Thursday, 19 September 2013

Some Thoughts on What We Can Learn from MOOCs

I've not written about MOOCs on this blog, despite the mainstream interest over the last 18 months. I think that the problem for me has been just as I felt I was getting my head around the original connectivist 'cMOOCs', everyone started talking about the 'xMOOCs', some of which didn't seem very much different to the online courses we had for a decade.  I've struggled to see through the hype, so I'm writing this post to think through ideas about how different types of MOOC might be offering something we could benefit from.

I won't go over the history of MOOCs here, as it has been done so well before. Have a look at Daniel (2012) 'Making sense of MOOCs: Musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility' or Tony Bates' overview of the article if you are short of time. This article also wisely takes a look at lessons learned from the history of distance and online learning, which seem to have been ignored in many recent conversations about xMOOCs. For an overview of the peer-reviewed literature about MOOCs, Liyanagunawardena et al's 'MOOCs: A Systematic Study of the Published Literature 2008-2012' is a good starting point. I've also collected links to interesting articles on the topic over the last few years.

The cMOOCs were interesting to me as they seemed to build on the things I liked about PLEs and the benefits the web brings to learning in general. The first MOOC was a real university course which added value to the paying students by encouraging a large number of interested people into the online learning environment. I've written before that "in education we've kept students “in small groups in VLE sections, rarely connecting with other groups” which means many of the potential uses of the web are missed, and even back in 2003 Tim O’Reilly was talking about the internet as a platform to harvest collective intelligence. cMOOCs can offer a way towards major changes in learning, if that is what educators think is best for their students, although teaching this way would be very different and would in most cases require hosting outside of a institutional VLE. This way of studying seems to me to be more likely to work with Masters level students than Undergraduate students, as it helps people with niche interests find each other.

While cMOOCs offer changes to pedagogy, it could be argued that xMOOCs focus has been more on marketing (when HEIs have been involved) and disrupting the HE Industry (when private companies have been involved). I can see how the xMOOCs like those I've participated in on Coursera could act as taster courses to give potential students a chance to see if they want to study a certain course. Courses like this might also be used to help academics get a grasp of the ability of potential students, to see if they might be able to deal with degree level study, or would benefit from an access course of some kind first. The cost of creating high quality resources for these purposes could be prohibitive though, and again there might be a need to run these courses outside the institutional VLE.

I think that both types of MOOC are worth studying as they may offer ways of achieving the things mentioned above, which are things being talked about by both Learning Technologists and academics. Whether we call what we do "MOOCs" will depend perhaps on how we want to market it, but mostly on whether we can practically deal with large numbers of participants.

Friday, 12 April 2013

How to Be a Really Good Learning Technologist - Part 1: What does a Learning Technologist do?

I started in my current Learning Technologist role back in 2005, and attempted to develop my skills and understanding by doing a range of things such as following blogs, reading journals and books, writing blog posts, and attending conferences.

While I have developed my skills, knowledge and understanding over the years, the areas of Learning Technology and Higher Education have changed rather a lot since 2005. To look at where to focus my personal development I thought it might be useful and interesting to try and answer the question - “What is a really good Learning Technologist like in 2013?”. We’ll start by looking at what an Learning Technologist is expected to do.

What does a Learning Technologist do in 2013 in the UK?

In my Learning Technology related roles over the years, I have been involved in a range of tasks such as advising staff on the intelligent and effective use of new technologies, administration of the technologies, preparing staff and students to use them and supporting their use, and creation of course materials.

To get a snapshot view of what is involved in Learning Technology roles across the UK HE sector I searched the site on 10th April 2013 for current vacancies using the search strings ‘Learning Technologist’, ‘Learning Technology’, ‘e-Learning’, ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’, Instructional Designer’, Instructional Technology’, and ‘Educational Technologist’.

There were 10 results that I considered Learning Technologist roles. I have copied the text from the person specifications and job descriptions into backup documents to ensure that they can be accessed when the applications have closed, and listed them below.

  1. Learning Technologist @ University of Leeds
    1. Grade 7 / £30,424- £36,298
    2. Closing date 25 April 2013 [original link] [backup document]
  2. Learning Technologies Officer @ Coventry University’s London Campus
    1. £29,750 plus bonus and benefits
    2. Closing date 22 April 2013 [original link] [backup document]
  3. Learning Technology Advisor @ University of Derby
    1. £29,184 - £31,627
    2. Closing date 15 April 2013 [original link] [backup document]
  4. Learning Technologist @ Royal College of Art
    1. £28,398 – £32,558
    2. Closing date 25 April 2013 [original link] [backup document]
  5. Assistant Learning Technologist @ Imperial College London
    1. £28,200 - £32,100
    2. Closing date 10 April 2013 [original link] [backup document]
  6. Academic Technologist @ University of Warwick
    1. Grade 6 / £27,854 - £36,298
    2. Closing date 12 April 2013 [original link] [backup document]
  7. Web/VLE Officer @ University of Leeds
    1. Grade 6 / £24,766 – £29,541
    2. Closing date 10 April 2013 [original link] [backup document]
  8. Learning Technology Development Officer @ Edge Hill University
    1. Grade 6 / £24,766 - £27,047
    2. Closing date 17 April 2013 [original link] [backup document]
  9. TEL Support Officer @ Edge Hill University - 19 April 2013
    1. Grade 5 / £22,020 - £24,049
    2. Closing date 10 April 2013 [original link] [backup document]
  10. Learning Technologist @ University of Leeds
    1. Grade 5 / £20,764 - £24,049
    2. Closing date 10 April 2013  [original link] [backup document]

Adding aspects of the role displayed in these documents to my own experiences, we could argue that a Learning Technologist might be expected to be involved in:
  1. Advising and influencing a range of staff and departments regarding the intelligent and effective use of new technologies/tools/environments in teaching and learning.
    1. Discussing with teaching staff and management about what tools/environments might be appropriate for their use, and how they can put this into practice
    2. Explaining how teaching and learning online differs from teaching in face-to-face environments
    3. Contributing to strategy
    4. Encouraging the embedding of technology-enhanced learning in the curriculum and ‘evangelising’ the use of learning technologies
  2. Administration and management related to the VLE and other tools/environments
    1. Repetitive tasks such as adding student accounts
    2. Procedure development
    3. Managing systems or liaising with those who do
  3. Preparing staff and/or students with the technical and/or pedagogical knowledge required to use the tools/environments
    1. Group teaching and training
    2. One-to-one teaching and training
  4. Supporting staff and students while they use the tools/environments
    1. Creation of just-in-time guides and videos
    2. Ongoing answering of questions and troubleshooting
  5. Course resource creation
    1. Converting existing materials for use online
    2. Creating new materials using a wide range of web development, image manipulation and audiovisual tools
    3. Maintaining existing resources
    4. Using external resources / OER
    5. Develop policy and guidance to ensure quality of resources created across the institution
  6. Curriculum and course design
    1. Designing activities using appropriate tools and environments
    2. Designing resources to meet learning objectives
    3. Using Learning Analytics to understand student experience and learning, and to guide further development of the course
  7. Other scholarly activities
    1. Supporting and taking part in research and resulting publications
    2. Presenting at conferences
From this small number of examples we cannot read much into any patterns spotted. What we can say is that the types of activities in the list above are combined in a wide range of ways to create the job descriptions. 

If there was time to look at a larger sample, I’d be interested to see how the roles vary between Learning Technologists based in different areas such as faculties, libraries, IT departments, and central teaching & learning departments.

In the next part of the series we’ll move on from this quick look at what Learning Technologists do, and try to explore who Learning Technologists are.

Monday, 7 January 2013

A Simple Guide to Subscribing to Web Feeds

Learning Services at Edge Hill University publish a lot of useful and important information through the Learning Services blog, and we wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to keep track of that information.

With that in mind I've put together a short guide to subscribing to web feeds. It covers subscribing by email, with feed readers, and with in-built browser tools. It aims to be concise and non-threatening to users with little technical expertise, while being general enough to be used for subscribing to any resources.

I've linked to it on here in case anyone new to feeds will find it useful, and to get feedback on any ways that it could be improved. If you prefer videos I cover some of the same information in the 'Make the Web Come to You' presentation.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Looking back at SOLSTICE 2012

I've only just got round to writing up my thoughts on June's SOLSTICE 2012 conference. 2012 was the 7th year that SOLSTICE has run, which indicates how valuable people have found it.

Student Presentations

It was particularly good to hear the perspectives of the students who were invited to ‘show us how they used technology to help them be an effective learner’. We get a good overview of device ownership, what students want from an online learning environment, and where students study from the eLearning surveys that we run each year, but hearing a more in-depth description of students' experiences shows us more about how students think and feel.

More than one of the students mentioned how they use free online courses run by companies like Coursera to add to the learning they do in class. It's great now that students have so many opportunities that enhance their learning and experience, which we never had back in the 90s when I was a student. They not only mentioned free courses, but also ebooks which mean they have to travel to the library less, and better support for students with Dyslexic from both staff and technology.

Quick links to videos of student presentations are below.

Keynote Presentations

Steve Wheeler was the first of the keynote speakers with a call for openness in education. He challenges the hoarding of knowledge, and talks about open scholarship and open peer review. I especially like what he says about Dave Willey's 6 trends for the digital age (below).

I agree that we could argue that we have genuinely used the technology in education to gain the benefits from making things available digitally, and to an extent on mobile devices. I think many students are creating rather than just consuming. However our courses are still closed, keeping learners more isolated than they need to be, and the technology is not yet being used to personalise learning in a major way.

After lunch Rob Reed talked about a graduate attribute mapping tool that they created at Central Queensland University to simplify the process of tracking development of the attributes.

The videos for both keynotes are below.