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I joined a team of experts from across The Open University to contribute to the BBC Learning English co-production, Go The Distance: ‘a 10-week taste of what distance learning is really like – with real students, real tutors, key study and digital literacy skills and lots of help with your English.’
My contribution was to Academic Insights ‘the series where we meet real distance learning tutors and get their top tips for successful studying.’
You can watch the video via the BBC site or via OpenLearn.
- My name’s Rebecca Ferguson. I work as a lecturer in distance learning. My field is educational technology.
- There are several reasons for working together. One of them is because it’s a way of learning in itself. You share perspectives and you discuss things. The second reason is it’s a very effective way of learning. And the third reason is employability. You need to be able to work with your team.
- Student collaborative tasks depend on the level of study. They might be contributing to a forum; they might be responding to somebody else in a forum. But when you get to final years you’d be working on a project with others. You might be carrying out research with others.
- Shyness and confidence can be a problem for some students especially when they’re in video conferences but in forums it’s a very good way of communicating if you’re shy.
- Something that a tutor can do is to encourage people to introduce themselves and to talk on a safe subject that they don’t feel stressed about, just introduce themselves and deal with something relatively impersonal.
- A solution for that is to share information about when you can work and for how long you can work. Another solution is to timetable how you’re going to work together.
- Learners feel that it’s very beneficial because it reflects what they’re going to be doing in a working environment. It’s something they felt unconfident about before and they now know how to do it.
I am just back from an expert workshop held at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Seville.
The EU has a very large database, covering 12 years, related to a European-wide project called etwinning. This project puts teachers in touch with each other across Europe so that they can share ideas and innovation, develop their professional and digital skills and, specifically, join together to develop and carry out projects involving their pupils. The database covers activity and interactions on that platform by many thousands of individual teachers.
The JRC is interested in using this dataset to generate actionable insights that can help teachers and learners across Europe. The expert workshop brought together researchers from across Europe to discuss different ways of doing this. The participants brought many different perspectives to the event – some had worked with the platform for years, some came from Ministries of Education, others had explored large educational datasets in the past or had organised large studies.
Together, we identified different questions that the database could help to answer, and discussed ways in which it could be related to external data sources.
Following the retirement of Mike Sharples (who will return to The Open University as an Emeritus Professor in March). I have taken on the role of Academic Coordinator for the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN).
The network was established in 2013 by a group of academics in order to connect academics and research students based at FutureLearn partner institutions, share research, and explore shared research opportunities. These include: joint research bids and publications, comparative studies using shared FutureLearn data, course designs, and methods to analyse and evaluate courses.
The Network is open to staff and research students based at FutureLearn partner institutions with an interest in research related to the FutureLearn platform.
On 7 November, we held one of our quarterly meetings – this time at the British Council in Central London. Among the many interesting talks:
- Josh Underwood gave a detailed and considered account of the role of a mentor or facilitator within FutureLearn courses.
- Matthew Nicholls and Bunny Waring talked about their use of a virtual reality simulation of Rome in the 4th century CE.
- Phil Tubman introduced a tool for visualising discussion, which is now being used on a course from Lancaster University.
- Eileen Scanlon and I talked about research ethics on the platform and initiated discussion on changes to the terms and conditions.
The next meeting of FLAN is likely to be in Exeter at the end of February 2018. If you are eligible to be part of FLAN and would like to be involved either in person or remotely, do get in touch.
European Distance Learning Week kicked off today with a panel on the challenges and opportunities of innovation. The week is organised by the European Distance and E-learning Network (EDEN) in collaboration with the United States Distance Learning Association.
You can watch the panel here.
As one of the panelists, I talked about our work on the Innovating Pedagogy reports, identifying ten pedagogies each year that have the potential to change practice. This year’s report goes to the printers at the end of this week, and will be out on 7 December.
“At first glance, the speed of developments in Europe is overwhelming. Pre-existing conditions created in education established immense possibilities for innovations on the continent. Very complex and concise solutions are already in place. If we think about Open Education, we have a variety of forms on offer (MOOCs, OER, open online learning, virtual mobility, remote experiments and science education, to name a few), as well as regulations facilitating collaboration of education providers on all levels of education (Bologna process, credit transfer, prior and non-formal learning recognition).
“ET2020 open coordination groups already proved their important role in fostering developments in member states. The working group on Digital Skills and Competences addressed transversal issues and collaboration on innovation development and implementation through all levels of education. New instruments and tools were established to agree upon digitally competent organizations; citizens, teachers and learners can suggest new training schemes and certification possibilities, as well as recognition of digitally skilled employees in companies.
“The opening panel of EDLW addresses these speedy developments, unbundling solutions, micro, mezo, and macro level discussions and the complexity of Europe.”
Moderator: Airina Volungevičienė, EDEN President
- Sumathi Subramaniam, European Commission, DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, Innovation and EIT
- Brikena Xhomaqi, Director – Lifelong Learning Platform
- Rebecca Ferguson, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University
- Sharon Goldstein, Berkeley College Online
- Marci Powell, USDLA
- Timothy Read, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor of Methodology & Technology, National Distance Education University (UNED), Spain
I received an open badge for my participation – an EDLW facilitator badge (below).
This weekend, I travelled up to Edinburgh to see one of my PhD students, Duygu Bektik, receive her doctorate in the Usher Hall.
As always, the ceremony was a very emotional occasion. Several people told me they were near tears while watching the opening video, which showed some student journeys to graduation, and the subsequent stirring organ music. I missed that – as an academic I was standing in a robe in a corridor, waiting to process in – but the entire event was very inspiring.
The ceremony was one of two OU degree ceremonies to be held in Edinburgh that day, while another took place in Birmingham. The OU is such a big institution that degree ceremonies are held from March to November, from Edinburgh to Torquay, and from Dublin to Ely. In our case, the graduates filled half the stalls of the massive Usher Hall, while their family and friends filled the rest of the stalls and the theatre circle.
For everyone concerned, this is a very big occasion. It is the culmination of many years of part-time study, typically alongside work, or family responsibilities, or caring responsibilities, or sometimes all three. Some have also been dealing with serious illness or disability. Many had their families out in force, cheering and whistling at their success. One young boy was waving encouragement to his mum from the aisle.
Some students walked or wheeled on steadily, others waved or bowed or danced or dabbed. One did a Morecambe and Wise ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ dance. Many were dressed in their best clothes, one was in evening dress and another in full-on Scottish punk. This being Edinburgh, several of the men were in their kilts, and the ceremony ended with a rousing rendition of ‘Scotland the Brave’ by a piper.
Amongst the robed university staff on stage were not only me, as Duygu’s supervisor, but also her husband, who works at the university. She was one of just two students receiving their doctorate that morning, and was the first to walk up and claim her new status. Once that was done, she joined us on stage, as a new member of the Open University academic community. Well done, Duygu – a great achievement.
On 26 October, I was at the University of Birmingham for the viva of Matthew Johnson. His focus was on ‘The Impact of Technology on Metacognition in Computer-mediated Learning’ and, more specifically, on the use of open learner models.
For those who haven’t encountered open learner models before, they begin with a domain model. This takes a subject area and sets out which knowledge underpins other knowledge. For example, in primary-school mathematics, pupils will struggle to understand multiplication if they haven’t first understood addition, and they will struggle to understand addition if they haven’t first understood number. Multiple-choice tests can be used to assess where a learner is in terms of the domain model. The result of these tests is a learner model, which can be used to make automated decisions about which subject knowledge a student should cover next. An open learner model exposes the logic behind this model to the learner. For example, a learner might wonder why they have been give work to do on simple multiplication, and they could explore the open learner model to find out it was because they had got three specific test questions wrong. This would provide a basis for reflection on their learning and on the subject area, and could also give an opportunity to challenge the learner model.
A thesis abstract remains a work in progress until the final version is printed and agreed, but this paragraph from it gives a sense of what Matthew has been working on:
The thesis finds it is possible to measure metacognition using indirect methods that correspond to post-hoc learner accounts, and that technology does not influence metacognition for all learners. Evidence supports claims that: technology can support elements of interaction important to the regulation of cognition; significant themes of metacognition transfer to OLMs; defining a profile for those identifying as stronger self-assessors is possible; and that OLMs remain relevant in metacognition research.
Matthew was originaly supervised by Susan Bull and later by Chris Baber.
I visited Bergen in Norway at the end of September to keynote at Nordic LASI. This is one of a series of learning analytics summer institutes run around the world in conjunction with the Society for Learning Analytic Research (SoLAR). The event was well attended, with participants from Russia, Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
Learning analytics involve the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, in order to understand and optimise learning and the environments in which it occurs. Since emerging as a distinct field in 2011, learning analytics has grown rapidly, and institutions around the world are already developing and deploying these new tools. However, it is not enough for us to develop analytics for our educational systems as they are now – we need to take into account how teaching and learning will take place in the future. The current fast pace of change means that if, in 2007, we had begun developing learning analytics for 2017, we might not have planned specifically for learning with and through social networks (Twitter was only a year old), with smartphones (the first iPhone was released in 2007), or learning at scale (the term MOOC was coined in 2008). By thinking ahead and by consulting with experts, though, we might have come pretty close by taking into account existing work on networked learning, mobile learning and connectivism. This talk will examine ways in which learning analytics could develop in the future, highlighting issues that need to be taken into account. In particular, the learning analytics community needs to work together in order to develop a strong evidence base grounded in both research and practice.