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Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup

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 smile 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.

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

From E-Learning V

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

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

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Traditional top down learning

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

From E-Learning V

Fig. 3 By someone’s side

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

From E-Learning V

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

From E-Learning V

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

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

From E-Learning V

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

From E-Learning V

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

From E-Learning V

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

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

From E-Learning V

Fig. 9 Activity Theory in a connected world

Everyone and everything is just a click away.

From E-Learning V

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

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

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

From E-Learning V

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

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

From E-Learning V

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

From E-Learning V

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

From E-Learning V

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

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

My thoughts on a FutureLearn MOOC on the Treaty of Versailles that tried to conclude the First World War

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. World War One: Paris 1991. A New World ...

The content here, how produced, presented and managed by FutureLearn is the perfect catalyst for a diversity of contributors. As interested in the strengths and weaknesses of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) as a platform, this from FutureLearn is showing the value of many connected minds coming together and feeding of each other. It strikes me that as people group around a line of thought, with the educators and contributors, the kernel of a tutorial forms: ideas are offered, shared, adjusted, politely corrected, fed, developed and consolidated.

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. The clean design style of Dorling-Kindersley

It intrigues me to understand what the formula for success is here: the simplicity and intuitive nature of the FutureLearn platform; a clarity that in multi-media terms reminds me of those Dorling-Kindersley books; the quality of the ideas professionally, creatively and unpretentiously presented … and a topic that has caught the Zeitgeist of the centenary commemorations of the First World War and its consequences rather than the chronology of the battles and the minutiae of military tactics.

For someone who has studied seven of the eight or nine Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) modules my continued interest in e-learning is diverse; it includes however not the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) per se, but rather ways to escape the technology in order to recreate or enable the qualities that come from the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’.

Fig.3. An Oxbridge Tutorial (1960s)

I am specific here because these tutorials are not seminars, webinars or lectures, an ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ is typically either one-to-one, the ‘great mind’, the ‘subject matter expert’ and his or her student or ‘acolyte’ or one to two or three. The standard pattern of these is for the students deliver a short essay, around 2000 words, on a single topic from a reading list. In theory all the participants write an essay but only one reads his or her essay out that everyone then discusses. The tutorial lasts an hour. You have one a week … per topic. Some tutors, the natural and committed educators extend these tutorials into informal settings, picking up the conversation at meals and in other settings.

From E-Learning V

Fig.4. Learning from others: an exchange of ideas

You cannot simply transpose this kind of ‘tutorial’ to the Internet in the commercial sense as the educator hasn’t the time to give, repeatedly, an hour of time to just one, or two or three students. This is not the model that can support the educational desires of the 5 million in the world who crave a university place. Certainly, these students need peace, a roof over their heads, food and political stability and of course the infrastructure and means to own and operate a device that can get them online … a tall enough order, but smart phones could be as cheap as £10 within ten years … but then, it will be through the kind of connectedness between students, moderated and catalysed by the experts that this ‘tutor-like’ learning experience can be created.

I see it in this MOOC. I have seen it with a variety of activities in OU modules.

From E-Learning V

Fig.5. My takes on ‘Connectivism’ as a burgeoning theory of learning 

‘Connectedness’ is a learning theory developed and espoused by George Siemens.

The value of networking face to face not just online

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

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

Curiosity Satisfied

It amazes me how when reading something and pointed to a footnote or reference that if I choose to do so a few clicks and the reference is before my eyes. Reading up on the First World War there are books from 1914-18 that are freely available in digital form – the additional insight is when you glance at such a reference is to wonder why an author chose that sentence or paragraph, often I find there is something far more interesting being said.

All of this has me reflecting on ‘interpretation’ and how increasingly, because we can, we should, because we can, check up on authors – certainly take them off their academic pedestals as their word is never absolute, is inevitably biased – and sometimes they get it wrong.

There are two kinds of connectedness here:

1) with references the author has used – how selected, why they thought them of relevance or interest (and the authority and credibility of these references)

2) with fellow readers – which, if you want a response, I increasingly find in Amazon of all places. There are always a few people who have picked  through the text, who are willing and able to other a response or to sleuth it out with you.

How does this change things?

The Web puts at anyone’s fingertips resources that until recently were the exclusive domain of university libraries – the older, wealthier universities having the richest pickings and broadest range of references. To ‘look something up’ as we now do in a few moments could take a couple of days. ‘Learning at the speed of need’ is a phrase I like, used in the context of applied learning in business, but just as apt here.

As a consequence, earlier in their careers, students will have a broader and stronger, personal perspective. And as a consequence there will be more people ‘out there’ to join an informed discussion. And as a consequence more new ideas will come to fruition sooner and faster. And as a consequence, collectively, or common understanding will grow and develop faster than before.

eBooks vs. textbooks – towards the hybrid

It amazes me how when reading something and pointed to a footnote or reference that if I choose to do so a few clicks and the reference is before my eyes. Reading up on the First World War there are books from 1914-18 that are freely available in digital form – the additional insight is when you glance at such a reference is to wonder why an author chose that sentence or paragraph, often I find there is something far more interesting being said.

All of this has me reflecting on ‘interpretation’ and how increasingly, because we can, we should, because we can, check up on authors – certainly take them off their academic pedestals as their word is never absolute, is inevitably biased – and sometimes they get it wrong.

There are two kinds of connectedness here:

1) with references the author has used – how selected, why they thought them of relevance or interest (and the authority and credibility of these references)

2) with fellow readers – which, if you want a response, I increasingly find in Amazon of all places. There are always a few people who have picked  through the text, who are willing and able to other a response or to sleuth it out with you.

How does this change things?

The Web puts at anyone’s fingertips resources that until recently were the exclusive domain of university libraries – the older, wealthier universities having the richest pickings and broadest range of references. To ‘look something up’ as we now do in a few moments could take a couple of days. ‘Learning at the speed of need’ is a phrase I like, used in the context of applied learning in business, but just as apt here.

As a consequence, earlier in their careers, students will have a broader and stronger, personal perspective. And as a consequence there will be more people ‘out there’ to join an informed discussion. And as a consequence more new ideas will come to fruition sooner and faster. And as a consequence, collectively, or common understanding will grow and develop faster than before.

Activity Theory meets network theory?

Fig.1. The connectedness of activity theory pyramids in a new paradigm.

Three years ago I took an interest in Activity Theory, which is a set of six nodes representing a formal ‘community of practice’ – Yrjo Engestrom meets Etienne Wenger. The principles of Activity Theory, linked and driven with an objective are breaking down because of the connectedness of people circumventing these superimposed channels – what I did was to start to draw six activity theory pyramids each interacting on a common object but with additional links connecting all the nodes. I was simplifying the complex intuitively – now I see there is some science to be done here with both quantitative and qualitative research.

Fig.2. Does connectedness across an activity theory pyramid circumvent the silo-like nodes?

Is this going to work?

This is music to my ears – it’s magic to feel your thinking has taken a turn and you find that there is a community of people there already. I took an interest in Activity Theory (Yrjo Engestrom) a few years ago and have used his six node pyramid as part of a small network, I’ve used it to explain creativity between two people believing that part of the network had to be embedded in each person’s brain but not knowing how to show or justify this … and wanting not to lose the simple model as connectedness in the Web circumvents the formal nodes and links that traditional activity theory requires. I then started to interlink sets of six activity theory pyramids recognising that with greater complexity the clarity is lost. I can now move on from conjecture and look at models of networks created from the data while seeking to explain what is happening through good old human interaction – exploratory interviews i.e. qualitative research. Fascinating.

REFERENCE

Engestrom (2008). From Teams to Knots (Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives) (p. 238). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Scrambling your head in the nodes and interludes of Activity Theory

When something important to me is about to come to an end I tend to lash out to make the parting of ways less uncomfortable.

I sense with OU graduation looming while this bridging module trundles on to who knows what that I will pretend I’m fed up and I don’t care. But I do. So I’ll try to bite my lip over the next three months as the inevitable parting of ways occurs.

Onwards to who knows what, though H809, with a bit of a spring it, ought to send me in the right direction.

Whether or not there is an institution out there ready to catch me is another matter – though I am looking, and I am talking to them.

In my dreams I’ll be taking Activity Theory into the outer realms of the Internet – San Diego preferred, though Helsinki is the alternative.

I like sand, and I like snow … but I prefer sand and snow … and sun.

But that’s not why I’m here is it? And does it matter a fig where any of us are situated anymore?  … so long as it stimulates rather than stultifies.

(Yawn, yawn to bring it up but when will the weather forecasters stop talking about snow, frost and high pressure lingering over Scandinavia and just say ‘this is so boring’ – so here’s a weather related picture we asked David Hockney to do instead and because he created it on an iPad using Brushes we can animate it – just like a weather front coming up form Nova Scoatia).

H809: Activity 9.1 (and a quarter)

Fig.1 Third Generation Activity Theory … after Engestrom (2008) It’s not just a theory, not just model … it’s a game. Photo by the author in his back yard (in England this means it really is a concrete space with junk in it. We have a garden for the plants and grass for the dog to wee on).

What functions do these ‘theoretical perspectives’ appear to be serving here?

Placing activity theory in context, both historically through previous learning theories and ‘geographically’ in relation to other disciplines. Is it a theory or a model (it can function as either or both); where is it of use? Anywhere people, groups of people or institutions interact with related, or closely related objectives.

Do you think Activity Theory is a ‘theory’?

It builds on past theories and is a model dint of the its visualisation. It can be considered and used as a theory or as a model, or both. Or, picking up some current reading as neither – the suggestion being that the connectedness of the Internet renders the parameters of each of the prescribed nodes of an Activity System redundant – as everyone and everything can  connect directly rather than through an intermediary tool, community or division of labour etc:

What do you understand to be the gap in Activity Theory that AODM is filling?

I don’t. Could someone offer a suggestion??

Try to summarise the authors’ view of ‘collaborative knowledge building’.

That knowledge creation, insight as such, is outside the head … situated like

Engestrom’s ‘Object’ or ‘Outcome’ as at arm’s length, between people and distinct activity systems. This is where 1+1 = 3.

I prefer to see two or more activity systems NOT as systems or groups or departments … but as the equally complex interaction of two people. Perhaps an image of a schizophrenic is Engestrom’s third generation activity theory where two apparently distinct system are in conflict … but in the case of the schizophrenic, this happens in their head.

To get my head around Activity Theory I had to get it out of my head and onto paper. The idea of putting in chess pieces was intuitive – like improvisation at Youth Theatre.

At any one of these nodes, not absolutes, just suggestions for the model, there are people. People are complex and never act as distinct interlopers. We have the baggage of our lives behind us – parents, siblings and friends. So an Activity System is always a great leap into simplification. Add too much complexity and why bother?

This third generation concept of two interacting activity systems has also had ‘historicity’ added … they are in constant flux, Think therefore of a series of overlapping frames. Whatever you look at now is soon gone … there is too much happening in such a snapshot for it to be set.

This fluidity now has another force to pull it apart – the Internet.

I’ll go and dig out the author of a paper, approved by the editor of the book it is in by its editor Yrjio Engestrom (Mr AT himself) where  the argument is that the Web means that all nodes are equally connected with all others.

I visualise this as drops of ink in water. They are unstable.

This instability, more brain like in its connectivity, is where we need to move on from Activity Theory.

Of course, carrying an examiner along with you in an OU assignment is quite another matter. I am currently challenging the OU where  I feel a paper I wrote was slashed at a) because I dismissed Wenger and didn’t have another 1000 words to make my case and b) put all my money on Activity Theory only to conclude that ‘we’ had already moved on …

Picking up tick points for an assignment is one thing – getting to the ‘truth’ seems to elude the OU. Too often I have felt that far from being on a postgraduate Masters programme I am in my first year as an undergraduate.

I guess having been brought up by the OU these lass three years I am like any teenager ready to exhurt my independence.

Where is the discourse? Where is the innovation? What is the point in any of this if every word has to be written as if pasted into cells of an Excell file so that someone can tick you off?

Is there anyone observing the MAODE for even the slightest sniff of orginality ????

Fig. 2. Division of Labor (sic)
Like a cabal of trade unionists or a gang in the school playground.
P.S. For anyone interested I have accumulated a library on Engestrom … some books that with some reluctance I have propped up on top of the fridge or somewhere and a bunch of eBooks.
Engestrom as author are the books to read, especially the case studies. There are a few collections of papers that are indigestible and IMHO are an embarrassment to their authors. I’d has might as well have bought a phone directory. Communication, or the inability to do so, will define the next generation of ‘digital’ scholars. If you cannot say what you mean and for this to stand up to the scrutiny of anybody then don’t bother. Academics should never have dreamt they were only ever supposed to be writing to each other. If you cannot sit you grandmother down and tell her what you think, then you need to go away and think a bit more. Not meaning to be disparaging to mega-super hyper intelligent grandmother’s out there – the same would apply to describing all the above to the 7 year old boy who is kicking a ball against a fence down the road.
P.P.S. Yrjio Engestrom is based in Helsinki and San Diego.

When I think if learning, I think of the minuscule intricacies of the component parts of the brain and at the same time the immense vastness of the known universe.

As humans we are eager to understand everything.

It seems appropriate to marry neuroscience with astrophysics, like brackets that enclose everything. From a learning point of view then ask as you look at a person or group of people, ‘what is going on?’ specifically, ‘what is going on in there? (the brains) and between them to foster insight, understanding, innovation and advancement.

The best interface for this, a confluence for it all, is the Internet and the connectedness of it all.

What has the impact of the Internet been and based on everything we currently know, where do we presume it is going?

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