EDULEARN16 and Jisc Connect Wales

This week I was fortunate enough to have been asked to present at two conferences: EDULEARN16 in Barcelona and Jisc’s Connect Wales.

In Barcelona I talked about the informal learning and teaching models that I had observed as a MOOC student almost two years ago. My presentation was called ‘From Tiny corns Large Oaks Grow’ and compared the brief multimedia nuggets of information introduced at the start of each week’s lesson to acorns dropped by course tutors and then watered by MOOC participants by way of collaboration, discussion and signposting by peers. If 10% of my learning came by way of each ‘acorn’, then the remaining 90% came from peers. This then, was a clear example of how an informal learning network can use paragogy and heutagogy to enhance learning.

My final message was to suggest that we stop saying the MOOC model isn’t working purely because we’re looking at high rates of attrition. Let’s look instead at the models and frameworks of teaching and learning that are developing (perhaps by chance) and see how they can be applied to formal learning as well.

Here’s my presentation:

My Jisc presentation was also my first invitation to deliver a keynote plenary, and I was asked to deliver a presentation that looked at social media in education. My presentation looked at how students’ digital literacy skills can be honed through use of social media sites. Dangerous territory perhaps, as there is still a ‘NO FACEBOOK AND PUT YOUR PHONES IN YOUR BAGS’ mentality in a lot of institutions. My argument was that by using social media sites appropriately, course-based learning can be enhanced while digital literacy skills are honed. I’m not suggesting that we turn Facebook into a VLE, but certain sites can prove useful for collaboration and content curation.

Again, here’s my presentation:

I’ll be writing a second post (because my blog posts are like buses) looking at something that I talked about at the Jisc event: that instead of using one site specifically for (say) sharing photos of kittens and another to share our CV, we use them all for elements of all, but know who our potential audience is and understand that there are limits and boundaries to what we post as a result.

So this has been a busy, tiring but brilliant week. I do enjoy conference season!



It’s Raining Tweets…Hallelujah?

foschatLast week I went to one of Jisc’s ‘Connect more’ events where, amongst other things, I tried to get back into the swing of networking (I turn into Alan Partridge when having to make professional small talk ) and delivered a short presentation looking at good, not so good and downright dreadful examples of elearning content development. I’m not going to spend time here talking about it, but you can see the presentation in all its glory by clicking here.

On the way to the event, an invite to a group called FOS on Google+ from a peer piqued my interest, so at the end of the day, and feeling buoyed from a very enjoyable event, I logged into Google+ for the first time in months.

It turns out that the invitation was not just for a group, but for a MOOC-or, as the course designers described it- an open learning event for professionals who teach in higher education.  Whatever the title, it was an intense but exhilirating 5 day experience.

Rules of participation were simple: drop in and out and complete as many activities as you want to. Participants were encouraged to set up an ePortfolio using any platform or format they wanted and to share their work with peers  Separate conversation threads were set up on Google+ and as a result, concepts and discussions never crossed streams or became difficult to navigate.

Facilitating the course were Chrissi Nerantzi and Sue Beckingham from Manchester Metropolitan and Sheffield Hallam Universities respectively. Here’s their presentation giving a clear overview of the course and its methodology:

Activities, chat rooms and posts to social networks were easy enough to manage, but much tougher to navigate were the Twitter showers held every evening. The format was simple enough: a recommended reading was uploaded to WordPress and participants invited to ask, and in turn offer answers based around the theme of each reading.

Log in from the start and these frenetic tweet downpours (‘shower’ suggests an altogether more sedate experience) were manageable, though, like the head of a hydra, by the time I had sent a tweet response to one question, three more questions had been asked by other participants.

Taking a more casual approach and dipping in and out of showers made the flow of conversation impossible to follow. Without TweetDeck or Storify to hand to manage everything (I was in the living room with an iPad.  That sounds like the denoument of a game of Cluedo.  I can confidently state her that I did not kill anyone), tweets were arriving quicker than I could read them.  A few participants admitted on Goggle+ that they had stood on the sidelines during these Tweet downpours and felt that everything was perhaps a bit too fast-paced and in turn, intimidating, for them to be able to contribute.  So how to fix the one element of the course that maybe didn’t work as well as the rest?

Had the hour long sessions been split into 3 or 4 segments, with one question posed at the start of each segment, everything would have felt more coherent and cohesive. Instead, there developed a community of people answering one another’s questions, posing alternative viewpoints and offering links to further information but at such a speed there was no time for ideas or knowledge to germinate or develop. To a casual observer, these splintering threads – hard enough to keep up with if concentrating from the start – became impossible to dip into.

Now, this all sounds a bit negative.  I really did enjoy the course – and am going to do my best to complete the 3.5 out of 5 activities that I didn’t have the time or energy to get to.  (I believe I have until September to do these). As the Tweet pasted on Sue and Chrissie’s first slide says:

“Enjoying #FOS4L and how a bunch of people, most of whom have never met, just get down to serious fun and learning with no fuss or nonsense.”

The experience was exhilirating and fun, all participants were very supportive of one another, and the readings that were uploaded to the FOS site relevant, clearly written and, in the case of Napier University’s ‘Benchmark for the use of Technology in Modules’ document, about to be stolen by me for use in my institution. Should FOS run again, I would say to any interested party (and will be telling my staff) to log in and have a go.  However, I’d also suggest the format of those Twitter Showers should be tweaked a little before that.

MOOCing all over the World (Part 3)

Click image to see more FutureLearn photos on flickr

Click image to see more FutureLearn photos on flickr

Well, it’s over.  After a 2 week break for Christmas and New Year, the final two weeks of my MOOC flew past like Wally West with diarrhea.

I was pretty sad to be finishing the course, having realised that I’d actually learned a fair amount about Richard III and society in 15th century Britain.  SPOILERS! Did you know, for example, that until relatively recently, ‘fish’ was used as a term to describe any aquatic-based animal, so as well as sturgeon, pollock, bream and the like, ducks, beavers and terrapins were also categorised as fish (and therefore, allowed to be eaten on a Friday)?  Did you know that Richard III had roundworm when he died?  Or that peasants, because they couldn’t afford to eat meat every day, actually had a healthier diet than their zealously carnivorous overlords?

So, no credits or official certificate to say I’ve ‘passed’ the course (there was no summative assessment, and formative assessment took place at the end of each week’s quiz by way of a 5-8 question multiple choice quiz), but the nice image above gives all the proof I need, and completion of a MOOC will possibly look good on my CV.  Importantly, all the things I talked about in parts 1 and 2 of this subject combined, by course’s end, to make me feel quite downhearted when I clicked the final ‘activity complete’ button – very much like when one reads a book and simultaneously wants to get to the end and devour every glorious word, but also wants to savour it, eke it out and not let it come to an end.

Interestingly, completing this course has whetted my appetite to sign up for another.  I’m not sure how wise this is: the time is fast approaching to make a start on my dissertation and I need to make a few tweaks to my CMALT ePortfolio.  Plus, despite my feelings of sadness at reaching the end of the MOOC, I also feel as if a small weight had been lifted – I now have more time to concentrate on the aforementioned ‘other stuff’.

Finally, I’ve been invited to submit a brief abstract for  JISC’s eLearning in HE Conference in Manchester in March, so have written the following and sent it off, hoping that it fits into the conference’s themes of developing knowledge through hands-on practice and the learner as a collaborator:

MOOCS (Massively Open Online Courses) have been a prominent part of the ILT zeitgeist for a few years now, and have attracted strongly opposing comments, with creators, users and commentators standing on two very different sides and stating that MOOCs are either the ‘next big thing’ in education, or a waste of time and money. 

I have recently been able to experience first-hand how an engaging and successful MOOC can work incredibly well – and key to this is the community of practice formed and managed by the students themselves. 

I would argue that without this self-created online presence MOOCs are likely to fail, and that providing an assessment of my own experiences will also provide food for thought to anyone who is thinking of creating, delivering or studying a MOOC.

Fingers crossed…

And in other news…Chi Chi the panda has refused to eat school dinners again…

It’s been a pretty busy week, so here’s a roundup of the news a la John Craven’s Newsround, circa 1978.  This reads better if you do the music in your head as you read:

AndyV_john craven


As a result of my last post (If at first you don’t succeed – here), I received a very exciting offer from Liz Falconer of UWE.  She has very kindly offered to meet up and look at how I can start to get Cardiff University on the virtual map (to paraphrase her invitation), initially by having a look at what the UWE is doing on their in-world accreditation: the MA Education in Virtual Worlds, and what Liz’s colleagues in UWE are doing with virtual worlds for simulations in, for example, Finance Auditing, Forensics crime scenes, food poisoning outbreak simulations, et al. I’m hoping that by learning more about these examples and then showing others in my School, I can gently bring round those who aren’t familiar with virtual worlds. Liz has also very kindly asked whether I’d like to partner up on an initial project on one of her islands so that I can show the doubters what can actually be done, so my fingers, legs and eyes are crossed, hoping that this time I finally start to make some headway in Second Life.

As a result of Liz’s message, I went back into Second Life and started to rent a new home. It’s a Victoriana –style skybox reminiscent of the set of BBC 1’s Ripper Street (or early days Eastenders) and it looks like this:


As a result of THAT (can you see a linguistic pattern forming here?) I decided, in a moment of sheer lunacy, to send in a 500 abstract to present at OER14 in Newcastle next April.  Like a dog with a bone (or an idiot who doesn’t know when to quit while they’re ahead) I took an extract from my HEA funding application from earlier this year and tweaked it, then submitted the following for a ‘fringe’ workshop.  Fringe sounds pretty vague and my Second Life work is pretty vague at the moment, so this seemed workable.  And who knows, should my application be accepted, I may even have done something in Second Life to talk about by next spring.


I have finally made a start on finishing my Master’s Degree.  I need to work through three informal, non-accredited tasks before making a start on the final dissertation (or, at least, submitting my official plan and hoping it gets accepted in order to write the final dissertation), and I managed to get the first of these done last week: a brief overview of what I want my research to be about.  This really made me think about my research question and its validity, both as a research topic and within the Action Research paradigm.  It also made me think of about 16 alternative research questions that were linked to the original, but much more specific. And now I just don’t know where to go, so I’m hoping the feedback I get will help me to direct what I want to do.


A few years ago, when involved in the ICE House Project at Cornwall College, I was introduced to Penelope Tobin, a freelance consultant and CEO of Bar­rier Break­ers, jazz musician, educator and all-round brilliant person. Barrier Breakers was originaly foun­ded by Penelope in 2000.  Here’s the online blurb:

Barrier Breakers is an organ­isa­tion ded­ic­ated to inspir­ing human devel­op­ment. Ori­gin­ally estab­lished as a char­ity, the ‘for-more-than-profit’ com­pany was set-up in 2010, with the pur­pose of spread­ing the suc­cess of their approach, Barrier Breakers Methodology (BBM), to other sec­tors, while feed­ing profits back into the char­it­able arm, Bar­rier Break­ers Found­a­tion.

Both sides of Bar­rier Break­ers’ work are dir­ec­ted by the founder, in close col­lab­or­a­tion with asso­ci­ates, part­ners and train­ers, as well as trust­ees and volun­teers. Since 2000, numer­ous highly skilled indi­vidu­als, experts in their own fields and united by a belief in the power of soft skills, have col­lab­or­ated on pro­jects under the Bar­rier Break­ers umbrella, help­ing to shape the meth­od­o­logy, by using it in lead­er­ship, per­sonal, man­age­ment, and organ­isa­tional devel­op­ment pro­jects, coach­ing ses­sions, edu­ca­tion pro­grammes, and con­sultancy. This gives Barrier Breakers an extraordin­ary pool of trus­ted, tal­en­ted and pas­sion­ate pro­fes­sion­als to draw on, so the charity can provide cli­ents with top-quality teams cre­ated spe­cific­ally for their pro­ject and tailored to their needs.

Anyway…I got an email from Penelope in the week outlining something incredibly pertinent and very exciting that she wants to set up and that she thinks I could be a part of.  As it is not my project to share or talk about I shall say no more at this stage, other than I hope to be Skyping with Penelope very soon and then able to say more.  And I’m quite excited…


And finally…I’ve just started a FutureLearn MOOC about Richard III (as in, while writing this post I have just logged into the site to take a first look at the course!).  I like what I have briefly seen, and think that this blog may be a good place to add comments from both an online student and a Learning Technologist viewpoint.  As ever, watch this space.  Or one very close to it…

So, lots of things going on, all of which, if I find the time,  should develop into their own blog ‘streams’.  After months of nothing from me, it looks like, if everything goes according to plan, there will be a glut of blogging from me.  You have been warned…

New Day, New Model, New Backlash, New Shoes…

A couple of things have prompted me to write this post: the sudden but not entirely unexpected backlash against two reasonably new educational models: the Flipped Classroom and MOOCs (I wrote a post about MOOCs a while ago, so if you aren’t sure what they are, take a look at this), and the ‘faddish’ nature of educational models.  There may be a link here, be it supposed or otherwise, and this post may help me to draw some conclusions.

The Flipped Classroom model of Technology Enhanced Learning has been around for many years, though it has only recently become an established part of the educational zeitgeist.  This, one assumes, is because beforehand it was a method without nonclementure: something teachers, trainers and lecturers were doing independently of one another and in solitude. The flipped classroom is a form of blended learning which encompasses any use of technology to leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing. This is most commonly done using teacher-created videos that students view outside of class time.

The traditional pattern of teaching has been to assign students to read a section of a textbook after school, which will then be discussed the next day in class. Students are then assigned an assessment for homework to demonstrate their mastery of the topic. In the flipped classroom, the student first studies the topic by him or herself, typically using video lessons created by the instructor or shared by another educator or company, such as those provided by the Khan Academy, TED or even YouTube. In the classroom, the pupil then tries to apply the knowledge by solving problems and doing practical work. The role of the classroom teacher is then to tutor the student when they become stuck, rather than to impart the initial lesson. This allows time inside the class to be used for additional learning-based activities, including use of differentiated instruction and project-based learning, another educational model that I’ll be referring to (but only in passing) later.

Flip teaching allows more hands-on time with the instructor guiding the students, allowing them to assist the students when they are assimilating information and creating new ideas, thereby adhering to the upper end of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Some of the earliest work in this field was done by Eric Mazur at Harvard, who developed Peer Instruction in the 1990s. Professor Mazur found that computer aided instruction allowed him to coach instead of lecture, he wrote: “As a result, my teaching assistants and I can address several common misconceptions that would otherwise go undetected.” He concludes, “I believe that we are just seeing the beginning of the process and the computer will soon become an integral part of education. Computers will not replace teachers, but they will certainly provide them with an important dynamic tool for improving the quality of education.”

Many of the educators I have spoken to in recent months see the flipped classroom as the next big thing in education, and as it has been very much in the forefront of the educational zeitgeist for a couple of years now, I certainly think that there may be something in this model – yet that backlash I mentioned at the start of this post has certainly begun, as you’ll see if you refer to the articles and posts below:


Don’t flip for the flipped classroom

Why I flip flopped in the flipped classroom

There is no such thing as the flipped classroom:

If the flipped classroom is already being chastised as a failure (and I’m not saying that it is – there are still more articles championing this model than there are pillorying it) then what about the current Next Big Thing – the MOOC?

Very much seen as a Marmite model – users either love it or they hate it – there are thousands of articles, reviews and opinions out there about Massively Open Online Courses.  They’re free!  There can be 1000s of students enrolled on any one course!  Students can learn in their own time, at their own pace! They aren’t accredited!  The dropout rate is phenomenal!  But they’re free (though rumour has it that this may not be the case for very much longer)!

Reading a variety of articles and blog posts deriding the Flipped Classroom and MOOCs prompted me to ask the following:

  • Is this just another case of an educational ‘new black’ or the emperor’s new clothes?
  • Why do new models of education come and go so quickly?   

Since my induction into the world of education way back in the last millennium, there have been so many new models, buzzwords and fads in education; it’s genuinely difficult to remember most of them.  Problem Based Learning, Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise in Education, Embedding and Teaching Employability Skills, Enquiry Based Learning, Student – Centred Learning…the list goes on.  Each of these models were introduced at local level by enthusiastic colleagues as bold new ways of teaching, with money thrown at consultants, training companies, teacher educators and in-house specialists to deliver workshops, residential events, CPD courses and the like to staff with the notion that each was going to save time, change the way lecturers taught and the way students learned.  Within eighteen months, one model would be replaced by another: again, with money thrown at consultants, training companies, teacher educators and in-house specialists to deliver workshops, residential events, CPD courses and the like to staff with the notion that this was going to save time, change the way lecturers taught and the way students learned.  Within eighteen months…you see where I’m going with this?

So, putting current back lash towards MOOCs and flipped classrooms aside for a moment, why does this happen?  I have a few theories:

The digital world moves at approximately 97, 000 times the speed of the ‘normal’ world.  That’s why people become frustratd whrn they buy the latest ‘must have’ gadget, only to find their shiny, new version 4 has been replaced by version 5 two weeks later.    In education (though I mean specifically in post compulsory education, as I have no experience of working in the compulsory sector) models are trotted out so quickly that by the time people start to get to grips with them and think about how they can be used, something else comes along.  Of course, they could make their lessons all about flipped learning, peer learning, Problem Based Learning, innovation and creativity and all the other models that have come and gone in the past few years…but would they end up delivering a complicated, confusing and probably fruitless lesson?  And how long would it take to plan a lesson that ticked all of the new models of learning boxes?  Of course, no one lesson should contain a range of many models – like any other tool, these are just more strings to the teacher’s bow; more sweeties in their bag of pick ‘n’ mix.

Linked to this,  how much time do teachers, trainers and lecturers actually have to film and edit a lecture, put it on the institution’s media server, plan a Problem Based, peer assessed, enquiry based, flipped lesson that embeds elements of creativity, employability, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all?

Lack of time is one of the greatest enemies educators have to do battle with.  Confidence in one’s ability to use one or more models could be another issue. 

When Ofsted come to visit, will they mark a lesson that uses one or more of these models successfully with a glowing grade?  More importantly, if a teacher decides to run with a PBL – based session, something that is innovative but by its nature risky, or one that flips the classroom but ultimately doesn’t work according to the lesson plan, will they receive a low grade, and thereby run the risk of being placed on an improvement plan, or labelled as a ‘bad’ teacher?

Will MOOCs cheapen a student’s experience?  Will they replace teachers?  Probably not, but many teachers do still feel threatened by technology – worried that their classroom or lecture theatre-based lessons will be replaced by online content, thereby saving their institution money.  Will an institution’s servers be able to handle 30 or 300 people watching a film at the same time without falling over?  Will its firewalls mean that content can only be viewed in the institution itself?  Will teachers get egg on their face?  Isn’t this all too much to remember?  Is it worth learning another way of delivery if last year’s Next Big Thing didn’t take off the way those consultants and trainers said it would? And if the methods that have been used for years that have proven to get results – why learn more methods?

Finally – remember how I mentioned the irritation we have when the new piece of kit we bought yesterday is replaced with an even newer one a few days later?  Because technology moves at such a swift pace, does this mean new, technology-based methods of teaching and learning will always be superseded by something else before it’s had a chance to bed in? 

And what of the backlashes against some of these newer models of education? Maybe they are caused by fear, lack of time to gather any real understanding or a collective groan of “Oh no…here we go again…”

Have I answered my questions? Nope. I’m not that clever.  But I think I have laid out some of the possible reasons why some of these models seem to vanish as quickly as they appear, and why people sometimes just want to say “Look!  The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”


Dear Lord, how I love an acronym.  They really are not used enough in education, so the invention of yet another: in this instance MOOC, has me bouncing around in paroxysms of joy. (A MOOC, in case you aren’t sure, is a Massive Open Online Course.)


Actually, MOOCs aren’t new – they first originated around 2008, which is about 20 years ago in computer years.  They are aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the Internet and often use open educational resources. Typically they do not offer academic credit or charge tuition fees. Because of this, only about 10% of the tens of thousands of students who may sign up complete the course.

I say because of this subjectively.  As someone who has participated as a student in a MOOC, I have experienced the huge drop out that occurs sometimes just days after a course has begun.  I was a student some 5 years ago in a muvenation course: the first course of its kind to teach real life educators how to be virtual world teachers. This did offer certification upon completion which, though at post graduate level, was really no more than a ‘placebo’-it was a piece of paper, it told you that you were able to perform specific skills at specific levels, but was not designed to be recognised as an accredited qualification.  Participation and assessment occurred predominantly in Second Life, but also via wikis, Flickr and Moodle.  At the start of the course something like 400 people enrolled or showed interest, with only 40 participants completing the course.  This fits nicely in to the 10% success rate I mentioned earlier, but in this instance is a pity as the course was fantastic: very well designed, genuinely interesting and innovative, and a real pleasure to take part in.

Why do people drop out?  I’m guessing that lack of time is the most common reason cited by those who do leave a course before its end, but I suspect that there’s often more to it than that.  Humans like to earn badges and add strings to their bow.  If course completion isn’t rewarded by something (even if it is a placebo), then they wander off track and will find something that does offer tangible reward. 

There is something else I think is important too – and that’s cost and its allegiance with ownership.

In the clutches of a never ending recession many of us simply don’t have the funds to pay for a course.  It seems logical then to think that a free course would have a lot of appeal.  And yet…if you don’t invest financially in something, do you invest psychologically?  If I plough my hard earned money into a course then I want to finish it: effectively, I want to get my money’s worth.  If it’s free, or even paid for by a third party, then my motivation isn’t really ‘there’ because I haven’t put anything on the line or taken a financial risk (of sorts) in order to complete the course

So can MOOCs be successful?  Futurelearn, the first UK-led, multi-institutional platform for free, open, online courses, certainly thinks so. Their plan is to increase access to higher education for students in the UK and around the world by offering a range of courses through a single website. They are partnering with the British Library, British Council and 17 of the UK’s top universities (including the very university for whom I work) and will launch their first courses later this year.  Futurelearn are also majority owned by the Open University. Kudos (and years of experience) ahoy!

This all looks promising.  Futhermore, a quick scan of the Futurelearn website unearths the following quote:

Whilst MOOCs don’t always lead to formal qualifications, they allow students to gain invaluable knowledge to support their careers, or their own personal learning goals. There are no entry requirements and students can take part in the courses regardless of where they live in the world or their financial circumstances.

Now this is something I can get my head around: the fact that students enrolled on MOOCs can gain knowledge that will implicitly help them in their careers or personal targets -or simply because they want to learn something new for no reason other than to have learned something new. I’m a huge advocate of keeping the brain muscle flexed: that if we exercise our minds in the same way we do our bodies, then we may stave off senility and remain as sharp in later life as we were in our youth.  Maybe MOOCs can be a cerebral dumbbell of sorts – maybe they should become compulsory for the over 60s?!

To summarise, though I guess I haven’t answered any questions, nor have I managed to tie down just why MOOCs are:

  • such a big part of the ed-tech zeitgeist
  • have such low retention and achievement rates

I have read so many articles and offered opinions of MOOCs, that I can only surmise that they are and will always be a double-edged sword: another example of ‘Marmite’* learning perhaps. I’m keen to get involved in my university’s work in MOOCS, and equally keen to see just how ‘successful’ they are.  Though because of its laid back, non-accredited nature, can a MOOC really be gauged as being a success or a failure?  Answers, as ever, on a postcard please…

*(You either love it or hate it.)