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Online Learning Revisited
It won’t get me a job as a learning technologist (aka technician) but I’ve said it (in a presentation interview online) and will repeat it now and develop the argument, that the best learning experience a student can have is you in the room with them; if this cannot happen, then it is you LIVE, online, talking them through a topic, guiding them and praising them, correcting them and challenging them, responding to their individual stops and starts. Of course, one to one is not scalable. Nor is it sexy tech. So there have to be compromises.
In my five years completing a Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) with the Open University, taking the five required modules, and in due course another two or three to complete the ‘set’ I can recall two positive modules and equally positive experiences – and outstanding results. No longer the 42/53 and odd 70 I got in other (and admittedly earlier modules), but 92/93 – If I’d retaken the entire MAODE I guess I might have gained a Distinction. Though I am certain I would have needed the kind of support these tutors provided, but they only provided that support on their modules.
This was all online, ‘at a distance’ and very little of it was live. Rather we were ‘as live’ as much as anything putting content into a common OU Student Blog that our tutor and fellow students could dip into. I know that one or two students did outstandingly well and barely interacted at all … but I’m a social learner, I like the praise, I like to be ticked off and corrected too – and to put awkward questions, and to ask ‘why?’ over and over again. I don’t mean to be annoying but when I don’t ‘get it’ I just don’t and it takes a new angle, a new link, something else to read, a chance comment, an analogy or visualisation to get me over the line. Then once I understand it, I really understand it 🙂 I wear it on my sleeve, it is tattooed into my brain.
So where does this leave online learning?
It requires engagement, it requires responsiveness to the individual, even tailor-made – it requires direct engagement from the tutor – ideally the course chair, and where not that someone highly qualified in the subject – NOT a ‘nanny’ moderator who knows f*** all on the topic. Expertise matures over time, it is not last year’s PhD student or this years MA student, it is ideally a professor, or a senior lecture, who lives and breathes their subject.
But how can this be scaled up to teach hundreds, even thousands?
When I last checked there were over 223 million young people around the world hoping to go into tertiary education. There aren’t the professors and senior lecturers to teach them. So we have to create learning, create learning, gamify it, modulerise it, make it ‘smart’ and compromise. AI will do a better job that some tutors and mentors in due course – what is the point of a jobsworth mentor/tutor who restricts their engagement with you to a couple of hours on a Thursday evening – because, they tell you, they are only paid X to do X hours. This is where you need people who teach as a vocation, whatever the risk is to exploitation. This is for their line manager to protect them from, their union to negotiate or challenge if it goes wrong. Can a Chatbot behave like someone whose vocation it is to teach? To experience students finding and developing their strengths?
You have to make the time. And where time is limited you have to use Tech to make more time available – but it is always diluted. Online learning needs to be simple and effective for very particular tasks – I love the determined simplicity of the language learning platform LingVist for example. Involved tangentially in the development of a language learning platform in 2000/2001 I have followed developments closely, tried many apps and approaches (including failed attempts at an A’ Level, and even a undergraduate degree).
Online learning in the form of a course or module must be offered in a multitude of ways to provide a complete experience which includes live/as live, interaction, solo study, old fashioned reading and essay writing, lectures too, as well as smarter IT elements to ingrain specific necessary elements which are suited to a Tech approach.
An introduction to E-Learning
I started my first online degree with the Open University in March 2001. It was one of the first of its kind, the Masters in Distance Learning from the Open University in 2001. A box arrived with books and DVDs, otherwise everything was online. The ‘ChatBoard’ was pretty crude. For me it was a false start, with Brighton work going pear-shaped in September 2001. I should have finished that first module, but gave up. Had someone at the OU ‘reached out’ I would have pressed on. I picked it up again in 2010. I completed my MA in Open and Distance Education in 2013. Started at that time this blog is fast approaching 5 million views.
I have since completed a further MA (albeit entirely face to face lecture and library based) and between FutureLearn, Coursera and OpenLearn a further 27 modules on one subject or another. I’m a mentor on Coursera’s ‘Learning How to Learn’.
I recommend online courses that have tutor or mentor, or at least student interaction. The human element, at least for me, is a vital component for completion. 10 years ago I recall doing a Google Meet ‘pyjama party’ with fellow students in Australia, Japan, Dubai, Germany and England. Not as dodgy as it sounds! But by implication an informal use of the software.
Not all the online courses I have done have worked out. For the third or fifth time I quit a course on French (a BA with the Open University). All I still have for French is a C grade GCSE. Speaking of which I totally recommend Lingvist as the go-to language learning App (I have tried and reviewed all of them). I have gone from a terrible 737 words vocab to over 2500 words in the last 18 months. I’m still 1,200 short of my wife who is bilingual (taught in a French in Canada for a while), worked in France, still works in French …
Also thinking about languages, perfect in a world of social distancing, is Tandem. This fixes you up with someone like a dating App. (Not that I have any need for or experience of one of those).
Where student interaction is slight we’ve always started our online groups on LinkedIn. The group I set up 10 years ago for swimming teachers and coaches has 1,600 members and is still active. Most endure the length of the module.
Take a look at these online courses, join up with a buddy (you are more likely to complete). Most are free, though the best, and the business orientated ones may cost between £35 and £300. A degree module is now something like £2,000.
30 hours a week I am supporting colleagues and students at Greater Brighton MET. Google Suite for Education is our go to platform. Google Meets are frequent with Google Chat live while I’m at my desk. Last night friends did a 8 or 9 person quiz on Zoom. I promise to wake up my contributions to ‘scenario-based learning’.
I’m keen to get an art class going. I took a set of 360 degree photos in the lovely barn studio at Charleston a few months ago – with the model’s permission to post online. It was a life class so the nudity might result in the thing being barred. I may give this a go … though any drawing from a flat surface my late mother, an art teacher, would have been against.
Finally, on reflection, exactly 45 years ago I broke my leg badly skiing. A 13 year old between schools I ended up at home for the entire summer term to prevent me from putting weight on my leg. I was sent a box of books with instructions to read them. Without any other efforts at support at all I didn’t do a thing. Instead I got out my Dad’s Readers Digest book on Gardening and spent the next few weeks pulling myself around the garden on a tea tray. By the end of it I was air-propagating specimen rhododendrons.
Take care. Stay in touch 🙂
The Learning Technologist Imagined
Fig.1. Prof. Jilly Salmon author of ‘E-Tivities’
Inspired by a couple of talks given by Prof. Gilly Salmon at the 5th Coursera Partners’ Conference in The Hague in March 2016 I have been working on a way to take her ‘Five Phases’ of online course design and turn it into a ‘workshop’ model that could be used to help design courses, and to compare courses, their affordances and learning outcomes.
Fig. 2 A set of coloured blocks I use to think through, or to analyse, the phases of an online course
Her idea was to give educators a simple, approachable way to think through the design of a ‘Technology Enhanced’ course.
Fig.3 My interpretation of how Gilly Salmon uses coloured blocks to visualise the ‘ideal’ or ‘typical’ components of an online or ‘technology enhanced’ course in tertiary education.
This is one the many approaches that I am familiar with and in some instances have used to design a course, from packs of loose, printable cards developed by JISC that were used in a OLDS MOOC I completed, or flowcharts called ‘Swimming Lanes’ used an online App through the Open University, during one module of the Open University’s ‘Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education’ (MA ODE) or on a white board in an ‘industry’ in e-Learning Network (ELN) workshop I attended in London for corporate online training.
Fig.4 A pack of cards developed by JISC to assist with course design.
The goal is always the same: to have a blueprint that can be shared with colleagues and a team that will build the platform before ‘populating’ it with content (and knowing what kind of content this will be: text, rich media, game/activity, assessment etc). This is something I am familiar with as a producer working in corporate training, video and interactive production. I moved from linear treatments and scripts and to packs of storyboard ‘blueprints’ that would show, what Gilly Salmon would later call ‘e-tivities’. These storyboards would also show the buttons and links that would appear on the DVD or computer-based training we produced.
Fig.5. The Creative Workshop that I ran at the Open University Business School to resolve problems with running multiple LinkedIn Groups for current students, alumni and prospective students.
While at the Open University Business School (OUBS), I completed their MBA module ‘Creativity, Innovation and Change’ and was introduced to dozens of techniques for helping people unravel a problem or come up with a creative way of doing things. It has been exciting to apply this in small groups, running workshops to solve problems collectively and to come up with often surprising, actionable results – that everyone felt they had contributed to. I have shared the techniques, including the ‘Bible’ of creative workshop techniques with the founder of The School for Leaders to use in their summer schools.
Fig. 6. A set of the current tabs on the Western Front Association website. As the digital editor I upload all items, sometimes as many as a 30 a week.
More recently, my part-time role as the Digital Editor for The Western Front Association (The WFA) I have written and assembled, added modified images, links and video to a MailChimp newsletter that then went out to our 6,500+ subscribers while posting some 15 articles and events to the website and feeding some of these to The WFA Facebook Page. Meanwhile, 18 months into this role, I am working with the Executive Committee of The WFA to replace the current website. Until now I have been working with a web agency in Dundee working largely online and through a ‘ticketing system’ for tasks to be undertaken. The brief, that I wrote, is for far greater focus on The WFA remit of: ‘studying, learning and research’. To this end, alongside completing, part-time, an MA in the history of 1914-1918, I am in continual contact with academics and their support teams in the UK and abroad endeavouring to represent their work, by sharing and publishing events and papers. During the week I will correspond via 60+ emails and one Skype call. Every couple of months we meet face to face in offices in London.
This kind of team working, as a producer in TV and video production and creating websites, has been matched by some volunteers roles, for example, as the Chairman of ‘Wave Leisure’ the group that took over leisure facilities from Lewes Town Council, by multiple roles in a 1,000 member swimming club working with colleagues, parents and swimmers (children through to Masters), while currently, by way of example, I am working with a group in Lewes to research, write, then present in talks and through displays in shop windows the history of Lewes during the First World War. Another, disparate involvement in ‘academia’ has been my working on a three day conference on the political philosopher Plamenatz, using a handful of names and authors to build a database and get in touch via social media with potential speakers and event attendees for the University of Oxford.
Fig 7. The OU interactive online tutor platform
Meanwhile, over the last week, inevitably, with my interest in online education, I hold an MA in Open and Distance Education from the Open University (2013), I am taking more than a close look at the approach taken to blended learning at the University of Wolverhampton where I am a part-time student. The OU had its own e-portfolio ‘MyStuff’ that I personally used religiously only to have it deleted and replaced with a generic platform – an early version of Mahara. Wolverhampton use PebblePad. I use all the different platforms, as a learning exercise and to mentally acknowledge their presence should I need them later. My experience and preference is to use a student Blog platform that provides the simple three options of publishing 1) privately 2) to my faculty/student group only or 3) to the world. You have the benefit of putting all your study ‘stuff’ in one place, then to share with the faculty if you are working on a collaborative task and also to share, more expansively thoughts and ideas about the life, the university and everything. My interest in online learning has seen me invited by the University of Wolverhamtpon to take part in reviewing of the School of Arts’ ‘Offer’ and the university’s adoption of a new platfrom, Canvas, later this year.
Fig. 8. The current OU Student platform: simple and clear. My OU Blog usage.
My OU Student blog, which I used extensively, over three years has several thousand followers and has been viewed 1.7 million times. I still write in it to keep up with former students and tutors. I also rely on it to find tagged papers, infographics, and notes on every subject covered by The OU MAODE. Other ‘databases’ I use include Picasa (now Google Pics) where I have many thousand screen grabs related to all manner of subjects, not least seven distinct ‘albums’ related to ‘E-Learning’. Finding visual references or ‘aides memoire’ invaluable I have in the past used FlickR not only to save photographs online, but to share them and gather information and contacts around them.
I still used Pinterest extensively, gratuitously grabbing and assembling images as I read and explore, while in the past, I have also made extensive use of Stumbleupon. Short of ‘lifelogging’, that I have tried, studied and discounted, I find that with devices, apps and platforms one can recreated a fraction of the contents of one’s brain online: in scale though, it is, for the moment, only an ‘aide memoire’. I wonder if in time, ‘A.I’ could make this smart? I hanker after an Alexa like presence that knows me better than I do, a ‘personal assistant’ for the 21st century.
My history with Pinterest has been as an ‘aide memoire’ and collection of curiosities. Galleries of images on a theme, held and built upon in one place are a quick-fire ‘concept board’ for the inventive mind, but also of practical use where an image is required to support a particular article. Recently looking at this I wish, having pinned one, I’d gone back and worked with dendrograms: I an see their value for clustering, and therefore making sense of ideas; perhaps for writing something like this, but certainly for a formal, academic essay. I click on the image of the dendrogram I had saved and in an instant I am reading an article on ‘How we designed FutureLearn’s new course categories’ on the FutureLearn website of how they created categories for their website. In turn this shows me what I do and do not understand about dendrograms amd their creation: I am familiar with ‘card sorting’ and ‘closed card sorting’. Now I could plan one to be created online using ‘Optimal Workshop’, which includes tools such as ‘Tree Testing’, ‘Card Sorting’, ‘First-click Testing’ and ‘Qualitative Research’.
Five modules were required to gain the MA ODE. There are six modules. I have completed all of them and am also thinking about joining a ‘new presentation’. As a student, and while working at The OU, I saw the OU platform develop and took part in its ‘re-invention’ not only attending internal research sessions, but also attending the ‘Usability Testing Lab’ to be taken through screening of versions of key pages. It struck me that repeatedly the desire was to enhance usability, which saw the key pages repeatedly simplified. Presented with a screen, with a facilitator at my side, and others behind a two-way mirror, my actions, feelings, and eye-movements are followed, while my comments and thoughts when prompted by the researcher are noted down
The Open University Business School web pages were put through this process. A number of people, fitting the ‘persona’ profiles of an OUBS student were paid a fee to take part. The ‘Human Computer Research Labs’ can be booked following these guidelines.
Fig. 9. The University of Wolverhampton’s Learning Platform
I use and am familiar with the affordances of their learning platform ‘WOLF’ and have identified strengths, weaknesses and opportunities which I am sharing both with the chair of the MA program and with university learning support team. The problem with its use for the course I am taking isn’t technical, but human: tutors, students and others need to respond to comments; best practice will be picked up through use, but for now some tips are needed: dont give the title of your comment as the date of the Saturday Course – everyone does this and as a list it looks meaningless; starting a discussion is one thing, responding in a thoughtful and constructive way to others matters more. ‘Listen’ to what a person has written, and respond to all of it. Keep of your agenda, be considerate and respectful of theirs – you’ll have your chance. Treat it as a reciprocal experience. Treat it like having all you coffee room discussions recorded and typed up. It should be friendly, even rambling, open, constructive and engaging. You cannot bore people into taking part.
Fig. 10 The Open University MA ODE module ‘conference’ or ‘student forum’ activity between ‘Tutor Marked Assignments’ (TMAs)
Not one student posting to the discussion since October 2016 has had a response, neither from tutors, nor from fellow students. I can try to act as a catalyst to invigorate this, however, if my lone voice then appears and responds with comments to 90% of the threads another problem is created.
Fig. 11 A variety of ‘Posters’ representing papers produced by Coursera Partners. Coursera Partners’ Conference 3016
Most of this knowledge I have gained through experience over many years, starting in 2000/2001 with ‘Friends Circles’ on the Diaryland Platform, then ListServ with The OU in 2001, but in particular through the many modules of the MA ODE. I can now look at papers on ‘student engagement’ or call up a ‘Poster’ and talk I had with an academic at the 5th Coursera Partners’ Conference in 2016.
A significant failing of the Wolverhampton MA course, which says it uses ‘blended learning’ had been to have a proper, hands on induction, face to face as well as online (it is ostensibly a residential, lecture-driven course). As I write this, the course chair and I on the MA course at Wolverhampton are exchanging thoughts on the discussion forum. I believe I have credibility because I know the subject and so can contribute at that level, but also, because I am so familiar with this kind of setup and know what makes them work: keeping the questions open, reading and responding directly to what others have said (as you ought to do if they were talking to you face to face), and keeping the tone open, supportive, professional and on brief – unless you create informal ‘break-out’ spaces. I also know that having posted a few replies, however great the temptation, I need to stand back for a couple of days to give others a chance to come in, and then when I do return to respond to one or two, but not all of them: to let some of the discussions purposively be picked up and carried by others.
Fig. 12 Studying 3D production and design post-graduate students had to grade each other in terms of ‘collaboration’ and ‘team working’ those receiving the lowest scores given especial attention to bring them ‘on board’.
There are universities that successfully have MA students contributing to undergraduate discussions, and doctoral research students contributing to MA discussion groups. All would benefit from a workshop on the dynamic of these and the psychological impact on student behaviours if you are too dominant, or flippant, or dismissive. The typed word has multiple tones because the reader invents it.
As a student I have now been in thirty or more of these, online learning groups, all the way through the OU MAODE, but also in MOOCs, particularly from FutureLearn, but also from several and different Higher Education and Commercial MOOCs I have taken since: Oxford Brookes, Coursera for example.
There is a pattern of use, or no use at all. Where a group of students regularly ‘hang out’ the exchange can be extraordinary: constructing meaning, building confidence, acquiring knowledge and having a laugh. I am currently an online mentor with the Open University, and also a mentor (on campus) at the School of Communication Arts (since 2011), though by far my busiest, most fulfilling and insightful experience (daily if I wish it to be) is as an online mentor with Coursera. I recently shared issues with engagement in a Coursera ‘Hang Out’ and found myself recalling some of the greatest successes at The OU: a tutor who posted a different picture of a ‘Water Cooler’ each week and used this for students to have a ‘free for all chat’, which gave them confidence with the platform before going back to the academic threads; and a student in my tutor group, soon after they had been launched, getting us all to join a ‘Google Hang Out’ for a pajama party – not as salacious as it sounds with students in many different time zones (and cultures). Coursera are doing this too: a recent ‘off campus’ hang out having us bring our favourite ‘food’ to the hangout to discuss: interestingly with Coursera Mentors from Egypt, California, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands, Argentina, Canada … England and Wales.
At Wolverhampton I have also put myself forward to support the creation of online materials for this and other courses. I have done this before, asked by Creative Skill Set to join a panel advising them on the creation of a number of MOOCs they were part financing via a number of UK universities, and also advising Design & Art Direction (D&AD) after they had received a management consultancy report advising them to move some of their workshops and distance learning ‘products’ online.
Fig. 13 Daphne Koller presenting at the 5th Coursera Partners’ Conference, March 2016
I was introduced to the work of Daphne Koller and Coursera as an MA ODE graduate student in 2010/2011. The results from their earliest courses have shaped their thinking since: close analysis of how thousands of students struggle pinppoints where the educators need to improve how they present and explain a thing (which benefits students on campus too) while experiments with peer reviewed and tutor graded assessments were telling: far from ‘cheating the sytem’ or just getting it wrong, students tended to mark more harshly than the tutor. Peer review works at another level too: by assessing the work of others your own knowledge deepens. They do say that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it, after all.
I have since completed several Coursera MOOCs on ‘Learning How to Learn’, ‘Photography’, Search Engine Optimisation’ and ‘Creative writing’. It has been a fascinating and rewarding journey to use the platforms, experience how it works, to see how Coursera are constantly improving and adapting (and contributing to this) and to have become (after training) a Coursera Mentor (since August 2016). The mentor is support, a moderator, and a technical and subject guide. The support we get includes regular emails and newsletters, as well as weekly ‘Hangouts’.
A bit like a ‘mentor’ but with more ‘powers’, I am a moderator on various groups on LinkedIn, a moderator in the eLearning Global Network (34 k+ members) but also the moderator and founder of ‘Swim Club Teachers & Coaches’ group (1.4k members). In these groups, and initially learning from Thomas Garrod in the eLearning Global Network, I came to develop ‘best practice’ when seeding and responding to discussions. This is something I took to The Open University Business School (OUBS) where I took over, developed and started four LinkedIn Groups in turn for alumni, present students, prospective students and the newly formed ‘Business Breakfast Network’. (Memberships ranging from several thousand to zero when I set up the ‘Business Breakfast Network’). These groups were used for multiple reasons: maintaining interest in The Business School, supporting learners and acting as a hub and a learning/sharing platform, directing prospective students to a series of webinars I set up and beginning a corporate, business network. In each case I developed and grew group numbers and participation. In all these instances, including the lead on a programme of webinars aimed at prospective students, I worked with senior and junior academics from OUBS, and with administrative staff.
Fig. 14 A video producer (writer/director). Interviews, conferences, lectures and bespoke training.
Over the last week, I have responded to five Coursera students on MOOCs, and taken part in two Coursera Hang-outs. Often my input is to nudge the student along, even, simply to indicate that there is someone listening. Issues with assessments are not unusual: people get miffed if they don’t pass the formal, graded assessment at the end of the week first time and can blame the system if they don’t get the grade a second time either. I am loath to point out that I rarely got through one of these multiple-choice quizzes first time, the questions shuffle each time you take the ‘test’, you are also directly, a little clumsily I would say, directed to the part of the course that might help you get the answer correct. In one instant it took me 7 attempts, another 11 and time out to go back over two weeks of learning material, and by then, the option to ‘reset’ the course by two weeks or try and catch up. Most Coursera courses now start on a rolling basis every two weeks and as a student you can, if you get stuck or delayed, reset to an earlier ‘presentation’. This sadly does impact on the task of creating any student bonding in a ‘cohort’ and so reaping the benefits of camaraderie, collective effort and collaborate, constructed learning.
One of the hangouts is with the Coursera technical and support team based in Mountain View, CA and a ‘Chill out’ of a tiny fraction of the 1,900 Mentors worldwide. It is fascinating to learn that the University of Michigan is aiming to have 200 of its courses online by the end of 2017, with 83 already online. (I mentor one of their MOOCs). They are splitting content between Coursera and EdX. This is seen as a valuable way forward for educators for students on campus, and to build and support students ‘at a distance’.
Fig.15 A break-away session on how to create, manage and moderate an online forum used by students from across the world. Coursera Conference 2016.
Attending the 5th Coursera Partners’ Conference in March 2016 I was able to hear academics speak, network with them, and in several instances take part in early-morning ‘creative workshops’ with them, in two cases initiating the topic we explored, namely ‘Resistance of universities to online learning’, and ‘Use of video in online education’. I could also build on my knowledge of how Coursera uses student data to improve courses by identifying sticking points; analsysis and change are part of their culture, part of what they see as a ‘movement’ to bring education to the world.
Fig.16 Annotated Post It notes used during a Coursera workshop which led to my own conception of how ‘Massive Demand’ feed into course programmes ‘on the ground’.
It was fascinating to learn how much corporate ‘partnership’ is occurring with academics, particularly in business schools, and how academics are adapting to the ‘flipped classroom’. Ten months later I am still reflecting on the 30 or so ‘Posters’ presented by a myriad of academics at Coursera who have been testing ‘technology enhanced learning’ in institutions around the world. Even something as subtle as where to place text, whether subtitles or annotations, on video were fascinating.
Fig. 17. Barb Oakley presenting ‘Learning How to Learn’ – the biggest MOOC to date with over 16 million participants.
I came to be at the Coursera Partners Conference, my delegate’s fees reimbursed, as I was, and still am, a fan of ‘Learning How to Learn’ and its author and presenter Barb Oakley. Personally, I think her delivery is a model for any lecturer wishing to create a ‘flipped classroom’. She shot all the video herself in her basement with a green screen on a budget of $5,000. As The OU TEL academic Martin Weller would argue, it was ‘good enough’ – the kind of video shoots I was responsible for in my former career are not necessary. A lecturer to camera does not have to be a multi-camera TED lecture event, or a BBC documentary. They simply need to be prepared, savvy, knowledgeable, open to constructive criticism and enthusiastic: and in due course, be prepared to replace bits as a better way to explain or show something is thought of.
The Coursera platform is extraordinarily smart and always adapting and improving: as a mentor I complete a weekly short survey and a monthly in-depth survey, let alone feedback issues with the student experience at every step of the way. Recommendations from mentors, I have found, are swiftly fed to the ‘Tech Team’ and adopted. This is a four part course that I completed with a score of over 80%: I am familiar with the modules, and can at any time go in and follow it as a student should I need a refresh. A basic component of the Coursera experience is for a short video of ‘knowledge acquisition’ followed by short formative multiple-choice quiz, which you have to repeat and pass to 80% before you can progress. Some students baulk at not getting it all right first time; so long as there is nothing wrong with the questions and content I persuade students that the effort required to get the answer right is very much part of the deeper learning experience. I was following the weekly Friday Coursera ‘Mentor Hang Out’ just before I came to write this. They have been holding these twice a week for some months. Beyond the blog and hoping that people will read and comment, and beyond the tutor supported forum where you hope they and fellow students comment, the beauty of a ‘hangout’ is that it gets people together in real time in a dynamic that is quite different from from a face to face seminar. As an alumni of ‘Learning How to Learn’ I receive, follow up on and respond to the weekly newsletter on dates, books, developments and insights.
Fig. 18 Mash-up promoting ways to put the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ experience online.
I am a little more than a passive alumnus of the Oxford School of Geography, attending lectures from time to time and in touch with the faculty about e-learning. I also take advantage of attending my former college and wider university events, including attending open lectures at the Oxford Institute of the Internet (OII) and Said Business School if it feeds my knowledge. Oxford is moving towards creating MOOCs on EdX after years of consideration, committee meetings and procrastination. In March I have a chance to hear more about this from the University’s Vice-Chancellor at a college conference. My fascination has always been on how to recreate the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ online; with small group hang-outs this has become possible, so long as they are made an obligatory part of a course and a carefully managed.
Fig. 19 Part of a corporate presentation attended on the functionality of Moodle.
My interest in corporate training a member of the Learning Skills Group (LSG), going to their annual conference ‘Learning Technologies’ (in Olympia, London), taking part in regular webinars since 2010. Introduced by a fellow student on the MA ODE I have also been dropping into an Australian ‘hang out’ for teachers in Higher Education since 2014 while the skills and experience I gained using LinkedIn groups I gained from eLearning Global Network and their monthly hangouts (I became a group moderating four years ago so can delete, move and edit posts from others too). You learn how the dynamics of an online group works, something I had become familiar with though such groups and the different platforms they use at The OU.
My interest in FutureLearn has been no less great that my interest in Coursera : I took their first FutureLearn MOOC on Web Science (and consequently applied to Southampton to undertake doctoral research, title ‘Can an email-prompted web-based e-learning platform aimed at undergraduates in the UK with moderate to persistent asthma improve compliance to their prescribed preventer drugs to 80%?’.
I went on to complete 11 FutureLearn courses and when Creative SkillSet decided to create MOOCs I was recommended by the Dean of the School of Communication Arts and joined the panel of advisors helping to fashion MOOC proposals from the likes of Goldsmith College and the National Film and Television School.
My interest in ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’ began when I was working as a producer for UK corporate producer TVL who were beginning to migrate linear-based video training to interactive formats. This saw me working with ‘educators’ in industries as diverse as Nuclear Fuels (Sellafield), Banking (Standard Life and NatWest), Law (The Crown Prosecution Service and legal publisher Legalease) and many others. A team, that I lead as the producer, included an instructional designer, writer (I often wrote the scripts) and in-house team of editors, graphic designer and ‘outside broadcast’ video teams. Working closely with the client my role was to help shape a vision for the work, then lead and represent the scripting and storyboards for what were in effect at first the means to replicate lectures, workshops and ‘on the job’ and ‘just in time’ training. For example vignettes of video were shown then questions asked and knowledge tested. As levels of sophistication and budgets increased 3D graphics and animations were used to help explain a process, machine action or flow of information. Feedback forms, then behaviour using computer-based learning at the desk then modeled how changes would be made. Thus I have found myself working at the THORP nuclear reprocessing plant on safety training, developing an interactive DVD on banking for Standard Life, creating training for NatWest on how to handle a bank robbery and bank manager kidnap while producing a course on ‘The Art of Legal Negotiation’ for lawyers.
Fig. 20. Experience using Cloudworks and receiving ‘badges’ as an incentive
I have at times worked in broadcast TV, as an assistant producer, even sound engineer, offline editor and vision mixer. Then, as now, I have no fear of learning new skills whether putting images through Adobe Lightroom, cutting audio with images in Camtasia, learning a new web platform, such as WordPress and Joomla, shooting and cutting video and loading this to YouTube and embedding it onto websites or into a newsletter using MailChimp, or using a collaborative learning and sharing platform such as Cloudworks.
With the move to a web agency in Brighton it was clear at the time that the ‘rich’ media of 3d computer graphics and drama-reconstructions could not be recreated online. In the first ‘educational’ platform I worked on (as its Producer) I worked directly with the client FT Knowledge and our creative team to create modules for an MBA programme which used animations, text, audio and multiple-choice questions as part of each module. Recognising the need to improve my knowledge I joined what was then the Open University’s MA in Open and Distance Learning – all learning ‘at a distance’ with a crude ListServ forum and physical books.
Fig. 21 Taking part in an OU wide research project with academics and other staff to identify key OU ‘Personas’.
While taking the renamed Masters Degree in Open and Distance Education’ I successfully applied to work at The OU and was based in Milton Keynes. Here I was surprised, though delighted to become quickly involved in an expanded role that had me sharing the ‘OU Student experience’ in meetings and workshops to heads of faculty, assistant lecturers and individual academics. Essentially, I was taking them through the affordances of platforms and tools that they had been wary of using. Meanwhile, I picked up two groups on LinkedIn for the Business School and began two more: one for prospective students and a fourth for the launch of the Business Breakfast Briefings. Familiar with LinkedIn I ran, supervised, moderated and seeded discussions and help build one closed and one open group into the 1,000s.
Fig. 22 I have studied and followed SpacedEd (now Qstream) since 2010. I have twice interviewed its founder/creator Dr Price Kerfoot and based my PhD doctoral thesis on using the SpacedEd platform to test compliance training with asthmatics.
Completing the MA ODE, I elected to complete two further modules in preparation for applying to undertake doctoral research. During my studies I had become fascinated by what was then a new platform developed at Harvard Medical School by Dr Price Kerfoot called ‘SpacedEd’ which used the simple mechanism of very carefully scripted multiple-choice questions sent to a mobile device. My research proposal was to use SpacedEd to educate people with mild chronic asthma to improve compliance to their drugs and to measure learning effectiveness by an improvement in lung function. I firmly believe that there are many situations, and subjects, where knowledge has to be acquired particularly with first year students before it can be applied which would suit learners at all levels.
Fig. 23 CloudWorks used as part of an online collaborative exercise with The Open University
Creativity and innovation can put you out on a limb. I am a compulsive ‘early adopter’ who wants to see, use, judge, and experiment with every new app, platform or tool. I therefore have Alexa from Amazon and am confident though currently underwhelmed: she doesn’t take dictation or speak French. Historically I was early to blog in 1999, coding my own pages until I joined the platform Diaryland, and then quick to try each platform as it emerged from LiveJournal through to WordPress (on which I have several blogs.
Only this November I loaded diary App to my iPad ‘My Wonderful Days’ to support my desire to keep a daily journal or diary again: I never miss a day, and use it, to keep some kind of track on what I read, see and experience every day. There is huge cumulative worth to this: I find I forget just how many books I have read, for example, even where I have made notes so these too will go into a blog and tagged. I have studied and review people and tools for ‘life logging’ and feel confident that they can be dismissed as giving little support to the learning experience: the student needs to be making choices to ‘grab’ or store information. The benefits of ‘lifelogging’ are for those with dementia or Parkinson’s Disease to help bolster weakening short-term memory. Otherwise, the healthy brain is designed to ‘forget’ and we should be allowed to – students encouraged to find ways to repeat, review and re-use thoughts and knowledge they need to store in their long term memory.
Fig. 24 Rosetta Language Learning
I am quick to try new apps and platforms, whether Prezzi or QR codes, ListServ or Google Hangouts, ePortfolios and multiple-choice assessments, (SpacedEd, now QStream). I rave about the language learning platform Rosetta Stone having greatly improved my grammar, vocabulary and especially my pronunciation with it. I recently signed up to Yousician to try and get my guitar playing skills a bit better than bad. A couple of the stalwarts of my working day are Simple Minds (for mind mands) and Studio (for annotation images and charts). I also have used a variety of idea/storytelling supporting tools such as PowerStructure and Final Draft (though ostensibly these are for writing novels or screenplays).
Creativity regarding online learning means many things: simplest of all it is pragmatic problem solving, dawning upon experience and a willingness of different minds to look at new ways of doing things; creativity also standards and quality controls, a platform or app like a chair can be both functional and beautiful, it is shocking how many times a platform or app can be neither thing: it looks terrible and doesn’t worse, or even if it works it looks terrible and leaves users lost or demoralised: ease and joy of use is crucial, as well as relevance and something being embedded in the learning experience as a compulsory component : make a thing optional and most students opt not to use it.
Fig. 25 OUBS: Recording lectures and seminars (including Cherie Booth’s inaugural lecture, marketing planning foe web development and organising webinars.
At the Open University Business School, as with the Western Front Association currently, I respond to and support a myriad of people helping them to make the best use of the platforms we have available for them. There is often a need to persuade, to present, and the assist and nurture where people are hoping to, or are expected to use a piece of technology themselves.
Fig. 26. Drawing on the research and writings of many specialists, past and present.
Not a teacher, though I have taught in primary and secondary education, and in higher education given talks and run workshops. With my children now in or starting university I cannot help but pick their brains about the learning experience. My son is using FlickR to build a portfolio of work, while both my son and daughter are disappointed by the percentage of students who don’t do any work. Not a teacher, though I have been a professional swimming teacher and coach since 2005 and as I gained professional qualifications and learnt through traditional methods : workbooks and seminars, I regularly advised the Amateur Swimming Association on e-learning, preparing proposals and scamps on best use of video. Not a teacher, though I took a six week course with Oxford Brookes on teaching in higher education (and gained a distinction – and 10 credits). Not a teacher, though I took an OLDS MOOC and ended up working collaboratively with educators from the university of Lincoln to devise a MOOC on video for educators. Not a teacher, though I devised a use of QR codes in teaching the First World War. Not a teacher, though I devised a research thesis based on studying a cohort of undergraduates. Not a teacher, though having completed the MA ODE and further MA ODE OU modules I have repeatedly studied and consider how a wide array of tools and platforms could or do support educators. Not a teacher, though taking a close interest in the work of Kineo I gained an insider’s perspective of how learning platforms were developed for ‘City & Guilds’ worldwide.
Though not a teacher, I see myself as an ‘educator’ and facilitator, an informed, personable enthusiast, always ready to push my own studies further, including to doctoral research.
Whilst endeavouring to keep my skills and interests up to date, I also have a career of relevant and valuable core skills from preparing a creative brief and chairing workshops, to presenting and championing an idea, to supporting one to one or presenting at a conference, to producing video and interactive projects, even operating video cameras, editing and posting content online. I believe I would make a credible, valuable member of the Technology Enhanced Learning team at the University of Sussex.