Bursting MOOC bubbles are good; time to talk about the value of VLE

bursting bubble from http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-IkBJU72UN-g/T2A_sxbti7I/AAAAAAAAAwU/IJSOMgz33tQ/s1600/burstbubble.jpg

The MOOC bubble is bursting. See Online Revolution Drifts Off Course or Completion data for MOOC For some time there’s been evidence of a shift in MOOC attitudes eg MOOC Star Professor defects and Professors Won’t Use a Harvard Professor’s MOOC  It will be interesting to watch FutureLearn; the UK HE MOOC consortium’s 36 free online courses.

MOOC have been good for online education. They’re raising key issues around the value of VLE where VLE can be institutional like Blackboard or any combination of free software.  Bursting MOOC bubbles mean it’s time to talk about the big questions. Like do VLE enhance learning? How best can face-to-face practice be transferred? What might digital pedagogy look like?

For me, one of the strengths of the VLE is in widening participation; opening up potentially 24/7 opportunities for those unable to commit to a campus based education. But this can’t happen without appropriate support for the shift of traditional lecture and seminar content to online delivery. VLE need investment in digital literacies, scholarship and pedagogy. UCISA reports into Technology Enhanced Learning show since 2010 the top two barriers to TEL development are lack of time and money. The JISC Digital Literacies Programme released the Summary of the Professional Association Baseline Reports last year showing the main challenges for professionals becoming more digitally expert were lack of time, speed of change and training not being available, timely or relevant.

A lot of staff who teach and support learning at Lincoln have a DIY approach to technology; learning to use it effectively and integrate it into their lives. There are also those who are less confident. The adoption of a DIY model privileges the innovators and risks excluding those unsure about digital change.  Taking the time to do things differently using Blackboard might not seem a viable option when it works doing it without. The issue of self-selection poses a risk. If you’re unsure of your VLE you’re less likely to go to digital workshops or seminars, attend digital technology conferences or apply for research funding in the area of education technology. 

Often there simply isn’t enough time, resource, or role recognition attached to developing digital expertise. One way forward might be to highlight the development of an ethos of support and resource for shifting to digital ways of working.  The University of Lincoln has a new Digital Education Plan. The VLE procurement process has highlighted the need for additional support for virtual teaching and learning. Thanks to the MOOC bubble bursting, there’s renewed interest in what works well and less well in online education. One thing is clear; ‘Staff expertise is the most important asset in a university and without it literally nothing can  be achieved. (Blackmore and Blackwell 2003: 23) I cautiously predict exciting times ahead for Lincoln next year with TELEDA at the heart of discussions about all things pedagogically digital.


Blackmore, P. and Blackwell, R. (2003) ‘Academic roles and relationships’ in R. Blackwell and P. Blackmore (eds) Towards Strategic Staff Development in Higher Education, Berkshire: SRHE and Open University Press pp 16-28 

image from http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-IkBJU72UN-g/T2A_sxbti7I/AAAAAAAAAwU/IJSOMgz33tQ/s1600/burstbubble.jpg


Paul Andrews returns to Lincoln to talk on ‘OER Signposts: Tools & Techniques for getting started’.

Great to meet up with Paul Andrews again today. Paul gave an excellent Keynote at the Embedding OER project’s Sharing Practice event last year (a reminder of the event here https://oer.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/wp-admin/post.php?post=789&action=edit) and returned to Lincoln to speak at the School of Social & Political Sciences Colloquia series where he presented ‘OER Signposts: Tools & Techniques for getting started’.

Paul’s fantastic site for all things free to do with creating online resources is here https://sites.google.com/site/technologyenhancedlearning/

Paul Andrews eLearning site

If you missed the presentation today, or want to see again how lecturer Bob bought together text, images, audio and video to create his online teaching resources, The Kitten Site is here  https://sites.google.com/site/intro2kittens/

Kitten from Paul Andrew's 'OER Signposts: Tools & Techniques for getting started' presentation

Paul’s full Prezi presentation: http://prezi.com/dkb1bcpkdadv/oer-signposts-tools-techniques-for-getting-started-2013-edition/ 

Paul heads up the Centre for Digitally Enhanced Learning at the University of Wales Newport and can be contacted at paul.andrews at newport.ac.uk or on Twitter @pauls_elearning


Free OERs and MOOCs

The presentation below was created to introduce students to the availability of free open educational resources and courses. It refers to the OU’s Open Learn, MIT and Coursera.  As I was recording the audio, Open Culture published a list of new courses, or MOOCs  (Massive Online Open Courses), for 2013 at http://www.openculture.com/free_certificate_courses. If this were not enough to choose from, Open Culture link to a further 550 courses here http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourse.

I’ve been looking at Coursera’s Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (see http://thealphabetdances.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2012/11/20/150) and recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the history of US poetry from the 19th century onwards. There are a thousand alternatives including E-learning and Digital Cultures from the University of Edinburgh which starts in January 2013 and will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice. Learning has never been so flexible or such fun!

The presentation below is best viewed with speakers or headphones.

Rebranding higher education as wider education…

The Council for the Defence of British Universities  have formed a coalition to defend universities against the erosion of academic freedom and the marketisation of higher education. They are highlighting, among many things, the lack of space in the curriculum for ideas. Maybe ‘higher education’ should be rebranded as ‘wider education’. The goal of employment is valid but not at the expense supporting students to think creatively, critically and to reflect – preferably through exposure to different ideas and concepts behind a broad range of arts and sciences.

My first degree offered a wide mix of subjects all under applied social science. Modules included introductions to philosophy, criminology and psychology and the examination of various sociologies behind work, gender and education. This eclectic mix offered multiple tasters of different ways of seeing the world; it enhanced the experience of getting to know yourself and the difference you wanted to make in the world.

If it hadn’t been the late 1980s when colleges and polytechnics were merging with universities I might never have been there. I left school twenty years before – dropping not so much out of education as out of life. When it came to defining widening participation students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds I ticked every box on the page and probably a few more which hadn’t at that time been invented.

Since then I’ve worked in adult and community education, widening participation and now educational development. I support the open access movement (while worrying about exclusion for those without the means of digital access. Digital inequality is fast becoming fundamental to social inclusion and all public institutions should be tasked with highlighting this.)

Times are hard. I accept that cuts have to be made and budgets squeezed. For some people this is the attraction of open education but we need to avoid the danger of marketising openness.

Open access has the potential for broadening knowledge; to dip in and out of a wide subject range and taste an eclectic mix of disciplines – which applied social science used to do so well.  One possible way to challenge the move to marketisation might be a first year module on diversification and digital scholarship. This could include weekly tasters of the very best in topics as wide as philosophy, architecture, engineering, drama, chemistry, poetry and social justice. Adopting the principle of Ted Talks, it would show how the internet supports critical reflective practice, for example searching and evaluating online content, while also introducing the concept of learning for life.  Although the module would be delivered face-to-face, it would  provide guidance to quality open educational resources and courses freely available at places like the OU Open Learn and Coursera.

The open education movement is attracting some of the best educational institutions and educators to share their practice online. The principles of free access to learning are in place; we now need to encourage wider excitement about open education opportunities. Openness need not be a substitute but an additional strand – one which could enhance the learning experience for all and offer hope for a return to some of the best of traditional attitudes to learning in these challenging times.

open versus closed approaches to copyright

Being involved with promoting open education for over a year, I read with interest the news about Edublogs and Pearson.  As the name suggests, Edublogs is a free blogging service for educationalist with, at the time of writing, 269,055 subscribers and, according to BBC News, 1.5 million blogs. Pearson are educational publishers, with a keen eye on licencing and copyright, who noticed a blogger had made the Beck Hopelessness Scale questionnaire (current cost $120) freely available to a group of students without permission from the copyright holders – Pearson. Upon request the Edublog administrators altered the visibility of this post so it was no longer publically available but the host, ServerBeach, saw it within the Edublog software; not publically available but still in existence and allegedly infringing copyright. Claiming they received no response from Edublogs, ServerBeach shut down the entire site. One rogue blog and 1.5 Million blogs are made unavailable. Resistance to open education  and open education resources is to be expected. The concept of giving away for free what has traditionally been hidden behind closed locked doors can be a major paradigm shift and not one to be achieved overnight. The World Wide Web was designed as democratic space but that freedom has inevitably been taken over by the multi international publishing corporations who have transferred their existing restrictions into online environments. Even those totally against the principles of open education, must surely not be in agreement with this sort of power – especially when the offending item was hidden from public view in the first place.

Preparation for Academic Practice for International Students

The HEA have confirmed approval of the project proposal ‘Preparation for Academic Practice for International Students’. Under Phase 3 of the UKOER Programme, proposals were invited which set out to devise and implement institutional policy to promote previously created OER to an international audience and show how OER might support international engagement.  The project outcome will be a case study on ‘the identification of relevant resources to use for promotion (internationally)’. The HEA will concurrently look to fostering relationships with the British Council in order to collectively showcase the outputs of the twenty HEI’s selected for funding.   At Lincoln, this project will build on the existing Embedding OER Practice http://oer.lincoln.ac.uk as well as Getting Started, the university’s program for transition support.

There is increasing evidence that support for transition for students new to higher education actively supports retention and Getting Started has been informed by existing research and literature in this area*. Preparation for Academic Practice for International Students will focus on the provision of support prior to the start of a course or module utilising a ‘bottom-up’ approach to institutional change. This recognises adoption of new pedagogical practice is most effective when led by staff directly involved in teaching and learning who are offered support to undertake their own investigation into new ways of working. A survey is being sent to international students asking them to comment on how they feel their own learning experiences may have benefited from a range of academic study resources and can be made available to anyone who would like to participate. Please contact Sue Watling for further information.

The Preparation for Academic Practice for International Students proposal is available here. HEA OER INT proposal form-2012

* Literature on transition

Action on Access (2003) Student Success in Higher Education. Bradford: Action on Access.Cook, A., Rushton, B. S. and Macintosh, K. A., eds (2006) Student Transition and Retention (STAR). Northern Ireland:University of Ulster.Harvey, L., Drew, S. With Smith, M. (2006) The first year experience: a literature review for the Higher Education Academy.York: HE Academy.Lefever, R. and Currant, B. (2010) How can technology be used to improve the learner experience at points of transition?University of Bradford.

National Audit Office (NAO) (2007) Staying the Course: the retention of students in higher education. Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General. London: The Stationary Office.

Quinn, J., Thomas, L., Slack, K., Casey, L., Thexton, W. and Noble, J. (2005) From Life Crisis to Lifelong Learning, rethinking working class ‘drop-out’ from higher education. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Reese, M. (2010) Bridging the gap: supporting student transitions into higher education, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 34 (2), 259-251.

Warren, D. (2008) Thinking and Writing History: an integrated approach to learning development, in Crosling, G., Thomas, L. and Heagney, M. (eds) Improving student retention in higher education: the role of teaching and learning. London: Routledge.

Yorke, M. and Longden, B. (2008) The first year experience of Higher Education in the UK: final report.York, Higher Education Academy.


Embedding OER Practice at the HEA Conference 2012

Digital ways of working are changing the way we communicate and manage information. The implications for higher education include more virtual management of teaching, learning and research, greater online collaboration and more steps towards openness. The open education movement with its emphasis on using, reusing and repurposing is an inevitable consequence of the internet and one we have to accept. As VC of the OU Martin Bean said in his excellent opening  keynote, the internet is here to stay, students have increasing expectations of openness and sharing, and OER is an ustoppable force.

At Lincoln we are embedding OER practice and investigating the use of OER to support generic aspects of the student experience; transition, reflection, graduate attributes and eportfolios. We are developing a postgraduate online course called Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age which will be offered as part of the university’s Teacher Education Programme. This will be based on content released as OER, include activities which encourage staff to search for OER in their own discipline and consider releasing some of their own content as OER. All this within the context of the shift from classrooms to virtual environments.

The Creative Commons website http://creativecommons.org has information about the six different OER/Creative Commons licences and a tool for deciding which to choose. OER don’t have to be all singing all dancing multimedia. They are about learning experiences. One single learning activity, designed as a package with alternative formats and information about the level it is designed for and how it has been used, can be more powerful than any amount of expensively produced high end content.

The Embedding OER Practice blog is at http://OER.lincoln.ac.uk and our Twitter hashtag is #openlincoln. On 21st June we held a conference called Sharing Practice: Open Approaches to Teaching and Learning  This is the language we are using to take the project forward. OER don’t exist in isolation. They are part of the bigger picture which is about sharing practice and about open approaches to the way in which we manage pedagogy in a digital age.