Why we need more Rhino's like Erica promoting digital literacy

I was delighted to take part in the University of Southampton’s 2nd digital literacies conference (#sotonmooc) event yesterday. I gave a presentation on my experiences of being a student on MOOCs. However, what really made the day for me was hearing from some “real” students about the range work they have been involved in as part of the University’s DigiChampions project. The project has been incredibly successful in getting students involved in the concept of digital literacy and getting them to provide support to their peers in a whole range of ways as this video rather neatly explains.

The development of digital literacies is increasingly been recognised as vital for the success of our student population both whilst they are studying and also when they move into the workplace.

“By digital literacy we mean those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. “ (JISC)

It was fantastic to hear students share so eloquently their understanding of the importance of being able to use social networks effectively – not only for studying but also to improve their chances of getting a job. As we watched student created videos and a range of other presentations, it was clear just how much the students appreciated the innovative approaches of modules such as “living and working on the web”. Having time to develop skills and networks as part and parcel of undergraduate activities has certainly seemed to pay pretty significant dividends in terms of students developing contacts with potential employers and in several cases in terms of them securing a full time job. Watch the video to see for yourself.

But what about the Rhino I hear you ask? Well another one of the student driven projects is Erica the Rhino. Erica is a cyber rhino, who is being developed in a truly interdisciplinary way.

I thought this was just a fantastic project. I’m now following Erica on twitter and looking forward to hearing updates from when she is released into the wilds of Southampton. We need more projects like this.

Many thanks to Fiona Harvey and Hugh Davies (and everyone at Southampton involved in organising and running the event) for inviting me. It really was inspiring to hear from the students.

More information about the day is available from the event website. It will be being updated with presentations (and I think recordings) over the next few days. You can also catch up on the tweets and pictures from the event here.

Dear Sheila . . . The MOOC Agony Aunt Column

After much cajoling and numerous requests . . . well OK, one from Martin

I’ve decided to start a new, possibly weekly, feature for all of you out there who are grabbling with the numerous challenges of MOOCs. Whether you’re an instructor or student, this could the place you’ve been looking for to get some words of wisdom based on my vast experience MOOCs (cough, cough).

The questions (and answers) have started flowing already on twitter.

And in a more considered reply to Grainne’s question

Remember “M” doesn’t stand for “magic” it stands for “massive”. So on the instructor side of things, be prepared for a massive amount of extra (unpaid) hours reformatting and structuring your course. All content and activities have to be MOOC-ified and will only work on a MOOC enabled platform, other online systems just can’t cope with all the new and exciting MOOC pedagogical approaches you’ll be using. Then, when the course is running remember that if you have an introductory forum for students to “share where we are all from and why we’re here” you may feel the inclination to read them all and that will take a massive amount of your (again unpaid) time. So be strong, keep smiling and keep with the programme. By the end of week 2 most of your learners will have realised that they have far more pressing things to do and so the contributions will have dropped off to a number that is manageable for you to at least have a cursory glance over whilst your having a nice cup of tea and biscuit.

From a student point of view, remember “M” doesn’t stand for “magic” is stands for “massive”. It will take as much time and effort as one of those old fashioned distance, or even those that take place in real time in a real place (like a University) courses, to complete. But just remember you don’t actually have to participate, and can drop out at any time and go and do all that other stuff that you need to, and have a nice cup of tea.

Grainne, Owen – hope that helps and gives everyone else an idea of the scope and scale and contribution this feature could bring to the MOOC-ology or is it MOOC-oshpere?

As the comments/tweets flow in, I’m am also hoping to enlist the support and guidance of my former colleague Christine Sinclair (part of the #edcmooc team) but more importantly former agony aunt writer for the Jackie magazine.

Deconstructing my (dis)engagement with MOOCs part 2

Following from my early post, I’ve attempted to use the classifiers outlined in the #lak13 paper on disengagement in MOOCs, in the context of my experiences. Obviously I’ve modified things a bit as what I’m doing is more of a self reflection of my personal context -so I’ve made the labels past tense. I’m also doing a presentation next week at the University of Southampton on the learner perspective of MOOCs and thought that these classifications would be a good way to talk about my experiences.

Firstly here are the MOOCs I’ve signed up for over ( the ? years are when I was aware but not active in MOOCs)

MOOCs I've took!
MOOCs I've took!

Now with the course engagement labels

My MOOC engagement with labels
My MOOC engagement with labels

And finally aligned to trajectory labels

My MOOC participation using trajectory labels
My MOOC participation using trajectory labels

A big caveat, not completing, disengaging and dropping out does not mean I didn’t learn from each he experience and context of each course.

More to come next week including the full presentation.

Deconstructing my own (dis)engagement with MOOCs

No educational technology conference at the moment is complete without a bit of MOOC-ery and #lak13 was no exception. However the “Deconstructing disengagement: analyzing learner sub-populations in massive open online courses” paper was a move on from the familiar territory of broad, brush stroke big numbers towards a more nuanced view of some of the emerging patterns of learners across three Stanford based Coursera courses.

The authors have created:

” a simple, scalable, and informative classification method that identifies a small number of longitudinal engagement trajectories in MOOCs. Learners are classified based on their patterns of interaction with video lectures and assessments, the primary features of most MOOCs to date . . .”

” . . .the classifier consistently identifies four prototypical trajectories of engagement.”

As I listened to the authors present the paper I couldn’t help but reflect on my own recent MOOC experience. Their classifier labels (auditing, completing, sampling, disengaging) made a lot of sense to me. At times I have been in all four “states” of auditing, completing, disengaging and sampling.

The study investigated typical Coursera courses which mainly take the talking head video, quiz, discussion forum, final assignment format and suggested that use of the framework to identify sub-populations of learners would allow more customisation of courses and (hopefully) more engagement and I guess ultimately completion.

I did find it interesting that they identified that completing learners were most active on forums, something that contradicts my (limited) experience. I’ve signed up for a number of the science-y type Coursera courses and have sampled and disengaged. Compare that to the recent #edcmooc which again was run through Coursera but didn’t use the talking head-quiz-forum design. Although I didn’t really engage with the discussion forums (I tried but they just “don’t do it for me”) I did feel very engaged with the content, the activities, my peers and I completed the course.

I’ve spoken to a number of fellow MOOC-ers recently and they’re not that keen on the discussion forums either. Of course, it’s highly likely that people I speak to are like me and probably interact more on their blogs and twitter than in discussion forums. Maybe its an arts/science thing ? Shorter discussions? I don’t really know, but at scale I find any discussion forum challenging, time consuming and to be completely honest a bit of a waste of time.

The other finding to emerge from the study was that completing and auditing (those that just watch the videos and don’t necessarily contribute to forums or submit assignments) sub-populations have the best experiences of the courses. Again drawing on my own experiences, I can see why this could be the case. Despite dropping out of courses, the videos I’ve watched have all been “good” in the sense that they were of a high technical quality, and the content was very clear. So I’ve watched and thought “oh, I didn’t know that/ oh, so that’s what that means? oh that’s what I need to do”. The latter being the point that I usual disengage as there is something far more pressing I need to do ūüôā But I have to say that the experience of actually completing (I’m now at 3 for that) MOOCs was far richer. Partly that was down to the interaction with my peers on each occasion, and the cMOOC ethos of each course design.

That said, I do think the auditing, completing, disengaging, sampling labels are a very useful addition to the discourse and understanding of what is actually going on within the differing populations of learners in MOOCs.

A more detailed article on the research is available here.

Learning analytics – a bridge to the middle space? #lak13

It’s not quite a chicken and egg situation, but there is a always a tension between technology and pedagogy. A common concern being that technology is being used in education “just because it can” and not because it has a sound pedagogical impact. Abelardo Pardo’s keynote at the recent #lak13 conference described how learning analytics could potentially sit in the middle space between technology and teaching.

Learning analytics could provide additional bridges between each community to help make real improvements to teaching and learning. ¬†Analytical tools can provide data driven insights into how people interact with systems, activities and each other and learn, but in turn we need to have the expertise of teachers to help developers/data scientists frame questions, develop potential data collection points and contextualize findings. Abelardo’s personal story about his own engagement both with pedagogy and analytics was a powerful example of this. The bridge analogy really resonated with me and many other of the delegates. ¬†I’ve often described, and indeed hope that, a large part of my job is being a bridge between technology and teaching. ¬†

On the final day of the conference ¬†there was a healthy debate around what the focus of the LAK conference and community should be. ¬†On the one hand learning analytics is a relatively new discipline. It is trying hard to establish its research credentials, and so needs to be active in producing “serious” research papers. On the other, if it really wants live up its own hypothesis and gain traction with practitioners/institutions, then it needs to not only to provide insights but also accessible, scalable tools and methodologies. ¬†The “science bit” of some of ¬†the LAK research papers were quite challenging to put into a real world context, even for the enthusiastic data amateur such as myself.

However we do need valid research to underpin the discipline and also to validate ¬†any claims that are being made. ¬†Extension of action research projects could provide one solution to this which was encompassed by a number of papers. I’m a strong believer in action research in education, it seems a natural fit with how most teachers actually work, and also can provide real opportunities for students to be involved in the process too. ¬†( As an aside, like last year, I did get the feeling that what was being discussed was actually teaching analytics – not learning analytics, i.e it was still about teacher intervention understanding and what could be done to students).¬†

Part of what we have been trying to at CETIS with our Analytics Series, is to try and provide a bridge into this whole area. The set of case studies I’ve been working on in particular are specifically aimed at illustrating applications of analytics in a variety of real world contexts. But they are not the kind of papers that would be accepted (or submitted ) to the LAK conference. One suggestion my colleague Martin Hawskey came up with during the final day of the conference was the idea of a more “relaxed” stream/session. ¬†

Perhaps something along the lines of the lightning presentations we used at both the UK SoLAR Flare meeting and the recent CETIS conference. This could provide a bridge between the research focus of the conference and actual practice, and give an opportunity to quickly share some of the exciting work that many people are doing, but for a variety of reasons, aren’t writing research papers on. Maybe that would ¬†bring a bit more of an experimentation/what’s actually happening now/fun element to the proceedings. ¬†

If you want to catch up on conference proceedings, I’d thoroughly recommend reading some of the excellent live blogs from Doug Clow, Sharon Slade and Myles Danson, which Doug has rather handily collated here.¬†

I’ll also be following up with a couple of more posts in the next few days based on some of the really exciting work I saw presented at the conference.¬†

Acting on Assessment Analytics – new case study

Despite the hype around it, getting started with learning analytics can be a challenge for most everyday lecturers. What can you actually do with data once you get it? As more “everyday” systems (in particular online assessment tools) are able to provide data and/or customised reports, it is getting easier to start applying and using analytics approaches in teaching and learning. ¬†

The next case study in our Analytics series focuses on the work of Dr Cath Ellis and colleagues at the University of Huddersfield. It illustrates how they are acting on the data from their e-submission system, not only to enhance and refine their feedback to students, but also to help improve their approaches to assessment and overall curriculum design.  
 
At the analytics session at #cetis13 Ranjit Sidhu pointed out that local data can be much more interesting and useful than big data. This certainly rings true for teaching and learning.  Using very local data, Cath and her colleagues are developing a workshop approach to sharing generic assessment data with students in a controlled and emotionally secure environment. The case study also highlights issues around data handling skills and the need for more evidence of successful interventions through using analtyics. 

You can access the full case study here. 

We are always looking for potential case studies to add to our collection, so if you are doing some learning analtyics related work and would be willing to share your experiences in this way, then please get in touch.

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