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The future of learning

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During my years studying for an MA in Open and Distance Education with the Open University I came to admire and follow the work of Gilly Salmon. I ‘got’ the idea of ‘e-tivities’ and ‘e-moderators’ though then, and certainly now, we are dropping the ‘e’ from learning and everything else. It just is.

This idea of a direct, consequential flow of development of learning from Education 1.0 (One point Zero) onwards to Education 3.0 (Three point Zero) is all a bit 2002. It supposes that digital can enhance learning in a series of step-changes like upgrading software. Software is no longer upgraded in such steps. It has become transitory, ‘in the cloud’ and forever mutable.

The model should be used for debate. I challenge it. Too often I find myself at a presentation where this is shown and the cowed audience are too accepting. This is where and how that mythical ‘Oxbridge tutorial’ comes into its own. Here a professor invites challenge and debate, expects students to form their own ideas rathe than to accept his or hers as Gospel.

I found myself stripping this back through the night. I didn’t feel comfortable challenging the model in public, in front of an audience of hungry ‘worshipers’ amongst whom I would have counted myself a few years ago. I’ve read and done too much since. I am qualified to have an opinion and too often have the reference tickling the back of my mind as I write.

‘Diffusion of Innovations’ for a start. My first module of the MA ODE which I re-activated in 2010 after a 9 year absence. I’d started the MA ODL in 2001.

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So here is Gilly Salmon’s table, or model, once more. My challenge would have been intellectual, based on theory as well as practical – experience of the ‘Oxford Tutorial’ which to my mind achieves, and has achieved, much of what Education 2.0 and Education 3.0 sets out to do. The parameter that is missing in this model is to say this is being applied to a mass audience of students. You cannot deliver one to one, or one to three at most ‘tutorials’ on a weekly basis (or more often) to the tens of millions who deserve and crave a graduate level education in 2016.

Let me pick out some points here.

Lifelong Learning. It may be a marketing ploy but at the end of this month I’ll be returning to my old college, Balliol, for a day of lectures and seminars given by alumni. Last year I did something similar with the family. I also attended a lecture from my own faculty, ‘The School of Geography and Environmental Studies’. Content alone with Balliol and the SOGE counts as some ‘life long learning’. Is this only fed or made possible by the nature of quality of ‘connectedness’ we now have courtesy of the Internet?

Academics are students too. Maybe some were less willing that others to put themselves on the same plain as their students, but even more so than their students, if they are conducting research and especially if they are teaching and tutoring they are learning too. To teach is the best way to learn. Tutors feed of the bright, and not so bright, minds in their tutor groups. They are repeatedly challenged to repeat the same reply or to develop a new angle – until they do.

Learning that is ‘constructed and co-constructed’ is exactly what the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ achieves. You are given an essay title and some references. You research your answer and right your reply. In a group of two or three someone reads out their essay. Between your fellow students and the tutor you talk it through. Together you construct a fuller, deeper, remembered meaning. One day you get to apply this in a written test. It doesn’t need to wait for ‘Education 3.0’ as Oxbridge has taught this way for some 750 years. What the Internet offers, or should aspire to offer, is some version of this that 85 million can enjoy.

It will need a little bit of tutor engagement, some PhD candidates and MA students too, and peer support and pressure. Perhaps some AI will be thrown into the mix as well, with lessons from gaming.

I see versions of it. There are ‘break out’ meetings whenever you learn online, real people in real or ‘as live’ time having a discussion on a topic. It is thrilling to pick up the thread of a conversation that started in Canada, is picked up in New Zealand, crosses to Japan and the Indian Subcontinent, then Africa before re-emerging in Europe. You do wake up wondering where the conversation is going to go. It is akin to that thing where as a student you sat up late and set the world to rights. You can read through the discussion; you can see where thoughts are going; you can draw your own conclusions.

 

 

When a MOOC has buzz the learning is social, collaborative, sticky and connected

Fig.1 What makes for a busy restaurant?

It’s the difference between a busy restaurant and an empty one; a party you never want to leave because of the buzz and one that you wish you’d never gone to the trouble of turning up for.

This is because ‘social, collaborative and connected’ learning isn’t properly factored into the design of all online courses – at least not until the last couple of years.

I’m sure the techniques and platforms used at FutureLearn will find there way over here – but not, I believe until the entire system on which the OU learning operates I believe. I think there is an inherent weakness in Drupal that will never permit the kind of interactivity that is no possible on other platforms.

Fixing this will be like unknitting the Bayeux tapestry and re-stitching it in silk without anyone noticing. Now there’s an IT challenge.

What are MOOCs going to do for learning?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1.  Web 1.0, Web 2.0, Web 3.0. The way it was, the way it is, the way it will be.  J F Vernon (2013)

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are new and FutureLearn, a wholly owned subsidiary of The OU is itself adapting as traditional institutions embrace e-learning, respond to feedback and to results and improve.

MOOCs will be new for a decade.

E-learning like this is not a lecture series online, TV online, a book or book list online, quiz or a tutorial online. Whilst this is invariably the starting place for ‘ground based’ educators, the academics working with instructional designers, not in isolation, need increasingly to begin with a blank sheet rather than looking at the physical assets of academics, books, lectures and papers around them.

What we are witnessing today is that transition from the Wright Brothers to World War One fighter planes: we are seeing hints of the jets to come: we are a long way from drones. I use the analogy having just completed a wonderful three-week FutureLearn MOOC ‘World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age‘. Innovation takes time, though not necessarily violent conflict.

Innovations go through recognisable phases.

E-learning in the forms of MOOCs is still at the stage of ‘early adoption’ – rest-assured they will become commonplace, though surely with a different name? MOOCs can be a hybrid during a transitional phase so long as this is seen as the first step in many away from traditional approaches, embracing what works online.

Academics need to resist hiding away in their silos and welcome into their midst those of us seeking to understand and to integrate the processes involved – that combination of learning and e-learning: how and why we learn (neuroscience and physcology) and how then scale (massiveness), interactivity (digital) and connectivity (openness) changes things. In time, when the academics themselves have reached their accredited status of ‘doctor’ and ‘professor’ through e-learning and when we can call them all ‘digital scholars’ – then we’ll be able to look down from the clouds and smile at how much things have changed.

Think evolution not revolution

Think how long it will take to see out the current generation of academics – thirty to fifty years? Whilst many embrace change, most do not. They chose academia as a lifestyle and fear closer, open scrutiny and engagement. Learning is now experiencing what retail has gone through over the last decade. They are exhilarating as well as scary times.

Ultimately MOOCs are about a combination of sequential activities and ‘interactivities’, collaboration and connection.

Gilly Salmon coined the term ‘e-tivities’: sadly not in common usage, it nonetheless captures beautifully what is required for students to learn online – doing stuff on your own, with other fellow students and with the academics. Academics who like to observe from their ivory towers are failing in a duty as educators, and are missing the opportunity to have their own thinking challenged and refreshed.

Collaboration is a long held view of a kind of learning in ‘communities of practice’ most associated with the academics Lave and Wenger: how working together is a more effective for of constructed learning.

Connectedness as a way of learning is dependent on a few things: the affordances of the platform to permit this with ease: if you have the opportunity compare current student messaging and blogging platforms at your institution with those at FutureLearn which has stripped back the unnecessary and concentrated on this ‘connectivity’; the number and mix of participants: massive helps as a small percentage of a group will be the front runners and conversationalists with others benefiting from listening in, out of choice not pressure and the ‘quality’ of the participants in that they need to have both basic ‘digital literacy’ skills and reliable access based on their kit and connection. ‘Connectivity’ is often associated with the academic George Siemens and is the new kid on the ‘learning theories’ block.

Embrace the pace of change

A lean and smart organisation will tumble over itself, re-inventing and experimenting with ways things are done until clear methodologies present themselves for specific types of learning experience: ‘head work’ is different to’ handiwork’ – academic study is different from applied practice. Subjects freed from books and formal lectures, like the genii released from the bottle will, in the cloud, form into shapes that are most suited to their learners and what is being taught: blended and ‘traditional’ learning most certainly have their place.

Academic snobbery is a barrier to e-learning. 

John Seely Brown, working out of the Palo Alto Research Centre, famous for coming up with the WYSIWYG interface between us and computers and a ‘learning guru’ is passionate about the idea of ‘learning from the periphery’ – this is how and when someone new to a subject, or team, hangs around at the edges, learning and absorbing what is going on at the heart. The wonder of open learning is the participation of equally brilliant and curious minds, some who know a good deal on a subject while others are just starting out, eager to listen, willing to ask questions that may be naïve but are usually insightful; in the two-way exchange both the die-hard academic and the newbie change for the better. Learning feeds of this new fluidity. It is evidence of the ‘democratisation’ of learning.

Popplets

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. My stab at a popplet.

I added some orange hair. Themed for the 5th of November as this is how I look on the streets of Lewes at this time of year. 

As kids we had a word that sounds very like this … ‘plopplets’. We had a variety of words for poo.

With thanks to Veronique Masse Du Bois who is using Popplets as part of H818. By sharing and me picking up on it she’s achieved some outcome for H818: The Networked Practitioner if I recall having it done this module of the MA ODE last year.

A sucker for trying out anything new and visual I have downloaded Popplets onto an iPad and will now proceed to mangle the French language, at least the grammar I’ve supposedly learnt these last two weeks. And illustrate it too.

Other cool idea organisation Apps I’ve used:

Who gets my things after I’ve taken my life?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

As a Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education I will give all kinds of things a go. I’ve done a few FutureLearn MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). This eight week course on writing fiction from the OU looks like being one of the biggest; the OU pedigree also shows – the thinking and ‘broadcast quality’ of the video pieces shows compared to material put up by some universities.

Activities, activities, activities I remember someone saying from the OU when it came to designing learning online. This course is a little bit of telling, a bit of doing, that a lot of sharing. You can be thinking up a comment and before you post there can be five or six posts ‘land’ ahead of you. There are 1000+ responses to a thread. To some this is daunting. To those not used to these environments it may be off-putting. When you get used to it its fine, like going to a huge nightclub in London that’s on several floors rather than a mate’s part in their front lounge.

In this exercise we watched a clip of a dozen folk going about the daily business; all had feature in the opening piece about writing, so most are ‘at it’ pen on paper, into the laptop or onto an iPad. We are invited to take a person or moment and invent a story from it. I had never consciously done this before and was delighted with the effect, not trying to figure out what people really are doing, but rather inventing something for them.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 2. From an activity in ‘Start Writing Fiction’ from FutureLearn

I have a young woman innocently keeping a ‘writer’s journal’ who I decide is writing suicide notes to five or six people; she puts a key from the bunch in each envelope, posts off the letters then kills herself. A bit morbid. I suppose I should now figure out why, and reveal what is behind each key.

Go see.

FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

See also how a shared, threaded forum such as this can be used to create a vibrant asynchronous conversation with several hundred, even thousands of people. Several things FutureLearn do which would work well here: word count limited to 1200 characters, 16 minutes timed out having posted to edit – then its done. A ‘like’ button and an easy way to keep abreast of comments left in a discussion you have started or joined without having to try to find it.

The connectedness of ideas by learning online – towards a new theory of learning

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. This IMHO is what learning has become in the 21st century – and how it got there

There’s more going on here than you may realise!

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Traditional top down learning

Two triangles, one above the other and linked with a down arrow suggests traditional top down learning … or simply knowledge transfer from someone who knows something to someone who does not.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 3 By someone’s side

Two triangles, one facing the other, may represent a shift towards collaborative or horizontal learning in a formal setting, though for me it represents the learning you do away from the institution – with friends, with family ‘on the same level’ as it were.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 4. Participatory and situated, networked learning on the periphery

From E-Learning V

Fig.5 The thinking starts with Vygotsky and his research into behaviorist learning

It then progressed to the study and analysis of learning in communities

From E-Learning V

Fig. 6. Activity Theory as conceived of and developed by Yrjo Engeström. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.7 The interplay between two entities or communities coming together to solve a problem and thus producing something unique to them both (object 3) – a fresh idea.

From E-Learning V

Fig.8. Activity Theory re-connected – breaking out

Though developed over some thirty years the structure of ‘Activity Theory’ as a model is breaking down because of the quality, speed and way in which we now connect overrides barriers and invades silos making communication more direct and immediate.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 9 Activity Theory in a connected world

Everyone and everything is just a click away.

From E-Learning V

Fig.10 Visualizing the maelström of original ideas generated by people sharing their thoughts and ideas as they form

The maelström of new ideas where people and groups collide and interact. Historically this had been in grounded ‘communities of practice’, whether a London coffee shop or the senior common room of a prestigious university, the lab, the studio, the rehearsal room … today some gatherings online are frequent, enabled by the Internet and no less vibrant as like-minds and joiners contribute to the generation of new ideas.

This, drawing on Engestrom via Vygotsky, might be a more academic expression of Open Learning. Here a host of systems, expressed in model form, interpose their drive to achieve certain objectives into the common whole. That mess in the middle is the creation of the collective powers and inputs of individuals, groups, departments or institutions. The Open bit are the connections between any node in one system, and any other node from any other one of the systems … which blows apart the actions within a single system, making them more open, though not random.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 11 It’s going on inside your head.

fMRI scans reveal the complex way in which ideas form and memories are recalled and mixed-up, challenged and re-imagined. We are our very own ‘community of practice’ of conflicting and shared viewpoints.

From E-Learning V

Fig.11. Perceiving brain activity as the interplay between distinct, interacting zones

From E-Learning V

Fig. 12 Ideas enter your system, your brain and are given a fresh spin

From E-Learning V

Fig.13 Ideas coalesce until you reach a point of understanding. The penny doesn’t so much as ‘drop’ as to form.

Where would we be without one of these. 98 billion neurons. A uniquely connected mass of opportunity and potential. This is where, of course, memories are formed and thoughts had. Increasingly we are able to share ideas and thoughts as we have them, typically through the tips of our fingers by sharing our thinking online, especially where it comes to the attention of like-minds, and troubled-minds – anyone in fact or strongly agrees or strongly disagrees enough to contribute by adding their thinking and revealing their presence.

Oxford Television News: a 1983 video-based undergraduate TV news programme

Oxford Television News: May 1918 On YouTube

From OU80s

Fig.1. Julia Brooks, one of the presenters on this edition of OTN

Oxford Television News (OTN) presented by Julia Brooks and Su Wolowacz.

Fig. 2. Su Wolowacz presenting the Trinity Term (1983) edition of Oxford Television News

Items include voting in the Council Elections, warnings about a rapist in an alley behind St.Peter’s, OUSA education system and the abolition of the admissions exam (ratio of private to state sector was worse than 70% 30%), May Day Celebrations, the importance the CV from Mr Snow then head of OUCAS, a Student Union Committee meeting, reported Stephen Howard reviewing Andrew Sullivan’s term (Trinity) as the Oxford Union President, Balliol College Music Society 1500th Concert (interviewed those who attended). Then set to music clips fro the Oxford & Cambridge Ski trip to Wengen. Clips from Abigail’s Party, directed by Anthony Geffen. The Roaring Boys. Matthew Faulk and Alex Ogilvie acting out a scene from ‘The Labours of Hercules Sproat’ and finally Jonathan Vernon doing a mime.

Fig.From OU80s

Fig.3. Students interviewed on the local elections.

From OU80s

Fig. 4. Mr Snow of Oxford University Careers Service giving advice

From OU80s

Fig. 5 Stephen Hellwen reviews the Oxford Union Debating Society under the presidency of Andrew Sullivan

From OU80s

Fig. 6 Richard Davey, First Year History Student at Balliol College and other Balliol undergraduates interviewed about the 1500th Balliol Musical Society Concert that included a performance by Yehudi Menuhin.

Production Credits

Presenters:

Julia Brooks

Su Wolowacz

Stephen Hellwen

Advertising

George Monbiot

Belinda Brown

Matthew Grayson

Production

Pete Collins

Ian Conway

Alan Jay

Editor

Jonathan Vernon

Director

Mike Upton

An OTN Production

The importance of digital literacy in learning online

Fig. 1. Mozilla Webmaker Digital Literacy Map

Learning online for a degree means that over a number of modules, sooner rather than later, you are likely to master a number of these digital literacy skills; the more the better.

Navigation, search and credibility and vital for any student. Can you find your way around the web and your university’s virtual library, the student forum and Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? Can you search elsewhere for credible results – remembering to tag and cite these?

Learning online you may never need to code, but other ‘building’ skills are important; the basics of this blogging platform for a start, remixing and re-blogging and accessibility issues.

Connecting might be the most important skill and habit to acquire: sharing, collaboration and community participation are what make the Open University learning experience so special. ‘Connectivity’ is considered by academics such as George Siemens to be the learning theory of the 21st century; that by taking part, connecting and commenting you and others benefit from the insights gained, mistakes corrected, problems solved, issues understood, theories tested …

While ‘openness’ is a state of mind that takes a bit of getting used to; some make feel it is ‘exposure’ or compromising their privacy. Others simply prefer to get on with a task alone, and therefore with less disturbance. You can see that I am an exponent of openness and connectivity.

The value of networking face to face not just online

In the spirit of doing something different in order to effect change I attended a ‘Get Together’ organised by Wired Sussex and took the attitude that i would be open to everything and say ‘yes’ to all. Over two hours I listened to, shared with and learnt from Neil, Gerry, Olly, Karla, Tristan, Simon, Michael … and ‘TV Simon’ as I will call him to differentiated from business managing Simon16 (number of employees). I only remember the people, what they said and names to faces as, shared with them, I did this thing of pegging a face to a place on a familiar journey – walking through the house. And so I found Carla at the front door designing jewellery, Gerry on the stairs coaching folk in life skills, Tristan enteringmy bathroom talking agile eaterfalls, Kanban abd SCRUM techniques while Simon was on the landing with our dog – his blonge haird and scruffy beard in keeping with our blonde Labradoodle perhaps? Olly was in the garden talking to John, while Neil moved away and subsequently left. These are only those I met. There is no so much to follow up on: things to do, things to research, people to get back in touch with. So here’s me making some kind of public promise to do so, including having a business card by the time of the next meet up. I own the domain name ‘Mind Bursts’ which is where I plan to seed ideas and seek ways for them to flourish and bare fruit.

Much of the conversation came from my experience of the Open University’s Master of Arts on Open and Distance Education in general (graduated in 2012) and the module H818: The Networked Practitioner that ends tomorrow having submitted End of Module Assignments last week.

Do you prefer to read widely or pick the brains of experts?

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Reading a history of the Armistice after the First World War – I’m a few years ahead of the centenary of 1914, I learn the Lloyd George preferred the former: picking the brains of experts was preferable to reading widely.

Studying with the Open University can be both: you read and discuss at length – it depends so much on the course you are taking and serendipity. If you are goash you ought to be able to approach anyone at all in your faculty – not that you have much sense of what this is. You have an immediate student tutor group of 12 or so and a wider module cohort of say 60. You can read widely simply by extending your reach through references courtesy of the OU library, though I think what is meant here is a more general and broad intellect, that you take an interest, liberally, in the arts and sciences, in history and politics …

Increadingly this ‘widely read’ person can have multiple degrees – learning online may be more expensive than a shelf of books but you emerge at the other end a wiser person?

Being online affords a thousand opportunities to both read widely and to pick the brains of experts; what this requires is Web 2.0 literacy – the nous to drill deep when you read in a way that has never before been possible, unless, perhaps you have been privileged enough to have ready access to and the time to use one of the world’s elite libraries and your father or mother is a senior academic, government minister or captain of industry who loves to hold ‘house parties’ at the weekend. For the rest of us, there is now this new landscape – if not a level playing field (there are privileges based on cost and inclusion) – it is one where, with skill, guile, knowledge and experience you can gravitate towards and rope in the people and the books.

Studying with the Open University ‘at a distance’ can be neither: if reading is tightly focused by the content provided and you are penalised rather than admired for reading widely: you are supposed to stick to the text as it is on this that your tutor will assess you. And the participation of experts is random: my seven modules with the OU has had some of the more prominent names of distance and open education as the chair and as tutors, some are present and make themselves readily available though some appear only in the byline or tangentially not taking part in any discussion or debate – it is their loss and ours. I sound as if I am denegrating the tutors as my expectation has come to see in them an ‘educator’ – not necessarily a subject matter expert, but a facilitator and an enabler, someone who knows there way around the digital corridors of the Open University Virtual Learning Environment.

You get to know where to look: Amazon for books and the student forum that is the eclectic thread of reviews, then discussions in a specialist Linkedin group rounded off by webinars and hangouts. You may prefer one or the other but I suspect a balance of both is the most effective: you put in the information from books and you form your own opinions in discussions.

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