Day 30: Showcase your #EdTech journey

The last day of the #JuneEdTechChallenge and a chance for us all to be a bit proud and put ourselves on a pedestal and shout about our achievements.

Many colleagues and friends in these roles are not naturally good at shouting about our own acheivements, so seeing how people will complete this part of the challenge will be interesting. As will seeing what people remember of their own achievements and LT journey, and what others remember of it too. Indeed, what I remember will no doubt be different to what you remember, so please tell me your highlgihts of our time together, dear reader?

For me, there are a few stand-out moments from my +15 years in learning technology, learning design, and a few more senior roles too, which include:

Each day has been different and a challenge for many, many different reasons. One constant, however, has been both my need to grow and learn, and the network on Twitter and LinkedIn that has helped this journey – directly and indirectly. The list of those who have been on this journey with me continues to grow to this very day, and I thank you all!

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

Authenticity

When you buy a new car or buy a new TV you go to a showroom who deals in the car or TV, either it’s an official retailer for the item or it has a reputation you trust. Well, we used to at any rate. It seems these days, and I’m equally guilty of this, we go online and find the cheapest version. There, that’ll do. Even if we use a ‘reputable’ website we may find ourselves buying the £5 USB cable made by a company we’ve never heard of instead of the £15 cable from one we have. “It’s OK, it’s from Amazon, it’ll be OK.” (Other online retailers exist, try them out too sometime!)

Is it the same with our learning? When choosing a college or university we look at a lot of things about it, not only the details of the course and individual topics within it but things like accommodation, proximity to the town or shops, on-campus events, clubs, sports facilities, reviews from previous students, etc. I don’t remember even thinking about who would teach me my degree, I looked into everything BUT the teaching staff. Is this wrong?

It seems different when looking at the different MOOCs on offer, I find myself looking at the course team as much as the course syllabus itself. A MOOC on Shakespeare? Why, yes please … but who wrote it and who’s delivering it? Ahh, a ‘renowned Shakespearean academic’ in Professor Bate and it’s been developed by the University of Warwick (ranked consistently in the UKs’ top 10 universities). That kind of makes up my mind .. even though the course page doesn’t say much about the course contents, other than the promo video

I’ve worked on a number of MOOCs and online courses as well as blended and campus/classroom based courses. There are many differences in what I/we do depending on the audience and delivery method, but the courses that have an element of face-to-face contact doesn’t really need the teacher introduced as part of the designed materials. This is, or should be, done in person. Often the first lecture or contact point with the students will be an introduction made by the teacher on who they are, what their background is and why they are the one who should give the course. Often courses are taught by a team, sometimes led by the senior academic and supported by either junior academics or PhD students. Are they also included in the list of authors or facilitators? They have equal right to be there, especially if the learners have more contact with them (in person or online) than the ‘lead’. This is content given to the students and often not part of the slides they can download for each lecture. There may be some info on the VLE, but is it really enough to showcase the breadth of knowledge behind the course and it’s creation?


Authenticity and credibility in online learning
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For these courses with contact time it seems it doesn’t really matter that this stuff isn’t written in to the course itself. For online courses of any nature or audience it is imperative this information is front and centre. If you can highlight prior to the course (especially for MOOCs) the credibility of the authoring and teaching team it will enhance the authenticity of the course itself.

This is often overlooked in some online courses and is why I insist on having this information front and centre in the courses I work on. This gives the course and the whole course team the credibility to be the ones to deliver and facilitate the course, and it gives the content and materials the authenticity needed to demonstrate to the learners that this team has experience and background to be the best team to lead it.

There are so many options and ways to learn online, sometimes the number of courses on a similar subject exist. So, which one will you choose? The one that looks nice? The cheapest one, or the one that has been developed and delivered by the best team possible, therefore giving you the best possible learning experience?

Yeah, me too.

Image source: Ara Pehlivanian (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Adapting a MOOC for Research

Written by my colleague, Rachael Hodge, this article is a summary of our experience in identifying and developing research activities within the University of Warwick’s MOOC Literature and Mental Health.

The University of Warwick’s FutureLearn MOOC Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing, which began its first presentation February 2016, was identified as an opportunity to conduct some research into the course subject area, ‘reading for wellbeing’ or ‘bibliotherapy’. Since 2013, a substantial body of literature has emerged in the field of MOOC-related research, with the MOOC becoming both the subject of and vehicle for research. The research approach adopted in Literature and Mental Health was influenced by other, recent research studies conducted within MOOCs, and particularly by the first presentation of Monash University’s Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance FutureLearn MOOC, which distributed a stress survey to its learners in the first and final weeks of the course, to assess the efficacy of the course’s mindfulness practices. 

A number of reasons for trialling the use of this MOOC as a research tool were identified at the project’s outset. MOOCs give researchers access to large numbers of possible research participants, making MOOC research an attractive prospect, while the opportunity to gather valuable, potentially publishable data from free online courses may help to justify the time and resources expended during the production of new MOOCs. Several additional benefits of in-MOOC research were discovered during the process, including the potential for research activities to enrich the learner experience. However, a number of challenges and limitations were also encountered during the development of the study; the inevitable self-selection bias among MOOC learners, and the difficulty of establishing a control group within the MOOC activities, posed impediments to the gathering of useful, publishable data. 

Although we were aware of other MOOCs which had been used as vehicles for research, the process of adapting Literature and Mental Health for this research study was nonetheless an illuminating and instructive experience. The purpose of this paper is to reflect on that experience, and to consider the lessons learned during the process which may be useful in informing future research studies conducted via Massive Open Online Courses.

Reference
Hodge, R., (2016). Adapting a MOOC for Research: Lessons Learned from the First Presentation of Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing. Journal of Interactive Media in Education. 2016(1), p.19. DOI:http://doi.org/10.5334/jime.428

Image source: Judy Dean (CC BY 2.0)

Heuristic Learning & Shakespeare

I used to write about apps I used or liked as part of my work, or at least I recognised could aid me in my work, but have been remiss on this front for a while. So, with the urging of a few peeps on Twitter (thank you) I’ll start it up again.

This new app I’ve installed actually covers two loves – learning/reading and technology. In my role as eLearning Consultant at Warwick Business School I am responsible for the University of Warwick’s Shakespeare and His World MOOC. My involvement with this course and Professor Jonathan Bate has kick started my love of reading – I studied English Literature A-level. So here we have an app that’ll help me understand the use of technology (and see a fantastic new approach to tech that can aid learning) as well as the understand the Bard’s language.

Back in 2011 I wrote this post about how ebooks, even apps, could be used to greatly enhance the learning experience beyond just the basic text-and-note features the early e-readers offered. It seems it’s coming true (I wish the images in that post had survived a server & hosting service migration)?

Heuristic Shakespeare - The TempestHeuristic Shakespeare – The Tempest (iPad): Like many I find Shakespeare difficult to understand, sometimes just plain obscure. Through the MOOC mentioned above I have learned a lot more about Shakespeare’s influences in the time he wrote the plays (literary, cultural, personal, etc.) as well as the subtleties of his jokes and digs(and careful similarities) to the establishment. This app, therefore brings everything together and makes this one play, The Tempest, so much easier to understand, read, watch, and like.

“The Tempest from Heuristic Shakespeare is the first in a collection of thirty-seven separate apps. Each app is a tool for demystifying one of Shakespeare’s plays and making it more accessible to a modern audience. Sir Ian McKellen and Professor Sir Jonathan Bate take us on journey of discovery using the world-famous Arden Shakespeare texts and their extensive essays and notes. The apps function is to provide an essential aid to understanding and enjoying the plays in the theatre or on the screen.”

Heuristic Shakespeare – The Tempest $5.99 / £4.49
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/heuristic-shakespeare-tempest/id1099176816

From the outset it is clear this app brings the very best of the internet (small ‘i’ these days) and learning. Not least the range of names and successful Shakespearean actors and scholars like Sir Ian McKellen and Prof Sir Jonathan Bate (both of who I worked with on another MOOC), but the way in which multimedia has been used to enhance the text, not replace it.

For those studying Shakespeare for any level of exam or are just an avid reader or Shakespeare lover this App is as good as any book or cheat-sheet note … if not better! If you ignore the videos where the actors read/act the play for you (a massive boost to my understanding – let the actors handle the difficulty of getting the pace, language and emphasis right, I can concentrate on the words and their meanings) the rest of the features are worth getting the app on their own – Shakespeare’s timeline, productions of the play, a copy of the First Folio pages, etc.

Note: I wont review each of the subsequent 36 apps, if indeed they do get round to them all, but suffice to say this approach is a quality one, offering everything I could ever have wanted when I was 16-18 and studying Shakespeare myself.

Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 1  Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 4

Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 5

Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 2  Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 3

Now on to the actually purpose of the App .. and it being called ‘heuristic’. For me a ‘heuristic’ learning experience is all about having the freedom or opportunity to use my experiences to discover or solve something myself. I may be led to the subject, question, or the problem, but the process of learning and solving or answering the question is for me to work out. I wont use, or even know, the best or most efficient process to use to do this, I’ll no doubt flounder around while i figure out what I need to be doing, but it’ll be my decision, my design process, and my skills that’ll take me through this and towards a solution.

And this is exactly what this App offers … the ability to use/choose what version of the play I want: either the text of the play, the pages from the First Folio, actors performing the words, understanding where the play. This is amazing and there should be more opportunities for people to learn like this, Shakespeare or not.

If you’re an English Literature teacher, or a student who’s used the App please let me know what you think of it? Did it help? What aspect of the App you found most useful, interesting, distracting, good for comprehension, good for revision, etc.?

 

How ‘long’ is too ‘long’?

For a few years now I’ve been spouting the same lines when it comes to planning a video for an distance learning course or MOOC: “preferably no more than 4 minutes, definitely no more than 6.” Anything more than 6 and we’d consider splitting it at a natural point in the subject, or working with the individual and their content and seeing where a natural break can be made, or other ways to shorten the video.

This has been supported by experience (from distance learning courses I’ve supported at both Bournemouth and Leicester University’s) and the MOOCs I’ve supported and developed while at Warwick, as well as articles like this.

As with everything, there is enough evidence to be found to support and to disprove it.

Yes, I agree that if you have a ‘teaching’ resource, where the academic/teacher is speaking to camera then there is an optimum length that someone will sit and be ‘talked at’, and this is where I see the 6 minute limit coming into play. These kinds of resources are often loaded to a VLE or a MOOC and as part of a set of resources for the topic or week’s subject area.

But there are other approaches to video content where I don’t see this working. What about case studies or mini-documentaries? What about a conversation, when a short 4 minute clip just isn’t enough to get in to the details? Do you still stick to the short-is-best message? In order for these to work you will often need to make it longer so the content and ‘message’ of the case study can be put across.

Let’s not forget, the video is nothing on it’s own. It must always be put into context for the student – why are you presenting the video for them to watch, what do you expect them to think about when they watch it, is there something they need to question as a result of the video (and/or linking it to other resources to build their wider knowledge about the subject area), can they critique the resource and present their findings back to the group, etc.?

Examples:

Short, teaching video.
Taken from the Big Data course, this short video is a well-liked video of Associate Professor Suzy Moat talking directly to you, the student. It’s a great example of the personal approach you can still achieve from a 4 minute video, carefully planned and edited

Measuring happiness with Twitter and Facebook

Big Data: Measuring happiness with Twitter and Facebook – click to watch on FutureLearn. You can’t see the comments on this step unless you were enrolled on the course (April, 2015)

Long, non-teaching video.
Taken from the Literature and Mental Health MOOC, again from my work at the University of Warwick, this is a 26 minute in-depth conversation between Professor Jonathan Bate and Stephen Fry. No ‘teaching’ takes place here, but a clear and engaging learning resource, in the form of a conversation, where two extremely knowledgable and passionate authors discuss poetic form:

We did try and see what we could edit from this in to a shorter clip for the core materials on the MOOC, whilst making this full version available to those who were interested enough. Then we thought ‘stuff it’, this is excellent as it is, with the ebb and flow of the conversation between them just a pleasure to watch and integral to the learning experience from this resource.

In this example, the students on the MOOC watched the video and reflected on their own interpretation of poetic form, of specific poems, of the love of poetry to relax and ‘meditate’ for their mental wellbeing. The sharing and social aspect of the video, and the strength of camaraderie they shared together on this single resource. This resource, in the first week of the MOOC, had 1,400 comments on it!

Short, non-teaching video.
We have also used a mixture of both the above – taken a long interview and provided a shortened version for the students and the fuller version on YouTube, for those interested in more detail, background, and more depth to the work. In this example we have an interview with Professor Steve Koonin, which was 11 minutes in total, and we produced a more concise 4 minute version and directed the learner to the long version if they were interested.

What happened was that the majority of students who left a comment on the video started by saying to ignore the short one (loaded to FutureLearn) and watch the full version on YouTube instead! There were five of these in total in the course, and each time students referred their colleagues to the longer ones, often saying they’d have loved to have more!

Interview with Professor Steven Koonin

I have heard the argument before, when asking for the context of the video, that you “don’t get that on YouTube” so the students shouldn’t expect it on the VLE. Yes, but YouTube is not a structured learning environment and often, if you’re directing the students to the YouTube video you’d be telling them why. Again, the YouTube video on it’s own is nothing without the purpose of why you’ve given it to the students to watch it … !

For me the length of the video is never the issue. The video should be relevant and to the point, whether it’s an interview, conversation, or presentation, or a teaching style video that needs to get a particular theme or concept across. I will watch, and I realise this is ‘me’, two minutes or 20 minutes of a ‘learning resource’ if I am engaged and I see a purpose to it. If it becomes just waffle or filler or clearly does not have direct relevance to why I’ve been asked (there we are again – context) to watch it, then you’ve lost me and I’m on to something else.

Lecture capture
Lastly, let me cover the subject of lecture capture – I recognise the video approaches above are far higher quality of resource and enterprise that went in to creating them, but the above does not mean there isn’t a place for lecture capture in online and campus based courses because there is.

If a two-hour lecture isn’t stimulating when you sit and watch it at home, then odds are it isn’t for those sitting in the lecture hall itself either. That’s not a fault of lecture capture or the technology; it’s more something the lecturer needs to address. No one would blame students in the lecture that was being filmed for letting their minds wander and for working on something else at some point, so surely it’s fine for those at home to do this too. Those watching the recording have the added benefit of pausing the stream for a break, email, message, etc. and can come back when they’re focussed again. Those watching the archive can re-watch the same section again and again if they like until they’ve understood the section that they couldn’t understand before, or couldn’t hear, or missed due to any other kind of distraction.

There is a place for all these types of video resources, whatever their length. Just so long as it’s relevant. Always relevant.

Image source: David Hopkins (CC BY-NC 2.0)