Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Is OER actually Open? Gratis vs Libre....

I've written intro posts to OER before here; I've written in slightly more detail visualising OER and liking openness to a dimmer switch; and I've even questioned whether OER is mainstreamed and sustainable.

However recently, the debate (if it is a debate) of 'Gratis' Vs 'Libre' in openness is gathering momentum. Admittedly I had to look up the meanings, but wikipedia does a useful job at distinguishing;
Gratis versus libre is the distinction between two meanings of the English adjective "free"; namely, "for zero price" (gratis) and "with little or no restriction" (libre). The ambiguity of "free" can cause issues where the distinction is important, as it often is in dealing with laws concerning the use of information, such as copyright and patents.

There is a definite difference between the two here, which have implications for OER. The real debate I want to consider is one that has been surfacing for some time, suggesting for something to be open, it should have no restrictions at all.

Stephen Downes initially identified that while 'open' may mean 'without cost', it does not mean 'without conditions'. He went on to suggest that 'open' should mean 'completely free' and even a sign-up/registration represents 'some sort of opportunity cost on the part of the user, an exchange rather than sharing' (Downes 2007, p32).

Supporters of this 'Open = Completely Free' argument suggest that OERs licensed with Creative Commons aren't really open if the Non-Commercial or Attribution conditions (for example) are present, as inherently they are 'costing' or 'restricting' the user in one way or another.

I don't pretend to be of a standing to challenge the intellect of Downes (who is?), and I actually agree that even a sign-up represents an opportunity cost, but things just aren't as cut and dry as this. Content isn't just open or closed, just like a dimmer switch for a light isn't simply on or off. There are varying degrees of 'on-ness', just as there are various degrees of 'openness'.
This is what my earlier post aimed to identify and somewhat explore. I also think that is the essence of what the Gratis Vs Libre concept is about. Neither is 'right' or 'wrong'. The tools we use, where we place the published output (and how people get to it), and the licensing we apply to that output, all impact on the degree to which an object is open, and each object will be more or less open than the next (as the two diagrams here attempt to visualise). David Wiley has picks up on Cable Green's recent frustrated email, and relates the free vs open concept to the frenzy of MOOCs. They're open.... to a degree. They might not be the easiest to pick up and reuse/remix how I see fit, but they're not completely closed.

I appreciate that there is more going on in this debate than just education, but as that's my experience I'll focus on it here.

Academics are (or at least should be) familiar with citing existing sources. Essentially, the attribution element of Creative Commons is just that. Perhaps not even as complex and therefore, not really a barrier preventing (re)use. The wider understanding of open licensing can be confusing (as I highlighted in a recent work), but  perhaps CC BY actually appeals to academics because of this academic-related activity (just a thought).

The non-commercial attribute (CC BY-NC) isn't a major factor effecting a large part of the education sector either, as much of our work isn't classed as income generation activity. Where it does impact though, is more enterprising initiatives within edu that are 'for-profit', or of course, full-on commercial organisations. I presume it is only these branches that are quashing the role of CC, because otherwise I don't see what the problem is. Reuse, on a 'not-quite-completely-open' agenda is fine with me. And it's fine with many of the staff new to reusing existing content. To us, such resources are indeed, still open. To the commercial sectors, not so open though. So this demonstrates that Openness is very much context-dependant.

Further to all of this, I wonder if there is an ethical issue related to selling a product that largely contains other people's work. An image, perhaps. A backing track, maybe. But I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable reusing a significant amount of content, whacking my company logo on and making a fortune off it. On the flip side, how would you feel if you released a piano/guitar piece of music with no restrictions, which Simon Cowell then went and splashed some X-Factor winner's vocals over and made Christmas No. 1 (making millions in the process)? Would you say, 'fair game, they can do what they like with it', or would you say, 'I want a piece of that fortune'? I wouldn't blame you if you did!

I suppose that's why I automatically reach for the NC badge. So I suppose to some degree, I portray my own expectations of reuse on the work I create, through CC. Is that such a bad thing?

One challenge I suspect might surface as HE evolves, is in treating students more as consumers/customers (yes, I hate it too). Perhaps Institutions will react to the 'student-as-consumer' model and act more like commercial businesses. This will present more challenges to non-commercial uses of CC licensed work, especially as they look to more income generation activities as a means to bring in some of the money have lost through changes in fee structure as well as fewer student numbers. Or, perhaps the licensing needs to adapt with the changing times? Who knows?

So which camp do you sit in? Are you happy with the 'open-but-some-restriction' model of using Creative Commons, or do you think there should be no restrictions at all? Do you think evolution will render NC redundant in education? How much do you like Simon Cowell (or indeed, the X-Factor)?


Downes, S. (2007) Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects. 3 pp. 29-44. Edge Hill University (2009) The Learning

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Guidance on using Social Media

A little while back, I had a few Twitter conversations and blogged about the need to develop some type of policy or guidance for academics on using Social Media.

From looking across a ton of different policies from the public and private sector, I felt that a policy was probably not the best way to go, especially as what I wanted was something more snappy and supportive. So, working with Neil Ringan (and a few others here at MMU), we've put together 8 key points that academics should consider when using Social Media, as it blurs the boundary across personal and professional domains. It's licensed with CC so feel free to reuse as appropriate.

(.PDF) Good Practice Guidance in the use of Social Media to Support Academic Practice

(.Doc) Good Practice Guidance in the use of Social Media to Support Academic Practice

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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Technology, and the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Education

I first became aware of Chickering and Gamson's 'Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education' about 6 years ago (even though it was published in 1987), and it's often referenced in academic research. The principles are really common sense, but can provide some key aims/objectives for academic staff in developing an effective educational experience for students. The principles are as follows;
  1. Encourages contacts between students and faculty
  2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. Uses active learning techniques. (a.k.a. "Encourages active learning")
  4. Gives prompt feedback
  5. Emphasises time on task
  6. Communicates high expectations
  7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning
I always find it amazing that some of the really pioneering work that inspire education(alists) today, were actually researched/published a long time ago. I was 5 when these principles were published!

Anyway, later, Chickering and Ehrmann (1996) applied the use of technology to support/aid the original principles, with suggestions like asynchronous discussion to encourage contact between students and faculty. But.... I wonder how, with the more recent burst of the social web, that we can use technology to support the 7 principles today. Here's some brief ideas that are really targeting many of the academics I support at MMU (rather than the expert innovators);

1 Encourages contacts between students and faculty

Moving beyond the basics of email discussed by Chickering and Ehrmann, today we have a range of other means, such as Social Media (Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn). Commentators (Hall 2009) have long been discussing how students arrive at University and have (or develop) their own Personal Learning Environments consisting of tools like Facebook and Twitter, and further research suggests that students are already using these tools to discuss aspects of their education (Junco, et al, 2011).

Further to this, students can feel greater contact with Faculty through the provision of bespoke audio and video recordings, as they can see/hear their tutors ( Lee, Mcloughlin and Chan, 2007; Stewart & Doolan, 2008; Middleton, 2009)

2 Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students

Again, the possibilities of the web enable learners to not only cooperate through the likes of forums, or again social media, but also through collaborative tools like Google Docs or Skydrive. Then, there are tools like PBWorks (wiki) that can be great for supporting collaboration.

3 Uses active learning techniques

It may not be the most innovative thing, but I love the activity of blogging. Not just to be participating in a growing craze on the web, but because it enforces a reflective approach upon the author. And reflection, is a key skill in active learning! Obviously I use blogger, but many of my students have signed up to Wordpress as well, and they are seeing some of the benefits I find.
As devices have become more portable, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement can work well for departments without a wealth of resources available to them. For example, I encouraged students to bring their own laptops/tablets to class for a breakout activity to access and reflect on specific content on the web, then summarise for the rest of the class.

4 Gives prompt feedback

Many of the VLEs available today enable tutors to develop quizzes, with tailored feedback that students receive as soon as they complete the quiz. For example at MMU, Moodle allows tailored feedback for each answer to each question.  It's also possible to provide further feedback based on overall grade boundaries. The possibilities here are huuuggee.

5 Emphasises time on task

The developments in connectivity really makes the web available right in the palm of the learner. Literally. When we use tools like Twitter or Facebook, we can engage students in academic discussions when they're on the train, during their break in work, or even when they're eating their tea! Further, mobile friendly VLEs enable learners to access a whole range of course-related information/activities, anyplace, anytime. I can't wait for MMU to launch the mobile friendly Moodle next year!

6 Communicates high expectations

Engaging in some of the activities discussed above, we are promoting a positive working ethos amongst our students. Whether that's by communicating with students out-of-hours, or by providing things like assignment details in a short video. A lot of the time, when we make an effort, so do our students.

7 Respects diverse talents and ways of learning

Multimedia learning can not only support different ways of learning, it can build upon the Dual Channel Theory (Mayer & Gallini, 1990) of information processing by combining complimentary verbal and visual information (think VARK spectrum) to overcome/avoid cognitive overload and cater for different learning styles.

Perhaps the idea of the 'student as producer' takes this a step further, and even reinforces the high expectations mentioned previously? What about innovative uses of Second Life for students to develop fashion shows?

These are just some brief thoughts on technology and the seven principles. Do you have any particularly innovative approaches/experience to tackling any of the 7 principles? Get involved in the comments...


Chickering. A, & Gamson. Z (1987) Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. American Association of Higher Education Bulletin vol.39 no.7 pp.3-7

Chickering. A & Ehrmann. S (1996)  Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 49 (2), 3-6. Available online at:

Dabbagh, N., & Kitsantas, A. (2011). Personal Learning Environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: A natural formula for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 3-8. Elsevier Inc.

Mayer, R. E., & Gallini, J. K. (1990). When is an illustration worth ten thousand words? Journal of Educational Psychology82(4), 715–726.

Hall, R. (2009). Towards a Fusion of Formal and Informal Learning Environments : the Impact of the Read / Write Web. Learning, 7(1), 29-40

Junco, R., Heiberger, G., & Loken, E. (2011). The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(2), 119-132.

Lee, M, Mcloughlin. C,  and Chan. A (2007) Knowledge Creation processes of students as producers of audio learning objects. In Beyond Control: Learning technology for the social network generation. Research proceedings of the 14th Association for Learning Technology Conference

Middleton, A (2009) Beyond Podcasting: creative approaches to designing educational audio. ALT-J, Vol 17:2, pp 143-155 Stewart, W. and Doolan, M.A (2008) Listen to this: enhancing the learner experience through the use of audio within next generation technologies. Paper presented at the Higher Education Academy’s fourth Annual Conference, July 1-3 at the Harrogate International Centre.

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Thursday, 1 November 2012

'Throwaway' MOOCs

For a while now, I've been signing up to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and not really participating all that much. I'm a MOOC dropout!
I recently blogged some of my concerns, and feel a little better about myself by seeing @AJCann express some of his thoughts on his blog :-).

My latest strange thought processes about MOOCs presented itself when reading Alan's blog post. That is;

What is the mindset towards MOOCs doing to the wider views on our Education system? 

More specifically, I'm concerned that I'm not alone in treating these MOOCs with a somewhat throwaway mindset (not that I'm saying Alan takes this view, of course), and wonder if there would be further consequences that would seep out from our view of MOOCs to our general view of Education? OK perhaps this question is thinking more about the lay person, or the student, rather than many of the readers of this blog, but nevertheless, such close ties between the hype of MOOCs and the revolution of education could easily see cross-fertilisation in this sense.

Could this devalue our Education?
Is there any link at all?

I'd like to hear a psychologists perspective on this (and your's of course)....

Image CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Flickr User DeepLifeQuotes

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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Embedding Twitter in Moodle

As many readers will already know, Twitter has recently announced major changes to the use of their API. This has a range of knock on effects, not least potentially killing old embed codes, etc, but as things currently stand, there are still a number of options for you to embed Twitter in Moodle. I'm quite into using Twitter in the classroom, and have presented research at the SOLSTICE conference this summer. So it was important for me to find out what all these changes mean.
This post will review a few of these options, but remember, these may change further. N.B. If you don't want to read it all, scroll down to the bottom and watch the screencast...

Twitter Widgets

There are a number of Twitter Widgets that can be customised (colours, etc) and embedded in Moodle. Access these by going into your Twitter settings (accessible via the cog icon in the top right), and clicking into Widgets.

You can create 4 different types of 'timeline' widget based on what it is you want to achieve;

  • User Timeline - display tweets from a particular user's timeline
  • Favourites - display a particular user's favourited tweets
  • List - display tweets from members of a particular twitter list
  • Search - display tweets matching a particular hashtag (#).

The major difference since the API changes, is the requirement of a Domain. If you wanted to embed the widget into a Moodle unit would need to enter the domain. e.g. (you don't need to include the 'http://www' here.

When you are finished customising the widget, click the 'Create' button and you will see the HTML code that can be copied and pasted into Moodle (more on this later)...


As well as creating widgets, you can also create a range of Twitter buttons. You can access these by clicking into Resources link that appears underneath the Trends.

The four options here are to create buttons to carry out a specific function;

  • Share a link
  • Follow a user
  • Tweet a Hashtag
  • Mention a user

Each button has options to customise, e.g. links, hashtags, usernames, etc. Again, this shows a Preview window and provides the HTML code that can be copied and pasted into Moodle.

What to do with the HTML code

In any of the above scenarios, you are presented with HTML code. You don't need to understand what this code is or does, beyond the fact that it's the magic to achieve your aim e.g. embed a timeline or create a button. Putting this in Moodle is surprisingly easy;

  • Decide where you want the widget/button to appear e.g. 
    • in a label within a week/topic (Add a resource > Label)
    • or in a HTML block in the right hand column (Blocks > Add > HTML)
  • You should see the pretty standard HTML editor (unless you are using Google Chrome). Look for the 'Toggle HTML Source' button on the editor toolbar - It looks like this: < >
  • Pressing the 'Toggle HTML Source' button deactivates most of the buttons and leaves the plain HTML text view. This is what Google Chrome users would automatically see, as HTML editors in general have problems with Chrome (one of it's few downsides)
  • Go ahead a paste the HTML code that you copied from the Twitter website, and click 'Save'.
  • Voila

Demo Screencast

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The eLearning Industry

This post is primarily aimed at students studying the final year eLearning Multimedia unit at MMU, although it would be great to get the views of other professional across the sector. The post hopes to give an insight into the types of jobs in the field of eLearning...

The eLearning industry has grown exponentially in recent years due to an increased awareness around the benefits of technology to enhance learning, teaching and assessment (and actually, the whole student experience). Some of the benefits of technology include;
  • Aid learning and retention (see Mayer)
  • Anytime, Anyplace access to materials
  • Support/facilitate social learning across geographical boundaries
  • Environmental advantages
  • Reduce travelling
  • Reduce costs

To this end, a range of new career pathways has emerged. According to video (below), the top 10 in demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. So by this very fact we are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems. This places an obvious challenge on our education system.

The careers developed for the eLearning industry range from being purely technical, to purely pedagogical, with some in between. N.B. the following is a brief summary of some these roles - there will be many things I haven't included, but if any readers if feel I've missed something important, please share your views in the comments section.

Technical jobs: might include scripting/coding to integrate various systems. Take for example, MMU’s Moodle installation. When you log into a unit, the information in the right hand column is created dynamically. The Assessments block, which enables you to access more info about coursework/exams, has been custom developed to link with the University’s Coursework Receipting system. The information it presents doesn’t actually live in Moodle. The same is said for Reading Lists.

Other roles may include the hosting and development of VLEs. For example Moodle is an open source VLE so developers can write bespoke themes based on CSS to adapt the look and feel of the VLE. The same applies to other systems as well; things like repositories and media servers.

Pedagogic jobs: often focus on the direct benefit of technology to teaching, learning and assessment. These roles often include working with course teams to plan what technologies may be used, how they will be integrated, the support structures around integration, and at what points in the course lifecycle they will be introduced. As such, role holders may often be qualified teachers/lecturers, which helps their understanding of theories of learning and teaching, but they may also come from computing backgrounds (or a bit of both).
These roles may also include aspects of training other staff.

Development jobs: These roles are probably more popular in the US than in the UK (I think), and often focus on Instructional Design and Content Development. Therefore role holders will liaise with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) on actual content, and then develop this content into interactive and engaging packages, using a range of tools/technologies. Again, knowledge of teaching and learning might be a pre-requisite in order to understand and integrate suitable opportunities for formative and summative assessment.
Flash has traditionally been a key tool for bespoke software development here, but in recent times 3rd party ‘Rapid Development’ plugins convert Powerpoint presentations into interactive Flash files. Take for example, Articulate Studio, Adobe Presenter or iSpring. Other tools integrate Screencasting (a method of recording the activities of a computer screen) into such Flash packages. There are a number of free tools here, but Camtasia Studio is one of the leaders. This area of the industry is reacting to the Flash Vs HTML 5 debate by developing/releasing versions to output HTML 5 packages (as well as or instead of Flash, and to varying success). Many of these tools offer free 30-day trials.

Job titles across these three categories are often blurred. Variations on the ‘Learning Technologist’ role are quite common, and there is a lot of discussion across the sector related to the actual role of the Learning Technologist.
Further to these three categories, there is another higher level role, considering the strategic deployment of learning technologies. Again, these could be separate roles based on a technical or pedagogical focus, or even cover both.
It's probably fair to suggest these would be typical of roles in the UK Education Sector. If we expand this further, we see roles related to the Learning Management System (LMS) as well as hardware (SMART and Promethan) and software (PebblePad ePortfolios) companies.

Useful Resources 

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Monday, 24 September 2012

Social Media Policies

I've heard some pretty horrifying stories related to the use of Social Media recently, and have begun to explore the development of a Social Media Policy for MMU.
CC-BY-SA Flickr User Montage Communiations

I've flicked through a lot of policies after coming across Goldsmithsleu's Delicious Set for Social Media Policies, as well as a list of policies from various organisations on the Social Media Governance site. However, I quickly came to the conclusion that Policies can often be restrictive and unhelpful in areas that are so dynamic and ever-changing - like Social Media. Also, I don't think I have the patience/attention/mindset to read some of those 10 pages (and more) policies from some organisations. Rather, I think a more flexible and supportive set of guidelines would better serve staff in HE, which is a common opinion through Twitter discussions with @SueFolley and @MarkPower.

Based on this assumption, I can think of half a dozen statements/points (below), but I'm really hoping to gauge the opinions of readers through the comments section, on what messages are important to get across in such a document, if indeed one is needed at all. So please, share your thoughts...

  1. Staff are encouraged to develop a digital identity and use Social Media as a communication channel with students and colleagues 
  2. Staff can create separate accounts for personal and professional use, depending on preferences. Both options have positive associations
  3. Bare in mind you are always a representative of the University and should be mindful of the terms and conditions related to academic employment 
  4. When using Social Media in a professional capacity, you should be clear who you are and who you work for rather than using obscure aliases 
  5. Refrain from discussing personal information with students in an open environment
  6. If you witness inappropriate behavior from students/colleagues, raise this with appropriate line management for action rather than challenging those concerned in an open environment

Anything on here will be CC so reusable :-)

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Useful resources for the start of term

Term has started and all hands are to the deck!

I've had a number of requests about a couple of different topics over the past couple of weeks, so this post is really just about pointing you towards a couple of useful things.

1) Access to Moodle areas is controlled via the Staff Access Webform. Unit Leaders can enrol other colleagues to their areas here.

2) I'm sure everyone has already rolled their units over from last year, but this guidance is always useful to keep at hand...

3) This short post is largely based on student feedback, and demonstrates some good practice for the development of Moodle areas, to help keep them structured and organised.

4) Moodle has a range of excellent features. Having the ability for students to sign up to things - for group work or tutorial slots for example, can be a great facility.

5) As many people will know, we really shouldn't be uploading the PDF versions of journal articles into Moodle. This guidance produced by colleagues in the library talks through getting stable links to share with students.

6) This guidance on finding images on the web helps overcome the ongoing problem of copyrighted images and introduces the Creative Commons licenses.

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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Learning, Games, and Future Learning

Scrabble image from Flickr User jking89: CC-BY 2.0
Over the past week or so I have started playing Scrabble again, something I haven't played for years. The affordance of technology here is that I can play my partner or my mum asynchronously using the free Wordfeud app on our iPhones. 
Through playing and reflecting on our Scrabble games, my thoughts last night (typically when trying to get to sleep) were directed towards three points (not in the scrabble sense!) I want I discuss here;

1) Do we learn differently now, or have you forgotten how to spell words as well? Generally I'm still pretty good, but from time to time I might write (or more probably type) a word that just doesn't look right. So I might ask someone how to spell that word, or being tech-enabled, use a spell checker or google. 
But at what cost does this affordance come? Are we forgetting things more easily now? We don't need to be so rigorous with spelling because the the trusty spell check will auto correct us. So we can afford to be a bit more lax. Arguably, if we still used typewriters to construct our documents we might pay more attention - perhaps if you don't use it, you lose it (in a working memory sort of way)?

2) This leads on to my second point, which is related to technology enhanced game based learning. Scrabble has always been a great way to learn new words and their meaning. In the Reed household growing up, the word 'Xu' was famous - not normally part of one's vocabulary, however it's useful to get rid of that 8 point letter 'x' at difficult times in a game. (For the record, Xu was/is a Vietnamese coin, and yes I do realise I'm not really painting the picture of the mischievous youth that some will perhaps know). 

Now playing scrabble via iPhones has somewhat ruined the game for me. I'm able to put my tiles in the board and check if it's a word without my opponent knowing. So I can (and ashamedly have) put a few random letters across a triple word score and got lucky. But I don't even know what it means! In 'real life' scrabble, you can't do that. 

So whilst we often eulogise the affordances of technology to enhance 'things', it can also have a negative influence at times, reinforcing the importance of thinking critically (why, what and how) before introducing tech solutions; not only in game situations like above, but also in relation to teaching and learning. 

3) And on to my final point, related to learning and future learning. Does it matter anymore if we either forget to spell certain words (or if youths don't know how to spell as we once did)? Previously we needed to hand-write letters and job applications, so spelling was a very important skill/literacy to present ourselves professionally (I am young enough to have never actually been required to hand-write a letter/application). The importance of accurate spelling is arguably less important now we're all wired. Knowing the rule to put 'i' before the 'e', except after 'c' (which actually isn't always true) isn't as import at as it once was. This isn't goin to solve the problems we will face (as a sector / an economy / a race) in the future, is it? And yet we still cling on tightly to these so-called essentials. Now I'm not suggesting we completely abandon spelling, but this reminds me of Ken Robinson's TED talk; 'Schools kill creativity', and his example of the young girl who 'wasn't any good in school' as she was fidgety and couldn't concentrate. As it turned out, she was highly creative and became a leading ballerina. Horses for courses, one might say.

We can't solve problems of the future with the same type of thinking we used when they were created (was that Einstein?). So perhaps if we want to prepare for the future, we might have to let go of some of the inherent things of the past? 

I've embedded the Ken Robinson talk below - a worthy watch if you're one of the few who haven't already seen it.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Screencast-Audio Myth

Mic image CC-BY Flickr user AV Hire London
I've seen endless amounts of blog posts and guides recently related to the importance of audio quality when recording screencasts or podcasts. They typically stress the importance of a high quality mic, which can end up costing over £100. I thought I'd write this short post to somewhat fly in the face of such advice, because fundamentally, I disagree with it. So I have 2 key reasons to highlight;

1) High quality mics are simply not required for 95% of screencasts or podcasts. I regularly record screencasts for both my students and for staff. In doing so, I tend to use either the built-in mic in my Macbook Pro, or the mic from my iPhone headphones. As I have these devices, the mic is essentially free. If you have a different brand laptop or smartphone, I'm sure the mics included will be equally sufficient. Unless you are producing something for TV, or other particularly high-stakes content, I wouldn't worry about professional equipment. Actually, experience and anecdotal evidence would suggest students prefer more relaxed video/audio from staff!

2) I have worked in an eLearning support capacity for a number of years now, where I/we encourage academic staff to engage with such approaches to enhance/benefit teaching and learning. I believe emphasising high quality mics has a negative impact on the take-up of such approaches, because academic staff will think they can't/shouldn't engage if they don't have the high quality mic. Now I'm sure the bloggers don't mean to discourage the average academic from pod/screencasting, and I'm sure they're trying to provide useful advice, I'm just concerned it has an unintended negative consequence.


I've created a lot of screencasts over the past few years, and I would really only insist on a couple of points for good practice related to screencasting. For me, far more important than having a high quality mic, is the process and environment for recording audio/video.

1) A structured and planned recording, using regular equipment is much better than an unstructured, unplanned recording using high quality equipment. Every time! So take a few minutes to prepare. If you can't script out exactly what you want to say in your screencast, at least have an outline or plan rather than improvising completely. Indeed a personal approach is important, but too many urms and erms can be off-putting (which often occur subconsciously as our brains try to catch up with our mouths).

2) Record in a quiet place - I'm not suggesting getting sound proof and insulated rooms, but just try to record in a quiet office - I've tried in the past, unsuccessfully, to record screencasts in an open plan office, when mid-way through the phone would ring or colleagues would burst into the office in full discussion. So of course, I'd have to start from scratch. Now, I have my own office so it's not such a difficulty, but I would always recommend finding a quiet room where you can have a bit of piece and quiet to record. Close the windows so traffic noise doesn't interfere, and crack on. have a much more in-depth set of tips and good practice suggestions if you want to head over to their help pages.

This advice reminds me of what my 6th Form teachers used to say; 'Failing to prepare is preparing to fail'!

What do you think about  my comments above? Do you have any tips for recording screencasts?

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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Why MOOCs are not the future?

Power Searching with Google MOOC

I feel a tad self-conscious about putting my head above the parapit on this one, as I am talking against what many of my peers are 'bigging up', but what follows are some of my thoughts about MOOCs and why they are not the panacea their excitement might suggest....

Any 'free' and/or 'open' education offering is a great thing. Self-learners can engage with MOOCs to develop themselves, and even without accreditation, a lot of people just love to learn. I'm one of them. However, when it comes to the crunch, many people want to know their investment reaps tangible rewards. Now I know a lot of people will say the reward is in the fuller and broader understanding of the topic areas under consideration, which might then influence practice and ultimately see career progression. To which I fully agree, however a lot of people want to see a piece of paper at the end so they can prove they have successfully completed the course of study. And with many of the MOOC business models in existence, that often means a cost (although there are examples of accreditation - see MITx).

I am fully committed to furthering my own knowledge, skills, etc, and always look to engage in opportunities to do so. To this end, I've tried to engage in MOOCs in the past, starting with the Siemens/Downes 'original' a few years ago. I found it difficult to dedicate so much time to it (even more so as employers are unlikely to allow teams of staff dedicated time to 'study' MOOCS). I found it difficult to maintain motivation for something I felt would have little impact. The same can be said for many of the other MOOCs around. I also quickly lost interest in the Udacity (CS101) 'Building a Search Engine' course. [Perhaps this says more about me than it does the MOOCs in question ;-) ] In fact the only one I have enjoyed and importantly, stuck with, is the 'Power Searching with Google' course recently.

I don't think I'm much different to many. Whilst in one hand, we hear of the Massive (capital M) participation figures, we hear less of the massive drop out figures - this Bostinno article suggests in one course, of 200,000 participants, 160,000 dropped out.). I wonder if this will prove a critical challenge for the MOOC going forward.

Other challenges

Along with the massive drop out figures, I think the current lack of sustainable business models might provide a key barrier to more institutions developing MOOCs. So to, is the problem of accreditation. I've already ranted about my rejection of the child-like metaphor of the Badge [ooh yippee, a badge. I want one Mummy ;-) ]. I've created my Mozilla Open Badge Backpack, but I just don't see how, as more and more badges are created/awarded, that they can be recognised by employers if there is no benchmarking (for want of a better word). I might create an activity to award a badge in advanced Javascript, but a) that doesn't mean you're actually any good at it, and b) is the badge equivalent to other Javascript badges? I don't think I'm alone in thinking this - whilst I was discussing MOOCs with one of my colleagues Catherine Wasiuk, she commented;
"I think that they are great for informal learning and maybe as a bit of a marketing tool for Universities. Not sure if I would want someone who has completed a MOOC in brain surgery to perform an operation on me though!!"
So what's your point of view on MOOCs? Great for personal development or the future of (online) education? I personally don't think they will be the death of education, but what do you think?

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Monday, 30 July 2012

Academy-QTS ruling is not the end of teaching....

Classroom image | CC-BY | Flickr User Marlith
The recent government decision to allow academies to employ teachers without QTS status has caused quite a stir across the sector. Pretty much all of my Twitter stream is against this decision, and on the whole, so am I. Doug Belshaw's post (Is Michael Gove systematically dismantling English state education) pretty much sums up the view of the majority I think. However, I just want to provide an alternative view on this...

This excerpt is my comment on Doug's post...
My brother (BA & MA in History & American Studies) has worked as a TA for the last 5+ years (earning £12k ish) - passionate about teaching and helping kids. He works in a particularly challenging school in Liverpool (it might be an academy, but not 100% sure). Let's just say, it's not great. He's been hit by a flying chair recently when trying to stop a kid attacking a teacher. And yet he's still passionate about teaching when many of his QTS colleagues are not (which often gets him down). He has received a lot of great feedback about sessions he has run (and for some time was seconded to manage the behavioural unit).
For the last 3 years, he has been unsuccessful in applying to study a PGCE at various HEIs in the north west.
If this recent decision regarding QTS gives him the chance to step up (and get paid an average salary) then I'm all for it.

For those that haven't read Doug's post and all the comments, I go on to suggest that although the decision to employ non-QTS teachers has been made, it doesn't mean that a) they will, or b) standards of teaching will now suffer drastically as a result.

There is no threat here to the good teachers; the teachers who actually care. (On my cynical side), we all know of teachers who are in it for the pension - a job for life, and I'm pretty sure they have PGCEs. We need to be careful of thinking those with PGCEs are good teachers, and those that haven't couldn't possibly be (not that anybody has said otherwise).

So on the contrary, if it gives more people like my brother a chance to progress in a career he is passionate about, standards might actually improve. One thing I would hope though, is that Head Teachers are suddenly not going to settle for mediocrity in return for saving a few £££. I would actually suspect Heads will share the feelings of Doug and many others. After all, anybody who has chosen a career in Education (and even those who haven't) should be concerned about our education system.

I completely agree with Doug's response to my comment, in that there is a need for a solid understanding of pedagogy; An understanding of how children learn. @PaulHollins questions the degree of focus upon Pedagogy in many PGCEs - so I wonder if perhaps Gove's decision is in response to this? Does the PGCE currently support the development of new teachers to sufficiently provide the 'future of education', whatever that might be?

There's certainly enough talk about the future of education, so what is needed to achieve it?

Moving along, perhaps there is a compromise. Similar to many HEIs, maybe these academies could introduce probation requirements, for example, the completion of a PGCE (and the sponsorship to put new teachers through it). New teachers could also be coupled with a more experienced mentor, or supported through Peer Review? Learn lessons from what works and what doesn't in support of NQTs, and progress on from here?

Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts on the topic. I don't agree with Gove, and am certainly not trying to understand him, but just providing an alternative view. I'd like to see if others can see any potential positives from this change, or is it all bad?


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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Open Educational Practices and the Future of Open Learning

If you're one of the few regular readers of my blog, you will likely know I'm a big fan of all things Open, however I'm also a bit sceptical about Open Education being/becoming mainstream (which in my view, leads to problems around sustainability). Actually, I wrote a post a few months back questioning if the Open Content Movement is indeed Mainstreamed and Sustainable.

Now, I've been thinking about blogging on how I see the future of learning for some time, but I was prompted again this morning when reading a Grainne Conole chapter about Open Educational Practices (OEP), in Open Educational Resources and Change in Higher Education. For the record, OEPs are practices that support production, use and reuse of OERs (from policy to on-the-ground activities).

When I sit back and ponder what the world might be like in 15 years, with a gang of Mini-Me's running around (you might want to be careful if/when that happens by the way), I think about how their education might be different to mine, and what practices and skills (or Capacities as Doug Belshaw might suggest) they will need to do their homework (their learning/digital literacy toolkit, perhaps).

Now I'm not going out on a limb here and suggest robots and all that jazz, but over the years we have seen massive developments in Human Computer Interaction (HCI), moving from the Command Line Interface to Xerox, Apple Lisa, and the birth and development of the mouse to control a graphical user interface. Metaphors such as the desktop, folders and the recycle bin were revolutionary. Later, Apple changed the game again by really conquering touch interaction. 

In recent times, we've seen new interactions with things like the Nintendo Wii, XBox Kinect, and  Apple's personal assistant, Siri. The latest breakthrough is the Leap 3D Gesture Device, allowing users to interact with the computer through gestures.  I really think these developments will once again revolutionise the way we interact with computers on a mass scale, so much so, that people will no longer immerse themselves into computers; I think the ubiquity and control of computers will become immersed into our environment. I think we'll move to something that closer resembles Minority Report (If you haven't seen Minority Report, check out this clip to see what I'm on about).

So not wanting to deviate too much from the title of this post, I'll move on to relate this to openness.

So when my kids are doing homework, they will have access to search for anything and everything. And I don't just mean the stuff we can search for now - not just a wikipedia article, a YouTube video or some random site. I mean a voice command that returns an instant seamless stream of content that they can quicky engage with or disregard with a swipe of the hand. Not a google results page that they have to work through methodically to filter out what's good or not, or have to try and move past the sponsored results. Instead, it will know what they want. It will know them!

Now Google have already started to build on the semantic web with their Knowledge Graph, which they claim is building a massive graph of real-world things and their connections, to bring more meaningful results. So combined with the developments above, I suppose I'm hardly predicting anything new. However, we can't take this future as a given. It's not just going to miraculously appear because Google have put their weight behind it. OERs and Open Data will be a key (and critical) factor in this. As things stand, it will rely on the Open Educational Practices that Conole discusses (2012) (which is a bit of a problem because they are currently not embedded as standard practice, nor for that matter, is engagement with OER [from a creation and reuse perspective])

Conole suggests there is a resistance to the adoption of open practices, which I fear will relegate OER to an abstract concept. So what's needed to ensure they don't? 

Whilst the structure and models Conole discusses are very valid, I have a bigger problem with it all. Similar to how I believe computers will be immersed into our environment, so to must this set of practices which are currently abject and separate. I think we need to move away from the mindset that open educational practices are something different, and to do this, we need move away from the very practice that open education itself is something different. That is, the process of (re)developing, licensing, sharing and curating. Currently the difficulty in creating a reusable learning object is too much for the majority - there is no single and/or easy way to go about this - academic staff have to learn about the various methods (whether that's looking at Exe, Xerte, Glomaker, etc), learn how to use them, perhaps develop their graphical design skills so they look engaging. Concomitantly, they must license them appropriately, and upload it to whichever repository they like (Jorum, Merlot, etc). Ensuring every academic has these skills is without doubt a tall order. 

Instead, these processes need streamlining. Sometimes, choice can be a bad thing. I'd like to see a mechanism that brings all of the separate elements of OER together in a standardised way, so even the academics with few IT/digital literacies can participate without having to learn lots of new stuff (actual skills, understanding licenses, and generally being aware of repositories, etc).

Until it's easier for the masses to engage, I'm unsure if OER will ever be fully embedded as a core practice, and ultimately the future I envision will remain a deluded thought. To prove it's possible, I leave you John Underkoffler's TED video on the developments of UI....

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Performing Mass Actions in Moodle

We've reached the point in the year when colleagues will be thinking about rolling over content from 11/12 units into their 12/13 areas in Moodle. Thankfully this isn't such a difficult task, and this previous post highlights the simple steps involved to do this.

One slight problem that has already cropped up, is that when you take all of your content across to the new unit, you might want to hide most of it to avoid students scrolling all the way down and accessing term 2 content, for instance. Well, we're really pleased to announce a new plugin that can make this whole process easier.

The Mass Actions plugin, which can be added as a block within Moodle areas, can make the task of hiding, showing, and moving lots of activities and resources much easier. It's really as simple as ticking multiple checkboxes and clicking the appropriate button, or you can use the controls within the block to 'select all' within a section (read Week or Topic), and perform the relevant operation.

This quick video [3.24] demonstrates the Mass Actions block, but if you have any problems or questions, feels free to get in touch...

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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Visualising Openness

I've been revisiting my work around the Open Content Movement lately (both in prep for a presentation at last week's #Solstice2012 conference and also for a paper I have had accepted for Research in Learning Technology). In turning back to some of the literature alongside results I received from questionnaires, one particular quote sticks out for me;
"Openness is not like a light switch that is either 'on' or 'off'. Rather, it is like a dimmer switch, with varying degrees of openness" (Hilton iii, Wiley, Stein & Johnson, 2010)
I really like this quote and something I referred to earlier in the year when questioning if the OER movement was mainstream and sustainable. I also refer to Schaffert & Geser (2008), who suggest openness has four principles: Open Access; Open Licensing; Open Software; Open Format.
So in considering the quote alongside the four principles, I wondered a) if it's possible to somehow visualise openness, and b) has anyone already made an attempt? I don't know for either, so thought I would give it a go...

My initial thoughts centre around a Radar Diagram, but it would involve plotting the 4 principles with various points for each. With this in mind, the following diagram attempts to visualise varying degrees of open practice 
(for want of a better phrase). The coloured area represents the degree of openness, where a larger area (based on plot on each axis) demonstrating greater openness;

If this could be a method of visualising openness, a detailed breakdown of each principle would be required. To this end (and by no means correct or complete), this could be a start;
Open Access (A) points (might include)
  • Closed VLE 
  • Internal (Institutionally Owned) Repository 
  • Public (Institutionally Owned) Repository 
  • (National Repository) Jorum/Merlot

Open Licensing (L)
points (might include)

  • All Rights Reserved
  • Creative Commons
    • CC-BY-NC-ND-SA 
    • ...
    • CC-BY
  • GNU Public license

Open Software (S) points (might include)
  • Flash
  • Dreamweaver
  • MS Office
  • Google Docs
  • Xerte/GLO Maker

Open Format (F) points (might include)
  • Flash Movie
  • Document (.doc, .ppt, etc)
  • PDF
  • HTML

(N.B each of the points range from lowest to highest, closed to open, etc)

So to take a specific case to plot as an example, we could consider the development of an interactive Flash movie file that has been licensed with Creative Commons (CC-BY-NC) and placed within Jorum. The resulting visualisation might look like this;

The diagram/graph shows this case is a bit weak on the format and software side of things, but they are doing well in relation to Open Access and Licensing.


This is just a quick attempt at visualising openness - it's by no means complete and requires much more thought. Immediately I can think of the following points;

  • Automation of a radar chart based on form input could reduce individual interpretations towards the 4 principles (this would require more specific details within each though)
  • More knowledge/understanding needed (both of Openness and Technical), and perhaps crowdsourced, required to flesh out points within each of the principles
  • The points on each axis could relate to the specific 'criteria' (as above)
  • It might be worth highlighting that software and format are inextricably linked, however this is not to suggest a 'closed' software produces a 'closed' format; for example consider the expensive Adobe Dreamweaver which produces open HTML formats.... 

I would really appreciate your views on this. Is it stupid? Worthwhile? Does it already exist?

Please use the comments to share your thoughts.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Hashtags & Retweets: Using Twitter to aid Communication, Community, and Casual (informal) Learning

Today I presented some early research from using Twitter with students over the past year, at the Solstice eLearning conference at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk.

You can view the slides below, or view them on Slideshare to see the annotations for each slide.

Would love to hear from others using Twitter or other SoMe tools in teaching and learning.

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Thursday, 24 May 2012

Who controls the 'blend' in Blended Learning?

CC-BY Flickr User WGreller
There are many definitions of Blended Learning on the web. For the sake of this post, we can go with a working definition of; 'a cooperative alignment of face-to-face and online learning and teaching activities'. So, this seems to be used interchangeably with terms such as 'eLearning' and 'Technology Enhanced Learning'.

So, who controls which parts of a course of study are to be engaged with in the classroom, and which parts are engaged with online? That's rhetorical, because typically, it's the tutor, and more typically, almost all of the teaching activities take place in the class, with some additional activities to be conducted as 'independent' or 'self-managed' learning.

This post argues these ways need to be rethought. Well actually, I (and other colleagues) have been arguing this point for a number of years. In 2009, I worked with a colleague in a curriculum development activity to design a completely online Perioperative Care module. During the process, we questioned how we could benefit the holistic learning and teaching experience by bringing together the face-to-face class with the online class, and offer much more freedom for learners to control their own 'blend' in the learning experience.

Essentially, we encouraged learners to decide which parts of the module they wanted to study online, and which parts they wanted to come to class for. With increasing financial demands on Faculty, these modules could be marketed as completely online modules, completely face-to-face modules, or a mix of both. Learners arrive at University with expectations related to the use of technology in learning and teaching, and have increasing demands on their time, whether it be through work or personal commitments. As they begin to pay more for their Higher Education, they will come to demand more for their investment (or debt, as it will be for many) - here, more could mean 'more choice', 'more flexibility' or just 'more'. We felt (and feel) that our approach could cater to these demands, and was termed 'Mode Neutral' during an Institutional Validation Event. The name kind of stuck (whether we like it or not). In earlier published work, we defined it as;
"A method that allows students to progress across modes of delivery (face-to-face, online and blended) at any point throughout their study based on their preferences, requirements, personal and professional commitments without compromising their learning"
We debated the key factors that would facilitate such a flexible and fluid learning arrangement, and identified three Dimensions; The Role of the Tutor, Curriculum Design, and Communication for Learning, and each are required to maximise the student experience.

As our thinking evolved, we realised that these dimensions are not simply 'present' or 'not present', but instead are present in various degrees - almost three dimensional. The degree to which the dimensions are present rely on the implementation of certain 'conditions', and therefore could be visualised;

To summarise, our attempts challenge(d) the long standing approaches of tutor-controlled blended learning. Of course, there are significant workload implications in introducing such flexibility, but if this positively impacts upon the student experience, it's worth it.

Where do you stand on the term 'Blended Learning', and who should control this blend?

You can read about our more substantial thoughts, including details of conditions within each dimension, through;

Reed. P, Smith. B, Sherratt. C (2008) eLearning and Digital Media. Vol 5; No 3.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts....

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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Communicating with Year Groups through Moodle

Year Tutors and Programme Leaders have a common challenge in easily communicating messages to large groups of students. This post discusses how you can use the Programme/Network Area in Moodle effectively to solve some of these challenges.

You may not be aware that groups of students are automatically created in Programme/Network/School areas in Moodle based, on their year and mode of study. If you click into 'Groups' from the Administration menu (within a Programme/Network area), you will see students are grouped according to their 'Year of Study' and 'Type of Study', which means staff can target specific resources and activities to particular groups.

As you can see from the image on the right, students in the Computing & Digital Technology Network are grouped in multiple ways;

  • The beginning of the group name relates to the Programme number (11398A), and the year instance (11/12). 
  • Following that we have CH (Combined Hons) or UG (Undergraduate). In some areas you will see PG (Post-graduate) instead of UG.
  • Then we have the Year of Study (1, 2, 3), which relates to University Levels 4, 5 and 6; alongside the Type of Study, broken down as Full-time (F), Part-time (P) or Sandwich (S). Also, where appropriate, we see indicators for partner college students (MN, SC, SP). 
  • The number in parenthesis relates to the number of students in that particular group.

So what now?

Well now we know what (and who) they are, we can add the relevant groups into a Grouping, e.g. Level 4 students from across the Network (inc. CH, FT, PT and S). Then, we can create a forum that is only available to students in that particular Grouping, making it much easier to get messages out to specific cohorts of students more efficiently, and providing them with a platform to discuss academic (and perhaps non-academic) work. You can learn more about the difference between Groups & Groupings here.

The Computing & Digital Technology Network area has forums for each level that are really well used by students, and were identified as 'good practice' in the Students' Union Student 'Shout Out' event....

Of course if you want to communicate with large numbers of students that are not automatically grouped, you could always create your own custom groups. The post on Moodle Groups & Groupings clarifies the difference between the two and demonstrates how easily you can create your own. Of course, you can always feel free to give me a shout to run through this with you.

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Friday, 18 May 2012

Moodle Roll Over

Well it's that time of year where we think about planning for next year. To this end, this post will discuss some of the options for carrying content from one Moodle area (e.g. 11/12 unit) into another (e.g. 12/13 unit).

Unit Import / Roll-over

The most straightforward way to roll content across from one unit into another is to bring everything across - all resources, quizzes, etc. Of course there are one or two things we'll need to 'check off', but essentially the process is straightforward enough.

You can access the CeLT guide to support this process, and/or watch this short (<5 min) video, which walks through the steps...


  • Remember that Turnitin activities will not copy across, so these will need to be recreated in the new area
  • Any other assignments or quizzes that have dates associated will need updating to reflect the new dates - this can cause problems for students later on if overlooked. 
  • Also check the dates associated to each week in the unit (if using a weekly structure). You can edit these from the settings page (under the Administration menu).

Importing Selected Content

It's possible to import selected pieces of information, resources and activities into a new area, simply by only selecting the relevant check boxes. However there can be some problems when bringing that content into an area with existing content. If you are interested in doing this, it is advised to get in touch with me (or the eLearning Support Officer from your Faculty) to discuss the options and potential pitfalls.

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