Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

Posts tagged ‘e-learning’

The world of MOOCs and open badges

I’ve been thinking about massaging this blog back to life for some time now. I often come across topical educational discussions or links to resources that are worthy of further exploration but rarely get beyond sharing them as a link on Twitter. I’ll start today with a couple of topics I’ve been recently pondering.


The jury is still out for me about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). If you’re new to the concept of MOOCs, Ryan Tracey has put together a good overview of what a MOOC is. Built with connectivist design principles in mind, the theory is good. However, the longtime online learner and facilitator in me wonders just how effective such large scale forums can be, or whether the huge numbers involved mean they are simply a recipe for online mayhem, particularly for less web-savvy users. Good organisation and clear communication is critical. I’m happy to be convinced of their worth (or otherwise).

I am starting a MOOC next week with the hope that it will help me kill two birds with one stone. The first is to experience a MOOC first-hand and the second is to explore the possible use of online badges with the suite of qualifications I am involved in developing.

Open badges

Mozilla OpenBadges logoI was introduced to the use of open badges at the elearnz Conference in Auckland recently. Since then, I have thought long and hard about how they could be used to recognise and acknowledge learners’ skills and achievements in various areas. I am interested in exploring how my organisation could develop badges for our learners and whether or not they would find them valuable.

Some initial thoughts I have about the use of badges to recognise learning:

  • What are the conventions around awarding badges to represent whole qualifications, as opposed to the individual skills or clusters of skills that the qualifications represent? Will learners expect badges for every course or standard they complete or will they be satisfied for a single badge representing the whole qualification. For example, if you take a unit standard-based qualification and award a badge for its completion (much like the physical badges some organisations offer), will those learners feel disadvantaged if other organisations offer say 15 badges for the same amount of work? Isn’t that why we register credits for unit standards with NZQA on a learner’s record of achievement?
  • I already have a couple of badges in my Mozilla Backpack. Although they are just introductory examples, they were surprisingly easy to get. I imagine that the number of badges developed will grow exponentially once the concept takes off and more organisations start using them. I wonder what value badges will hold for learners and the issuing organisations if they are presented alongside those that require very low levels of skill or application.
  • How could the skills represented by each badge be made transferrable or even comparable? Will it be acceptable or even expected that hundreds of different organisations could issue badges for very similar skills? I understand that the issuing organisation needs to establish credibility, but how apparent will this be for viewers (for example, potential employers)?

Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials starts next week and is run in Blackboard, a LMS I have previously taught in for many years (albeit using older versions). The timing of the live sessions aren’t NZ-friendly so I won’t be attending them in real time by will view the content once it is made available. I look forward to learning more about the issues surrounding the use of badges in education and joining in the discussion.


Becoming a 21st century school

This afternoon’s DEANZ Conference keynote was delivered virtually via video link from Tuscon, Arizona – truly modelling distance learning. Ken Kay from EdLeader21 gave a presentation entitled The 7 steps to become a 21st century school. There is much that tertiary education can learn from the schooling sector and these ideas easily apply to all levels of learning – we all face the same challenges.

What is 21st century education?

We’re already 12 years into the 21st century, but it seems like we are still trying to define what education in this century is all about. Ken pointed us to a framework on the P21 website. He talked about blending the 3Rs with the 4Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. These are otherwise known as student outcomes, or attributes that students should aspire to, and these also need to be demonstrated by teachers as models for effective pedagogy. The 4Cs very much reflect the key competencies that support the New Zealand Curriculum.

21st century student outcomes

What are the 7 steps for implementation?

Embracing the 4Cs in principle or rhetorically is not enough to make them work. This is where an implementation strategy is necessary and Ken introduced the 7 steps model before unpacking each step in detail.

7 steps modelKen challenged us to go home and complete the MILE Guide self assessment survey and find out which elements of our practice are from the 19th, 20th or 21st century. Gulp!

I was interested to hear Ken’s thoughts about how professionals should be using the 4Cs in their own practice (and not just for teaching students). He argues that the 4Cs can and should be used as a measure for hiring, compensation, evaluation and promotion.

Ken concluded his virtual keynote by sharing a video called The 4Cs: Making 21st century learning happen, featuring student and teacher voices.

DEANZ Conference 2012

DEANZ 2012 logoA group of colleagues and I are attending the Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ) Conference this week. The day’s proceedings began with mihi whakatau with Open Polytechnic (as tangata whenua) welcoming the manuhiri (guests) to the conference. It is good to be able to make use of the wireless internet here at the venue by tweeting and blogging from the event. You can follow updates via the Twitter hashtag #DEANZ2012.

The opening keynote address was given by Professor Paul Bacsich, who we hosted at Open Polytechnic last week. Paul continued talking about his research into models for virtual schools and colleges (VISCED) and shared three institutions who are considered successful: Sofia Distans in Sweden, Interhigh in Wales and Brisbane School of Distance Education in Australia. He has generated a list of ‘Multeversity features’ for universities and tertiary institutions in the future, including bridging into and from upper secondary school learning to reduce the drop-out while still leveraging school-level knowledge. As teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to make connections with learners’ prior learning and experience and it would be good to see mechanisms in place to support this in the tertiary sector.

Professor Niki Davis and colleagues gave an invited presentation entitled A scenario guide to effective tertiary education for New Zealand in 2016. Four scenarios were unpacked: articulation, the ‘supermarket’, quality branded consortia and self-determination. Each has its benefits and limitations and ultimately the exercise is about maximising the overlap and relationships between the four quadrants to provide the most effective learning solutions. Coming from a background in “self-determination”-styled learning as a primary e-teacher, I would love to explore strategies that would enable this approach in the tertiary learning environment.

I will continue to blog and tweet throughout the conference … or for as long as my laptop battery lasts. 🙂

Virtual post-secondary institutions

Paul BacsichOn Monday 2 April, Open Polytechnic was pleased to host Professor Paul Bacsich as our guest. Paul has been involved in a wide range of EU and international e-learning projects during the past 20 years and is a visiting fellow at the University of Canterbury e-Learning Research Lab during 2012. He is also a keynote speaker at the upcoming Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ) Conference in Wellington next week.

Paul’s first session was a keynote presentation for all interested staff and was entitled Virtual post-secondary institutions – Where next? With a particular focus on virtual schools and colleges (VISCED), including those considered to have dual-mode (ie blended) delivery, Paul gave us an overview of the successes, partial successes and failures of distance and virtual universities around the world and briefly introduced us to one successful model, the Open Universities Australia consortium. Various issues affecting the success of these institutions are similar to those faced here in New Zealand, including student retention, completion rates and performance-based funding.

Paul also held informal discussion sessions during the afternoon for our Faculty and Learning and Teaching Solutions staff to attend. The Faculty session was an opportunity for staff to ask Paul more questions about his work as it might relate to Open Polytechnic as well as give him an idea about the structure of programmes we offer. Paul believes that the biggest barriers to learning occur between the compulsory and post-compulsory education sectors – which is not necessarily the same thing as the gap between secondary and tertiary education.

A changing alphabet

A colleague sent me these graphics this morning; I see they have been doing the rounds via Twitpic this week. They cleverly highlight the key differences between the traditional education most of us would have experienced and the kind of education children growing up in our digital world are experiencing now.

It got me wondering … what will these graphics look like in ten years’ time? Five? Or even next year?Alphabet most of us got to learn ...

Alphabet taught to kids today

Online thinking spaces

This morning, I revisited the EDtalks video by Paul Reynolds: Living and learning in the cloud. Paul, formerly of McGovern Online, was a dynamic speaker and a pioneer in internet development who sadly passed away in May 2010. His talk stimulated my thinking in several key areas.

Recently, we have been talking about professional learning with reference to the 2 Cs: content and context. Paul talks about “dancing with the 3 Cs“: connection, capability/confidence and content. The 3 Cs expands context by adding connection to the list and coupling it with capability/confidence, essentially giving them equal weighting with content. They acknowledge the affective domain, which refers to people’s reactions and emotions in relation to their learning. Connecting also supports ideas around social networks of learning, imperative to effective learning in changing times, an area which George Siemens talked about during his visit on Monday.

Paul talked about digital literacy. Now, more than ever, it is vital that we teach our students how to process and making meaning from the flood of information they can access, otherwise they are simply drowning in it. He referred to the contentious question raised by Nicholas Carr: Is Google making us stupid? Floods of skeptics would love to reply, “yes”. I’d be far more hesitant to make such a broad claim. The debate refers to the depth of thinking and processing information that goes on in a Google-world. In an age where information is readily accessible in a ‘drive-by’ or ‘takeaway’ form, Paul asks, “Where are the spaces for deep, reflective thinking?” What do online thinking spaces look like? And, if they existed, would you use them? This is where equipping our learners with the skills and strategies they need in order to become digitally literate comes in, enabling deep, critical, reflective and creative thinking to occur.

Watch Paul’s video here.

Connectivism and changing times

George Siemens photo

George Siemens

This morning, we had the pleasure of hosting George Siemens. George held two one-hour sessions; one for all staff and another specifically for our learning and teaching development team. George had us all captivated without the aid of slides, the web, or any digital tools. He arrived fresh from the Vice Chancellors’ Symposium 2010 at Massey University on Friday, where he gave a presentation entitled Connectivism and Changing Times: Learning for a Socially Wired World.

George had our staff positively buzzing with ideas and questions during and after the session, some of which I will explore here.

Key roles of knowledge institutions

Throughout history, knowledge institutions have mapped their activities to the societies that exist and that they serve. Universities themselves were developed to service the model of knowledge from a time. Libraries essentially ‘capture’ knowledge and information from an era and the development of the printing press allowed this information to be published and generated further. This contributes to the concept of placedness, that is, activities and events occurring in or around a particular place or within its vicinity. Social network learning can help allow learners access to knowledge and information regardless of their location.

Change theory

George talked about three major types of change.

  1. Paradigm shift: It usually occurs about once every century or 200 years, often as the result of an anomaly in current thinking or practice.
  2. Broad technology adoption: Moving to the adjacent possible, while still retaining the essence of the original underlying experience, ie sustaining change. For example, the introduction of the dynamo to aid factory production. I wonder if the same could be said of technology enhanced learning for existing paper-based programmes, rather than a pedagogical shift to e-learning?
  3. Disruption: Google competed with Microsoft by entering the web market. Our institution could do this by offering a distinct style of open distance learning in New Zealand.

The secret to success with regard to information production nowadays is rapid iteration. That is, in order to keep up with the pace of information development and change, we need to be able to throw out ideas quickly, get feedback quickly, change our ideas quickly and move on. We often don’t have the time it requires to wait for the perfect article or learning resource to be produced before publishing and sharing it. Also, ideas need other people to contribute to them and help develop them. The cost for this is essentially zero thanks to tools such as blogging, microblogging, web cam, laptop, tablet, videos, and so on. This contributes to low-end disruptive change, an area explored by Stephen Marshall during his workshop on e-learning and organisational change a few weeks ago. Stephen gave the example of YouTube, with its low-quality, quickly-made videos by its community of users, taking a serious chunk out of the status and popularity of television production for news and other short video items. Sometimes there is a very valid place for resources that are “quick, dirty and disposable”.

Social network learning – connectivism

George asked, “Who can build and fly a 747 plane?” The answer is, “no-one – on their own”. This is a process that requires connected specialisation between individual expertise and a system which connects the right people with the right skills to do the right task. Just as we relied on social systems in the past to teach our children how to farm or build a house, we can create global social networks to help us understand knowledge. The possibilities are endless.