Friday, September 30, 2011

The digital scholar - which way to go?

Within the context of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) #change11, week 3 dealt with different aspects of digital scholarship. This week's discussion was based on the new book by Martin Weller called: The Digital Scholar. I participated in a webinar with Martin on Wednesday, and heard him present a strong case for the potential impact of digital technologies on professional scholarship.
Now I have been following Martin's contributions in this discussion for some time now (I have referred to his work in my workshop about social media for PhD students, and will be interviewing him later for an internal workshop at Open Universiteit), so I kinda knew his story.
I find that what I'm missing from his story, is a perspective for individual teachers and institutions on how this digital scholar will look in practice.
  • Is it enough to use social bookmarking or to share your conference presentations, or is that a start that will inevitably lead to more?
  • Are you only a 'real' digital scholar if you refuse to publish in closed journals and only opt for open access journals? How to deal with publishing your publically-funded research results?
  • Do I need to be a rebel within my institution, and how does it effect my own career? Or can I act as an evangelist and try to convince people that the end of the world as we know it is near?
I am convinced that the digital scholar is the scholar of the future, but I guess what I'm looking for is some guidelines on how to achieve a gradual, yet speedy innovation within our institutions that will lead to a point in the near future where we look back upon 2011, and wonder where the change actually happened. Can we formulate a path of inevitability that will sneak up on our decision makers and allow us to gradually become digital scholars, or do we need a shock therapy to achieve this?
And - by the way - I made a first downloadable ebook version of Martin's book. The internal links in the document are not all functioning perfectly, but you can download the book as is (also on non-Kindle readers) and enjoy reading it offline too. I've made pdf, ePub and mobi versions available on Dropbox, made with the help of the calibre tool.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Professional identity and social media

It seldom happens these days that I meet someone - or hear someone speak - who causes immediate recognition and identification. This morning was one of these occasions where you think: "How come I wasn't following this person already?" Anne Marie Cunningham's talk about professional identity was very much related to the work that I have been focusing on the last couple of years, namely the role of social media in professional learning. We at CELSTEC have been focusing rather on the technology side of what we call "Learning networks for professionals", but I notice that in recent workshops and presentations people keep asking me more about the issues around social appropriateness, openness vs. safety,  reputation, being taken seriously, etc.
Anne Marie's talk - similar to this workshop - addressed exactly those issues. Looking forward to getting the presentation and recording online. Some of @amcunningham's most remarkable quotes were:
  • "Online identity has more to do with behaviour and relationships than the information provided." True, but usually the information constitutes the 'social objects' around which behaviour and relationships are centred.
  • "I'm too busy to be unprofessional online." A great oneliner, but I forget the context in which she said this. Personally I do not distinguish much between my personal and professional online identity. I prefer those online 'friends' who tend to blur the professional and the personal. I don't expect my students or colleagues in real life to just forget their personal background or worries between 9 and 5.
  • "To be a doctor is to be who the patient needs you to be". Does that apply to my students and professional network as well? Could you paraphrase this as: "To be a professional is to be who your customers need you to be?" Tricky, that one. @amcunningham quoted this in relation to an anecdote that she reported on, in which a seemingly innocent question for information suddenly turned into a kind of online doctor-patient consultation. I had a similar episode a while back when someone contacted me on Skype. She was an exchange student studying at a Dutch university, taking an elective distance e-learning course in the UK, and she had a problem with one of her assignments. I spent a good half hour 'coaching' her in trying to solve her problem (without solving it for her), whereas I could have just ended the conversation and said: "I am not your tutor or coach, so I am not the right person to talk to". Are you ever a non-teacher / non-e-coach when you are online 24/7?
  • Levels of professional identity: (3) socialised mind -> (4) self-authoring mind -> (5) self-transforming. This sounded very interesting, and I will be looking for the source of this theory.
Interesting issues, brilliant presentation. Great start of the day.

Personalised learning mesh through a multipath learning tool

Very humorous presentation style in the next presentation by Iain Stewart from Glasgow Caledonian University about enriched recorded lectures, integrated in Blackboard. All related content to the lecture is in an interactive container: tutorial questions, exam questions, related content, discussion items. Lecturers starts a new container by uploading a powerpoint slideshow, and an existing lecture recording in the form of a video/audio file in flash or mp3. This assumes that the container involves quite a lot of post processing.
  • Wonder what the scalability of this solution is due to the amount of post-processing needed.
  • Questions about the use of proprietary formats.
  • Wonder if it could be linked to existing lecture recording platforms, so students can add materials to a lecture on the fly..

Work based learning study amongst stakeholders

One of the papers in this morning's proceedings session focused on technology-supported work based learning from the university of Northumbria. The authors did a multiple case study of MSc and BSc programs delivered online to full-time employees.
The main findings that I picked up from interviews and questionnaires amongst the main stakeholders:
  • Teachers are more negative about VLE and other technologies than students.
  • Employer expectations of HE institution do not fit, and vice versa.
  • Role of mentors at employer side is crucial.
  • Get all stakeholders involved in the initial negociation about the learning contract.
Worthwhile reading, although it could use some more reference to existing research on online / distance delivery.

From Pecha Kucha through work based learning to emotional affect in learning

L'embarras du choix...
Next to the keynote, the first day at the 18th conference of the Association for Learning Technology (#ALTC2011) had so many interesting sessions on the programme that it was hard to choose (in French: l'embarras du choix - hence the picture above). One slot was pre-scheduled, as I had to chair the session, but the others were yet to be filled. So what did I learn? Here's the short version.
  • The first session I attended was the first ever ALT-C Pecha Kucha and ePoster session, with 2 Pecha Kucha presentations and 3 ePosters. In contrast to the original 20x20 PechaKucha format, ALT has chosen a 9x45 format, in which the speaker gets to use 9 slides, which automatically progress after 45 seconds. The concept is: be well-prepared and stick to your message. The presentations covered two cases of blended learning. The first presentation by colleagues at the University of Huddersfield stressed the importance of social skills for blended learning in groups. They reported on how they used critical friendship groups to get the students to actively interact during their online learning activities. Unfortunately for the OUNL, such a model is hard to adapt to our model of solitary distance learners without the cohort to build those groups. The second presentation by University of Glasgow reported on a structured learning activity involving wikis, in which first-year philosophy students were grouped into small groups with clear assignments about collecting information before meeting in tutorial sessions. The effects of this approach on student scores were remarkable, but I wonder whether that was related to the use of the wiki or the clever design of the learning activity. The ePosters were not given a time slot, much to the surprise of the submitters who were there to answer questions. The next ePoster sessions repaired this flaw, and added time slots for ePoster discussion.
  • Lunch was good, as it was next year. Great opportunities to talk to people. The number of tweeps I have been talking to these last two days is amazing. For that reason alone, the ALT conference is worth my while. During lunch break I talked to James Clay, one of the web presence co-ordinators on the programme committee, who has set up a small TV studio, and uses Justin TV to bring an informal live TV channel from the conference. Of course I installed the app on CELSTEC's Android phone and made a number of short recordings, which were immediately streamed to the server. A very interesting video recording, sharing and broadcasting platform which allows low-threshold recordings with mobile applications, but also higher end grassroots broadcasting with a setup like the one at ALT in the video below.

  • Watch live video from sverjans on
  • After lunch I chaired a session on Emotion and Pluralism with two proceedings papers. Finding the room in the maze of the EC Stoner building was tough, and only about 15 people managed to get in the session, but they got their money's worth. The first paper by Liz, Gill and Lachlan from the University of Greenwich presented the PANDORA project, a multimedia training environment for high-level crisis management in which they have been researching and developing a module that deals with the role of emotional affect and stress for decision making in severe crisis situations. Their tool allows a trainer to simulate semi-realistic crisis situations, with the explicit purpose of duplicating the emotinal and informational stress load. I kept wondering whether future crisis managers - so-called Gold Commanders - who might well be experts in World of Warcraft or other strategic games, will be more suited for handling such crises. The second paper by Chris Jones from the UK Open University and Gregor Kennedy from the University of Melbourne was of a completely different nature, in that it discussed research paradigms, and argued for taking a pluralist perspective when doing research in learning technology. They argued that new LT researchers often have a (socially) predetermined perspective about the type of research that they will be doing, with too little focus on the research question and its interaction with 'suitable' research paradigms and methodologies. Both papers were followed by a very good discussion with the audience.
  • For my next slot I attended a session named 'Worlds of learning' with three short papers. The first presentation by colleagues from the Japanese and Canadian Open Universities discussed research on the use of a Moodle-compatible audio applet named Nanogong for students learning English. It reminded me very much of the setup developed in the WebCEF and CEFcult projects in which I participated, where students record their own oral language utterances and are assessed on those. The second paper by colleagues from the ePortfolio centre at the University of Nottingham reported on a study of the use of the Mahara ePortfolio system with a group of Biosciences masters students during a 2-month industrial placement. The research reported positive outcomes, especially on the administrative burden of the university placement co-ordinator. Students were reported to use the ePortfolio system as if it were a special kind of Facebook. I kept wondering whether such a short term pilot would tell us anything about the long-term use of an ePortfolio tool. The final paper of that session was presented on Prezi, and discussed the instructional design practice at BPP - the first commercial university in the UK. I kept thinking about the wieldy process of developing distance learning materials at our own university, and couldn't help but wonder if thorough, structured and streamlined instructional design processes are the right way to go for any HE institution. The argument was that the students expected course modules to be similar and standardised. I'm not sure such a well-structured but time-consuming process is the right answer to the growing need for situated and just-in-time learning.
  • This feeling was strengthened during the last session of the day, a workshop called 'Employer engagement' on work-based learning (WBL) and all the issues involved in that. We were presented with a short background from some JISC-funded projects dealing with work-based learning, and then asked to contribute to three themes related to WBL. The intention of the workshop was partly to get feedback on the parameters involved in the 'Work Based Learning Maturity Toolikit', a self-assessment type instrument to judge institutional maturity with regard to work-place learning. During the discussion, which was quite relevant for my recent work with colleagues from the Zuyd University College, where we looked at a group of students from a Dutch ICT consultancy firm who are taking a degree in Networking Infrastructure while being employed full-time. Turned out that most of the issues we ran into, were well known in my group, especially within Mark Stiles' group at the University of Staffordshire. Negotiation between employer, employee and institution is the key element in work-based learning, but also change efforts in the HE institution, and at the employer site are crucial for success. From experience I know that it is hard to get university staff to look at what 'the customer wants', rather than what we have 'on offer' in the institution. A very informative session, indeed.
All in all a very fruitful first day, in which I had some good conversations, started following a number of new tweeps, met some old friends, and started blogging again. I also noticed that I prefermy laptop for tweeting, rather than the HTC smartphone I borrowed from CELSTEC.

Note from editor: Is this the short version? This post is much too long, BOO!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

First day at Alt-C 2011 - Opening keynote

This year, the Alt-C conference is held at the University of Leeds, and its theme is "Thriving in a colder and more challenging climate", referring to the economic cutbacks in (higher) education throughout the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. As a member of the Programma Committee Executive, I've been involved in the review and editing process, and it's been a very good experience sofar.

Opening & keynote
The conference was opened by the mayor of Leeds, a reverent adorned with an impressive official chain, who referred to the multi-cultural character of Leeds as the third biggest city in the UK. Then, the conference co-chair John Cook introduced the keynote speaker Miguel Brechner, the project leader of the Uruguayan One-Laptop-per-Child project Ceibal. He held a very inspirational talk about the project in which all Uruguayan children in the state school system (some 450.000 kids in primary and secondary education) were given a laptop that is connected to the Internet (99%) both in school and at home. This video he showed, gives a good impression of the project. Others - such as the ever productive Steve Wheeler - have blogged about this session. My major lesson from the session was:
  1. This kind of project is not about ICT or infrastructure, it is about social change, about teacher training, about social support mechanisms, about political will and endurance.
  2. Access to Internet is fast becoming the major factor in education. As Brechner forcefully stated: "The Ceibal project transformed access to computers and broadband Internet from a privilege to a basic human right.
  3. What can we learn from this, and why can't we offer the same broadband coverage in our part of the world? Some UK colleagues asked a question during the session, about how they could help the people in Uruguay to further this project. Somehow this question felt wrong (as noted by others). It's more: what can we (in the 'civilized' developed countries) learn from this? One thing I feel is that it should not be left to commercial providers alone to get everyone 'connected'. Miguel even mentioned rural areas where the laptops and broadband arrived before electricity did!
  4. Access to Internet means access to social media. I and others wondered how the kids were using their access to Internet to get to social media. Interestingly Miguel asked: "What is social media?" He then said: "Well, they're all on Facebook", which left me wondering whether their use of Facebook is similar to the way my kids are using it.
All in all, a good start to a good day. More reflections coming up later.