Lost in Disruption #DMLLExpo

IMG_4596The Disruptive Media Learning Lab at Coventry University is one of those places that when you enter it you start saying “WOW”.   I was there yesterday for their “Lost in Disruption Expo“, invited to give a keynote with Jacqui Speculand (raising her hand above) who is their Principal Project Lead. I met Jacqui when she came to Southampton University for our Open Badges in HE conference in March, although we had been in touch via Twitter we had never actually met before but our common interest in the use of Open Badges meant we had so much in common.

I have to say something about their Lab space.  On the top floor of their Lanchester Library (another link, we have a Lanchester building at Southampton University) named after Sir Frederick Lanchester   an important engineer of his time and soon to be featured as part of a Heritage Funded project at Coventry University.  This space is a complete conversion of the third floor of the library.  As soon as you open the door you feel inspired to learn. It has that feeling of open space it is light and well laid out with jazzy spaces for sitting, I think they called it the “Google hill” a wooden tiered structure for sitting and holding talks.  There are spaces for collaboration, sectioned off by huge whiteboards, tastefully designed and used by students all the time.  I have created a little video about the space here.  It is the sort of space that you are probably best describing with images so I’ll let that video speak for itself.  One of the takeaways I had from the space was that it was well designed, well used and because of the light and the layout it made you want to learn.  It is so true that your environment has a huge impact on how you feel and your behaviour.   Part of the space belongs to the DMLL team.  That is also a revelation.  The team consists of Subject Librarians, Teaching staff, Education Developers, technical innovators, I call them that, they are not their real titles but they are not Learning technologists, they don’t look after a VLE and get people to use it.  They are much more than that, the team is like an innovation engine, all working together, to explore ideas and get it right.  Jacqui mentioned that it was a safe space to fail, somewhere to try out a concept, tweak it and adjust it before it is no longer a project, where is can be rejected or adopted by the university. You so need that.   In addition to all of these people they had student interns working with them, and some of them they took on to be members of staff.

The Expo itself was held in the space, ably Chaired by Helen Keegan. There are teaching rooms all round the edges of the space, some with glass walls and some as regular spaces but all have Apple TV, so the use of iPads to connect wirelessly is in place and has been for some time.  Each of these rooms can be booked via the devices on the walls using Outlook as the booking system.  No need to complicate it by using the regular university-wide booking system.  We were talking in “The Grass” an intimate tiered space, covered in fake grass.  It was a completely different experience to talk to 60 0r 70 people and being able to see all of them.  People were not just sitting up, but they were relaxed and listening, genuinely listening, it was much more engaging to talk and listen here, again, because of the environment.  Yes, we could have a room with 70 people in it.  It is not the same, even the grass had something to do with it!

The talks were excellent – I listened to Brian Lamb talking about how the VLE has been designed to put is into the silos that we are trying so hard to get out of.  He also talked about “Splot“, a tool he has created to make it so much easier to write.   He spoke of Sandstorm, a collection of open access apps that are a toolbox of web-enabled tools for academia.   Jim Groom (DS106) talked about how we need to be more aware of how our data is used, he talked about lots of things including “A domain of ones own” project at University of Mary Washington to encourage academics to write more about their work so that they raise their academic profiles but they own their presence, and it is syndicated to the university.    MOOCs and their corporatisation. And he showed us the “back to the future” 80’s console room.  I could go on and on.  Both Brian and Jim gave inspiring talks , I even listened to the podcast by Jon Udell on the way home on the train.

There was so much to see and listen to I hope we can see it all again.  I missed some sessions because I was preparing for my talk, but the tweets looked really interesting.  They asked me what my takeaways were from the day and I said about the space because that just hit you as it was so different from the ‘usual’.    But I also think that it is essential for progress and for the students to experience something like that.  You need the space to explore and develop, and to meet the challenges of the new world of Higher Education.  We can’t keep doing what we have always done. We will become irrelevant and students need to have the benefit of this in their own space before they face the real world.   I hope that I can go there again and show others, and to work with the Innovation Engine that is the DMLL team.

The day captured in social media (Storify)


New Year, New PhD

celebration-1551593-639x918.jpgHappy New Year.  I start the New Year by starting my PhD with Lancaster University on e-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning after it being introduced to me by Sheila McNeill, fellow ALT trustee and all round techy superstar.    It’s a totally online programme with residential’s in the first and second years.  I am really looking forward to it, I am pleased to see that they use ePortfolios as a reflective tool and I am using tools I haven’t played around with before like Moodle and Mahara.

I’m feeling a little nervous about the huge undertaking that I have embarked on but I am really excited as I am sure I will be able to explore in depth somethings that I have been interested in for a while, like Open Badges, digital literacies and eportfolios (for assessment).    I am also looking forward to finding out who the others are on the programme as some of them have put up details in their profiles and they are a varied bunch.

There are a couple of the papers as pre-reading and it was interesting to read about perceptions of what a PhD is.  For most of the interactions I have had with PhD students, their PhD’s have been about learning how to research for the sake of those skills.  They will then go on and do something completely different or they will become Faculty members.  In “Learning to Become Researching Professionals: The Case of the Doctorate of Education” by Alexis Taylor from Brunel University she talks about PhD’s as a tool for ‘researchers to become professional’ and then Professional Doctorate for ‘researching professionals’.  I like that, I can see exactly where she is coming from, but had never thought about this difference.  The other paper is a rather longer paper (32 pages) is a much more personal account from Justine Mercer “The Challenges of Insider Research in Educational Institutions: Wielding a double-edged sword and resolving delicate dilemmas” who writes about her perspective of two different areas of investigation into researchers where she works.  I’m halfway through, but I can relate to her views and have some questions about bias.

This is also a good opportunity to try out apps that I have read about and played with so I am using Liquid Text to read the PDFs on my iPad.  So far so good, I really like how I can link the notes and highlights together.

Raring to go and very excited about what I will bring into my work with this, so the ‘real thing’ starts Monday, working full time and doing this PhD will be fun (yikes) but I know it has to happen.




MOOCing in the name of

In the back of my mind, every time I think about MOOCs, both within my institution or because of the articles I have been adding to my resources on Scoop.it, I’m constantly drawn to the issue of  QA.  How does a Faculty/Institution, know who is offering a MOOC in their name?  And by what process or measure can we assure the quality of that MOOC in line with the campus based offer?  Annoying as this may be, I think these are questions that we need to consider if offering a course, by whatever means, to whomever.  Its just a matter of quality and, in turn, reputation.

The second part of my week was spent at the CRA Residential, which I will probably blog about via the CITE website.  However, I thought that I would add here a question that cropped up during the two days I was there.  On Friday there was a talk from the QAA about how they recognise the awards that are given to students as part of the co-curricular activity that they may get involved in.  Things like a Vice Chancellors award, a Employability Award etc.  Now, these are not credit bearing but they said that they were interested because of the impact on the student experience.

My question, was “If these non credit bearing awards are of interest to the QAA, why not MOOCs?”   I did go and speak to them afterwards to ask them and they said that as long as a MOOC was not offering credit, although they do represent UK Higher Education, they wouldn’t be interested in particular (other than the reputation part) however, I then asked what about blended learning and MOOCs?  What if, you took a MOOC (from Coursera for example) and then asked your on campus students to enrol? This has happened to many in the US already.   My research has led me to Doug Fisher, who spoke at the ALT conference in November.  He has just written a paper about ‘Wrapping’ the MOOC around his course.  He was not alone.  There are at least three others within my research that took a similar approach.   In the US, their programmes are different, QA is not the same.  But in the UK, if you offer a course that leads to an award for that institution, then all of it, no matter where the course is from, would be of interest to the QAA.

Blended learning and MOOCs are what I see as a huge benefit of MOOCs.  So when preparing a MOOC in the UK, the advice would be to ensure that you follow traditional processes for approval of modules, then at the very least, there won’t be any nasty surprises should the QAA come a knocking’.

Video Analysis

I’ve started to look at the content – my research will be creating case studies and I have found a wonderful set of videos.  I have contacted the academics involved and they are keen so that is great.  Having spent the last couple of weeks transcribing about three hours of interviews, discussion and presentations, I’m now trying to look for themes.  I’m doing that bit the old fashioned way. The only reason I have for doing it that way is because I am trying to focus my mind. I will end of doing more analysis using my iPad, using iAnnotate to highlight text and find the themes but to get me started I am trialling good old fashioned print.  It’s been a couple of months since I have printed anything and it was quite alien trying to get the content in a format to print.  I realised I haven’t used Word for a long time either!  (prefer Google Docs).  I have 14 pages to review.  I started this about 2 hours ago, and have only done the first page.  Typically, I got distracted by using the web to look for the video to check I had the correct names, which led me to try out Tagxedo.  Don’t ask me why this would be a natural progression, but it thats just what happened.  I wanted to create a Wordle but then thought I’d try something different. I like this tool and so performed a content analysis on the first talk by Jeff Himpele from Princeton University.

If you can’t see the image via the first talk link, this is it in its static form Flipped classroom content analysis

Throughout the whole of my MSc we have been encouraged to think differently and use non-traditional tools to create and share.  So this fits in with that kind of philosophy.  I am keen to try out the others and then run through and see if I can get anything useful from it, rather than the obvious.  The obvious being that they are all going to have ‘flipping’ and ‘student’ (although not flippin’ students which could have been rather awkward).

I have a deadline of July 3rd which is a week today and I will be creating four case studies at least. Just as long as I can fight the distractions I should be fine.  I don’t know what it is because I am really interested in what they have to say.  I’ll be Tweeting this, then I’ll create more Tagxedo’s.

Have a look at Tagxedo, they have a really cool gallery.   I wonder what this blog would look like in the style of Abraham Lincoln…? <end distraction>

Time waits for no man – or woman

When I started to write this blog, I had ages before my dissertation on MOOCs needed to be completed. August was months away, and I had plenty of time to think, capture my thoughts and play around with ideas.  #Whoknew.

So, I’m determined to make an effort (more than an effort really) to stop procrastinating and ‘thinking about the plan’.  Now is the time to take the bull by the horns, the MOOC by the tail and as Nike would say, ‘Just do it’.

With this in mind, I have been scouring my MOOCs Scoop.it, reviewing the tonne of resources that I have been collecting since about November 2012.  I have found a few gems, in particular Calvin Carr’s ‘E-Learning Bill of Rights’.  I think this is great.  This is similar to the kind of quality code for learners (UK people recognise this QAA term).  It’s a simple list of what a learner should be able to expect from participating in an online course.  This is particularly important when we offer MOOCs as ‘free’.  Our time is expensive (and gets spent quickly, see note above!)  and if you use your precious time on a course that gets pulled, what happens to you?  You can’t get your time back.  So it’s nice to see that there has been some thought about the learners in relation to unregulated MOOC development , something to bear in mind when we create any form of online course.

Thinking about Course design and development, there has been wonderful dissemination of learning from EdX and Coursera about lessons learnt from their experiences in designing their courses.  In my collection, I found these short videos from Stanford, which are wonderful.  I want to take as much as I can not just from the design aspect but from the learner/teacher experiences.  They are providing so much for us to look at and think about, I hope enough people take notice.  This is not just good for MOOCs, but it’s good for online education generally.  #Whoknew.