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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.
|From E-Learning V|
More than any module or exercise I have done over my four years with The OU, it is a MOOC in FutureLearn that is giving me the most thorough experience of where the future or learning lies. I’m in week seven of eight weeks of ‘Start Writing Fiction’ from The OU, on the FutureLearn platform. Just in these few weeks I’ve seen the site change to solve problems or to enhance the experience. Subtle lifts and adjustments that make a positive out of constant adjustment. Those tabs along the top: activity, replies where under a tab. I think ‘to do’ is new while ‘progress’ was elsewhere. This is a responsive platform that listens to its students.
In the final week we submit our third piece of work.
As assessments go these are far less nerve racking than a TMA. The first piece was 300, the second 500 and the last will be 1000. These are assessed by fellow students. In my case I had one, then two reviews. Most people seem to get at least two sometimes three. The system is designed, I’m sure, to try and ensure that everyone’s work is reviewed at least once. Tens of thousands, certainly thousands of people are on the course.
We’re here to the 19th of December or so … if you follow the tracks as laid.
I hazard a guess that between 20-100 have posted there final piece already. Some, I know, got to the end of the entire course a few weeks ago; I looked ahead to see out of curiosity. There have always been 20 who post comments one, two even three weeks ahead. If 20 are posting I hazard a guess knowing my stats on these things that another couple of hundred could be clicking through the pages to read and observe. They may, like me, be coming back later. They may only be following the course, but not participating. Often, it is like standing on a stage looking into the gloom of the auditorium. Someone probably out there. One or two let you know. The rest don’t.
I hope those that race ahead come back …
I find that if I get ahead then I slow down and retrace my steps. To learn in this connected and collaborative way you are far better off in the pack … it is not a race to get to the end first. In fact, those who do this have already lost. They’ve missed the point. I’d suggest to people that if they have the time to do the week over. That’s been my approach anyway – the beauty of these things is everyone can come and go as they please, at a pace that suits them. Skip a bit. Go back. Follow it week by week, day by day … or not. Whatever works works?
There’s another very good reason to stay with the ‘pack’ or to come back and do a week over – the platform depends not on tutors and moderators commenting and assessing work, but us students doing a kind of amateur, though smart, peer review. This is what make a MOOC particularly vibrant, memorable and effective. Not listening to an educator telling us what’s what, but the contributors sharing, figuring it out, answering each other’s problems in multiple ways. We all learn in different ways and at a pace that shifts too. I find that often a point I don’t get first time round, on the second, or third, or even the fourth visit to an activity someone, somewhere puts it in a way that suddenly brings complete clarity – their way of seeing a thing, or expressing it, makes more sense than the writes of the course could manage. Because they can only write one version, not the ‘tartan’ that comes from an intelligent, threaded online conversation.
|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.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.1. Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup
How do you compare and mark a variety of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?
We need to treat them like one of those challenges they do on Top Gear, where Jeremy Clarkson – Richard Hammond – James May set off to Lapland in a Reliant Robin or some such and then get marks across six or so criteria. Hardly scientific, but it splits the pack.
So, let’s say we take THREE MOOCs, what criteria should there be?
- Commitment. What percentage of participants signing up complete the course?
- Comments. I use the word ‘vibrancy’ to judge the amount and nature of activity in the MOOC, so this is crudely reduced to the number of comments left.
- Likes. Another form of vibrancy where comments left by the team and by participants are ‘liked’. It has to be a measure of participation, engagement and even enjoyment
- Correct answers. Assuming, without any means to verify this, that participants don’t cheat, when tested are they getting the answers right. This is tricky as there ought to be a before and after test. Tricky to as how one is tested should relate directly to how one is taught. However, few MOOCs if any are designed as rote learning.
You could still end up, potentially, comparing a leaflet with an Encyclopaedia. Or as the Senior Tutor on something I have been on, a rhinoceros with a giraffe.
It helps to know your audience and play to a niche.
It helps to concentrate on the quality of content too, rather than more obviously pushing your faculty and university. Enthusiasm, desire to impart and share knowledge, wit, intelligence … And followers with many points of view, ideally from around the globe I’ve found as this will ‘keep the kettle bowling’. There is never a quiet moment, is there?
I did badly on a quiz in a FutureLearn Free Online Course (FOC). World War 1. Paris 1919. A new world order …
I think I got half right. I chose not to cheat, not to go back or to do a Google search; what’s the point in that. I haven’t taken notes. I wanted to get a handle on how much is going in … or not. Actually, in this context, the quiz isn’t surely a test of what has been learnt, but a bit of fun. Learning facts and dates is, or used to be, what you did in formal education at 15 or 16. This course is about issues and ideas. A ‘test’ therefore, would be to respond to an essay title. And the only way to grade that, which I’ve seen successfully achieved in MOOCs, is for us lot to mark each others’ work. Just thinking out loud. In this instance the course team, understandably could not, nor did they try, to respond to some 7,000 comments. They could never read, assess, grade and give feedback to a thousand 4,000 word essays. Unless, as I have experienced, you pay a fee. I did a MOOC with Oxford Brookes and paid a fee, achieved a distinction and have a certificate on ‘First Steps in Teaching in Higher Education’.
As facts are like pins that secure larger chunks of knowledge I ought to study such a FutureLearn FOC with a notepad; just a few notes on salient facts would help so that’s what I’ll do next week and see how I get on. Not slavishly. I’ll use a pack of old envelopes or some such For facts to stick, rather than ideas to develop, the platform would have needed to have had a lot of repetition built into it. Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup.
Armed with an entire module on research techniques for studying e-learning – H809: Practice-based research in educational technology – I ought to be able to go about this in a more academic, and less flippant fashion.
|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.
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.
Trying to rationalise and reflect on what next I’ve reduced it to this mnemonic:
C=Connectedness, Collaboration and several other Cs
In that order too.
S = Strategic is a term I know a few fellow students of the Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education (MAODE) have used. This means time management to some, curbing the desire to disappear down intellectual rabbit holes to others … while for me it probably means taking on less and being more focused and less distracted. Immediately on leaving this space I will refine my contacts on Linkedin and reduce the groups I am in yet further. I should concentrate only on people I know or strategically relate to and then make time for them – ditto the groups. I only need to be in a couple. These can be vibrant and worthy of your attention. “S’ might also stand for ‘sustainable’ – see ‘financed’ below.
C = Collaborative is key for me. Historically success has always come from at least two, sometimes a small team of us doing something. I find the second person or others creates a responsibility to see a thing through to its conclusion which may not happen when I am left to my own devices. And of course, two heads are better than one from a problem solving point of view.
A = Applied, over the other ‘a’ word ‘academic’. While the MAODE usually draws from your real life experience I really want to be spending most of my time putting into practice the many insights and skills I have gained on the MAODE and had to bring into play for H818: The Networked Practitioner. This means, most likely, returning to learning and development (L&D) – agency side rather than client side. This may happen sooner rather than later as I have a second interview with a learning company this week. This would see me designing learning for workshops and online. ‘A’ needs also to stand for ‘ask’ – see ‘Financed’ and ‘O’ below.
R = Reciprocal. This I have known for a decade. There is no ‘gaming’ the system to create collaboration or connectedness online. You have to be less selfish and more altruistic. It pays to seek out like minds and take an interest in them as they will return the favour. Just a handful of people will do. I feel I had deserted a few of the folk I used to converse with all the time … and have let relationships with some people from earlier MAODE modules slip. No more!
F = Financed. So funded too. Contracted or raising funds for my projects. Applications have gone out seeking funds for the Quick Response Codes Poppy thing – either to apply it to the activities, say of the Western Front Association, or simply to go to schools or associations and give a talk … which would in due course become a self-contained why and how to e-learning module. This means asking for money. Yes, it is about selling. Amanda Palmer is a reminder of this. Crowdfunding is a little distance, while applying to appropriate sources of funding is another. The entrepreneur in me has raised funds commercially too in the past. If I need financing I have to ask for it.
There ought to be an ‘O’ – as in ‘open’ or ‘openness’ – in this coming out of H818, but I have to differentiate between ‘Big O”, ‘little o’ and ‘gratuitous exposure’. I tend to have been the former. It all goes online whatever its value or not. It doesn’t take much to make more postings closed and use a blog as an e-portfolio so I will. I use to say to people that the best place to hide a secret was to post it in a blog – the sophistication of the probing search engines means that this is no longer the case (if it ever was?). Serendipity isn’t as effective as a request i.e. ‘ask’. So ‘open’, but nuanced. Early in this module we reflected on this. So I wonder what the outcome might be? For some it would be the value of being open at all, whereas for me it is to be less so.
E-Learning I – MAODE Modules, include innovation in e-learning, professional practices, open learning and ‘creativity, innovation and change’.
E-Learning II Research Practices in use of technology in learning
E-Learning III The Networked Practitioner
Google offers a myriad of ways to share content, whether images or words, from galleries to entire conversations. with circles and hangouts. Unwittingly I’ve been part of their ‘game’ since the outset, an early adopter of Picasa having migrated from Flickr. I’ve not invited much in the way of sharing though I now have over 175 ‘albums’ some of which contain a thousand images (the album max). Many of these albums are closed, or linked only to key family members or friends as they contain family snaps or holiday pictures. Some now contain an archive of deceased relatives (a grandfather, father and mother no less). Others are concept boards or scrapbooks, not just of OU work, far from it … but a place where these snippets of ideas and moments will be for decades while the hardware changes or breaks down, or hard copies, albums and scrapbooks, get lost, or damaged (or both).
I have THREE e-learning album galleries of screengrabs and photos, graphic mash-ups and such like spanning the three years and nine months I’ve been on the MA ODE.
This current E-learning III album is taking everything from H818. It is in every respect an OpenStudio platform – if I chose to share its contents then people may, with various copyright permissions (creative commons) use and re-use the content – though plenty of it I grab as a personal aide memoir and is therefore of copyrighted material.
The value of these becomes greater over time – it is a short hand back into a topic, and in time, indicative of how swiftly things are moving. These platforms are leaking out into formal learning contexts; there could be a tipping point, where someone or something happens that galvanises massive interest, say the ‘Stephen Fry’ personality of Twitter, or the Arab Spring of Twitter where J K Rowling or Tracey Emin open their galleries to the world. Meanwhile, without meaning to be unnecessarily derogatory, OpenStudio is the ‘sheep pen’ while Picasa Web Galleries or Google Galleries are the ‘market’ – the sheep pen is closed and local, while the market is global, open, virtual, connected and online.
I’ve learnt that historians have published books completed with the assistance of researchers. In a TV programme you will notice that everyone receives a credit – the same thing needs to occur with books. A good deal is being published on the First World War (again), now for the 100th, previous ‘biggies’ being 50, 60, 75 and 90. I am learning that X and Y were written using researchers – credit them! Increasingly in our connected and open world collaborative works should be undertaken, I’m sure they’d be better for it.
Fig. 1. Performing in an amateur production of the Caucasian Chalk Circle. The ultimate collaborative exercise?
1) It requires scaffolding in the form of rules, or guidelines, mentor or leaders, and incentives in the form of punishments and rewards i.e. the risk of failure as well as recognition and some kind of reward (which might be a qualification, a monetary award, or part of a completed artefact, or pleasure of participation).
2) It requires people with an obsessive common interest; I don’t believe having a common interest is enough. There needs to be an obsession, which means that the level of expertise can be mixed, indeed, thinking of the John Seely Brown concept of ‘learning from the periphery’ this might be best as invariably the natural human response IS to support those on the edge. The classic example is the young and eager student or junior employee keen to learn from his or her elders.
My concern with the role of collaboration in a module on e-learning is that the above don’t fully apply. We are not GCSE or A’Level students. Most are MA ODE students who need this towards their MA, but I’ll stick my head out and say the pass mark is, in my opinion, too low. I believe that it matters to be paying for it out of your own pocket or to have a commercial sponsor expecting results. I know that some working for the OU do these modules almost on a whim because they are free and they do the minimum to pass – I’ve seen this on various courses, seen it myself and have had it corroborated by other students. Anyone who is along for the ride in a module that relies on collaboration is a weak link – of course plenty of OU people do take seriously, but some don’t and no line manager is looking over their shoulder. At Carnegie Melon they ran an MA course where students gave each other, on a rolling basis, a mark for collaboration – those with the lowest mark risked failing that module. In fairness some people are not born collaborators, whereas others go out of their way to be a participant, potentially at the expensive of other parts of their studies.
To my tutor group I’ve posted too long a piece on a collaborative exercise I have been doing on and off for the best part of twenty years – I’m researching and writing my grandfather’s memoir from the First World War. The Internet has exposed me (in a good way) to several sleuths.
I can however give an example of the learning design MOOC earlier this year that whilst having a good deal of scaffolding and human support relied on strangers each coming up with project ideas then joining forces to complete one. In a rush of activity, with some big name e-learning folk and too much formal theorizing, reading and activities to groups formed. I had no takers and joined a group of three that became five, but very quickly this became two of us … we gamefully pressed on but at some stage felt we were missing out on the real action so eventually pulled out as active participants.
Then there is a two week exercise in a subgroup of an MA ODE module where circumstances brought a magic bunch of strangers together – this has proved to be the exception rather than the rule.
Amateur dramatics, even volunteer cricket, to take a couple of examples, work because the show is the collective reward. We have bonfire societies here in Lewes that rely on volunteers too – though the complaint will be that it is always the same handful of people who do everything. In a work or academic setting should everyone be rewarded and recognised in the same way? It depends very much on a group dynamic or bond, a common sentiment that comes from working together in the flesh.
I believe that the First World War, now that I am an active member of a society and studying it on a formal course, is largely of the type 2 participant. We are ‘trainsporters’ in that nerdy, glazed eye way – with specialists who know everything about uniforms, or tunnelling, or submarines, or dental decay on the Western Front, or a particular general, or like me – a grandfather, or great-grandfather who was a combatant.
My worry about e-learning as a collaborative arena is that it is the process, so we are a cookery or gardening club. However, there is significant variation in each of these – vegetarian cooks, cupcake bake off specialists and Heston Blumenthal wannabes – amongst the gardens there are PhD research students growing dwarf barley and weekenders who’ve keep an allotment. Whilst we have interest and the module to sustain us, only in a conort of 1000 or more would for some, there be enough likeminds to form a team.
I’m off to the School of Communication Arts in London. It operates from a workshop like open studio. Students are put into pairs to work. There is collaboration here between an art director (visualizer) and copywriter (words). Whether students are forever looking each other’s shoulders when they are working on a competitive brief is another matter. I’ve noticed how one creative brief given to the whole studio has now become three. What is more, the ‘collaboration’ as such, comes from a couple of full time tutors, principal and then a ‘mentors’ who go in as a sounding board cum catalyst cum different voice or perspective. What these people are doing is ‘creative problem solving’.
Why, historically, does one band stay together while another falls apart? Collaboration is a tricky business – and maybe only in a business setting between employer and employee, or between contractor and client can it be sustained?