Humanities Intensive Learning + Teaching, Day 1, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, #hilt2014

I’m attending the Humanities Intensive Learning + Teaching courses at Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, #hilt2014, for the second year running. Last year was Matt Jocker’s excellent course on R and this year I’m attending Elijah Meek’s course on Network Analysis and Visualisation. The first day we covered network basics and why you might want to actually carry out visualisation across graphs – and what the hell are graphs anyway?

Graphs, put simply, are a collection of things and connections between those things. Now that I’ve killed every mathematician reading this blog, let’s continue. I’ve done a lot of work on this before in the Internet Topology Zoo but it’s now looking like analysis of large-scale online education is something I have to get good at, so it seemed a great opportunity to come and see how the DH community do this and get access to some mature processes and tools.

Why is this important as a visualisation (or representation, thanks, Elijah) target? Because pictures tell stories well and we can use this to drive argument and make change.

Let’s consider the Medici, the family who dominated Florence from the 1400s to the 18th century. While not being the most wealthy and powerful families at the outset, they were (by marriage and arrangements) one of the most well connected families. In fact, the connections from some groups of families to other families had to go through the Medicis – which made them more important because of their role in the network.

Padget & Ansell’s network of marriages and economic relationships between Florentine families. (from http://www.themacroscope.org/?page_id=308)

Padget & Ansell’s network of marriages and economic relationships between Florentine families. (from http://www.themacroscope.org/?page_id=308)

The graph makes the relationship and the importance clear. (Insert toast about Boston, Lowells and Cabots here.)

In graphs of the Internet, everything is connected to the Internet by definition, so we don’t have any isolated elements. (We do have networks that don’t connect to the Internet, such as super-secret defence networks and some power stations – not as many as there used to be – but we’re interested in the Internet.) It is possible to analyse communities and show ways that some people/entities/organisations are not connected to each other. Sometimes they form disconnected clusters, sometimes they sit by themselves, and this is where my interest comes in, because we can use this to analyse student behaviour as a learning community.

A student who enrols in your course is notionally part of your community but this is an administrative view of the network. It’s only when they take part in any learning and teaching activity that they actually become part of the learning community. Suddenly all of the students in your network can have a range of different types of connection, which is a good start to finding categories to talk about behaviour in large on-line courses, because now we can easily separate enrolment from attendance, attendance from viewing, viewing from participation in discussion, and discussion from submission of work. I hope to have a good look into this to find some nice (convenient) mathematical descriptions of the now defunct cMOOC/xMOOC distinction and how we can encourage behaviour to get students to form robust learning networks.

As we can see from the Medicis, the Medicis used their position in order to gain power – it wasn’t in their interests to form additional connections to make the network resilient if they fell on hard times. However, learning networks don’t want a central point that can fail (central points of failure are to be avoided in most contexts!) and this is why a learning community is so important. If students are connected to many other students and their lecturing staff, then the chances of one relationship (connection) failing causing the whole network to fail is very low. Some people are, naturally, very important in a learning community: we’d hope that instructors would be, tutors would be, and key students who handle discussions or explanations also would be. However, if we have very few of these important people, then everyone else is depending upon this small number to stay connected and this puts a lot of stress on these people and makes it easy for your network to fall apart.

I’ll talk more about this tomorrow and hit you with you some definitions!


ITiCSE 2014: Monday, Keynote 1, “New Technology, New Learning?” #ITiCSE2014 #ITiCSE

This keynote was presented by Professor Yvonne Rogers, from University College of London. The talk was discussing how we could make learning more accessible and exciting for everyone and encourage students to think, to create and share our view. Professor Rogers started by sharing a tweet by Conor Gearty on a guerrilla lecture, with tickets to be issued at 6:45pm, for LSE students. (You can read about what happened here.) They went to the crypt of Westminster Cathedral and the group, split into three smaller groups, ended up discussing the nature of Hell and what it entailed. This was a discussion on religion but, because of the way that it was put together, it was more successful than a standard approach – context shift, suspense driving excitement and engagement. (I wonder how much suspense I could get with a guerrilla lecture on polymorphism… )

Professor Rogers says that suspense matters, as the students will be wondering what is coming next, and this will hopefully make them more inquisitive and thus drive them along the path to scientific enquiry. The Ambient Wood was a woodland full of various technologies for student pairs, with technology and probes, an explorative activity. You can read about the Ambient Wood here. The periscope idea ties videos into the direction that you are looking – a bit like Google Glass without a surveillance society aspect (a Woodopticon?). (We worked on similar ideas at Adelaide for an early project in the Arts Precinct to allow student exploration to drive the experience in arts, culture and botanical science areas.) All of the probes were recorded in the virtual spatial environment matching the wood so that, after the activity, the students could then look at what they did. Thus, a group of 10-12 year olds had an amazing day exploring and discovering, but in a way that was strongly personalised, with an ability to see it from the bird’s eye view above them.

And, unsurprisingly, we moved on to MOOCs, with an excellent slide on MOOC HYSTERIA. Can we make these as engaging as the guerrilla lecture or the ambient wood?

hysertia

MOOCs, as we know, are supposed to increase our reach and access to education but, as Professor Rogers noted, it is also a technology that can make the lecturer a “bit of a star”. This is one of the most honest assessments of some of the cachet that I’ve heard – bravo, Professor Rogers. What’s involved in a MOOC? Well, watching things, doing quizzes, and there’s probability a lot of passive, rather than active, learning. Over 60% of the people who sign up to do a MOOC, from the Stanford experience, have a degree – doing Stanford for free is a draw for the already-degreed. How can we make MOOCs fulfil their promise, give us good learning, give us active learning and so on? Learning analytics give us some ideas and we can data mine to try and personalise the course to the student. But this has shifted what our learning experience is and do we have any research to show the learning value of MOOCs?

In 2014, 400 students taking a Harvard course:

  1. Learned in a passive way
  2. Just want to complete
  3. Take the easy option
  4. Were unable to apply what they learned
  5. Don’t reflect on or talk to their colleagues about it.

Which is not what we want? What about the Flipped Classroom? Professor Rogers attributed this to Khan but I’m not sure I agree with this as there were people, Mazur for example, who were doing this in Peer Instruction well before Khan – or at least I thought so. Corrections in the questions please! The idea of the flip is that we don’t have content delivery in lectures with the odd question – we have content beforehand and questions in class. What is the reality?

  1. Still based on chalk and talk.
  2. Is it simply a better version of a bad thing?
  3. Are students more motivated and more active?
  4. Very labour-intensive for the teacher.

So where’s the evidence? Well, it does increase interaction in class between instructors and students. It does allow for earlier identification of misconceptions. Pierce and Fox, 2012, found that it increased exam results for pharmacology students. It also fostered critical thinking in case scenarios. Maybe this will work for 10s-100s – what about classes of thousands? Can we flip to this? (Should we even have classes of this size is another good question)

Then there’s PeerWise, Paul Denny (NZ), where there is active learning in which students create questions, answer them and get feedback. Students create the questions and then they get to try other student’s questions and can then rate the question and rate the answer. (We see approaches like this, although not as advanced, in other technologies such as Piazza.)

How effective is this? Performance in PeerWise correlated with exam marks (Anyadi, Green and Tang, 2013), with active student engagement. It’s used for revision before the exams, and you get hihg-quality questions and answers, while supporting peer interaction. Professor Rogers then showed the Learning Pyramid, from the National Training Laboratories, Bethel, Maine. The PeerWise system plays into the very high retention area.

pyramid

Professor Rogers then moved on to her own work, showing us a picture of the serried rank nightmare of a computer-based classroom: students in rows, isolated and focused on their screens. Instead of ‘designing for one’, why don’t we design to orchestrate shared activities, with devices that link to public displays and can actively foster collaboration. One of Professor Rogers’ students is looking at ways to share simulations across tablets and screens. This included “4Decades“, a a simulation of climate management, with groups representing the different stakeholders to loo at global climate economics. We then saw a video that I won’t transcribe. The idea is that group work encourages discussion, however we facilitate it, and this tends to leading to teaching others in the sharing of ideas. Another technology that Professor Rogers’ group have developed in this space is UniPad: orchestrating collaborate activities across multiple types of devices, with one device per 6-7 students, and used in classes without many researchers present. Applications of this technology include budgeting for students (MyBank), with groups interacting and seeing the results on a public display. Given how many students operate in share houses collaboratively, this is quite an interesting approach to the problem. From studies on this, all group members participated and used the tablet as a token for discussion, taking ownership of a part of the problem. This also extended to reflection on other’s activities, including identifying selfish behaviour on the part of other people. (Everyone who has had flatmates is probably groaning at the moment. Curse you, Love Tarot Pay-By-The-Minute Telephone Number, which cost me and my flatmates a lot of dollars after a flatmate skipped out on us.)

The next aspect Professor Rogers discussed was physical creation toolkits, such as MaKey MaKey, where you can build alternative input for a computer, based on a simple printed circuit board with alligator clips and USB cables. The idea is simple: you can turn anything you like into a keyboard key. Demonstrations included a banana space bar, a play dough MarioKart gamepad, and many other things (a water bowl in front of the machine became a cat-triggered photo booth). This highlights one of the most important aspects of thinking about learning: learning for life. How can we keep people interested in learning in the face of busy, often overfull, lives when many people still think about learning as something that had to be endured on their pathway into the workforce? (Paging my climbing friends with their own climbing wall: you could make the wall play music if you wanted to. Just saying.)

One of the computers stopped working during a trial of the MaKey MaKey system with adult learners and the collaboration that ensued changed the direction of the work and more people were assigned to a single kit. Professor Rogers showed a small video of a four-person fruit orchestra of older people playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. (MORE KIWI!) This elicited a lot of ideas, including for their grandchildren and own parent, transforming exercise to be more fun, to help people learn fundamental knowledge skills and give good feedback. We often heavily intervene in the learning experience and the reflection of the Fruit Orchestra was that intervening less in self-driven activities such as MaKey MaKey might be a better way to go, to increase autonomy and thus drive engagement.

Next was the important question: How can we gets to create and code, where coding is just part of the creating? Can we learn to code differently beyond just choosing a particular language? We have many fascinating technologies but what is the suite of tools over the top that will drive creativity and engagement in this area, to produce effective learning? The short video shown demonstrated a pop-out prefabricated system, where physical interfaces and gestures across those represented coding instructions: coding without any typing at all. (Previous readers will remember my fascination with pre-literate programming.) This early work, electronics on a sheet, is designed to be given away because the production cost is less than 3 Euros. The project is called “code me” from University College London and is designed to teach logic without people realising it: the fundamental building block of computational thinking. Future work includes larger blocks with Bluetooth input and sensors. (I can’t find a web page for this.)

What role should technology play in learning? Professor Rogers mentioned thinking about this in two ways. The inside learning using technology to think about the levels students to reach to foster attainment: personalise, monitor, motivate, flexible, adaptive. The outside learning approach is to work with other people away from the screen: collaborate, create, connect, reflect and play. Professor Rogers believes that the choice is ours but that technology should transform learning to make it active, creative, collaborative, exciting (some other things I didn’t catch) and to recognise the role of suspense in making people think.

An interesting and thought-provoking keynote.

 


CSEDU, Day 2, Invited Talk, “How are MOOCs Disrupting the Educational Landscape?”, (#CSEDU14 #AdelEd)

I’ve already spent some time with Professor Hugh Davis, from Southampton, and we’ve had a number of discussions already around some of the matters we’re discussing today, including the issue when you make your slides available before a talk and people react to the content of the slides without having the context of the talk! (This is a much longer post for another time.) Hugh’s slides are available at http://www.slideshare.net/hcd99.

As Hugh noted, this is a very timely topic but he’s planning to go through the slides at speed so I may not be able to capture all of it. He tweeted his slides earlier, as I noted, and his comment that he was going to be debunking things earned him a minor firestorm. But, to summarise, his answer to the questions is “not really, probably” but we’ll come back to this. For those who don’t know, Southampton is about 25,000 students, Russell Group and Top 20 in the UK, with a focus on engineering and oceanography.

Back in 2012, the VC came back infused with the desire to put together a MOOC (apparently, Australians talked them into it – sorry, Hugh) and in December, 2012, Hugh was called in and asked to do MOOCs. Those who are keeping track will now that there was a lot of uncertainty about MOOCs in 2012 (and there still is) so the meeting called for staff to talk about this was packed – in a very big room. But this reflected excitement on the part of people – which waving around “giant wodges” of money to do blended learning had failed to engender, interestingly enough. Suddenly, MOOCs are more desirable because people wanted to do blended learning as long as you used the term MOOC. FutureLearn was produced and things went from there. (FutureLearn now has a lot of courses in it but I’ve mentioned this before. Interestingly, Monash is in this group so it’s not just a UK thing. Nice one, Monash!)

In this talk, Hugh’s planning to intro MOOCs, discuss the criticism, look at Higher Ed, ask why we are investing in MOOCs, what we can get out of it and then review the criticisms again. Hugh then defined what the term MOOC means: he defined it as a 10,000+, free and open registration, on-line course, where a course runs at a given time with a given cohort, without any guarantee of accreditation. (We may argue about this last bit later on.) MOOCs are getting shorter – with 4-6 weeks being the average for a MOOC, mostly due to fears of audience attrition over time.

The dreaded cMOOC/xMOOC timeline popped up from Florida Institute of Technology’s History of MOOCs:

moocs_picture

and then we went into the discussion of the stepped xMOOC with instructor led and a well-defined and assessable journey and the connectivist cMOOC  where the network holds the knowledge and the learning comes from connections. Can we really actually truly separate MOOCs into such distinct categories? A lot of xMOOC forums show cMOOC characteristics and you have to wonder how much structure you can add to a cMOOC without it getting “x”-y. So what can we say about the definition of courses? How do we separate courses you can do any time from the cohort structure of the MOOC? The synchronicity of human collision is a very connectivisty idea which is embedded implicitly in every xMOOC because of the cohort.

What do you share? Content or the whole course? In MOOCS, the whole experience is available to you rather than just bits and pieces. And students tend to dip in and out when they can, rather than just eating what is doled out, which suggests that they are engaging. There are a lot of providers, who I won’t list here, but many of them are doing pretty much the same thing.

What makes a MOOC? Short videos, on-line papers, on-line activities, links toe external resources, discussions and off platform activity – but we can no longer depend upon students being physical campus students and thus we can’t guarantee that they share our (often privileged) access to resources such as published journals. So Southampton often offer précis of things that aren’t publicly available. Off platform is an issue for people who are purely on-line.

If you have 13,000 people you can’t really offer to mark all their essays so assessment has to depend upon the self-motivated students and they have to want to understand what is going on – self evaluation and peer review have to be used. This is great, according to Hugh, because we will have a great opportunity to find out more about peer review than we ever have before.

What are the criticisms? Well, they’re demographically pants – most of the students are UK (77%) and then a long way down US (2%), with some minor representation from everywhere else. This isn’t isolated to this MOOC. 70% of MOOC users come from the home country, regardless of where it’s run. Of course, we also know that the people who do MOOCs also tend to have degrees – roughly 70% from the MOOCS@Edinburgh2013 Report #1. These are serial learners (philomaths) who just love to learn things but don’t necessarily have the time or inclination (or resources) to go back to Uni. But for those who register, many don’t do anything, and those who do drop out at about 20% a week – more weeks, more drop-out. Why didn’t people continue? We’ll talk about this later. (See http://moocmoocher.wordpress.com) But is drop out a bad thing? We’ll comeback to this.

Then we have the pedagogy, where we attempt to put learning design into our structure in order to achieve learning outcomes – but this isn’t leading edge pedagogy and there is no real interaction between educators and learners. There are many discussions, and they happen in volume, but this discussion is only over 10% of the community, with 1% making the leading and original contributions. 1% of 10-100,000 can be a big number compared to a standard class room.

What about the current Higher Ed context – let’s look at “The Avalanche Report“. Basically, the education business is doomed!!! DOOOMED, I tell you! which is hardly surprising for a report that mostly originates from a publishing house who wants to be a financially successful disruptor. Our business model is going to collapse! We are going to have our Napster moment! Cats lying down with dogs! In the HE context, fees are going up faster than the value of degree (across most of the developed world, apparently). There is an increased demand for flexibility of study, especially for professional development, in the time that they have. The alternative educational providers are also cashing up and growing. With all of this in mind, on-line education should be a huge growing market and this is what the Avalanche report uses to argue that the old model is doomed. To survive, Unis will have to either globalise or specialise – no room in the middle. MOOCs appear to be the vanguard of the on-line program revolution, which explains why there is so much focus.

Is this the end of the campus? It’s not the end of the pithy slogan, that’s for sure. So let’s look at business models. How do we make money on MOOCs? Freemium where there are free bits and value-added bits  The value-adds can be statements of achievement or tutoring. There are also sponsored MOOCs where someone pays us to make a MOOC (for their purposes) or someone pays us to make a MOOC they want (that we can then use elsewhere.) Of course there’s also just the old “having access to student data” which is a very tasty dish for some providers.

What does this mean to Southampton? Well it’s a kind of branding and advertising for Southampton to extend their reputation. It might also generate new markets, bring them in via Informal Learning, move to Non-Formal Learning, then up to the Modules of Formal Learning and then doing whole programmes under more Formal learning. Hugh thinks this is optimistic, not least because not many people have commodified their product into individual modules for starters. Hugh thinks it’s about 60,000 Pounds to make a MOOC, which is a lot of money, and so you need a good business model to justify dropping this wad of cash. But you can get 60K back from enough people with a small fee. Maybe on-line learning is another way to get students than the traditional UK “boarding school” degrees. But the biggest thing is when people accept on-line certification as this is when the product becomes valuable to the people who want the credentials. Dear to my heart, is of course that this also assists in the democratisation of education – which is a fantastic thing.

What can we gain from MOOCs? Well, we can have a chunk of a running course for face-to-face students that runs as a MOOC and the paying students have benefited from interacting with the “free attendees” on the MOOC but we have managed to derive value from it. It also allows us to test things quickly and at scale, for rapid assessment of material quality and revision – it’s hard not to see the win-win here. This automatically drives the quality up as it’s for all of your customers, not just the scraps that you can feed to people who can’t afford to pay for it. Again, hooray for democratisation.

Is this the End of the Lecture? Possibly, especially as we can use the MOOC for content and flip to use the face-to-face for much more valuable things.

There are on-line degrees and there is a lot of money floating around looking for brands that they will go on-line (and by brand, we mean the University of X.)  Venture capitalist, publishers and start-ups are sniffing around on-line so there’s a lot of temptation out there and a good brand will mean a lot to the right market. What about fusing this and articulating the degree programme, combining F2F modules. on-line, MOOC, and other aspects.

Ah, the Georgia Tech On-line Masters in Computer Science has been mentioned. This was going to be a full MOOC with free and paying but it’s not fully open, for reasons that I need to put into another post. So it’s called a MOOC but it’s really an on-line course. You may or may not care about this – I do, but I’m in agreement with Hugh.

The other thing about MOOC is that we are looking at big, big data sets where these massive cohorts can be used to study educational approaches and what happens when we change learning and assessment at the big scale.

So let’s address the criticisms:

  1. Pedagogically Simplistic! Really, as simple as a lecture? Is it worse – no, not really and we have space to innovate!
  2. No support and feedback!  There could be, we’d just have to pay for it.
  3. Poor completion rates! Retention is not the aim, satisfaction is. We are not dealing with paying students.
  4. No accreditation! There could be but, again, you’d have to pay for someone to mark and accredit.
  5. This is going to kill Universities! Hugh doesn’t think so but we’ll had to get a bit nimble. So only those who are not agile and responsive to new business models may have problems – and we may have to do some unbundling.

Who is actually doing MOOCs? The life-long learner crowd (25-65, 505/50 M/F and nearly always have a degree). People who are after a skill (PD and CPD). Those with poor access to Higher education, unsurprisingly. There’s also a tiny fourth cohort who are those who are dipping a toe in Uni and are so small as to be insignificant. (The statistics source was questioned, somewhat abruptly, in the middle of Hugh’s flow, so you should refer to the Edinburgh report.”

The patterns of engagement were identified as auditing, completing and sampling, from the Coursera “Emerging Student Pattersn in Open-Enrollment MOOCs”.

To finish up, MOOCs can give us more choice and more flexibility. Hugh’s happy because people want do online learning and this helps to develop capacity to develop high quality on-line courses. This does lead to challenges for institutional strategy: changing beliefs, changing curriculum design, working with the right academic staff (and who pays them), growing teams of learning designers and multimedia producers, legal matters, speed and agility, budget and marketing. These are commercial operations so you have a lot of commercial issues to worry about! (For our approach, going Creative Commons was one of the best things we every did.)

Is it the end of the campus? … No, not really, Hugh thinks that the campus will keep going and there’ll just be more on-line learning. You don’t stop going to see good music because you’ve got a recording, for example.

And now for the conclusions! MOOCs are a great marketing device and have a good reach for people who were out of reach before, But we can take high quality content and re-embed back into blended learning, use it to drive teaching practice change, get some big data and building capacity for online learning.

This may be the vanguard of on-line disruption but if we’re ready for it, we can live for it!

Well, that was a great talk but goodness, does Hugh speak quickly! Have a look at his slides in the context of this because I think he’s balanced an optimistic view of the benefits with a sufficient cynical eye on the weasels who would have us do this for their own purposes.


CSEDU Day 1, Session 1, “Information Technologies Supporting Learning”, Paper 2. (#csedu14 #AdelED)

(I seem to be writing a lot so I’ll break these posts into smaller pieces. If I can fit these two talks into one post, I will. Apologies, dear reader, for the eye strain.)

The second talk was “MOOCs for Universities and Learners” presented by the irrepressible Su White (@suukii, material available here), from Southampton, who I have had the pleasure to meet before. Manuel Leon, the third author, is one of the PhD students who will be helping out and is also from Barcelona. Southampton has done MOOCs in the FutureLearn context. There’s quite a lot on offer in Future Learn and Southampton wanted something multi-disciplinary so they chose Web Science, which is also what MOOCs actually are so it was all somewhat self-referential in the good sense of reinforcement rather than the bad sense of Narcissus. The overwhelming lesson, not in the paper, is that getting academics to do stuff for this kind of environment is like herding cats once you start dealing with a team of excerpts. Goodness, they have a MOOC manager. (I don’t even know the poor person but I want to send them a nice calming box of chocolates.) There is a furious level of activity in an engaged on-line community and keeping up with this is very tricky – FAQs really help!

So where is FutureLearn today? There are nearly 30 institutions involved to date. Su sees a strong link with what went before, with OER and student desire for different learning approaches. The team wanted to know what motivated students and they wanted to be prepared and wanted to collect data from real live students. This includes the institution’s motivations and the student motivations. For the HEI, motivation was assessed by literature meta review and qualitative content analysis, with student motivations run with a survey on mostly qualitative grounds. The literature meta review was conducted over more than 60 articles including journal articles and “grey” literature, with a content analysis of the journals, using Herring’s (2004) adaption, after Krippendorf’s (1980) with categorising sources. (Grey literature includes magazine articles but are curated sources where authorship and provenance are both valued.)

I can’t draw the diagram but the perspectives were split between journals and grey literature, with open movements, evolution in distance education and disruptive innovation in the journal side, and sustainability (are MOOCs just a trend), quality (will they offer the same quality we get now) and impact (will the shake and change education) from the non-academic side including true believers and skeptics. A lot came out of this but Su noted the growing cynicism one develops reading the grey literature which appears to fall more into the zone of dinner party argument and that merit deeper exploration, while often not getting to that point. Are MOOCs the next stage in the slow progress from correspondence courses past flexible learning, Web 2.0 to MOOCs?

So what did they do? An online survey to find out the learners’ motivation to study: who are you, what is your education, what is your MOOC experience and (very importantly IMHO) what is your motivation? (I’m a big fan of Husman 2003 so this is very interesting to me.) In the motivations, the target communities were Spanish, Arabic and English, with wide dissemination and then the slide flipped so I lost it. 🙂 From the survey, they had 285 participants, with mostly male but that’s probably a cultural artefact because of the Arabic speakers being 77% male. Overwhelmingly, the platform was Coursera, followed by EdX, Udacity and Khan. They do it because it’s free, they have an interest and they are interested in the topic. Very few do it to get a taste of the University before enrolling – note to University administrators! Learners value free and open, convenience for time scheduling and moving, and over 60% are personalising the experience as part of planning their future.

So many issues and questions! Are there really pedagogic possibilities or is this an illusion? How do we deal with assessment? It’s notionally free but at what cost: reputational damage, cost of production and production values. Are we perpetuating old inequalities: are we giving them an illusion of value? Some stuff can’t be done online and you end up with unequal educators, with star performers creeping into local markets and undermining the value of a local and personalised experienced. Finally, we see the old issues of cultural imperialism and a creeping homogeneity that destroys diversity and alternative cultural perspectives. The last thing we want to produce is 99% the same and 1% other as the final step in a growing online community. The other never fares well inside that context. There are of course issues with the digital competency of the student, dropout issues and the spectre of plagiarism. Su’s take was that some people will just cheat anyway so focusing on this is wasted effort to some extent but certification changes when you make it something that the learner seeks, rather than the MOOC imposes.

MOOCs can be a great catalyst and engine for change – you can try things in there and fold them back into your curriculum. They’ve had 20,000 students and now have a lot of data on students. Hugh David will be talking on Wednesday about what they’ve discovered (taster for tomorrow). Institutions are going to have to become more agile and have feedback into the curriculum at a speed that we have not necessarily seen before. (In one generation, we’ve gone from courses that last for decades to courses that last for years to courses that last for one instance and then mutate? No wonder we’re tired!)

Learners are doing the learning: if they want to be a tourist, then that’s what is going to happen. You can’t force someone to finish a book – we wouldn’t call a book a failure if some people didn’t finish it! Are we being too harsh on the MOOC in how we assess the things that we can measure?

Ok, I can’t keep this short, sorry, readers! The next talk will be in another page.


Education and Paying Back (#AdelEd #CSER #DigitalTechnologies #acara #SAEdu)

On Monday, the Computer Science Education Research Group and Google (oh, like you need a link) will release their open on-line course to support F-6 Primary school teachers in teaching the new Digital Technologies curriculum. We are still taking registrations so please go the course website if you want to sign up – or just have a look! (I’ve blogged about this recently as part of Science meets Parliament but you can catch it again here.) The course is open, on-line and free, released under Creative Commons so that the only thing people can’t do is to try and charge for it. We’re very excited and it’s so close to happening, I can taste it!

Here’s that link again – please, sign up!

I’m posting today for a few reasons. If you are a primary school teacher who wants help teaching digital technologies, we’d love to see you sign up and join our community of hundreds of other people who are thinking the same thing. If you know a primary school teacher, or are a principal for a primary school, and think that this would interest people – please pass it on! We are most definitely not trying to teach teachers how to teach (apart from anything else, what presumption!) but we’re hoping that what we provide will make it easier for teachers to feel comfortable, confident and happy with the new DT curriculum requirements which will lead to better experiences all ’round.

My other reason is one that came to me as I was recording my introduction section for the on-line course. In that brief “Oh, what a surprise there’s a camera” segment, I note that I consider the role of my teachers to have been essential in getting me to where I am today. This is what I’d like to do today: explicitly name and thank a few of my teachers and hope that some of what we release on Monday goes towards paying back into the general educational community.

You know who this is for.

You know who this is for.

My first thanks go to Mrs Shand from my Infant School in England. I was an early reader and, in an open plan classroom, she managed to keep me up with the other material while dealing with the fact that I was a voracious reader who would disappear to read at the drop of a hat. She helped to amplify my passion for reading, instead of trying to control it. Thank you!

In Australia, I ran into three people who were crucial to my development. Adam West was interested in everything so Grade 5 was full of computers (my first computing experience) because he arranged to borrow one and put it into the classroom in 1978, German (I can still speak the German I learnt in that class) and he also allowed us to write with nib and ink pens if we wanted – which was the sneakiest way to get someone’s handwriting and tidiness to improve that I have ever seen. Thank you, Adam!  Mrs Lothian, the school librarian, also supported my reading habit and, after a while, all of the interesting books in the library often came through me very early on because I always returned them quickly and in good condition but this is where I was exposed to a whole world of interesting works: Nicholas Fisk, Ursula Le Guin and Susan Cooper not being the least of these. Thank you! Gloria Patullo (I hope I’ve spelt that correctly) was my Grade 7 teacher and she quickly worked out that I was a sneaky bugger on occasion and, without ever getting angry or raising a hand, managed to get me to realise that being clever didn’t mean that you could get away with everything and that being considerate and honest were the most important elements to alloy with smart. Thank you! (I was a pain for many years, dear reader, so this was a long process with much intervention.)

Moving to secondary school, I had a series of good teachers, all of whom tried to take the raw stuff of me and turn it into something that was happier, more useful and able to take that undirected energy in a more positive direction. I have to mention Ken Watson,  Glenn Mulvihill, Mrs Batten, Dr Murray Thompson, Peter Thomas, Dr Riceman, Dr Bob Holloway, Milton Haseloff (I still have fossa, -ae, [f], ditch, burned into my brain) and, of course, Geoffrey Bean, headmaster, strong advocate of the thinking approaches of Edward de Bono and firm believer in the importance of the strength one needs to defend those who are less strong. Thank you all for what you have done, because it’s far too much to list here without killing the reader: the support, the encouragement, the guidance, the freedom to try things while still keeping a close eye, the exposure to thinking and, on occasion, the simple act of sitting me down to get me to think about what the heck I was doing and where I was going. The fact that I now work with some of them, in their continuing work in secondary education, is a wonderful thing and a reminder that I cannot have been that terrible. (Let’s just assume that, shall we? Moving on – rapidly…)

Of course, it’s not just the primary and secondary school teachers who helped me but they are the ones I want to concentrate on today, because I believe that the freedom and opportunities we offer at University are wonderful but I realise that they are not yet available to everyone and it is only by valuing, supporting and developing primary and secondary school education and the teachers who work so hard to provide it that we can go further in the University sector. We are lucky enough to be a juncture where dedicated work towards the national curriculum (and ACARA must be mentioned for all the hard work that they have done) has married up with an Industry partner who wants us all to “get” computing (Thank you, Google, and thank you so much, Sally and Alan) at a time when our research group was able to be involved. I’m a small part of a very big group of people who care about what happens in our schools and, if you have children of that age, you’ve picked a great time to send them to school. 🙂

I am delighted to have even a small opportunity to offer something back into a community which has given me so much. I hope that what we have done is useful and I can’t wait for it to start.


Dr Falkner Goes to Canberra Day 2, Meeting the Parliamentarian, (#smp2014 #AdelEd @KarenAndrewsMP

We had a midday meeting scheduled with Mrs Karen Andrews MP, Member for McPherson in Queensland, Liberal Party. Mrs Andrews gave an excellent speech on her role as Chair as the Parliamentary Friends of Science, a bipartisan (and very large) group of parliamentarians who support science and scientific endeavours. Given the current absence of a dedicated Federal Minister for Science, a group of 76 cross-party and bicameral representatives is a great start.

The Parliamentary Friends of Science has three primary goals:

  • To enable a meaningful dialogue between scientific leaders and parliamentarians about the science that underpins policy and to inform political debate.
  • To provide a forum for eminent Australian and visiting scientists to engage with parliamentarians.
  • To provide a mechanism for parliamentarians to seek expertise from scientists in relevant disciplines.

(All rather hard to argue with, really.)

The group going to Mrs Andrews included an Astrophysicist, a Radiation Specialist and your humble narrator, who is (if I may remind you) representing Computing Research and Education (CORE). The existence of the bipartisan committee focused on science, chaired by someone with a strong focus on education and early childhood education, was a fantastic start and our group happily complimented the member on her speech and the overall initiative. I then moved on to ask about the National Curriculum, currently under review, and whether the science, maths and digital technology aspects of that curriculum were on that group’s radar, as the near-future release and approval of the curriculum would be a great help to all of the bodies involved (ACARA, Schools, Teachers and resource providers like CSER Digital Technologies – of course). Mrs Andrews agreed that this was something that they should be worried about and, of course, there’re a lot of steps between that and the Federal Minister for Education releasing the curriculum but it’s a start. We don’t have enough STEM graduates because we don’t have enough people going to Uni because not enough people study the pre-requsities in Uni – a lot of which stems (ha ha) from a less than stellar experience early on and low overall support. Once again, this is never about the dedication or ability of teachers, it’s about having an appropriate skill set to be comfortable and confident with material. You can’t expect a junior primary teacher to suddenly become a computer skills teacher overnight and without help – more reinforcement that the National Curriculum is a great thing but support for it is essential.

Of course, my colleague the astrophysicist had a really big telescope to talk about and he leapt in with an invitation to visit. I always feel that computing is a little bit of a disadvantage here as the awesomeness of our endeavours can be seen on just about any screen, which can rob it a little of its majesty! My colleague in radiation (and there are lots of radiation people here, incidentally) talked about support for information resources and future developments.

I did have a chance to talk about the MOOC support in the CSER project and the whole group concurred on the importance of science education, from early stages all the way through to the end of university. Mrs Andrews was on a working group while in opposition that looked into on-line learning and MOOCs, before the explosion that we’re currently seeing, so was very well versed in it. This is both great and slightly a shame: great because it’s always good to have informed parliamentarians but a shame because I’m far less impressive when people know what I’m talking about. ( 🙂 ) Mrs Andrews welcomed the opportunity to get more information from our sector on those developments in computing education.

That was it, all done in 15 minutes as Parliamentarians are a very busy lot. Across the days I’ve been trying to represent both Computing Research and Education, but the fates decreed that my meeting would be far more involved with someone who is working across both through personal interest and chairing committees in the house. In terms of who I could have spoken to, it’s the best result I could have achieved in terms of possible impact and awareness.

This has been a great day so far, and we have question time yet to come! I cannot live blog that event as it is an electronics-free event, so my apologies. I may try to summarise it but, for once, I may yield to my humanity and just experience it.