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    MoodleMoot 2017: Jo’s reflections

    By Joanna Stroud, on 8 May 2017

    My first two days as Digital Education’s new Distance Learning Facilitator (hi!) were spent at the UK and Ireland edition of MoodleMoot 2017 taking place in London. Presentations ranged from the more technical aspects of Moodle implementation to reports into its more pedagogically-driven uses and impacts. My note-taking over the course of a packed conference schedule was frenzied and now, upon writing this post, occasionally unintelligible, so rather than provide a full overview I’ll reflect upon two presentations in greater detail.

    A Head Start for Online Study: Reflections on a MOOC for New Learners. Presented by Prof. Mark Brown (Dublin City University)
    This project was described by Mark as a means of supporting flexible or distance learners’ transitions into higher education. Despite an established distance learning provision, DCU’s programmes had, like many institutions, experienced higher levels of attrition than those seen with more traditional face-to-face courses. Mark reported that this is largely attributable to the diverse motivations of flexible learners and lack of support at key stages of the study life cycle. DCU thus applied for and gained funding to produce resources that would attempt to bridge these gaps and improve outcomes for flexible learners.

    DCU’s subsequent Student Success Toolbox, containing eight ‘digital readiness’ tools, and the Head Start Online course, piloted on the new Moodle MOOC platform Academy, aim to help potential flexible learners ascertain whether online higher education is right for them, how much time they have and need for study, their sources of support, and the skills they will need to be a successful online learner.

    Mark focused on the outcomes of the Head Start Online pilot course. Of the 151 users registered as part of the pilot, 37 were active after the first week and a total of 24 completed the entire course. However, Mark was keen to stress that learners were not expected to progress through the course in any strict or linear fashion, and completion/non-completion can thus be an unhelpful binary. Feedback from learners proved very positive, with the vast majority believing that they were more ready to become flexible learners, better equipped to manage their time, and more aware of the skills needed for online study after taking the course.

    More information:
    Head Start Online via Moodle Academy
    Student Success Toolbox
    Mark’s presentation from MoodleMoot

    Towards a Community of Inquiry through Moodle Discussion Forums. Presented by Sanna Parikka (University of Helsinki)
    Sanna’s presentation described her use of Moodle discussion forums to facilitate meaningful and constructive online conversations that adhere to the principles of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework theory. Use of the CoI framework defines three vital elements of any educational experience as:

    • Social presence: the ability of learners to communicate and engage in social interactions within the learning environment
    • Cognitive presence: the means by which learners can build meaning through reflection and discourse
    • Teaching presence: how we design, facilitate, and guide learners through experiences to achieve the desired learning outcomes.

    Sanna reported upon a range of approaches designed around the CoI framework, suggesting that it is possible to build social presence and give learners the chance to project their personalities online through simple ice breaker activities. Cognitive presence, meanwhile, can be developed through jigsaw learning activities. Cohorts are split into smaller groups of students who discuss and specialise in one specific topic before being redistributed evenly to new forums with specialists from each area and tasked with teaching their new group about their specialism. Teaching presence is built and threaded through each task by providing direct instruction, scaffolding understanding, facilitating discourse, and sharing personal interpretations of meaning.

    Discussion forums are often unfairly criticised, most frequently for lack of student engagement. However, Sanna’s position was that basic interaction is not enough to develop engagement and create new meaning. Her framing and examples of practice underscored the forum as a versatile, flexible means of delivering not just discussion-based tasks but collaborative exercises too.

    More information:
    The Community of Inquiry (Athabasca University)
    M08 Add new learning forums

    How can you teach online if you’ve never experienced learning online?

    By Matt Jenner, on 20 January 2016

    Distance Learning doesn't need to be lonely. Image Credits; By loungerie on Flikr

    Distance Learning doesn’t need to be lonely.
    Image Credit: By loungerie on Flikr

    Teaching online requires different approaches to a traditional classroom environment (as does the learning). Teachers who are not prepared or do not know what is involved in the development and implementation of an online course will result in “negative outcomes for students and faculty” (Caullar, 2002).  As Open University expert Derek Rowntree (1992) explains, most newcomers to ODL [open and distance learning] need to develop new knowledge, new skills and very often new attitudes and dispositions.  Students and staff need to be oriented to the differences in learning online and the change in role and approach for both the teacher and the learner (Palloff and Pratt, 2002). It’s recommended to provide staff development opportunities in online teaching (ibid) and that should come at a later stage, but I think a crucial step precedes it:

    How can you teach online if you’ve never experienced learning online?

    You must try it. I’d also recommend absorbing what’s around you as well  – talk colleagues already active in this space, look for existing resources and participate in relevant networking events. But crucially; join an online course, or ten, and experience it yourself.

    Learn online: Take a free course

    There is a growing range of free online courses in which you can use to experience being an online learner. The huge selection of free open courses can be searched and filtered by using Mooc aggregators such as Course TalkClass-Central and Mooc-list. UCL has a partnership with a UK-based Mooc provider FutureLearn and has a growing selection of courses. But you should explore other courses too and you should feel free to sign up for any that interest you – even if you don’t complete them (it’s OK!). Closer to home there’s also a selection of courses on UCLeXtend – UCL’s public-facing e-learning platform – which you can discover from searching the Life Learning course finder and filtering (on the left) to Format > Online and Cost > Free.

    Notable courses

    Getting started with Moodle (via UCL Moodle) provides an introduction to UCL Moodle and e-learning and provides the basic skills required to set up a course in Moodle.

    A6postcard_digital (3) (1)Blended Learning Essentials (via FutureLearn) – created in partnership with UCL and University of Leeds, this is a free online course designed to help you understand the benefits of blended learning and how to make more effective use of technology to support your learners.

    UCL Arena Digital (via UCL Moodle) – three short courses with each lasting two weeks. Each fortnight will end with a live online webinar where you can share your experiences with your colleagues on the course. Topics: multimedia, communication & assessment and feedback.

    Teaching online open course (via Brookes.ac.uk) – offered as a free mooc from Oxford Brookes University (and offered as a 10 M-Level credit option, if desired) and is an intensive introduction to supporting student learning in online environments.

    (star) Your mooc mission: try to complete one mooc. Sounds easy? Tell us how you got on in the comments section below.

    Learning from colleagues

    Venturing into the world of distance learning is a bit different to that of face to face teaching and you may want to seek guidance from those who have already trodden the ground before you. Within your department you may know colleagues who are running their own distance learning courses, there should be someone within your wider faculty or school. If not, you could look at UCL’s Prospective Student’s course finder for PGT and filter by ‘Distance Learning’ – then try contacting a course team from there. We also run regularly ‘Forum’ events (sign up to the ‘Distance Learning and Life Learning Network’ below).

    Join local networks, forums and communities

    With representation from all schools the Distance Learning and Life Learning Forum is a community of practitioners from across UCL who are all active in the area of fully online courses and blended learning for taught programmes and CPD/short courses. Or, you may want to form your own departmental, faculty or school-based distance learning groups. These may grow from the ground up, out of teaching committees or via many other ways. Regardless, if you would like UCL Digital Education or CALT to sit on these groups, do get in touch and we can come along too.

    For more information we recommend you sign up to the Distance Learning and Life Learning Forum. Note: This can only be done on the UCL network or via remote desktop/VPN.

    Connect with support teams

    Teams such as Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching (CALT) and UCL Digital Education have trodden this ground before, and are always happy to hear your ideas, share experiences and help you design, plan, promote, develop and evaluate your distance learning courses. They will listen to your ideas and suggest others to talk to, approaches to take, resources to work through and even courses you can take online to get you started with distance learning.

    Get in touch with them from their respective websites – CALT and UCL Digital Education

    Next step

    So – ready for your mission? If you have any questions you can always contact us, or leave a comment below.

    Note: this page is an excerpt from the UCL Distance Learning wiki which contains more pages on planning, designing, building and teaching on an online course. 

     

    References:

    Cuellar, N. (2002). The transition from classroom to online teaching. Nursing Forum,37(3), 5-13. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/195001677?accountid=14511

    Palloff, R.M., Pratt, K. (2002). Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom. 17th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/resource_library/proceedings/01_20.pdf

    Rowntree, D. (1992). Exploring Open and Distance Learning. Kogan Page.

    What’s the benefit of MOOCs?

    By Matt Jenner, on 25 March 2014

    Many institutions, and countries, the world over have subscribed to MOOC-mania. There are now millions of registered users, thousands of past and upcoming courses all available from hundreds of partners/providers. But why are they all active in this area? An initial motivator for early adopters was to gain momentum from the MOOC-train, it was a way of actively responding to a new ‘game-changer’ in education. The raising of institutional profiles and reputation might have been enough for some to get involved. As the MOOC landscape has become more crowded, pure marketing benefits may be diminishing. There still remains the fact that running a MOOC transpired to be more than a marketing device, instead a range of additional or ‘collateral’ benefits arose for institutions. Luckily this isn’t just for those who were actively creating courses, observers also gained benefits from the presence of MOOCs.

    As the very large numbers of learners reported by early US MOOCs are unlikely to be repeated there also seems to be a trend towards more targeting of courses to e.g. specific professional or demographic groups. It’s also possible the traditional delivery format of courses has been undermined with MOOCs, as lurkers are in the majority, perhaps this is a sign of disengagement, or the classic early-warning signal that MOOC providers can read data left by lurkers to create new patterns for access to learning?

    Either way, we’ve been keeping up with MOOCs and their associated benefits for institutions who provide them. The table below presents a summary of these benefits from being an active MOOC institution. Data was obtained from top-tier US and European HEIs and we are confident it is not the full picture.

    We’ve also broken it into chunks for this blog post:

    1. Reputation
    2. Innovation
    3. Delivery
    4. Infrastructure
    5. Student outcomes

    And each are provided with a one-liner to give some background or justification for how/why they made it into this selection.

    Reputation

    The reputational benefits for an institution who is involved in running a MOOC

    The reputational benefits for an institution who is involved in running a MOOC

    1.1 Encouraging engagement

    MOOCs don’t just put institution’s names into people’s heads, they actively encourage the staff and students of that institution to interact with the wider public, and visa-versa. Now you could argue the philosophy of a course, and the lack/quality of teacher-learner interaction in some courses but generally speaking, they provide a chance for a learner to engage with that institution/academic/subject/other learners. This is generally considered a good-thing in educational terms, engagement leads to interaction which can lead to some good learning.

    1.2 Targeting alumni

    Alumni can get involved with MOOCs, be it teaching in a course and leading a group with their experience, or simply remaining in touch with the institution by taking some free courses after they graduate. You could argue it’s a unique hook for some institutions as they may find Alumni contact more enriching if they can offer further opportunities to connect with their prior university via the medium of a MOOC. Those who have completed a MOOC, or ‘MOOC Alum’ may themselves return in the next occurrence to facilitate the course or migrate from Lurker to active learner (or the other way around).

    1.3 Outreach

    MOOCs provide a chance for institutions to reach out to a wider audience, potentially a group who may never have the chance to link with it in any other form. Disadvantaged groups, or those located half-way around the world are offered a chance, even if thinly veiled, to connect with otherwise unavailable institutions.

    1.4 Marketing gains

    Obviously this is still an attractive and possible benefit – that hundreds or thousands of people will see your brands and identity. Once registered learners arrive, there’s opportunities to turn them ‘into business’. Not necessarily direct cash, however, which has so far proven to not really materialise from MOOCs.

    1.5 Media coverage

    The hyped-up tsunami! Oh, the humanity! But really, the media seem to be fixated on MOOCs and have somewhat not really presented a great image of what was happening. Either way, if you’re in MOOC-world you’re likely to get some kind of coverage, ideally international media. There’s a downside; if you mess up, people hear about it. Luckily tomorrow’s hype will override this quite quickly. Call me a cynic if you like but this benefit is low down the list.

    1.6 Modern approach

    Not every institution in the world has adapted to online learning and many may be slightly behind the technological benchmarks set by others. Many argue that online learning environments such as Moodle are behind the times, or non-intuitive in how they work. Luckily, to some extent, these new platforms and approaches are offering a new lens in which to support education. They come with some teething issues, but these modern approaches are filtering into traditional approaches and hopefully are creating new in-roads in some new areas.

    Innovation

    Innovation within higher education allows experiments to reverberate back into traditional learning and teaching approaches

    Innovation within higher education allows experiments to reverberate back into traditional learning and teaching approaches

    2.1 Inform diversification strategies

    What? This is all about discovering new ways to do old things. One example is media creation: MOOCs can require a new way to think about an old problem; capture the academic (tip: use a net). Another example is student recruitment, where MOOCs provide a whole new platform for capturing the hearts and minds for potential students. Lastly, they can provide a space to experiment with teaching approaches, for example flipped lectures or the use of OERs. These might all sound normal to you, or implausible – but the general idea is ‘space to play’ and then opportunities to learn, for the institution.

    2.2 Create new capabilities

    How can you facilitate a discussion forum about learning with tens of thousands of people? We’re slowly working this out now, thanks to MOOCs. Or, how can we create high-quality media while retaining academic autonomy? There are some difficult questions for those who have run MOOCs, but thanks to their experiments, new models are emerging which others can learn from.

    2.3 Educational research

    This is one of the primary motivators for MOOC-ing for some universities, to create original research into how people learn. Linked to 4.3 – Creating meaning from analytics, this research is uncovering aspects about online learners that might have been harder to measure in smaller numbers.

    2.4 Enriched online resources

    Making high-quality content for a MOOC means it can be reused for other purposes. Most likely internally, for example raising the offering for blended learning, but also as OERs – where institutions can chose to give all their MOOC content away for free, forever. Creative Commons is playing well here, but some platforms are less friendly about OER. Hopefully time will change on this…

    2.5 Interdisciplinary courses

    Courses can always break beyond the traditional boundaries, but the level of interdisciplinary MOOCs is quite varied. Firstly students in one institution could use a MOOC as an alternative source of learning (or materials/community engagement). Or, courses themselves can quite openly mix up two subjects without the restrictions of how they may fit into a credit-bearing system of an institution. Lastly a course in one subject, but being open to anyone, may attract others who wish to audit or take part in the course, this mix of people can be a catalyst for some interesting experiments, mixing groups up, or asking for their views from within their own specific contexts.

    2.6 Student recruitment

    Perhaps not directly, although some have seen direct conversion from MOOC > paid courses they are in the minority. Learners could start using MOOCs as a place to see how that institution really works but we are uncertain they offer a true reflection of learning and teaching from that institution. Can they be used to tempt/lure potential enrolments? Maybe is the closest answer we have right now, but it’s a possible looming benefit.

    Delivery

    The delivery of a MOOC required a well constructed course and that's not necessarily an easy task.

    The delivery of a MOOC required a well constructed course and that’s not necessarily an easy task.

    3.1 International collaboration

    Being online, MOOCs are available to a [mostly] global community. Some have been locked out of a few select countries due to export laws and related issues – but generally speaking MOOCs are international. Moving also into other languages, and not all being English in the first place, means the chances for international collaboration soon come into play. While currently limiting to discussion-heavy courses and some basic wiki’s it’s likely that this area may mature, and take advantage of linking up a large[ish] group of interested learners all in the same environment.

    3.2 Widening participation

    Not everyone can get into university, many don’t want to and some have too many other pressures (or barriers) to even start the application process. These reasons, among others, can be soothed with MOOCs. By enabling a ‘slide of life’ via the MOOC, they are opening up pockets of institutions to wider audiences. Still a space for growth and a possibility that monetization will be a blockers, but here’s hoping the majority remains open, free and available to the widest group possible. Vocational courses are another bug growth area for some.

    3.3 Beyond traditional markets

    UCL is a London university with global ambition, but we’re not going to build a campus in every country (probably). We can, however, consider how online environments enable us to expand digitally into new markets. And this isn’t a land grab either, it’s just a phrase that for us means we can connect to people otherwise physically inaccessible. In some areas, this is a huge development and opens doors that could never previously could be unlocked.

    3.4 Pioneering platforms

    Much like 1.6 Modern Approach – there are providers out there (you know their names) which are adding to the expanding selection of technological platforms for online learning. They all bring innovation to the table and have been built with large capital investments. This is generally a good thing, as their disruption may echo similar innovation in other areas too, i.e. Moodle. They are also looking to solve big issues, such as how do learning environments scale for big numbers of registered users. These technological stand-offs hold back some other platforms, as some are open source, the wider [tech] community may learn a thing or two.

    3.5 New sources of revenue

    Perhaps not directly as student enrolments, but MOOCs can generate money. The issue now is they tend to cost more to make than they’ll earn back, so it’s not a sustainable financial model right now. Paying a small fee to pass a course may increase in desirability for some, as it offers a chance to do professional or personal development at an otherwise unobtainable/unavailable institution. Many of the big providers recognise that CPD-esk MOOCs (or Small Private Online Courses – SPOCs) are another way to make some moulah. Luckily there are some other benefits to consider as otherwise MOOCs may not be a ‘thing’ already.

    3.6 Translation of resource

    International reach comes in-hand with multilingual support. One easy way forward for a course which is heavily based on media and peer-led activities is they translate well into other languages. The lack of Professor Famous doing anything hands-on with the learners, means his captures can be converted to another language with only minimal load. However, inter-cultural adaption of translated courses may not be so simple, and there’s a few more things to learn here before all courses are just translated into other languages and assumed they’ll work ‘out of the box’. But progress is being made, and these things shouldn’t just be for English speakers.

    Infrastructure

    If we build it - they will come. Unlikely.

    If we build it – they will come. Unlikely.

    4.1 Encouraging open education

    The best, and most terrifying component – should it all be free and open? Perhaps one day we’ll look back and laugh when institutions were holding their cards close to their chest while others were running ‘Wikipedia-a-thons’ to release as much content as quickly as possible. In the end, it’ll all be out there. But it’s OK because content isn’t king! If it was, institutions would not exist. Education is slowly opening up, one piece of content here, one open course there, a digital learning object somewhere else. Opening up is a strength, it shows character and quality like no other.

    4.2 Effective service disaggregation

    One of those titles that sounds great, then you forget what it means. In short; the opportunities to unbundle some of the work. Presume you can’t make a MOOC platform, instead of worrying about it, you lean on an existing one. You get benefits too, an established community struggled with ‘that thing’ before you, the registered users flock to see a new upcoming course and the brand can help push you into new domains.

    4.3 Creating meaning from analytics

    Learning analytics is broadly described as using data collected from learners and using it to better inform their learning experience and/or to improve systems. So far it’s been a nice term, but with a muddy output. Some MOOC platforms have made a conscious effect to integrate the capturing and reporting of data as a priority. This means learner engagement, or activity, can be recorded and used to build models. Linking it to assessments starts to show links between activity and ‘results’. It’s a developing area, and each MOOC learner is a bit of a Guinea Pig running the wheel for a short time.

    4.4 Pedagogical experimentation

    MOOCs offer a low-ish arena to experiment in. Institutions who have run a few courses have learned a lot about approaches to teaching that can directly inform the next massive course, or bring it back into their traditional teaching. One example is the flipped lecture, which in some institutions is becoming quite normal, but for others it’s a real pedagogical innovation that’s stemmed from MOOCs. My view is these institutions make less use of online learning, and therefore they are leaping forward when going to flipped lectures. Blended learning has been a big offshoot for some US institutions, using their MOOC materials and approaches, back in their credit-bearing teaching.

    4.5 Expanded media capacity

    Few teaching staff are immediately comfortable with being captured on video, but they are a large component of many MOOCs. Institutions have had a chance to practice creating and presenting media to convey their subject to a wide and diverse group. Additional functionality such as interactive transcripts or playback speed have added further benefits to media delivery on these courses.

    4.6 Copyright skills/knowledge

    Can you image the shock when that 5 year old PowerPoint with many noncredited  images from ‘not sure, Google?’ was not allowed to go online? Open, publicly accessible content is reducing the perhaps flagrant use of other people’s work as masquerading it as one’s own. Another positive tick.

    Student outcomes

    What's in it for the learners? Quite a lot, I hope

    What’s in it for the learners? Quite a lot, I hope

    5.1 Digital literacies

    A hot topic on UCL’s agenda, among others, is that of digital literacies – and it’s not just for our learners. The notion that someone, perhaps a young person, is digitally equipped by default is a dangerous and alienating assumption to hold. MOOCs offer a chance for individuals to learn more about the digital form for learning and teaching, it may be becoming more comfortable posting in a discussion forum – or being on live video to a group of thousands of people. Either way, MOOCs may provide some additional benefits for some in this area.

    5.2 International experience and globalisation

    How does a learner get to understand what the true make-up of the world beholds? Perhaps one answer is to encourage them to interact via a massive online open course. Just open discussion forums alone, wrapped around a particular topic such as Health or Law, could open up new international perspectives for an individual they may have never had before. Potential inter-cultural exchanges could bring real value to such courses, and it’s possible that this remains a growth area for many.

    5.3 International communities

    Certainly related to 5.2 is the idea of linking up communities from across the globe in the context of a MOOC. There are many types of communities than can spawn from, or join into, a MOOC. Communities of Practice include a collection of people who share a niche interest or professional domain, one that to bring them together physically would be a real challenge. By gathering online, they can share their views on a particular topic and potentially expand their understanding by sharing all they know with others. It could also be more of a social community, where those who share a similar interest can simply join in and be a part of something. Once again, this may be an area of real promise – one to not overlook.

    5.4 Mixing internal and external cohorts

    How could you get your students to understand the wider issues without bringing it directly to the classroom? One way might be to subscribe them into a MOOC. Previous courses have had their enrolled (credit-bearing) students leading discussions, moderating content, creating learning materials and overseeing MOOCs with thousands of registered learners. This kind of interaction could lead to some progressive pedagogical models of learners teaching learners, creating unique opportunities and developing personal qualities along the way.

    5.5 Accreditation and [micro] credentialing

    Certificates and badges spring to life in MOOCs. Badges can be awarded for participation and provide a catalyst for further exploration of a theme or learning tool, for example Bronze, Silver and Gold badges for contributions to discussion forums, or marking assignments. They can even be used to ‘gamify’ the learning, used as markers or rewards as the learner’s progress. Certificates are a little more boring, but sometimes people want to have evidence for their learning, and these can do that – they may also make a little money.

    5.6 Cross/co-curricular opportunities

    Much like 2.5 Interdisciplinary courses – MOOCs provide opportunities for a more casual or flexible approach to learning. One could sign up for a series of MOOCs, pick the bits they like the most and ditch the rest – no-one will question your approach. If anything, platforms will arrive to support it and develop personalised learning journeys for you. This is one example, and as we’re near the end, I presume you get the idea.

    Conclusion?

    MOOCS are not about making money, getting thousands of learners gawping through your wrought iron gates or dreaming of Professor Famous giving them a high grade. Instead we’ve began to uncover the raft of added value, bonus material or ‘known unknowns’ as some might say. The collective weighing of these should cast a huge shadow of ‘money in = money out’ and instead show that they’re another tool in an expanding and richer toolkit for learning and teaching. It remains a good idea to run a MOOC, or ten, and if you can design your approach to try and benefit from some other bits along the way, then I hope you’ll get a richer and more valued experience from it.

    I am also confident we missed a load more out, so if you have some more – or want to argue a point, please go ahead in the comments or on #moocbenefits

    Do week-based course structures for online learning work?

    By Matt Jenner, on 25 February 2014

    It’s a fairly simple question, but I am unsure how often it’s asked; but do these online courses, based on weeks, really work? Are we following a time-based system based on harvesting and industry within education with great reason, or did it just kinda emerge because humans have a habit of sheepism?

    Seven-day week etymology

    Most of us live a seven day week and have done so since the Babylonian Captivity of the 6th century BC. The week was created around the number 7, a good number for many people. When we had slightly less-informed thoughts, we accepted a few ideas and didn’t really challenge it too much. There’s a bit of a story, but I’ll cover it with something along the lines of people believing the seven things that seem most bright, and important, were ‘planets’. I’ve written these into a table-thing below; the first column is ‘planets’ (yeah, I know), next we have ‘planet’ + ‘day’, then the french word for the day and finally the English.

    Moon / Moon day / LundiMonday 

    Mars / Mars day / MardiTuesday

    Mercury / Mercury day / Mercredi / Wednesday

    Jupiter / Jupiter day / Jeudi / Thursday

    Venus / Venus day / Vendredi / Friday

    Saturn / Saturn day / Samedi / Saturday

    Sun / Sun day / Dimanche / Sunday

    It was a real problem when we found that some of these were not planets, and also that there were more planets, quite a few actually. But, it hopefully remains interesting in how much aligns, or sticks. It’s lucky a few challenged these ideas, some punished for doing so, but they too were eventually free.

    Break conformity

    Why mention the days of the week? Well the number seven has been influential in many societies for thousands for years, but the week still dominates most of the world today. You probably feel good on a Friday and miserable on a Monday. If not, I am sure there are days that affect you, some are better than others. You’ve lost control, the actual day should not matter one iota. But it does.

    Chrono-what?

    I blogged a few months ago about a little idea I had called ‘chronogogy‘ – the idea of time-informed learning [design]. It was half-baked, but I’m heading for a biscuit (derived from the latin bis (twice) and coctus (cooked)). A twice-baked idea might not go stale so quickly… The basic concept was that timing of online learning activities might not be quite as obvious as we thought. There’s a predictable drop in people going online during the weekend and Wednesday. The patterns repeat over the past few years, for several types of website (learning and not). It’s with this highly-unscientific and basic notion, that perhaps some further research is needed. My view is that we should be careful to design time-dependent learning activities that do not align with the learners’ habits and life choices. Instead we need to design for online learning, around at least when people are going to be online. Not a bold claim, I hope.

    Week-based courses

    Basing a course structure, especially fully-online, seems crazy if the learners won’t get a chance to log in and participate. Or, if they do, under potential external pressures. If online activity is dominated by four days on, three days off, then we need to ensure planned, time-based activities, take this into account. Additionally, online learners are often mixing it with other things. They may be juggling employment, family, friends and other commitments to fit their learning in. They are marred by the week for everything, Tuesday they pick up children, Thursday they go to Choir, Saturday they play sports and Sunday is a holy day. Many days are full, fitting that online discussion in is a hard squeeze on Monday night, the day before it needs to be done. They also have to get themselves online which takes a slot for concentration etc.

    Design differently

    My suggestion is simple, don’t do this. Consider design for different periods of time. Don’t put flexible people into ridged formats. I say A4 is not a learning format, it’s an ISO standard for paper. When creating online courses you don’t immediately scan in paper. A4 paper to an online learning environment is not trendy. You’re likely to use a range of media, a diminishing amount of which is fit into an A4 shape. Think of all the traditional formats you’re defaulting to, and question them. For time:

    1. Does this fit in to a typical week?
    2. What if people can’t access this on a Tuesday? 
    3. Can I overlap activities? 
    4. What if I worked to a 10-day week, would that work? 
    5. Why? 
    6. What-if? 
    7. Can I? 
    8. How about…?
    9. etc. 

    Change is good

    My colleague and good friend Andy Sykes left UCL a year or so ago and left a whiteboard with some leaving messages. One of them should stick and reverberate more often:

    Change is good

     

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts…

    I am continuing to refine this time concept into something, more, urm, tangible 🙂

    Learning on steroids with Richard Feynman

    By Matt Jenner, on 4 February 2014

    Richard Feynman, who is better known for his physics, was also something of a character. He made a series of videos in which he explained a lot of concepts, ideas, thoughts and musings on the world. He was clearly a genius, curious and mischievous in his approach to life, but also he was inspirational to many who have discovered him. It’s possible, perhaps, that his genius was fostered by the way he learned new things. In the video below he talks about his father explaining about birds on their summer holidays, and the joy of learning about the animal itself, rather than the anthropocentric view we often take on learning. His learning was directed around the linking of new things he’s reading, into what he knows from reality. If you have 50 minutes, check out the whole video (if not, please skip ahead)

    Blooms Taxonomy

    I am sure you know about Benjamin Bloom and his pyramid of learning (see pic if you forgot), where synthesis an evaluation is at the top of all learning. But what does that mean? In many examples it’s defined as ‘being able to teach the concept to someone else’ – that requires all the elements below, and a high level of conquest in the subject. To reach this challenging peak, learners must synthesise and evaluate their knowledge, and subsequently there must be opportunities for them to do so. But this isn’t so easy to do, often a question and answer may only require you to dig into knowledge and recite the answer – that’s only the ground floor in this 6-story pyramid.

    So how do you get higher?

    One technique I have come to enjoy, as it relies on nothing but the learner to try, and therefore can be adopted at will, has been coined the ‘Feynman Technique’. Scott Young makes a great job of explaining it, or Learning on Steroids as he charmingly calls it.

    Here’s an overview:

    1. Choose your concept
    2. Pretend your teaching it to a new student
    3. Whenever you get stuck, go back to the books
    4. Simplify wordy bits or create analogies

    Video version

    Written format is on Scott Young’s website

    Peer instruction

    There are similar techniques to this, one is Eric Mazur from Harvard Business School who created the ‘Peer Instruction’ approach whereby students in class are asked to vote on the solution to a problem. Their votes are counted (often using polling hardware like clickers/PRS).  Then, in a twist, Eric asks his students to find a neighbour who has a different answer, then to convince the other person that you are correct. He then finally  re-polls the audience to see if they have changed their original answers. He has year-upon-year of evidence to suggest this approach has benefits to student learning, and retention, of concepts. It’s not just that they get a theory, they can apply it to a problem, in their own language, and perhaps really synthesise it to their neighbour. I see this as the same technique, only with Feynman’s they have to convince themselves, a challenge some of us might find much harder.

    Summary

    Try it and let me know if it works for you!?

    Chronogogy – Time-led learning design examples

    By Matt Jenner, on 15 November 2013

    I recently blogged about a concept called chronogogy; a time-led principle of learning design the importance of which I’m trying to fathom. My approach is to keep blogging about it & wait until someone picks me up on it. Worst case, I put some ideas out in the public domain with associated keywords etc. Please forgive me.

    An example of chronogogically misinformed learning design

    A blended learning programme makes good use of f2f seminars. Knowing the seminar takes at least an hour to get really interesting, the teacher prefers to use online discussion forums to seed the initial discussions and weed out any quick misgivings. Using a set reading list, before the seminar they have the intention of students to read before the session, be provoked to think about the topics raised and address preliminary points in an online discussion. The f2f seminars are on Tuesdays & student have week to go online and contribute. This schedule is repeated a few times during the twelve week module.

    The problem is, only a handful of students ever post online and others complain that there’s “not enough time” to do the task each week. The teacher has considered making them fortnightly, but this isn’t really ideal either, as some may slip behind, especially when this exercise is repeated during the module.

    The argument in my previous post was that if the planning of the activity doesn’t correlate well with activity of website users then it may increase the chance of disengagement.

    Example learner 1

     

    Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Mon Tues

    Learner1

    Task set Reading start Reading finish Contributes to forum Attends seminar

     

    If a reading is set on Tuesday completed by Sunday, the learner may only start considering their discussion points on Sunday or Monday night. This will complete the task before Tuesday’s session, but does it make good use of the task?

    Example learner 2

     

    Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Mon Tues

    Learner1

    Task set Reading start Reading finish Contributes to forum Visitsforum Contributes to forum Attends seminar

    The reading is set on Tuesday, completed by Friday, the learner even posts to the forum on Saturday. By Sunday the come back to the forum, there’s not much there. They come back on Monday and can contribute towards Learner 1’s points, but it could be too late to really fire up a discussion. The seminar is the next day, Tuesday which could increase the chance of discussion points being saved for that instead, as the online discussion may not be worth adding to.

    These are two simplistic example, but they provide further questions:

    • Q: Can these two students ever have a valuable forum discussion?
    • Q: Is this was scaled up would the night before the seminar provide enough time for a useful online discussion?
    • Q: If Learner3 had read the material immediately and posted on the Wednesday what would’ve been the outcome?

    Any students posting earlier in the seven-day period may be faced with the silence of others still reading. Postings coming in too late may be marred by the signs that fewer visitors will log on during the weekend. Therefore, unless people are active immediately after the seminar (i.e. read and post in the first day or two) then any online discussions takes place on Monday – the day before the seminar.

    In this example a lot of assumptions are made, obviously, but it could happen.

    Development/expansion

    If this example were true, and it helps if you can believe it is for a moment, then what steps could be taken to encourage the discussion to start earlier?

    One thought could be to move the seminar to later in the week, say Thursday or Friday. By observing learners behaviour ‘out of class’ (offline and online) it could give insight into the planning of sessions and activities. In the classic school sense, students are given a piece of homework and they fit it in whenever suits them. However, if that work is collaborative, i.e. working in a group or contributing towards a shared discussions, then the timing of their activity needs to align with the group, and known timings that are most effective.

    Time-informed planning

    Muffins got tired waiting for fellow students to reply to his post.

    Muffins got tired waiting for fellow students to reply to his post.

    Knowing study habits, and preferences, for off and on-line study could make a difference here. If the teacher had given the students a different time over the week it might have altered contributions to the task. Data in the previous post indicates that learners access educational environments more in the week than the weekend. An activity given on Friday and expected for Monday seems unfair on two levels; a weekend is an important time for a break and weekends are not as busy as weekdays for online activity.

    If the week shows a pattern of access for online, then an online task could be created around the understanding of access patterns. If online tasks are planned around this, then it may affect the outcome.

    Does time-informed learning design make a difference?

    There’s only one way to know, really, and that’s to perform an experiment around a hypothesis. The examples above were based on a group/cohort discussion & it made a lot of assumptions but it provides a basis of which I wanted to conduct some further research.

    Time-based instruction and learning. Is activity design overlooked?

    In the examples, the teacher is making an assumption that their students will ‘find the time’. This is perfectly acceptable, but students may better perform ‘time-finding’ when they are also wrapped into a strong schedule, or structure for their studies. Traditionally this is bound to the restrictions of the timetabling/room access, teacher’s duties and the learners’ schedules (plus any other factors). But with online learning (or blended) the timetabling or time-planning duty is displaced into a new environment. This online space is marketed as open, personalised, in-your-own-time – all of which is very positive. However, it’s also coming with the negative aspect of self-organisation and could, possible, be a little too loosely defined. Perhaps especially so when it’s no longer personal, but group or cohort based.

    There’s no intention here of mandating when learners should be online – that’s certainly not the point. In the first instance it’s about being aware of when they might be online, and better planning around that. In this first instance, the intention is to see if this is even ‘a thing to factor in’.

    Chronology is the study of time. Time online is a stranger concept than time in f2f. For face to face the timing of a session is roughly an hour, or two. Online it could be the same, but not in one chunk. Fragmentation, openness and flexibility are all key components – learners can come and go whenever they like, and our logs showing how many UK connections are made to UCL Moodle at 3-5AM show this quite clearly.

    Chronogogy is just a little branding for the foundation of the idea that instructional design, i.e. the planning and building of activities for online learning, may need to factor time into the design process. This isn’t to say ‘time is important’ but that by understanding more about access patterns for users, especially (but not necessarily only) online educational environments, could influence the timing and design of timing for online activities. This impact could directly impact the student and teacher experiences. This naturally could come back into f2f sessions too, where the chronogogy has been considered to ensure that the blended components are properly supporting the rest of the course.

    Time-led instructional design, or chronogogically informed learning design could potentially become ever more important if considering fully online courses that rely heavily on user to user-interaction as a foundation to the student experience. For example the Open University who rely heavily on discussion forums or MOOCs where learner to learner interaction is the only viable form.

    Most online courses would state that student interaction is on the critical path to success. From credit-bearing courses to MOOCs – it’s likely that if adding chronogogy into the course structure, then consideration can inform design decisions early in the development process. This would be important when considering:

    • Planned discussions
    • Release of new materials
    • Synchronous activities
    • Engagement prompts*

    In another example, MOOCs (in 2013) seem to attract a range of learners. Some are fully engaged, participate in all the activities, review all the resources and earn completion certificates. Others do less than this, lurking in the shadows as some may say, but remain to have a perfectly satisfactory experience. Research is being performed into these engagement patterns and much talk of increasing retention has sparked within educational and political circles, for MOOCs and Distance Learning engagement/attrition.

    One factor to consider here is how you encourage activity in a large and disparate group. The fourth point above, engagement prompts, is a way of enticing learners back to the online environment. Something needs to bring them back and this may be something simple like an email from the course lead.  Data may suggest that sending this on a Saturday could have a very different result than on a Tuesday.

    Engagement prompts as the carrot, or stick?

    Among many areas till to explore is that if learners were less active over the weekends, for example, then would promoting them to action – i.e. via an engagement prompt, provide a positive or negative return? This could be addressed via an experiment.

    Concluding thoughts

    I seem interested in this field, but I wonder of its true value. I’d be keen to hear you thoughts. Some things for me to consider are:

    • If there’s peaks and troughs in access – what would happen if this could be levelled out?
    • How could further research be conducted (live or archive data sets).
    • Have I missed something in the theory of learning design that is based on time-led instruction?
    • I wonder what learners would think of this, canvas for their opinions.
    • Could I make a small modification to Moodle to record data to show engagement/forum posting to create a more focused data set?
    • Am I mad?