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.