Collaborative auto-ethnography – an antidote to big data in MOOCs?

Firstly, thanks to @helencrump for the title of this post. The alternative title was ‘#oldsmooc – the MOOC that keeps giving”. But I think Helen’s one sounds much more impressive 🙂

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this post but there was a flurry of activity on my twitter stream last night/this morning and I just wanted to try and capture some of the ideas that have been floated.

Regular readers of this blog will know that a group of #oldsmooc-ers recently presented a paper at the EMOOCs Conference, called “Signals of success and self directed learningwhere we took a collaborative auto-ethnographical approach to create a range of narratives which described our different measures of success in participating in the mooc.  We felt that this personal reflection would help to address some of the gaps in understanding what actually motivates learners in MOOCs and probably more importantly for us as a group to explore the extent “connection, self-efficacy and self-directed strategies facilitate learning in a MOOC”.   As a self selecting group we were very conscious that we could not ensure our narratives were typical of other leaners on the MOOC, but we did try and collect some more data from other participants.  I have tried to document the story of our collaboration, which has been a key  signal of success for us all.

Getting the paper accepted was a great moment for us all, as was the conference presentation and tweets it generated.  We were still unsure if our approach and methodology really had any traction.  But last night Paige altered us all to this bit of activity on the current #rhizo14 MOOC.  Again through connections and network (aka some of our group taking part in another mooc) it seems our ideas and approach are being explored by other learners.

I think this is really important.  We know that existing accepted educational metrics don’t really apply in the MOOC context, particularly for retention. Despite the promise of MOOCs and big data being able to give us insights into how people learn, I, like others, am still not so sure about some of the methods being used and in turn the patterns that are emerging. As well as the quantitative data, we need to get much more qualitative data exploring as many different narratives as possible from learners. It’s only by doing that that can we really start to help develop our understanding of how people define success in MOOCs. And in turn, we can ask more challenging questions of/from the quantitative data.

Being a bear of very little brain, I like seeing the pretty patterns and swirly diagrams, but find it confusing when they don’t seem to relate to my own experiences.  Mind you,  if this article in the Sunday Observer is to be believed we won’t need to grapple with big data -v – little data -v- educational theory for much longer as soon the google robots will have worked it out all out for us and will have “fixed” education.

My experience of learning on MOOCs has been very different from my traditional educational experiences. I know I didn’t (and still don’t really) enjoy formal education, and I am much happier (and hopefully more creative) in connected, loosely structured learning experiences than read a bit, do the test, read a bit more ones.

Anyway below is a collation of the tweets from last night this morning, which range from us being all “check us out with starting an auto-ethnographic revolution” to more serious questions about the nature of open collaborative spaces, self disclosure and the importance of failure. On the last point, Pat Parslow referenced the “confessional” booth at the PELeCon Conference, which again got me thinking about the use of the language of guilt around what are perceived to be non traditional ways of doing things. But that’s probably a post for another day.

Where Sheila's been this week – digital residency mapping #HEAVandR

Despite the best intentions of the weather this week, a number of people from around the UK managed to make it to London on Wednesday for  workshop as of the HEA Digital Literacies in the Disciplines programme.   As I blogged about before, the main focus of our case study will be within nursing programmes in our school of Health and Life Sciences.

The workshop was primarily an opportunity to bring the projects together and for us all to get a more in depth overview of the background to the mapping process.  For me the clarification of the ends of the V and R scale in terms of social traces was really useful. Visitor behaviour is where you don’t leave a social trace online and residency is where you interact with others and leave a social trace. The bit in the middle is where you are online to be with people, but within a known group e.g. Facebook.

I liked David White’s use of the term “elegant lurking” e.g. a student who follows experts in a certain field on twitter but doesn’t interact with them, but does get a lot of useful information through the wider interaction of that group of people. As someone who isn’t keen at all on the term lurking this contextualization really appealed.

As with most mapping exercises it is a not an exact science and the dialogue generated by undertaking the exercise is the most interesting part of the process. We were shown a range of different maps (again really useful to see) and as with most maps they all sparked a range of questions for me.

One of the reasons we are keen on this methodology for nursing students is so we can provide a way for them to articulate and understand where and how they interact online in context of their professional, personal and student identities. Hopefully this will allow us to improve how we support them in developing relevant professional and personal practice. We are also interested in wider issues of where and how they use different social spaces for learning. Will they even think to add our VLE to their maps?

This links to the use and support of learning spaces at an institutional level. Do we really need to be investing in developing social sharing spaces within our institutions (e.g. Yammer)  when most students use services such as Facebook anyway? And if we try to use these more personal spaces in a formal educational context, will that just make the students move somewhere else where they want to be? We may always be playing catch up. In turn, if these institutional social spaces are relatively closed will they be of any future value to students?  Should we be focusing attention on helping our students use recognised professional spaces such as Linked-In and leave them to use other online spaces in an informal way?

I found the mapping exercise fascinating, and it’s really made me think about where and how I exist and leave social traces online.  I thought I had a good overview of my online interactions – particularly in a professional context.  But seeing other maps, and talking with people on Wednesday I remembered a whole lot of spaces where I do have a large social trace but I had actually forgotten about. Like many people I have “played” around with online bio services such as, but I kind of forget about them as they are automagically updated from RSS feeds from my more active and engaged spaces such as my blog and twitter. However I’ve had over 3,500 visits to my page in the past year which astonished me.  I also have a vizify page which again is populated from other services.  It has what I always thought was a good overview of ‘where I am” online

Vizify places screenshot
Vizify online places

But after doing the mapping exercise I think picture is more like this

Sheila's V&R map, Feb 2014
Sheila’s V&R map, Feb 2014

I confess I’ve had to re-do my paper map from Wednesday as I had forgotten quite a few things, and also I wanted to use circles not rectangles. Don’t think it makes any difference but there are a few Venn like overlaps. I was also impressed by fellow delegate who used powerpoint on Wednesday to create his map.

We are running our workshop next month and I’m really looking forward to the maps and discussions it generates.

Cloudworks, purple dots, tea and biscuits (Warning this post contains references to MOOCs) #emoocs2014

How do you measure success on a MOOC? It’s a question that has been causing a lot of consternation as our traditional measures of success in education don’t seem to apply. Large drop out rates, challenges of assessment at scale, I don’t really need to go into all the details, it’s documented by others far more eloquently than me.

However, despite my unsuccessful attempts in many MOOCs I have managed to complete a few (4 now!).  They all have been successful learning experiences for me. I got a certificate for one of them, but nice as they spacemen are on it, it isn’t really my biggest signal of success. As I blogged about before, it’s been after the MOOC  that the really collaboration and reflection on success has begun.

This week at the EMOOCs 2014 Conference my colleagues Paige Cuff and Helen Crump are presenting our paper Signals of Success. Now having a paper accepted for a conference might not be your measure of success for a MOOC, but for me, Paige, Helen, Penny, Briar, Iwona and Yishay, actually pulling of this international collaboration has been a real triumph.

You can see a pre-print of our paper and some more information here.

And if you are wondering where the title of this post came from, this twitter conversation will give you a clue.

What Sheila's seen this week – open boat building, secret wikipedians, NMC report

This has been a bit of a meeting-tastic week for me, and so most of my time has been taken up with internal developments here at GCU. All quite exciting for me but not so much in terms of a blog post. However I still have had half an eye on the rest of the world, well parts of it at least.

On Monday I went to the 3rd Open Data Glasgow Meet up.  As one of community organisers is was heartening to see a core of regulars building up, and of course welcome new faces.  The presentations were as diverse as ever from using wikipedia for developing research and scholarly skills at the Glasgow School of Art, where a number of secret wikipedians have been ‘outed’;  to using open source designs and 3-D printers to build boat houses in the Hebrides. Added to this mix was a touch of open science and another up date from the Glasgow Future Cities demonstrator Project.  I collated a twitter time line of the event which gives an overview of the presentations.

The NMC HE Horizon report was released. I’m not even going to attempt to review it (David Hopkins has done a great round up of reviews), but I can easily match most of the key trends, significant challenges and important developments to activities  and/or areas in need of development within my own institution. I still have reservations the relevance of big data approaches in assessment in my context at this point in time. We are seeing a really big up take in e-assessment which is great. But it is going to take a while for the analytics side of things to become part and parcel of the emerging workflows/practices of our staff.  At this stage, we need to a lot of  work on developing (relatively) small and local approaches to data. We really are just taking baby steps in terms of actually getting the data in the first place never mind be in a position to make any sense of it. A more pressing priority just now is ensuring that e-assessment systems are reliable.  As many of you know many of us in the UK HE sector are more than a little bit cross with certain well known similarity checking system.

Probably more interesting to me than the report were the video entries for the ELI video competition which show real examples of a number of the trends, challenges and developments from the report itself.

The HEA also released their flexible pedagogies report, which is a bit a contrast to the NMC report, but has some useful overview information in it.

Developing staff (and student) digital literacies were featured in the NMC and ALT ‘s Special Issue: Scholarship and Literacies in a Digital Age includes a fascinating range of papers around digital literacy issues – weekend reading for me I think.

Elements of the Creative Classroom Research Model - NMC HE 2014
Elements of the Creative Classroom Research Model – NMC HE 2014