always been an easy way to test knowledge as questions are necessarily straightforward and unambiguous. Learners have traditionally enjoyed them as they're perceived to be easy as sometimes the process of elimination, or sheer guess work, can get you a mark when your knowledge was shaky. 

In the age of the computer a multiple choice question becomes even more attractive - the questions can be presented on a screen and answered with a click. The computer can present questions in response to previous answers given and the computer can both mark each paper but also analyse the answers of a whole cohort to identify weak areas of knowledge (or even weak questions). Important exams now take place using this method. 

The ease of the MCQ exam though should not be the only consideration. Imagine this question:

"Describe the process of making an omelet"

If a learner had to use a few lines to answer in their own words they may well learn more effectively than if the question was as follows:

"Which of the following describes the process of making an omelet"

A. Break eggs, add milk, heat butter in a pan and then add the eggs. Stir for a few minutes until cooked. 

B. Break eggs and whisk. Melt butter in the microwave then add eggs and microwave for 2 minutes"

C. Separate eggs into yolk and white. Whisk whites until stiff then fold in yolks gently. Bake in a low oven for an hour"

D. Break and whisk eggs with milk. Heat butter in a frying pan. Add eggs, allow to cook before flipping. 

E. Break eggs carefully into a pan of boiling water. Leave to simmer for one minute then leave in hot water for 5 more."

Even someone who didn't know what an omelet was, but did know what scrambled eggs, poached eggs and meringue was, could guess the correct answer. 

In my EMA I want t investigate ways in which the benefits of the multiple choice question can be utilized whilst not sacrificing deep and broad learning. 

Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Simon Reed, Tuesday, 17 Jul 2018, 21:25)
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Anna Greathead

Imagine if....

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We have been looking this week at the value of institution specific virtual learning environments (VLEs) versus other general internet platforms which may be more familiar to learners. 

I love Facebook. I was an early adopter and I still log on several times a day. I use it for socializing, debating, organizing, asking questions. I find the layout and features very intuitive and each new version adds more usability and value (although I bitch about it like everyone else for a few weeks after it starts to look different!)

I would like if more of our H800 / OU experience was more like Facebook. I'd prefer if the forums were presented in that way - so I could respond to individual comments rather than adding to a thread. I'd like to be able to 'like' a comment without having to comment on it. I'd like to be easily able to add links and pictures (it's not hard in the forums, it's just easier in Facebook) and I'd like to be permanently logged in on my phone as well as my laptop. 

At present Facebook may not offer the specific features necessary for the whole course. Private areas can be organized but maybe not secure enough to ensure appropriate privacy. Handing in assignments may be tricky without first publicly posting them online. It would also require everyone had a Facebook account which I know may not be what everyone wants.

I would love it if Facebook could develop an associated service called 'Facebook Scholar' or similar with the appropriate functionality. 

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Friday, 13 Jul 2018, 11:41)
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