Author Archives: davidkernohan

OER13 in the press

We were very pleased to have invited Chris Parr from Times Higher Education to observe (and we hoped, write about) the conference and the discussions at OER13. Gratitude is due to one of our conference co-chairs, Jackie Carter, for her efforts in making this possible.

So far we’ve seen two articles, one about the keynote from Toni Pearce (NUS) and one looking more generally at responses to the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) phenomenon, drawing on comments from Professor Patrick McAndrew of the Open University and Darco Jansen of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities.

Unfortunately the publication of these articles coincided with THE’s re-establishment of their paywall experiments of the early 00s. This means that some people may not be able to read the articles when and where they want to – so in the spirit of openness we have attempted to offer a summary of each here.

Toni’s presentation has already created a lot of interest, and you can read full reports from Lorna Campbell and OER Research Hub online already. Chris’ article focused on Toni’s assertion that students were willing to defend the “traditional” lecture and were less demanding of technology-driven alternatives than may be expected.

“I was quite surprised to find that students will absolutely defend to the death the lecture – a mode of learning that many of us are getting used to thinking of as an out-of-date method of teaching.”

Her presentation was drawn from the findings of a research project conducted jointly between the NUS and the HE Academy as a part of the UKOER programme. A full report will be released later this year, but this early glimpse did give the impression that students are very keen on the personal and community aspects of learning.

“We can accomplish a great deal more when we’re working in a community than when we are working alone”, she noted.

A second article, published today looked at the ways in which MOOC – specifically the larger commercial MOOCs – can constrain this feeling of community. Patrick McAndrew was quoted at length on the matter.

“They are creating a sort of closed community in the open. […] You now have people who have been through a [Mooc] programme saying: ‘I want to talk about what I’ve done. I want to show people what I’ve done. But if the system itself is closed you can’t do those things.”

Patrick argued that the use of closed resources and closed platforms also restricts the opportunity for students to interact fully with the presented material, for example to translate into other languages or reuse in other settings.

Darco Jansen of EADTU was quoted in strident voice on the implications of “open” courses for educators, and the canard of MOOCs as a means of widening participation in education:

“Most students that participate in Moocs already have good access to higher education…or they have already completed higher education. So how can you say Moocs are creating more accessibility?”

Despite the arguments around the inclusiveness and spontaneity of open education practice, Darco is quoted as highlighting the classic transmission model of learning (and the neo-imperialist undertones of this model) employed in MOOCs.

“Who is providing open educational resources? They are rich people, rich companies, rich universities, because they have the money to put out free educational resources and Moocs online […] There is a lot of company money involved. It’s a new Western imperialism to conquer the world,”

It is wonderful to see OER13 reflected in the mainstream education press, and we hope that in capturing a taste of the debates and discussions during the two day conference we can encourage further participation in such debates, both online and in submissions for OER14.

x v c – hybrid learning in, through and about MOOCs #abs79

The #FSLT (First Steps in Learning and Teaching) course at Oxford Brookes University has been one of many small pockets of interesting practice within the box of delights that is the UKOER programme. Certainly one of the earlier “MOOCs” in the UK, it is now reflecting on online learning practice as it begins preparations for the next iteration, beginning in May 2013.

But even since the last run, the landscape of online learning at scale has changed substantially. George Roberts, Jenny Mackness, Marion Waite and Liz Lovegrove prepared a very discursive and open workshop session which examined the “new normality” of MOOC practice and how learners were decoding and contributing to their online learning experience.

A lot has already been said at OER13 about the MOOC bandwagon, and it was noted how deep the mistrust was between the “open learning” community and the wilder ends of MOOC “disruptionism”. There is clearly some kind of a change, some kind of a liminal space emerging on the edges of traditional education, but what is it and why?

“MOOCs offer an unlimited number of possibilities for hybridization because, whatever else, they offer participants the opportunity to fashion their own learning according to their own needs.”

The dream of open online learning actually does encompass the concept of drop-out – in that it is expected that in plotting their own course through the multitudinous learning opportunities available online, it would be rare to see a learner-designed pathway coincide with an institutionally provided one. That’s a rather longwinded way of saying that you would expect learners to drop in for certain parts of a course, rather than complete the thing.

Of course the MOOC is a course, and in advertising itself as such lends itself to these kind of volumetric analyses where effectiveness is linked to student throughput. In some ways – and certainly in the case of the larger commercial platforms – metrics more akin to those used in general marketing practice mean that the “stickiness” of the course platform is valuable. We could speculate about the eventual introduction of advertisement to these platforms, it certainly makes sense of their interest in selling pickaxes rather than mining for gold during the great MOOC rush.

Another strand of the conversation concerned the place of the expert participants. Marion talked about the self-described “vets” – experienced in online learning – who supported and encouraged the “newbies” by modelling good open academic practice. It was postulated that this cohort of “vets” were experienced cMOOCers (connectivist moocs like change11 or OldsMOOC) who had got in to the habits of sharing and acting online.

The contrast here is with the xMOOC experience, where peer learning (more peer assessment) is explicitly built in to the course design, but the scale of the class and the nature of the closed forum environment actually mitigate against learner interaction. The direct opposite of something like ds106, where the line between tutor, classroom learner and online learner is often indistinguishable.

The MOOC movement is a disruptive movement, not because it is doing anything especially new (teaching in public is older than our oldest institutions of learning, and has been a key function of these institution throughout most of their existence), but because it is once again foregrounding discussions about the nature and place of educational liminality… the boundaries of place and space that constrain and define education.

George ended with three wonderful quotations:

“[Open Learning is a] proxy for the historical conversation about continuing, professional, open, online, distance and blended learning” (Bon Stewart)

“[Discourses around HE are] an arena of conflict between rival principles of legitimacy, and competition for political, economic and cultural power”  (Bourdieu)

“Open online academic practice offers a radical challenge to the “polyarchic” limits to the discussion of digital literacy within institutions, which are in conflict with themselves.” (Richard Hall)

(post by David Kernohan for OER13)