Assessing The Past, Predicting The Future #edcmooc

Flying MachinesThis is the final week of the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, so it is a time to look back and to look forward. What have I learned over the past five weeks, not only about the topic, but about the nature of the MOOC itself, and are MOOCs the way forward for education, or simply the latest fad? First, the reflection. I have really enjoyed engaging with the course materials and with the other course participants, through the discussion forums, Twitter conversations, Google Hangouts and other channels, but then I have become used to this way of learning over the past five or six years, so I was reasonably comfortable with it from the start. It could also be said that since I am no longer looking for full-time employment I have no more need for paper qualifications, and therefore my approach to the course, and to learning in general, has changed.

However, it would be easy to infer from all of the above that because of the very nature of the MOOC – free entry, high dropout rate, no formal qualification – that it is more ‘casual’ than traditional college or university courses. Not a bit of it. The course is highly-structured, deadlines are quite rigid, materials are well chosen and challenging, and tutor support is of the highest order. The standard of teaching is of a very high quality, at least on this MOOC, but unlike that in many conventional settings, it is highly focused and responsive to the needs of individual learners; feedback is more or less instant. There are no group lectures, but an introductory video to each block of study sets out clearly the themes and expectations for the week ahead. Whether these things are true of all MOOCs I have no idea, but for two very different takes on online learning I would recommend that you read this article, All Hail MOOCs. Just Don’t Ask If They actually Work, from Time magazine September 2013, and this post from the Learning with ‘e’s blog, The persistence of distance(learning) by Steve Wheeler.

“But what about assessment?”, I hear you ask, because while the internet has opened up the possibility of learning in all sorts of new ways, assessment still dominates much of our thinking and much of our conversation when it comes to education. Bear in mind that the course is only five weeks long, with a recommended study time of 5-7 hours per week, but since you asked, to ‘complete the course’ we have to submit a ‘digital artefact’ and evaluate the work of at least three other participants in the course, using agreed criteria – real peer assessment in action! The following notes are from the course guidance on the final assignment.

What do you mean by digital artefact?
We mean something that is designed to be experienced on and through the medbotium of the web. It will have the following characteristics:

  • it will contain a mixture of two or more of: text, image, sound, video, links.
  • it will be easy to access and view online.
  • it will be stable enough to be assessed for at least two weeks.

Try to have fun with this and use it as a chance to think broadly and creatively: anything goes in terms of the form of this assignment. As long as you keep the assessment criteria in mind you can be as experimental as you wish.

(Have FUN with this assessment? Doesn’t sound like an exam to me.)

Why do you want me to make a digital artefact?
Text is the dominant mode of expressing academic knowledge, but digital environments are multimodal by nature – they contain a mixture of text, images, sound, hyperlinks and so on. To express ourselves well on the web, we need to be able to communicate in ways that are ‘born digital’ – that work with, not against, the possibilities of the medium. This can be challenging when what we want to communicate is complex, especially for those who are used to more traditional forms of academic writing. Nevertheless, there are fantastic possibilities in digital environments for rethinking what it means to make an academic argument, to express understanding of complex concepts, and to interpret and evaluate digital work. In EDCMOOC, we have an opportunity to explore and experiment in a supportive and relatively low-stakes context. That’s why we want you to make an assignment that makes the most of the web – a digital artefact.

What topic should I choose?
There is a lot of flexibility in this assignment. You can choose to focus on the theme of ‘utopias and dystopias’, or on the theme of ‘being human’. You should use your artefact to express a question, an idea, a problem, a hope, a worry or a provocation that the course has raised for you. Consider how you can express something of your own context as an educator, student and/or technologist. What has the impact of this course been on your understanding of e- learning?

Actually, I am proposing to submit this series of blogposts as my digital artefact, but just for a bit of fun, I thought I would also try creating a short video clip which reflects a couple of the themes of the past month or so. The clip was created in iMovie, using the Trailer feature which allows you to choose which genre of film you are going to release (and makes things easier for beginners like me). It is also a very useful tool in the classroom if you are introducing young people to filmmaking, Thanks to a fortuitous tweet from one of my PLN, Kenny Pieper, I found these great templates for Planning a Better iMovie Trailer, which means you can spend some time working out what text to include – a good exercise in précis, since the more words you include the harder it is to read – and select your images in an appropriate sequence.

commonsThe images I used are from the Creative Commons, except the first three, which appear courtesy of my friends at Dreaming Methods and Inanimate Alice. The little running man was filmed on my phone at a street crossing in Girona, simply because it made me smile. I cropped it in iMovie itself using the cropping tool before inserting into the clip. The reason for creating the trailer was to encourage me to learn something about iMovie, which I had never used, and to express one or two of the course themes in a short timeframe.

One of these was what seemed to be the view of many technological determinists, that increasing technological advances will inevitably lead to a dystopian future, and the other was the fascinating idea that our use of metaphor tends to shape as well as reflect our view of the world. The green man on the ‘information highway’ is a very simple metaphor for the feeling that many people have when trying to navigate the world wide web – that they are in a very busy and potentially dangerous place – and he may also represent those ‘eco-warriors’ amongst us who are concerned that advances in technology are not made at the expense of the sustainability of the planet. I hope you find it interesting and amusing, and please feel free to evaluate it using the agreed criteria below.

Assessment criteria

These are the elements peer markers will be asked to consider as they engage with your artefact. You should make sure you know how your work will be judged by reading these criteria carefully before you begin.

  1. The artefact addresses one or more themes clearly relevant to the course
  2. The artefact demonstrates an understanding of one or more key concept from the course
  3. The artefact has something to say about education
  4. The choice of media is appropriate for the message
  5. The artefact stimulates a reaction in you, as its audience, e.g. emotion, thinking, action

So what of the future of MOOCs themselves? What I liked about taking part in the MOOC was the collaborative aspect of the learning – the sharing of ideas, the conversations around the key topics, and to some extent the random nature of some of the interactions. We were advised from the start that it would be impossible to contribute to every forum, to respond to every text, and to keep track of everything which was going on. This is an aspect of MOOCs which I imagine many people will find difficult. Similarly, if everything is conducted online, you could argue that the ‘human element’ is lost, and that there is no substitute for meeting people face-to-face, but one of the advantages of MOOCs is that they bring together (virtually) people from all over the world. The fact that the MOOC is free is important, allowing access to people regardless of their means, but what I find particularly appealing is this key message – when the focus of education is on the taking part, everyone’s a winner.

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Redefining The Human #edcmooc

brain

Creative Commons Image by digitalbob8.

From ‘reasserting the human’, this week we move on to looking at ‘redefining the human’ in the final block of the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC. Last week I wrote about how current educational theories and practices are largely based on differing versions of humanist philosophy. Now we are being asked to consider a rather different perspective on ‘being human’ in the digital age: the notion that we are already posthuman, and that ‘human being’ is a variously constructed social category, not a pre-determined and fixed entity with universal characteristics. Instrumental posthumanists, for example, treat the human body and human life as things that can and ought to be optimised by technologies. Pacemakers, cosmetic surgery, prostheses, exercise equipment that provides biofeedback data, genetically modified food, diet supplements and Google glass, for example, are all posthuman technologies that are already widely used in the ‘developed’ world, which begs the question, to what extent can we continue to enhance the human body and mind before we redefine what it is to be ‘human’, and what are the implications for education?

At the same time, where instrumental posthumanism is merely the integration of post-industrial technologies with humanist values, critical posthumanist theories challenge the very values and assumptions on which humanism is based, and though varied in nature, share the view that humanism is a limiting and most often oppressive ideology that needs careful examination. Humanism often includes the belief that ‘technology’ is the opposite of ‘natural humanity.’ Critical posthumanists do not see these as opposed: the human body is just as ‘technological’ or ‘mechanical’ as the digital device on which you’re reading this post. The brain and the heart rely on electricity, just as DNA is a kind of programming. Critical posthumanism holds that technology is itself neither good nor bad, helpful nor hurtful. It is the contexts in which it is used, the conditions under which it is produced, etc., that make it a positive or negative thing.

In True Skin, this short science-fiction film by Stephan Zlotescu, synthetic enhancement has become the norm, and the boundary between human and machine has been erased (think Pop-On Body Spares for humans). At the end of the film, the protagonist, when facing death – at least the death of his current body – takes advantage of an internet service which backs up all of his memories, which can then be inserted into his future (new) self. Sound familiar? It’s that old two-way ‘computer as human brain, human brain as computer’ metaphor (see previous post MOOCs and Metaphors).

What this notion says about the nature of mind, memory and learning, and the ways in which technological mediation is positioned in relation to it, is a theme which is also picked up in this week’s reading assignments, in particular in an article in Atlantic magazine in 2008 by Nicholas Carr, entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid?,  a defining polemic which became the water cooler around which critics of the internet gathered to bemoan the demise of critical thinking;-

Learning Independently – Together

“School is broken and everyone knows it. Public schools from kindergarten to graduation have been crumbling for decades, dropout rates are high, and test scores are low. The value – in every sense – of a college education and degree is hotly contested in the news every day. Students face unprecedented debt in an economy with a dwindling middle class and lessening opportunities for social mobility. This has a significant effect on lives and the economy itself.”

KioThus begins, controversially, Don’t Go Back To School – A Handbook for Learning Everything by the American writer, teacher and graduate school dropout Kio Stark, a comprehensive examination of the alternatives to long-established and formal educational pathways. I should point out before proceeding further that ‘school’ in this context is used to denote formal education in the broadest (American) sense, and mainly in the context of higher education, rather than ‘high school’ or ‘secondary school’ as we in the UK would understand it.

The text consists largely of a series of interviews with successful entrepreneurs – over 100 of them – who have, for a variety of reasons, eschewed expensive university courses in favour of independent learning. And herein lies the interesting element of the book for me – Stark’s definition of ‘independent learning’.

“Independent learning suggests ideas such as ‘self-taught’ or ‘autodidact’. These imply that independence means working solo. But that’s just not how it happens. People don’t learn in isolation. When I talk about independent learners, I don’t mean people learning alone. I’m talking about learning that happens independent of schools. Almost all of the people I interviewed talked about the importance of connections they forged to communities and experts, and access to other learners. Anyone who really wants to learn without school has to find other people to learn with and from. That’s the open secret of learning outside of school. It’s a social act. Learning is something we do together.”

The author goes on to reveal from her research four important features of almost every form of learning outside school:

  • It isn’t done alone
  • For many professionals, credentials aren’t necessary, and the processes for attaining credentials are changing
  • The most effective, satisfying learning is learning which is more likely to happen out of school
  • People who are happiest with their learning process and most effective at learning new things – in any educational environment – are people who are learning for the right reasons and who reflect on their own way of learning to figure out which processes and methods work best for them.

The final section of the book provides practical advice on where to find online collaborative learning systems, free and low-cost online learning platforms including MOOCs (see below), how to access scholarly publishing and academic research, and a ‘further reading’ list.

By coincidence rather than consequence, and as a firm believer that you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks, I made the bold move last week of signing up to take part in my first ever MOOC, which, for the uninitiated, stands for ‘massive, open, online course’, or, as Wikipedia would have it, ‘an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for students, professors, and teaching assistants.’

This particular course, E-learning and Digital Cultures, is being offered by the University of Edinburgh and Coursera, one of the biggest of the MOOC providers, and runs for 5 weeks through November and December, with a commitment of 5-7 hours a week. The course tutors promise that it is ‘not about e-learning’ but ‘an invitation to view online educational practices through a particular lens – that of popular and digital culture’.

“E-learning and Digital Cultures is aimed at teachers, learning technologists, and people with a general interest in education who want to deepen their understanding of what it means to teach and learn in the digital age. The course is about how digital cultures intersect with learning cultures online, and how our ideas about online education are shaped through “narratives”, or big stories, about the relationship between people and technology. We’ll explore some of the most engaging perspectives on digital culture in its popular and academic forms, and we’ll consider how our practices as teachers and learners are informed by the difference of the digital. We’ll look at how learning and literacy is represented in popular digital-, (or cyber-) culture, and explore how that connects with the visions and initiatives we are seeing unfold in our approaches to digital education.”

The plan is to take my friend Inanimate Alice along to find out where she stands in relation to e-learning, and indeed digital culture. Having just returned from an interesting and fruitful tour of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Dutch Game Garden, we are keen to explore further how Alice’s personal journey could be used as the starting point for engaging young people (particularly girls) in the creative industries, and how this relates to the current seismic shift in publishing trends.

Should be fun, and I will of course be reporting back. After all, there really is no such thing as a free education, is there?

Footnote. In the course of writing this blogpost, and with half an eye on Twitter, as you do, my attention was drawn to this post by Will Gayhart on The Death of Graduate Schools of Education.

 

Literacy, Democracy and Responsible Citizens

If ever there was any doubt about the links between literacy, education and democracy, and the struggle which many in today’s world still face before they have access to what some of us take for granted as a universal right, we were brutally and starkly reminded of it this week in the story of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by a gang of militant thugs, after having the courage to speak out about the realities of life under the Taliban in the Swat Valley, which included the closure of girls’ schools in the region. Fortunately, Malala survived the attack and has since been flown to England for more specialist treatment, but in the meantime the Taliban have confirmed that they will try to kill her again.

Developing responsible citizens. One of the four aims of the Scottish curriculum.

Closer to home, in Edinburgh to be precise, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and the British Prime Minister David Cameron officially signed an agreement which sets out the conditions for a referendum on Scottish Independence, to be held in the autumn of 2014. It is a historic moment in Scottish politics, and one of its more interesting and controversial features is a proposal to allow 16 and 17-year-olds a vote for the first time in the history of democracy in this country. Opponents argue that this would set a precedent for elections in the UK, a matter which should be fully debated at Westminster rather than in the context of a referendum, while supporters point to the fact that before the age of 18 – the current minimum voting age – a young person could be legally married or join the armed forces, and is already paying taxes through VAT on purchased goods. The result will have consequences for democracy across the British Isles, and potentially across the globe – at the moment Brazil is one of the few major democratic nations whose citizens have the right to vote from the age of 16. However, no matter the merits of the argument, the referendum does provide the ideal opportunity to engage young people in learning about the democratic process and the role of the media (including new media) in politics, helping them to become  the ‘responsible citizens’ which the new curriculum sets out as one of its key objectives. In terms of literacy development, it will be interesting to watch and judge how many politicians and media commentators are able to say they have met this crucial outcome:-

“I can persuade, argue, evaluate, explore issues or express and justify opinions within a convincing line of thought, using relevant supporting detail and/or evidence.”
Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, Literacy Across Learning, Outcome 4-29a (age 14+)

There is no doubt also that social media will play a significant role in the referendum campaigns, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube perhaps featuring most prominently, but there are numerous emerging new digital tools and websites within which young people can learn to gather information from various sources, edit, re-order and present the arguments in their own words and with added commentary. Isn’t that, after all, what the the traditional ‘discursive essay’ was designed to show? I have listed just a few of them here.

One of my favourite sites is dropping knowledge, a good place for teenagers to begin to explore some of the big issues facing them and the world today. After joining the community they are able to contribute to existing discussions, or can begin a discussion by posing their own question. (see my ‘Asking Questions’ reading strategy for more on the significance of educating young people to ask questions as well as answer them). Dropping Knowledge itself arose from an understanding of how provocative, challenging and entertaining questions, presented through powerful visual images, can inspire new thinking.

“Respect is the number one policy. dropping knowledge users come from many different countries and cultures and have widely different views. In fact, the platform encourages and celebrates multiple viewpoints. Treating others with respect is part of co-operating effectively to build a dynamic online community.”

Dropping Knowledge ‘Golden Rule’

Mashpedia, which describes itself as a ‘real-time topic explorer’, is a web application that aggregates content for millions of specific topics. It fetches content from different online sources in real-time, and aggregates everything in a user-friendly interface, including information from Wikipedia, recent news, books, videos, images, twitter messages and Facebook pages – all related to the topic in question. Mashpedia aims to simplify the access to information and content stored on multiple sites, while making sure it is immediate and up-to-date. Go there now, type in ‘Scottish Independence’ and see what happens.

Take Part is a digital media company with the single mission to ‘make participating in positive change easy, rewarding, and part of everyday life.’ Students and teachers can take part by commenting on articles, videos, galleries, and blogs, receive news and updates from Take Part on the burning social issues of the day, or actively participate in groups or campaigns on topics such as Food, Education, Social Justice, Animal Welfare and the Environment. Registered users, who must be 13 or over, may upload and post photos, profiles, messages, notes, text, information, music, video, and other content, provided it does not ‘infringe or violate the rights of third parties’. If you want to discuss with your students issues surrounding copyright, ethical use and Creative Commons, this may be the place for you.

Google recently launched a new service called What Do You Love? It’s a simple search box, similar to the one on Google’s homepage, but it returns results from more than 20 different Google services, including Google Translate, Trends, YouTube, Maps and Groups. The results are presented in self-contained boxes that can, in some cases, be extended by clicking on the forward arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the box. If you need even more results, you can always click the button in the lower left corner of the box and go directly to the chosen service. Like Mashpedia, the results are displayed in an attractive format. The discussion begins when choices have to be made and there begins the learning process!

According to its founders Storify ‘helps its users tell stories by curating social media’. There are four stages in the creation of a digital narrative using Storify:-  1.SearchIn the Storify editor, you can search social media networks to find media elements about your chosen topic. Look through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram and more to gather material for your stories. 2.CurateDrag and drop status updates, photos or videos to bring together the social media elements that will best illustrate your story. You can always re-order elements in your story, or delete them if you find something better and you can always add more items later on. Your story is always editable, so you can pull in the latest from the social web. 3.WriteA Storify story is more than just a collection of elements from social media. It’s also your opportunity to make sense of what you’ve pulled together. You can write a headline,an introduction and insert text anywhere inside your story. You can add headers, hyperlinks and styled text, build a narrative and give context to your readers. 4.Embed. Stories can be embedded anywhere on the Web by simply pasting an embed code, just like embedding a video. You can also connect Storify to your WordPress or Drupal blog, publish to Tumblr or Posterous, or send an email newsletter through Mailchimp. Read more about Storify in my previous post below.

Aussie Adventures 1: Adelaide, South Australia

Arrived in Tasmania ahead of the New Literacies, Digital Media and Classroom Teaching Conference this weekend where I’ll be sharing the keynote platform with some interesting and inspirational speakers. You can see the full programme for the event here, and I understand that the talks are going to be recorded and uploaded to the UTAS website. Before arriving in Launceston however, I took the chance to visit some relatives in Adelaide that I hadn”t seen for quite a few years, and they took me on a tour of the wine-growing districts of Riverland and the Barossa Valley. Hard work but somebody had to do it. I thoroughly enjoyed South Australia and Adelaide in particular – beautiful city, great climate, fantastic parklands, bikes and bike lanes everywhere. Oh, and did I mention the wines and the seafood. Watch out for some photos when I get the chance to upload them. In ‘pretending to be working’ mode, I did also get to visit the great people of Renmark Primary School, where my cousin is the Principal, and share with them some ideas about developing multimedia literacies in the classroom. Even converted a few of them to Twitter so watch out for them on your social networks. Just had time before I left for a visit to Ned Kelly’s Retreat and some authentic outback tucker. No worries mate.

Alice in Multimedialand

You’ve read the book, you may have seen the film. Now read/watch the “vook”. The digitisation of books began with the advent of e-readers like Kindle and Sony, which can hold dozens of books in one hand-held device, but which largely reproduced the format of a traditional, print-based book with occasional illustrations. All of that is about to change, however, as publishers increasingly look to attract new readers with the “vook”, which is effectively a combination or “mash-up” of text, video and web-based media for a more interactive experience. Responses to the new format have so far been very mixed, reminiscent of the old book versus film debates, with advocates of the book arguing that it is always preferable to create your own images than to have someone else create them for you. The advantages of the mult-modal format may be more obvious for non-fiction texts, such as cookery or fitness books,but does it really work for fiction, or in an educational context?

To read more about vooks and the debates surrounding them click on this link to the full article in The New York Times.

One group of people who are thoroughly convinced that multimedia texts are the way ahead are the ciTeach Inanimate Alicereators of Inanimate Alice, a digi-novel in ten episodes, each one of them a self-contained chapter in the life of Alice and her digital friend Brad. The narrative takes Alice as an eight-year-old who lives with her parents in remote Northern China, and brings her through various global adventures to the point where, in her twenties, she is an animator with the biggest games company in the world. Increasing in difficulty and interactivity as the reader progresses, it is claimed that the story appeals to a wide range of readers, and it comes with an impressive educational support pack, free to teachers. Click on the image for more details, and please let them, and me, know what you think.

A Tale of Two Rivers

Wednesday:The re-constructed Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames

At the headquarters of Ofcom in London on Wednesday this week, attending a summit on digital media literacy. With representatives from the UK governments, curriculum bodies and qualifications authorities from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the discussion was lively and thought-provoking, but of course just scratching the surface of a very complex issue. Reassuring that, with our re-definition of literacy in the cover paper for Literacy and English in Curriculum for Excellence, we really do seem to be ahead of the game.  From there to catch day two of the Scottish Learning Festival at the SECC on the Clyde. The Festival

Looking east along the Clyde from the Crowne Plazza

Thursday:Looking east along the Clyde from the Crowne Plazza

reminds us how significant Scotland is right now in leading learning and defining the curriculum for the 21st Century. A highlight for me was Neil Winton’s seminar on using Wikis in the classroom to improve literacy. Neil is PT English at Perth Academy and truly inspirational, but in a “feet on the ground” kind of way. If you are interested in empowering your pupils to take control of their own learning you could do a lot worse than to check out what he and his department are doing using this free technology.