Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Skeptic Week - On iPads in edu

In the second installation of my skeptic reflections, I'm talking about the use of iPads (and other gadgets) in Education.

Well, I suppose I'm not skeptical about the potential, but rather many of the initiatives - you've probably seen some yourself. They go along the lines of, "Wow, look, we're buying all students an iPad. Aren't we fantastic."

Some people actually think simply buying the devices will revolutionise learning and teaching, or magically solve student satisfaction for NSS. Well, I hate to burst the bubble, but they won't!

You see, you can't throw money at a problem and expect it to go away. Just as you can't cover up a rotten building with some fresh plaster board, you similarly can't easily renovate fundamental problems in HE by dishing out iPads. Instead, just as a building project needs expert review and planning (in the shape of architects, builders and interior designers), so to does educational renovation (in the shape of academic rationale, strategic planning and learning technologist support).

Now iPads do have potential, a lot of it. But please think about what they will be used for before buying them.

Here at MMU there has been an interesting project in Health where students were handed iPads during classes to follow along with slides and access specific links, which then served as the spark for in-class discussions and problem solving. Early feedback suggests students really enjoyed this type of work, as they were more active in the class opposed to traditional passive approaches. Keep an eye out for Hannah Crumbleholme doing the conference circuit on this...

And this is only the beginning. There are a range of dedicated apps to support learning and teaching. There are History apps, Astronomy apps, Anatomy and Physiology apps, and a range game-based learning apps. iPadsInEducation is an interesting site that recommends apps based on subject areas. And then there's the potential of iTunesU - something I also mentioned as part of my post on the Open Content Movement.

I also recently came across the Socrative Teacher app; a great looking 'Smart Student Response System' that might replace clickers/voting response systems.

Unfortunately, there is no particularly good iPad app for the version of Moodle we run here at MMU (1.9), but there is for Moodle 2.0 onwards - something we'll likely benefit from next year. Other VLE's such as Blackboard, have great dedicated apps for mobile learning, which enable learners to access content, videos, and engage in discussions, blogs, etc.

Other interesting stories related to iPads include a recent article highlighting an Air Force are ditching paper manuals in favour of iPads, or The School that Gives all Students an iPad. A sign of the times?

What do I use?

I bought the original iPad on the day it came out, and despite being an Apple fan boy, I see no reason to upgrade to the iPad 2, or The New iPad. Sure the graphics, memory and screen are much improved, but they were pretty decent to start out with, and more than sufficient for how I use it.
So how do I use it? Well;
  • I have the Reader and Flipboard apps which allow me to view the range of RSS subscriptions (blogs and journals generally).
  • Evernote is a great app for taking notes in meetings (or lectures) and syncs with the desktop (and iPhone) counterparts. You can even take photos and search the text within them, say, of whiteboards and flip charts, etc.
  • Dropbox is another must-have. I have tons of files in dropbox which syncs across computeres, laptops, and mobile devices, and accessible on my iPhone and iPad.
  • Goodreader has proven very useful for reviewing files like journal articles. It syncs with Dropbox and enables highlighting and commenting on PDF files.
  • Blogger, well, to blog :-)
  • TED offers a wealth of videos from thought leaders to get you thinking - perfect for train journeys or when you have a few minutes to spare.
  • eReader apps such as iBooks and Amazon Kindle, which are great for reading electronic text books.
  • The built in Reminder app is great as it syncs with my Mac Mail/Calendar accounts
  • In terms of editing documents, you obviously have Apple's own apps such as Pages and Keynote, but I have recently stumbled upon CloudOn, a handy tool for syncing with Dropbox (and other services) and editing word/excel files. 
The list could go on and on - detailing apps, methods and workflows that have transformed my daily routines, but I'll hand over to you. What apps do you use, or are you involved in an iPad Project involving students? Answers on a postcard...

Image of Students with iPad licensed under CC-BY from Flickr user Flickingerbrad
Image of iPad licensed under CC-BY from Flickr user Jaymis
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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Is OER mainstreamed and sustainable?

I should state before I even get started on this post, that I am a big advocate of openness; I have managed a JISC-funded project on OER and am currently researching aspects of the 'movement'. However, this is the first post in a series that I'm calling 'Sceptic Week' (a few posts that will critically reflect upon and question movements that I fully support). So, without further ado, this post will question two common tenets: mainstreaming and sustaining...

Last week I flicked through the (most recent) 2012 Horizon Report (a report which 'predicts' the latest technologies and their 'time to mainstream adoption'), and recall Open Content featuring in the 2010 report (that's 2 years ago) as a movement to reach mainstream adoption within a year or less i.e. last year. With my sceptic hat on, I questioned the Twitterverse if OER had indeed become mainstream. A resulting discussion/debate is what led me to writing this.

There will always be societal influences in education - sharing locally amongst academic colleagues, has, is, and probably always will take place. Viv Rolfe (from DMU) and myself are both interested in the current awareness and attitudes towards OER; both my article (submitted to Research in Learning Technology) and Viv's 2012 article (in the same journal) demonstrate that teaching staff are sharing content on an informal scale with colleagues within department/faculty, but they are not applying (creative commons) licences or sharing via repositories.

Without doubt, this needs to change if the movement is to scale and have a significant impact, and for me, one of the major challenges to the Open Content Movement is in embedding 'open practice' as 'standard practice' amongst academic staff, if it is to continue beyond funding activity.

But what counts as 'significant impact'? Well, it's probably a subjective metric - one might see the movement's influence on an individual teacher/lecturer as being significant, whilst others may want more 'bang for their buck'. I'm of the latter, and whilst the big players such as MIT OCW and the OU OpenLearn demonstrate significant access/download/sign-up figures,  the OpenLearn Research Report (McAndrew. et. al, 2006-2008) - all be it a few years old now - highlighted that we don't know how much 'reuse' is actually happening.

Instead, I see the success of such movements when they become mainstream.

Aha, another word of subjectivity - Mainstream!
"Mainstream is, generally, the common current thought of the majority" (Wikipedia article on 'mainstream')
Whilst many HEIs in the UK have some OER activity, to me, OER becoming mainstream means that not only are a select group of people within institutions engaging (and probably as a result of funding), but the majority of staff engaging from the majority of institutions.

And by engaging, I don't mean letting my friend use my powerpoint slides, I mean formally licensing and sharing via a repository - Schaffert & Geser (2008) suggest if something is to be open, it must subscribe to 4 elements: Open Licensing, Openly Access, Open Software and Open Format. This is quite a strict viewpoint, whereas Hilton et. al. (2010) suggest;
"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 et. al, 2010)
Either way, both Viv's and my own research highlights that the current informal sharing isn't really 'open' (in the strict sense of the word), or even if we consider varying degrees of openness, it demonstrates such a dim view the light switch may as well be off.

This takes me on to my second point - sustainability.

For as long as it requires extra workload and/or time, the chances of mass sharing of resources will be slim, especially in a era where wanting 'more for less' is prevalent. And sharing content is often more time consuming - not just the process of uploading a file to a repository, but inevitably (and rightly or wrongly) the stakes related to QA increase. Staff might be willing to use their own materials in class, but the thought of sharing those materials 'as is', can be daunting.

So whilst there are resources, workflows and development tools available, I just don't see mass engagement when funding ceases. Many authors suggest barriers that must be overcome, such as reward mechanisms and licensing - I agree that until HEIs strategically focus on OER for OER-sake, which will come at a cost, it can't reach mainstream, after all, would the breadth of institutions currently engaging with OER be the same if JISC/HEA funding wasn't so plentiful?

With these questions out in the air, I must once again repeat my 'allegiance' to the 'Movement' (no this isn't a Star Wars film), but in doing so, I must also critically reflect on my academic activities, and in an era of openness, share my questions. I am not so dogmatic to believe I am 100% correct on these points,  and accept that my views could be a 'glass-half-empty' stance, but I only hope they spark a debate.

  • Johnson, L., Levine, A., Smith, R., & Stone, S. (2010). The 2010 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
  • McAndrew, P. et al. (2006-2008) OpenLearn Research Report.Milton Keynes, England: The Open University. 
  • Rolfe, V. (2012). Open educational resources: staff attitudes and awareness. Research in Learning Technology, 20(1063519), 1-13. doi:10.3402/rlt.v20i0/14395
Mainstream image under CC-BY License from Flickr user Michael Karshis
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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The importance of reflecting for, in, and on learning

How often do you take time out to reflect on the day's activities? Sometimes I find I haven't had time to think back about anything until the moment my head hits the pillow.

Well our students are just the same, only more often than not, they are not as experienced at understanding themselves and their actions. This is true not only of their day-to-day lives, but also in reflecting on their learning. And regardless of our teaching philosophies, whether we espouse Social Constructivist approaches or 'newer' models such as 'Connectivism' or 'Connected Learning', students can still attend lectures and lab sessions but not necessarily situate that learning in the wider context, or consider its practical application. Learners do not necessarily, and certainly not automatically, realise their tacit understanding, or engage in deep and meaningful learning.

Engaging learners in critical and transformative reflection therefore, is a key skill across many disciplines (see Schon, 1987; Driscoll, 1994; Brookfield, 1995; Fry,, 1999; Johns, 2005; Biggs and Tang, 2007). The various models of reflection (which will seem common in teacher training or in healthcare),  encourage learners to reflect on solid experiences, but we can quite easily adapt these or create new models to encourage reflection on various topics. For example, I recently created a set of Heuristics (strictly speaking that's for (software) Evaluation), but they supported learner's reflection on coursework, and required them to score each Heuristic with either 0, 1 or 2 points. What's good here, is that the scores are not being assessed, but the reflections. To make this really 'transformational', I could get students to do this reflection before assessments, in order to enable 'feedforward' into other coursework pieces (see, I'm reflecting on my teaching whilst blogging about reflection).

You see, reflection is often emphasised in the vocations I mentioned above, but as far as I am concerned, everyone in every discipline should be reflective practitioners in order to continually improve in whatever job they do.

The technology to support such critical and transformational learning, is in abundance; generally the VLE (whether that's Moodle, WebCT, Blackboard, Sakai, or some other platform) offers a range of tools such as discussion forums, blogs, wikis and private journals. And if those tools aren't suited, free tools on the web might solve the problem - you can use BloggerWordpress or Posterous to create free blogs, and the likes of PBWorks to create wikis. Or even use YouTube as a way to record thoughts and reflections and share with peers (or even a global audience - I do this regularly; not in relation to learning, but rather my beloved Everton FC). None of these are technically difficult at all. No, really!

It is important to recognise however, that the technology is not the key player in encouraging reflection, meta-cognition or deep learning. It's probably the least important. Rather, we need to introduce learners to the concept of reflection beyond a basic recount of a situation, and provide a structure for them to engage thoughtfully. Technology comes in to support these processes and encourage learners to capture reflections anytime, anywhere. More open methods of sharing such reflections - think YouTube, Vimeo, or online Communities of Practice - enables learners to become creators of knowledge as well.

This concept of reflection, leading on to the construction and sharing of knowledge, reminds me of a quote from John Seeley Brown's recent keynote - Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Learner in the 21st Century - at the Digital Media and Learning (DML) 2012 conference;
"In a world of constant flux learning has as much to do with creating the new as learning the old and hence the tacit starts to take on increasing importance."
For me, taking the time to think about where we are, what we're doing, and how things could be different (better?) is critical to enhance learning and contribute to the creation of new knowledge.

What methods do you employ to encourage students to take stock of learning, sit back and reflect? What technologies do you use to support and encourage this?

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

Monday, 5 March 2012

Introduction to the Open Content Movement

Whilst many people may not actually be aware of the 'Open Content Movement', I am sure you will be familiar with its practice, and some of the leading players.
“Open Educational Resources are digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research” (HylĂ©n, 2006)
Some of the key players in this movement include MIT with their OpenCourseWare site, or more closer to home, the Open University OpenLearn site. This has been supported by the free Creative Commons licenses, which are critical to the movement - I have blogged an intro the CC licenses here.

Arguably spurred by this, others are getting involved - the movement is supported by Institution's own open content repositories such as OpenLearn (above), Nottingham's U-Now site, and Oxford's OpenSpires Podcasts (amongst others). Jorum is also a significant resource - a central national repository for learning objects, where all funded outputs related to JISC funding should be stored. Then there is the likes of iTunesU, which contains a ton of materials available for learners to study independently, and for teachers to reuse.

But the sharing of educational resources is not a new phenomenon - teaching staff have been sharing PowerPoint presentations and OHPs for many years. Such materials are now considered OpenCourseWare (OCW), Open Content, Open Educational Resources (OER), or even Reusable Learning Objects (RLO).

These historical habits of sharing teaching resources are still present today - such 'informal' sharing has been identified in relation to digital materials, where teaching staff are happy to share locally, on a small scale (see Rolfe, 2012 in Research in Learning Technology). Scaling this is a major threat to the sustainability of the Open Content Movement - for as much funding that has, and will be pumped in to support and develop engagement with Open Content, embedding this as standard practice is vital otherwise participation on large scales will likely fall away when funding activity eventually ceases.

Want to see/learn more?

A key area to learn more about OER would be the OER infokit, and below is a short video to demonstrate how you can search Google for open content.

What's happening locally?

Well, Dawn Nicholson has recently been successful in a bid to run a two year HEA-funded project aimed at creating, evaluating and disseminating Open Educational Resource aimed at Level 5 and 6 learning in Applied Geomorphology. Topics will be finalised early in the Project but are likely to include applications of mass movement and weathering, fluvial systems and hydrology, applied geomorphology in cold environments, soil erosion and arid zone geomorphology, geomorphology in resource management, engineering applications of geomorphology, and risk analysis and hazard assessment.

If you are interested in engaging with the Movement, why not give me (or Dawn) a shout to learn more.

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