During September-October, I spent 10 days as a visiting Researcher at the Open University of Catalonia (UoC) in Barcelona, and specifically with the gracious and hospitable researchers, designers, and faculty members of the eLearn Center. The eLearn Center manages an impressive array of projects, events, and resources, a large number of which are funded by the European Union. It also funds researcher visits to the UoC for knowledge exchange and exploration of collaborative work, and I was very fortunate to be invited to participate in this program.
A custom-built system, dubbed “home lab,” is mailed to each UoC engineering student for hands-on work
The Open University of Catalonia is strikingly similar to Royal Roads. The institution was established in 1994 when a group of creative individuals came together and envisioned a virtual institution that would capitalize on the opportunities of a nascent Internet to serve adult learners and working professionals. While these ideas might sound familiar in 2013, they were quite bold and innovative in 1994, bringing traditional distance education into new and uncharted waters. UoC, like Royal Roads, has an institution-wide educational model that focuses on progressive pedagogies, highlighting and valuing interdisciplinary thinking, collaborative learning, and ongoing assessment (here is a copy of Royal Road’s teaching and learning model to compare). I was especially excited to see the institution’s support for open access and open scholarship.
While in Barcelona, I spent a lot of time talking with colleagues and discussing opportunities for collaboration. One of the highlights of my trip was meeting with individual doctoral students and advising them on their research. It was especially fun to spend an hour or so with Antonella Esposito who studies doctoral students’ digital practices, as her work relates to the concept of Networked Participatory Scholarship that Royce Kimmons and I have been investigating since 2011. I also gave a seminar on qualitative methodologies for analyzing learners and educators’ naturalistic online participation and a lecture with a very long title: The significant opportunities and challenges that learners, educators, researchers, and learning institutions are facing in the age of “open” and “connected.”
I am sitting at a coffee shop in Vancouver, BC reflecting on my time at COHERE 2013. This was my first Canadian conference since moving to Victoria, and it was a great opportunity to meet and spend time with colleagues (many of them Canadians) including Tony Bates, Rory McGreal, Martha-Cleveland Innes, David Porter, Diane Janes, Diane Salter, Jenni Hayman, Richard Pinet, Robert Clougherty, and Cindy Ives. It was also great to see Ron Owston, Frank Bulk, and Kathleen Matheos again – and my colleagues Vivian Forssman and BJ Eib were there too! The conference was relatively small and the sessions were 40 minutes long, allowing ample time and space for conversations, networking, and debates. I really appreciated the intimate atmosphere that we were afforded for spending time with each other. The organizers (Kathleen Matheos and Stacey Woods) did a fantastic job!
Cable Green from Creative Commons delivered the first keynote and David Porter from BC Campus delivered the second. I sat on a respondent panel for Cable’s keynote and argued three points: (a) we need to build on and go beyond open educational resources, and think about open practices, (b) each of us needs to take action in supporting openness (e.g., by teaching sharing as a value and literacy), and (c) by recognizing that “open” is under threat of being subverted. It was fascinating to sit on a panel with four others and see how our responses to the keynote differed, but how they all coalesced around similar messages as well.
I also gave a presentation discussing early findings from my research into learners experiences in MOOCs, open courses, and other open learning environments, and you might be interested in Tony Bates’ take on this research:
These findings are not fully refined and analyzed, yet. However, in thinking about these results, reading the literature and claims around MOOCs, and thinking about recent developments in educational technology, I am beginning to see MOOCs more and more as a symptom of chronic failures of the educational system to tackle significant issues. On the one hand, I and others have argued that MOOC creators have ignored research into how people learn and how people learn with technology. Tony Bates in particular (see the last link), is very clear when he says “Why is MIT ignoring 25 years of research into online learning and 100 years research into how students learn in its design of online courses?”
On the other hand however, the rise of MOOCs seems to be a symptom of a series of failures and pressures. I like the argument that George Siemens makes in relation to inadequate university approaches to educational needs, “Universities have failed to recognize the pent-up demand for learning as the economy has diversified and society has become more complex and interconnected. As a consequence, the internet has contributed by creating a shadow education system where learners learn on their own and through social networks. MOOCs reflect society’s transition to a knowledge economy and reveal the inadequacy of existing university models to meet learner’s needs.” I’d like to take this argument further. As a field, we could do more to have greater impact on the design and development of educational technology solutions, including MOOCs. Steps to do that would include sharing our research more broadly and in different ways (e.g., publishing in open access venues and putting theory-to-practice), engaging in what Tom Reeves calls socially-responsible research that solves real problems, working across disciplines, reconsidering the ways that we understand, evaluate, and reward impact at our institutions, and so on. More on these issues, soon!
I visited Educause 2013 this year, largely after an invitation by Tanya Joosten and Amy Collier to participate on a panel exploring what makes technology pilots successful. The panel was entitled Prepare for Lift-Off: Becoming a Successful IT Pilot Site. Laura Pasquini took some notes on a google doc and Tanya posted the slidedeck here. The session was described as follows:
“Your campus is an innovator in many ways, and you’ve been approached to be a pilot site for a new campus IT product. You’d like to say yes to the idea, but you’re not sure you have the infrastructure to make it work. Join a panel of your university colleagues to learn the ropes and discover what it takes to successfully deliver and host technology pilots on your campus. The panelists will offer a dynamic conversation on the importance of stakeholder involvement, faculty engagement and selection, faculty development and support, technical infrastructure, student support, research and evaluation, and critical steps your institution needs to take to ensure your pilot not only flies but soars.”
Photo by Jason Jones
This was my first time at the conference. My goal throughout the conference was to explore this group’s horizon, or what this group is currently seeing as being promising initiatives for higher education. In summary, the focus was on: competency-based learning, learning analytics, and MOOCs. Openness was relatively absent. Research was largely absent. Vendor-driven solutions were pervasive, and I left yearning to know more about innovations created and implemented by learning designers and/or by institutions themselves.
There were two innovations that I have been thinking about since the event:
- I had a lovely chat with Rob Farrow who shared with me the work that the Open University is doing with the OER Research Hub. The project aims to collect evidence in relation to the claims surrounding openness, and more specifically to answer the question ‘What is the impact of OER on learning and teaching practices?’ Given my beliefs about the inordinate value that research brings to educational technology, you can see why I was exited about the topic.
- The second innovation that I learned about was Class Mob, which is a prototype developed through the Breakthough Models Academy. There are some interesting projects in that link, but I thought that Class Mobs represented a truly novel idea centering around the development of an alternative educational system that supported learners, accounted for what we know about teaching/learning, encouraged corporations to extend traditional higher education, and empowered individuals to have a say in their education.
In mid-August,, I posted a note asking for your vote on a panel I proposed for SXSWedu consisting of Tanya Joosten, Amy Collier, Audrey Watters, and myself. The topic was: Startups Should Talk with Researchers and Educators,
I’m uber excited to report that our proposal has been accepted. We will be headed to Austin in March to discuss how researchers and educators can contribute to the design, development, refinement, and ultimately effectiveness of learning technologies and educational technology.
Tanya described why she is interested in this topic on her blog. I thought I would do the same, especially as Tanya, Amy, and I were at Educause this week discussing issues that educational institutions need to consider when piloting for technology/innovations.
A lot of you may not know this, but I have a degree in computer science, and way back when, in my undergraduate thesis I developed software enabling real-time interactions between students and instructor that emulated classroom processes by allowing students to “raise their hand” to ask questions, make comments, etc. This was nothing spectacular, unique, or groundbreaking. Yet, it was my first attempt at developing educational technology to solve a (perceived) problem. Since then, I have concurrently done design/development work and research, and I see myself as a researcher and a designer. Some of the projects I have worked on are AvenueASL (a language learning and e-assessment platform), Project Engage (a dual credit course and online learning environment introducing students to the Big Ideas relating to Computer Science), Geothentic (an online environment immersing students in Geography through situated, real-world problem-solving), and AL through Water and MOSS (an online learning environment supporting science learning via outdoor exploration). I don’t only write about learning technologies. I also build them.
How does one reconcile D&D work and research? My perspective is that it’s not enough to study what happens with educational technology. Studying, analyzing, critiquing, and questioning educational technology is very important. It’s imperative. But, we need to take the additional step to use the research to (a) design and develop educational applications, and (b) inform others on what the research says so that they can develop effective technology-based solutions based on what we know about teaching and learning. Hence the need for this panel.
I was also motivated to put together this panel after participating in SXSWedu 2013. One of the sessions I attended last year focused on business models for educational technology. One of the panelists noted that their commitment to their investors is profit, not learning outcomes. I’m not naive. Entrepreneurship is important and we should support and reward it in various ways. However, putting profits before learning outcomes is corrosive and dangerous. The biggest losers in such a setup will be learners, the idea of the university, and the idea of education. Our panel at SXSWedu is an attempt to add some sense to the conversation, to ‘add the “edu” to “sxsxedu” ‘ (I think that’s a Laura Pasquini quote, but i might be mistaken). It is also an attempt to explain to startups and vendors how they can have their cake and eat it too, how they can make meaningful, and much needed, change in education without necessarily sacrificing other goals that they have.
Whether you are an educator, a startup company, a researcher, a reporter, or an administrator, please join us – we’d love to have you!
For your information, here is our panel’s description: Education is facing numerous challenges. Educational technology startups promise solutions. However, entrepreneurs seem to disregard the knowledge that educators and researchers have amassed that can help startups address these challenges, or, at least, help them avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. At the same time, we were astounded by the lack of educators and researchers that were sharing their knowledge at last year’s SXSWedu conference. The event felt more like a vendor gathering than what the SXSWedu website describes as “meaningful conversation and collaboration around promising practices and tools for improved learning.” If we want meaningful and transformational change in how we do education, it is imperative for entrepreneurs and educators/researchers to converse. In this interactive panel, we will discuss how educators/researchers can help startups improve their products and answer questions pertaining to education research, how people learn, and classroom practice.