Too much stuff, not enough time

The plan by now was that I would have spent a few weeks engaging with the readings from NETGL and figuring out what they can offer some insights for enhancing and transforming the two courses I currently teach. By this time I’d also have set up my new domain (something I have actually done) and moved this blog to that domain. But that was not to be. Connected courses is starting soon and it’s to relevant and interesting to not engage.

I don’t have a good track record of engaging with “MOOCs”. Not off to a good start with this one, at least in my head. But perhaps as the participants of NGL have learned over the last few weeks, part of the trick is figuring out what you can do with the time you have (and having the discipline to make sure you make some time). Time for me to feel a little of their pain and see just how well I can handle it.

Signing up for Connected Courses

So once again I venture into the realm of a “MOOC”. Will be interesting to see if the organisers of Connected Courses shudder a little bit when that particular label is used. Especially given that Connected Courses is being described as

Connected Courses is a collaborative community of faculty in higher education developing networked, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web.

With a mission of

Our goal is to build an inclusive and expansive network of teachers, students, and educational offerings that makes high quality, meaningful, and socially connected learning available to everyone.

It does have a Syllabus so there are some artefacts of a “course”. That said there are some very interesting people behind it, so should be lots to learn and fun to be had. If I get the chance to engage fully.

The main reason for this fairly rambling post is to ensure that I have at least one post in the “connectedcourses” category on this blog. I’m trying to connect my blog to the course and the advice is

Please make sure this URL works and links to the place to the place that shows your tagged/categorized blog posts. If you have not written any, do not proceed. The wheels may fall off your bus (just kidding)– there needs to be at least ONE post visible at this address when when you enter it in a web browser

Seems the aggregator they are using has the same problem with empty feeds as BIM. I have to give the same advice to folk in my courses. I wonder if the need is as slightly annoying to them as it is to me. There’s also the problem with finding the feeds for categories/tags, rather than the whole site. Slightly reaffirming that these folk are having the same problems, but also a challenge to see if I can modify BIM to address these issues.

I had hoped to have relocated this blog to my shiny new domain by now, but time hasn’t been in abundance recently. Likely to be a recurring theme over coming months.

Counting the uncountable – NGL participation

The following documents the writing of a script to perform simple counts of what the NGL participants have been doing on their blog. Another post on the course blog will offer an explanation of the emails that will be sent to participants real soon now.

What?

There are 10+ participants in NGL. The indicators of participation being looked for are

  • Number of posts.
  • Average word count per post.
  • % of posts with links to blog posts from other participants.
  • % of posts with links to other online resources.
  • % of posts from the blog that appear on the blog first (out of all participants).

Starting point

Will start with the EDC3100 script and modify from there. That script currently calculates the following relevant

  • Posts per week – not needed, but total posts will be available
  • average word count
  • # of links
  • # of links to other participants

Changes

Remove activity completion

Get Moodle user information – are we only including currently enrolled students, is now.

What about blog posts? Yep.

Calculate the stats for each participant

  • NUM_POSTS – done.
  • (AVG_)POST_LENGTH – done.
  • POSTS_WITH_STUDENT_LINKS – done.
  • POSTS_WITH_LINKS – done.
  • LINKS_HERE_FIRST – to do.

    This is the more difficult task. The requirement here is for each link (not to another participant blog) made in a blog, check to see if it’s the first time the link has appeared in a participant post.

    At the moment the function counting links does have the timepublished for the blog post. It also creates array containing a hash for each link. But that’s all links, but maybe that doesn’t matter.

    What we need here is probably a hash with key on the link and the value being a reference to the hash about the post (which has timepublished).

    With each student object having this, BlogStatistics object can then generate stats for LINKS_HERE_FIRST.

    DoTheLinks updated to do this in Marking.pm

    ***** NEXT STEP ***** Explore how BlogStatistics can be modified to calculate the percentage of links for each blog that occur first for each blog. Only do this when called.

Assign a standard and show the report

  • NUM_POSTS – DONE
  • (AVG_)POST_LENGTH – DONE
  • POSTS_WITH_STUDENT_LINKS – DONE
  • POSTS_WITH_LINKS – DONE
  • LINKS_HERE_FIRST

Currently the report only assigns percentages for each stat, need to translate that into a mark for the assignment. This would have to

  • average the percentage for each descriptor for a criteria.
    The current descriptors/criteria relationship is

    • Posts (10 marks)
      • # posts
      • # words per post
    • Connections (5 marks)
      • % posts with links to other participant blog posts
    • Other links (5 marks)
      • % posts with links to other resources
      • % of posts where links occur first – not calculated yet
  • calculate the mark per criteria

    The above are stored in a hash where the key is the unique id for the descriptor

    • LENGTH = # words per post
    • NUM_POSTS = # posts
    • LINKS = % posts with links to other resources
    • STUDENT_LINKS = % posts with links to other participant blog posts
  • add them up

Personality and other factors in education

Tracey’s found her blogging mojo with a raft of posts (new since I last looked) including this one linking to work that identifies conscientiousness as the main secret to success in much of life. The focus on personality is in common the connections to Myers-Briggs and related ideas that Brendon and Anne have touched on.

Tried one of the tests Brendon pointed to and it confirmed earlier results – INTP. So at least it’s somewhat reliable in a broad, “I haven’t changed much” sort of a way. Even if there are some significant questions about it. I wonder whether this labeling of me makes sense to the other NGL participants?

Tracey’s post links to some more work that the current formal education system is set up to reward “dependability, perseverance, consistency, following orders, punctuality, and deferring gratification” and penalise “creativity, aggressiveness, and independence” suggesting that schools “promote individuals with the personality traits most associated with ‘good workers.'”.

i.e. the factory model of formal education produces what it is required of it be the type of society that set it up.

As the folk that participate in a course like NGL (both teacher and student), I wonder whether we’re coloured by our time in school? Is this something that might explain part of the struggles getting underway in NGL?

Tracey ends with the $64K question

How do we encourage educators to adopt methodologies that support such learning?

As alluded to in my last post, I’m pessimistic about whether this is possible as achieving that requires systemic change. Or perhaps more explicitly a change in the system and its foundational assumptions. Something which would appear very difficult to happen under current management approaches.

Can you really expect educators change their practices, when the organisation remains the same?

Can you expect educators to be digitally fluent when their organisation isn’t digitally fluent? Another member of staff commented today that our institution appears caught in this really strange nether world between an old paper-based organisation and a “network age” organisation. As evidenced by the struggles to get a form signed.

Can a network model of learning and teaching exist in such an environment?

On trying to be optimistic in a stupid world

It’s been an “interesting” few weeks destined to challenge the optimism of the most optimistic person – of which I’m not. Broader events in the world do appear to be the outcome of a conspiracy to rob the world of optimism. Mix in some personal woes – death of a grandparent, illness (no great problem), interruptions to routine brought on my Apple’s inability to provide a working iPhone, and the stupidity of organisations (especially universities that have been recently restructured) – and it’s definitely a time for pessimism.

I am a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.

Antonio Gramsci by flickrenric, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  flickrenric 

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve come across this quote from Antonio Gramsci

I am a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.

It resonates as my pessimism (i.e. my inability to whitewash the limitations of a solution with the supposed benefits) often gets me labelled as “being negative”. Which always struck me as unfair as most of what I do in terms of “research” has been “design research” and informed by the optimistic view that it can be made better. Hence the tag line for this blog.

Lately I’ve found myself sinking into a more negative form of pessimism, perhaps brought on the difficulty (due to organisational stupidity, and not a small part of my own) I’ve had getting back into “making things better”. Perhaps this is a realisation that my sanity needs time being able to make things better.

Perhaps linking to Bryan Alexander’s point

I lost sight of human capacity and agency

in a round about way. My own feeling of agency has been taking a beating.

What could be with a blank cheque

Which makes it interesting to come across related struggles, solved in part by focusing more on what could be.

Bryan Alexander started the ball rolling with his post – “Returning to optimism” in which he diagnoses the source of his gloom as being “Analyzing education at the macro level in 2013-14″. Interesting much of my current malaise arises from working within education at the micro-level. Bryan describes his failure as

of late I’ve failed to pay enough attention to the positive developments. And I haven’t been open enough to the ways we can shove history around and make things better.

Anne shares some of the malaise of dealing with the micro-level of education

Over the last several years, I have watched as policy, curriculum changes and the great scrabble for implementation and compliance have gradually begun to suck all the fun out of learning! Our schools days are so cram-packed with achieving outcomes so that boxes can be ticked and grades can be assigned that the process of learning and discovery has been compromised.

But then explains how she and others are taking steps to “shove history around and make things better”. Like Brendon is thinking about, Anne has implemented a “Genius hour” in her class with positive results

What a change I saw in my students. We both found ourselves looking forward to Friday afternoons

In terms of think about what could be, Anne links to an interview some middle school students did with Sir Ken Robinson in which he was given a blank cheque “to design a learning place of his dreams”.

Brown fields, green fields and systemic change

Of course, this brings me to this point from (emphasis added)Siemens (2008)

Yet, in spite of small-scale innovation, new methods typically do not result in new spaces and structures of learning. As noted by David (1990), new innovations are adopted in the context of existing physical spaces. Changes of a more significant and profound nature need to be enacted at a system-wide level. The adoptions of blogs and wikis in classrooms, or use of Second Life and other virtual worlds, or the use of social networks to connect learners with peers around the world, still occur largely within a classroom context. To truly harness the transformative potential of new technologies, change at a systemic level is required.

Add in some points from Dave Snowden from this presentation and it’s not hard for pessimism (or perhaps negativity) to rear it’s ugly head. One of the points Snowden makes is that in human systems

you are always dealing with people’s perceptions of the present and memories of the past….you never get to build on green fields. You are always building on what’s called brownfields.

In the absence of my iPhone I’ve been sent back to physical books as the source of reading material. The two most recent I’ve been reading are Confronting managerialism: How the business elite and their schools threw our lives out of balance and “An Elusive Science: The troubling history of education research. Both a historical pieces, one of the rise of managerialisation and the US-based business schools and the other on education in the US. Both show how entrenched the idea the quantitatively focused, hierarchical mindset of management/control is in both fields. Which is only increasing Australian universities and will only increase more.

The idea of a greenfield free of these “memories of the past” seem unlikely as does building the type of systemic change that is necessary on the dirty brown fields of today’s education system. A topic Anne picks up in her follow up post.

The cost of being flexible and pushing the boundaries

For some time Australian universities have led an increasing mantra around increasing flexibility. An inevitable repercussion of the vast majority of students not being full-time learners, but instead having to balance family, work and study, is that study comes last. Family and work pressures lead to difficulty in meeting set deadlines for assessment, hence the call for flexibility. I’m actually all for that increase in flexibility, but it comes at a cost.

This post is evidence of that cost. We’ve just started week 6 of second semester and I’ve got three assignments from last semester to mark due to the need for flexibility. As it happens with this course I’ve engaged in a bit of development to do things a little differently. That’s all well and good, but when you’re kludging together technical solutions flexibility isn’t typically deeply considered at the “design” stage.

That last post reported on the evolution of the kludge I use to the next generation. Now I need to go back make sure that evolution will work properly for the previous generation so I can mark these assignments. Work that will never show up in institutional work allocation calculations or in the budget for IT.

What I’m finding particularly concerning about this extra work is that I’ve only got finite reserves of time and cognitive energy. Doing this is taking time away from current students, but it’s also taking time away from thinking about the learning experience of students and how it can be improved. Does the cost I expend doing these changes outweigh any potential benefit to students?

Changes

Importing activity completion

  1. Moodle users working? – DONE

    Need to identify course id and groups.

    The semester 1 course is much larger than semester 2 and has more offerings. Hence more groups. So rather than work with a single group, it needs to be able to work with a list of groups.

  2. Are we starting with the right first activity at 150000?
  3. Ensure only activities that count have activity completion turned on in the course site. – DONE

Updating the report

  1. Mapping activities to weeks
  2. making sure the mirror of blog posts is up to date.

An hour later, seems to be working and I can get to marking.

One process for the NGL course

One of the other participants shared her current position with NGL

I’ve also found it a bit tricky to get my head around all the components I need to cover off on in my blogs for assignment 1, as there seems to be a lot of different pieces we need to address. Hoping this will become a bit clearer to me as I go along.

In an attempt to help I’ve outlined below the basic process I’ve used in fits and starts. The reason why I haven’t done more of the follow process links more to factors external to the course and the process. But I haven’t engaged as much in this process as I’d have liked. Also, this is a process that works for me and where I’m at right now. It may not work for anyone else. So take the following with a grain of salt and as one example and certainly not as an exemplar or the “one way” to do it. In the end it’s important that you develop an approach that works for you.

I’m thinking I might share this more broadly as I think it might help the odd other person.

Seek

First, have a PKM process that centres around Feedly as my main “seeking” mechanism. All the feeds etc go there supplemented by the weekly pages linked from the study schedule. Perhaps the biggest tool/seeking mechanism that sits outside of Feedly is twitter. A great source of unexpected connections.

Sense

Second, whenever I’m doing or reading anything about the course or NGL in general I should consider it from three perspectives

  1. As learner – I.e. How does this connect with what I’m doing around learning World of Warcraft? How can this help me understand what I’ve experienced? How can it help me make plans for changes to how I participate?
  2. As teacher – same questions almost but connected to my thinking about how I’ll evolve both courses I teach (this one and EDC3100).
  3. As student – focused more on how I’m thinking about and engaging with the course readings, the blog posts of others and the resources shared via Diigo. How does the experience of using my PKM process compare with other approaches to learning? How does it fit (or not) with how I like to learn? What can I do to change and improve my learning in this course? Etc.

For me, an important part of the “sense” phase is to write summary blogs of any readings. For example, this one. These are meant not to only give a summary of the reading, but also to record my initial reactions to the paper and what linkages I think might exist with what I’m thinking about as learner, teacher and student. This does take longer than simply reading an article, but it does encourage me to read and consider the article more deeply (something I need) and it also provides a record of my thoughts that I can come back to at a later date.

Share

As part of the sense process I’d be writing it all down in blog posts. Not just thinking about it. In some cases what I do is start a blog post and just jot down rough ideas and links to what sparked those ideas. So that later I can come back and fill them out.

In other cases I write them straight out. The idea is not that these are polished, complete formal bits of academic writing. They are quick mind dumps an example of working through ideas and thoughts. Often with fairly significant flaws and unfinished thinking. The point is to get the thinking down, because I find that writing about it helps. More importantly making my thinking publish has often led to an unexpected bit of learning as someone makes a point or connection about what I’ve written.

Importantly, I need to make sure that as I’m writing these posts I’m making explicit connections with both what other participants have written and also with various readings, both those set from each week and also others that I find and follow up with because they link with what I need to discover/understand about me as learner, teacher and student.

As part of the above process I also come across resources etc as I follow various leads. Some of these I’ll share via Diigo