May 132015

Today I am attending Holyrood Connect’s Learning Through Technology event in Glasgow. This is Day Two of the event and I plan to liveblog talks etc. that I attend today.

Welcome and introduction by the Chair – Mark Stephen, Journalist and Broadcaster

Session 1: Planning and leading the digitisation of learning and teaching

University Digital Education Comes of Age – Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Principal & Vice-Chancellor, University of Edinburgh

I want to start with an iconic image for us at the University of Edinburgh – an image on the Masters that we give in Digital Education, and this is a student graduating. It is an online masters, in how to teach online. The students who graduate from that programme can either come along in person in McEwan Hall, or they can graduate virtually in real time – graduating electronically. Last year in the graduation season something very interesting happened – a student graduated in person with his iPad so that he graduated in person and electronically… So those online could see him graduate twice. If you have a serious interest in this area do look at our Online Masters in Digital Education or the MOOC that derives from it…

It is always good to remind ourselves of the history here. Computers really came about in the 1940s as part of code breaking. Vannevar Bush wrote the essay “As we may think” which is really the first essay to pose how we might use computing. We see Crowder’s Branching theory in the 1950s (which still powers modern tools like Scholar), Pask’s Conversation Theory work in the 1950s. Then in the 1960s Smallwood wrote the first self-improving computers; Papert looked at self-expression and the visual language Scratch very much came out of that – and is very much going strong, in fact we have a MOOC on Scratch at Edinburgh University, and worked on the first Spanish version of that MOOC; and Alan Kay came up with the idea of the Dynabook – effectively the netbook/tablet idea – at Xerox PARC; then in the 1970s Kimbell and I worked on computer based learning and Open University came up with CAL. The 1980s saw home computing coming into the Open University, 90’s brought collaborative learning and indeed mobile and “speckled computing” – wearables, internet of things type technologies. Open Educational Resources came about in 2000, and indeed MIT used OER to make courses freely available… didn’t seem to go anyway but in 2012 those resources became MOOCs and that really has changed things. I would also point out that, if you have interest in educational computing, go to Uraguay. For a long time Nicolas Negroponte tried the One Laptop Per Child programme… tried in various places but Uraguay it really took off (see Plan Ceibal) – and that’s part of why the University of Edinburgh is working with Scratch and MOOCs in Spanish. And recently the University of Arizona has announced a discount on first year of conventional undergraduate degrees for those completing their MOOCs…

So… We are seeing a move from Blackboard/Learn etc. to those sorts of systems sitting alongside other softwares, including search, social networks, blogs, video content – a rich world of content that the university does not necessarily build/support but which benefits and sits alongside central University resources and tools. There is no single technology platform anymore.

At Edinburgh our MOOCs cover a range of topics – from Andy Warhol – collaborating with the National Galleries – to chickens! Our most popular course has been philosophy – leading to new masters programmes, books, all sorts of things. And we see many pre-entry students taking that MOOC to find out what philosophy is all about.

We have run 24 MOOCs built, 7 under constructions, 12 MOOCs under consideration; 4 platforms (mostly Coursera and Futurelean) over 1.7m enrolements and we had the first ever real time MOOC last year on the Scottish Referendum – it changed every day in response to the polls and developments. So, why do we do that? Well it’s about reputation – we are early adopters of educational technology. MOOCs allow us to explore a new pedagogical space to inform practice. And we wish to reach as widely as we can with our courses. We also run 64 online masters programmes so it is not unhelpful that some of our MOOCs give some taste of those areas of teaching.

Our MOOC students particularly come from the US and UK, China very much unrepresented. Lots of age ranges – including some very motivated under-18 year olds. Few are motivated by certificates. And in terms of prior academic study we have a highly educated population – these are Edinburgh figures but this is seen across the board in MOOCs – many learners in these spaces have a degree (or several) already.

There are some real competing models of MOOCs… The xMOOC and the cMOOC model. Our #edcmooc kind of breaks these models – with open platforms and collaboration on cMOOC model, but also xMOOC characteristics. Of course MOOCs offer some possibilities for scaling… One thing you really can’t scale is one to one interaction, although you do see a lot of peer learning in MOOCs. And we are also experimenting with automated teaching in these spaces [see my notes on Sian Bayne’s talk].

So, where is the University of Edinburgh going? Well we have more and more online masters… Perhaps our most surprising is an award by the Queen to run an advanced surgery course at an online masters. This is a massively successful course but to take it you need to be a practicising surgeon, you need to be based at a surgical unit, you also need to attend a two week assessment in Edinburgh – but we see online masters takers getting better results than some of those taking similar courses on campus.

So what does all this mean for our mainstream business? Well it is not one or the other for us… on campus and online is hybrid, it’s about what percentage is on campus, what percentage online – which may be courses or resources. Right now we expect to have, by about 2020, about 40,000 students, all with at least one fully online course, we see open studies extended (and expect around 17,000 learners enrolled), and 10,000 fully online/remote students, 100,000s of MOOC learners and 100s of OERs. When we look at that fully online percentage of students by the way, we expect to surpass that estimate I think.

I want to quickly thank some key folk around University of Edinburgh including Jeff Hayward, Sian Bayne, Amy Woodgate, etc. all of whom have been hugely influential in our online learning work.

So, my conclusions? Well, elearning is not new; elearning is now mature. Hybrid will be the new normal. Leading university brands dominate. Better to borrow than to do badly – don’t build your own platform for the sake of it. Learning at scale is real – a successful MOOC is 100,00-200,000 with maybe 30k completing those courses. And the biggest contribution of MOOCs for us has been access – reaching out to schools we never would have been able to reach for philosophy courses (for instance), coming to us for that. And reaching new communities.

And, with that Tim O’Shea is done and, pausing only for an excellent unsavoury equine nutrition joke from our chair, we are moving onto Paul Saunders… 

The changing role of IT leaders – Paul Saunders, Chief Technology Officer and Director of Information Technology, University of Dundee

Any of you who have been to Dundee lately will know that it is undergoing huge change. Back in the 1980s Dundee was quite depressed but now the city is thriving, becoming one of the best cities in the UK. [and here we have a nice quote from Stephen Fry about the perfection of Dundee]. And the University of Dundee is also undergoing change, transforming from a College to School based system, we aim to be the best University in Scotland – and we have tough competition – and want to take this opportunity to transform ourselves and how we support our users.

We are quite a small university but even we have silos, so over the last few years we have been trying to join up what we do. This is not the same as centralisation, it’s about us all working together to deliver on our transformation agenda. We want to have a fundamentally different approach to the way we deliver services, conduct our business and function as a University. But universities don’t like change – I’ve only been working in the sector a few years but I’ve learned that! I used to work at Yahoo! when it was the market leader, before Google’s IPO, and I would say that in terms of change education shares characteristics with many industries, change can be hard.

In terms of IT, we need to work out what we provide, what we support. That doesn’t mean other things will not be used, it means that we focus on what we directly provide. Dr Eddie Obeng said in a recent TED talk that “we spend our time responding rationally to a worls that we understand, and recognise, but which no longer exists”. That applies to Dundee as a city I think, and to IT as a sector.

I worked in a group with Jisc and Educause to look at the changing role of an IT leader. What defines the skills and abilities to be an IT leader – where are the gaps? We also looked at what skills and abilities would be needed in the future (5 years ish). We worked together on a paper which is now available from Jisc and Educause.

We came up with the idea of an IT wheel as a model for IT leadership. We thought it was essential that you, as a human, were part of this. So, at the core of this model is a strategist… It is surrounded with Information Technology, but at Jisc Digifest we had some debate about whether that is an essential set of skills (my own background is in IT, but before that in performance art!). Surrounding the strategist there are roles and skills as Trusted Advisors, as a Visionary, and as a Relationship builder. You need to have that vision, but you also have to deliver on that, otherwise you will have no credibility. There are too many competing products/solutions/providers for IT services to not deliver to expectations. In the outer ring of our model we have Change driver; Promoter/Persuader; Master Communicator – not always a set of skills we, as IT professionals, have; Team builder – we really have to be great team builders, you have to engage people and you have to make sure your people want to do what you want to achieve; Ambassador – IT does not have a positive image in many spheres… ; Coach – you have to mentor people, to nurture your successess.

So how do you use this model? It’s freely available online for CPD, for coaching and useful for spotting talent – it’s much easier to build technical expertise than to develop some of those skills. You need to really take advantage and encourage areas of strength – encourage people to follow what they are passionate about. And that model can also be used in job descriptions for HERA profiles, along with SOPHIA from the BCS, so we can find the right people for the roles.

So take a look at the report! Thank you.

Analytics – creating a student’s “digital ecosystem” – Terry Trundley, Head of IT, Edinburgh College

I’m new to the education sector but I am experienced at working with computers in companies who use customer data in ways that we don’t yet do in education, we don’t exploit these tools like we should be. Back in the 90s I worked with a mobile phone company and we were working with leading edge technologies – working with a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) syste, IVR (Interactive Voice Response), analytical data etc. in 1996. Those are all still around, alongside social analytics, etc. And then we have all the data you have in your institution from your learning systems, from Google Analytics, etc. So we do that from first approach by a student, when we add them to the CRM, and can work with and track them through to alumni stage…

What do airlines and colleges have in common? Bums on seats! You need a lot of people for this to work. So, when I joined Edinburgh College two years ago that was very much the challenge… I spoke to the development team… experts from outside had suggested the website was the issue… blamed IT… But then they hadn’t had a spec, and they hadn’t been given a lot of the content needed. And behind the scenes our call management and enquiry processes weren’t working well – again they blamed IT. But I pointed out that course content could not come from IT, so we asked colleagues for that content… And we also then used Google Analytics to point out where the problems were… This showed that students came into the website, but when they looked for information they were getting stumped. Having gotten the trust, showing those analytics, and reviewing those processes, where we are now is a completely different situation. Part of the model we are using is that, say, for hairdressing (one of our most popular courses) we can look at job vacancies, previous graduates who have gone into those jobs, how many are studying – we can actually ensure that our courses fit into a supply and demand model.

And now over to my colleague Gavin, who will give a live demo of the system we are using.

Gavin: We were running courses without looking across the portfolio for uptake. We used an airline type model to understand our courses, and likely uptake, before we even run the courses. We had enterprise applications data… We could see unique applicants for number of places, we could break it into courses, and use analytics of views and applications to those courses to create a live conversion rates. And we created some gamification to allow the product managers to aim to be working on leading courses. We could also monitor uptake – with traffic lighting of red (low uptake), amber (reasonable uptake), green (full or oversubscribed uptake).

We can also look across our applicants and compare with SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) to understand how we allocate our places to meet our targets. We plot our applications across the board, and across the UK. And if we look at a map of Edinburgh we can see what percentage of our students come from areas ranked high for SIMD so we can target and shape applications accordingly.

Terry: We are really just starting out with this, if anyone else is interested or working in this area we’d welcome your comments or feedback.

Questions and discussion

Q) Can I ask Terry two questions: Do we need to employ people with a degree in common sense? And how do we turn those models into applications?

A – Terry) That’s about working with marketing and with the communities. But Gavin showed you applications… But to increase those you have to get out there with marketing, to schools, campaigning, lobbying… We don’t have an electronic way to do that at present. And we have a CRM so if students don’t get onto one course, or haven’t applied but have made enquiries, we can go back to those students and engage them.

A – Gavin) And you can target places to those in high SIMD areas.

Q again) We find it hard to move students from one campus to another too…

A – Terry) When we mapped applications we did see students didn’t always apply to their nearest campus, in fact applying from all over the place.

A – Tim) When I worked at Birkbeck, a part time college, we mapped the public transport links to our institution and particularly noted that we had four key Northern Line Stations where we had a lot of students already, and Euston station… And that led to us advertising on those routes, in those stations as they aligned with suitable commuter routes to the institution. Doing analytics on learner data is a big big plus.

Q – Mark, Chair) Going back to your use of Google Analytics to identify the problem, I’m astonished you needed that. Why did it take that to demonstrate the issue.

A – Terry) Well we were in a merger situation which is quite difficult. The website had built up over time, through the marketing team… But we had changed a lot of courses etc. and we needed a new process. It was the breakdown of the process, and where that occurred, that particularly needed highlighting.

Q – Mark) How do you predict and project the performance of courses?

A – Gavin) We use historical data as an indicator – we might exclude outlier data there. Also starting to use market forces too – so if downturn in oil industry we’ll see drop there, but a rise in uptake of renewable data.

A – Tim) You also have to use demographic data – the numbers of school leavers etc – and that can really change a lot. It’s amazing how few institutions use that data of how many school leavers will they be, how likely are they to want to go to university or college… helps you raise or lower projected numbers.

Q – Mark) And how does that work for new course decisions?

A – Gavin) You can project likely uptake, or whether or not a course will meet required targets. And not run courses that will not

A – Tim) MOOCs are incredibly good for marketing, the interest from MOOCs can show interest and help locate demand for online masters, for evening courses, for degree programmes. ASking people hypothetical questions on courses they might apply for, that’s no use. Taster courses of different types (online and offline) are a good way to test market demand.

[Note from me as a graduate of the MSc in Digital Education (then the MSc in eLearning), and as a tutor on several online programmes: I think one of the reasons why online learners do perform well is because they are part-time learners with professional contexts and responsibilities, and often family responsibilities as well. To fit studies around other commitments, and to find and justify the use of time (and cost) of studying, these students tend to be very highly motivated and engaged. I think that is as much about the part time nature of courses as it is about them being delivered online. This is something I believe the Open University also sees when it comes to the success of it’s part time learners – online and offline/hybrid.]

After some particularly tasty biscuits we are back for workshop sessions…

Session 2: Innovative teaching and learning in colleges and universities

Workshop session 1: Virtual Classroom: Observe the Student Experience in a Virtual Classroom Environment – Tracy Matheson, West Highland College

This session is a walk through of how Blackboard Collaborate works in practice, exploring the roles available for those participating, use of screen sharing, the ways in which students can interact with the content, etc. I won’t blog this in detail as I suspect many reading this will be used to seeing and engaging in Blackboard Collaborate sessions. I do, however, really like that those leading the session are split between those in the room, and a colleague dialling in from their main Fort William College. That does give a real sense of being a student in this type of virtual classroom space (including some of the challenges associated with these spaces, and the internet connections they rely upon).

Workshop session 2: Building Your Online Professional Learning Network – Jaye Richards Hill, Managing Director, Tablet Academy Africa

Jave has begun by taking us through the idea of networks as tube maps – and the power of those interconnecting:

Networks have changed the way that we work, the way that we learn. We keep in touch with our colleagues, no matter where they are, through various online networks – Yammer, Twitter, direct messages… Much less so email for me now. And I do work like that, as part of a network. They enable me to listen to buzz and the rumble of what is going on, and allows me to tap into expertise in the subjects and areas I am working on. And if I listen, I can pick up so much about what is going on. And it changes the way that you do things, allows you to adapt and to grow as a professional. This is one of the reasons I love the idea of a personal learning network. I gave a presentation with Olly Bray in 2008 on personal learning networks, and that has always been a real favourite of mine because I work like this…

Our work these days is not linear, its disorganised self-directed learning. Wikipedia isn’t something you can read without clicking links – you learn things you didn’t expect to, it’s haphazard learning but your network is like that, and you find out great stuff… For me it all came into play in my probation year in teaching, which happened to be in Tenerife. I had to come back to the UK after that, in 2005, and I’d just gotten into computers and become a member of the Times Education Supplement Connect discussion boards – a brilliant way to follow what was going on in Scottish education. I found out about a job in Glasgow through that networking space, then as that contract was due to end, I found another opportunity, again through that space and through following up with contacts. That was the beginning of my networking. This is a very personal journey for me. Networking got me a job, which at the time was really important for where I was at.

Because I was seen as a bit of a computer person, because I put all my S3 biology teaching materials in PowerPoint, I got involved when Glow started off and started blogging about it, writing about what I was doing with Glow. At a conference I was astounded to fine out that the LTS team were reading the blog and wanted me to present on them, they were commenting and following those links and commenting on each others blogs enabled me to build up a network, serendipitous spreading… Then one day a contact suggested that we move that conversation to Twitter, and that was a game changer for me. It still is a game changer for me. I have work Twitter, a private Twitter, a Twitter for South Africa where I live. It’s still my go-to professional learning resource. For me I stay in contact with colleagues by DM – quicker responses too.

Then Tess Watson nudged me onto Facebook. I’m not sure about the value for professional learning, but it is useful for personal learning, and there is a bit of an overlap there… But I tend to keep Facebook more personal… I’ll stay in touch with grandchildren there for instance. But there is a joining of personal and professional. And we have Facebook pages for our companies, wherever they are in the world, so there is a connection there.

LinkedIn is a real professional space for me. I pay for LinkedIn professional now, and find I write more for LinkedIn Pulse than for my own blog. It’s a great way to stay in touch with contacts, with other corporations, to find new opportunities. It’s good for business and extended my network out there. And it’s particularly useful if you join groups, so many resources and writing to explore. But many struggle to use it professionally. It tends to be private sector who use it more… Does it have the mileage for public sector education? It’s choice I guess… Although professional networks, they are private too.

Andrew Brown got me onto Slideshare, and I find it a great resource for finding information really quite quickly. People post great presentations, many are willing to share them for downloading and reuse. And I post my work there, and I get comments, again find new connections… So I have this big network for really good quality professional learning.

The last time I gave this presentation was in India and the idea of a network with many options – that works with the Delhi metro too… That idea of having so many more options through many connected networks.

So, where am I now? Well things can get pulled very quickly. Things that are free can go… Twitter seems to have legs… Hopefully it won’t change too much because it works and works really well. But others come and go, so you have to be judicious in what you do.

Yammer is now part of Office 365 – huge potential for education. Not sure about plans for Glow but I’d like to see Yammer in schools some time soon as it’s safe and secure to your network. It’s safe for you to communicate with students as staff, there are records of what you discuss, you can attach photos, links, etc. And it’s now built into collaborative documents in Office365 online. And when learner management comes into Office 365 that will also help Yammer. And Sway, when that comes into Office365 will also have Yammer.

And there are other tools too. Skype is really useful – and I get it in Office365 too – but I’m not sure how that space would work for making new connections. And Lync, which is now Skype for Business, is also a great tool for professional networking.

The future of learning will be crowdsourced, as Andrew Brown has suggested. And for me, my network allows me to find the experts in the crowd, to make connections with people, to look for different points of view, to gather personal and social information. And I can create content, ask questions, evaluate information, devise solutions.

Comment) You need to discover what is coming next… When Twitter came out people were wondering what the potential of it would be… We didn’t see it’s potential as a community… But it’s hard to know… We’ve abandoned things that have been hot at some point. A lot of my learning is done via a sidebar on YouTube… the related content…

A) That’s the haphazard nature of self-organised learning… Some really interesting content can be the stuff that you don’t expect. And search engines, and tools like Delve, are getting better at predicting what you will find interesting, what you may use. That predictive element is becoming more important. Google work on that, both for delivering adverts and with content. And in Office365 Delve is going more that way too – I’ve just written a guide to using Delve in education. Are there plans for Delve to be in Glow in the future? [no comments from the crowd]

Lunch, exhibition and networking…

Session 3: Using technology to improve learning, teaching and student support

Exploring the use of data to support student engagement: learning analytics at the University of Edinburgh – Wilma Alexander, Educational Design and Engagement Team, Information Services, University of Edinburgh

I’m starting from a slightly different place to our analytics colleagues this morning, who were looking more at marketing and recruitment. What I’d like to talk about this afternoon is learning analytics. And in fact I’ll be talking about quite a bounded project to look at how we can look at student learning analytics, to inform and support their learning. This isn’t a new idea, it’s at least ten years that the analysis of data has been taking place, but learning analytics is something else…

There is now a Society of Learning Analytics Research and they have a clear definition of learning analytics.

To give you a bit of background about the University of Edinburgh: We are a huge university, with a huge range of types of study that students undertake. And more recently there is the whole digital profile that you heard about from Tim O’Shea this morning – work into online programmes, MOOCs, and increasingly online support for on campus undergraduates are part of that too. Recruitment isn’t as much the focus, generally we don’t have too much difficulty attracting students but that may be an area that is quite different from other organisations, in terms of motivations and focus of this work.

Getting started with learning analytics, I feel, has been a bit like trying to build a plane whilst it’s already flying. We started off very excited by the data, and what we thought we could do with it. We have two VLEs at Edinburgh: Blackboard Learn is our main supplier, the centrally supported VLE for on campus students, and for some online distance courses as well; but we also have Moodle, an open source tool used in some of our online distance courses. And when it came to looking for data we had one vendor quite unresponsive, or slow, to requests, whereas our open source community around Moodle can be really quite responsive and creative.

There are already some examples of data analytics in use. Purdue University use a traffic light system to flag up a student who could be in trouble – as a way to flag up to students and staff where intervention may be needed. We looked across these types of examples, but also looked at what would be possible with tools already at our disposal in Blackboard Learn and also in Moodle – and in research already taking place in the University. For instance my colleague Paula Smith has been doing some work with the online surgical skills course that Tim O’Shea mentioned earlier. Here they looked at individual performance against the cohort -and this makes sense in a highly competitive cohort in a hugely competitive field – motivating them to improve performance, based on the key structural elements of that course.

We also decided to look at what staff and students might like, what they thought they might want to get out of this data. I’m somewhat avoiding using the term analytics here as I think without analysis and context what you have is data. So we explored this potential use of data through user stories – we collected 92 stories from 18 staff and 32 students. The first interesting finding was how many of the “I want to…” stories could already be done – without developing anything – we just had to show users how to access that information, and to improve our documentation for the VLEs.

When it came to why people would want to do, we found staff that had given some thought about what they wanted but that was information like activity data – the use of materials etc. The idea that activity is a useful metric of engagement is not neccassarily the case in all contexts – some students can log in once, gather all materials, and that will appear very differently to someone doing that download week by week, but does not neccassarily indicate lower/different engagement.

So, we are now at the build stage but we proposed that we give students a view of their activity – a click count for any given day for instance. And also a way to view their marks against others in their cohort. We surveyed students on these proposals – 32% felt that the activity information might be useful, whilst 97% thought the grade information would be useful. Meanwhile our steering group had some concerns about the potential gamification of the system… The students seemed less concerned about that. And when we asked students about changing learning behaviour because of the data, most said no. We also asked what information students would find useful… And here we had some wonderful thoughtful responses.

When we look at student disinterest in this, we have to be aware of the context of how the on campus courses make use of the VLEs – few use discussions, social functions, most are just sharing resources. So activity data may reflect in part the way that the course is being used.

So, all of this information has led us to a slightly different place than we expected to be… The outcomes here are that:

  • Context is all – this VLE is used in thousands of courses, in many different ways. Part of this is putting course organisers in charge of whether these analytics are switched on, and how that is done
  • Must work for individuals and course-level  – it must be meaningful and contextualised for individuals on the course.
  • Building block and plug-ins
  • Mapping our territory – we’ve used the process as a way to map out where we want to go, and that also means understanding where we deal with or choose to focus in such a way as to work around legal and ethical needs, bounding ourselves so as not to raise some of those (e.g. not linking up to library and student records). That is less complex ethically, and in terms of security and privacy – those issues must be tackled very much head on. But another positive outcome of this project has been…
  • Staff awareness – has increased and startegy and policy for the institution as a whole are being looked at right now.
  • Student awareness – also raised in this process.

We are in this brave new world, with such potential, but we have to continue to be led by the pedagoguey in this process. And we really want this to be a really positive process, for students seeing their own data as a positive part of their learning. And over the next year we will be focusing more on this, and how we can support students with learning analytics.

Digital technology for students with additional support needs – Craig Mill, Assistive Technology Advisor, CALL Scotland and Edinburgh Napier University

I’ll be talking about support for older learners. Edinburgh Napier University has students from diverse backgrounds, and we do a lot of work on widening access, and students with additional support needs (ASN). Thinking back about 15 years the support for students would be through the “Disabled Computer” – which was labelled like that, attached to special kit… and no-one used it despite it being really great stuff. Then we had a student hub – but going there did mark you out as having, say, dyslexia, and our students really want to be like everyone else… And now we have a real shift away from that specialist technology idea, towards using every day technology. So iPads for instance come with lifechanging programmes built in, great for dyslexic students and visually impaired students. Chrome books offer great opportunites. There are super every day tools that empower students.

At Edinburgh Napier we have a range of provision. Students can be assessed and receive DSA funding/support – there is talk of students having to pay £200 towards this themselves so will be interesting to see if incidence of dyslexia goes up or down as a result. We provide resources including laptop loans, VPN, etc. Bring your own device, cloud apps, Office365 etc. are also provided.

Over the last few years we saw a huge growth in the number of students requiring support for dyslexia, but we are seeing that level off and I think that may partly be about bring your own device – students are more able to manage for themselves. Having Chrome Apps available can, for instance, make a big difference. Chrome extensions can also be very helpful – and most of these are free – because you can use those extensions to help you manage web based resources (Wikipedia, VLEs, etc) and see them in “Easy Reader” to view them in a more simple format. And you can also use text to speech on that text. All there and free to use – students love this!

But there is more we can do. You can use a free and open source software tool, called “My StudyBar” which lets you highlight parts of the text, or customising the interface, etc. to meet students needs. And that StudyBar also includes a mind mapping document that enables you to put down ideas in that format, then convert into a Word document to start planning your text.

That’s just a snapshot of the technologies that we use. We use tools like TextHelp and ClarRead but I think that actually they don’t always do students justice. Some do need that specialist hardware and software but for many students these widely available tools are hugely helpful.

Questions and discussion

Q) Do you think we should be blurring boundaries between assistive technologies and useful technologies – to stop that labelling?

A – Craig) For some people there is a real need for those specialist technologies… and that label matters. There are children who would have needed a £7-8000 piece of specialist kit, can now be done with an iPad for £7-800.

Q) So do we need a whole new label perhaps?

A – Wilma) In terms of assistive technologies for online learning, if we do something to make materials accessible, all students benefit. There is something there about mainstreaming good practice, so that specialists like Craig, and specialist technologies can focus on those who really need it. That allows you to support many students easily, then intensely focus resources on those with the greater needs.

A – Craig) The legislation is interestingly worded for that, but the more accessible your teaching, the more it is for all of your learners.

Q) In a professional sense how do you keep ahead of the students on technologies?

A – Craig) The students are really knowledgeable on Twitter, Facebook etc… But they don’t know about heading structures, speak tools for text etc. Students know what they know, but there is still lots they can pick up.

Q) What about students use of VLEs?

A – Wilma) I think for us one of the things we find is that there is really no time of day or day of the week where students are not using the VLE, are not learning online. That brings some support challenges – for instance for maintaining those systems.

Q) The idea of moving away from a deficit model of support, moving to proactive rather than reactive systems… In the old days the reactive systems might only kick in too late, so proactive technology can have real impact here.

A – Wilma) It is equally true that the more we can design everything we do to be accessible… There will still be some students that still require some specialist support but the more mainstream the tools and approach, the more you move from the deficit idea that the student somehow lacks something…

Q) And what are the differences between campus and on line systems?

A – Wilma) In on campus courses you will have some familiarity with your students, your systems will flag up changing assignment performance, etc. There is no need to automate that… But something like a traffic light system helps to flag that up – clearly a good lecturer will spot that too.

Q) You commented about the possible change in number of dyslexia after the £200 levy… Can you expand that…

A – Craig) I do a huge amount of work for Dyslexia Scotland but it is a term that covers a lot of very different needs and I’m not always sure the label is always helpful.

Session 4: Can technology help widening access to further and higher education? – Panel debate


  • Dr Muir Houston (MH) – Lecturer, School of Education, University of Glasgow
  • Lucy MacLeod (LM) – Depute Director (Students), Open University in Scotland
  • Tracy Matheson (TM), Curriculum Manager (Business, IT and Tourism), West Highland College
  • Dr Graeme Thomson (GT), Access Academy Co-ordinator, FOCUS West 

LM: The OU of course uses technology but actually it is about flexibility, it is about tutors, and about an open model of education, rather than the tools that we do. The other thing I wanted to raise is that the internet is full of stuff – many open educational resources, and you can quickly get into a debate about I have more stuff than you do… But does that actually widen access? Well, the jury seems to be out. We heard from Tim O’Shea this morning that 80% of those doing MOOCs have degrees, half of them have post graduate degrees. OK 20% do not but what is the experience for a learner on that course… It is about how you use this material. If we are about access to qualifications, learners really need that guide. The OU has tried to get learners together across communities, to look at pathways to degrees. Digital participation matters – 23% of adults don’t have access to the internet, 43% don’t use their phone to get online, 53% don’t use social networking. How do we get to these people? Wilma talked about some students understanding some online tools… But do they understand research libraries… To think about learning analytics it is really only useful if you know what you plan to do with that information, and I’m a firm believer that that is most useful when you use that information to trigger and inform conversations between tutors and students.

GT: FOCUS West work with schools in the West of Scotland, with funding from the Scottish Funding Council, to widen access. We have just built an online tool called “FOCUS Point” to share information and advice about post school routes, from schools that don’t have a tradition of sending students into college and university. So, introducing learners about what colleges and universities are about, what that experience is like, and practical advice about applying and taking up places. There are activities around subject choices, routes after school, entry routes, assistance with personal statement writing. And also getting students to set up a login that enables them to record their engagement, build up a portfolio, and build a certain element of social networking – to reduce potential isolation of being perhaps the only pupil in a school interested in pursuing a particular route/degree. So I’m here to say that whilst there may be some scepticism about use of technology, what we do has been well received but this stuff only work well when connected up with face to face experiences. I fear that MOOCs can potentially increase that sense of isolation…

TM: For us our face to face tends to have to be through virtual classroom. To do that face to face would mean not being able to access that education in some cases.

MH: Most non traditional students tend to be represented in main universities, but there are issues of the experience, inequalities, and also costs. It can be hard to convince an adult that it is worth paying for their child to go to university and leave with debts, and a job in a fast food restaurant. That’s where credit transfer can make a big difference – in theory that should work… Universities don’t like each others credits, everyone is quite protective of their own income streams.

Chair: So, whose responsibility is it to force those cautious institutions?

MH: The Funding Council.

Chair: What is the experience with the Open University in terms of credit transfer?

LM: The average age of OU student is 37 at the moment – and it’s dropping. We don’t have entry requirements, that’s one of our founding principles, so that is a barrier that simply isn’t there. And the courses are designed to be a ladder that takes you to a level 7 over the first year. The other big thing that the government has done for part time study and the OU, has been the part time fee grant. To allow people to study part time not to pay fees – that is not always well understood so students studying part time in Scotland do pay fees, and pay up front. In Scotland we have seen OU applications be stable, down south it has dropped due to the higher fees that students are now facing there due to the cut in government funding for the OU there, requiring students to take out loans.

MH: Learning paths can really go in different ways… It might start with a language course because a shopfloor worker is working in Spain, say, and that may then lead to the OU, and maybe a route to do an engineering degree. The union has negotiated a collective bargaining agreement so that their employer pays 40% of costs but that is still a huge financial and personal commitment – to study perhaps 6 years for a BEng alongside a 37 hour week. But that’s a great thing to do, and I know the OU does more of these sots of projects.

Chair: Is the ease of access for a lot of kids, a reason they are not engaged? Difficulty can be motivating?

GT: We find those that who do a free access programme are far more likely to continue progressing than those with a similar background without access to that programme. But people at Govan High, their local university is Glasgow which has very demanding grades, so you have to be really dedicated to get there really. But I think we’ll continue to see that…

Q) We’re having a regular conversation in the Scottish Borders about the drop out rate for our high school students as they go to university. What do we have to do as head teachers to help with that… Hearing Graeme talk about the social networks maybe we need to do more of that, or interventions we can make earlier… I’m not sure which way we should be going…

GT: I think just preparing students for what universities and colleges is actually like can make a big difference. There are many opportunities there but there can be some competition rather than collaboration between universities sometimes – blurring of marketing and recruitment with widening access. But activities like critical thinking, self led study, working with different sources, etc. those can be very valuable – and programmes offering that can have a big impact. Some HEIs can do more as well – with academic staff giving a sense of level 1 social science programmes for schools for instance.

MH: It’s not just pupils who need to understand social and cultural issues, it’s the parents too. I stole an idea from the OU – they used to have a guide for significant others which we adapted for parents as well. Things like timetable structures, when assessments are due… If you don’t know what your child is up to and what is expected of them, how can you support that. An understanding of important times in that calendar etc. can make a huge difference. It was a great tool the OU made. Knowing about that helps parents to work with their child, motivate them, help them manage stress.

Chair: But surely for your child, once they are there, it’s up to them?

TM: I think for rural students that can be a real challenge, and can really effect drop out rates. So we have some study skills modules designed for high schools, to encourage students to take them at high school to prepare them. But actually even if you’ve sent your child off to the big city parental support does still matter – and that’s not just financial, that’s about encouragement and emotional support. We also have three Highers for access to learners, using virtual learning, that are for students to take and manage themselves. We are quite strict about assignments etc. to help there. But working with colleges, universities, that your students will be going to can make a big difference to preparing students, and ensuring they have the skills they need to do well.

Chair: Occasionally you might be the only student in a school taking a subject, you said that you have this social network for students – does that work?

GT: It’s perhaps too early to say. Schools have been welcoming the stuff that we do, and it intersects with what they do for PSE, and eProfiles work. What hasn’t been embraced yet is the social networks side – we have more work to do there. Everyone have said it is a good idea, but you need enough people to make it worthwhile but it could be pretty innovative and worthwhile.

LM: A couple of things that occurred to me here, that I think are just as relevant for us. Some research we have done suggests “struggling students want to be noticed” and there is a responsibility for universities to use the sorts of analytics Wilma was talking about to really identify those students. At a big university you can easily feel lost, it’s really quite tough, and you are faced with being an independent leaner as well. The other project that may be worth mentioning. The OU, on behalf of the sector, is running something called “Back on Course” – we are working with 7 universities about drop outs from those universities, and follow up to see if they are OK, see if they are ok, if they would like a guided interview, if they want to adjust study plans, and I think there is potential there to come up with that sort of shared solution.

Chair: How easy is it to monitor outcomes of students once they have dropped out or finished?

TM: It’s really quite hard. In small communities there can be word of mouth and good will of organisations in some areas. But a telephone interview three months after school leaving gives a one off snapshot. I’m not sure what Skills Scotland do with tools like social networks. High schools generally have some idea – but only because they are smaller school.

Comment) It is becoming more critical… But I would like to be part of that conversation you are having with students who drop out, as in your work at OU for the moment.

MH: If you used the Scottish Candidate Number throughout Universities that would be hugely helpful. The dropping of that in HE breaks that pipeline. In the US they use the Social Security number – and that gives income as well. We don’t capture that but that would be really useful. I was on a working group with the Scottish Funding Council and UUK and income was deemed to be so useful, but there is a lot of resistance. I’m not sure if the issue is security of information. Postcodes are crude. SIMD 40 is useless, need SIMD 10 to really target support here.

LM: Another point about school leavers… When we talk about university I think we have to get away from the idea that the people who go to university are all young people. And also decrease the emphasis on what university leavers then do. We don’t talk about lifelong learning anymore, but that concept does matter. And 17 or 19 is maybe not the time to go to university for some people…

MH: And actually that may be where your drop out rates may come in… It may be that at 30, when you really proactively want to learn, you will be a much more motivated. In London there is an aspiration of 90% of students who want to go to university, and that may well not be right for them…

Comment: And apprentices, vocational education, etc. can be really good routes, without the debt etc.

MH: And in Germany those skilled jobs have real standing and less stigma about them as qualifications, as routes…

Chair: To finish, if you could change one thing, what would it be?

GT: I think we could achieve more as a country if there was more collaboration between institutions, and if widening participation was more separated from recruitment and marketing.

LM: I agree with that! I think I might take away money given to universities to work on widening access, and instead distribute it to primary schools in the poorest areas.

TM: I think that everyone should have access to the internet, to enable learning to take place no matter where they are – no matter what stage of education you are at, including school leavers, adult learners. Internet and transport infrastructures both need. I also think our college infrastructure is getting stronger and that lets young people stay at home longer, to find work locally, and for doing even one year of college can boost confidence and that reduces drop out rates if/when they then go into HE.

MH: I would like us to return to the thinking of education as a public good. And that education is about your own potential, the community, civic education and about quality of life issues. Increasingly degree programmes are focused on very narrowly defined jobs, when that job goes or changes your degree will be less useful than a broad degree will. These days everyone not only have degrees, you need postgraduate degrees! So you need to look at what you are doing and why, for there to be a broad skills such as critical thinking, personal reflection, etc.

Summary and conclusions by the Chair – Mark Stephen

And with that Mark thanks sponsors and all for taking part and attending.

Feb 242014

This afternoon I will be liveblogging the MOOCs in Cultural Heritage Education event, being held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.

As this is a liveblog please excuse any typos and do let me know if you spot any errors or if there are links or additional information that should be included. 

Our programme for today is:

Welcome and Intro – Christopher Ganley (ARTIST ROOMS, National Galleries of Scotland and Tate)

Image of Christopher Ganley (National Galleries of Scotland) Christopher is the learning and digital manager for the National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. In case people here don’t know about Artist Rooms, this is a collection that came to Tate and NGS in 2008. Around 1100 items of art from Anthony d’Offay with the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, the British and Scottish Governments. The remit was to be shared across the UK to engage new audiences, particularly young people. The collection has grown to around 1500 items now – Louise Bourgeois is one of the latest additions. The Artist Rooms Research Partnership is a collaboration between the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle with Tate and NGS led by the University of Edinburgh. And today’s event is funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and has been arranged by the University of Edinburgh School of Education as part of the outreach strand of their research.

Year of the MOOC?: what do Massive Open Online Courses have to offer the cultural heritage sector? – Sian Bayne, Jen Ross (University of Edinburgh)

Sian is beginning. Jen and I are going to situate the programme today. Jen and I are part of the School of Education working in Digital Education, and we are ourselves MOOC survivors!

Image of Sian Bayne (University of Edinburgh)We are going to talk about MOOCs in a higher education context, and our research there, and then talk about what that might mean for museums and the cultural heritage context. Jen will talk about the eLearning and Digital Culture MOOC and expand that out into discussing cultural heritage context.

So, what do we know about MOOCs? It’s a bit of a primer here:

  • Massive: numbers. Largest we ran at Edinburgh had 100k students enrolled
  • Open: no “entrance” requirements.
  • Online: completely.
  • Course: structured, cohort-based. And we don’t talk about that so much but they have a pedagogy, they have a structure, and that distinguishes them from other open education tools.

In terms of where MOOCs are run we have EdX – they have no cultural heritage partners yet. We have Coursera and they do have cultural heritage partners including MOMA. And FutureLearn who have cultural heritage partners yet (but not who are running courses yet).

The upsides of MOOCs is that they have massive reach, a really open field, high profile, massive energy, new partnerships. But on the downsides there are high risks, there are unproven teaching methods – and the pedagogy is still developing for this 1 teacher, 20k students kind of model, and there is a bit of  a MOOC “backlash” as the offer begins to settle into mainstream after a lot of hype.

In terms of cultural heritage there isn;t a lot out there, and only on Coursera. American Museum of Natural History, MOMA, California Institute of the Arts and the new Artist Rooms MOOCs are there. Some interesting courses but it’s still early days, not many cultural heritage MOOCs out there.

So in terms of the UK Jen and I have just completed some research for the HEA on MOOC adoption. One aspect was which disciplines are represented in UK MOOCs. We are seeing a number of humanities and education MOOCs. FutureLearn have the most of these, then Coursera and then there are cMOOCs in various locations. In terms of the University of Edinburgh we launched our first MOOCs – 6 of them across 3 colleges – last January and were the first UK university to do so. This year we have 7 more in development, we have 600k enrollments across all of our MOOCs and sign ups for the Warhol MOOC is well past 10k already.

So why did we get involved? Well we have a strong and growing culture of digital education,. It was an obvious for us to take that step. There was a good strategic fit for our university and we felt it was something we should be doing, engaging in this exciting new pedagogical space. Certainly money wasn’t the motivator here.

MOOCs have been around for a while, and there is still some things to learn in terms of who takes them, who finishes them etc. And we’ve done some research on our courses. Here the Philosophy MOOC saw over 98k students but even our smallest MOOC – equine nutrition- saw a comparable number of registrations to our total on campus student body (of approx 30k). Of the 309k who enrolled about 29% of initially active learners “completed” with a range of 7 – 59% across the six courses. We think that’s pretty good considering that only about a third of those who signed up actually accessed the course – of course it’s easy to sign up for these and hard to find time to do them so we aren’t worried about that. The range of completion is interesting though. We had 200 countries represented in the MOOC sign ups. And age wise the demographic was dominated by 25-39 year olds. And we found most people who took the MOOCs, at least in the first round, mostly had a postgraduate degree already. They were the people interested in taking the MOOCs. And now over to Jen…

Image of Jen Ross (University of Edinburgh)Jen. I want to tell you about the experience that lecturers and tutors had on the eLearning and Digital Cultures MOOC that took place last January. Firstly I wanted to talk about the xMOOC and the cMOOC. the xMOOC is the highly structured, quite linear, institutional MOOCs – the Coursera or FutureLearn model. Some peer interaction, but as a side benefit of the content as the main thing. Teacher presence in these sorts of MOOCs tends to be very high profile – the rock star tutor concept. You won’t meet them but you’ll see them on video. A lot. The other sort is the cMOOC, the connected MOOC. these were thought of by Canadians in 2012/13 before MOOCs became built. Around the theory of connected environments, participants create the course together, very loosely structured, very collaborative, very focused on participant contributions. Not about the rock star professors. This difference has been quite a big press thing, xMOOCs have had a bashing, people suggesting they are “elearning from 1998 minus the login button”. But actually what Sian and I have been finding is that in ANY MOOC we see much more than these two different forms. Our own MOOC is really neither an xMOOC or a cMOOC but had a lot of other content.

So our MOOC, #EDCMOOC, was based upon a module of the MSc in Digital Education module that generally has about 12-16 participants, and instead trying these ideas about the self in online environment in a MOOC format, at huge scale. So we decided rather than doing week by week lecture heavy format, we would do something different. Instead we did a “film festival” – clips for participants to watch and talk about. Then some readings on theory of digital education. And questions to discuss. We asked students to create public facing blogs which we linked to, we also used the built in discussion spaces. And instead of weekly tests etc. we had a single peer assessed “digital artefact” final assignment.

We gathered all blogs, which they had registered with us, in one place – so you could see any post tagged with #EDCMOOC. And we had a live hangout (via Google+ / YouTube) at the end of every few weeks – and we would pick up on discussions, questions that were coming up in those discussions and coming in live. The students themselves (42k of them) created a Facebook Group, a G+ group, used the hashtag but also these additional groups meant there was so much material being produced, so much discussion and activity beyond a scale anyone could keep up with. A hugely hectic space for five weeks, with everyone trying as best they could to keep an eye on their corner of the web.

Bonnie Stewart described our MOOC as “subverting it’s own conditions of existence”. And it was a chance to rethink that xMOOC/cMOOC divide. But also what the teacher is in a MOOC. What it means pedagogically to be in a MOOC. There are interesting generative questions that have come out of this experience.

So, I want to show you some examples of materials participants made on the MOOC. Students shared these on Padlet walls. We also had an image competition halfway through the MOOC. e.g. “All Lines are Open” by Mullu Lumbreras – the Tokyo underground map re-imagined with many “You are here” markers – emphasizing the noisiness of the MOOC! There were many reflective and reflexive posts about students trying to get to grips with the MOOC itself, as well as the content. There was such a variety of artefacts submitted here! There were images, videos, all sorts of assignments including super critical artefacts, such as Chris Jobling’s “In a MOOC no-one hears you leave” – although interestingly we did. There was also a chatbot assignment – allowing you to talk to “an EDCMOOC participant” and used comments from chats and from the course to give back comments, really interesting comment on the nature of the MOOC and the online environment. We also had a science fiction story all created in Second Life. This must have taken such a lot of time. We have found this on the MSc in Digital Education as well that when you give people the opportunity to create non textual assignments and contributions they give such creative and take such a lot of time over their multimodal work.

We also had  – a nod for Artist Rooms colleagues – a Ruschagram tool as an assignment. And indeed people used their own experience or expertise to bring their own take to the MOOC. Artists created art, scientists drew on their own background. Amy Burbel – an artist who does lots of these online videos but this one was all about the EDCMOOC.

Image of Jen Ross and Sian BayneSo I’d like to finish with some ideas and questions here for discussion… Elizabeth Merritt from the Centre for the Future of Museums asks about MOOCs in terms of impact. Rolin Moe talks about MOOCs as public engagement on a different scale. Erin Branham asks about reach – why wouldn’t you run a MOOC even if only 20k people finish. We have comments on that actually… David Greenfield emphasises the innovation aspect, they are still new, we are still learning and there is no one single way that MOOCs are being used. There is still a lot of space for innovation and new ideas.


Q1) I work at the Tate in visual arts, the idea of assessment by multiple choice is very appealing so I wanted to ask about peer assessment. How did that work? Did there need to be moderation?
A1 – Jen) It is quite controversial, that’s partly as the MOOC platform don’t handle peer assessment too well. We didn’t get asked too much to remark assignments. Peer assessment can work extremely well if the group know each other or share a common understanding.

A1 – Sian) It was strange how assessment focused many people were for a non credit bearing course though, they wanted to know how to pass the MOOC.

Q2) I wanted to ask about the drop out which looked absolutely huge…

A2 – Sian) You mean people who didn’t begin to engage with the MOOC? It is problematic… there has been a lot of criticism around drop outs. But we have been looking at them from a traditional education point of view. MOOCs are free, they come in, they sample, they leave. It’s about shifting our understanding of what MOOCs are for.

Q2) What did you learn from that…?

A2) I think it would be too hasty to make too many conclusions about that drop off because of what it means to be in a MOOC

A2 – Jen) there is some interesting research on intentions at sign up. Around 60% of people signing up do not intend to complete the MOOC. I don’t think we will ever get 90% retention like we do on our online MSc. But Sian’s point here holds. Different demographics are interested for different reasons. Retention on the smaller equine science MOOC was much more about the participant interest rather than the content or pedagogy etc. The 7% retention rate was the more innovative assessment project.

Q3) We would love to have that data on drop outs. We aren’t allowed to fail at that rate in public. I work in the National Library of Scotland and we know that there is “library anxiety”.  I would hate to think this is a group with inflated library anxiety!

A3) Absolutely and I know there will be more on this later on. But its about expectation setting within the organisation.

Q3) Just getting that data though – especially the research on those who don’t want to complete – would be so valuable for managing and understanding that completion in open contexts.

Q4) Perhaps the count should be from the first session, not from those who sign up. It’s not the original email we are concerned with but the regular drop out which would be more concerning. We get people doing this with on site free experiences. This is more about engaging with the higher up decision makers and marketing about how we could use MOOCs in cultural heritage.

A4 – Sian) It was unfortunate that many of the MOOCs really marketed sign up rates, and inflated expectations from that, as a way to promote the MOOCs early on. Very unhelpful to have messages like “we want this one to hit a million sign ups!”

Q5) These aren’t credit bearing but are there MOOCs which are, how do they work?

A5 – Jen) Quite new territory. Some allow you to have some sort of credit at the end of the MOOC on payment of a fee. And some – including University of Central Lancashire – are trialling MOOC credit counting for something. Work at European level there too. But no one has cracked the magic bullet.

A5 – Sian) Two offering credit so far – one at Oxford Brookes, one at Edge Hill.

Q5) Maybe credit will appeal to those currently absent from the demographic profile – moving to those with few or no higher level qualifications

A5 – Sian) we did ask people about why they did the MOOC, many for fun, some for professional reasons. none for credit.

Q6) what are the indirect benefits of the programme?

A6 – Sian) We have had five or six people enrolling on the MSc as a direct result of the MOOC. We also got great publicity for being at the forefront of digital education which is great for the University. That indirect benefit won’t last of course as MOOCs get more mainstream but

A7 – Sian) 40 days academic staff time to develop, 40 days to deliver it. And that doesn’t include the Information Services staff time to set up the technology, In terms of participants I’m not sure we have that data

A7 – Jen) We kind of have it but it’s taking a long time to analyze it. You get a lot of data from the MOOCs. There is a whole field of learning analytics. We have the data from both runs of the MOOC but it’s hard to find the best way to do that.

Q7) Interesting, for people reflecting on their own time investment

A7) We gave guide time of 5-6 hours per week for the basic involvement but actually many people spent a lot of time on it. And there was a lot of content so it took that long to read and engage with it for many participants.

Q8) How do you assess 40k people?

A8 – Sian) Well that’s why we spent a lot of time trying to make the assessment criteria clear for people marking each other.

Q9) Can you say a bit more about xMOOCs and cMOOCs. A lot seem to be xMOOCs?

A9) There is a lot of discussion around how to go beyond the bounds of the xMOOC.

A9 – Sian) Our MOOC was seen as quite innovative as we were a bit of a hybrid, but a lot of that was about participants using social media and just having a hashtag made a difference.

Q9) So are there people trying to move out of the platform…

A9 – Jen) for the credit and microcredit courses you try to bring students into the MOOC platform as that is easier to measure. And that’s an area that is really becoming more prominent…

A9 – Sian) Would be sad is the move towards learning analytics took away the social media interactions in MOOCs.

A9 – Jen) We do see AI MOOCs where there is some opportunity to tailor content which is interesting…

Comment) Can see these working well for CPD.

:: Update: Jen and Sian’s Prezi can be viewed online here ::

The changing landscape of teaching online: a MoMA perspective – Deborah Howes (Museum of Modern Art)

It is a pleasure for me to tell you just a little bit about what has been going on at MOMA, especially having to spoken to just a few of you – I realise you are very savvy digital education, cultural education audience.

I like to start with this slide when I talk about online learning at MOMA – of MoMA education broadcasts in the 1950s. We have always been interested in technology. It is part of our mission statement to educate (the world) about the art of our time. This image is from the 1950s when MoMA had an advanced idea of how to teach art and creativity – and they invited TV crews in from Rockafeller Centre to record some of what was going on in terms of that education.

So online learning for MoMA can be as something as simple as an Online Google Hang Out working with seniors who go on a field trip once a month without them having to leave their apartment – they have a museum visit and discussing the art. Some have mobility issues, some have learning disabilities. But they have these amazing opportunities to visit and engage all the time for free. We use Google Hangouts a lot and this is an example that really hits home.

Image of Deb Howes (MoMA)

This example, like much of what I’ll talk about today, isn’t strictly a MOOC but it’s from that same open online concept and the MOOC is changing. However we have, at MoMA been running online courses since 2010. These are NOT MOOCs as we charge for them. You can take them in two ways. You can be self led and there is no teacher responding to you and there are no students but you go at your pace whenever you want. Or you can do the teacher led version with a teacher, with fellow students, with responses to your comments. We started the concept of starting these courses. We did this with Faith Harris, who now works at Khan Academy, and she was teaching online in the New York Museum of Fashion. She had a clear idea of what the format was – a structured course led by an educator. We did a studio course – how to paint – to see if that would work. That seemed such an usual idea at the time but they are really popular, especially as an instructor led experience. They like to see and share progression and to get feedback on that. Just like a real studio experience. So the “how to” videos, one of the things we tried to replicate online was the feel of exclusivity you have in an on-site course. If you enrol in person you get to paint in our studio then you get access to the galleries when no-one else is around. So here we have Corey Dogstein and he’s also an artist, the students love him, but you can see this video of how to paint like Jackson Pollock and really get into that free form, jazz playing vibe.

My previous role I came from a gallery where I had no idea who was doing my tour, or what they were getting from it, then I was in an academic place where I knew who everyone was, how they were progressing, assessing them etc. So in this role the online teaching experience has been really interesting. In particular taking out the temporarility and those barriers to speak up, you open up the accessibility to a much much wider audience. The range of learning difficulties that students come in with and feel able to participate online, that wouldn’t feel able to participate as fully in person is striking.

We use a course management system called Haiku. No matter what you do it looks like a bad high school newspaper. It organises content top to bottom, welcome messages, etc. 60% of our students to the MoMA online course have never taken an online course before. They tell us they’d rather try it with us! We have a lot of first timers so we have to provide a lot of help and support. We try to make them engaging and lively. The upside of the highly controlled space is that the teachers themselves are making these courses, it’s easy for them to change things, that’s the upside.

We try to think thematically about content, rather than thinking academically along a timeline say. So colour as a way to explore modern art came to mind, and also broadens the base beyond painting and sculpture – design and architecture for instance. So this way we can interview the curator of design, Paula Antonelli, on colour in design. [we are watching a clip of this]. Talk about exclusivity! Even on my 11 o’clock tour I couldn’t get you time with Paula. The students really respond to this. And we also created videos of the preservation techniques around colour.

This course: “Catalysts: Artists creating with sound, video and time” brings all those ideas together, and is a hybrid xMOOC and cMOOC although I only just realised this! We got the author Randall Packer to put this history together using artefacts and resources from MOOCs. It’s so hard to do this history – why read a book on the history of video artworks?! As an educator how many museums have the space to show a whole range of video art? Even at the new Tate underground you have a rotating collection. Rare to have an ongoing historical way to explore these. One of the reasons MoMA was able to jump into online courses feet first, is that Volkswagen are a corporate sponsor of the galleries and were keenly supportive. And as part of teaching the Catalyst course Randall, who is also a practicing artist, thought it would be great if we could get students to make and share work, wouldn’t it be great to make a WordPress blog they could use to share these and comment on each other. And my colleague Jonathan Epstein suggested digital badges – they get a MoMA badge on their blog and badges for LinkedIn profiles etc.

So, over three and half years we’ve registed about 2500 students. Small versus MOOCs but huge for us. Around 30% of enrolees are not from the US and that 30% represents over 60 countries. For us it was about engaging people in a sustained way with people who couldn’t come to MoMA or couldn’t come often to MoMA, and we really think we’ve proved these. This is one of those pause moments for us… so, any questions…


Q1) That quote on your slide “the combination of compelling lectures with the online galery tours and the interaction with the other students from around the world was really enlightening and provocative” – what do you learn from these participants?

A1) We do find students who set up ongoing Facebook groups for instance, and they are really active for a long time, they will go on a trip and write to their peers about what they’ve seen. We learn whilst they take the course, but also over time. What is so hard for museums to learn is what the long term impact of a museum visit… there is no way to know what happens months or years later, or when they are at another gallery… But you get a sense of that on the Facebook groups.

Image of Deb Howes (MoMA)

Q2) At the moment it’s $25 to come into MoMA. How much are the courses?

A2) It is. But it’s a sliding scale of prices. For self-led courses… 5 weeks is $99 if you are a member. or $150 for a non member (of the museum) 10 week course. For instructor led it’s $150 to $350 per course depending on time etc. They may fluctuate, probably go down. I like the idea of a cost recovery model. Free is hard for me as instructor. But there is a lot of free stuff, and especially in the MOOC world, they are comparing what’s available, what the brand is worth, which is worth doing.

Q3) Member?

A3) Of the museum. Typically at the museum you get lots of discounts, free entry etc. as part of that. I think it’s about $75 for an individual membership right now and that’s part of a wider financial ecosystem I don’t get into too much.

So… we have all these courses… We got contacted by Coursera who said “oh sorry we can’t take your courses as you don’t award degrees” but here is a sandbox for K-12 for you. In fact MoMA does a huge amount for teachers. We had just done a huge new site called MoMA Learning with resources for all sorts of classes. So we thought, well this will be our textbook essentially. If we leave it there we don’t need to renogiate all the content again. So we decided to do a four week “art and inquiry” MOOC. There is a huge focus in the core curriculum on discussions around primary source materials, we do a lot of training of teachers but we can’t fit enough of them in our building. We have taught a class for teachers around the country, perhaps beyond, who come for a week in the summer and talk about inquiry based learning. It just so happened when this came together that we were the first MOOC in the primary and secondary education sandbox – I think that has everything to do with why we had 17k ish participants. We had a “huge” engagement ratio according to Coursera, they told us we were off the charts – people are watching the videos “all the way to the end!”. Huge validation for us, but if you think carefully about all the ways people are learning that satisfy them, people look for something to engage with – and museum educators are great at this, great at finding different ways to explain the same thing.

At the end of the course we had a survey. 60% were teachers. The rest were taking the course for different reasons – doctors wanting to talk about x-ray results better with patients. 90% of all those who answered the survey had not been to MoMA or had an online MoMA experience but they did visit the website or site afterwards. We had more friends, we had people following and engaging with our social media. It was a wonderful way to have people access and engage with MoMA who might now have thought to before.

So I have a diagram of MOOC students. It is kind of Ying-Yang. The paid for courses tend to be my age or older, highly educated, have been to many international galleries. Coursera they are 20-30 year olds, it’s about their career, they take lots of Coursera courses. And what struck us was that putting our content beyond the virtual museum walls, people really want to engage with it. In the museum we want people coming to us, to speak to us, but here they don’t visit us at all but they still want to engage.

We had 1500 students get a certificate of completion. In MoMA we have 3 million admissions per year. I have no idea how many take that information with them. For me as a museum professional 17k people made an effort to learn something about MoMA, word is out, and I taught 1500 teachers in the way I would like to in an academic way, and I taught more than I could teach over three years, but in one single summer. And the success of that means we have followed up with another MOOC – Art and Activity: Interactive Strategies for Engaging with Art. The first one runs again soon, this new course runs from July.

There are a few other things we do online… MoMA Teens Online Course Pilot. This was a free 5 week course in art appreciation at MoMA. These were teens that had taken probably all our teen courses as part of after school programmes. They brought back to us this Real World MoMA episode. [very very funny and well full of art in-jokes].

You get the idea right? I should just let the teens do all the videos! We have a new group of teens coming in doing a completely different thing. This is their medium, they understand. They combine the popular with the collection in an unforgettable way, the kids will never forget these five artists they focused on.

I just want to go through some pedagogical background here. There is a huge body of really interesting reseach on how the brain works, what makes memories… One of the things I always try to think about is what makes your brain remember, and why a museum is such a great way to learn. So one thing that is that you learn when something new comes in – a new sight, a new sound, a new smell… Museums are like that. They are new experiences. For children they may never have been to a museum or even to the city before. I try to make the online courses take that into consideration. How can we do that, and make the brain hold on to what it being learnt?

I don’t know if Howard Gardner is familiar to you? His ideas that different brains work differently, and that we need to present material in different ways for different people. We have hands on aspects. We have scientist experts, we have critics… we try to present a range of ways into the material.

So here also is some student feedback – the idea that there is more in the course than can be absorbed but that that is a good thing. We also try to ensure there are peer to peer aspects – to enable sharing and discussion. So here we have the learning communities from that studio course – where participants share their art… increadible learning experiences and incredible learning communities can exist beyond the museum and beyond the university but it is great to be there to support those communities – to answer questions, share a link etc.

I wrote a post you might like: search for “how to make online courses for museums”

Moving forward we have a couple of hundred videos on YouTube but we were asked if we would put these into Khan Academy. We filtered the best down, gave them embed codes, and they have created a structure around that. As a museum you don’t have to do everything here, but reusing is powerful.

And moving forward we are doing some collaborations with the University of Melbourne.

And my forcast for Museum-University Partnerships forecase? Sunny with a chance of rain! There are real challenges around contracts, ownership etc. but we can get to a place of all sunny all the time.

Q1) We would be developing online learning as a new thing. When you decided to go down the online route did you stop anything else? Did you restructure time? How does that fit with curator duties?

A1) We didn’t drop anything. The Volkswagen sponsorship allowed us to build the team from myself and an intern to include another individual. But it’s a huge time commitment. Curators don’t have the time to teach but they are happy to talk to camera and are generally very good at it. I was at John Hopkins, and previously to that at the Metropolitan Museum… I was used to having media equipment to hand. There wasn’t that at MoMA but we created a small studio which makes it easy for curators to pop in and contribute.

Q2) Could you say a bit about the difference of practical versus appreciation type class?
A2) for practical classes the key is *really* good videos. Being able to replay those videos, if shot well, is really helpful and clears up questions. It lets them feel comfortable without asking the teacher over and over again. If you’ve ever been in a group critique that can be really intimidating… turns out that the level of distance of photographing your work, post online, and discuss online… students feel much better about that. There is distance they can take. They can throw things at the wall at home as they get critiqued! It is popular and now online you find a lot of low price and free how to courses. But our students who return it’s about the visits to the gallery, the history of the gallery, connecting the thinking and the artwork to the technique

Q2) So unspoken assumptions of supplies available?

A2) No, we give them a supply list. We tell them how to set up a studio in their own bedroom etc. We don’t make assumptions there.

Beyond the Object: MOOCs and Art History – Glyn Davis (University of Edinburgh)

Our final speaker is one of the “rock star lecturers” Jen mentioned!

So, in comparison to the other speakers here the course I have been preparing has not yet run. We have just under 12000 signed up so far, we anticipate around 20k mark. I am an academic and I teach film studies, particularly experimental cinema. A lot of the films I talk about it can be hugely hard for people to get hold of. That presents massive difficulties for me as a researcher, as a writer, but also for these sorts of learning experiences.

Where I want to start is to talk about Andy Warhol. A book, Warhol in Ten Takes, edited by myself and Gary Needham at Nottingham Trent University. We start with an introduction about seeing a piece called “does Warhol make you cry?” at MoMA – and he was at the time. So many rights to negotiate. That book is solely about Andy Warhol’s cinematic work, focusing on 10 films in detail. Those that are newly available from the archive, those where there was something new to be said. He only made films for five years – making 650 movies in that time. A lot even in comparison to Roger Corman (5 a year or so). Some are a few minutes long, some many hours. The enormous challenge was that in 1972 Warhol took all of his films out of circulation – he wanted to focus on painting, he was getting sued a lot by collaborators who wanted money from them. And they remained that way. Just before his death he said “my movies are more interesting to talk about than they are to watch”. He may have been joking but that sense has hung around studies of his work. Take a film like “Empire” (1964) it’s a conceptual piece – 8 hours and, in terms of content, time passes and it gets dark – has been little shown. Very few of his films are in circulation. MoMA has around 40 circulation copies available but that’s a rare place you can see them, you can see screenings at the Celeste Bartos screening rooms. The only other place to see them is at the Warhol museum in Pittsburgh on VHS. If not that its 16mm. You can’t pause or rewatch. It’s cold. It’s really hard to do Warhol research… so many pirate copies also out there…


So are his films worth seeing or are they just conceptual pieces? Since the films have started to come out of the archives films like Empire have been shown in their entirity… people then discuss the experience of sitting through all of them. Indeed in his PhD thesis (Motion(less) Pictures: The Cinema of Stasis), Justin Remeselnik suggests they are “furniture films” – you can admire and engage with them but not to be paid attention to for an increadibly long time… and yet in Pamela Lee’s book Chronophobia talks about seeing Empire the whole way through, as a phenomenological record of pain it’s fairly incredible. She’s not alone here… another writer, Mark Leach, asked an audience to provide live tweeting during a screening of Empire, and then compiled these into the book #Empirefilm.

This is a long diversion but… Gary Needham and I tried to think hard about the experience of the Factory and the working environment there, what was it like to see Warhol’s films in the context of other experimental filmmakers in the 1960s. In trying to put together a MOOC these ideas sat with me, as the rights negotiations for the book took place over 18 months. We had 30 new images created – we had to apply for grants to get these made, rather than reproduced – by the Warhol museum. We had materials from BFI. We were able to use publicity materials as well. And we had to get agreements from so many people. The Whitney Museum has a Warhol Film Project and acted as our fact checker. It’s a 500k word book so that took some time. One of Warhol’s assistants, Gerard Malanga, allowed us to use his diary entries in the book. I came to Warhol knowing the rights access issues. And I came to the MOOC knowing those issues, knowing the possible time lag…

Chris provided a great introduction to Artist Rooms earlier. I head up the Art and it’s Histories strand. Sian and Jen head up the education strand but I work with artist historians and theorists doing research projects around the materials. So making a MOOC was an idea we thought about as a way to bring out Warhol to a wider audience, and to highlight the Artist Rooms content. I had a lot of questions though and I knew we could not use moving images at all. Could we talk about Warhol’s work without images or clips? What does that mean? Can we assume that people taking the course might source or be able to watch those things. I’ve been teaching Warhol for 15-20 years. I can show all manner of images and clips to students for teaching which are fine to use in that context but which would be impossible to use online for copyright and provenance reasons.

So, there are roughly 250 Warhol pieces in the Artist Rooms collections. There are particular strengths there. There are a great number of posters, as Anthony d’Offay said to me, these give a great overview of events during his lifestyle. There are also stitched photographs – another strength – and these are from the end of Warhol’s career. There are not many so to have a number to compare to each other is great. There are also early illustrations and commercial works. And there are self portraits from the early to mid 80’s. So for me how do I put together a course on Andy Warhol based on this collection? His most famous work is all from about 1962 to 1966. These pieces are silk screens of Monroe, Electric chairs, guns, Campbells soup cans. They are hugely expensive and not in the collection. But are these so familiar that I can assume those taking the course will know them. But the other partners in Artist Rooms – from the National Galleries of Scotland and the Tate – that did cover some of this famous 1960s material, to sex up the course a bit!

So this let us take shape. This will be a five week course. Each week will be a video lecture from me (sex, death, celebrity, money, time) and then a video interview who have worked with Warhol’s work in one way or another – curators, academics, conservators etc. Who could give a fresh perspective on Warhol and what he means to them. I’ll come back to them shortly.

I’ve talked about Warhol’s ubiquity and that’s been an issue as we finalised materials, looked at editing videos. Warhol is one of the most well known artists in the world. His images circulate so widely on such a range of objects (maybe only exceeded by the Mona Lisa) that familiarity with them is high. You can buy just about everything – from mugs to skateboards… the Warhol story is extraordinary. What’s really interesting for anyone teaching art history or theory is that he provides a really interesting test case with regards to reproduction and distribution.

For instance the Marilyn Diptych ( Andy Warhol, 1962). This was based on a publicity still for the 1953 film Niagara which he cropped to his liking. He started to make works just after her suicide in 1962. They have been described as work in mourning. And they are important examples of pop art, collapsing the worlds of art and pop culture. But also commenting on the mass media reproduction of imagery. The uneven application across this piece suggest the blurring of images in newspapers, and the important difference between similar reproductions. Thomas Crow (in his essay for Art in America (May 1987), “Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol”) writes that Marilyn disappears quickly when you look at this work, what becomes clearer is the blurrings, the paint level variations. But I have been using this image to teach with Walter Benjamin’s essay on mass production in relation to art work. His essential argument is that endless reproduction, owning of facsimiles etc. changes our relation to the original. It could seem less valuable… or more valuable… as we have seen with Warhol’s work. And Warhol’s own work is a reproduction itself of course. And his painting is the valuable thing… not the press still…

Being able to talk about this work and reproduction through the MOOC and the digital format adds another layer. MOOCs raise the question of what the use of gallery visits may be. What’s the difference of talking about a work and engaging with the original piece. The process of art or art history has always involved travel to galleries, biennials, festivals. Writing about it means seeing the work, there are financial angles there, there are green angles there. For example I am going to Newcastle for three days to see “Crude Oil” (Wang Bang, 2008). It is a 14 hour movie, you can only see it in installation. I intend to move in… my husband thinks I’m mad!

And what about the experience of engaging with the stuff here. I spent three days at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh preparing for the MOOC watching to VHS, speaking to staff, and also looking at Warhol’s “time capsules” – receipts, ephemera, e.g. a box from 1978 is just “Concorde stuff”. I was accompanied by a curator, they opened boxes for me… some smelled bad due to moldy stuff, exploded soup cans, a still-inflated silly birthday cake which was a present from Yoko Ono. They are treated as art works. They are still cataloguing these things. So I spoke to the curators about how they are making the time capsules educationally engaging. They have video of celebrities going through them, for instance John Waters gives a great critique of one of the time capsules. They did a live opening, streamed to the ICA, of one of the time capsules. I mention these because these were really interesting examples of opening this type of content and artist up to others.

Let me just say a bit about how we have made the videos for the MOOC. My colleague Lucy Kendra who had filmed other MOOC content saw this filming experience as unusually immediate and intimate in form. We spoke to curators and conservators at the galleries, Gary at Nottingham, and Anthony d’Offay himself. We were also given access behind the scenes at the Tate Store – they took out 10 pieces as a backdrop which was so valuable. We had interviews of an hour, an hour and a half. We have so much materials. For the Warhol class there will be a required 10 minute version of the video, but we will then give a longer, possible unexpurgated, videos for those that want to see them the whole way through. These are fantastic and extraordinary videos. I think they are fantastic representations of these institutions but I think it may open the doors to careers in some of these roles. We hope they may open doors in ways other art education courses may not do.

These interviews I could not have forseen, but they have become the bedrock of the course, the USP, the main draw, and these first time perspectives on the artist and his career. Why Warhol is still of interest and the personal interests of the interviewees themselves. We started by thinking the issue would be about content and rights but the interviews have gone beyond the object there.

Image of Glyn Davis (University of Edinburgh)Q&A

Q1) Will there be assessment at the end? Will they be assessed by peers.

A1) Yes, I think there has to be for Coursera. I have PhD student Teaching Assistants. I have left some of those decisions to them. They have suggested allowing practical responses to the materials – to get a sense of materials and present day materials, contemporary approach. Or a short written text, a 2-300 word response to a work of their choosing – perhaps from Artist Rooms or perhaps another. These are great TAs though with ideas like building a map of the nearest Andy Warhol to the participant, opening up possible discussion of access. Peers will assess the work and this is where drawing on the expertise of colleagues who have run MOOCs before is so valuable.

Q2) When we did our MOOC we had an easier rights time but we really wanted to use films that it was hard to find legal clips to… we avoided anything we knew was of dubious origins. But we found students sharing those clips and images anyway! What do you plan to do with that?

A2) As far as I know the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh are well aware that material leaks out… if our participants link to those things we can’t help that. We just create that distance and leave that in the students hands.

Comment – Debs) I feel your pain entirely! In addition to the academic excellence issue, at MoMA part of our job is about preserving the identity of the work, of the artists in our collections. We can’t distribute unofficial copies of works by artists in our collection, it wouldn’t look good. And yet… we were one of the first museums to go to Electronic Arts Intermix about using video online. They’d never really been approached to digitalise their works in that sort of context. The first person I spoke to was extremely pessimistic about these once-cutting edge technology using artists works being able to share these works online. We were able to say that in the environment of this course – a limited course, not a MOOC, we have a lot of details on them – it is very comparible to the classroom. We stream it and although you probably could capture the content but most won’t. They were OK with this. We got Bill Viola, Yoko Ono, etc. allowing us to stream the content. It was costly… but I hope as we push these boundaries more the artists and rights holders will go with that. Otherwise we will have a loss to art history and accessing this hard to reach art. That arguement of the most famous work being the most visible already is one I’ve used before, I hope that rings true.

Q3) Do you have specific goals – educational or a specific combination of enrolees – for this MOOC?

A3) There are two or three key goals. Part was a partnership between the university, the Tate and National Galleries. And part of that was about trying a MOOC as a way to do that. It might be that the Tate or National Galleries want to use one of those interviews somewhere else too. For me it is also about trying a new tool, and what is possible with that. I am interested in testing the boundaries of what Coursera will do.

Q4) With the MOOCs which you have completed… with hindsight now is there a lot that you would do differently?

A4 – Deb) Not a lot but… with the videos I wish we had done differently. I wish we had done them straight without “last week you did X”, or interviews with curators etc. I wish I had had the insight to bring in the right people or to make it more long term useful.

A4 – Sian) for our second run we did make changes. We refused to make videos the first time, we were being hard line. But the dominent comment online were “where are the professors” and “where are the videos” so we made introductory videos for each week. That was the most significant change.

And with that a really interesting afternoon is complete with thanks to organiser Claire Wright, and to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for providing funding for the event.

Find out more

Nov 072013

Today I am connected to one of a new series of JISC and ALT (Association for Learning Technology) Digital Literacy webinarsMultimodal Profusion in the Massive Open Online Course – Jeremy Knox, Sian Bayne. 

I will be taking notes throughout the session and hopefully catching many of the questions etc. As usual this is a liveblog so my notes may include the odd error or typo – please let me have your thoughts or corrections in the comments below!  

:: Update: the recording for this session is now available here ::

According to Lesley Gourley’s introduction these sessions are all being recorded and being made available online via the ALT website. These webinars are based on forthcoming papers in Research in Learning Technology – Special issue on Scholarships and Literacies in the Digital Age. Beyond practice and into greater overarching change. This will be out towards the end of the year.

Lesley is introducing Jeremy and Sian. Sian’s research interests are related to teaching and learning online, particularly around post humanism and multimodal academic literacies. Jeremy is working on a PhD on critical post humanism in open educational environments.

We are beginning with Sian: We will be building on work we have done in our E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC and looking at how we can theorise what we have encountered there.

The E-Learning adn Digital Cultures MOOC has just begun it’s second run. It initially ran in early 2013 with around 27,000 students and is running again, launched this week, with around 19,000 students. And we have tried to see this as going beyond the classic MOOC lectures. Instead we have curated open educational resources, web essays, etc. alongside theoretical work and educational thinking. And we then encourage participants to blog their thoughts. We have discussion forums but we also encourage them to use Twitter (#edcmooc), to blog their experience… influenced by the cMOOC design than by the conventional xMOOC design. And we saw before – and are seeing again – a real sense of community development. We see very active Facebook group (4500+, G+ group (3800+) etc.

Jeremy: For me one of the ways in which this sort of massive participation seemed to manifest was in the submission of final assignments to the EDCMOOC. We had over 1700 artefacts submitted. We asked them to create something that commented on one or all of the course themes, something creative designed to be experienced on the web. What was really interesting to me was that in that requirement to make the digital artefact public… we initially did that so that we could use peer assessment – using the peer assessment module – and in order for that to work, and to mirror the public open pedagoguey we were trying to use. But as a result this digital creativity began to be collected and curated on the web. So this image we see on the screen – a Padlet page of 330 artefacts – but you get this profusion of digital creative work. That’s significant because not only is assessment usually hidden, it is also usually private. But this is really open and collaborative as an experience.

And that really led to us thinking about this as “sociomaterial”. This is emerging in some educational research (Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk 2011) and encompasses ANT, Complexity Theory, Cultural Historical Activity Theory and Spatial Theory. So we wanted to think about this as a way of percieving relationships between humans (the social) and non-humans (the material). The relation is all important here as this perspective is about disregarding form before the relation, instead seeing the relation between these things as the key focus. I like the idea of Karen Berad who talks about “inter-action” but if we talk about “intra-action” we talk about those things without having to regard them as pure forms.

So why the sociomaterial? Well it counters what can be seen as an over-emphasis on human agency, particularly in digital literacy discourse. The idea that technology is just there to achieve educational goals – an approach that overlooks the role of technology and the change or influence it can have. And it also responds to the idea that online environments are “virtual” or somehow “immaterial” – we are moving to a place where the web is something real and tangible. And when we get to the idea of things being tangible we can get to a place where we see things as situatable to education events. And it offers an alternative way of understanding knowledge – what it is and how it comes about. This isn’t too philosophical but part of the day to day work of educators and the sociomaterial has some profound insights here. And it allows us to acknowledge ways that software and algorithms co-produce digital work (rather than being simple “tools” for human use).

Sian: At this point we thought it might be useful to say what we mean by digital artefacts, those created with a sort of sociomaterial literacy. So I thought I would show a few examples. Firstly “Twitterchat by cikgubrian” on YouTube which brought together and aggregate an assemblage of impressions of the EDC MOOC. Next up “My Scottish MOOC by Willa Ryerson” – another animation about the experience of the Scottish MOOC. Finally “Our #EDCMooc Experience: Class? Network? Something Else?” a “Haiku Deck” using images and text comments. Now Jeremy will do a more detailed reading of some of these artefacts.

Jeremy: I want to provide more of a detailed overview of how these might be looked at as sociomaterial objects. firstly “World Builder: a crowd-sourced tag heart” by John O’Neill. This was created with a tag cloud tool. What struck me was that this was submitted as a piece of work to be assessed for representing a theme of the course. It is put forward as a stable contained piece of work. But I want to look at the processes to produce it… which question it’s source and finality. It’s a sociomaterial reading that enables us to do this. So this text was produced in the responses to a video used in the course called “World Builder” about an idealised virtual world for someone apparently in a coma in hospital. So this text is from around 85 posts in a forum thread from about 75 identified participants. So it was this participant who took this text from the forum. A number of the responses addresses specific questions that we as a teaching team put forward, so our text not only informed that discussion as well. so the distributed elements were not just discursive but there were technological and algorithmic elements that shaped these texts. There are a number of automatic process that take place on this text. Several interesting variables come into play here. The scale of font to relative frequency is adjustable. The tightness regulate how tightly the words fit into a shape. But there are also factors that are automatic algorithmic changes – like removal of small words, combining of tenses, sometimes plurals. These are encoded into the software. And there is the heartshape as well… which determines location and proximity of words. So this seems to embody the symbolic from the material in this. It is a hybrid object, a continuity of matter and culture here. Social and material are not distinct. And as significant as the contesting and blurring of origins, also it’s stability and finality of the object is under question… it was submitted as a Flickr image, also in a Wallwisher, also on Tagxedo website. On the latter website each word is a hyperlink. That really blurs the status of the object as final for me.

And the second example is “E-Learning and Human 3.0” by Nick Hood, created by VideoScribe. It’s a presentation software using text and an animated hand. Once again this presentation has come about from some really interesting and layered process. So the user inputs text and positions it within a sort of whiteboard space. And select from some existing images. And you choose a sort of “preferred limb” for writing. This represents an archetypal black box of digital creation. A tension between software accessibility and usability – this software is clearly both accessible and usable – and on the other hand a kind of openness and user agency. The user doesn’t have fantastic control. That tension is also about absence and presence… the hand is a sense of presence, the spatial aspect of the classroom that draws on the idea of whiteboard. But the surface layer conceals non human agencies at play.

So firstly I wanted to touch on the idea of the image of the hand. So this is a screen capture of the video options – the limb or writing implement – you’d like to animate your presentation with. Most are arms, some are instruments, one is a foot. So you enact a teaching body different from the author – you are distributing the teaching body. And also the hand is animated with the software that preceeds the software. The teaching body is performed by this really complex assemblage of bodies codes, and texts. These are co-constituantly non symbolic. The teacherly body is human and non human at once.

The other thing is this straight forward way of simulating the classroom space. this was submitted via YouTube, where the video has algorithmically generated suggestions. And it will consider the viewer currently watching as well as other viewers of this video – and what they have looked at. This is complex and ongoing algorithm of human interaction that persistently changes that page and that video. Elements are rearranged, reordered, constantly reproduced by humans and algorithms. Human, body, algorithm and non human actor are all present and interacting.

Sian: so I guess we want to end with implications – what does this all mean? Jeremy picked on two of thousands of artefacts to think about how they fit into code, algorithms and agency. Some themes here:

Non-representationalism – seeing knowledge not as something re-produced or re-created outside of a situation (the human min) but instead knowledge is within and part of enacted relational process. Does the artefact convey the intentions of the author? It is about a more complex performance involving both the person and the alogorithmic elements. A new way to understanding that.

Anti-anthropocentrism – the decentreing of a human or human author as the authentic single author of a digital work, it is problematised, this idea of technology in our service… instead it is about decentring the subjtec allows to move beyond an instrumental view of technology and simplistic ideas of empowerment. It helps us interact criticism. So for instance that tool used by Nick presents all limb options as white, forcing us to think critically about that. So we have fundamental issues to consider here.

Both artefacts are i nteresting, we could have spoken about hundreds of examples. Our overarching point is to see digital literacy as something other than technical mastery, instead theoretical areas that decentre human intention.

Jeremy: So some conclusions to add to some of that. I find it interesting that in much digital literacy work you see this emphasis on skills training and future proofing. The idea of training, especially in schools, to enable students to be competant citizens for the futrue. Interesting to consider that in the context of anxiety and fear in relation to technology. Perhaps this may be a response to the loss of stability and authority in digital space.

We see the digital artefacts of the EDCMOOCs as a demonstration of complex, contingent, specific and relational sociomatierla practices.

The resulting knowledge might be considered a collective enactment of human and non-human agencies. Context matters here.

And this perspective gives us a new way to look at digital literacies. We see technology as having a role that expands further to the wider social, cultural and technological contingencies which shape work produced in educational contexts.


Q1) Are YouTube videos on any channels?

A1 – Sian) We can share a list of the videos included here. I can also send around some sites where MOOC students have tried to crowdsource and curate these.

Q2) Interesting interpretation: how close is your relational-sociomaterial stance to Siemens and Downes’ Connectivism

A2 – Jeremy) Siemens and Downes are doing good work updating the social constructivist view of MOOCs up to date. For me it’s about how technology is perceived. A lot of the connectivism work slips into an instrumentalist view of technology as there to inform connections. Sociomaterial perspectvies takes a more nuanced views. Siemens has talked about “non human devices” so there are some interesting cross overs. But the view of technology is where they don’t quite correlate.

A2 – Sian) Connectivism making some great work and shifts in terms of pedagogical design but yes, still about being anthrocentric, less focus on the materiality of those networks. That is the slight difference for me than the sociomaterial approach we’ve taken here.

Q3) Why Collaborate rather than Google+ Hangouts

A3 – Lesley) ALT’s preferred method due to numbers.

Q4 – Nick) Is there any aspect of your research that considers the teacher as assessor and how aligned the teachers digital literacy has to be with the student’s digital literacy. Some students submit work that could be challenging to assess in terms of what parts of that work are the students’ own work versus the choice of tool use, to be able to interpret what the students content is?

A4 – Sian) Such an important question. Partly about teachers knowledge and understanding. Partly about what the tool can do. But it also troubles the notion of assessment. And it troubles the frameworks of assessment in particular – those are grounded in textual history, but this is much more about interpretation and the interpretation of the teacher. We are as much taxing our interpretation as the students skills. It questions intentionality.

A4 – Jeremy) A great question. The sociomaterial reading really questions if we can really assess the skill of the author or the skill of the algorithm. The YouTube recommendation algorithm… we don’t need to work out exactly what it’s doing, not the point, but it’s about showing it as entangles and enmeshes, the algorithm isn’t a purely material form, you can’t separate out the intention of the author. And that really troubles identifying and assessing achievements. Interpretation is an interesting way to move that forward.

Q5)  What criteria do you use to assess the students artefacts or creations?

A5 – Jeremy) These were peer assessed. We defined some criteria within the course and asked students to peer assess each other’s work. Students submitted the URLs. the software allocated the URLs to three students for feedback and grading. We were really experimenting with peer assessments. We weren’t trying to impose a sociomaterial assessment, these are a response to that process.

A5 – Sian) We drew on experience of peer assessment from the MSc of eLearning. The criteria wasn’t sociomaterial exactly. There is another aspect of form here, ideally we would respond in the same form as the submitted artefact.

Q6) Is the Edinburgh MOOC a cMOOC? And I’m not clear on the difference!

A7 – Jeremy) A cMOOC is a connectivist MOOC, the likes of Siemens, Downes and Cormier who were experimenting with open content and assemment. They were the original courses called MOOCs. Later Coursera, EdX etc. created platforms called MOOCs, called xMOOCs to distinguish from cMOOCs. So cMOOCs more radical and distributed. xMOOCs hosted centrally, usually established universities, high profile. I’m not sure we were either. Not convinced either is a valid way to talk about MOOCs. When xMOOCs first emerged… the first wave contained video lectures and quizzes in the first wave but actually things are moving on – Sian has been doing some work on this – but we weren’t really either. We wanted to combine interest in experimentation with Coursera platform.

A7 – Sian) Myself and Jen Ross have been doing some work for the UK HEA about MOOC pedgogies. No-one really talking about xMOOCs or cMOOCs so much anymore. One message out of that is that in the UK only really hybrid pedagogies in the UK.

Q8) In terms of digital literacy… perhaps the issue is that we are not sure what literacy means in any context.

A8 – Jeremy) Robin Goodfellow has done some great work on what we mean when we say “digital literacy”. We were taking a slightly different approach and rethink the idea of the human at the centre. See Sue Thomas’ interesting work on the complexities of literacy, of transliteracies. The complexities and factors here. Again that work for us… that still has the idea of the tool as something separate from the person using it.

A8 – Sian) I’d agree that literacy is an increasingly problematic term – Robin has done good work here but we have terms like “emotional literacy” etc. Some real muddiness not for researchers

Q9 – from me) In terms of critiquing digital literacies how much of what you critique of the instrumental approach is actually grounded in pragmatic needs of policy makers, funders, etc? Whilst skills based approaches are problematic, they are actionable for those decision makers. How would more sociomaterial approaches be actionable in terms of policy, in terms of ensuring critically skilled students/individuals?

A9 – Sian) I think you are right, skills based approaches can be addressed by policies but they construct literacies as deficits, so it’s about rethinking about literacy as capacities. To think again about how technology plays an active partnership in the way meaning is constructed. Hard in terms of policies but lets us move away from the idea of deficits and competencies…

A9 – Jeremy) Great question. It makes me think about the issues of literacies as a driver for MOOCs, efficiency gains etc. For me that question is great because it points to much wider institutional and political factors at play and the wider discourse around elearning.

Q10) Will you run the same course again?

A10 – Sian) We intend to offer it three times. We have made small changes this time and possibly again… but after that… well MOOCs are moving so quickly. I’m sure we’ll want to ride whatever waves are coming next…

A10 – Jeremy) There was a particular MOOC moment and I feel priviledged to have been teaching in that moment. As a team we would be interested in working at the critical edge of what is happening, not sure MOOCs will be in the near future. To add to what Sian said we had a lot of feedback on teh first MOOC. Around 60% of the first wave students worked in education and we have used their feedback. We shall do that again. But we also like to surprise people so we look forward to the third MOOC!

Q11) Seeing how different and personal those artefacts are for each learner, is it possible to define any sort of ‘common’ digital literacy, or would it be different for each person?

A11 – Jeremy) Yes, I think it really questions that idea… that distribution of agency and creativity. So many people were involved in creating that word cloud, including us as teachers. Of course the author plays a significant role in that particular coming together. But yeah, it definitely questions that.

A11 – Sian) I’d agree with that. That’s whats exciting about these academic forms, that can’t be flattened like traditional academic forms. And questions what we do when we assess academic work.

Q12 – Nick) I was just wondering about the different knowledge that participants arrive with… the issue of literacies and how they change, it moves all the time

A12 – Sian) It does really move, really question assessible terms

A12 – Jeremy) That relates to the earlier question. It is so situationable. It is not assessable to generalisable criteria really. if we think about these as singularities it is tricky to see how you might understand them and how important the situation they come about through.

Q13 – Lesley) I’m interested in what you’ve been talking about in terms of representation, assemblages and how they may be critiqued. The loss of some sort of shared code. When we think of masters or postgraduate level works, how do you engage critically with say that heart shape word cloud.

A13 – Jeremy) for me the sociomaterial reading is a way to be critical about what happened in order to understand how that artefact came about. It is about recognising the author and the decentering of that author… not a flattening out of considering what’s important and powerful and not represented, just a way to think about what is important, what is powerful in that coming together.

A13 – Sian) I think lesley and others may be interested in the ESRC Seminar Series that Jeremy and I are involved in around code in educational practice.

And with that we draw to a close with thanks to the speakers and facilitators.

See also: