Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Digital visitors and residents - some thoughts

I took part in an online seminar on the Digital visitors and residents project at a Collaborate seminar organised by the JISC last week. I think this is a useful metaphor to have in play, and the findings of the project which look extremely valuable in extending our understanding of what motivates students to engage in the digital environment. There are obvious links with the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme: by helping explain what strategies students are using, the project can help us understand what educators might do to validate or further develop those strategies, or introduce others that might give students greater repertoire and fluency.

Some of the early findings obviously replicate work that has been done in the past to problematise the digital natives narrative, to demonstrate that personal/social skills with technology are not highly transferable to learning, and to recognise that students have many strategies for using technology to support their studies which do not necessarily coincide with what institutions see as 'good' study skills (the Learners' experiences of e-learning studies confirmed both of these).

I do have some thoughts about the metaphor itself, which I shared at the seminar. For example:
- Is the place vs tool metaphor one that the project is using, or one they are finding that participants use in thinking about the online space?
- How far is the metaphor a design artefact of the environment and how far is it a property of the individual's stance towards the environment? For example, 'windows' are intuitively spatial. Drop down menus are intuitively tool-like. Most software interfaces combine both to give different messages to the user about how to behave.
- We know that people's behaviour in online environments is very strongly influenced by those environments - arguably more than any innate factors including age, confidence with technology etc. At least, it is a question that can be researched: to what extent is behaviour in online environments an aspect of relatively stable aspects of the person and to what extent it is environmentally determined? This might vary depending on the environment in question (and even on the person??)
- I am assuming that the metaphor distinguishes behaviours and not individuals. i.e. we are all visitors and residents in different contexts.
- As described in the seminar, the visitors-residents continuum seems to combine a range of behavioural and perceptual aspect: the metaphors we use when we engage with technology; whether we are behaving as individual or social participants/learners; whether we are behaving as consumers, collaborators or producers of content etc. There is an empirical question here: to what extent are these different factors linked? Is this a question the project is trying to answer?

One of the dimensions along which visitors and residents were said to differ is whether their behaviour is 'instrumental' or 'networked'. For me, the web 2.0 era is essentially one in which to be networked IS to be instrumental. Asking a question of my twitter followers is me being instrumental. In exercising my agency I recognise the value of collaboration.

So, this post is meant to open a conversation that I hope will be a productive one!

Friday, 4 November 2011

I noticed this quote in a Guardian report on digital animators
"A lot of the animators here don't have a degree. It's all about your showreel.'

Obviously the creative digital industry is ahead of others in relying on digital evidence of employability rather than traditional qualifications. But could we see other industries moving in this direction?

Good things I can imagine happening as a result:
Assessment becomes focused around authentic evidence of the learning process and learners' achievements. In fact there is no real distinction between 'assessment' and 'learning' - it's all potentially available as evidence - providing that evidence is transferable to other contexts (i.e. potential employers/clients can access and assess it).
Learning is potentially richer as more diverse evidence of capability is valued.
Digital literacy- e.g. identity and reputation management, networking - is to the fore.

Bad things I can imagine happening as a result:
Education that leads directly to demonstrable, vocational/professional skills are at a premium. It becomes very difficult to fund - or justify public funds for - other forms of learning and education.
The emphasis is on outcomes that have maximum perceived value to potential employers. these may not be the outcomes that give the most satisfying learning experience or the best chance of a fulfilling life in the longer term.
The idea of the 'university' begins to come apart at the seams - e.g. the idea of the common pursuit of knowledge - which leads to cross-funding of some subjects by more 'marketable' others - and the idea that academic values have some relevance, purchase, importance in public life, beyond the value of immediate employability.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Thoughts on OER

A summary of reflections from the interim meeting of the UK OER II programme. Warning - it's a bit long (lots to say).

Financial constraints mean institutions are less willing to invest in learning and teaching innovation. However, once the political paroxysms are over, the new funding regime might mean that learning and teaching agendas such as OER will have a new relevance. In non-elite institutions it will be necessary to demonstrate that the university experience is worth the money., and that it is distinctively different from the experience at comparable universities. What benefit models might be convincing in this climate, especially in terms of differentiation around the student experience?

In the short term, with threatened mergers etc, visibility and reputation enhancement may become the key drivers of OER release. OERs project the institution's values to the world, and web 2.0 hosted content e.g. on iTunesU is an important marketing tool. However, there are a lot of institutions where the only OERs that are visible to the outside world are informational or marketing in focus. Is this sustainable in learning and teaching terms? Focus on learning and teaching production is very different from focus on institutional reputation and there may be polarisation of these two agendas in the coming months and years.

Course marketisation may be a link between the two. If every course has an OER profile in order to give students positive choices about their learning, then both strategies come into play. At present none of the institutions represented in the strand have a policy of tasters/trailers for all courses, but there is a move towards this view. They give potential students a view of the kind of experience they can expect, they raise the profile of the module, and they can be particularly powerful if they showcase work by students themselves.

Reward and recognition for teaching and learning are key. So is it about embedding OER into formal processes e.g. quality, course approval, or raising the visibility and status of individuals involved in OER, or embedding into high level policies (teaching and learning, marketing, content management, to name just a few)... or all of these? What works best?

How students are engaging with OERs may be a different issue from how staff are: embedding into the student experience of learning is not the same set of strategies to embedding into the curriculum. So while staff recognition and reward is probably key, student motivation is much more about quality and relevance of the resources.

It is possible that more insecurity in academic employment might actually make OER release more attractive as a way of enhancing personal reputation and profile. Weaker affiliation with an institution → 'public' scholarship as a career path. Academic blogs, rich media papers, open research data, pre-publication versions, and personal content legacies are all becoming part of the apparatus of scholarship and professionalism in academia. OERs are part of the picture of borderless institutions on the one hand, and public scholars on the other.

We can expect more conflicts between academic ways of managing knowledge and the opportunities presented by world-wide web – OERs, iTunesU and marketing depts are places where some of these conflicts are being played out. The 'borderless university' is another way of expressing these tensions.

Defining 'open'. For JISC open = openly licensed to support repurposing and reuse. But some other aspects of openness are at odds with one another – there is not a single dimension along which institutions can be measured. For example, open sharing in communities tends to involve some minimal gatekeeping e.g. log-in and personal identifier, to support the virtuous circle of release and re-use, and enrichment of content. Open resources 'in the wild' are available without gatekeeping but lack the history and community ownership that allow for sustained reuse. Resources may be made highly accessible to students in all contexts by including pedagogic support, but this makes them less accessible to teachers who want to repurpose them in different pedagogic contexts.

OERs allow universities to position themselves as sites of public knowledge, in an age of near-universal access. But what does that look like in practice? Outcomes of the UK OER programme which would be nice to see:

- 'Best of' UK OER resources to showcase quality

- Talking heads: towards open public knowledge (students, potential students teaching staff, professionals, developers, managers talking about their OER experiences)

- Impacts: 2 sides of A4 on institutional and educational benefits and lessons learned

Apparently there is no funding available for dissemination, so the evaluation and synthesis team needs to think about how outcomes from the projects and from our own work can be designed to meet some of these criteria without 'extra work' disseminating them in new forms.

OER’ as an issue might become less visible in the coming months, because on the one hand it is just part of the developing digital landscape, and on the other hand it is just a new mode of content sharing, which has always been an aspect of the academic community. OERs can be differentiated from other content (open licence, cost free, accessible design...?) but for most users these are of limited visibility and interest – it's just content. UK OER is a particular moment in the evolution of both digital content and open practices in education, but the evolution will continue.