Highlights and food for thought from #AMEE2016

Following the example set by Andrew Coggins who shared his pearls from AMEE 2016 here are some of my AMEE highlights and the things that have left me with food for thought.

AMEE in Barcelona was busy for me as I was involved in running several workshops and I didn’t get chance to get along to all the sessions I would have liked to.  A common issue that springs up at AMEE most years is that there are often several sessions running at the same time that you’d like to get along to, this was the case again and I was sorry not to get along to the short communications on self-regulation and self-efficacy and also on learning theory. That said there were sessions that I did get along to and the Twitter stream let you keep an eye on what else was being presented and discussed around the conference.

The opening plenary this year was delivered by Graham Brown-Martin, founder of Learning Without Frontiers who’s travelled extensively looking at schools and education and published Learning Reimagined.  Whilst the focus of Graham’s talk was education in the school sector I felt many of the points he talked about had relevance to the higher education context where medical schools sit.  We heard from Seth Godin during the talk who highlighted that schools are producing students who can do well in the test rather than students who can problem solve and innovate as well as lead.  What struck me was the impact our school system has on shaping the future students entering medical school and in turn future doctors.  Typically medical students are fixated on what’s going to be in the exam and our medical curriucla don’t generally focus on developing creativity and innovation in students. Yet there are growing challenges which our graduates will have to grapple with and problems that need to be addressed eg. around caring for ageing populations, antibiotic resistance and how to improve the design of our health services.  Graham highlighted how schools need to equip children with the knowledge and skills to reimagine society, to meet the challenges of their generation.  Surely this is true for medical education too?

The tendency for technology to be used to perpetuate old approaches to learning based on information transmission was raised and the fact that teaching should not be seen as a delivery system like FedEx was well made.   It was refreshing to hear reference to Paulo Friere and critical pedagogy, an approach one doesn’t hear much about in medical education.  The notion of the teacher as an artist crafting learning situations for students was also mentioned, which resonated with John Sandars’ comments in our pre-conference workshop on developing blended learning approaches earlier in the day.

Graham also made reference to Seymour Papert and constructionisim – learning as a reconstruction rather than transmission.  This is an approach I’ve adopted in an SSC we run – The Doctor as Digital Teacher – where creativity is very much the focus as students create a digital learning resource.  My take home from Graham’s plenary was that we need to be doing more to foster and nurture the creativity of our students in medicine.  Locally we’ve been developing links with our design school and I wonder if we will start to see more medical schools doing similar.  I’ve been particularly struck by the approach that the new Dell Medical School in Texas which is” including a leadership-focused year of self-directed study, a team-based curriculum, and a first-of-its-kind Design Institute for Health, a joint collaboration between the Dell Medical School and the College of Fine Arts, developed to apply design thinking to health care challenges and innovation”. Perhaps this is a theme we might see more of in future AMEE meetings.  You can catch up with more from the plenary on the Storify of the tweets that Graham Brown-Martin has published.

My next AMEE highlight was the Barcamp which ran on Monday afternoon.  The Barcamp was a new concept for AMEE and it ran across two workshop slots with a focus on technology and informal learning and it proved a rich learning experience on a number of different levels.

The key feature of a Barcamp is the participation of all participants and everyone was invited to suggest topics, questions, or outline problems that they wanted to explore and discuss.  The atmosphere was relaxed and informal and there was no shortage of suggestions for us to consider.

The topics were narrowed down as everyone casted their allocated three votes and very quickly about 14 issues were selected and scheduled in to a series of 4 discussion sessions.  With a wide range of participants from different continents and working in different medical education contexts we explored topics such as design-based research, the use of social media in learning, recording infromal learning and analytics, addressing the challenges of rigid IT cultures in delivering medical education.  The conversation was rich and thought provoking and I think we all learned from each other’s experiences and collective wisdom.  I left the session reminded of Alvin Tofler’s quote that, ‘the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. I felt that the Barcamp helped me in that process of unlearning and relearning some approaches to tackle issues around culture in my organisation.

Learn Unlearn Relearn

Everyone had a take home message from the BarCamp and I think the one from Laura Bowater is one that many of us would echo, the session gave us time to think, something we have precious little time for in our day to day work.

The Barcamp session was run by the Learning Layers project team who as part of an EU funded project have been looking at supporting informal learning in the workplace.  The team have also been  developing a toolkit and new app the Learning Toolbox which allows you to create learning stacks and share them with your students/trainees.  I think the toolbox has great potential and I’m hoping to explore how we might be able to try it out in a number of contexts back in Dundee and not just in medical education. I’m also seeing lots of potential to reuse the Barcamp format in teaching, curriculum development sessions and also as a precursor to a health and social care design hack that we’re planning to run.

The last thing to mention about the BarCamp were the Joy cards which were shared to acknowledge infromal learning.

A number of us received these cards and I’m looking forward to passing on mine to on.  The idea behind the Joy cards is that you can record receiving one online with details of who gave it to you and why and where and then over time you can follow the journey of the card.  This is such a simple but effective idea and again it’s something which could be adopted more widely in medical education.  It was encouraging to receive one and in many ways it reminded me of the wonderful #FOAMed cards that a good number of us have received anonymously through the post.

Talking of #FOAMed as Andrew Coggins has mentioned in his post there was little mention of it in any of the sessions and it didn’t feature as much as it has in previous years in the Twitter stream.  For those unfamiliar with FOAMed it stands for free open access meducation and was coined as a concept at ICEM in Dublin in 2012.  FOAMed has been adopted as a hashtag in social media spaces across different medical specialties with particularly strong representation in emergency medicine and critical care as well as radiology and paediatrics.  Social media channels have effectively supported the development of a community of practice and learning collectives around FOAMed and medical education more generally.  This illustration from Tanmay Vora on conversation and sharing as the currency of social community nicely sums of the essence of how I see the FOAMed community works.

I mention all of this beacuse FOAMed is very much a conversation and I think one of the areas that AMEE hasn’t quite cracked is how to keep the momentum on discussions beyond the physical conference and extend the community into the virtual space.  Maintaining those conversations would be particularly helpful to the ‘Point of View’ sessions, which were a welcome addition to this year’s AMEE, and a big shout out to Laura Bowater who outlined the need to reframe the antibiotic resistance crisis and address it in our curricula.  In the same session was a point of view from Anita Ho from Singapore touching on digital professionalism and the need for positve role models against a backdrop of medics being strangers in a strange land when it comes to online spaces.  This for me acentuated the ongoing apparent lack of awareness of FOAMed in the wider medical education community and the countless positive role models there are in the digital landscape invovled in FOAMed and beyond.  It would be good to see AMEE conisder giving plenary stage time to one of the well established names in the FOAMed MedEd community.

Moving onto interprofessional learning (IPL) there were some super short communications in session #8O.  The importance of authenticity in IPL was highlighted by Tineke Westerveld and the presentation by Brazilian medical student Daniel de Oliveira outlining how medical and other health care students work as part of the clinical team in a heart failure clinic proved a great example of authentic learning.  Daniel framed the students’ learning in the context of a community of practice and situated learning and urged the audience to include students as part of clinical teams so that they are emmersed in authentic learning.  His plea resonated with what I hear many of our students say about IPL, they are always quick to highlight that they will be working in teams with other healthcare professionals yet their expereince of IPL so often seems contrived and unauthentic.

Lessons for interprofessional learning

A last highlight to share was Seán MacPherson, the singing haematologist from Otago Medical School, teaching haematology through catchy songs.  The example below is a song about anaemia.

Whilst Seán didn’t have hard evidence of the effectiveness of learning medicine through catchy songs the anecdotal indications were that students found them useful way to remember key information and on the VT they mentioned sitting in exams and singing through his songs to recall information.  Seán drew parallels with those annoying jingles from adverts that we can’t get out of our heads and we know all the words to.  To prove the case he started a rendition of the Shake n Vac and I have to confess I was one of the many that could join in word for word!!

So that wraps up another AMEE.  As always it was great to network and meet up with old friends and colleagues as well as to meet and make new friends.  I’m looking forward to following up on some of the conversations and to hopefully catching up with others again next year.

Anyone going to follow Clay Shirky & ask students to put laptops away?

Not Allowed!

Not Allowed! By My Sideways World on Flickr

Back in February I blogged about attention and and whether students were checking out of the flipped classroom.   In the post I mentioned the work Howard Rheingold has done around attention literacy and videoing one of his classes and then subsequently only allowing one or two students to take notes on laptops in his classes.

Several months on I continue to mull over these issues and so probably no surprise that a tweet linking to a piece on Medium from Clay Shirky outlining why he’s asked his students to stop using laptops and mobile devices in his classes caught my attention.  Shirky has banned the use of laptops in class unless they are required and in the piece he explains his rationale.  He says:

Over the years, I’ve noticed that when I do have a specific reason to ask everyone to set aside their devices (‘Lids down’, in the parlance of my department), it’s as if someone has let fresh air into the room. The conversation brightens, and more recently, there is a sense of relief from many of the students. Multi-tasking is cognitively exhausting — when we do it by choice, being asked to stop can come as a welcome change.

So this year, I moved from recommending setting aside laptops and phones to requiring it, adding this to the class rules: “Stay focused. (No devices in class, unless the assignment requires it.)”

Shirky goes on to outline the problems with multi-tasking, including the long term negative impact it can have on declarative memory.  He says:

People often start multi-tasking because they believe it will help them get more done. Those gains never materialize; instead, efficiency is degraded. However, it provides emotional gratification as a side-effect. (Multi-tasking moves the pleasure of procrastination inside the period of work.) This side-effect is enough to keep people committed to multi-tasking despite worsening the very thing they set out to improve.

On top of this, multi-tasking doesn’t even exercise task-switching as a skill. A study from Stanford reports that heavy multi-taskers are worse at choosing which task to focus on. (“They are suckers for irrelevancy”, as Cliff Nass, one of the researchers put it.) Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption.

Shirky doesn’t say how his students have taken to this laptop ban though he does highlight that some students will opt of paying attention anyway (something which has always happened anyway even in the days when we didn’t laptops).

Has Shirky been too radical? It would be interesting to hear what lecturers and students think about banning laptops.  Is anyone else thinking of banning laptops or already done it.  How has that gone down with students.


Summary of #amee2014 symposium on the importance of educational theories

Last week I was at the annual AMEE conference, which is probably the largest international conference in medical education attracting delegates from across the health care professions and the continuum of education.  It also has a reasonable amount of engagement from students and it was great to see so many students presenting both posters and short oral communications.  I’m hoping to write a few posts following on from last week and this one is the first in the series with some notes on the symposium I took part in on ‘Creating effective learning with new technology in the 21st century: the importance of educational theories’.  Here’s the abstract for the session:

There is an increasing variety of technology available to the 21st medical educator, from social media (such as Twitter and You Tube) facilitating free open access education (FOAMed) to large knowledge repositories and simulations to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The challenge for all medical educators is to resist the temptation of adopting the latest technology without considering how the technology can be used to facilitate effective learning. This symposium will offer participants a range of established and newer educational theories, from multimedia design and deliberate practice to ecology of learning and connectivism, and illustrate how these theories can critically inform the use of technology to create effective personal and collaborative learning. Participants will have the opportunity to consider the extent to which they currently use theory to create learning opportunities with technology and to explore how they can produce innovative learning with technology by the use of newer theories.

John Sandars, Director of Research at the School of Medicine, University of Sheffield chaired and introduced the symposium and started off by sharing Jean Marc Cote’s vision of a 21st century school from 1901.  John went on to outline the importance of the role of the instructor (a theme which was revisited in the discussion) and the need to think about both educational philosophy and theories when designing an instructional approach.

France in XXI Century. School.jpg
France in XXI Century. School” by Jean Marc Cote (if 1901) or Villemard (if 1910)
http://publicdomainreview.org/2012/06/30/france-in-the-year-2000-1899-1910/ – A reproduction of the early 20th century, scan / Репродукция, скан бумажной карточки. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

John went on to introduce the four co-presenters in the sympoisum and the topics we’d be covering.   First up was Pat Kokatailo, Professor Of Paediatrics at the University of Wisconsin who looked at ‘What type of learner do I want?‘  Pat focused on John Dewey and his core beliefs of the teacher as a facilitator or guide, presenting content in a way which enabled the student to relate to prior experience and engage in active inquiry based learning. She went on to detail how Dewey had informed Flexner and him advocating small group and hands on teaching and how this in turn informed Schon’s reflective practice. Pat went on to talk about what kind of learners we want in medical education, a theme picked up in my presentation and we both highlighted the need for students to develop into independent life long learners who were active and inquisitive and knew where to find information.  The role of technology was then considered in how it could be used to develop inquiry by designing activities that encouraged self-direction, promoted interactive activities that also provided feedback to students.

Next up was Goh Poh Sun from Yong Loo Lee School of Medicine in Singapore who presented on ‘Designing effective individual learning’. You can take a look at Poh Sun’s presentation on his Designing effective individual learning blog and the further resources he’s posted on Padlet.  One of the themes of Poh Sun’s talk was cognitive load and multimedia learning theories which Richard Mayer has written about extensively.

I then went on to my slot where the focus was on social learning and you can take a look at my slides below.

My main focus was on communities of practice, networked learning and connectivism. There are clearly others such as Bandura’s social learning theory but there’s only so much you can say in 10 minutes. These theories are inter-related and can be used  as lenses to gain perspectives on social learning and help develop frameworks to support the design of social learning activities.

Finally Rakesh Patel of the School of Medicine, University of Leicester went to provide a helpful overview of Emergent theories for effective learning. Rakesh’s focus was learning in the clinical and work-based setting and he emphasised the need to prepare our learners for the fast-paced and ever changing workplace that they will practise in.  The importance of developing and being able to assess clinical reasoning skills was highlighted and the role that technology might play n helping to identify gaps in student knowledge as well as supporting feedback.

The educational theories outlined by Dewey, Vygotsky, Mayer, Lave and Wenger seemed to weave together through the presentations and it’s clear to see their relevance when designing effective learning with technology.  What was clear from the 45 minutes of discussion is the need to explore these further and develop frameworks to support the design of effective learning approaches.  Too often our use of technology in learning and teaching has been technology lead, we’ve learned about a new technology and want to use it rather than thinking about what our students need to learn, what skills we want them to develop and how that can best be achieved.  The importance of the teacher came through time and time again from the audience and it’s we that need to be the agents of change.  With that in mind I’d recommend having a look at this paper by Kirkwood and Price ‘Missing: evidence of a scholarly approach to teaching and learning with technology in higher education‘.

You can gain a further insight into the session by checking out the Storify  which includes links to resources and live tweets from the Symposium just click the link below.

View Storify #AMEE2014 Creating effective learning with new technology in the 21st century




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.

#ukmeded chat: MOOCs the future of medical education?

Moocs-mededT`onight’s #ukmeded Twitter chat is going to look at MOOCs and their potential role in the future of medical education.  In prepartion for the chat, this post provides a very brief introduction to MOOCs and sets out a few questions and points to think about that we can hopefully discuss and follow-up on the chat.

If you spend time on Twitter and you’re involved in education there’s literally no escape from the constant mention of MOOCs – massive open online courses.  MOOCs have been around for several years and the early MOOCs pioneered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes were designed around a connectivist approach to learning. This video from Dave Cormier gives an overview of how these early MOOCs operate.

Over the past 18 months the hype around MOOCs has been gathering pace as universities such as Stanford and MIT have started to run MOOCs.  Stanford had planned to run a clinical anatomy MOOC in March 2012, but this never materialised.  What did emerge though was three MOOC providers, Coursera, Udacity and edX with ambitious plans to run MOOCs across a range of subjects taught in higher education.  Universities have joined these MOOC providers and there’s a growing range of courses available.  Tens of thousands of individuals are signing up for MOOCs, and whilst not everyone is completing significant numbers are though they don’t generally receive any formal accreditation for completing the MOOC.  The MOOCs run by Coursera, Udacity and edX have become known as xMOOCs whilst those run with a more connectivity approach are labelled cMOOCs.

xMOOCs typically are built around 10-15 minute video lectures, discussion boards and different learning activities such as online quizzes or written work which might be marked by other students enrolled on the MOOC. Online learning is already widely used in medical education and so it’s no surprise that growing numbers of medical courses are being offered as MOOCs by Coursera and a piece in the BMJ a couple of weeks asked Are MOOCs the future of medical education? This is what we’ll consider in the #ukmeded chat on Thursday 9 May at 9pm (UK time).

There are lost of things we could discuss, but here a few points to start us off.

  • Will medical students in the future be able to study elements of their degree online via MOOCs?  Whilst medical students will need to be attached to a medical school or hospital for the clinical aspects of their training could the early years of a medical undergraduate curriculum be studied via MOOCs.  Could students pick and mix MOOCs from different medical schools?  How would learning on MOOCs from different universities and different countries be validated given that medical degrees are accredited and quality assured by regulatory organisations like the GMC.
  • Do MOOCs lend themselves more as a way of increasing options for student selected components or special study modules?
  • Could the cMOOC approach support more creative ways of teaching around topics like digital literacy skills, ethics, public health and global health, connecting students from different countries and cultures?
  • Are MOOCs more appropriate in terms of supporting continuing medical education and lifelong learning? Medicine is changing fast and MOOCs could be one way to support doctors keeping up to date.
  • What about #FOAMed?  The piece in the BMJ makes no mention of the growing #FOAMEd movement or connectivist MOOCs, do these have the potential to become more significant in medical education than the mega xMOOCs.

Tonight’s #ukmeded chat kicks off at 21.00hrs UK time.  The chat is open to anyone, you don’t have to be a doctor or medical student to take part or be based in the UK  so please feel free to join in the conversation.


All the tweets from this #ukmeded chat have been curated and you can read them in the PDF file linked below.

#ukmeded chat – Thurs 9 May transcript on MOOCs via Symplur

xMOOCopoly: Will this end in the Wal-Martification of higher education

Recently I’ve been mulling over a comment made by Sebastain Thrun, founder of Udacity, in a piece in Wired last year that in 50 years time there will only be 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education.  I find Thrun’s vision for the future of higher education a bit depressing and if it proves to materialise I wonder what the economic and social impact on our communities will be, how will it affect the overall quality of education and the level of choice.

Whilst edX is being run as a not for profit outfit, the other key xMOOC players Coursera and Udacity will be hoping to return a profit for their investors. If these organisations thrive, other xMOOC providers join the frey and Thrun’s vision is realised will we see an xMOOCopoly in higher education emerge that will come to be viewed in the way that Wallmart and Tesco are in the world of supermarket retail. Supermarkets and out of town retail parks have brought us benefits in the way of cheaper prices and convenience.  However over time there is evidence that the likes of Walmart and other big companies have a negative impact on local businesses and beyond.

Thinking back to my childhood, I remember there were 3 or 4 butchers on the local highstreet, family run bakeries, fabric shops, wool shops etc. Today two of the green grocers remain, but none of the butchers, and whilst there is a bakery, the ones that were there when I was a kid have long closed down. Many UK high streets have vacant and boarded up shops, the hustle and bustle is gone.  In the UK Prime Minister David Cameron has turned to Mary Portas to help reviatalise the high streets of towns up and down the country as part of the Government’s policy on Improving high streets and town centres.  The policy is in response to the issue as outlined below:

“High streets are recognised as important hubs of social interaction and cohesion, as well as providers of local jobs. They’re a visible indicator of how well, or how badly, a local economy is doing.

But our high streets and town centres are facing serious challenges from out-of-town shopping centres and the growth of online and mobile retailing.

The government recognises that our high streets have to offer something new and different that neither shopping centres nor the internet can match. They need to offer an experience that goes beyond retail – the high street should be a destination for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning, with schools, doctors’ surgeries and offices along with shops. Our high streets should be social places that make creative use of public spaces and with a vibrant evening economy.”

I’m not sure if our cousins on mainland Europe have quite the same problems in their town centres.  Visitng France, Italy or Spain, I’m always struck by the number and variety of shops in small towns.  In the UK every town centre seems to look the same, with the same chain stores, we don’t seem to have the same level of choice that our European cousins have. There’s choice in the supermarkets, but I think there’s less choice than in the past as chains like Tesco increasingly give more shelf space to their ownbrand products.

So what, boo hoo, what’s the big deal, isn’t this just a fuss about nothing and what’s this got to do with xMOOCs and the future of higher education.  The big supermarkets have got progressively bigger and once they’re in an area they tend to have a monopoly.  They’re large corporate companies striving to make ever larger profits.  That’s all well and good in the commercial world but do we want a higher education system in the future that is run solely to make profit for investors and shareholders.  What will the rise of xMOOC outfits like Coursera and Udactiy be on our existing universities. Furthermore if universities cease to exist in their current form and are driven by the need to generate profit what willl be the longer term econmic and social impact on our communities.

I have fond schoolgirl memories of going along to events at Nottingham University with some of our teachers. Screenings of Russian films and the fantastic Colonel Shaw chemistry lecture. These events gave a glimpse into the world of higher education.  Similarly today at Dundee University, where I now work, there are events for local school children, our students from medicine, dentistry and nursing go into schools and teach on health.  Other students run the Teddy Bear Hospital to inspire primary school children to consider a possible career in medicine.  There are widening access intiatives including summer schools. The University runs public lectures and a series of courses for the public.  There are collaborative events with the local Science Musuem with Galleries.  The University has been a key player in the V&A coming to the City, it also runs the local Literary Festival which has become a popular annual fixture.  The University is a significant employer in the city and generates income for the local economy.  The annual degree show of art work produced by students is a prime example of this, for example in 2009 it attracted 11,000 visitors generating £1.5million for the local economy (source – Contact).  Similar activities will be run by Universities up and down the country.  The public at large can also engage with openly accessible learning resources via platforms such as YouTube, iTunesU and the OU’s OpenLearn.  Nottingham’s periodic table videos on YouTube are a great example of this serving as today’s equivalent of the Colonel Shaw lecture I attended as a teenager.  Will this still be the case if Thrun’s vision comes to pass?  Sure there is lots of free and openly accessibe content on the web to engage people and perhaps TED will still be inspiring people about big ideas and similar initiatives may come to the fore. However if universities don’t exisit as they do currently and there are only 10 institutions worldwide running higher education how will the economic, social and cultural health of our university towns and their hinterlands be affected?  How will the social capital of communities be affected?

Goetz and Rupasingha looked at the impact of Wal-Mart on the social capital of US communities in the 1990s and found that those communities where new Wal-Mart stores were built or had an exisiting store and found it to be lower. The impact of the presence of Wal-Mart included:

  • the disappearence of local family run businesses, impacting on social relationships and the local leadership class typically involved in local networks and encouraging co-operation to address local problems.
  • local lawyers, bankers, accountants etc see a reduction in demand for their services and they leave the community and their contribution to the social capital of the community is lost.
  • opportunities for local entrepeneurs diminish.

Other trends seen in these communities were lower voter turnout in presidential elections, fewer voluntary groups and orgnisations that generate social capital such as business groups, churches, political organisations.  Meanwhile other studies have highlighted the impact of Walmart and other big retail corporations on low wage rates, lower volunteering rates.

Technology is drivng all sorts of change, the world has become a global village.  Big multinationals dominate in industry and retail.  Long loved names on the highstreet have disappeared.  Will universities disappear as we know them to be replaced by 10 corporate mega universities in the way that Thrun suggests?  Will any of these 10 operate on a not-for-profit basis?  A piece in the American Interest on ‘The end of the university as we know it‘, hails this future vision of universities.

“The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.”

The piece continues to hightlight the impact that technology and the internet has had on destroying other businesses and this vision of the future is unstoppable.

“We are all aware that the IT revolution is having an impact on education, but we tend to appreciate the changes in isolation, and at the margins. Very few have been able to exercise their imaginations to the point that they can perceive the systemic and structural changes ahead, and what they portend for the business models and social scripts that sustain the status quo. That is partly because the changes are threatening to many vested interests, but also partly because the human mind resists surrender to upheaval and the anxiety that tends to go with it. But resist or not, major change is coming. The live lecture will be replaced by streaming video. The administration of exams and exchange of coursework over the internet will become the norm. The push and pull of academic exchange will take place mainly in interactive online spaces, occupied by a new generation of tablet-toting, hyper-connected youth who already spend much of their lives online. Universities will extend their reach to students around the world, unbounded by geography or even by time zones. All of this will be on offer, too, at a fraction of the cost of a traditional college education.”

“The changes ahead will ultimately bring about the most beneficial, most efficient and most equitable access to education that the world has ever seen. There is much to be gained. We may lose the gothic arches, the bespectacled lecturers, dusty books lining the walls of labyrinthine libraries—wonderful images from higher education’s past. But nostalgia won’t stop the unsentimental beast of progress from wreaking havoc on old ways of doing things. If a faster, cheaper way of sharing information emerges, history shows us that it will quickly supplant what came before. People will not continue to pay tens of thousands of dollars for what technology allows them to get for free.”

WIll this really be free in the longer term?  The 10 mega universities in this higher education future will have to make money some how to survive, they won’t be able to give everything away for free.  This view is also though guilty of not looking at the bigger picture, what will the cost be in terms of impact on local communities. Dusty university libraries may be boarded up, buildings demolished or turned into car parks because students no longer study on a University campus.  But. what happens to rental housing market in our University towns, to the local economy to the cultural and social life of our communities.  Students make a significant contribution to the local communities they study in, economically, and socially through volunteering and fund raising activities. Will we see the Wal-Mart effect and depreciation in social capital as mega universities take hold?  Will there also be a McDonaldisation of higher education, no matter where you are in the world the same menu, with perhaps one or two local twists.  Ultimately a lack of choice, a blandness and reduction in quality.

Maybe xMOOCS won’t be around in 20 years time, perhaps they will be a passing fad.  It maybe the ‘open’ in xMOOCs disappears over time, or perhaps just like you can download a sample chapter of a Kindle book or hear the first 20 seconds of a song in iTunes, you can sample a week or two of a massive online course before signing up and enrolling on it.  But then you can already do that with OpenLearn resources from the OU, or with the countless resources in iTunesU.  xMOOC hysteria seems to have resulted in people forgetting that open online resources and cMOOCs have been around for quite sometime.

Conscious this has emerged into a bit of rambling post, and also not as well as referenced as I would have liked due to lack of time.  Personally I’m not sure I view the prospect of there  just being 10 higher education institutions in 50 years time as particualrly positive, but can appreciate others will think the complete opposite.


Goetz, Stephan J., and Anil Rupasingha. “Wal-Mart and social capital.”American Journal of Agricultural Economics 88.5 (2006): 1304-1310.

An opportunity to vote for Eduroam in the NHS

The Department of Health is currently developing it’s Interoperability Toolkit (IKT). Following a call for suggestions of themes that should be added to the Toolkit they are now available to view and it’s great to see that one of the potential themes addded is to deliver secure, open access to the Internet at any NHS site.

The aim of this theme would be to

Provide “free” internet access for workers / visitors involved in academia / research, enabling access to relevant information sources to support users whilst on an NHS site (and vice versa).

and would support this scenario:

Whilst visiting an NHS Trust, an academic data consumer requires internet access to retrieve information concerning research and  education.  He is enrolled to eduroam at is home University and fortunately, the university he is visiting is also an eduroam site.  As a consequence, he has automatic access to the internet at the site he is visiting.  His access is authenticated through his home site.  It would be useful if similar access could be made available when visiting an NHS Trust.

Eduroam is  used across many academic sites internationally and this the proposal would be to extend Eduroam to include NHS Trusts.  The proposal has been supported by cases studies prepared by the NHS-HE Forum IT connectivity best practice working group, which I’m a member of.

The NHS are now inviting individuals to vote for the 5 themes they think will deliver the grestest benefits.  Voting is open until close of business on 27 February.  If you work in medical education or research in the NHS then you might want to vote for this as a priority.

NOTE – eduroam is towards the bottom of the list in Technology Enhancements described as “ Deliver secure, open access to the internet at any NHS site”

WordPress in UK Education Event: Would you come? Do we need one? Are you using it?

At the end of July I shared a couple of links via Google+ and my Tumblr site about an LMS app theme for WordPress and WPLMS, both of which focus on developing LMS/VLE type functionality for WordPress.  I find this sort of stuff interesting because the team I work with have been migrating our teaching resources from Blackboard to a new learning portal built in WordPress.  This migration has been the culmination of three years work, starting with blogs on WordPress.com to support undergraduate teaching to then setting up our own WordPress multiuser site.  Feedback from staff and students have informed and driven our developments  to the point that our undergraduate medical curriculum is now delivered via WordPress.

Reading about LMS app theme got me thinking and I posed this question on Google +

I think I may have said this before but couldn’t a few of us in the UK using WordPress as an alternative to the more traditional VLEs work together to get some JISC funding to develop some useful WP educational plugins and functionality?

As Martin Hawksey quickly pointed out there are others using WordPress in education in the UK, there’s been interesting things going at the University of  Lincoln, Dumfries and Galloway College have been using WordPress as an eportfolio tool.  There’s also the work of Jim Groom at the Universty of Mary Washington, which was one of the initial triggers for my interest in WordPress, and more recently his DS106 cMOOC.  Steve Bonham joined the conversation which then spilled over to Twitter and Pat Lockley also chipped in and  we talked about the possibility of a meeting to showcase how WordPress in being used in UK HE and explore whether there might be opportunities to explore funding to support WordPress development.

So as the title of this post asks, do you think we should try and hold some sort of UK WordPress in education event?  Would you be interested, would you come?  There is a JISC WordPress listserv but it has very little activity.  There are growing numbers of individuals and organisations using WordPress in UK education, there are annual Blackboard user meetings and Moodle meetings and although there is annual UK Wordcamp there’s not an educational event.

Do we need an event?  Should we start a google doc where we could detail who’s using WordPress and how, a bit like Matt Lingard’s doc on UK VLEs?  Would you be interested in a Google Hangout for a starter discussion?  Would there be any chance of funding from JISC or other groups that might fund a WordPress special interest group or an educational WP hackday type of event?

I was going to publish this post following that conversation, but things were too busy and hopefully I’ve not missed a trick in not striking while the iron was hot!  What do you think, are you interested? Would be great to hear from you via the comments here, Twitter, Google+ and any other channels that this post might be shared.

Are UK universities missing a trick on MOOCs and open courses?

The Guardian grabbed five minutes with Steven Schwartz, VC at Macquarie University, to talk about the online course revolution and how the UK and Australia compare on social mobility.

Schwartz’s comments and observations on social mobility make for interesting listening.  He highlights what many of us already probably suspect is happening, ie that the current financial climate is seeing a decline in social mobility in the UK.

However, it was his comments about announcements of new MOOCs and groups of Universities collaborating in the develpment of MOOCs and open courses coming out of the US almost every day, but none coming out of the UK, that made me stop and think.  He’s right, in the UK there are hardly any announcements about MOOCs. There are only two that spring to my mind the Oxford Brookes First steps into learning and teaching MOOC and the recently announced OU MOOC on curriuclum design with OERs, but there may well be others that I haven’t heard of.  Should we be concerned about this?  Are we lagging behind in the UK?

Schwartz goes on to ask ‘where is the digital strategy’ in the UK?  Last year HEFCE published the Online Learning Taskforce’s report Collaborate to Compete: Siezing the opportunity of online learning for UK higher education.  The report stated:

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.

18 months on it would be interesting to evaluate what impact this report has had on UK universities. Is there a clearly articulated strategic vision on digital learning in all UK universities?  JISC and the HEA continue to invest in OERs and  the HEFCE report suggests that £5 million per annum should be invetsed in OER projects.  Are OER projects the right way forward, are they delivering what academics on the ground actually need? How many JISC funded OERs are you using in your courses? Or are you making more use of YouTube videos and content in iTunesU and content developed by individuals using other web 2.0 and social media tools?

Another recommendation the report made was for investment to be made to facilitate the development and building of consortia to achieve scale and brand in online learning.

Quality online learning is not a cheap option. Through collaboration, institutions can achieve significant economies of scale and more rapid development and adoption of technologies, for example in the development of learning resources or in sharing the risk of developing new forms of provision. This approach enables institutions and organisations (that are perhaps already collaborating in other areas) to exploit their joint brands and extend them into new markets, offering innovative, quality provision. Collaboration should embrace and harness the strengths of diverse institutions and organisations, across public-private and sector divides.

This is effectively what the big guns in the US have been doing.  The taskforce suggested that £20 million per year for 5   years should be invested to set up 3-5 consortia and that this should be the responsibility of national government and devolved administrations.  I’ve not heard of any progress on this but I may have missed any announcment.  Does anyone know if there’s anything happening on this front?

Reading this again also brought back to mind the failure of the UK eUniversity (UKeU) which cost £62 million of public money.  There’s a detailed parliamentary report which explores why the UKeU failed, I’ve not had chance to reread the whole report again but I remember one of the issues being the underlying technology platform and also that a supply led approach was a key driver rather than demand.  Educause also published a piece on the real story behind the failure of the UKeU.  Their piece highlights:

The initiative was touted as an innovative response to the perceived opportunities and threats of online higher education—in the form of U.S. institutions such as the University of Phoenix Online and the University of Maryland University College, not to mention the many—at the time—dot-com start-ups such as NYU Online and Cardean University.

Which brings me back to the Schwatz interview.  Is there a new threat from the established US universities and the MOOCs they are offering via Coursera, Udacity and EDx.  The Stanford MOOC on Artifical Intelligence attracted 58,000 particpants from more than 175 countries.  Should we be worried that we’re not hearing announcments of UK MOOCs? Has the UKeU expereince made us too cautious and caused us to miss an opportunity or has there been too much of a focus on OERs?  Will lagging behind on MOOCs affect recruitment for UK online distance learning programmes?

Lots of questions, I’m sure others have similar questions and it would be interesting to see some converastion around these issues with others both in the UK and wider afield.