ALT Winter Conference 2015 (Day 2)

I am hoping to attend at least part of a few ALT Winter Conference sessions today, notes below.

Jessica Gramp (UCL): Welcome to ‘Moodle My Feedback’

  • Moodle plugin being developed at UCL – this was an update on progress as it has been showed at previous events.
  • Adds My Feedback to profile block.
  • Problems with default Moodle included feedback is stored in TurnItIn – this tool aggregates links back to TII, rather than having to go into different courses to find them.
  • Tells you if students have looked at feedback.

Using Social Media Data in Learning Practice and Research

  • 9 minute demo video: using Facebook data, visualized, for research.
  • Overall I took that the point here was there are a huge amount of possibilities and questions from this.

Gaming the Conference: can Playful Interactions Engage Delegates

  • #altcgame
  • Some details on the game that took place at the conference.

Arena Blended Connected (ABC) rapid curricula development at UCL

  • Presentation on an approach that has been found to be a great way to engage academics.
  • Previously did not have a coherent way to talk to academics about their programmes, they have adapted Ulster’s approach from JISC Viewpoints project.
  • “Connected Curriculum” – wider framework for good design at UCL: this is the C part.  A and B help with the structure to reach those outcomes.
  • Core to the approach is a “Gamestorming” 90 minute workshop, have a high energy discussion on what to do.  Consider issues such as what learners should be doing, mockup of examples of modules (broken down by learning types), etc.
  • Argue best to not start with assessment as to allow for mindset that anything could be assessed.
  • Use session to bring in other elements such as high level costing of module development, impact of including videos, etc.

TFPL – Dashboards in Excel Made Easy

  • Not an ALTC session but another webinar I attended today.
  • How to build dashboard combining one function, a chart, some data validation.
  • Used COUNTIF to count a total from data.  COUNTIFS for multiple.
  • Use bar conditional formatting and then create chart from there.
  • Add data validation with tool-tip for interactivity on page.
  • Then format the worksheet as a dashboard – basically calling on data elsewhere through a visualised approach.
  • Overall this was relatively straight forward stuff.

The Future of Learning: Project-based teaching and assessment supported through new media technologies

  • I didn’t attend too much of this one but when I came in then there was a discussion of some of problems with current university education, including the student focus on grade and the resulting concentration on what the exams will be.
  • Presenter’s research has just reconfirmed that content heavy education leads to rote learning.
  • Need to align assessments with what you really want the students to learn.
  • About personal journeys – only way to ensure students take subject to heart.

RefME as an example for viral apps

Do you remember Harvard referencing and building lengthy bibliographies during your student days?  If yes, did you find it time consuming?  Yep, thought so, did you ever use the techniques again (presuming you’ve not continued in academia)?  No?  Didn’t think so.

Even if we’re kind to academic referencing it is, at best, a necessary evil to show the development of research skills and the correct representation of ideas (i.e. to avoid plagiarism).  I’ve been to two events this week, the first on Adobe products will get a longer post but the second, on RefME, showed how a tool can go viral with users if it is really well targeted on solving an actual problem.

RefME has built a following of more than one million users quicker than Facebook or Twitter – all thanks to the humble citation!  Why?  Well those negative experiences of citation and bibliography building are now finally tackled through this very easy to use app.

When I studied there were some tools in this space, some institutionally backed, but none as easy as RefME appears from the demos at the #BLEevent.  Overall, I took away a key message here – focus on your audience (whoever they may be) and their challenges/frustrations.  If you are facing a lack of adoption with your corporate/institutional technology then it is probably fair to presume that it is (a) not easy enough to use and/or (b) not solving a problem that is felt keenly enough.

It will be interesting to see if any institutions opt to stand against it as a way of students ‘cheating’ by not having to spend hours formatting their own lists … not to mention all the librarians who will have another thing they ‘own’ taken away from them by technology.

What future for education? MOOC – Week 2

It has been a little while since I’ve engaged at all with a MOOC.  I continue to sign up for the odd one but having moved into a house which is now proving a ‘money pit‘ my spare time has largely been taken up with cleaning, worrying about money and general panic about the years of work we’re facing.

This has been educational in itself – full building surveys are there for a reason, do not buy houses based purely on character, garden sheds are difficult/impossible to fix, foxes are very similar to dogs, etc etc but I am trying to get back into further personal development (including the recent splurge of posts here).

Anyway, the WFE MOOC seems to have picked up a bit of traction with people I follow online and whilst I largely ignored Week 1, the activities for week 2 are a bit more interesting:

1 – the discussion task

Offer an example of someone who is considered to be intelligent or gifted BUT who has had to be an expert learner. Tell us something about that person (they could be real, someone you know well, or a celebrity or fictional character). Outline why you think they are a “good” learner. THEN choose two posts from the discussion forum (not your own) and post a response to them: why do you think their learner is a good example: what does it tell us about intelligence and learning? Please read our forum posting policies before posting or starting a new thread.

Now I find this task description a little complicated, the need to use BUT and THEN in the way they have kind of highlights that there could/should have at least been use of bullets to better set out the instruction. From one of the staff replies, to someone seeking clarification, there is also something clearly missing in the above description:

“The idea is to consider the learning process of people who are considered to be gifted or intelligent.
There are examples of people who are highly successful who were even at some point in their life considered to have learning or other difficulties, overcoming this by developing expert learner skills
A little reading up on people who you consider to be particularly intelligent or gifted might give you some ideas. (musicians, businesspeople, scientists, nobel prize winners etc)”

There is a clear difference here between identifying a good learner (lets say Napoleon as an example of someone who studied hard at military school and quickly learned on the job afterwards) against someone who has overcome a learning or other difficult by becoming an expert learner (Stephen Hawking type examples here I guess or the business leaders for whom ‘school didn’t work’ only for them to still be a success and find out later that they had severe dyslexia or something similar).

This all highlighting one problem of running a MOOC – that you open yourself up to a world of nitpicking!

2 – the reflection activity

  1. During your own education, how has your “intelligence” been assessed?
  2. How has this affected the educational opportunities you have been given?
  3. What judgments have people made about you that have been affected by an assessment of your “intelligence”?
  4. Do you consider yourself to be a “learner”? why

Personally I would say all animals are learners, in incremental ways we change our behavior continuously from dealing with basic needs, such as sourcing food, to highly technical skill development.  The education system typically assesses our recollection of information (exams) or ability to research, analyse and articulate (essays/vivas).  Recollection can be more complex, for example in Mathematics, but rarely would my formal education have assessed in more detailed ways.  Few opportunities were given for more detailed investigation, coursework in practical subjects at school would have at least combined physical skills with mental activities.  Intelligence can of course be judged in many ways, Howard Gardner etc etc, but as the image in course menu suggested, we revert to ‘clever’, ‘brainy’, ‘smart’ and many negative options too.  Ultimately we will all learn but combinations of our neurology, previous experiences and environment will impact what this means in reality.

Why L&D needs to stop thinking “how big is it?” and worry more about “it’s what you do with it that counts”

I pondered previously if ‘Corporate University’ branding was killing Learning and Development departments by keeping their focus on formal learning events or, in other words, the ’10’ of 70/20/10.

A new post from Elliott Masie made me think again.  The “administrative realities” (as he calls them) of CPE requirements, busy calendars, day-to-day work requirements, etc. have contributed to the creation of the webinar/classroom/self-study hybrid he identifies.  However, there have been admin advantages for L&D to keep a less varied service going than, say, what you might see in a coffee shop.  The problem is, more relevantly, that L&D service offerings often appear less varied than what you would see outside of the corporate environment.

MOOCs may have re-exposed workplace professionals to what is happening in the delivery of university, and other, courses.  Unfortunately these have largely been based around video lectures, reading text and discussion boards, again limiting expectations.  The buzz around MOOCs only helps perpetuate the focus on the ‘C’ourse rather than the wider issue of workplace learning (for example as mapped out by Jane Hart here).

A colleague queried recently if classroom learning is ultimately better than self study and webinars due to the loss of attention that can happen with those mediums, i.e. classroom may cost more but is more efficient in the long run.  My response was that an individual’s ability to pick out what is relevant for them should not be underestimated.  Just because we now have video, audio, ebooks, infographics, webinars, virtual classrooms and other media to deliver the messages does not mean that dipping in and out is any worse than when someone would skim read a book or just read the bits they had recommended to them.  Indeed Masie points out that the model of books was influenced more by the economics of publishing than learning outcomes.

The Masie article’s proposed venti/grande model goes some way to solving the problems.  However, we should not forget that a coffee shop can be a disorientating place for the uninitiated.  Even relatively simple menus can be confusing, and if you know your Starbucks terminology you may be out your depth at, for example, Taylor St (been there done that).  In my opinion, the sensible approach to take is for topic-centric construction of learning support (I’m deliberately avoiding ‘module’ there).  In deploying the kind of ideas Masie outlines we need to present it in a way where learning leads from one item/topic to another, not deploying a series of standalone events.  This is about user interface design but, I would argue, this can not be separated from instructional design in the modern age.  For example, a topic (say ‘Leading a Team’) might be:

  1. Self diagnostic quick quiz (help them recognize previous understanding)
  2. Introduction to topic > Advance understanding (increasing complexity around the topic delivered via different media so people can choose how they pick up, this might involve an in-person course if it can be used in a cost effective manner)
  3. Around all of the content covered in 2 add some level of appropriate social/sharing
  4. Around all topics add self-reflection (ePorfolio?)
  5. Coaching elements to support points 3 & 4.

There is, of course, an argument for implementing a structure such as this in a fairly consistent manner to avoid user burn out and confusion.  However, none of the above lends itself to forced sizing purely for the sake of consistency.  The layout of the material to the user can overcome any confusion from a lack of consistent sizing.  This is perfectly possible via the hues of Moodle that are used in corporate environments, not to mention many other Learning Management Systems (or an ecosystem of different online tools one of which may be LMS-like to enable any required tracking).  After all, do you avoid watching YouTube videos because they are not all consistently 5 minutes long?

A LinkedIn contact recently reminded me of one of my old presentations.  Looking back at it, there was a certain suggestion in the model of set numbers of weeks, lectures and seminars – the advantage corporate learning teams have is that this should not have to be the case and we need to realize and enjoy this flexibility.  Masie suggests it can start in K-12 and move through to corporate, I would instead argue that as co-location is not a restriction on L&D (unlike the laws governing most schools) we (learning and development teams) instead have flexibility to contribute to learning organizations.  ‘Schools’ (in their different formats for 4-22 year old formal education) will instead remain learning providers only really fully engaging the learner in a complete learning environment if they move onto teaching as part of a wider masters or PHd program.  Corporate L&D may have been slower than, some in, Higher Education to adopt new ways of learning (via the Web 2.0 movement) but the potential going forward can be greater in having no restriction in how long it takes to achieve a learning outcome – its not the size of the learning intervention/program/model that counts but the ultimate delivered change and outcome.

Overall, let’s embrace the diversity we can offer learners, embed it in an appropriate user interface (which may well not be a traditional LMS/VLE and may well be what most would call Knowledge Management) and make the most of our learning (not worrying about trying to measure size/length).

#fote13 – Some remote observations (including on Open Access)

Today I have been following tweets from the Future of Technology in Education event (#fote13) which a lot of my Twitter contacts seem to have attended.  Interestingly, it included some content on Open Access, less encouraging is that according to this blog at least the only question emerging early on was “so what else is new?”.

This made me think back to my previous comment that (learning technology) conferences all too easily preach to the converted.  Contrast this to Noam Chomsky, who I have been catching up with a bit of late, who successfully seems to suggest a way forward at the end of speeches/Q&As.  Admittedly, those ways forward may be difficult, even unrealistic, but he does seem to do a good job of at least proposing something.

Open Access interests me partly as it was a fairly big topic when I did my MA but also in that it offers alternatives to very established business models, which at the very least makes it worthy of attention considering how entrenched some are. Pre and prior to the MA I have attended a number of sessions over the years where the feeling in the room has been academics/librarians vs publishers and its interesting that Open Access models still seem to revert to that or concerns around quality.  The alternative discourse then becomes publishers saying ‘well you don’t want Amazon to win do you?’ when it perhaps should be academics saying ‘okay so what about self publishing?’.  Even though the web has various platforms for self publishing the argument seems to be that take up doesn’t happen due to the RAE, or equivalents, or that Amazon is already the one-stop shop.  This is how I see it though…

Accenture’s offering to help publishers establish new digital business models is an interesting development but also surely too little too late for those who have not progressed already, especially considering that the publishing industry is itself dominated by a fairly small number of big players (and even more so at the delivery level with Amazon, Play and iTunes dominating digital distribution).

For universities, the real value in MOOCs seems to be that it is bringing up old debates on improving the format of university courses and I would hope the outcome will be:

  1. A chance to reinvigorate the ‘university press’, with iBooks, Kindle and other formats bringing in funding.  If Korean secondary school teachers can make millions of dollars selling videos online surely UK academics could make a few quid via rethinking scholarly communication as mentioned above?
  2. Publicly funded research made available publicly.  Papers, yes, but also make academics disseminate via Wikipedia, etc.
  3. A better offering of varied course length/types for different audiences.  Foundation degrees were a start, but there is plenty of room for MOOCs to influence the pre and post degree skill/knowledge set (I’m presuming the degree already has plenty of online/blended elements – if it does not it more than likely should have had about 5 years ago).

All of the above would mean big changes for HE organizations and I suspect discussion will inevitably run and run, meaning plenty more conferences on such areas.  Ultimately they could find themselves in a more diversified industry but ultimately that makes sense – seeking revenue streams away from the traditional under/postgraduate teaching/research restraints.