Building an open source learning ecosystem: does anyone want to?

My Learning Ecosystem by ianguest, on FlickrLast week I saw a few tweets in between sessions whilst I was at the ASME annual scientific meeting (#ASMEASM2014) from the annual Blackboard World get together.  Over the weekend I read a few articles and this piece in Inside Higher Ed – The post-LMS LMS caught my eye.

IHE report that Chuck Severance, who’s Chair of the Sakai Project Board has commented that this year’s round of LMS/VLE vendors have been characterised by their lack of major announcements.

“I think we’re in a weird place right now in the marketplace — partly because there’s a lot of parity between the systems,” Severance said. “You can almost throw a dart at a dartboard and pick an LMS, and it won’t be that bad.”

He added, “Everyone is struggling to figure out what the next steps are.”

The article goes on to mention that the major LMS/VLE platforms are embracing interoperability standards and moving to the notion of a marketplace of apps and add-ons rather than trying to build clunky bloated tools into their platforms.  This leads us back to the notion of an online learning ecosystem which includes different tools that hopefully are all usable and do what’s actually needed.  The piece ends with Chuck Severance reminding us that the notion of a learning ecosystem was something that was talked about years ago in educational technology circles.

The idea of a learning ecosystem was a hot topic at ed-tech conferences years ago, Severance said, but instead “everything fell back to ‘let’s all stay inside our silos.’”

“Everyone wants to make proprietary ecosystems,” Severance said. “That’s not what a learning ecosystem is.”

How true – we’re still stuck in walled gardens and too often teachers are given a technology and told to use it rather than starting with what and how they want to teach and looking at what tools might best support and enhance what they’re trying to achieve.

Severance continues:

“Higher education needs to be present with real participation to ensure that the right things happen, and that it doesn’t just go to the quickest, dirtiest solution it can possibly be,” Severance said. “The sad thing is that if an open ecosystem does not get built, a closed ecosystem will. If the open-source people don’t stand up and actually get involved …, then we’ll just wait for the vendors to tell us how much it costs.”

Is there an appetite to develop this open learning ecosystem?  At first glance it would seem that in the current climate of cuts and reduced funding in HE in the UK that perhaps this isn’t achievable.  In times of plenty we seem to have seen lots of projects funded and technical solutions developed which haven’t been sustained and adopted by the wider community.  There are countless reasons for this, I have my own thoughts, but sometimes it’s when we have to be a bit more resourceful and creative that we can work together and come up with solutions that work.  The wider issue is whether HE in the UK buys into the open source ethos and I’m not sure it does in the way that other sectors have.
Are there others interested in working together to build an open learning ecosystem and can we make it happen?  Or is everyone past caring?  Back in March Joss Winn from Lincoln talked about hacking the University at the JISC Digifest.  In the medical and healthcare professions education field we’re now working on organising two hackday events, is there anything similar happening in HE more broadly?  Perhaps everyone’s happy with proprietary solutions?
Image Attribution
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  ianguest  

More reflections of day one of Jisc #digifest14: Part 2

So here’s part two of my reflections on the first day of the Jisc Digital Festival meeting following on my post earlier this evening with  part one of my reflections on the opening keynote.

After the opening keynotes there was a brief Q&A session and my ears pricked up at a question asking whether there was a Jisc strategy to support open source solutions to create digital transformations.  The Twitter back channel picked up on this and highlighted that many open source tools had been developed with JISC funding but that these hadn’t been sustained and further developed due to the stop start nature of the funding.  Some highlighted that open source systems should be promoted and encouraged ahead of proprietary systems.  I have a lot of sympathy for this view and have written previously about HE adopting open technologies and an agile approach to developing our technical solutions in the same way that the Cabinet Office has. I’ll pickup on this thread later.

Following the keynote we moved onto a mix of workshops, expert speaker sessions, panels and tech demos.  First off I went to the workshop which launched the new Jisc Open Badges Design Toolkit.  We worked through the Toolkit and I think this is going to prove really useful to those looking at open badges and thinking about how you might use them.

Next up I pitched up at the hangout session – ‘Flipped classroom, or just flippin’ technology? Where are we now with technology, student experience and organisational change?’  The slides for this session aren’t up as yet, which is a shame because I’d like to have another look at them.  I found myself at odds with some of what was said in this session, for example the notion that the use of technology in a lecture makes it interactive.  Surely it’s not the technology that makes the lecture interactive it’s the design of the learning activity.  There’s also the issue of how we design learning spaces, our newly refurbished lecture has been designed to support team-based learning and small group learning, technology is used in these interactive learning sessions but it doesn’t work in isolation.  There was also the suggestion that technology makes the flipped classroom more flipped but I was left thinking again about whether students are really engaged with the flipped classroom.  It would have been nice to have seen a bit more attention given to the pedagogical approaches rather than the notion as the technology being the agent of change (it’s worthwhile looking at this paper on the missing evidence of scholarly approach to teaching and learning with technology in higher education).

Onto the afternoon and another workshop this time on developing digital literacies.  This linked to another Jisc toolkit and there was some good discussion in the various groups in this session.

The day ended on a bright note for me with Joss Winn’s session looking at ‘The university as a hackerspace: Can interventions in teaching and learning drive university strategy?’.  In part one of my reflections on the first day I asked whether we need to think about what higher education really is.  Joss outlined how at Lincoln they have been questioning the purpose of the University and how teaching and research need to work together.  In so many of our universities these have been separated and the relationship between them has become dysfunctional.  Lincoln is well known for its work on students as producers and it was interesting to hear how this concept is becoming embedded into their programmes.  Joss also raised questions about who’s driving innovation in our Universities, is it IT departments and are they best placed to be doing this.  He proposed that University’s need a hack space to foster interprofessional innovation and research.

As someone who’s worked closely with students as producers and also piloted a hack event I’m perhaps slightly biased but for me this is so much more interesting and exciting than flipped classrooms, MOOCs and learning analytics. For me it shifts the focus from students as consumers as learners to developing our students as producers and scholars and their creativity and problems solving skills.  Having recently worked with a colleague in the School of Computing on a 4 week module which saw medical students work with computing students on technology projects, it’s clear that both sets of students developed skills in communication, team work, time management, problem solving, digital literacy in ways that mirrored what goes on the work place whilst applying their subject knowledge and understanding.  Both sets of students found it a great experience and we’re hoping to run this again next year.  The conversations that have resulted from this experience have also been interesting.  The computing students were surprised that the Medical School weren’t using Blackboard as their VLE but WordPress.  Following this initial surprise they asked why we couldn’t work together to further develop WordPress as a VLE more widely across the University which links in with the issues around open source technologies in HE.  We pay so much to consultancy firms in HE and yet we have so much talent and creativity in our institutions.  How much more could we achieve if we created hackspaces for staff and students to come together and take forward and build solutions to enhance learning and teaching, research and administration in our institutions.  What if JISC and the HEA and other funding bodies awarded funding to projects born from HE hackathons that addressed issues common to most universities rather than just giving the money to what seems to many of us like the usual suspects.  Would this be a way to better support a more sustainable approach to the development of open source solutions in higher education.

There are some of us involved in UK medical education who are keen to explore the notion of hackerspaces further and it would be great to extend that conversation across HE more widely.

Some reflections on day one of Jisc #digifest14

Today I’ve been at the Jisc Digital Festival being held in Birmingham and here are few quick reflections following the opening keynote from Diana Oblinger, President and CEO of Educause who looked at ‘Designed Digital. You can watch the recording of Diana’s keynote over on the JISC mediaplayer.

Diana highlighted that so much of what we do with digital is a retro fit or a bolt on.  We were challenged to think about the digital experience and the role of digital in the student life-cycle and beyond into how digital is shaping the workplace and employment, how it’s changing work and changing society.  Rather than thinking of man and machine as separate entities we need to think of the two working together.  The demographics of those engaging with education are changing in the US, there are more adult learners and students from minority backgrounds or first generation students in higher education. To support this education needs to change we need new models.  Should we be moving from face-to-face delivery to online delivery and exploring the potential of collaborative and immersive learning environments.  Thinking of health care professions education the area I work in this all sounds great, however the costs in developing these environments is not inconsiderable.

There were a couple of things which really struck me from the session.  There was mention of the push in the US to more competency based learning and the lack of technology to support this.  Also the notion of a type of pick and mix approach to earning a degree by selecting and progressing through a pathway of competencies using curated elearning resources. All of this raised some questions for me:

  • Is that really higher education though, are we talking about providing training rather than an education?  Do we need to stop and think about what higher education really is?
  • Why do people want to study for a degree?  Far more people go onto higher education than when I left school.  It’s maybe not a politically correct question to ask but do so many people need to go onto University.  When I first started working in a University many of the secretarial/admin staff had not been to University, they had left school and gone into further education and gained an HND or HNC in secretarial studies or office administration.  Nearly 15 years on these posts seem to be nearly all filled by graduates. We keep hearing how so many graduates end up in unskilled jobs and yet we’re also hearing that we have a lack of people with skills.
  • Brings us back again to whether we need to rethink post 18 education and training.  There’s perhaps a role for competency based training but are Universities the place to be delivering this?

There was also big mention of learning analytics – (alongside MOOCs and flipped classroom this seems to be the other big hype in higher education).  I think learning analytics have a lot to offer, having integrated systems that can flag up students who might be struggling would be great , it’s where we’d like to get to in my own institution.  I like the notion of adapted learning and how technology can help support this. BUT in the back of my mind I’m also left thinking whether learning analytics will end up as another means of technology being used to spoon feed our learners when actually what we need to do is be encouraging them to be self-directed and independent learners and helping them to nurture and develop skills for lifelong learning.

I had a brief twitter exchange with Pat Parslow about some of this and I tend to share his fear that all of this talk about how we apply digital and technology to higher education is taking us back to an industrial model that will turn out clones.

Maybe I’m being to pessimistic?! I’ll hopefully get a chance to post some more reflections on discussions around the final session of the day which I think give us much more cause for hope.

Attention & students checking out of the flipped classroom

Following a couple of conversations with students over the past week and reading a few articles in Clinical Teacher and Medical Education I’ve been thinking about attention in lectures and student learning skills.  The picture above isn’t too far removed from the daily view our lecturers see, a sea of MacBooks and laptops, there are growing numbers of iPads and other tablets and some students will be interacting with 2 or 3 devices.  It’s a sight that some teaching staff find disconcerting.  They question what students are really up to, are they paying attention, are they on Facebook, texting their mates?
After being hit by a sea of laptops in a tutorial she was delivering Hannah Beckwith (1) has asked if we’re hitting a wall in teaching undergraduate medical students.  Hannah was taken aback and questioned why students felt the need to have their laptops.
First of all, I found myself asking the question ‘why?’ Why had the students felt it necessary to bring a laptop to the tutorial? Were they scared? Had previous sessions been too interactive, and did they feel the need to place a physical barrier between the ‘interrogator’ and themselves? Or were topics too complex, and learners struggling to keep up? Such that they needed to search the internet during the tutorial to supplement understanding? Or were they bored, and using the time to check e-mails or Facebook, messaging their friends around the globe complaining about their ‘ridiculous timetables’?
I tweeted the link to this and got a couple of responses
If I was a student today I’d be taking my iPad or laptop along to lectures and tutorials in the same way I used to take along a note pad.  I do it at conferences, I take notes, might tweet or Google to look up something that’s been mentioned so I have it saved for future reference. I do however fully accept that there are students who have an issue with attention in lectures and classes and that lecturers may find it off putting not being able to make face contact with students as they are hidden behind laptop screens.

Students switching off in lectures is nothing new, I remember boring lectures where students ended up playing hangman or battle ships or keeping a tally of how many times a lecturer repeated a particular phrase or word. We had some great lecturers and some weren’t so good.  Lectures get a bad press these days because they don’t necessarily promote active learning and higher order thinking, for me lectures provided a framework to build on in my own study time and I’ve referred previously to the fact that students do still get inspired in lectures.  Howard Rheingold has also written extensively about attention and I’ve often thought it would be interesting to replicate what he has done. Videoing a class and then showing them what’s it’s like from the teacher perspective and then showing what the students were doing on their laptops and then running classes where only one or two students are allowed to use a laptop for notes taking for the class.

After MOOCs perhaps one of the other things most talked about is the flipped classroom and there is growing interest in applying this approach where students watch condensed video lectures or engage with pre-reading resources before coming to the class and then applying that knowledge in various learning activities in the lecture session. Whilst appreciating the attraction of this approach, I’ve never really thought it was anything particularly new given that we’ve always had smaller group teaching sessions where students are required to come prepared and engage with pre-class resources.  I know many colleagues get exasperated because many students simply don’t come prepared and so half the session is spent trying to get everyone to the place where they can start to effectively take part in the learning activities they’ve planned.  It was interesting therefore to read a paper by Casey White and colleagues (2) at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and their experience of the flipped classroom in their new curriculum.

Virginia School of Medicine has redeveloped its curriculum to encourage more student engagement and active learning in the classroom based around constructivist and adult learning principles. The flipped classroom was adopted as an approach and there was a hope that this would also address falling attendance at lectures.  Students seemed to like these flipped sessions when they worked well but teaching staff noticed ‘dwindling’ attendance over the course of the phase of the pre-clinical curriculum and a growing issue around student attention with students being distracted from the learning task in hand.  Student evaluation highlighted only 25% of the class regularly attended these sessions and that the sessions varied in quality.

White and her colleagues ran student focus groups to investigate why students weren’t engaging with these flipped classroom sessions (allbeit the groups were volunteers and represented less than 10% of the year group).  Analysis of the discussions highlighted a number of issues including that

  • students did not always appreciate the value of collaborative working
  • some students lacked the skills for self-directed learning
  • some did not have reflective skills
  • others did not have the motivation required for adult learning.

In sessions where students could sit where they wanted they were less prepared as they would typically sit with their friends and would chose their table based on fun rather than who knew their stuff. The session for some served as a ‘social catch-up’ others admitted they watched videos.  There was however a difference in approach to team-based learning sessions where students were assigned into groups, they were more likely to prepare as they were more concerned about appearing stupid.  They also found the sessions more helpful and enjoyable because they were prepared.  Some recognised that sitting with their mates wasn’t always a good move and would switch groups based on the activity.  Students also highlighted the variation in the quality of the activities and their tendency to disengage if they weren’t great.

In terms of student engagement comments included:

More and more people are less and less prepared, that’s why you see a decline in attendance. With the problem sets, if you don’t feel prepared and ready to contribute, your time is better spent [at home] doing your own work.

There are some lectures where the resources are so good – I can read the book and understand everything and I don’t really gain too much from going to the lecture… But if I have read the material and don’t understand it by the time I’ve done the pre-reading, then I’m going to the lecture.

Others mentioned hiding at the back to avoid being called upon an they used the phrase ‘checking out’ to describe being present in body but “intellectually disengaged”.  They outlined how they resisted engaging in learning activities by allowing themselves to become distracted.  Some questioned why there had been away from traditional lectures.

Liz Mossop (3) in her  commentary on this paper in Medical Education titled, ‘The curse of the teenage learner‘, suggests we need to change the learning culture and train students in active learning. In a previous post I considered whether we spoon feed students and consequently don’t help them to develop their learning skills.  This has also been discussed elsewhere such as in this piece in the Times Higher which highlights the need to treat students as independent scholars.  As students are now faced with paying fees the focus seems to be students as consumers, I don’t think this is a helpful move.  It does seem that many students don’t know how to learn independently as so we do perhaps need to consider supporting our students to develop learning skills, but I’m surprised by the comments from the students at Virginia.  In the USA medical students graduates and it’s concerning that they don’t have adult learning skills.
What’s not clear in this paper is what approach the Virginia Medical School actually took in flipping the classroom and what sort of activities were developed and whether there was any assessment associated with the learning.  For example were students using electronic voting systems so that lecturers could address gaps in knowledge and understanding?  Was there any assessment attached to the sessions as is the case in some other implementations of the flipped classroom?
This is obviously just one paper, but I wonder whether others have had similar experiences to Virginia in introducing the flipped classroom?  Maybe these issues can be addressed by better designed sessions and staff development to better prepare and equip teachers for this type of learning  and teaching approach.  Do these sessions work better when linked to assessment – given the good old adage that assessment drives learning?  With growing interest locally in piloting some flipped classroom sessions and similar experiences with falling lecture attendance this paper has certainly sparked my interest to look at what else has been published to determine if there’s a sense of an evidence-based best practice approach to running this.  I’d be interested to hear how others have got on trying out the flipped classroom.
References

Are MOOCs the new evening class?

I see that FutureLearn have published some preliminary data on participation on the first eight of their MOOCs.  They’ve attracted a fair bit of interest with high enrollment rates. I was struck by some of the demographic data they’ve published, which I’ve embedded below.  80% of participants hold a degree or Masters and 70% are over 35 years old.

Are MOOCs really just like the traditional evening classes or adult courses that Universities have been offering their local communities for decades but now thanks to technology accessible to a global community?  Is this the disruption – delivering evening classes online to a global audience rather than an end to higher education as we know it?  I’ve not researched extensively but this preliminary data from FutureLearn seems to be similar to the demographic data emerging from Coursera MOOCs but happy to be be corrected if I’m wrong.

Damian Roland on #NHSChangeDay

bannerEarlier today I had the privilege of chatting to Damian Roland, NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow in Paediatric Emergency Medicine at Leicester University, about NHS Change Day.  Damian is one of the key individuals who has driven forward the NHS Change Day initiative and he kindly agreed to share how the idea emerged and give some examples of pledges and tips on running events to help us at the University of Dundee as we get going with our plans to get involved in this year’s Change Day on 3 March.

We recorded our conversation in a Google Hangout but my video stream was completely out of sync and Damian’s was a bit out in places too resulting in a video that’s a bit strange so I’m posting the audio track of our conversation.

We chatted for about 12 minutes so it’s not too long to listen to.  Damian is really inspiring and I hope some of that inspiration rubs off as you hear him and we can get the word about Change Day locally in Tayside but also across the rest of Scotland.

To keep up with NHS Change Day in Scotland join our Google+ Community and follow @NHSCDScotland on Twitter.

Exploring rhizomatic learning on #rhizo14

A new year, a new MOOC!  Over the next few weeks Dave Cormier is running a cMOOC on rhizomatic learning over on the Peer2Peer University platform.  I’m  hoping to dip in and out of this MOOC as I’m interested in exploring the concept of rhizomatic learning a bit further and particularly in the context of of #FOAMed (Free Open Access Meducation).

I’ve chipped in on conversations on Twitter about FOAMed and the learning theories that might be relevant to this growing movement in medical education. FOAMed is frequently described as a community of practice and it can also be seen as an example of connectivisim. Social networking and media tools like Twitter, blogs, YouTube etc have played a key role in the growth of FOAMed providing open publishing platforms and facilitating connections shaping a new online learning landscape.

In ‘Communities of Practice: Critical perspectives‘, Yrjö Engeström has contributed a chapter ‘From communities of practice to Mycorrhizae‘ in which he considers the social production of learning as a new landscape of learning. Engeström presents a framework for conceptualising this landscape where runaway objects are created, which have the potential to gain a global scale of influence. These are then exchanged, negotiated and peer reviewed in a learning  environment that is highly expansive, multidirectional and has a swarming type of engagement, which he describes as being like ‘mycorrhizae’.  I think his framework does describe how I see FOAMed.  Engeström had considered rhizomatic learning as a framework but felt the horizontal and vertical rhizomatic connections too limiting.

I’ve been mulling over this off and on for a few months and so hoping that whilst the rhizomatic learning MOOC is running I’ll be able to give a bit more time to exploring these ways of viewing learning further. Against the backdrop of this MOOC I’m also continuing to think about our students’ learning literacies including their digital literacy skills. Reading Ronan Kavanagh’s blog post last week ‘How Twitter cured my mid-life crisis‘ highlighted yet again how differently our students view Twitter.  We’ve used Twitter to support our teaching in public health but the majority of students don’t seem to really like using it or see the point of using it to support their learning.  Those that do get it put it to good use and seem to reap the benefits.  We’re looking at other ways to try and engage students with all of this and make them aware of the potential but maybe we’re flogging a dead horse … or maybe they won’t get it till they’re middle aged!

Further reading

Rhizomatic learning – Why we teach? by Dave Cormier

Mycorrhizal networks and learning by David WIley