Farewell wordpress.com, hello Reclaim Hosting

This will (hopefully) be my last post on the wordpress.com hosted version of this blog. Goodbye wordpress.com.

I’m biting the bullet and going self-hosted with Reclaim Hosting. Hello Reclaim Hosting.

 

The new blog will be located at http://djon.es/blog/.

In theory, if I’ve done everything correctly, then if you try to view this post on a blog (as opposed to in a reader), then you should already be looking at that blog. I’m paying WordPress.com for at least a year to redirect people trying to view posts on the old WordPress.com blog to the equivalent posts on the new blog.

At this stage, I haven’t done anything with subscriptions and I may not do anything. Meaning, if you want to continue being notified of my dribble, then you’ll need to subscribe to the new blog (see the subscribe widget in the right hand menu). Sorry for the additional step, but I’m hoping this might reduce the number of pretend subscribers that blog has gathered over the years.

Some MAV tasters

MAV is just about up and running at USQ as one of the Technology Demonstrators. It’s taken longer than I thought, but it’s there.  The following demonstrates MAV running on a course I teach and is intended to illustrate some of what it can do.

Hoping we’ll get an opportunity to use this type of process to support others to use MAV to explore what’s happening in their courses. The aim being to explore what, if any, insights MAV provides teaching staff.

See usage of any Moodle link

Once MAV is installed on Firefox, whenever you view a Moodle course page every Moodle link on that page will be modified to show how it’s been used by students.

You can see the number of students who have accessed the link.  Even the course link that’s include via the Diigo widget get’s highlighted.  You can also see that no student has been able to use the hidden “Where are we going” forum.

EDC3100 2016 S2 - MAV - Students

Or you can the number of times students have clicked on the link.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, in the above the link about the importance of student’s completing course evaluations is clicked about once per student (51 students with 54 clicks), but the Assignment 3 specification has been visited at least 7 times per student (93 students with 696 clicks).

EDC3100 2016 S2 - MAV - Clicks

On any course page

This happens on any Moodle page for the course. The following shows the MAV view on a Moodle Book page from the S2 2016 offering of my course. It shows the first page which gives an overview of the rest of the book, including links to those specific pages.

It shows that the recommended learning process page was visited by 90 students, however the rest of the pages in this book were visited by 86 or 84 students.

EDC3100 - Book - MAV

And here’s the same page from the Semester 1 offering. There is also a similar slight increase for that same page.

S1, 2016 Book page

Find out who has or hasn’t viewed the page

MAV adds in an indication of the number of students (or clicks) for each Moodle link. If you click on students link, MAV will show you a list of the students who have (or have not) visited that page.

At CQU there is a link from this view to a system that allows the managing of nudges (communication attempts) with the students.

MAV - students no access

View specific groups

I’ve always been interested in the difference in engagement between on-campus and online students. MAV allows you to focus on specific groups. Here’s the S1 2016 book page showing the Springfield students Springfield student usage

Here’s the same section for the Toowoomba on-campus students.

It appears that the Toowoomba students are using this book less, and there is also NOT the same peak for the recommended learning process page.

Toowoomba student usage

OEP, institutions and culture

Some colleagues and I are embarking on a project exploring how teacher education might move toward adoption Open Educational Practices (OEP). A project that is currently being driven by a funding from one University, and which might lead to an application for funding from another institution. In part, we’re thinking about how teacher education in each of these two institutions can adopt OEP, what that might look like, what the barriers be, and how might we go about moving toward something like this that won’t fade away once the money runs out or we move on.

As it happens, over the last week or so there’s been an on-going discussion about the role of institutions and/or culture in OER. A discussion that started with Mike Caufield’s reflections and were then picked up by many, including Jim Groom, Stephen Downes and Tim Klapdor. A discussion that provides an interesting way of looking at what we’re thinking about. In the end, I think we may need to draw upon the following from David Wiley and Cable Green, which echoes a discussion Leigh Blackall and I had back in 2010.

Making stuff last – institutions

One of the first posts in this discussion by Mike arose out of a debate around the value of Open Educational Resources as a stepping stone to Open Pedagogy. The idea being that increasingly universities are creating policies etc that are embedding OERs (typically in the form of open textbooks) into organisational practice. However, while all this has been happening open pedagogy (I’ll label this OEP here) has been waiting, waiting for its turn. That waiting has made the people more interested in OEP a touch cranky with the focus on OER and they’re heading off to do their own thing.

The problem Mike identifies comes from his personal experience

But here’s what I know. The death of the Persona Project was the norm, not the exception. It happens all the time. Where I work right now had a great student and teacher wiki up in 2008. But it got nuked in a transition. The Homelessness Awareness wiki I worked on with Sociology students (and demo’d with Jim Groom in 2011) is ghost-towned. The disability research one has been slammed by spam. And even more than that, each time I work with a professor on these things (most recently on a Colonial Theory wiki) we spin up from scratch, and leave it to rot afterwards.

And leads to the following

People make things possible. And we have such great, great people in Open Pedagogy….But institutions, they are what make these things last.

And in a another post, to the question

How can we re-architect our institutions to bring open practice into the center of them, rather see it as a bolt-on?

Making stuff last – culture

Stephen Downes response is

You can’t depend on institutions. And in a sense, you don’t need them. Institutions aren’t what make tests and exams happen year after year. Institutions aren’t what guarantee there will be course outlines and reading lists. What makes this last – the only thing that makes this last – is culture.

And in a more detailed post he adds

I’m not saying we should never build things. What I am saying is that we cannot count on institutions – organized economic and political units – to ensure the lasting value of these things is preserved…Because sooner or later someone is going to object (or forget, or simply retire), and the good work goes down the drain.

Local institutional experience

So how does local institutional experience match up with this discussion.

Institutional moves to be open

Peter brings up the experience of our local institution. An institutional early adopter of open within an Australian context. Peter sums up the situation as

In principle being open is acknowledged as a good thing but in practice it seems not to happen much and to be not easy to accomplish within the institutional processes.

And suggests that at least part of the problem is

It seems likely that is linked to concerns about reputational effects….Thus the interests of the institution seem to be best served by ensuring that what is made open is carefully managed and quality assured to present the best possible impression.

Perhaps indicating that our institution hasn’t yet been successful at achieving what Mike observes

is that OER has done the hard work of bringing OER work to the center of the institution, rooting it in institutional policy and practice in a way that Open Pedagogy hasn’t been able to do

But also highlighting Downes point in that these moves for the institution to be open have been driven by people at the senior levels of the institution. However, that high level interest has resulted in a number of different bolt-on projects, but have yet to translate into changes into organisational policy or practice.

For example, institutional policy still does not make it easy (or even possible) for an academic to place a Creative Commons license on their teaching materials and release it. Institutional policy is such that the university retains copyright. In addition, any such sharing seems to require using the institutional version of Equella. A system not conducive to easy, widespread sharing and discoverability.

My moves within institutions to be open

Archisuit example from Sarah Ross

The 2010 discussion around open and how to get there between Leigh Blackall and I arose out of my work on BIM. A Moodle module that aids teachers manage use of individual student blogs. BIM is perhaps the ed tech equivalent of an Archisuit. An example of a response to a hostile architecture. An example that Mike uses as an example of the sort of workarounds that open pedagogy people have been working on for ages. But then argues that

Being against the institution may be necessary, but it is not where you ultimately want to be. If you want real change, styrofoam padding isn’t going to cut it. Eventually you have to remove the damn bars from the bench.

The difference with BIM is that it is part of the LMS. It’s an accepted part of the institution. Perhaps indicative of how while my current institution hasn’t yet succeeded with embedding open into the policy of the institution. There are glimmers of it within the infrastructure.

However, that still hasn’t encouraged vast swaths of adoption. 8 of the 10 course offerings that have used by BIM in 2014/2015 were courses I taught. On the plus side, I was surprised to find the other two courses and I believe they have continued using BIM this year.

The Moodle Open Book project is another “archisuit” example. The aim is to connect the Moodle Book module (used to manage/display collections of web pages within Moodle) to GitHub and thus enable production of OER and more interestingly OEP. There’s even some “working” code.

But as I talk about both of these workarounds, what I’m struck by is the huge “cultural” leap required to go from not using blogs/github to thinking about how blogs/github might be leveraged in an interesting OEP way. Even the initial development and application of BAM (the non-Moodle predecessor) of BIM was driven by a fairly uninspired pedagogical application – address the student corruption of a “reflective journal” assignment using Word documents.

The impact of culture

That said, I think the adoption of BIM in two other courses at my institution is potentially largely down to a change in broader culture. In this case, not the idea of open, but instead the movement of blogs into a common (even passe) part of contemporary culture. My understanding is that the person who has adopted BIM in their teaching has embarked on projects that have used blogs.

Blogs in 2016 aren’t as strange and unknown as they were in 2007 when the ELI Guide to Blogging came out. In 2006, when I tried to explain BAM, most of the time was spent trying to get people’s head about blogs, blogging, and RSS feeds. In 2016, most people are familiar with the idea of a blog and blog posts. Though I’m guessing they are probably still a bit uncertain about RSS feeds.

If blogs hadn’t caught on like they did, BIM would be dead. Culture plays a part.

Removing the bars from the bench: easy for OER, harder for OEP

As Mike points out “the assumption of the textbook is baked into every nook and cranny of our institutions”. A bit earlier he identifies the proprietary textbook as “the largest structural barrier to open pedagogy”. He congratulates the Open Textbook folk for having “willing to engage on the fronts of policy and practice at once” and suggests that the open pedagogy folk need to engage more in “issues of policy, law, funding, architecture, institutional support” in order to “remove the bars from the bench”. I think it’s going to be much harder for OEP to do this, perhaps even leaning more towards the impossible end.

Textbooks are a core part of universities. Everyone is familiar with them. The institution can talk and deal with textbooks at a general level. Whether they be proprietary or open. They have a collection of pages, making up chapters, making up the book. There are headings, images, activities, etc. They are a model that is understood across all parts of the institution. Hence textbooks are something that can be easily discussed at an institutional level. Sure those strange folk in the Arts will have different content than the Engineers, but the notion of a book is general.

OEP on the other hand is – I think – incredibly more diverse and contextual. My initial experiments with BAM took place almost 10 years ago in another institution in a different discipline. Today I use BIM – the functionality of which is a direct translation of BAM into Moodle (hence the acronym BIM) – at a different institution in a different discipline. I don’t use the BIM functionality. I have a army of kludges that I employ to support the OEP I think works better for my current students. ds106 makes perfect sense in it’s context and purpose, but engineers at my institution are not likely to understand it at all. The type of OEP we might engage in with pre-service teachers is likely to be very different from nursing students. In particular, if our aim with OEP is for the pre-service teachers to engage more with the teaching profession.

The novelty and diversity of OEP would appear to be in stark contrast to the familiarity and standardisation of textbooks and OER. I don’t think institutions (or many people) will deal well with that combination. I’m not sure continuing to ride in the back seat will be sufficient.

That said, if we’re going to do anything around OEP within an institution, we’re going to have to consider Mike’s question, if we want that work to have a chance of surviving.

How can we re-architect our institutions to bring open practice into the center of them, rather see it as a bolt-on?

Both/and, not either/or

But at the same time, I think we also need to ask ourselves a similar question about the culture of teachers and teacher education. While there’s been a significant increase in sharing online amongst edubloggers, Twitter, online resource sharing etc. This still seems to be the minority. There are still schools that constrain the use of online technologies and sharing. There are schools where it is assumed that the school retains copyright of teacher-produced material. In an era of standardised testing and concerns about teacher quality, there are issues around sharing resources, and especially sharing the messy processes involved figuring out how to teach these learners effectively.

Even if (and a big if) we’re able to embed OEP into our courses within our institutions, unless we can connect that work sustainably into teacher practice the full benefits won’t flow.

Which has me wondering, where are the sweet spots in teacher practice and our courses where it would be easier to introduce OEP and make the connection between practice and ivory tower?  What about in your teaching, where are those sweet spots? Is there any overlap?

 

 

 

 

What if our digital technologies were protean?

On Friday the 30th September 2016 I will present the paper – What if our digital technologies were protean? Implications for computational thinking, learning, and teaching – co-written by Elke Schneider and I at the ACCE’2016 conference.

Other resources include:

  • A 1 question poll; and
    An attempt to explore whether people experience their organisational information systems as protean or not.If you haven’t already, do please take the time to complete the poll.
  • Stories of digital modification.
    A copy of the Google doc we originally used to gather the data for the paper. This data was then analysed for themes.

Abstract

Not for the first time, the transformation of global society through digital technologies is driving an increased interest in the use of such technologies in both curriculum and pedagogy. Historically, the translation of such interest into widespread and effective change in learning experiences has been less than successful. This paper explores what might happen to the translation of this interest if the digital technologies within our educational institutions were protean. What if the digital technologies in schools were flexible and adaptable by and to specific learners, teachers, and learning experiences? To provide initial, possible answers to this question, the stories of digital technology modification by a teacher educator and a novice high school teacher are analysed. Analysis reveals that the modification of digital technologies in two very different contexts was driven by the desire to improve learning and/or teaching by: filling holes with the provided digital technologies; modelling to students effective practice with digital technologies; and, to better mirror real world digital technologies. A range of initial implications and questions for practitioners, policy makers, and researchers are drawn from these experiences. It is suggested that recognising and responding to the inherently protean nature of digital technologies may be a key enabler of attempts to harness and integrate digital technologies into both curriculum and pedagogy.

Your experience of organisational digital technology?

What is your experience of the digital technologies provided by the organisations for which you work?

If you’d like to share, please complete the poll below, more detail below.

About the poll

The poll is a semi-serious attempt to gather the perceptions of how people perceive organisational digital technologies. The idea (and the text from the two poll options) comes from this conference paper. The presentation will be on Friday 30th September with additional presentation resources coming to this blog soon.

Making course activity more transparent: A proposed use of MAV

As part of the USQ Technology Demonstrator Project (a bit more here) we’ll soon be able to play with the Moodle Activity Viewer. As described the VC, the Technology Demonstrator Project entails

The demonstrator process is 90 days and is a trial of a product that will improve an educator’s professional practice and ultimately motivate and provide significant enhancement to the student learning journey,

The process develops a case study which in turn is evaluated by the institution to determine if there is sufficient value to continue or perhaps scale up the project.  As part o the process I need to “articulate what it is you hope to achieve/demonstrate by using MAV”.

The following provides some background/rationale/aim on the project and MAV. It concludes with an initial suggestion for how MAV might be used.

Rationale and aim

In short, it’s difficult to form a good understanding of which resources and activities students are engaging with (or not) on a Moodle course site. In particular, it’s difficult to form a good understanding of how they are engaging within those resources and activities. Making it easier for teaching staff to visualise and explore student engagement with resources and activities will help improve their understanding of student engagement. This improved understanding could lead to re-thinking course and activity design. It could enhance the “student learning journey”.

It’s hard to visualise what’s happening

Digital technologies are opaque. Turkle (1995) talks about how what is going on within these technologies are hidden from the user. This is a problem that confronts university teaching staff using a Learning Management System. Being able to identify what resources and activities within a course website students are engaging with,which resources they are not, and identifying which students are engaging can take a significant amount of time.

For example, testing at USQ in 2014 (for this presentation) found that once you knew which reports to run on Moodle you had to step through a number of different reports. Many of these reports include waiting for minutes (in 2016 the speed is better) with a blank page while the server responds to the request. After that delay, you can’t actually focus only on student activity (staff activity is included) and it won’t work for all modules. In addition, the visualisation that is provided is limited to tabular data – like the following.

EDC3100 2016 S1 - Week 0 activity

Other limitations of the standard reports, include:

  • Identifying how many students, rather than clicks have accessed each resource/activity.
  • Identify which students have/haven’t accessed each resource/activity.
  • Generate the same report within an activity/resource to understand how students have engaged within the activity/resource.

Michael de Raadt has developed the Heatmap block for Moodle (inspired by MAV) which addresses many of the limitations of the standard Moodle report. However, it does not (yet) enable the generation of a activity report within an activity/resource.

The alternative – Moodle Activity Viewere (MAV)

This particular project will introduce and scaffold the use of the Moodle Activity Viewer (MAV) by USQ staff. The following illustrates MAV’s advantages.

MAV modifies any standard Moodle page by overlaying a heat map on it.  The following image shows part of a 2013 course site of mine with the addition of MAV’s heatmap. The “hotter” (more red) a link has been coloured, the most times it has been clicked upon. In addition, the number of clicks on any link has been added in brackets.

A switch of a MAV option will modify the heatmap to show the number of students, rather than clicks. If you visit this page, you will see an image of the entire course site with a MAV heatmap showing the number of students.

EDC3100 S2, 2013 - heat map

The current major advantage of MAV is that the heatmap will work on any standard Moodle links that appear on any Moodle page. Meaning you can view a specific resource (e.g. a Moodle Book resource) or an activity (e.g. a discussion forum) and use the MAV heatmap to understand student engagement with that activity.

The following image (click on it to see larger versions) shows the MAV heatmap on a discussion forum from the 2013 course site above.  This forum is the “introduce yourself” activity for the course. It shows that the most visited forum post was my introduction, visited by 87 students. Most of the other introductions were visited by significantly less students.

This illustrate a potential failure for this activity design. Students aren’t reading many other introductions. Perhaps suggesting a need to redesign this activity.
Forum students

Using MAV

At CQU, MAV is installed and teaching staff can choose to use it, or not. I’m unaware of how much shared discussion occurs around what MAV reveals. However, given that I’ve co-authored a paper titled “TPACK as shared practice: Toward a research agenda” (Jones, Heffernan, & Albion, 2015) I am interested in exploring if MAV can be leveraged in a way that is more situated, social and distributed.  Hence the following approach, which is all very tentative and initial.  Suggestions welcome.

The approach is influenced by the Visitor and Resident Mapping approach developed by Dave White and others. We (I believe I can talk with my co-authors) found using an adapted version of the mapping process for this paper to be very useful.

  1. Identify a group of teaching staff and have them identify courses of interest.
    Staff from within a program or other related group of courses would be one approach. But a diverse group of courses might help challenge assumptions.
  2. Prepare colour print outs of their course sites, both with and without the MAV heatmap.
  3. Gather them in a room/time and ask them to bring along laptops (or run it in a computer lab)
  4. Ask them to mark up the clear (no MAV heatmap) print out of their course site to represent their current thoughts on student engagement.
    This could include

    • Introducing them to the idea of heatmaps, engagment.
    • Some group discussion about why and what students might engage with.
    • Development of shared predictions.
    • A show and tell of their highlighted maps.
  5. Handout the MAV heatmap versions of their course site and ask them to analyse and compare.
    Perhaps including:

    • Specific tasks for them to respond to
      1. How closely aligned is the MAV map and your prediction?
      2. What are the major differences?
      3. Why do you think that might be?
      4. What else would you like to know to better explain?
    • Show and tell of the answers
  6. Show the use of MAV live on a course site
    Showing

    1. changing between # of clicks or # students
    2. focus on specific groups of students
    3. generating heatmaps on particular activities/resources and what that might reveal
  7. Based on this capability, engage in some group generation of questions that MAV might be able to help answer.
  8. Walk through the process of installing MAV on their computer(s) (if required)
  9. Allow time for them to start using MAV to answer questions that interest them.
  10. What did you find?
    Group discussion around what people found, what worked, what didn’t etc.  Including discussion of what might need to be changed about their course/learning design.
  11. Final reflections and evaluation

University digital technology: problems, causes, and suggested solutions

The level of support provided by digital technologies to broad learning and teaching tasks within my little part of my current institution is extremely limited. The following is one explanation why this is the case, and one set of suggestions for what might be done, both immediately and longer term.

The problems and a cause

There are lots of possible explanations for poor level of support offered by institutional digital technologies. The one I’m using here goes like this

  1. Activities that are easy to do get done, activities that are hard to do are not apt to get done.
  2. Learning, teaching and the activities that support learning and teaching are situated – context matters.
    For example, the most effective ways for 3rd year pre-service teachers to develop their abilities as teachers, are not likely to work effectively for 1st year mechanical engineers. The activities that someone teaching pre-service teachers wants to engage in, will not be entirely the same as someone teaching engineers, nurses, accountants, musicians etc.
  3. The implementation of institutional digital technologies explicitly de-values context and specificity.
    For example, a fundamental principle of Enterprise information technology architecture is (emphasis added) “provide maximum benefit to the enterprise as a whole“. Here’s that principle expressed by a UK university, and where it is (see principle #2) mentioned in “The Open Group Architecture Framework”. Principle #5 adds this “Development of applications used across the enterprise is preferred over the development of similar or duplicative applications which are only provided to a particular organization”. Check your organisation’s enterprise architecture framework, you may well see a copy and paste of those principles.

While there is a logic behind those principles, these principles also create at least two problems:

  • Lowest common denominator, or the if all you have is hammer problem; and,
  • Starvation.

Lowest common denominator

If you work for my institution and you need to create a website for some purpose then you have two options: Moodle or Sitecore. Moodle is the LMS and Sitecore is the content experience (really sitecore, experience?) management system used by marketing to manage the corporate website. This is what we have, so every request to have a website must use one of these.

This has lead to a huge number of Moodle courses sites being created for purposes that are so far removed from the intent of Moodle (or sitecore). Not surprisingly these sites tend to be largely inactive, largely because Moodle (or sitecore) does not make it easy to complete the sort of activities that the purpose required. Those activities become too hard, so they don’t get done. They work as well as using a hammer to open a boiled egg.

Choice1

The focus on the whole organisation means that enterprise IT suffers from a version of the reusability paradox. As they focus more and more on making a digital technology reusable across the entire organisation, they must remove from that digital technology anything that provides value within specific contexts. Anything that helps pre-service teachers learn, gets removed because they don’t represent the whole organisation.

Starvation

Any attempt to develop/adopt/use a digital technology that is not common across the whole organisation (i.e. a digital technology that actually provides value) suffers from starvation. The resources to develop/approve a digital technology within an organisation are limited. Priorities have to applied. A digital technology of value to a subset of the organisation is always going to be placed at a lower priority than a digital technology of value to the entire organisation. It will always be starved of resources.

This starvation is made worse by the observation that the people charged with supporting the use of digital technology within organisations tend to become experts in, and even employed explicitly to support specific digital technologies.  Whenever a requirement is raised, it can only ever be understood/responded to within the context of existing organisational digital technologies and thus returning to the “hammer” problem.

Enterprise IT has become too much about how “we can help you use the digital technologies we already have” and not enough about “what is important to you and how can we make it easier for you to do it well”.

Context specific solutions

Based on the above, if we want to actually add real value to what we do, then we have to figure out how to adopt/develop/use digital technologies that make it easy for us to do what is important. We have to figure out how to adopt/develop/use digital technologies that are more contextually specific.

The following suggestions a “simple” two-step process

  1. Identify the activities that are important to use and are currently too hard.
  2. Figure out how we can adopt/develop/user digital technologies that will help make those activities easy.

What follows is an attempt to illustrate what this might look like. It will have limitations due to my limited knowledge of both the activities and the digital technologies.

This two-step process and the suggestions below open up all sorts of research opportunities.

Important, but difficult activities

What follows is a list of potentially important, but currently difficult to accomplish activities around Initial Teacher Education (ITE) at my institution. Some or all of them could be arguable, and there are likely far more important activities.

  1. Program-level activities: Ensuring that students in our ITE programs
    • successfully complete specific tasks (e.g. have a valid Blue Card);
    • have a space to socialise with others within the programs;
    • start to develop their sense of professional identity as a teacher;
    • identify information about learners, courses etc at program level.
  2. Professional Experience: All aspects of organising and supporting the placement of pre-service teachers on Professional Experience.
  3. Know thy students: Have some idea about how and what are students are doing during semester in our own courses and beyond, and be able to respond appropriately based on  what we know.
  4. Learning and teaching: Like most university e-learning our courses do not include widespread effective use of digital technology to amplify and transform student learning (not at all surprising if we’re using generic tools).
  5. Standards, portfolios and outcomes: Understand how well our students and the students learning maps against the APSTs.
  6. Program and course development: Plan and manage the development of the proposed new programs and the raft of new courses those programs will require. Support the on-going evolution and management of those courses. For example, being able to see and query due dates or other details across the program.
  7. Teacher specific activities: Teachers (and thus our pre-service teachers) have to develop and demonstrate capabilities around teacher specific activities (e.g. lesson and unit planning). Increasingly these activities should (but generally aren’t) actively supported by digital technologies (a Word template for lesson planning is not active support by digital technologies).

Below there are some initial suggestions about how each of the above might be addressed.

How we might support these activities

Important: The addition of digital technology will not magically help make these activities easier. It’s only when the digital technology is integrated effectively into how we do things, that the magic will happen. Achieving that goal is not easy. The following are not magic silver bullets.

There are three broad strategies that can be used

  1. Make use of existing organisational processes and technologies and push them further.
    e.g. the ICT Technology Demonstrators project, digging deeper into the capabilities of Moodle for learning and teaching.
  2. Complement, workaround, or replace existing organisational processes and technologies.
    e.g. existing use of cloud-based technologies (Google docs etc) and other forms of digital technology modification. (Jones, Albion & Heffernan, 2016).
  3. Explore how and if digital technologies used by teachers, related organisations, and beyond can be leveraged.
    20 years ago Universities provided banks of dial-up modems to provide Internet access to staff and students. We don’t need to do this anymore. Increasingly there are more and better digital technology in society, than in universities. Not only in broader society, also in teaching. For example, Scootle, the Australian Curriculum site, AITSL, and The Learning Place are used to varying levels. If we wish to better prepare our pre-service teachers within the profession, then using the technologies used by teachers and broader society is important.

Personally, I believe the best outcomes will arise if we’re able to creatively intermingle all three of these strategies. The problems will arise if we try to follow one or the other.

Existing processes and technologies and push it further

Moodle now has support for outcomes. It is possible that these could be used to map student activities and assessment against APSTs and contribute toward Standards, portfolios and outcomes. If the program(s) wanted to take a more coordinated approach, there might be some value in this.

In terms of Program-level activities and, in particular, students one solution might be to request BEdu/BECH specific functionality in UConnect. UConnect is the portal which students use to gain access to USQ and its various other systems. UConnect is implemented using Drupal. Drupal is a content management system and thus it should be technically possible for it to be modified to present a BEdu/BECH specific view. Such a specific view could be used to present specific information (e.g. expiry date of the Blue card etc) and other functionality.

There are a lot of smart people in institutional IT (and elsewhere). Bringing that knowledge closer to use and our needs could result in lots of interesting ideas. Hence, something like a hackathon could be useful.

The current ICT Technology Demonstrators project is one existing process that can be leveraged to produce more specific outcomes.We should be looking being more aware of and leveraging existing work from this project, and also more actively identifying work that would be important for our part of the organisation.

For example (know thy students), I’m currently involved in a demonstrator project that should be bringing MAV to USQ for at least a short time. Using MAV to explore how students are engaging with course Study Desks could be beneficial. This use of MAV is connected to the Digital QILTers project, which arose out of the school 2015 planning day.

Related to this would be engagement with Hazel’s PhD study, which would help leverage existing capabilities within Moodle to know thy students.

Also related to analytics and MAV is the potential introduction of CQUni’s EASI system at USQ. EASI would help both know thy students and program-level activities.

Existing enterprise IT have yet to fully grasp, let alone respond to, the changing nature of digital technologies. Yoo et al (2012) give one view of the changing nature of digital technologies, which they label as pervasive digital technologies. Organisations and their IT departements are still operating from the perspective of digital technologies being scarce, not pervasive.  Yoo et al (2012) identify three traits of pervasive digital technologies

  1. the importance of digital technology platforms;
    i.e. “the proliferation of dig- ital tools or digital components allows firms to build a platform not just of products but of digital capabilities used throughout the organization to support its different functions” (p. 1400)
  2. the emergence of distributed innovations; and,
    i.e. “Not only are innovations increasingly moving toward the periphery of an organization, but the distributed innovation spurred by pervasive digital technology increases the heterogeneity of knowledge resources needed in order to innovate” (p. 1401)
  3. the prevalence of combinatorial innovation.
    i.e. “Increasingly, firms are creating new products or services by combining existing modules with embedded digital capabilities. Arthur (2009) notes that the nearly limitless recombination of digital artifacts has become a new source of innovation” (p. 1402)

Our institution has yet to even think of developing a university platform that would support distributed innovations and combinatorial innovation. It is distributed innovations that offer the potential to solve the dual problems of lowest common denominator and starvation.

The MAV and “more student details” projects mentioned below are primitive first steps in developing an institutional (perhaps even teacher education) digital platform upon which to build truly interesting ideas. For a number of years Universities have been developing applications programming interfaces (APIs) that are made available to students, teachers and others. This is one list of related resources. Here’s a description from a US student titled “How personal APIs let students design their universities”.

Pushing the institution out of its comfort zone into this area is important longer term and might actually allow the institution that it has the digital acumen that is seen as “a critical enabler” (CAUDIT, 2016).

Complement, workaround, replace org systems

In terms of Program and course development, which at some level is a project management task, then a tool like Trello might be a good match. It allows groups of people to collaboratively visualise and manage tasks and progress. Using it conjunction with Google Drive or similar could offer a way to manage the development of the new programs.  Not to mention, Trello is also being used in education (schools) in a variety of different ways.

In terms of Program-level activities and  promoting social connections amongst students a system like UCROO potentially offers functionality more in line with social media (think Facebook) than current approaches that rely on using the LMS.

In this paper (Jones et al, 2016), Peter, Amanda and I share a range of different digital modification strategies we’ve undertaken to make it easier to do what we need to do as teachers. A project that actively identifies what others are doing, shares that work, and then seeks how we can distribute those practices across the school’s courses would be interesting.

The “more student details” workarounds I use could potentially be expanded and customised to other courses.  Especially if MAV sticks around (it’s based on the same technology and infrastructure).

As mentioned above, MAV and “more student details” are primitive steps toward providing a platform that enables distributed innovation. The platform offers the chance to move beyond generic tools to specific tools. Pedagogical skins are an idea that seek to put the context and the value back into the LMS to increase the pedagogical value and thus improve the quality of Learning and teaching.

Integrate with teacher digital technologies and beyond

Perhaps the most immediate example of this from the Standards, portfolios and outcomes activity. Currently students are encouraged to have a USQ-hosted e-portfolio.  This is such a hackneyed approach of which I’ve long been critical. A more contemporary approach is offered by the Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) project from UMW – (see here for some background or here for a broader view). It’s an approach that is spreading across multiple institutions in the US and Charles Sturt has been starting to play.

Beyond more general technologies, there is the idea of working more closely with teacher specific digital technologies such as Scootle etc. One possibility might be to develop processes by which our students are engaging with renewable assessments (more here).

It might mean integrating a lesson/unit planning tool that actively integrates with the Australian Curriculum.

References

CAUDIT. (2016). CAUDIT 2016 Top Ten Issues. Retrieved from https://www.caudit.edu.au/system/files/Media library/Resources and Files/Strategic Initiatives/CAUDIT Top Ten Report 2016 WEB.pdf

Jones, D., Albion, P., & Heffernan, A. (2016). Mapping the digital practices of teacher educators: Implications for teacher education in changing digital landscapes. In Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2016 (pp. 2878–2886). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.

Yoo, Y., Boland, R. J., Lyytinen, K., & Majchrzak, A. (2012). Organizing for Innovation in the Digitized World. Organization Science, 23(5), 1398–1408.

Exploring Moodle Book usage – Part 6 – What do they contain?

Part 6 of this series diverges a bit from the last post and moves away from what people are doing with the Book resources to focus on the contents of the Book resources themselves.  Questions I’m hoping to explore in this post include:

  • How long are the Book resources?
    Measured perhaps in number of chapters, bytes, and perhaps textual word count.
  • Are the Book’s web or print documents?
    Do they include links? To other books in the course? To external sites? Which sites? Do they include multimedia?
  • What does one book with 500+ links actually link to?
  • How readable is the text?

NOTE: Click on the graphs below to see larger versions.

How long are the Book resources

A Moodle Book resource is a collection of “chapters” and “sub-chapters”, which are essentially web pages. The following starts looking in more detail at these chapters and their contents.

Where did they come from – import or create?

Looking more closely at the chapters provides an opportunity to find out how they were created.

Each chapter has a field importsrc which specifies the name of a file from which the content was imported.  Indicating that the chapter was created by uploading a already written file, rather than using the Book online editing interface.

Analysis shows that only

  • 9.8% (2397 out of 24408) of chapters are imported;
  • these belong to 10.2% (287 out of 2801) of books; and,
  • 11.8% (44 out of 374) of courses.

i.e. ~ 90% of chapters, books and courses are created by using the online Book interface.  Not a great way to create.

How many chapters per book?

The next step is to have a look at how long each book is based on the number of chapters. This isn’t a great indication of length because each chapter is simply a web page, it could be quite short, or quite long.

The following graph shows the number of chapters in every book grouped by year. Overall the number of chapters stays pretty much the same.  However, there are a couple of strange outliers tending toward 100 chapters in a book. The median number of chapters per book has increased from 6 in 2012 to 8 in 2015.

chapters per book per year

The total number of books shown in the above graph for each year is a bit out from earlier data. I will need to come back to these analysis and nail down what courses/books are counted in each analysis.

How many words in each book?

To get a better idea of the size of books the aim here is to convert the chapter content to plain text and do some analysis of the text.  This is where the beauty of Perl (confirmation bias) comes to the fore.  There’s a module for that.

The following graph maps the number of words for each book by year.  It shows that in 2014 and 2015 the number of words per chapter/book was certainly getting longer.  The median went from 1157 words per book to 1718 per book (with a dip in 2013 back to 1004 words per book). The upper limit moved from 5282 words in a book to 6930 words per book. Scarily, there are outlier books that are approaching (and in some cases bypassing) 60,000 words in length.

To give you some idea of read time, I’ll use Medium’s method for calculating read time (ignoring images) to convert the numbers into minutes to read:

  • Around the median word count – 1700 words – equates to about 6.1 minutes.
  • The maximum upper word count – 6930 words – equates to about 25.2 minutes.
  • The outliers – around 60,000 words – equates to about 218.2 minutes, which is approaching 4 hours.

Adding to this is that I’m not sure the typography and design of your typical Moodle Book is going to match what you might expect on Medium. Not to mention that Medium don’t mention if their average adult reading spead (275 words per minute) is for words on print or screen.

words per book per year

Readability?

The module that calculates words also does readability tests, including the Flesch reading-ease test. The following graph shows the results on that test for each of the books grouped by year.

Grain of salt – The graph does exclude a number of books that achieved negative results on the test. Initially, it appears that this may be due to the conversion to text only not handling some special characters which worsen the readability.  (Apparently it is possible to get a negative value on the test). This may also be decreasing the “reading ease” of other books.  This will be examined more closely later.  But then again, quoting Wikipedia

While Amazon calculates the text of Moby Dick as 57.9,[9] one particularly long sentence about sharks in chapter 64 has a readability score of −146.77.

The median moves between 43.7 and 47.3, which is apparently around the 45 that Florida law requires for life insurance policy (thank you again Wikipedia).  However, the lower bound loiters around 5 suggesting very difficulty to read.  Wikipedia suggestions 30 to 50 as being the range for “college” and being difficult to read.

flesch per book per year

And my books?

Which has me wondering about mine. I think I’ve developed a tendency to reading difficulty.  The following graph shows the distribution for the latest offering of my main course that is contained in the data set.

That’s a nice-ish surprise.  Median at 60. Worst is 40 and best is 77. With better than 75% of the books above 50 which is the lower bound of the 10th  to 12th grade boundary.

However, I believe these results may be a little padded by the fact that I write most of my books in straight HTML. Meaning there’s no increase in complexity because of the difficulty of converting it into clean text.
EDC3100 S2 2015 readability
Which has me wondering about the evolution of readability.  The following graph shows the results from all offerings of the course that use the Book. A bit of a dip at the start with a small upward trend over time.  Not bad – but then of limited use given the limitations of this type of thing.

edc3100 readability through the ages

What about links – links per book?

One of the questions I’d like to answer is whether or not the people using the Book are using it as a poor-man’s replacement for a collection of paper, and how many are using it as a collection of web pages.  First exploration of this question is the rough indicator of how many links per book?

The following graph shows the number of links per Book per year. “Link” is defined here as any type of link, excluding a link to a style sheet. That means links to images, youtube videos etc are all counted as links.

As the graph shows there are a large number of books that have no links.  The median number of links is increasing each year. Starting at 11 in 2012 and moving through 13, 14, and finally 17 in 2015.  As the graph shows there are some major outliers with some Books having hundreds of links, including some with over 500 links.  These might include some of the very long books included above, but it might also include other books that contain huge numbers of links

In terms of books with very few links in 2012, 15.4% of the books had less then 3 links (remember that includes images, links, embedded videos etc) with 2014 having 16.1% and 2015 having 15.3%

num links per book per year

Links per book in EDC3100?

For a quick comparison, the following graph shows the number of links per Book for EDC3100 (the main course I use the Book in). Over time I  have been trying explicitly to think of the Book resources as collections of web pages.

The median # of links per book for all courses moved from 11 to 17. In EDC3100, the median has moved from 14 at its lowest (2013 S2 – a bad semester for links) up to 30 in 2015 (both semesters).  Similarly, the upper range for all courses ranged from 46 to 74 (driven by some truly large link numbers), for EDC3100 the upper range went from 43 in (2013 S2) up to 111 in 2015.

EDC3100 books links

Exploring types of links a bit more

The above couple of link graphs are limited because I really haven’t yet explored the diversity of link types that are included.  I had removed CSS links, but not script links.  I also haven’t split apart the different types of links. An examination which might shed some light on those strange books with 500+ links. Time than to explore.

Will try to identify the different types of links, generate stats for all the types, but when counting links, limit to more standard types (img/a)

Types of link to exclude from the count of links: iframe, embed, object, meta – handle link better.

The presence of <tag meta=”generator” looks like being one way of identifying chapters coming from Word.

Cleaning up the links does bring the numbers down a bit. e.g. the media for 2015 goes from 17 to 15, but the other medians stay the same. The upper for 2013 onward comes down by 1 to 3.

What about the 500+ books? What are those links

I’m interested in the books that have 500+ links.  What are they linking to?

One with 517 links has 510 <a links and 7 <img links. What are those 517 <a links?

Lots of internal links and all sorts of other links – other book chapters, readings. Looks like it might be a large book, is it?

29 chapters and 32,871 words – so a big, all in one book.

Exploring frameworks to understand OER/OEP

Some colleagues and are re-starting an exploration of OEP in Initial Teacher Education (ITE). A first task is an attempt to get a handle on what has been done/is known about OEP/OER. Yes, we’re looking for spectrums/frameworks/models etc that help map out what might be done with OEP/OER.  We’re interested in using this to understand what’s been done around OEP within ITE and also what we’ve already done.

The following is a summary of a quick lit review. No real structure and includes a range of strange notes.

OER adoption: a continuum for practice

Stagg (2014) offers the following continuum of practice

The proposed model seeks to acknowledge the complexity of applied knowledge required to fulsomely engage with open education by examining practitioner behaviours and the necessary supporting mechanisms. This conceptual model aims to be of use to both practitioners and also those responsible for designing professional development in an educational setting.

A continuum of practice - OEP

A Google Scholar search reveals some use this continuum.

Including Falconer et al (2016), which includes

We view our fourth category, enhancing pedagogy, as fundamentally different to that of producing high quality materials efficiently or cost effectively, in that it is underpinned by altruistic positions rather than a business model approach. It puts its emphasis on the value of the OER development process, rather than on the value of the OER content produced. (p. 99)

Through our analysis, some fundamental tensions have become apparent that will need to be resolved if the purposes of OER release are to be realised. (p. 101)

This limits imposed by a reputation-building motive are exacerbated at present as higher education institutions are encouraged to become increasingly competitive, elevating the importance of brand recognition. The consequence is a move away from risk-taking, towards a demand for predictable quality outcomes. This discourages innovation unless direct benefits can be proven in terms of new markets, student numbers, or shared costs of development and teaching. The benefits of OER in terms of institutional showcasing and attracting potential students, may prove attractive to institutional managers and gain institutional support for OER, but unless culture changes, they place inherent limitations on efficiency gains and the adoption of more open practices which are ultimately founded on a commitment to academic commons. (p. 102)

And develops some frameworks/continuums

Framework for assessing OER implementation strategies

and

A continuum of openness

Assessing the potential for openness

Stagg (2014) is also cited by Judith and Bull (2016)

While this literature has been significant in driving forward the open agenda, there has been relatively little published about the practicalities of implementing openly licensed materials in higher education courses (p. 2)

which raises the question of just how much more difficult the idea of implementing open educational practices are going to be. i.e. if sharing materials is hard enough.

OER engagement ladder

Masterman and Wild (2013) bring in the OER engaement ladder, which is talked more about in this blog post. (Interestingly the institutional repository URL for the full research report is now broken, but blog posts and slideshare resources remain)

OER engagement ladder

References

Falconer, I., Littlejohn, A., McGill, L., & Beetham, H. (2016). Motives and tensions in the release of Open Educational Resources: the JISC UKOER programme. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 32(4), 92–105. doi:10.14742/ajet.2258

Judith, K., & Bull, D. (2016). Assessing the potential for openness: A framework for examining course-level OER implementation in higher education. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24(42). doi:10.14507/epaa.24.1931

Masterman, L., & Wild, J. (2013). Reflections on the evolving landscape of OER use. Paper presented at OER13: creating a virtuous circle, Nottingham, UK

Stagg, A. (2014). OER adoption: a continuum for practice. Universities and Knowledge Society Journal, 11(3), 151 – 164. doi:10.7238/rusc.v11i3.2102

Exploring Moodle Book Module usage – part 1 – background and planning

I’m due to have the slides for a Moodlemoot Australia presentation in a few weeks. Time to get organised. The following is (perhaps) the first of a sequence of posts reporting on progress toward that presentation and the related research.

Background

My interest in research is primarily driven by the observation that most educational usage of digital technology to enhance learning and teaching is fairly bad. Typically the blame for this gets laid at the feet of the teaching staff who are digitally illiterate, not qualified to teach, or are laggards. My belief/argument is that the problem really arises because the environment within formal education institutions just doesn’t understand what is required to make a difference. Much of what they do (e.g. institutional standards for course sites, checklists, training, support documentation, design and support of technlogies…) does little to help and tends to make the problem worse.

You want digitally fluent faculty?

A contributing factor to that is that institutional attempts to improve digital learning actually fails to be based on any insights on how people (in this case teaching staff and all those involved with digital learning) learn. How institutions implement digital learning actually gets in the way of people learning how to do it better.

Schema and the grammar of school

The ideas of schema and the grammar of school offer one example of this failure. This earlier post includes the following quote from Cavallo (2004) establishes the link

David Tyack and Larry Cuban postulated that there exists a grammar of school, which makes deviation from our embedded popular conception of school feel as nonsensical as an ungrammatical utterance [1]. They describe how reform efforts, whether good or bad, progressive or conservative, eventually are rejected or denatured and assimilated. Reform efforts are not attempted in the abstract, they are situated in a variety of social, cultural and historical contexts. They do not succeed or fail solely on the basis of the merit of the ideas about learning, but rather, they are viewed as successful based upon their effect on the system and culture as a whole. Thus, they also have sociological and institutional components — failure to attend to matters of systemic learning will facilitate the failure of the adoption of the reforms. (p. 96)

The grammar of school problem is linked to the idea of schema which links to the following quote that I first saw in Arthur (2009) and which is taken from Vaughan (1986, p. 71)

[In the situations we deal with as humans, we use] a frame of reference constructed from integrated sets of assumptions, expectations and experiences. Everything is perceived on the basis of this framework. The framework becomes self-confirming because, whenever we can, we tend to impost it on experiences and events, creating incidents and relationships that conform to it. And we tend to ignore, misperceive, or deny events that do not fit it. As a consequence, it generally leads us to what we are looking for. This frame of references is not easily altered or dismantled, because the way we tend to see the world is intimately linked to how we see and define ourselves in relation to the world. Thus, we have a vested interest in maintaining consistency because our own identity is at risk.

Evidence of schema in how digital technologies are used

Horsey, Horseless Carriage

The schema idea means that people will perceive and thus use digital technologies in ways that fit with their “integrated sets of assumptions, expectations and experiences”. This is an explanation for the horsey, horseless carriage way people respond to digital technologies. It’s why courses where the majority of students are online students and will never come onto a campus are still designed around the idea of face-to-face lectures and tutorials.

It also explains why when I finally returned to teaching a course I adopted the idea of a ramble for the structure of the course.  It explains why the implementation of the ramble evolved into using the Moodle Book module the way it does today. The images below (click on them to see larger versions) illustrate the connection between my practice 20 years apart, more detail follows.

1996 2016
The 85321 "online" book - 1996 Online book 2016

The 1996 image is a page from  the study guide (wonder how many people can play the au file containing the Wayne’s World II quote) for the Systems Administration course I taught in 1996. The 2016 image is a page from the “study guide” I developed for an Arts & Technologies C&P course.

I believe/suggest that the influence of schema also plays a significant contributor in the practice of other teaching staff as they transition into digital learning. It’s a factor in why most course sites remain dumping grounds for lecture slides and the subsequent widespread growth in the use of lecture capture systems.

And it’s not just the teaching staff. Students have developed schema about what it means to be taught, and what it means to be taught at university. A schema developed either through direct experience, or via the experience of others and various media. The typical schema for university education involved large lecture halls and tutorials.

 

So what?

The above suggests that whenever students and teachers engage with a digital technology (or any change around) and its use for learning and teaching, there are three main possibilities:

  1. It seen as nonsensical and rejected.
    e.g. whatever was said doesn’t make sense from existing grammar rules and seen as just being wrong.
  2. It sounds like something familiar and is modified to fit within the confines of that familiar practice.
    e.g. whatever was said sounds an awful lot like an existing use of grammar (even though it is different), and thus is interpreted as matching that existing use.
  3. The significant difference is seen as valued and existing practice is modified to make use of that difference.
    e.g. the different use of grammar is both understood as different and the difference is valued, and is subsequently existing practice is modified to incorporate the new grammar.

If this is the case, then examining the use (or not) of a digital technology in learning and teaching should reveal evidence of these possibilities.  This seems very likely, given widespread common complaints about the use of digital technology to enhance learning and teaching. Complains that see most practice stuck at possibility #2 (at best).

If this is the case, then perhaps this way of thinking might also identify how to address this.

But first, I’m interested in seeing if use of a particular digital technology matches this prediction.

Use of the Moodle Book module

Due to a 2015 grant from the USQ OpenTextbook Initiative I’m going explore the use the Moodle Book module. The plan is to analyse the use of the Moodle Book module (the Book) at USQ to see how both learners and teachers are engaging with it, see if the above expectations are met, and figure out what might be done in terms of the support and development of the Moodle Book module to help improve this.

What follows is an initial map of what I’ll be exploring.

A major aim here is to explore whether a student or teacher using the Book have made the transition from possibility #2 (treating the Book as a print-based book) to possibility #3 (recognising that this is an online book, and using that difference). I’ve highlighted some of the following questions/analysis, which I think be useful indicators of this transition. The darker the yellow highlight, the more strongly I think it might indicate someone making the leap to an online book.

Question for you: What other practices might indicate use that has moved from #2 to #3?

Which courses use the Book

First step is to explore whether the Book is being used. How many courses are using it? How many books are being produced with the module.

As the abstract for the talk suggests, early analysis revealed a growth in use, but I’m wondering how sound that analysis was. Hence there is a need to

  1. Correctly identify the number of course offerings using the Book each year.
  2. Identify the number of different teaching staff are responsible for those courses.
    Longer term, it would be useful to ask these staff about their background and reasons for using the Book.
  3. Identify the type of courses using the Book.
  4. How many books are being produced by each course?
  5. How do the books fit into the structure of the course?
    1. Is the structure the same from offering to offering?
    2. How much does the number and content of the books change from offering to offering?

Characteristics of the book content

  1. Statistics around the level of readability of the text (e.g. Flesch-Kincaid etc).
  2. The structure of the book – are sub-chapters used.
  3. Are images, video, Moodle activities included?
  4. What about links?
    • Are there any links at all?
    • What is linked to?
    • Are links purely to external resources? 
    • How many links connect back to other parts of the course’s Books?

Patterns in how the books are authored

  1. How are the books authored?
    • From scratch?
      1. Using the web interface?
      2. Via an import process?
    • Copied from previous offerings?
    • ?? other??
  2. How are they edited? 
    My expectation that a teacher who sees the Book as a replacement for a print book will not be editing the books during semester.

Patterns in how the books are read/used

  1. Are students reading the books online or printing them out?
  2. Does printing always happen at the start of semester? Does it continue through semester? Does it drop off?
  3. When are students reading the books?
  4. What is the nature of the paths they take through the books?
    1. Do they read the books and the chapters in order?
    2. How long do the spend on each chapter?
    3. Do they revisit particular books?
  5. How many times do discussion forum posts in a course include links to chapters/sub-chapters within the books
    • Posts written by teaching staff
    • Post written by students

References

Arthur, W. B. (2009). The Nature of Technology: what it is and how it evolves. New York, USA: Free Press.

Cavallo, D. (2004). Models of growth – Towards fundamental change in learning environments. BT Technology Journal, 22(4), 96–112.