Friday, September 16, 2011

Call for Chapters - Open Online Learning and Teaching

This call for chapters for a text on open online courses (.doc), edited by Rita Kop, Stephen Downes, George Siemens, might be of interest to readers. The two-page abstract of prospective chapters is due Oct 31, 2011.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The balancing act between relevance and serendipity in the information stream

Boring! Yehh,yehh, no surprises. Have you had that feeling when looking at the results of your information searches? It is something I have been thinking about a lot the past months.

If the role of the educator used to be to challenge learners by providing different points of view and coming up with, to the learner, unexpected ideas and points of view to stimulate the thought processes, how might this be facilitated in a networked environment? Algorithm-driven search engines recommend relevant information to our search query, and are not (yet) up to recommending us serendipitous information; information that also contains unexpected gems of information that ensures new angles to feed our thought processes. I believe that currently the best way to achieve serendipity in our information steam is through human intervention.

Web users can now be in control of their information stream and pull information in from human sources. These sources might be information brokers, knowledgeable nodes on the network, or be aggregated through feeds written and produced by a multitude of interesting authors, or news sources and distributed through micro-blogging tools such as Twitter or Tumlr, or through curation sites such as . What all these sites have in common is the 'human touch'. They ensure that users get recommendations from people in their area of interest, and quite often also recommendations 'one step removed' from these people, such as through #tag communities on Twitter, which should result, as described by Jarvis, in 'unexpected relevance' in the information received.

When I look at my own information stream, I am still not quite happy with the level of serendipity, even though I use all these tools and have automated their use and made them more appetizing, for instance through the use of the 'flipboard app'. There is a lot of 'dross' that I have to sift through to find these really interesting bits. I find that I invest an increasing amount of my time at sharing, curating and producing information, which is not a bad thing as the activity in itself helps my thought processes and might also provide an aha moments for someone else.

Monday, May 9, 2011

PLE Presentation Canadian Institute for Distance Education Research

Last Wednesday Helene Fournier and I gave a presentation to CIDER, the Canadian Institute for Distance Education Research in which we elaborated on our research related to Personal Learning Environments. You will be able to find the Elluminate recording and files here. As the sound quality was not super, I tidied up the file and you will be able to find the slidecast here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Problems with commercial enterprises dominating the 'cloud'

Did you notice the last couple of weeks that things are changing with those nifty cool Web2.0 and social media applications that not so long ago were a novelty and made lots of waves in the learning technology field? Yes, exactly, first Delicious was not interesting anymore to Yahoo, then last week Google decided to stop their Google video service, now this week Friendster tells us to save our files.

 In the case of Delicious, after a public outcry, they have reversed their decision. Google is after widespread protests looking into moving the videos to YouTube, while they re-instated the position of their RSS reader, Google Reader, in their navigation to its original position after protests by RSS aggregators when they moved it.

What can we conclude from this? Clearly, the web-surfers and users are not the customers of these commercial enterprises; their advertisers and share-holders are, the behavior of users are merely the by-product of the money-making enterprise, required to produce the 'social graph' needed for advertisers to sell their stuff. Any application that is not profitable will be disconnected, how successful it might be in supporting people's lives and learning.

Another important point to draw from this is that we as users can collectively influence the behavior of the new Web monopolies to ensure that the services important to us are not cut just like that. These companies have to understand that we can walk with our feet and that they will have to perhaps provide some services that are vital to the lives of users at a loss to on the other hand make lots of money in other ones, very much like commercial bus or postal service operators are required by governements to run not such profitable routes in order to provide a balanced service. Of course there is no global government to take on these companies, bar perhaps the European Union who is not afraid to fine the Microsoft, Apple or Google of this world if they breach monopoly laws.

The final point I would like to make is that it might be time for new public services to safeguard what is vital for education and tp people's learning. We have public libraries, why not public search engines, as was suggested by White. These would not be guided by commercial interests, but would be available to safeguard our social and cultural heritage.  It is clear that the way the Cloud is ruled does nothing to ensure that what is important to its users is maintained, rather it is like everywhere else in the world, it is greed that makes the Cloud go round.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The value of analytics in an educational and learning context

I had some time to reflect on the presentations and conversations at the 1st International Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference in Banff. There were many thought provoking presentations that gave an inkling as to the direction people interested in education, or interested in educational technology, might take analytics in the coming years. One of the figures I found most interesting, came from Abelardo Pardo, who worked with Carlos Delgado Kloos on a 'virtual machine' that they used in their research. They asked their students to install the file on their regular computer and use it for their course work, while Abelardo and Carlos could track student activity. When they looked at the browsing behavior, only 28.51% of students accessed LMS-related pages for their learning activities, while all other pages accessed were outside this institutionally controlled environment. Now of course it is quite likely that there are contextual factors that influenced this behavior, but still, it clearly points towards a finding that students only make a limited use of the institutional LMS for their learning and that if analytics are to be meaningful, they will have to include student learning activities outside the LMS. Quite some analytics presented at the conference were related to the institutional LMS. Of course this begs the question: if students only use the LMS for such a limited amount of their learning, and data on the other learning is not collected, what will be the relevance and value of carrying out analytics on this LMS environment?

Some presentations showed that analytics might be used to enhance the effectiveness and streamlining of the processes taking place in educational institutions in four ways:
1. To support the administration
2. To adapt the learning support services to make up for deficiencies in student performance.
3. To show learners their analytics in order for them to reflect on their performance and perhaps adapt their learning and learning behavior in certain ways.
4. To adapt teaching to analytics findings about student learning and learning behavior

What do I think of these four?
1. Analytics to support the bureaucracy must always be a bad thing, as analysis of data always means inputting of data, from which follows that learners and educators will have to engage in this added burden. There is enough evidence to support that the bureaucratization of university is a negative, rather than a positive development (Foucault, Reading, Delanty).
2.I like the idea that analytics might make it possible for student support services to be better matched to student needs, but coming from a background in adult education and widening access to Higher Education, I have seen my fair share of problems with using the deficiency model to support learners. I feel more comfortable with
3. the analytics model promoted by Erik Duval who runs analytics on student activities and shows the students the results. This seems more empowering to learners as it involves a need for reflection on their learning.
4. Analytics can also be run as a research tool, so teaching staff might get a better understanding of the learner experience and the problems learners might come across in order to better match their teaching. Caroline Haythornthwaite showed us some of her visualizations of communication and group forming, which highlighted insights that analytics might provide in the ties between learners in learning settings.

If the analytics are solely run on the LMS related activity and the 28.51% figure is in any way generalizable to other institutions, of course all these analytics will only tell roughly a quarter of the story. It means that people will have to start using analytics outside the institution, on the network, as Helene Fournier and I have done here at NRC in Moncton. Of course carrying out analytics on networks is not easy as people access services in a distributed environment and the analytics would be most meaningful if these could somehow be linked, perhaps by using the same identification for all of them. It would be cool, though, and could enhance the learning experience of self-directed learners, if they would be able to quickly check if they would meet their learning goals through visualizations of their activity. As that is one thing I have learned engaging in analytics: visualisation does clarify activity pretty well.

Some other developments related to linked data are the research and design of recommender systems for learning. Currently there are problems with the testing of these as large data-sets are required to ensure reliability and consistency of results as Katrien Verbert highlighted in her talk. Some other analytics-related systems are currently under development at the Open University in the UK, such as Cohere, a discourse argumentation tool that aims for depth in discussion, and iSpot, related to BBC nature programmes, that uses a novel ranking system.

A theme running throughout the conference in several of the presentations, was the ethical dimension. analytics is about human behavior and of course there are some important ethical considerations to the collection of human data. This will be another post before long.

Learning Analytics is clearly a developing field and there is still a lot to learn for all involved! Thanks again George for bringing us all together in such a wonderful location.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Learning about learning analytics

I have been at the 1st International Learning Analytics conference in Banff over the past two days and it has been an eye opener to the power of analytics. Not just to enhance efficiency of educational institutions, but also to help learners in their learning and researchers and educators in getting an understanding in the dynamics in class rooms and on networks. I will write more about the most interesting points later.

For now I have included the link to the presentation at the conference by Helene Fournier and me that tells a bit more about our use of analytics in our MOOC research. If you prefer a different format, Doug Clow has been tapping away on his live-blog and given a near verbatim account of the event.You can find the link here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Learning on MOOCs

Back to writing my blog after some time writing different types of papers and having been 'up to my elbows' in data, yes MOOC data, to make sense of the learning processes on PLENK2010. Helene Fournier and I have been quite busy over the past months analysing data and writing papers and preparing presentations, which we will post here as they are being published.

The post by Martin Weller on the responsibility of learners in a MOOC, and the comments to it, has made that it seems time to write some of the findings of our research here. The issues I found most interesting in the PLENK data relate to Martin's point on responsibility of the learner, the nature of active participation on MOOCs, the factors affecting active participation and how people on PLENK experienced their participation.

From the data (that we collected using qualitative and quantitative methods) it was clear that there are a number of issues that stand out.

  1.  Power relations on the MOOC
  2. Confidence levels of novice MOOCers
  3. The level of presence of participants and facilitators
  4. The willingness to help by all involved.
Participants felt they had a new responsibility to actively participate  in new ways: eg. by aggregating resources, by RSS or Twitter, to do something with these resources, but not necessarily in the way that the facilitators would have hoped for, by actively producing something. The majority of participants (1580 were not really big producers, there were only around 60 people who did this) shared resources with other participants, but also with people outside the MOOC. The level of creative production very much depended on the level of confidence of the participant and the the amount of time the participant had to invest on learning in the MOOC.

I have included here a link to the slidecast of a presentation I gave of a paper on New Dimensions to Selfdirected Learning on Open Networked Learning Environments, that Helene Fournier and I  prepared for the 25th International Self-directed Learning Symposium that was held in Cocoa Beach, Florida earlier in February.