MOCCs, getting my first open badge, feedback & the NSS

Student Work and Teacher Feedback by Ken Whytock, on Flickr
One of the articles that caught my attention on Zite this morning  was ‘Four Good Reasons Why Students Need Instructor Feedback in Online Courses‘ by Debbie Morrison. In her post Debbie spells out why she doesn’t think MOOCs cut it for students entering higher education straight from school and particularly in relation to feedback.  This got me thinking about the National Student Survey and the fact that feedback is the criteria that universities typically score the lowest on.  If there was an NSS equivalent for MOOCs how well would Coursera, edX and Udacity score on feedback?
The 2012 NSS did show some improvement in the assessment and feedback category but there is still room for improvement. Whilst students welcome and value feedback from their peers what they really want is feedback from their teachers. On MOOCs with thousands of students it’s pretty much impossible to provide feedback to individual  students and so Debbie questions their role and suitability for school leavers entering higher education. She writes:
College students benefit greatly from instructor feedback, including when it’s provided in a small online learning community where interaction exists between students and instructor and students and students. In a Massive Open Online Course, [or even a F2F class of 100+ students]  it’s impossible to provide the required learning conditions for this type of interaction. It worries me that colleges and universities appear to be moving towards the MOOC model for delivering some or all courses (as in the case of SUNY or California’s public higher education institutions); courses that don’t provide for a student-to-instructor ratio that supports personalized learning. The MOOC model cannot provide the type of learning experiences needed for freshman or junior college students that is required for courses that include writing composition, communications, literature analysis, and other humanities courses. One could even argue that this is the case for some courses in math and sciences. Though I am an advocate of MOOCs, since they provide an excellent learning experience in numerous circumstances, the model which relies on the premise of massive, is not an effective one for every learner in every learning situation.
On xMOOCs it’s peer feedback that plays an important part of the learning dialogue and the posts that I’ve written on my blog whilst participating in the #h817open MOOC have generated comments here and discussion on the MOOC G+ community or on Twitter, which have made me think further.  This has all been good and helpful, however somewhat ironically, my last blog post on issues with OERs, which I submitted for an open badge didn’t get any comments (maybe it was just too long!).  So I received my first open badge (the badges were one of the reasons for doing this MOOC), I felt chuffed but I was also left thinking what did the individual who’d assessed my work and awarded me the badge actually think of what I’d written? An xMOOC is open and it’s free, so I wasn’t expecting feedback, but it did leave me wondering how a typical university student would feel not receiving feedback and reading Debbie Morrison’s post this morning I tend to agree that the lack of individual feedback in MOOCs is an issue. I have a badge on OER understanding but what was it about my evidence that meant I got the badge.  What does the badge actually say about my level of understanding.  I wonder if we need to have specific details of what’s required to be awarded an open badge to give it more meaning and context?
I’ve been thinking about how we might use open badges in medical education and have some ideas of where I could possibly introduce them in my own work.  The experience of getting my first open badge has given me food for thought about making the criteria for a badge explicit and involving some level of feedback.  So even though I didn’t get any personal feedback reflecting on this has been a useful learning experience for me.
I’d be interested to know what others, including my fellow #h817open MOOCers think about open badges and feedback.
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  Ken Whytock 

Issues with OERs: Leadership, reusability and students

On the #h817open MOOC we’ve been asked to consider some of the issues around OERs based on reading 3 articles from a list of suggested readings. I’m meant to pen around 500 words on what I see as three key issues for OER and how these are being addressed, but I think I’ll end up going over the suggested word count.

The articles I chose to read were:

  1. Atkins, Daniel Ewell, John Seely Brown, and Allen L. Hammond. A review of the open educational resources (OER) movement: Achievements, challenges, and new opportunities. Creative common, 2007.
  2. D’Antoni, Susan. Open Educational Resources: The way forward: Deliberations of an international community of interest. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2008.
  3. Hatakka, Mathias. “Build it and they will come?–Inhibiting factors for reuse of open content in developing countries.” The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries 37 (2009).

The three issues I’ve decided to highlight are

  • institutional leadership and strategy
  • reusability and
  • student involvement in developing OERs.

which have some overlap with the three priorities I’d identified as research priorities for OER.

Leadership and institutional strategy Atkins et al highlight that there is a challenge in institutions buying into OER and D’Antoni outlined the role that faculty can play in incentivising the development of OERs and the need for institutional leadership and support for OERs. Perhaps buy-in to the whole OER philosophy is more widespread amongst those institutions that have received funding for OER projects. Sometimes, however, I wonder what the motivation was in applying for OER funding? Was it driven by high level institutional buy-in on OERs or was it seen as a way to fund development of online material to support local curricula. But maybe I’m being unduly cynical! Back in 2011 the HEFCE Online Learning Taskforce published it’s report Collaborate to Complete. It recommended that institutions need to take a strategic approach to online learning and realign structures and processes to embed it. It said

Institutions and organisations need to invest in learning, and leadership and vision at the highest level is required to bring a step-change.  Such changes will not occur rapidly enough without effective organisational structures and processes.  Online learning is a strategic issue, not a simple, bolt-on option.

Whilst this recommendation relates to online learning generally rather an OERs specifically, it would be interesting to see how many universities have responded to it.  With all steady stream of hype around MOOCs have they become the focus of attention at senior levels in universities at the expense of OERs?

personally I’d like to see more defined policies developed around OERs in institutions and to see rewards in place for staff who create high quality open resources and see them getting recognition in the same way that researchers do.


The article by D’Antoni mentions that if there is little or no awareness of OER availability then these resources can’t be exploited.  In some respects this links to institutional policies and strategy, if these don’t exist then how many staff are aware of OERs?  In my experience many staff aren’t aware of copyright issues around the reuse of online images let alone OERs and creative commons licences.

There are a number of issues that impact on the reusability of OERs.  For some academics there’s the ‘not invented here syndrome’, which hinders engagement with OERs and reuse or as Hatakka says simply a preference to develop local content.  There can also be issues or concerns about quality of OERs and where this relates to factual accuracy this is understandable.  In a field such as medical education, in which I work, the age of the OER can also be issue.  The resources we develop are subject to annual review and updated to reflect new clinical guidelines, and drug treatments. Do OERs have the same review cycle and include a detailed revision history documenting changes? Some of the issues around quality can also be very subjective and even trivial, such as not liking a particular colour scheme.

A more significant issue that limits reusability is context and this is particularly the case with large OERs.  This issue of context is raised in the articles by Atkins et al and Hatakka and again has relevance in medical education. Different countries have different healthcare systems, drug names, even within countries there are local clinical guidelines, national guidelines and differences in the NHS between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These issues are particularly significant when reusing content in developing nations.  Funding the development of medical education OERs in the developed world may seem well-intentioned, however this funding could perhaps be better invested in supporting medical schools in developing countries to develop resources based on local expertise and knowledge. Students undertaking electives in developing countries might also be encouraged to develop OERs that could help prepare others for their electives and the situations they may face.  Focussing development in the developing world would also help to develop resources for modes of delivery that are most accessible, in many African nations this would be for mobile devices.

Even with little OERs reusability can be an issue and this was something I witnessed when I was seconded to an academic collaboration called IVIMEDS – the International Virtual Medical School (Harden & Hart 2002).  IVIMEDS involved medical schools from around the world and started off with great ambitions.  These weren’t realised, in some ways some of the ideas were ahead of their time but there were also other issues which are shared by the OER movement.  One of the principles on which IVIMEDS ran was the idea of collaboration and sharing reusable learning objects (RLOs).  Medical Schools paid a membership subscription to be part of the IVIMEDS club and access a repository of RLOs. There was limited engagement with the big OERs developed here but more with the little OERs which were videos, medical illustrations and Flash animations explaining concepts and principles. Whilst these were used, there were frequent requests for the original Flash files as individuals wanted to edit and tweak these RLOs.  I think the ability to modify an OER may therefore also affect its reusability.  Many OERs are developed using locally developed technologies or proprietary tools eg Flash, Articulate, which not everyone has ready access to.  This was one of the reasons that IVIMEDS went on to develop Riverside a rapid content authoring tool so that content created by members could be modified and reused by other members.  There are also open source tools like Xerte developed by the University of Nottingham which may help to make content more reusable.  Open source content development tools would need to be a key component of the open participatory learning infrastructure proposed by Harris et al.

Finally in relation to reusability there is the role of Web 2.0 and social software, which may help to increase the reuse particuarly of little OERs.  Social media tools which support the curation and sharing of content, eg Scoop.it, Tumblr, Google+ and blogs can be used by teachers to provide context and narrative around OERs linking them to local curricula and used to signpost students to learning opportunities.  There is growing use of and engagement with Web 2.0 in higher education and this may lead to greater discoverability and reuse of OERs.

Student involvement in developing OERs

In the review of the OER movement by Atkins et al, the issue of sustainability of the movement is raised. One of the approaches to sustainability that they suggest should be explored is the involvement of students in “creating, enhancing and adopting OER”.  They propose an “OER Corps” where students could receive some training, recognition and some funding to facilitate their involvement in the creation of learning resources.  They feel that students could particularly play a role in developing content for disadvantaged communities and the developing world.

I think this suggestion could be taken further and the development of OERs could be embedded into courses and form new forms of assessment.  Do we always need to ask students to write an essay to demonstrate their understanding of a topic, could they create a video or some other type of resource.  This year in our 4th year dermatology clinical attachment students have been asked to work in groups and create a 5 minute video on a topic from a list of topics relating to dermatology.  They’ve also been asked to write some MCQs to go with the video, some open questions and provide links to additional resources for further reference. The initial reaction to this task has been a bit of a sigh but all the groups have really enjoyed working on these projects, their reflective pieces have highlighted how much they’ve enjoyed the task and how much more they have learnt because they’ve had to effectively teach a topic.  The quality of the videos has generally been excellent and it’s interesting to see the students also comment that they feel it’s been worthwhile because their work will benefit other students in their learning.  Essays are written never to be looked at again, but these videos will be looked at by other students both locally and wider afield where they’ve been posted to YouTube.

Involving students in the development of OERs is something I would like to see nurtured and developed further.  As I mentioned in my previous posts I think there are additional benefits to be gained for students around employability.

I’m well over the suggested 500 words, hopefully that won’t count against me when I submit this for my first badge!

Additional references

Harden, R. M., and I. R. Hart. “An international virtual medical school (IVIMEDS): the future for medical education?.” Medical Teacher 24.3 (2002): 261-267.

Research priorities for OERs #h817open

One of the tasks we’ve been asked to do on the #h817open MOOC is consider the research priorities around open education and OERs.

The preamble to the activity says:

Much of the research around open education has been derived from the OER movement. A number of key questions have arisen, which can apply to most aspects of open education, including:

  • Sustainability – many OER projects have received initial funding from organisations such as the Hewlett Foundation. How sustainable are they after the funding stops?
  • Pedagogy – are different ways of teaching required to make effective use of open education?
  • Barriers to uptake – what prevents individuals or institutions from either using or engaging with open education?
  • Learner support – how can learners best be supported in these open models?
  • Technology – what technologies are best suited to open approaches?
  • Quality – how can we assure the quality of open educational content?
  • Rights – how do we protect the intellectual property of individuals while encouraging wide distribution?

A number of my fellow MOOCers have already idenified sustainability, quality, learner support and accreditation as issues that need to be researched further.

My immediate thought on the issue of sustainability is why is there the view that funding from the likes of JISC, and the Hewlett Foundation required to make OER and open education sustainable?  Isn’t the whole OER movement about a culture of sharing?  I shared a previous post on my musings on UKOER and whether it had been value for money to the MOOC’s G+ community and in the discussion that followed I added:

…, I wonder whether the research focus in our institutions means that openness in teaching and learning just aren’t given the same air space or priority.  Many institutions have invested time and effort into developing their research repositories how many have done similarly with their teaching resources.  Most are hidden away in the bowels of institutional VLEs, and I suspect many are PowerPoint files.
Clear policies on OERs and highlighting their possible role for teachers to gain wider schoalrly recognition for their teaching which could support promotion would perhaps be a welcome step in the right direction. …

I’d be interested to hear what others think of this.

Focussing back on the task, what do I think are the priorities for research? Here’s my tuppance worth:

  1. Institutional strategy, policy and culture: I’d like to see some research done in the UK looking at what policies are in place in universities surrounding OERs and staff engagament in applying technology to their teaching.  Other than the OU, the University of Nottingham always springs to mind when I think of  institutions that support open education, with it’s open learning repository, presence on YouTube and iTunesU etc.  Are there others doing the same?  It was a bit disheartening to read on the OER13 conference blog that whilst De Montfort University includes OER in its institutional teaching and learning strategy, senior executives could not name any major instituional OER projects!What are institutional strategies around promoting and sharing OERs and not just outwith the instituiton but also on the inside too.  How many institutions support scholarly recognition for staff developing and sharing high quality OERs and include these in promotion criteria. In medicine there is lots of talk of evidence based practice.  What can we learn by looking at institutions that seem to be getting open education right, what mistakes can we avoid. Can we adopt an evidence based approach to to help equip those who want to become agents of change to facilitate change in their instituions.Linked to this is also the question of whether focussing on institutions is the best way to promote OERs and sharing.  Is there more chance of success when the drive for openness and sharing comes from a community as is being evidenced in medicine with the emergence of the free open access meducation (#FOAMed) movement.
  2. Methods of distribution and access: Traditionally we’ve had learning repositories that have stored OERs, so for example Jorum in the UK, in the US in medical education, the field that I’m involved in, there is MedEdPORTAL.  Are these the best places to share OERs or are social media sites like YouTube, Vimeo and blogs better ways of sharing OERs?  I’ve read some work on this recently published in Academic Medicine (1) which indicates that YouTube proved a much more effective way of sharing open video content.  Linked to this is the whole issue of usability which I think is key to reusability and something I’ve also mulled on before.
  3. Student engagement: Some of the sessions at the OER13 meeting also seemed to indicate that whilst some students were creating learning resources there was some reluctance to share these openly and particularly with individuals who weren’t fee paying students. Again in medical education there seems to be a slightly different view, and my own students are keen to develop resources that they can share as OERs or #FOAMed resources and see that they learn so much from the process of developing resources, including skills in interprofessional working, team work, communication and digital literacy.  In relation to this it would be interesting to see if involving students in the development of OERs helps to improve their employability and is an effective way of developing 21st century learning skills.


(1) Topps, David, Joyce Helmer, and Rachel Ellaway. “YouTube as a Platform for Publishing Clinical Skills Training Videos.” Academic Medicine 88.2 (2013): 192-197.

Education & the information revolution: 25 years on is anyone listening?


This weekend I happened to come across a copy of this book, Open Learning in Transition – An Agenda for Action edited by Nigel Paine.  Published in 1988 it includes a series of articles that give an overview of open learning and future trends as well as some history around the formation of the National Extension College, analysis of open learning methods and action for the future.

With all the talk of MOOCs and the future of education, it’s interesting to read something that was published 25 years ago and reflect on whether messages being proclaimed back then were listened to and taken on board.  One of the articles that I’ve read so far ‘Education and the information revolution’, was written by Shirley Williams in which she considers the role of the teacher.  She says:

… Teaching in schools has mainly consisted of imparting information, much of it to be memorised by the pupil.  But information technology provides a prodigious capacity to memorise facts, and can provide up-to-date factual information on virtually any subject at the touch of a keypad.  So spending a great deal of education time on learning facts is wasteful.  That does not make the teacher’s role less important, but it does alter it fundamentally.  It is the tutorial role that matters now, exploring, assisting and inspiring discussion among pupils, not the role of the instructor.  Such teaching is more demanding, but also much more fulfilling.  The emphasis in examinations too must change, as it is beginning to do, away from regurgitation of factual information in a limited number of subjects, towards a broader foundation of knowledge, covering both the sciences and the arts, in which the pupil’s creative and critical faculties are developed. …

Fast forward 25 years and this was what I read in Times this morning was, ‘Who needs facts when our pupils can Google, say teachers’.

Times_newsThis piece reports on teachers having a go at Michael Gove’s new school curriculum for placing far too much emphasis on ‘hard facts’.  This is a view echoed by 100 educational academics who’ve recently written to newspapers highlighting the dangers of the new national curriculum proposals and how it could damage educational standards. Both pieces highlight, as William’s does, the need to develop creativity and critical thinking.

I think there’s a balance to be had in all of this, but I do agree with the need to develop creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills, I think these are essential.  25 years ago people were talking about the information revolution whilst it was in its embryonic stages.  We’re now living in the midst of it and the knowledge economy is a reality, but  has our educational system grasped how it needs to change so that we can equip young people with the skills and passion to be lifelong learners?  It’s somewhat heart sinking to see that 25 years on our educational system hasn’t fundamentally changed and it continues to be so driven by assessment and tests. With all the current talk of open education and MOOCs are we preparing our students for open lifelong learning?

Trying another MOOC: Open education #h817open

openness connection by psd, on FlickrWith work being very busy my best efforts to try and participate in the EDCMOOC didn’t really go to plan and I only managed to watch a few of the YouTube videos in week 1 and didn’t have time to catch up.  I’ve had a similar experience with the MIT MOOC on Learning Creative Learning, engaged for the first couple of weeks but then dropped off again through generally being busy and away.  So maybe it’s crazy to have signed up for another MOOC, but I have.  This time it’s the Open University MOOC on Open Education #h817open.So why I have signed up for another MOOC?  In part this MOOC appealed to me because there’s the possibility of earning open badges for some of the learning activities.  Badges are something I’m keen to explore further in relation to my own work with students and their involvement as producers of learning resources.  I’m also interested in adopting a MOOC type approach to delivering staff development around technology enhanced learning and so experience of another MOOC is helpful.  Even just dabbling and lurking in some MOOCs has been worthwhile and the MOOC I did complete on Google Power Searching has proved very useful. I’m hoping that I can last the course this time and earn my #h187open badges!

I’m off to a reasonable start and have completed one of the first week’s tasks, creating a visual representation of the key concepts of openness in education as we see them.  My approach to this has been to think about what open education means to me and its impact on me as a teacher and a learner.  Personally I feel that open education has opened up new opportunties to connect with people and learn from their experience as they’ve shared what’s worked and what hasn’t.  It’s challenged me to see things in new ways, to try out new things, it’s inspired me.  I’ve connected with people I would otherwise never have met and had opportunities to work and collaborate with them that wouldn’t previously have been possible.  This has been facilitated by technology but ultimately this isn’t about technology but about the individuals who’ve chosen to share and be open scholars.

I created my visual artefact in Haiku Deck on my iPad and unfortunately I can’t embed it on a worpress.com blog so  you’ll have to follow the link below to see what it looks like!


Image credit
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  psd