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Recollections of postgraduate online learning since 2010

20130926-121013.jpg
Fig.1 Screengrab from JISC 2011 that I took part in via Twitter (see top right hand column). From my OU student blog of 14th March via a folder in my vast gallery on picasa.

Two and a half years ago I took part in JISC 2011 ‘at a distance’ – distance, cost and illness were all barriers to attending in person. I’m prompted to recall one of the afternoon conferences as Chris Pegler and Tony Hirst from the Open University were on the platform. As well as questions coming from the floor (some 200 attendees) questions also came from the online participants (some 350). A question I posed was picked out by the chair and discussed. For a dreadful moment I worried that I could be seen sitting in pyjammas and a dressing gown at the kitchen table. By March 2011 I was on my second Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) module. A month or so later I applied to and eventually joined the OU where I worked, living away from home, for a year. This year I graduated and have since also completed what I see as a conversion course ‘H809:Practise-based research in technology-based learning’ with a mind, belatedly in my lifetime, to undertake doctoral research. To ‘keep my hand in’ and to stay up to date I have joined a new MAODE module ‘H818:The networked practioner’. I am yet to feel fluent in the language and practice of e-learning so need this repeated immersion, modules that I did a couple of years ago are being updated and I want to prove to myself and potentially others that I can keep up the scholarly level of participation and assessment that I began to display on the last couple of modules.

The learning lessons here are simple: persistence, repetition and practice.

Ambitions to take me e-learning interests into healthcare were thwarted at my first interviews for doctoral research – I am not a doctor (medicine), nor have I conducted a clinical trial before … let alone the ambitions for my proposal that would require departmental participation and funding. Basically, I’d bitten off far too much.

With this in mind I am falling back on a subject on which I can claim some insight and expertise – the First World War. Knowing that expressing an interest, linking to a blog or unproduced TV scripts won’t open academic doors I’ve decided to take an MA in History … the subject I set out to study some decades ago before getting the collywobbles and transferring to Geography. So, alongside a 12-15 hour a week commitment to another OU module on e-learning I will, over the next two years, be spending as much time on an MA in British First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. The additional insight I will get from this is comparing abd contrasting a series of modules that rely on an intensive day every month of lectures and tutorials rather than the dense, minute by minute closely supported and networked virtual learning environment (VLE) of the Open University.

Meanwhile, as in March 2011, I am recovering from a stinking cold. Not totally incapacitated – I have read several books, nodding off between chapters and so plagued by dreams about the causes of war in 1914. Power politics and corporate takeovers where the soldier is the worker while the owners, investment bankers and hedge fund managers risk all for their own gain.

Here’s a mindmap on ‘Digital Scholarship’

Fig. 1. Mindmap on Digital Scholarship

Why e-learning is blended and at least two decades old

 

My interest is over three decades in the making.

How many teenagers are brought up on the premises of a PLC’s training centre?

My late father, in his wisdom, created a business HQ and training centre for the PLC he ran (and created) … and lived over the shop, literally. It was an odd set up for us kids, rather like being the headmaster’s kids. We we roped in to show guests around and as we got older to entertain them at dinner too. I took an interest in the videos created by the likes of Video Arts and Melrose, in the video kit used to develop interviewing techniques and in the wise words of the Training Manager – who put me in touch with a company who were making health & safety films for the Nuclear Power Industry – which in turn, is how I found myself carrying video kit around the changing rooms at Windscale (now Sellafield).

Corporate training is in my blood

The desired learning outcomes are no different to those we worked to several decades ago – people better at the job, content, with career development, knowing what they are doing and where to turn. E-learning has evolved from linear to interactive to online learning, however, at its most fundamental level it is still just a person with a goal, or need – a resource that answers this need or leads towards the goal – and the interplay or interaction, that through engagement and assessment leads to knowledge acquisition – possibly with a qualification, more likely some CPD points or simply an ability to do their job better, with greater confidence, collaborating with colleagues.

Published in 2007, researched and written over the previous 3-5 years, this book intimates the way things are going – or should I say, the way things have gone already?

The world of e-learning is one that moves fast, so fast that the creation of e-learning has become an integrated global industry – companies, often UK based (even with a Brighton bias) span the globe like international management consultancies, law firms or firms of accountants – indeed, the clients are often international law firms, management consultants, accounts and their clients. Does advertising and PR come into this too? Probably. Internal communications? Certainly.

In ‘Preparing for blended e-learning’ (2007) the authors Alison Littlejohn and Chris Pegler say that the ‘integration of our physical world with the digital domain is becoming ubquitous’.

At least two decades ago integration was already occurring, initially internally, through intranets. Leading businesses knew that educating the ‘workforce’ was vital so they had learning centres, while the likes of Unipart (UGC) had their own ‘university’ with faculties and a culture of continual learning. Industry was ahead of tertiary education then and feels light years ahead now with learning created collaboratively on wiki platforms, often using Open Source software with colleagues in different time zones. There is a shift to globalisation in tertiary education, with Business Schools such as Insead, but also with integrated, international universities such as Phoenix buying up or buying into universities around the planet – create an undergraduate course in Geography, a blended e-learning package, and put into onto a campus in North America and South, in Europe and the Middle East, the Far East and Australasia …

‘Learners and teachers increasingly are integrating physical and electronic resources, tools and environments within mainstream educational settings. Yet, these new environments are not yet having a major impact on learning. This is partly because the ‘blending’ of ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ domains – or ‘blended learning’ – is challenging for most teachers, yet it is becoming an essential skill for effective teaching’. (Littlejohn and Pegler, 2006 L287, Kindle Version)

I’d like to see a corporate e-learning agency create blended e-learning for a university – and to blend this in several additional directions courtesy of social learning back into secondary education, forwards into the workplace and sideways into the community and home. Perhaps I should call it ‘smudged learning’ – it happens anyway, at least in our household. It’s surprising how helpful teenagers can be to their parents who work online – and it is us, the parents, who appear to click them in the right direction of for resources and tools for homework. I wanted Adsense on my blog(s) my son was happy to oblige – for a cut, which more than takes care of his pocket money.

‘Blending … centres on the integration of different types of resources and activities within a range of learning environments where learners can interact and build ideas’. (Littlejohn and Pegler, 2006: L341)

We’re in it together like a small community in a medieval market town (actually, I live in one of these, Lewes) where the hubbub of the market spills out into the home and schools. All blended e-learning is doing is returning us to a more social, holistic and humanistic way of learning.

Welcome to the blended world.

What new – the drivers for change:

Costs (spreading them, making it count)

Sustainable (shared, flexible resources. In effect, one book can be shared by all)

Methodologies (still about learning outcomes, but treating each student as much as possible as a unique and vulnerable vessel of possibilities – not a cohort, or label)

Complexity (shared through collaboration in a wiki. Academics find this hardest of all, the idea that their mind , or at least parts of it, are open source, to be shared, not held back by barriers of time, tradition and intellectual arrogance. They too are a vessel and in its purest sense their emptying the contents of their heads into the heads of others is what it is all about)

Ethical issues (when is exposure a good thing? How much should we or do we reveal about ourselves? Knowing who your students are should only be seen as an extraordinarily developmental opportunity, not an invasion of privacy).

 

Learning, or rather teaching as a form of education is moving towards greater fluidity and liveliness in the relationship between the academic (author/lecturer) and the student.

Fig. 1. Digital Scholarship (Vernon, 2011)

I’ve drawn on ideas from the Masters in Open & Distance Education (MAODE) that I have been studying with The OU since February 2010. Also ‘The Digital Scholar’ by Martin Weller and ‘Preparing for blended e-learning’ by Chris Pegler.

I come to the conclusion that learning, or rather teaching as a form of education is moving towards greater fluidity and liveliness in the relationship between the academic (author/lecturer) and the student.

The model education should look to is one developed in business, something I stumble upon studying OU MBA Module ‘Creativity, Innovation & Change’

Drawing on a business model, the development of a more organic structure that is less hierarchical, as envisaged by Henry Mintzberg (1994), seems appropriate; it complements what authors such as John Seely Brown say about ‘learning from the periphery’ too. Mintzberg talks of an adhocracy, doodle here when I was making hand-drawn mind-maps during revision for an end of module exam (EMA).

Adhocracy

Characteristics of an adhocracy (Waterman, 1990; Mintzberg, 1994; Travica, 1999):

  • highly organic structure
  • little formalization of behavior
  • job specialization based on formal training
  • a tendency to group the specialists in functional units for housekeeping purposes but to deploy them in small, market-based project teams to do their work
  • a reliance on liaison devices to encourage mutual adjustment within and between these teams
  • low standardization of procedures
  • roles not clearly defined
  •  selective decentralization
  •  work organization rests on specialized teams
  • power-shifts to specialized teams
  • horizontal job specialization
  • high cost of communication (dramatically reduced in the networked age)
  • culture based on non-bureaucratic work

One could also draw on a simpler organic structure developed, again in the MBA arena, by Charles Handy.

Handy’s Shamrock (1989)

The advantage of a flexible organisation is that it can react quickly to a change in its external environment.

Since the 1990s, firms have examined their value chain and tried to reduce their workforce to a multi-skilled core, which is concerned with the creation or delivery of a product or service. All other supporting, non-central functions are outsourced wherever possible to the periphery.

Charles Handy suggested, however, that organisations do not consist of just the Core and the Periphery, since the periphery can be subdivided.

He calls this a shamrock organisation:

  • The first leaf of the shamrock represents the multi-skilled core of professional technicians and managers, essential to the continuity of the business
  • The second leaf Handy calls the contractual fringe, because non central activities are contracted out to firms specialising in activities such as marketing, computing, communications and research
  • The third leaf consists of a flexible workforce made up of part-time, temporary and seasonal workers.

However, the model I constantly turn to is the Activity System of Engestrom (via Vygotsky).

From E-LEARNING

which also has its organic expression, not dissimilar to the Mintzberg concentric organisational plan and John Seely Brown’s ideas of learning from the periphery:

A Mycorrihizae fungi

In the spirit of digital scholarship I’ve been experimenting with using Twitter to share thoughts on more than one book as I read them, highlighting a point and adding a Tweet. The feedback has been interesting, as has been the influx of new Twitter followers, invariable all with an academic or commercial interest in e-learning.

So come and join the feed, though from time to time you will receive tips on swim teaching best practice (how to fix a screw kick in breaststroke and some such) or as likely thoughts on life in the trenches as a machine gunner as we approach the centenary of the First World War.

Fig. 2. Expanding ideas with multiple e-tivities and assets online. Vernon (2010)

I’d like to see this offered as an APP or Tool so that digital assets (stuff) or ‘E-tivities’ (Salmon, 2002) are automatically aggregated as a fluid, initial offer. In other words, assets are seen as a way of catalysing a process of exploration.

REFERENCE

Brown, J.S., Collins.A., Duguid, P., (1989) Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Jan. – Feb., 1989), pp. 32-42 American Educational Research Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1176008 . Accessed: 05/03/2011 13:10

Engeström (2001) article, Expansive learning at work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualisation

Handy, C (1989) The Age of Unreason

Mintzberg, H (1994), The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning: Reconceiving the Roles for Planning, Plans, Planners, Free Press, pp. 458, ISBN 0-02-921605-2

Salmon, G (2002) E-tivities. The key to online learning

Travica, B (1999) New Organizational Designs: Information Aspects, Ablex/Greenwood, ISBN 1-56750-403-5, Google Print, p.7

Vernon, J.F. (2010-2012) Open University Student Blog

Vernon, J.F. (2011) Mindmaps, screen grabs and other e-learning ephemera

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Waterman, R. H. (1990). Adhocracy: The power to change. The Larger agenda series. Knoxville, Tenn: Whittle Direct Books.

A question about e-learning and social media

I put this question through the OU Yammer feed.

‘I’ve seen through the Masters in Open and Distance Education a Presentation by Grainne Conole.

I thought this was part of the JISC project.

This was 2007. The suggestion was that a study would be carried out in relation to practice-based learning. I’m none the wiser. I’m not sure if that study went ahead, or the research was very enlightening’.

And had this reply:

Yes, it did go ahead:

Learners’ experiences of blended learning environments in a practice-based context (PB-LXP)

see http://kn.open.ac.uk/public/workspace.cfm?wpid=7174 ,

and

Student attitudes towards and use of ICT in course study, work and social activity: a technology acceptance model approach

http://oro.open.ac.uk/26467/

If in doubt ask … and know where to ask

Fielding questions to a community of online educators is like casting seed onto fertile grown rather than blasting the question into the blogosphere.

For anyone this you can ask subject specific quesstion to your OU community on ‘OU Platform’

For MAODERs sign up through the ‘Your Subject‘ link and then Education – OU Community Online

Picking up on the 2007 presentation by Grainne Conole of research carried out by the Institute of Educational Technology (OU) I was keen to learn of outcomes from the follow up research they promised on practice-based learning.

Like anyone with an insatiable curiosity the desire to chase several references or to pursue a topic to the Nth degree doing so online can be overwhelming; it is too easy to find references, even more so when they have a URL.

Time was as an undergraduate such searches meant a walk or bike road across town, the nature of Geography (in the first year at least) touching on both human and physical topics, ranging from zoology, politics and history on the one hand to geology and climatology on the other keep me on my feet and toes.

Studying online the only part of your body that is exercised are your fingers and you’re always a click away from a maelstrom of information.

Increasingly I find I want to stick to a brand I know and a name I know.

The brand might be an institution or publisher (often the same thing): Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Open University presses … and the authors whose writing I can trust, both for the quality of the content and how it is expressed:

Gráinne Conole – uber e-learning

Martin Weller – e-learning professor

Gilly Salmon – all things ‘e’

Denise Kirkpatrick – here on Flickr

Chris Pegler – In open resources

For example …

Do add MAODE names I ought to add here (this is just a starting list from the top of my head).

Learners’ experiences of blended learning environments in a practice-based context (PB-LXP)

Learners’ experiences of blended learning environments in a practice-based context (PB-LXP)

see http://kn.open.ac.uk/public/workspace.cfm?wpid=7174 ,

and

Student attitudes towards and use of ICT in course study, work and social activity: a technology acceptance model approach

http://oro.open.ac.uk/26467/

For anyone this you can ask subject specific question to your OU community on ‘OU Platform’

For MAODERs sign up through the ‘Your Subject‘ link and then Education – OU Community Online

Picking up on the 2007 presentation by Grainne Conole of research carried out by the Institute of Educational Technology (OU) I was keen to learn of outcomes from the follow up research they promised on practice-based learning.

Like anyone with an insatiable curiosity the desire to chase several references or to pursue a topic to the Nth degree doing so online can be overwhelming; it is too easy to find references, even more so when they have a URL.

Time was as an undergraduate such searches meant a walk or bike road across town, the nature of Geography (in the first year at least) touching on both human and physical topics, ranging from zoology, politics and history on the one hand to geology and climatology on the other keep me on my feet and toes.

Studying online the only part of your body that is exercised are your fingers and you’re always a click away from a maelstrom of information.

Increasingly I find I want to stick to a brand I know and a name I know.

The brand might be an institution or publisher (often the same thing): Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Open University presses … and the authors whose writing I can trust, both for the quality of the content and how it is expressed:

Gráinne Conole – uber e-learning

Martin Weller – e-learning professor

Gilly Salmon – all things ‘e’

Denise Kirkpatrick – OU Pro-Vice Chancellor

Chris Pegler – In open resources

Agnes Kukulska-Hulme – Master of the M-Learning Universe

For example …

Do add MAODE names I ought to add here (this is just a starting list from the top of my head).

Blended learning – read a book then blog about it.

Once again I am reading a book cover to cover. It may not be an attractive model for distance learning, but in reality, six books on a theme with some overlap do form a body of work that develops my understanding. The interplay between authors may only be in my head, but it works.

For me these books bind everything else that I study from one module to the next H807, H808 and now H800.

They are typically OU people, sometimes contributing to the MAODE as Chair or Authors … and of course because of the papers they have written, or a chapter (or part of at best) that we are invited to read.

I have these on a Kindle. I find I can ‘consume’ the content far faster, reading in moments during the day, highlighting and making notes as I go along. It would be interesting to be one of several reading the book together.

Would we not become aware of the passages we each highlight?

Whereas I’d not stand in Waterstones and read through an entire chapter before purchasing I now do this as a matter of course. If I’ve been engaged for a chapter (sometimes a little more) then I reckon I can go the distance. The ease at which one title can be read and others offered has mean feeling that Amazon has a hand down my pocket.


Preparing for blended learning

Once again I am reading a book cover to cover. It may not be an attractive model for distance learning, but in reality, six books on a theme with some overlap do form a body of work that develops my understanding. The interplay between authors may only be in my head, but it works.

For me these books bind everything else that I study from one module to the next H807, H808 and now H800.

They are typically OU people, sometimes contributing to the MAODE as Chair or Authors … and of course because of the papers they have written, or a chapter (or part of at best) that we are invited to read.

I have these on a Kindle. I find I can ‘consume’ the content far faster, reading in moments during the day, highlighting and making notes as I go along. It would be interesting to be one of several reading the book together.

Would we not become aware of the passages we each highlight?

Whereas I’d not stand in Waterstones and read through an entire chapter before purchasing I now do this as a matter of course. If I’ve been engaged for a chapter (sometimes a little more) then I reckon I can go the distance. The ease at which one title can be read and others offered has mean feeling that Amazon has a hand down my pocket.


JISC 2011

I might be 275 miles away from JISC 2011 but when I heard my ‘jj27vv’ Twitter ‘handle’ used I felt as if I’d been transported to Liverpool. I certainly had to remind myself that I wasn’t there …

The question/s were to do with the use of Open Content, that there never was a blank sheet and that in something like a wiki a history of authorship is tracked.

The resonses came from:

Amber Thomas, Programme Manager, JISC

Chris Pegler, Senior Lecturer, Open Univeristy;(Our Course Chair in H808 for a while)

Stephen Stapleton, Open Learning Support Officer, University of Nottingham

Vivien Sieber, Head of Learning and Research Services, University of Surrey

Tony Hirst, Lecturer, Open University.

This session and the others are available as podcasts.

Of most use will be the top tips for use of Open Educational Resources by each of the panelists.

 

 

Practice based e-learning

Learners’ experiences of blended learning environments in a practice-based context (PB-LXP)

see http://kn.open.ac.uk/public/workspace.cfm?wpid=7174 ,

and

Student attitudes towards and use of ICT in course study, work and social activity: a technology acceptance model approach

http://oro.open.ac.uk/26467/

For anyone this you can ask subject specific question to your OU community on ‘OU Platform’

For MAODERs sign up through the ‘Your Subject‘ link and then Education – OU Community Online

Picking up on the 2007 presentation by Grainne Conole of research carried out by the Institute of Educational Technology (OU) I was keen to learn of outcomes from the follow up research they promised on practice-based learning.

Like anyone with an insatiable curiosity the desire to chase several references or to pursue a topic to the Nth degree doing so online can be overwhelming; it is too easy to find references, even more so when they have a URL.

Time was as an undergraduate such searches meant a walk or bike road across town, the nature of Geography (in the first year at least) touching on both human and physical topics, ranging from zoology, politics and history on the one hand to geology and climatology on the other keep me on my feet and toes.

Studying online the only part of your body that is exercised are your fingers and you’re always a click away from a maelstrom of information.

Increasingly I find I want to stick to a brand I know and a name I know.

The brand might be an institution or publisher (often the same thing): Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Open University presses … and the authors whose writing I can trust, both for the quality of the content and how it is expressed:

Gráinne Conole – uber e-learning

Martin Weller – e-learning professor

Gilly Salmon – all things ‘e’

Denise Kirkpatrick – OU Pro-Vice Chancellor

Chris Pegler – In open resources

Agnes Kukulska-Hulme – Master of the M-Learning Universe

For example …

Do add MAODE names I ought to add here (this is just a starting list from the top of my head).

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