Personal Learning Networks: It’s who you know

Das britische Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) hat einige Statements, Beispiele, Stichworte (”seek - sense - share”, “working out loud”) und Argumente zusammengetragen, um seine Community von den Vorteilen persönlicher Netzwerke zu überzeugen. Vor allem mit Blick auf die Möglichkeiten, die die sozialen Netzwerke heute HR- und L&D-Professionals bieten. Aber der wichtigste Punkt steht am Ende des Artikels:

“The future for L&D, in part, could be in encouraging employees to build PLNs rather than being the direct facilitators of learning.”
Georgi Gyton, People Management, 24. August 2016

Networks – establishing and maintaining them

So, how would you provide an insight into creating and maintaining a professional network, in 140 characters? This was a challenge I took up from David Walker this morning.

Tweet

Actually, once I included Twitter handles of David, Sue, and Sheila, I only had 108 characters left. This is what I said:

Tweet

Replies both David and I received include, from Sheila MacNeill, “the more you give the more you will receive” and  a PLN “takes time to cultivate but pays huge dividends as a forum for sharing/Q&As” from Sue Beckingham.

I’ve written previously on networks, and how they work for me:

Many of us are aware of our networks and the impact we/they have on others. For some, like me, the network has grown out of no real plan or long-term goal. For others it’s been carefully managed and nurtured to be what it is. Whichever your approach it is fair to say our respected networks are important to us, both personally and professionally. Therefore we must care for it, and how others see us through it, in order to maintain our position in other peoples network. If we don’t do we end up being removed from networks and getting ‘black flagged’ or a bad reputation?

What would you say, to David or anyone else, about how your PLN, your learning network?

Image source: Kristina Alexanderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Don’t give it to me unless I can customise it

My first car was a 1993 Rover Mini Cooper 1.3i, in British Racing Green (obviously). I bought it second hand in ’97 from John Cooper Garages (JCG) in West Sussex, and the legendary John Cooper himself handed my the keys (and made my mum a cup of tea while I did the paperwork).

Like so many people who own a Mini it didn’t stay ‘standard’ for very long, as I read through the Mini magazines on the kinds of things I could do to personalise the car. I went to Mini events, like the London-to-Brighton Mini Run and the 40th anniversary party at Silverstone, and looked over the show cars and private cars that were parked up, as well as the stands and auto-jumble traders. I bought the whole set of JCG brushed aluminium door furniture (window winders, door pulls, etc.) and chrome accessories (bling!), as well as doing more mechanical upgrades like vented discs and four-pot calliper for both front and read brakes, and a full-length straight-through (manifold to rear ‘box) DTM-style exhaust system (ooh, that was awesome!).

This was the start of my love affair with tinkering and messing with anything that’s standard to make it personal for what and how I like it. 

At the same time as mod’ing my Mini I also started to work in web design. Here I worked with HTML code and WYSIWYG editors. I constantly tried new designs and different approaches to layout, colours, structure, brand implementation, etc. I was customising what I could, using tools and ideas around me. If I saw a website I liked I’d look at the code, see how it was done, and try it for myself. Then I’d improve it to work how I wanted it to, where I wanted it, and why I wanted it.

Fast forward to 2007 when I joined Bournemouth University (BU) as a Learning Technologist and started working with the likes of Blackboard, TurningPoint, Echo360, etc. Note how I use names of the companies rather than more generic tool names like VLE, audience response, lecture capture? These were systems I had to use out-of-the-box (i.e. no personalisation or customisation), as were other systems within BU. I had opportunities to be more creative and enterprising in other fields and other aspects of my work, but these were highly controlled and locked-down systems that offered little ability to personalise or customise.

For something like Blackboard I had to work in the defined structure and implementation of the installation, but I settled in to it because I had the ability to use it creativity when it came to different approaches to presenting learning materials, online activities, offline resources. I worked with some amazing people in the Business School to develop innovative (for us, at least) assessment techniques (group working, case studies, multimedia, time constrained papers, Box of Broadcasts, etc.) and different ways to utilise and customise Blackboard within the structure of a defined and prescribed ‘default template’.

Today I still have to work within constraints of learning management systems, both internally at Warwick and externally with, for example, FutureLearn. Sometimes the rigidity frustrates me (whilst I fully appreciate the reason for it) and sometimes it’s a welcome boundary with which I can fall back on as a base-line to build on/from. I use WordPress on a number of hosted and self-hosted websites (like this one and my 100 books project), which gives me some freedom to customise how and what I present, although I admit to leaving the innards well alone in case it gets messed up with the next WordPress update.

Customisation, for me, has been key to my own development and understanding of what kind of learning technologist I want to be. Yes, a defined and rigid system is needed in order for it work for everyone, all the time. Yes, the boundaries are required in order that, for example, students. Yes, it annoys me when systems change without warning or without input from the users (e.g. Twitter ‘like’ option), whether they’re free social systems or expensive VLEs (has anyone ever had timely updates to problems identified in Blackboard? How long did you have to wait for the next ‘patch’ which would fix it? Months? Years?).

This customisation has spilled over into other aspects of my life too. I’ve customised by smartphone with a custom cover, I’ve got stickers over the back of my tablet, but this isnt’ really customising the device, just changing the look of it. Yes, I can move apps around and group them together how I think I want to use the, but this isn’t customising it, is it. I think the last time I customised a computing device was when I opened my old ZX Spectrum and did something inside (add extra RAM, I can’t remember).

I’ve loved reading about projects recently where people have ‘hacked’ furniture and repurposed them. Over the festive break this year we’ll be doing this too as a present to our boys (aged 5 and 6), using Ikea Kallax shelving units as base and storage area under a bed, also providing a play space underneath for the kids. For my other boy we’re going to hack his bunk bed and make a fort (like this, but not as full-on – I know my limits). We’re also looking at different ways to create outdoor living space in the garden from different structures – how about a railway carriage (within reason, not sure my neighbours want a full-size one in the garden, even if it did fit!)?

Something else I’ve customised is the humble photo frame. Taking a standard 3-photo frame I removed the glass and stuck a couple of flat Lego base-units in each frame. Each month, sometimes more often, we take it down and the boys make something new to put in each aperture. Again, it wasn’t something I thought could be customised, but now I know I can I love it and see other standard objects in a way that makes me think about how I can customise it, make it work better, for me.

I have also customised my own learning. I use my network (PLN) on social sharing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to not only source topics or articles or research or courses that interest me, but also to engage with them (you!) as I read, learn, interact, engage, and progress through the resource(s). I’ve taken part in a number of MOOCs now (#OpenBadgesMOOC and #ocTEL and #EDCMOOC) and have enjoyed the experiences, both positive and negative. I can pick up these courses up pretty much when I please, and drop them if something else takes my attention. Being flexible allows me to fit more into my life. You might say it diverts my attention too much (you could be right) but if it works, and I’m learning new things about new subjects that benefit me personally and professionally, then why not? Shouldn’t more of us be doing it? I haven’t taken a formal course since my PG Cert in 2010, and that was the first real formal training since I graduated in ’96. I was planning on taking the MSc in Learning Innovation from Leicester, but was actually glad it didn’t run in the end; I’m just not ready ,or interested enough, to dedicate that much time to a formal course. Plus the fact I don’t think I want the formality a course like that dictates anymore.

I want / like the informality of connecting with people through online networks – it’s become a standard to how I think, being able to take something and mould to my needs. Finding new people or resources that go someway to fulfilling my needs is almost expected these days, and the ability to take it and adapt it (with proper attribution, of course!) is the norm.

That’s me: customising what I can to make it ‘work’ for me.

Image source: Daniel Go (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Does your avatar matter?

We all have an avatar on our social network accounts. Some of us took awhile before changing the default, others selected one and have stuck to it over the years. But what does your avatar say about you?

For many this was what people remember me on Twitter for, despite the fact he wasn’t my first avatar:

David Hopkins

Remember him? I used him for about 3 years, and was happy. Scrolling through the status updates made it easy to see and identify tweets or links or shares coming from myself. At the time he was useful as few people used illustrations, favouring more social and personal photos. He was used everywhere, except LinkedIn. For LinkedIn I used a (slightly) more professional, but stylised, B&W photo.

I fought against changing it for quite a long while, against all the posts and articles suggesting I was unprofessional or lacking in integrity or ability to be trusted for not having a ‘proper’ avatar. he is/was my brand, and it was how people knew me and how I’d grown my PLN. I was all to aware of how it could be viewed, and how it could affect how others viewed me, but I am more interested in people judging me for my actions or ability to do my job than how my avatar looked or what shoes I wear. Judge me by my posts, tweets, and what I share, not my avatar or shoes or car I drive.

When we started the BYOD4L (Bring Your Own Device for Learning, January 2014) course I wanted people to actually see me this time, not an illustration, on the course and in the tweet-chats. So, for the duration of the BYOD4L course I changed my Twitter avatar to the same as my LinkedIn one (for no other reason than I liked it):

David Hopkins

But then I realised that I didn’t need or want to hide behind an illustration any more. I kept this avatar for Twitter, and started to update my other social channels to use this one too (SlideShare, Klout, Academia.edu, Google+, etc. After a few months I wanted something a little less obscure and something a little more professional, so I tweaked it and started using this one:

David Hopkins

Same image, but actually showing me, not half of me!

Then, Christmas 2014 I made one final change. It was originally a selfie I took and messed around with in different Apps for colour, blur, etc., but I ended up liking it … and it’s stuck for the last 6 months:

avatar festive

Note: I’ve not mentioned Facebook or avatars that I’ve used. There’s a good reason, I don’t use Facebook for work or my professional activity. I have used many different avatars that often reflect where I’ve been or people I’ve met, as well as using pics of one or both of my boys. I keep my Facebook account separate to my other online activities, this is part of how I choose to use social networks.

For those of you interested, this was my first ever avatar!Muppet

So … what does your avatar say about you? Or, what makes a good avatar?

  • Real photo vs illustration / cartoon: Obviously I’d ignored this advice for many years, and i don’t think it harmed my online persona, but I have had more positive activity and engagements since showing people who I really am.
  • Show yourself: Again I didn’t do this very well, as one avatar only showed half of me, not my full face. It’s also worth noting to avoid obscure angles or facing away from the camera, or looking too far away.
  • Smile? Do avatars of people smiling make you want to find out more about them, or not? Does it matter? Some reports say a smile is better, but it depends on whether you’re a comfortable smiler (I’m not, too many chins!) or a slight smile (see above) is enough.
  • Colour? Does colour matter, are B&W avatars OK? I like the B&W look, it doesn’t bother me, but for some it’s not ‘right’ or ‘professional’ enough.
  • Staged vs natural: I have never liked staged, stock photos, anywhere. While they may suit the contact details on a website, they look out of place on social networks (note, these are social channels, the staged photos are more corporate, and this is why I tend to ignore shares or tweets from corporate looking accounts.
  • Consistency: If you use different channels then help your followers out by using the same avatar across them all. It’s not always possible to use the same account name or handle, which can make finding people difficult, but if the avatar is the same, it’s so much easier!

What about you, what do you look for in people’s avatars?

Image source: Chris Christian (CC BY-SA 2.0)

What makes a good online learning experience?

Is it possible to define the qualities of what makes a good online learning experience, or a good MOOC? Is there a check list we could have pinned to the wall which we could use as we design and build our courses?

Here’s a few items I think the list needs, feel free to add your own ideas in the comments field below:

Presentation: Is the student able to relate to the subject and the presenter / educator? This is not always easy as the platform (Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, Udacity, etc.) often controls how the materials are ‘presented’. Even with these constraints you do have options on designing your materials and laying them out in ways which make them easy to navigate or interact with. 

Accessible: Yes, there is web accessibility, but there is also ‘how easy is it to find your way around the materials’. Are there signposts in place at different points of the course to extra reading, areas for interaction and engagement, contact details, schedules, assessment points, etc.?

Interaction: You will probably have specific pinch-points in the course where you have designed and expect interactivity, but remember that students may want to interact or comment on other resources as they work their way through your materials. Consider adding functionality to enable students to do this (a dedicated forum for questions,or comments on each step?) and that someone from the course team will monitor these areas and is ready (and able?) to reply where necessary.

Connection: Remember that your students are not only geographically dispersed, but will have a range of learning styles, backgrounds, and availability. Not everyone can join your online chat or webinar at a certain time every week (it’s likely they work and have family commitments that take priority), just like they may not be able to access materials due to firewall issues. Distance learning students often say they don’t feel connected or part of the University or course because of these distances, so think about including some getting-to-know-you or group activities, give them opportunities to meet each other (virtually) and grow their own learning network (PLN).

Build for online: Re-using the same materials and design for an online course that you teach face-to-face will probably not work. Your existing materials and activities are designed with you as a focal point, where you can introduce, explain, highlight, and support students in a real-time environment. Online, things are different. Students will access and interact with the materials and each other asynchronously, therefore there will be delays between posts, requests, etc. of days or even weeks. Providing a link to a resource (PDF, PPT, etc.) should not be done even with face-to-face students (contextualise it, explain what it is and why they need it) and it’s even worse for learners at a distance: introduce each step and resources, explain what it is and why the student needs it, and provide an action to it (read, discuss, critique, analyse, share, etc.) to give it meaning.

Platform: Know what functionality your platform has (Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, Udacity, etc.) and what you can use, where, and why. Consider each tool you’ll use to present materials as well as ask for engagement, and be sure the students have adequate instruction to use them if they’re new. Don’t use every tool in the box for the sake of making the course seem ‘modern’ or ‘interactive’ if there is no reason to do so. At the same time don’t ignore the tools available to you, just because you don’t know what they do – go find your Learning Technologist (or equivalent) and work with them during the process of designing your course – they’ll help you think about different tools or techniques available, explain what benefits they can offer you and your students, and help you implement and support them.

Value: For some this will be value of resources, for others it’ll be quality of videos produced and used. Consider each stage of the course, each resources you’ve included (core or recommended) and think about whether it is adding value to the learning experience, or not. If it’s going to cause a distraction, drop it. if it’s interesting but tangental to the learning journey, then consider moving to an area that students can go if they want more information.

Visual elements: Don’t forget that images or diagrams  (infographics?) can help showcase an idea, concept, or theory just as much as words can. Not everything need an image, but something that could link or help structure the course materials may well aid students and their understanding of the subject.

Journey: The learning journey should not just be about getting from the start to the assessment (and passing). There should be goals set at different pinch points where students can show understanding or critical evaluation of themselves and the materials. I prefer courses that don’t have exams (that’s because I always did badly under exam conditions) and alternative ways of assessment should be explored. Admittedly there are restrictions on what you can and can’t do with assessments that are possibly based on the platform, programme, or QAA (Quality Assurance Agency), but we shouldn’t stop thinking about improving and enhancing the learning journey and learning experience with different assessment methods.

Time: Do you make resources and materials available all at once or release them over a published time frame? Do you allow students to work ahead of the rest or keep them back so they engage at the same time as everyone else? Do you have objectives or webinars that require synchronous learning; what do you do if these don’t meet with individual and personal schedules? Do you provide alternatives?

Testing: Never underestimate how much time testing your course should take, and always get someone who has not worked on it to try it out. Test links, embedded media, tools, logins, interactions, assessments, etc. from both the view of how the students will view and interact with them, and how the course team (academic and administrative) will support your students.

What makes a good online course?

Image source: Kristina Alexanderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

How Twitter can be used for informal personal learning?

I joined Twitter in January 2008 and in the last 6 years, 4 months, and 7 days since my first tweet I have made or posted nearly 33,000 tweets! As I highlighted in my post from last year I have found Twitter the single most important source of information, events, research, back-channel, inspiration, and motivation I have even come across.

Of course it’s not actually Twitter that does this; it’s the individuals I have connected with in those 6 year, from all corners of this wonderful world and from all walks of life and cultures. These people, who I’ve built my Personal Learning Network (PLN) around, have made me laugh, cry, think, reflect, criticise, critique, avoid, seek out, and generally strive to know more about myself.

The great thing is that you/they had no idea they were doing it, or even part of it. That’s because that’s what I use Twitter for. You might use Twitter for something else; running buddies, charity auctions, account complaints, celebrity stalking, coffee-shop cake comparisons. We each have our own version of the same system that offers our own unique answers or destinations. 

Perhaps this is why Sue Beckingham asked me to help her out with her MSc dissertation because of both my approach, and use, of Twitter.

Using Google docs (something I first used for interviews and to collaborate on writing The Really Useful #EdTechBook), each question was semi-structured, giving the opportunity for follow on questions based on the interviewees answers. Sue certainly got me thinking about my own use, past and present, of how I use(d) Twitter.

With Sue’s permission, here is our exchange. I wish Sue the very best with her MSc dissertation, I only hope my small contribution was of use?!

How Twitter can be used for informal personal learning?

Sue Beckingham: The purpose of my research is to gain an understanding of how Twitter can be used for informal personal learning, the context in which it is used, and the perceived personal value of this space as a learning environment. I am interested to find out how you as an Educator in Higher Education might use Twitter as an informal personal learning space and what this space affords.

Thinking about the people and organisations you follow on Twitter, how did you identify them as useful to follow for your personal informal learning?

David Hopkins: It’s difficult to remember back to when I started using Twitter but I remember being a little confused about it, and didn’t fully understand what is was and what is could be used for. After a while I focussed my tweeting and searches on my work as a Learning Technologist and then started to follow and converse with some sector leaders (Steve Wheeler, Grainne Concole, James Clay, etc.). From there I kind of followed their lead: I watched and learned, I started to blog my ideas and thoughts, I started to have people follow me and, using their Twitter bio, decided if I wanted to follow them back. At the start the number of people I followed far out weighed those who were following me, but it soon balanced out (which is key if you’re to be seen as a ‘thought leader’ and not just someone who follows everyone and anyone).

SB: Thank you. What would you say makes for a good bio? What should you include?

DH: A good bio ‘should’ include a real photo of you (although I hold my hand up and admit that I had an illustration, which looked nothing like me, for 5 years on many social media sites), link to your online ‘home’ (somewhere you are managing and collating all your network activity; blog, LinkedIn, About.Me, etc.), and a brief description of who you are or what you tweet about. I tend to ignore people who have things like ‘… father, lover, footy-mad, beer-drinking, etc.’ even if they start with a professional sounding job or bio description. Perhaps this is a true reflection of their use of Twitter, which is fine, but I’m not interested in the ‘lover’ or ‘footy-mad’ part of their activity, so that will put me off. I’ll find my information elsewhere.

SB: When you visit Twitter do you have a particular approach to finding new information?

DH: It depends where I am: at work I have Twitter open in a browser tab and flick between that and work tabs. At home I’ll be on my tablet or smartphone. Each platform means I use it differently: the browser version is easier to search, skim-read, click links, etc. The mobile versions need more attention and a clearer approach to finding information as the screen real-estate is more precious and easier to get lost in.

I use Twitter lists and saved searches a lot, but also like to just skim & scroll through my Twitter stream. I find it difficult to avoid the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but have learned over the years to just accept I will miss somethings. Then again, I’ve also learned to trust my PLN that, if it’s important or relevant or interesting, it’ll be retweeted at some point and I’ll catch it another time!

FOMO is hard to get over but as you point out the development of a PLN can alleviate this.

SB: Which of the following do you like to engage in when using Twitter and why?

  • conversations, discussions, debates 
  • answer others’ questions 
  • organised tweetchats 
  • prefer to just ‘listen in’

DH: All of the above, and for different reasons. I won’t deny thinking about each each tweet and how will this benefit my ‘brand’. By this I’m thinking about my reputation and my followers, will ‘this’ or ‘that’ appeal to them as they’ve voluntarily clicked my ‘follow’ button, so will this link, photo, article, discussion, joke, etc. mean anything, or am I going to annoy them with it.

Twitter has always been about the connections and contact I make with my PLN, those I follow and those who follow me, to the extreme that I feel responsible for the quality and quantity of posts, links, etc. If I could I’d reply to each and every tweet or mention I would, but again I have to ration myself to doing what I can. Conversations and debates are what is taking Twitter away from the superficial “here’s my morning coffee” tweets into a meaningful channel to work.

Sharing and ‘broadcasting’ is synonymous with Web 1.0, historically the realm of big business who could afford the high prices of .COM domain names. The rise of the writable-web as Web 2.0 gave everyone who wants it their own voice. The rise of social networks online crosses both of these realms, for me, with the added benefit (or complication) of the mobility and fluidity of Web 3.0 (the ‘executable’ web; Apps and the like).

There are times to listen and watch my Twitter stream, but I don’t like to take from a community without offering something back through either a tweet or some form of recognition.

SB: You mention that you have to ‘ration yourself’ – how do you do this?

DH: More often enough it’s leaving my smartphone or tablet on the side or in my bag so I’m not tempted to check it. Some days it’s easier, especially if I’m busy or engrossed in work or family and friends, other times it’s more difficult especially if I’m at a loss or in need of something more ‘interesting’ to keep my attention. There is no hard and fast rule, or even one that works, but different tactics on different days, for different reasons.

SB: Thinking about information that is shared that you engage with do you find added value where a tweet is extended by adding a link to more information? Which of the following is useful to you as a learner and why?

  • view photos, images, infographics
  • links to videos
  • links to articles, papers, books
  • anything else?

DH: Tweets that have a photo or some form of rich media are definitely more visible and engaging in a busy and sometimes frantic stream of updates, but it’s often not enough. I will usually browse the stream of tweets looking at a mixture of tweet lengths, number of hashtags used, if there are links, etc. but mostly I scroll and browse the avatars of who posted it. Some avatars are easier to spot than others, some I actively look for as I know they tweets about things that, more often than not, interest me. I’m sure I miss lots (FOMO?) but, as I said earlier, I have to accept I will miss some things.

SB: Do you think the number of people you follow contributes to this, ‘actively looking for avatars’, as opposed to reading in tweets in turn?

DH: Definately – the more you follow the larger the stream of tweets will be, and the speed in which they come. I know there are tools like HootSuite and the like to help manage these, as well as utilising Twitter’s own lists and saved searches, but these are not always easy to use, so I resort to just looking at the stream.

SB: What learning experiences using Twitter have been most beneficial to you? (i.e.. when was learning valuable, enjoyable, interesting to you?)

DH: Pretty much every time I tune into Twitter! There is always something being shared or discussed or criticised; from blog posts to news to research to opinions to jokes and personal chat. I have found the back-channel at conferences invaluable to learning and understanding so much of both the presentation, the background to it, as well as understanding the value (or lack of value) to ‘my’ community and my PLN!

Twitter has enabled me to leave my institutional network and reach further afield: nationally and internationally. This has been the single greatest achievement in my career to date, there is no way I could have become the professional I am today if I relied on my internal institutional network (I don’t know anyone who is satisfied with the career/professional development opportunities provided by their employer).

SB: How can others best be of help to you in enabling you to enhance your learning and self-development within Twitter as an informal learning space?

DH: If you take from the network, you should be prepared to give something back. I don’t like the term ‘lurking’, but it is sometimes a good title for those who take but don’t give something back. I know some who ‘listen’, but these people do sometimes give something back, even if it’s only a comment or share. If they power is in the network, any node of the network that takes and uses for its own glory, but doesn’t enhance or give back weakens the network.

Image source: Duncan Hill (CC BY 2.0)

How do you measure the ‘success’ of a MOOC?

Here’s a question I’ve been battling for some time .. how do you measure the ‘success’ of a MOOC? The problem is that I haven’t been able to define what the ‘success’ is supposed to be, so to try and measure it seems, well, a pointless exercise.

So, here’s a few thoughts I’ve had based on my experiences as a learner on MOOCs (yes, plural), and as part of a team developing and delivering 4 FutureLearn MOOCs now (with a few more in the pipeline too!).

  • Do you look for the headline figures of number of registered learners, or the number of registered learners that became learners (visited the course)?
  • Do you look for the number at the number of learners who did something, that engaged on the course in some way .. as either a number (e.g. 4,000) or as a percentage of the learners who visited the course (e.g. 40%)?
  • If you plan your MOOC to link to a paid-for course (degree, training, etc.) do you measure the success by the number of MOOC learners who enquire, or sign-up, to the linked course?
  • Do you look to the quiz or test responses, to see who’s retained and regurgitated the information based on a ‘score’?
  • Is it the final number of learners who make it through the length of the course to the end?
  • Is the number of comments a worthy of a measurement of success? Do courses that have more comments (either in volume or as a percentage of active learners) indicate a greater success than those with fewer?
  • Can you measure the success based on interactions on social media, through a defined hashtag? In which case do you measure the number of mentions on the hashtag or dig deeper and quantify the different sorts of engagements, ranging from “I’m on #such-and-such course” to enquiries or the detailed thought process involved in critical thinking along the lines of the MOOC subject?
  • Is a successful course one that takes learners from the MOOC environment into a related course, be it a MOOC or other paid-for course? If so, are you capturing that data?

Here are my thoughts.

The numbers of learners on a course are not important. Yes, it’s good to say you’ve had 10,000 or 50,000 sign-up, but that gives no indication of success, especially when a meagre percentage actually do anything on the course (30%, 50%, etc.). Even then you could look into these numbers, and break out how many who turned up and looked at the course: do you look at the numbers or percentages, and who’s to say what percentage of learners who are ‘active’ or ‘social’ is the mark or a success? Obviously a high percentage would be better, but that doesn’t deal with the quality of comments … are they just “I agree” or ‘yes”, or do they show deep learning and understanding of the subject matter?

Is a successful course one that retains a higher percentage of the learners throughout it’s duration compared to other courses, or compared to previous runs of the same course (if there’s been one)? What about courses that have higher engagement rates of comments or discussions?

At times all we have are the basic figures for learners and how they behave on the platform from simple statistics and analytics of log on time, time on site, pages viewed, etc. Is the problem that the course platforms are not geared up to adequately measure the kind of activity or ‘movement’ through the course materials to give us enough data with which we can produce valuable measurements?

As a learner on various MOOCs (EDCMOOC, OpenBadges, etc.) I have to say that my progression through a MOOC to completion is in no way indicative of my ‘success’ as a learner. In one or two cases (not the two I’ve mentioned here) I dipped in for the very small bit of the course I wanted, learned what I needed, and left. That may have been only 1 week of the 4 or 6 weeks of the course duration. Some other MOOCs I stayed for the duration of the course, yes I stuck it out, but didn’t enjoy the experience and didn’t really learn anything: figures for the course run would indicate that I am indeed a success, but that’s not how I see my experience.

What would be good if we could access the learners, for each of them to answer basic and pertinent questions based on the course. I know some course providers have the option for surveys and online polls before, during, and after a course, but such a small proportion of learners actually complete it you could argue the results are inconclusive simply because (for the post-course survey).

So, does this bring us on to the topic of learning analytics, and how much (meaningful) information can they present? Again, it’s not about login times or page views (although these are important) but about how this data can be linked to other data (like missed deadlines, scores, time between logins, etc.) to present a learners ‘journey’. It’s this journey that gives a more accurate picture of the learner and their individual needs or styles, only through linking the often isolated data sets together.

As ever I turned to my PLN this morning and asked the same question:

How do you measure a MOOC success - tweet

Here are some engaging answers that, again, raise more questions than they really answer …

So … genuine question, how do you measure the success of a MOOC, and what is the ‘success’ you want to measure?

Image source: Barbara Krawcowicz (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Future of Higher Education in a Digital Age

If the student voice has so much power, as I keep reading that it does (when it comes to module feedback, learning resource development, pricing, etc.) then it stands to reason that the voice of students yet to reach Higher Education also have a voice that should be heard?

This is a great video, students and staff alike, saying what their ‘digital age’ education should be … note the accessible, flexible, personal, social, and collaborative  attitudes these students ‘want’ from their learning. Yes, they’re talking about what HE should be in the future, but it’s grounded in their understanding in what is currently available, and possibly what they wish they had already?

“I see technology as the accelerator, the expander, the multiplier.”

YouTube: The Future of Higher Education in a Digital Age

Thanks to Anne Hole for sharing this on G+ earlier today.

Interview with Sharon Flynn, #EdTechBook chapter author

The Really Useful #EdTechBook, edited by David HopkinsAs part of a series of posts, I will be talking to authors of The Really Useful #EdTechBook about their work, experiences, and contribution to the book. In this fifth post I talk to Sharon Flynn, Assistant Director at the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, National University of Ireland, Galway.

DH – Hi Sharon. How does the use of technology, in all its various forms, affect your day-to-day working life?

SF – Almost everything I do, on a daily basis, is affected by technology. From the radio alarm waking me in the morning, the coffee machine that provides the kick to get me started, the always-on aspect of my mobile phone, the constant expectation of availability by email/phone during (and outwith) office hours, my almost constant presence on twitter, my new slow cooker that allows me plan family meals, through to the glorious availability of anything I want to watch on sky+, my day is mostly ruled by technology. And that’s before I get into the proper work aspects of technology for teaching and learning! 

Even when I go running, which really helps to clear my head, I’m using an app to track my route, pace and progress. In the last month I’ve been using an app to track my daily steps, so I know if I need to go for a quick walk in the evening to make up my daily target.

I am always connected. In some ways, it helps me to control my life – at work and at home. But I have to be very aware and very careful that it doesn’t control me. I think I succeed – most of the time.

I love technology. I always have – even when it wasn’t particularly exciting. Moreover, I love to share my love of technology with others. Not everybody appreciates that. But I believe it helps me in my work. I know the limits of technology, which is a good thing. And I know when technology will not help to solve a problem.

DH – Have you found any one aspect of technology, not necessarily one tool or one piece of hardware, to be more valuable than anything else?

SF – In my day-to-day work, social networks (Twitter in particular) has allowed me to build up an amazing Personal Learning Network (PLN) which is probably the most valuable resource I have available to me. Through my PLN I can keep up-to-date with current news and trends in all aspects of my work, not just technologies. Every day I learn something new. It has also given me the possibility of working collaboratively with some fantastic people. Apart from the networking that is offered by attending conferences, which is limited, the opportunities provided by this network of people could not happen in any other way.

DH – It wasn’t until I started using Twitter back in 2008/9 that I started to realise that there was more to my role as a Learning Technologist than I first thought. By following and engaging with others like me, and questioning what I was doing, I developed by chance (there was no ‘grand’ plan or anything like that) my PLN.

I know your chapter is looking at Learning Technologists and the culture(s) we work in, and whether we’re “preaching to the converted or affecting a culture of change”, but is an active online presence a good thing? Is there such a thing as too much information?

SF – I think that an active online presence has been very good for me, but I accept that it’s not for everybody. I was definitely a slow starter, more of a lurker for quite a while. An introvert by nature, I prefer to listen than to talk. But I have slowly built up a valuable PLN that has afforded me more opportunities than would otherwise be possible – especially for somebody who lives on the very edge of Europe, where networking activities are restricted by geography.

In the last 4 years I have introduced many academics to Twitter, through our module on Learning Technologies. For some it has no value at all, they see it as frivolous and a complete waste of time. Others dip in and out, visitors to the the stream. And then there is a core group who become residents, who I meet on a regular basis in my stream, who will DM rather than email, and who are now part of each other’s PLN.

But recent stories of women being targeted in online spaces are very worrying. I like to think that the online world is a great equaliser, particularly in the student/teacher divide. The recent spotlight on the harassment of women such as Kathy Sierra has been truly shocking, and has caused me to question my assumptions. I have never been seriously harassed online, but I am nowhere near as high profile as Kathy Sierra. It does make me wonder how I would react.

DH – I completely agree that, for some, the value of these online spaces for connection and collaboration doesn’t excite or interest them, and something like Twitter won’t fit the need of the individual or the lesson.

Is there a direction you’d like learning technology,or specifically the professional of Learning Technologists to take? I know other #EdTechBook authors are looking at the ‘digital pedagogue’ (David Walker and Sheila MacNeil) and as ‘magicians’ (Rachel Challen), and even as the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ (Sue Beckingham), but where do you see the generic LT role (if there is one) – is it becoming more professional, or more academic?

SF – This is a great question. My own background is as an academic in the discipline of Computer Science, and I worked as a lecturer for more than a decade before moving to my current role in Teaching and Learning. I am not a Learning Technologist, though I lead the learning technologies team at my university. But my role is much broader than technology for teaching and learning.

I think my background helps when I am working with academic staff, because I understand their environment from experience and I know their challenges and pressures. I believe that, to be a successful Learning Technologist, awareness and understanding of the pedagogical context is vital. Everything we do has to start with the pedagogy. A successful technology intervention should be almost invisible.

At the same time, I believe that it is important for Learning Technologists to have the opportunity and support to carry out research that can be more widely disseminated. So, from that point of view I think we must continue to straddle the professional/academic divide, while keeping our roots firmly in Teaching and Learning.

Interview with Sharon Flynn, #EdTechBook chapter author

DH – There is, or rather should be, a freedom in our roles as employees, with an employer, to engage in professional development that both supports the employers needs and the needs of the employee. What direction this takes will be unique to both employer and employee combination.

My own development began when I started to question the role and what I should be doing. Once I realised there wasn’t actually a known, or defined, remit other than reactive and semi-proactive work I searched for opportunities to grow myself and the role. This led me to Twitter and a very unique learning environment of my own PLN (not that I knew anything about PLNs at that point). I am not academic, in either approach or outlook, not do I want to necessarily go down that route, but I do acknowledge I work in an academic environment and I need to be able to talk to academic about established research to back up claims or arguments about the introduction or modification to tools and systems used for and with students. Do you think this is enough, or do we need a balance within a team of those with a greater ‘technology’ angle and others who are more ‘academic’?

SF – I think that Learning Technologists, in an academic environment, have to be very aware of the context within which they work. They also need to have the necessary tools and methods to evaluate what they do and to measure the impact of their work. This is a strong basis for dissemination of good practice within the PLN, but it also provides the business case for our continued existence. Having a keen awareness of the wider academic context also provides opportunities for more strategic work and longer term projects.

I know that I value being able to work as part of a cross-functional team – with learning technologists, AV technicians, educational developers and academic staff within my unit, as well as a myriad of people – technical, academic and administrative staff – in my institution.

DH – Are Learning Technologists appropriately supported in this environment, are institutions capable of supporting the development of such a wide range of individual skills or directions, and is too much left to the individuals own motivation to source and execute their own learning opportunities? On the back of this, for those departments or institutions without (large) teams of LTs to support them, is enough done to support academics in their own developments to enhance their teaching paractices, or is it again left to the individuals to do what they can?

SF – Given that Learning Technologists are still trying to define their role, I think it’s fair to say that institutions don’t have a full understanding of the potential of a good LTA team. In the absence of appropriate development programmes, it’s natural that we should find our own learning opportunities through familiar tools and platforms, building our own PLNs. In one sense that’s a very positive and empowering experience. But more formal, organised approaches to professional development for LTs are emerging. These are mostly driven by the community itself, rather than being imposed, and can be informed by the types of evaluation and measurement of impact suggested previously.

The culture of a department or organisation will be a significant determinant in the resources available to develop academic staff in the enhancement of their teaching practice. In a research-focussed institution, like my own, it may well be left up to individuals to do what they can. But if teaching is valued within the culture of a Department or School, a lot can be achieved to support and enhance good teaching practice.

In that situation, even a small LT team (we are 4 + me) can support, empower and help to develop academic staff in a university with 17,000 students. It means working strategically and, as I hope to show in my chapter, we can make a difference.

DH  – Thanks Sharon, I’m sure, like me, many will agree with you and also hope that initiatives like CMALT and PG Cert courses on Learning and Technology can continue to support an individual’s understanding of their role, and how this fits into their own institutional setting as well as the wider industry sector(s). 

More news about The Really Useful #EdTechBook will be posted here and other social media platforms, using the #EdTechBook hashtag. Please follow and join in for news on the book’s development as well as each individual author’s own interpretation of the process and their own chapters.

Image source: Derek Bruff (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

How to innovate and educate ahead of the wave, Pt.2 #altc

‘Riding Giants: How to innovate and educate ahead of the wave’ is the title & theme for the 2014 ALT Conference – my first ALT conference – and my second post, this one about the second day.

Well, when I say second day the first day never really stopped – one downside of being connected and part of a massive PLN is that the tweets, emails, DMs, mentions, etc. don’t stop. At one point at the end of day 1 I had to just say enough, put the tablet & phone down (to charge) and then go charge my own batteries. For those who were staying on site and continued the party & chats, you are clearly younger than me!

My Sketchnoting continues (it’s just too much fun to stop now) and I feel better at it again. Catherine’s keynote was so well paced and so well structured it was a joy to listen to and engage with; poetry, quotes, feeling, etc. Here they are:

Catherine Cronin Keynote #ALTC: Navigating the Marvellous - Openness in Education, page 1

Catherine Cronin Keynote #ALTC: Navigating the Marvellous - Openness in Education, page 2

Catherine Cronin Keynote: Navigating the Marvellous – Openness in Education

From Catherine to the different sessions, and the East Midlands LT Group, the day was enjoyable, a little too much talk around MOOCs (from people who said they wouldn’t talk about them), lots of engagement and intense brainstorming around so many varied and interesting topics (yes, including MOOCs), and ultimately so rewarding. There is clearly interesting and productive work going on around the UK, and there are so many people,passionate about it, but we all feel the same sense of despair at the bloated talk of MOOC success, inappropriate use of analytics to prove learning has taken place, or the apparent reluctance on academic buy-in on change. In our own way we are all changing these things just by either coming here or engaging with each other online, but it is those who are not engaging, those who have the ability to shape our directions, that we need to get to?

I can now be open about my inclusion as part of the Learning Technologist of the Year award, of which I made a short showcase presentation in support of the award itself. The award itself was made late in the day, much to my own embarrassment … I don’t like being the centre of attention, despite writing posts like this and seeing them retweeted and commented on around the world.

Original image credit: freepik.com