Archive for the ‘OU2.0’ Category
A trackback a week or two ago to my blog from this personal blog post: #SNAc week 1: what are networks and what use is it to study them? highlighted me to a MOOC currently running on Coursera on social network analysis. The link was contextualised in the post as follows: The recommended readings look interesting, but it’s the curse of the netbook again – there’s no way I’m going to read a 20 page PDF on a screen. Some highlighted resources from Twitter and the forum look a bit more possible: … Some nice ‘how to’ posts: … (my linked to post was in the ‘howto’ section).
The whole MOOC hype thing at the moment seems to be dominated by references to the things like Coursera, Udacity and edX (“xMOOCs”). Coursera in particularly is a new sort of intermediary, a website that offers some sort of applied marketing platform to universities, allowing them to publish sample courses in a centralised, browsable, location and in a strange sense legitimising them. I suspect there is some element of Emperor’s New Clothes thinking going on in the universities who have opted in and those who may be considering it: “is this for real?”; “can we afford not to be a part of it?”
Whilst Coursera has an obvious possible business model – charge the universities for hosting their
marketing material courses – Udacity’s model appears more pragmatic: provide courses with the option of formal assessment via Pearson VUE assessment centres, and then advertise your achievements to employers on the Udacity site; presumably, the potential employers and recruiters (which got me thinking about what role LinkedIn might possibly play in this space?) are seen as the initial revenue stream for Udacity. Note that Udacity’s “credit” awarding powers are informal – in the first instance, credibility is based on the reputation of the academics who put together the course; in contrast, for courses on Coursera, and the rival edX partnership (which also offers assessment through Pearson VUE assessment centres), credibility comes from the institution that is responsible for putting together the course. (It’s not hard to imagine a model where institutions might even badge courses that someone else has put together…)
Note that Coursera, Udacity and edX are all making an offering based on quite a traditional course model idea and are born out of particular subject disciplines. Contrast this in the first part with something like Khan Academy, which is providing learning opportunities at a finer level of granularity/much smaller “learning chunks” in the form of short video tutorials. Khan Academy also provides the opportunity for Q&A based discussion around each video resource.
Also by way of contrast are the “cMOOC” style offerings inspired by the likes of George Siemens, Stephen Downes, et al., where a looser curriculum based around a set of topics and initially suggested resources is used to bootstrap a set of loosely co-ordinated personal learning journeys: learners are encouraged to discover, share and create resources and feed them into the course network in a far more organic way than the didactic, rigidly structured approach taken by the xMOOC platforms. The cMOOC style also offeres the possibility of breaking down subject disciplines through accepting shared resources contributed because they are relevant to the topic being explored, rather than because they are part of the canon for a particular discipline.
The course without boundaries approach of Jim Groom’s ds106, as recently aided and abetted by Alan Levine, also softens the edges of a traditionally offered course with its problem based syllabus and open assignment bank (particpants are encouraged to submit their own assignment ideas) and turns learning into something of a lifestyle choice… (Disclaimer: regular readers will know that I count the cMOOC/ds106 “renegades” as key forces in developing my own thinking…;-)
Something worth considering about the evolution of open education from early open content/open educational resource (OER) repositories and courseware into the “Massive Open Online Course” thing is just what caused the recent upsurge in interest? Both MIT opencourseware and the OU’s OpenLearn offerings provided “anytime start”, self-directed course units; but my recollection is that it was Thrun & Norvig’s first open course on AI (before Thrun launched Udacity), that captured the popular (i.e. media) imagination because of the huge number of students that enrolled. Rather than the ‘on-demand’ offering of OpenLearn, it seems that the broadcast model, and linear course schedule, along with the cachet of the instructors, were what appealed to a large population of demonstrably self-directed learners (i.e. geeks and programmers, who spend their time learning how to weave machines from ideas).
I also wonder whether the engagement of universities with intermediary online course delivery platforms will legitimise online courses run by other organisations; for example, the Knight Centre Massive Open Online Courses portal (a Moodle environment) is currently advertising it’s first MOOC on infographics and data visualisation:
Similar to other Knight Center online courses, this MOOC is divided into weekly modules. But unlike regular offerings, there will be no application or selection process. Anyone can sign up online and, once registered, participants will receive instructions on how to enroll in the course. Enrollees will have immediate access to the syllabus and introductory information.
The course will include video lectures, tutorials, readings, exercises and quizzes. Forums will be available for discussion topics related to each module. Because of the “massive” aspect of the course, participants will be encouraged to provide feedback on classmates’ exercises while the instructor will provide general responses based on chosen exercises from a student or group of students.
Cairo will focus on how to work with graphics to communicate and analyze data. Previous experience in information graphics and visualization is not needed to take this course. With the readings, video lectures and tutorials available, participants will acquire enough skills to start producing compelling, simple infographics almost immediately. Participants can expect to spend 4-6 hours per week on the course.
Although the course will be free, if participants need to receive a certificate, there will be a $20 administrative fee, paid online via credit card, for those who meet the certificate requirements. The certificate will be issued only to students who actively participated in the course and who complied with most of the course requirements, such as quizzes and exercises. The certificates will be sent via email as a PDF document. No formal course credit of any kind is associated with the certificate.
Another of the things that I’ve been pondering is the role that “content” may or not play a role in this open course thing. Certainly, where participants are encouraged to discover and share resources, or where instructors seek to construct courses around “found resources”, an approach espoused by the OU’s new postgraduate strategy, it seems to me that there is an opportunity to contribute to the wider open learning idea by producing resources that can be “found”. For resources to be available as found resources, we need the following:
- Somebody needs to have already created them…
- They need to be discoverable by whoever is doing the finding
- They need to be appropriately licensed (if we have to go through a painful rights clearnance and rights payment model, the cost benefits of drawing on and freely reusing those resources are severely curtailed).
Whilst the running of a one shot MOOC may attract however many participants, the production of finer grained (and branded) resources that can be used within those courses means that a provider can repeatedly, and effortlessly, contribute to other peoples courses through course participants pulling the resources into those coure contexts. (It also strikes me that educators in one institution could sign up for a course offered by another, and then drop in links to their own
applied marketing learning materials.)
One thing I’ve realised from looking at Digital Worlds uncourse blog stats is that some of the posts attract consistent levels of traffic, possibly because they have been embedded to from other course syllabuses. I also occasionally see flurries of downloads of tutorial files, which makes me wonder whether another course has linked to resources I originally produced. If we think of the web in it’s dynamic and static modes (static being the background links that are part of the long term fabric of the web, dynamic as the conversation and link sharing that goes on in social networks, as well as the publication of “alerts” about new fabric (for example, the publication of a new blog post into the static fabric of the web is announced through RSS feeds and social sharing as part of the dynamic conversation)), then the MOOCs appear to be trying to run in a dynamic, broadcast mode. Whereas what interests me is how we can contribute to the static structure of the web, and how we can make better use of it in a learning context?
PS a final thought – running scheduled MOOCs is like a primetime broadcast; anytime independent start is like on-demand video. Or how about this: MOOCs are like blockbuster books, published to great fanfare and selling millions of first day, pre-ordered copies. But there’s also long tail over time consumption of the same books… and maybe also books that sell steadily over time without great fanfare. Running a course once is all well and good; but it feels too ephemeral, and too linear rather than networked thinking to me?
For some time, BBC Question Time has benefitted from an active online live commentariat via SMS/text messages displayed on a lower third ticker, and on on Twitter around the #bbcqt hashtag.
Now, via @federicacocco, I notice that BBC Question Time has a new Twitter account associated with it, @BBCExtraGuest:
BBC Extra Guest (@BBCExtraGuest) September 24, 2012
Here’s some sort of confirmation, from the official @bbcquestiontime account, that it’s legitimate:
When the OU co-produces a programme or series with the BBC, one or more nominated academics act as advisers to the programme, contributing ideas, checking correctness, providing feedback about how ideas are portrayed and communicated, and so on. Increasingly, academic advisers also contribute one or more related articles to OpenLearn in support of the programme(s). On the odd occasion when I’ve: a) managed to watch a programme during its live broadcast; and b) noticed hashtag activity around it, I’ve tried to chip in by sharing relevant links and additional comments. Where related content has gone up on the OpenLearn site in advance, I’ve also tried to share the odd link to that into the hashtag stream. (Yes, I know, it’s like introducing an ad into the stream…)
The “extra guest” twist that BBC Question Time are introducing is one that maybe we can also adopt at the OU? @OUAcademic, maybe, a rotating “guest” slot in which a nominated academic can tweet along to a live broadcast of an OU/BBC co-pro?
PS to keep track of OU/BBC co-pros, see:
- OU/BBC co-pros currently on iPlayer
- OU/BBC co-pros upcoming…
- OU/BBC co-pro clips currently on iPlayer
PPS for a quick sketch comparing the folk commonly followed by the users of the #bbcqt and #newsnight hashtags, (that is, an approximation of the common and different social interests of the audiences of those two programmes) see Social Media Interest Maps of Newsnight and BBCQT Twitterers.
From various sources (@kavubob, @mweller via @peter_scott, @downes and others), I notice:
- edX Announces Option Of Proctored Exam Testing Through Collaboration With Pearson VUE [press release], reported as e.g. Harvard and MIT online courses get ‘real world’ exams. The core of the story is that Pearson VUE test centres will be used to run “proctored” computer based assessments (i.e. supervised assessment of verified candidates) based around edX courses. (It’s maybe also worth noting that Pearson VUE bought the Centiport assessment business earlier this year so they’re expansionist…)
- a Chronicle of HE article reports A First for Udacity: a U.S. University Will Accept Transfer Credit for One of Its Courses, (original Udacity blog post/press release). In particular, Colorado State University’s Global Campus will accept proctored assessment credit as part of a credit transfer agreement. There’s nothing particularly new in this – as with many institutions, OU students can benefit from credit transfer as well as the accreditation of prior learning (APEL) using a variety of course wrappers, such as Make your experience count or the Accreditation of Certificated Practitioners 1 (i.e an academic course wrapper for vendor certificate that helps you convert vendor certificates to academic credit points; hmm… I wonder if these are then transferable in to other UK HEIs?!;-). What I was sensitised to however, was this: “In order to earn the three transfer credits toward their bachelor’s degrees at Colorado State, students will need a “certificate of accomplishment” from Udacity showing they passed the course. Then they have to pass a proctored examination offered by Udacity through a secure testing center. The exam, administered by the Pearson VUE testing group, will cost $89″ [emphasis mine]. As I hinted at in News Corp in K12 Education Play, as the big publishing companies develop a stranglehold over education content, assessment proctering, and assessment setting, should we start thinking about notions of plurality (cf. media plurality) in the way the business of education operates?
A couple more riffs on the above:
- Pearson are playing multiple sides, offering testing for both the upstarts (eg Udacity) and the incumbents’ response (edX). They also have a major stake in school (i.e. K12) and further education content (textbooks, curricula) and assessment (e.g. EdExcel is a Pearson company), and they seem to be testing the waters with their own HE offerings in the form of Pearson College. Start to twitch a bit more if they start offering campus management solutions. Also look out for them bulking up their learning analytics offerings…
- Although the OU has started offering academic wrappers around imported vendor certificates, I don’t think an equivalent course wrapper yet serves as a way of wrapping informal and semi-formal online courses, such as offerings from P2PU, Coursera, Udacity etc etc. There is at least one “officially” offered MOOC on “Learning Design”, though… (One of the models I wanted to explore with the T151 Game Design and Development 10 point short course in its final presentation was a fully open presentation with an additional for credit component based around the submission of a portfolio for credit bearing assessment. The legacy would have been a 10 point wrapper for importing informal online course activity, “proven” using an OU presented course. Maybe there’ll be a similar sort of finesse around the Learning Design MOOC? I’d certainly hope so…
- I note that the OU runs exams at a wide variety of examination centres (often in local colleges), so to an extent the OU already models the behaviour being adopted by edX. There are, however, a couple of notable differences: a) the OU, rather than a commercial operation such as Pearson, manages exams at local centres; b) the OU offers tutor and/or moderated forum based support to students on OU courses. Providing tutor/associate lecturer support (including face to face tutorials at local centres) to students on a 1:
320 ratio or so is expensive though… I’m not sure how the costs associated with providing online moderation at a ratio of 1:100 or so scale up with increasing course sizes (eg when you factor in recruitment and briefing/training costs, as well as the costs of assessment/marking related moderation exercises etc).
- I should probably say something about badges here, but don’t have the will to!
See also: Checking HE for Cracks.
The University of Sussex is seeking bids to manage its estates and facilities services, which are run in-house at an annual cost of £20 million.
The move, to be completed by August next year, “is expected to bring wider market experience and expertise to the university to enable it to meet the increasing demands of a highly competitive environment”, according to a statement.
The story is still running… Unions left ‘in the dark’ over outsource plans. Companies in the ballpark – Carillion, maybe? eg they appear to have been contractors for construction works at UWE, Hertfordshire.
PPS Facilities talk reminds me of this, which relates in part to management of facilities data: Facilities and Equipment Sharing Network.
PPPS via @brlamb, Pearson ‘Education’ — Who Are These People?, which looks at some of the lobbying going around around US teacher performance assessment.
One of the possible barriers to widespread adoption of open notebook science is knowing where to start. Video reports of lab experiments hosted on Youtube can be easily embedded in a hosted WordPress blog; a MediaWiki wiki can be used to provide one page per experiment, with change tracking/history on each page and a shadow page for commentary and discussion; Github can be used to provide a version control environment for software code, results data, project pages and documentation. For tabulated data, Google Spreadsheets provides a hosting environment and an API that lets you treat the data as a database and also explore it dashboard style via a range of interactive visual filtering and charting components. Alternatively, a CKAN instance (such as is used to run thedatahub.org) offers data management and preview tools.
Keeping track of data analysis in an open way is also getting easier. In An R-chitecture for Reproducible Research/Reporting/Data Journalism, I briefly mentioned RPubs.com, a site that can be used to 1-click publish HTML reports of statistical analyses executed within the RStudio environment (I really need to do a proper post about this). But now there’s an example of another hosted solution from Fridolin Wild of the OU’s KMi: Crunch.
Crunch offers a hosted RStudio environment (so you can access RStudio via a browser) with public and private areas. The public areas allow you to post datasets, run scripts as a service, or publish results (Sweave generated PDFs, or knitr generated HTML reports, for example).
Crunch also incorporates a MySQL database for each user. (Scheduling and pipelining are also on the cards…)
Whilst developed as an application to support learning analytics (I think?), Crunch also provides a great demonstration of a more general open research data workbench. You can store – and publish – data sets, along with analysis scripts and reports generated by executing those scripts over your data set. Version control isn’t available at the moment (I think?) but RSTudio does have git/github support, so that may be coming. The provision of a MySql database means that data collections can be managed within a database environment. (From a data journalism, rather than an open/reproducible research, perspective, I did wonder whether it would be possible to situate something like Scraperwiki on the same platform and replace its SQLite support with MySQL support, so a Scraperwiki scraper could be used to scrape data into a MySQL database that was then accessed from RStudio? Being able to wire MySQL read/write access into Google Refine on the same platform could also be interesting..;-)
I’m not sure about the extent to which the OU LIbrary is taking an interest in the development of Crunch, but providing best practice support and advice in the orchestration of information and data handling tools seems to me to be in-scope for the academic research librarian, in much the same way as advising on the use of bibliography data management tools used to be…? (For a recent take on this, see Dorothea Salo’s recent Ariadne article Retooling Libraries for the Data Challenge.)
A smattering of business-of-education stories from my feeds today:
- Hot on the heels of the Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design, Publishing firm Pearson announce Pearson College, a private university that will start off by offering a business related degree (BSc (Honours) Business and Enterprise) accredited by Royal Holloway and Bedford New College (hmm… doesn’t that mean “Pearson College” should be a listed body?*). From September 2013, they’re looking to offer BSc(Hons) degrees in Computing as well as Engineering (“with pathways in Electrical, Electronic, Mechanical and Manufacturing”). It seems like work experience/partnering is a key part of the initiative, with programmes being marketed to organisations as much as students (“There are significant benefits to be gained by embedding our Pearson degrees within an organisation’s learning and development, and/or talent development programmes, and in contributing to the design of our programmes.” And if you need help with your talent management process, Pearson can help you out there too…. Hmmm….) This is quite an interesting play, I think – setting up as a provider to industry of embedded degree bearing training/”talent development” programmes. It doesn’t much contribute to the notion of universities as academic playspaces that support open-ended reflection and idea creation though…
Entry is by interview and either 320 UCAS points or success on the Pearson College Aptitude Test, whatever that is… Fees are set at £6500 per year for a 3 year course, £8k a year if you fancy a two year sprint, or £4875 if you take it over 4 years. According to the blurb:
“Pearson students have the choice of studying in either central London or central Manchester at our attractive, modern premises. At Pearson you will be studying business from within a business, so your lectures and seminars are held in classrooms within our corporate premises. You’ll be part of a business and an academic community from day one, immersed in the atmosphere of a modern office environment.”
I’m intrigued to see who their engineering partners turn out to be…
- Over in the short course corner, it seems that Coventry University are working with the Intellectual Property Office and the British Library to offer a two and a half day residential IP Masterclass. At £990 + VAT, it offers delegates the “opportunity” to gain 15 credits at Masters level/Level 7 which can then be put towards a range of postgrad qualifications. I’m not sure how this works – at undergrad level, one rule of thumb is 10 hours study per CATS point (split 2 hours teaching and 8 hours private study per point), so with say 20 hours of teaching over two and a half days, you’d also expect to add in another 130 hours of private study to get 15 points. Presumably there’s homework if you want to pick the credit opportunity up?
With MBAs coming in at 180 points, twelve of these courses (6 working weeks if you take them back-to-back) would get you the “opportunity” to claim the required points haul.
- And arising from the ashes of MIT opencourseware, it seems as if some enterprising alumni from an MITx course are using opencourseware to run a follow on course: 6.003z: A Learner-Created MOOC Spins Out of MITx. As more folk start to realise they can self-organise, it’ll be interesting to see how these plays out – and whether there’ll be any institutional backlash, response or opportunistic land grab (eg taking over a community driven course, or stepping in to offer accreditation for it).
One of the sections of the OU’s new Innovating Pedagogy report (the first in what is intended to be an ongoing review series), refers to Publisher-led mini courses, a consideration of how news publishers may encroach on or enter the informal HE/lifelong learning or CPD markets through partnerships with HEIs or otherwise.
Whilst the OU’s business interests – and hence the focus of the report – are not on primary or secondary (K12) education (aside from teacher training considerations), today I notice that News Corp has announced an entrance into the K12 market: “News Corp unveils ‘Amplify’ to bring digitial innovation to K12 innovation”:
Today, News Corporation unveiled the brand and business of its Education Division. Amplify is dedicated to reimagining K-12 education by creating digital products and services that empower students, teachers and parents in new ways. Amplify will enhance the potential of students with new curricular experiences, support teachers with new instructional tools and engage parents through extended learning opportunities. Amplify will introduce these unique and pioneering offerings in collaboration with AT&T.
Amplify appears to be offering a tablet based play to compete with the K12 textbook market, offering rich interactive content with value adding learning analytics. Learning analytics and formative assessment are provided by another Amplify (i.e. News Corp) company, wireless generation (News Corp acquired a 90% stake in Wireless Generation in November 2010: FT: News Corp ‘bet’ on education sector). By the by, it seems Wireless Generation has itself been on the acquisition trail recently: Wireless Generation Buys Assessment Company Intel-Assess.
There’s not a lot of substance on the Amplify site yet, so rather than rehash it here, I suggest you poke around the site yourself and see what jumps out (feel free to mention anything interesting you find in the comments;-) If that seems like to much hard work, try this report from GigaOm: How will News Corps’ new ed tech business ‘Amplify’ education?.
From a quick dig around, though, Amplify appears to be focussing on delivery rather than credentialed assessment. I wondered briefly if that might be because it could introduce a conflict of interest if the company provided both content and assessment services, but presumably not, as the OU’s Innovating Pedagogy report noted:
[I]n the UK Pearson operate EdExcel for the assessment of GCSE, GCE (A-level) and BTEC/vocational qualifications. Pearson has recently bought vocational trainers Education Development International and assessment and testing providers Centiport. If education is ripe for disruption, it may be that the assessment of training and the offering of examination services at higher levels of education will provide a route by which publishers can develop credibility in the assessment and award of an ever wider range of qualification products based around their content offerings.
A couple of other things that strike me about the announcement, and that I should really try to ponder further: the extent to which the economics of education are influenced by the content business (maybe Andy Lane will chip in with a comment about the business model of school education..?;-); and the rate at which performance tracking and learning analytics style approaches are going to focus attention on reporting dashboards than human teacher-pupil relationships.
I also wonder about the role of plurality in all this? In the UK, the notion of media plurality “helps to support a democratic society by ensuring citizens are informed by a diverse range of views and by preventing too much influence over political processes by one media owner or outlet”, or at least, that’s what a June 2012 press release announcing an OfCom report on measuring media plurality claims. But how about in education? How about in education where the publishers who control either – or both – the content and the means of certified assessment are also news publishers? How far should the notion of plurality extend then? Across all content businesses, including education?
Via … someone… (apologies, I forget who…) I notice that [t]he BBC has applied for funding to help launch a series of industrywide, [foundation] degree-level apprenticeships in technology and engineering (Broadcast: BBC lines up apprenticeships).
Digging around a little, it seems that in an Apprenticeships Conference Speech (June 2012), Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s Chief Operating Officer, laid out the plans: “Over five years, our ambition is to grow a new generation of highly skilled technologists and engineers – made up of Level 5 Apprenticeships (that’s equivalent to degree level) and beyond that Traineeships up to Masters level. Once trained, this talent will be available to work either in the BBC or for others in the industry.”
Just imagine, you could be an 18 year old who embarks on this journey and by the age of 23 you come out with a Masters education, no debt, AND you’re highly employable. That doesn’t sound like a bad option in today’s economic climate, and it’s also extremely good for us in terms of growing the new technology talent that we need.
More generally, we’re investigating how we can develop ‘career pathways’ in other areas where we have skills gaps. For example, many of us report shortages in Production Management skills – so it would seem sensible to start to ‘grow our own’ rather than keep poaching from one another.
Again, apprenticeships are the answer. In this case new, higher level apprenticeship qualification, building on Creative Skillset’s existing Level 3 qualification [this one? Diploma in Creative and Media]. We are proposing to launch a more advanced Level 4 qualification which would allow people to progress.
As you have been hearing the BBC currently has 55 apprentices. They receive their formal training from FE colleges, and that feels right for that intermediary qualification. But as we move into higher level qualifications, we believe it’s really important for the training to become far more industry focused and employer led.
So the BBC Academy plans to take on responsibility for training the BBC’s higher level Apprentices. We’re hoping that this will inject a real sense of added prestige to the Apprenticeships and make them even more highly sought after and highly prized across the industry.
The plans are dependent on a successful outcome to a bid from the BBC into the Employers’ Ownership of Skills Pilot, which “offers all employers in England direct access to up to £250 million of public investment over the next two years to design and deliver their own training solutions. The pilot is jointly overseen by UKCES, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education.”
(By the by, I also belatedly note the recent announcement UfI Trust £50M endowment fund that will be used “to fund projects that can transform vocational adult learning through technology”. The fund is a windfall from the sale of learndirect, which I first picked up on when I saw a learndirect sponsorship logo on the Marussia F1 car.)
The ability to award degrees in the UK is regulated [see David Kernohan's comments below.. it was late, I was tired and being careless/sloppy in my writing, which is to say this part of the post is even more meaningless drivel than the usual unchecked ramblings I post; thank goodness for open peer review;-)]
by BIS (I think?), who maintain the official “Recognised Bodies” list (hmm… this could be a handy source of UK “university” homepage URLs?). If the BBC does start running Masters courses, who will be validating them I wonder? Would the BBC be allowed to apply for listed status I wonder?!
(I had a quick look around for a current/”live” list of institutions proposed for inclusion as BIS listed/registered bodies, but could only find a recent-ish “latest proposals” list (Institutions proposed for inclusion as Listed Bodies (March 2012)). This then got me wondering if there’s anything in the Open Data Institute 5 year plan that would seek to get the ODI into a position 5 years or so hence that would allow it to become a listed body? Or whether the plan is to develop it purely, although quietly, as a generously supported University of Southampton enterprise?)
It was also interesting (to me, at least) to see an announcement this week relating to training offerings by our friend that is Google: Google launches new developer education programs in the form of the Google Developers Academy, “a new program that provides training materials on Google technologies”. I’m not sure what makes this new – Google has been offering training courses for ages (eg the Google Qualified Developer programme I noted in 2010) – but maybe it’s more formal now? I need to take a proper look, I think…
The Goog’s also made an announcement about an “open online course” they’re offering in mid-July to support the development of search skills: Power Searching with Google, “a free online, community-based course showcasing search techniques and how to use them to solve real, everyday problems”. Given the stupid numbers that signed up to the Stanford AI course, it’ll be interesting to see how many go for the Google course…
PS It also seems as if the leader of the Stanford open AI course, Sebastien Thrun, made a good call when he set up Udacity, following the success of that course, to run open online courses – it’s just partnered with Pearson’s VUE testing centres (in an undisclosed arrangement? Or are details available somewhere? In particular, how does the money flow?) [commentary]. The partnership will allow learners to take a supervised exam that can contribute towards and “official” Udacity credential. By using a recognised testing centre, it seems that the Udacity folk are pushing ahead at full tilt in their designs to come up with an alternative qualification that is recognised by employers – with properly managed assessment presumably playing an important part in that. (FWIW, it’s maybe also worth noting that recently Pearson acquired IT testing provider Certiport.)
PPS given all this activity around threats to the HE sector from workplace trainers, and, erm, “other”, I note this from four years ago… If Universities Were Companies…. Hmmm… If you acknowledge these rivals as threats and start to feel as if they have to compete with them (or are perceived as behaving as if they are competing with them directly), will that start to legitimise their offerings (using “logic” along the lines of: if universities feel threatened by these alternatives, they must see them as in some way equivalent to their (the university) offerings. Which means the alternatives must be educationally sound or the universities wouldn’t respond, because it wouldn’t be a real threat. Which means we should maybe treat the alternatives as valid alternatives to university qualifications, because the universities do…)
Blimey – is that *really* the time?! Enough…
Alice Bell is “currently working with colleagues at the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology on a small research project exploring communities of education blogging”. She has a questionnaire here. Below are my responses…
Blog URL: blog.ouseful.info
What do you blog about? My blog is a catch-all searchable notebook, where I tend to post code fragments and tutorials relating to tools and techniques that may be of interest to “digital scholars” and/or relevant to open, online educators. I also posts thoughts, observations and round-up posts on things that interest me (open data policy and data visualisation at the moment, but in the past I’ve also focussed on search engine matters, the role of digital libraries, information skills). The style of writing is at times quite unforgiving – the blog is primarily my working open notebook, and makes heavy use of links to previous posts of my own (eg http://blog.ouseful.info/2010/08/30/the-structure-of-ouseful-info/ ), as well as third party posts. Which is to say, some things I post only make sense if you know what I’ve posted before, or follow the links! I also use blog posts as a hub for linking to other resources I’ve posted on Slideshare, for example, code snippets/gists on Github, data scrapers and UIs on Scraperwiki, bookmarl stacks on delicious, etc. The blog (and blog feed) also syndicates occasional “feedthru” links tagged as such on my delicious account.
Are you paid to blog? I blog in work time and my own free time, but the OUseful.info blog posts are always done with a view that folk may associate them with activities I am engaged with as an OU academic, albeit working to a personal research agenda. I see the OUseful.info blog in part as a knowledge transfer/public engagement activity that tries to demonstrate how to work with information by using and appropriating tools that are freely available ‘in the future that is already around us’. I post several times a week, with posts that typically take anything between 10 mins and an hour or two to put together. For practical write-ups, it often takes longer to write the blog post than to it took to work out how to do the thing I’m blogging about..
What do you do professionally (other than blog)? I am an academic in the Open University’s Department of Communication and Systems. I’ve worked on a variety of courses (Artificial Intelligence, robotics, information skills, game design and development) as well as chipping ideas in a variety of OU projects where my activities and ideas may be, erm, OUseful…
How long have you been blogging at this site? On wordpress.com, since July 2008, but I had a Typepad blog with the OUseful.info name on an OU blog server from 2005 and had been blogging for a while before that using Blogger.
Do you write in other platforms? (e.g. in a print magazine?) My communication activities are based around OUseful.info, the blog, my Twitter account (@psychemedia), and conference/workshop presentations (slides from which get posted to slideshare – psychemedia again). I occasionally post short “blog like” annotations to images/screencaptures posted to flickr (psychemedia again) where I think I may want to point folk to the image their rather than posting about it on the blog, or as annotations to bookmark links on Delicious. I’ve also started pulling together curated Delicious stacks (ordered bundles on bookmarks, account name is… psychemedia) on particular topics. The important thing for me is that: 1) I can rediscover whatever I posted, wherever it is; 2) point to it via a URL.
Can you remember why you started blogging? Searchable, personal notebook. My assumptions were (and still are) that: no-one would read it; only people who were interested would find it; if they were interested they may either find it useful and/or be able to correct something I’d said or answer a question I’d raised. I also believe that the power of the web (at least, in a web dominated by search engines that in part rely on PageRank/link related SERP rankings) is related to its link structure, and that it it part of my *duty* as an open digital scholar to help shape that terrain by linking together content that seems to me to fit together. My PageRank influence may be weak, but it’s there.
What keeps you blogging? If I don’t blog my notes, I don’t have any notes. Having been a blogger for several years, and having been tracking odd bits of technology on a daily basis for years, I’m also finding there is value in the archive, for example as a way of recalling what was current or upcoming two, three, four years ago, or what we thought the future might be in years past… It’s also interesting to see the extent to which weak predictions either play out, or don’t… Some posts I “maintain” with updates that show the progression of a particular idea (eg http://blog.ouseful.info/2008/10/22/amazon-edge-services-digital-manufacturing/ ).
Do you have any idea of the size or character if your audience? How? WordPress blog stats, which are pretty ropey, suggest daily views of about 1000 on the blog.ouseful.info site (it was around 1500 a day a couple of months ago but a Google search engine algorithm change knocked me back) over 950 (in total) or so posts, and 150 or so email subscribers. A handful of posts pull 50-100 views each per day, then there’s a long tail. I was getting about 30-50 views from a single shared link on twitter (~3k followers) but that has dropped off too (I guess more folk are following more folk, so there’s less chance of seeing a particular tweeted link; I don’t tend to try to socially optimise when I tweet a link). Feedburner stats give me syndication stats – 1700 or so subscribers, reach of around 200. My original ouseful blog archive gets about 25 visits a day, according to Google Analytics.
What’s your attitude to/ relationship with people who comment on your blog? I don’t get a lot of comments, but there are some regular folk who either remark on what I have said/challenge claims I have made or point to additional resources. WordPress shows trackbacks and referrer sources, so from my site dashboard I can see something of who else has linked to me. (Links in from third party sites is as low as it ever has been; folk aren’t creating the link structure that helps the web work…)
Do you feel as if you fit into any particular community, network or genre of blogging? (e.g. schools, science, education, museums, technology) Techie notes and rants? I get a better view of where the interests of “my audience” lay from Twitter social positioning maps (eg http://blog.ouseful.info/2011/06/11/a-map-of-my-twitter-follower-network/ ).
If so, what does that community give you? An imagined audience, which means I try to write as if someone else might read it (lots of typos slip through, but as and when I spot them I go back in to posts to correct them). I also occasionally get comments back with useful responses, questions, links to other resources etc. I try to respond to comments… That said, I’m as likely to get personal emails that thank me for the blog then ask a question or howto based around one or more particular posts.
What do you think are the advantages of blogging? What are its disadvantages/ limitations?
Advantages: searchable notebook; increasingly valuable archive; contribution to the structure of the web (if you link); profile raising (possibly); pull model knowledge transfer (folk finding things they need by searching for it); fishing (eg corrections, comments, related resources from comments and trackbacks); community/relationship discovery (eg monitoring trackbacks, referrals).
Disadvantages: it takes time to post (but then, it also saves time wrt looking up things you’ve done before); profile raising (possibly); struggle to find a voice, then potentially feel as if you are locked in to that voice (even if no-one is reading;-) “Formal record” – I have pretty much given up on formal academic communications; folk are often unwilling to reference “informal” blog posts; granular nature of albeit linked posts means there are no comprehensive summary statements of a tool, technique or idea that I have written about. I am starting to explore use of delicious stacks and delicious category/tag feeds as a way of pulling together sets of posts that may (possibly) be used as the basis for longer form formal writings.
Do you tell people you know offline that you’re a blogger? (e.g. your grandmother, your boss) I think my family knows I do things around the web, but it’s way too geeky for them and their interests often don’t extend much past Facebook, if that far… Friends know, ish, but it’s way too geeky for them too… If truth be told, it’s probably way too geeky (and too frequently posted to…) for many of the people I work with/know professionally;-) I do have a couple of other blogs – eg f1datajunkie.blogspot.com – which I use for particular niche interests that I don’t want to swamp OUseful.info with and that tap into other communities. On occasion, I cross link between them. So for example, the F1DataJunkie blog is trying to explore ways of communicating knowledge and techniques about data viz tools into a technical audience via a common “other” interest; so in a sense, it’s an outreach activity, or so I like to claim ;-)
Is there anything else you want to tell me about I haven’t asked?
Do you syndicate your content? Yes: for example, my RStats blog category feed syndicates content to Rbloggers [ http://www.r-bloggers.com ] and my onlinejournalismblog category is also disctributed via the Online Journalism blog [ http://onlinejournalismblog.com/ ]. I post specific items to these feeds knowing that they will be further syndicated to audience groups with very particular interests; they also generate small amounts of traffic back to my blog.
<emTechies stuff – what platform do you blog on? I use a hosted blog on WordPress.com with a custom domain mapping that I pay for personally (I think I may also pay to stop WordPress ads? Maybe?!). I don’t want the grief of administering/updating my own installation, although it would be useful to be able to install plugins, use Google Analytics etc. My employer do offer WordPress blogs that I could add plugins to, but I’m not sure how kindly they’d take to the domain mapping?
Some fragments that possibly make for a useful jigsaw, based on a use case of trying to think up possible projects for an OU Masters course, and wondering what other modules students taking the project course are likely to have – or are required to have – already taken:
- The OU Masters level Computing Project course (T802) is a compulsory course in several qualifications:
I would like a list of other modules associated with those qualifications, and a rank of how many of those qualifications each appears in. A handful of graphs come to mind too: a bipartite graph showing connections between each of those qualifications and their compulsory modules; a bipartite graph showing connections between each of those qualifications and their eligible (“defining, but not compulsory” modules); collapsed versions of the bipartite graphs showing modules with edges between them where they co-occur in a qualification.
- Clicking through on one of the qualification links, eg to the MSc in Information Systems, I see this:
…but no link to the Postgraduate Diploma in Information Systems (E10) (http://www3.open.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/qualification/e10.htm). So, first up, I’d like data relating to precursor qualifications required for the Masters. And second up, information about the modules with those qualifications:
I’m not sure if this info is available in either the OU Linked Data store or via the OU XCRI feed but I’m not minded to waste the rest of my Sunday finding out. All I wanted was a list of modules that potential students on T802 might be expected to have taken…
PS fwiw, here’s a qualification entry from the OU XCRI feed:
<course> <identifier>E08</identifier> <title>Postgraduate Diploma in Technology Management</title> <subject>Engineering, Technology and Design</subject> <subject>Technology</subject> <description xsi:type="xcri:metadataKeywords">E08, Postgraduate Diploma in Technology Management, Postgraduate qualification, Open University </description> <description xsi:type="xcri:abstract"> <div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> <p>This diploma provides an analytical view of strategic issues in technology management, equipping you for senior technology management roles.</p> </div> </description> <description xsi:type="xcri:aim"> <div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> <p>This postgraduate diploma course represents the second qualification level in the technology management programme. The diploma builds on the operational focus of the postgraduate certificate by providing you with concepts and tools to support the effective strategic management of technology. The compulsory modules in the diploma link the fields of strategic management and technology strategy. There is also the opportunity to extend your technology management studies by choosing optional modules relevant to your particular interests. The qualification provides an analytical view of strategic issues in technology management, and will equip you for senior technology management roles.</p> </div> </description> <description xsi:type="xcri:learningOutcome"> <div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> <p>The technology management programme develops analytical skills and provides practically relevant knowledge that will equip you well for a variety of management and leadership roles. The competent technology manager is a highly valued professional, capable of ensuring that the organisation reaps all the potential rewards from its investment in technology of whatever type. You will develop a range of job-related and transferable skills such as critical thinking, creative problem solving, and the ability to cope with rapid technological change. The capabilities in research and problem-solving developed can be exploited in all professional situations at all management levels. Employers are also impressed by the commitment and determination it takes to succeed with the OU while keeping up family and work commitments. These benefits, together with the opportunities to add value by applying your learning to the workplace as you study, make technology management programmes very attractive vehicles towards success in senior management roles.</p> <p>There is more information about how OU study can improve your employability in the OU’s Employability Statement from our Careers Advisory Service. You can also read or download our publication OU study and your career and look at our subject pages to find out about career opportunities.</p> </div> </description> <url>http://www3.open.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/qualification/E08.htm</url> <qualification> <title>Postgraduate Diploma in Technology Management</title> <level>Postgraduate</level> <type>The Open University</type> </qualification> <credit> <scheme>The Open University</scheme> <level /> <value>120</value> </credit> <presentation> <identifier>E08</identifier> <description>See individual course components for details of presentations of OU courses.</description> <start>1900-01-01</start> <duration>Please refer to individual modules or contact the Student Registration & Enquiry Service for details.</duration> <studyMode>The Open University offers part time distance education - known as supported open learning - which allows students to work at home in their own time, usually with the support of a personal tutor.</studyMode> <attendanceMode>Self-study</attendanceMode> <attendancePattern>Part time distance education course</attendancePattern> <languageOfInstruction>EN</languageOfInstruction> <languageOfAssessment>EN</languageOfAssessment> <venue> <title>Self-study</title> <description>The Open University offers part time distance education - known as supported open learning - which allows students to work at home in their own time, usually with the support of a personal tutor. </description> <url>http://www.open.ac.uk/</url> </venue> <cost>Costs are paid per unit not per qualification.</cost> <applyTo>http://www.open.ac.uk/study/</applyTo> <enquireTo>Contact name: Student Registration & Enquiry Service, Contact phone: 0845 3006090, Contact email: email@example.com</enquireTo> </presentation> </course>
So, no information there – let alone data – about what modules are involved…? (I also wonder about the quality of some of the data that is being published (start date of 1900-01-01, for example?) and how/where some of the semantics are defined, such as: what sort of credit points are the 120 unspecificed level points associated with the qualification?)
Of course, the intention behind the XCRI feed is not to provide scaffolding mapping out the module structure of OU offerings (it’s published as a marketing info syndication feed – thoughts on how well it might, does or doesn’t fit that purpose via the comments, please;-), but I was hoping that it might be repurposable/appropriatable as such ;-)