Aug 18 2014

The North American perspective: the same, but different

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Portlandia

Photo from Flickr taken by astrangelyisolatedplace

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend a conference in Portland, Oregon, held at Portland State UniversityLibrary Instruction West is an information literacy conference and I was representing a national committee called Co-PILOT that I helped to set up, and LSE. Co-PILOT is a community of practice which encourages those teaching information and digital literacy to share their teaching materials as open educational resources (OERs). This helps to share resources, saving us all reinventing the wheel across higher education and hopefully encourages good practice. I was speaking at the conference about work this group have been doing in the UK, educating others about how to find good quality open resources you can re-use and how to use Creative Commons Licences to licence your own work, so others can use it. I got involved in OERs about four years ago when LSE led the DELILA project, which led to us sharing a number of teaching materials owned by LTI and LSE Library in the national repository of OERs, Jorum.

Working in Learning Technology and Innovation, I was on the look out for new ideas for teaching and innovations. We often think that exciting things are happening in North American universities that we need to be aware of in the UK. I certainly came back with a sense that things are different, I’m just still trying to pin down exactly how. There were over 250 delegates at the conference from a wide range of US and Canadian universities, community colleges and schools. In my first blog post written during the conference I was struck by the differences in terminology we use in UK higher education compared to across the Atlantic. People had quite different job titles so the majority were instruction and outreach or information literacy librarians (not subject librarians or academic support staff) I also met instructional designers (what LSE would call educational developers) and educational technologists.  Those differences suggested to me that academic support services are set up slightly differently in US and Canadian universities. However, people did talk about the same issues we deal with in LTI, such as how to engage academic staff, how to embed digital and information literacy effectively into the curriculum, how to be innovative in teaching and use technology appropriately.

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Posted by: Posted on by Jane Secker

Aug 13 2014

Moodle upgrade to version 2.6

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On 3rd September 2014 we are upgrading Moodle from 2.4 to 2.6 – it’ll include improvements and new features, and the theme will differ too. moreinfo

Here’s a quick summary:

  • default theme no longer mimics the LFY look, but uses LSE black red and white and we’ve gone back to three columns (main middle section, blocks on either side). Note: you can set a different theme for yourself if you prefer.
  • more responsive design, which means Moodle will work better across different screen sizes and devices (smartphones, tablets etc)
  • Collapsible navigation: you can dock blocks to the side, to keep the work area cleaner
  • Editing tools have been grouped together to in a simple dropdown menu for easy accessibility across desktop and mobile devices and editing forms are now shorter as sections have been made collapsible.
  • Uploaded PDFs (in assignments by students) can be annotated in a browser

summaryWe’ve also produced a  screen-cast showcasing improvements and highlights, a webpage with a fuller summary (and even more screen-casts) and a preview copy of moodle (called muddle), which you can log into and have a look at to get an idea what it will be like as of September.

Enjoy!

Sonja

 

Posted by: Posted on by Sonja Grussendorf

Aug 12 2014

Open Practices for Early Career Researchers

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LSE Library is co-hosting a one-day conference on Thursday 4th September on open access, research data sharing and enhancing impact via openness for early stage researchers. There are great speakers and practical sessions lined up and bookings are now open. If you would like to attend or find out more, please register online: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/discovering-open-practices-tickets-12123386375.

The event will be hosted jointly with Kings College, London and Queen Mary, University of London and there are 35 tickets for LSE PhD students and early career researchers. It is funded by the EU FOSTER project. More details available on the website: http://www.fosteropenscience.eu/

Posted by: Posted on by Jane Secker

Jul 28 2014

Thoughts on innovation in higher education – Sorting the revolutionary change from the merely cosmetic

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*apologies to Alvin Toffler for the appropriation of his quote for the title*

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“Once I began thinking in terms of waves of change, colliding and overlapping, causing conflict and tension around us, it changed my perception of change itself. In every field, from education and health to technology, from personal life to politics, it became possible to distinguish those innovations that are merely cosmetic, or just extensions of the industrial past, from those that are truly revolutionary.”
Toffler Alvin. The Third Wave. 1980.

I have spent the last few months presenting findings from the first year of a project (from my previous institution) that was designed to transform learning and teaching with technology. Most of the papers have centred on the notions of institutional resistance to technology and how through a process of encouraging play and experimentation with technology, we believed that the vision could overcome this resistance to change and open up the debates around the changing nature of pedagogy. We kept coming back to the same conclusion, shoulder shrugged. Resistance seemed to be an inevitable outcome of even the smallest and least controversial of innovations. This resistance came in many and varied forms, from the outright to the passive. It permeated all aspects of the implementation. Everything from the hearts and minds exercises to the practical expressions of benefit to the students was seen through the lens of resistance. Both inside and outside the institution there were colleagues who were interested and engaged participators in the debate, whilst there were others who questioned the practicality or even the point of such philosophical musings, preferring a more practical take on technological innovation (DIY or not do it all seemed to the polarised positions).

The more I presented these findings, the more I found myself almost apologising for my views. I became critical of the project and our apparent failings in achieving the aspirational intentions we set out to achieve. I started second guessing many of the insights or broader ideas that emerged from this intense period of research and reflection. I was using phrases like ‘I don’t I want to throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and ‘I am not advocating a revolution’. When in many ways I actually wanted to advocate that so we could have a real, engaged and impactful debate, rather than a question or two at conference, usually prefaced with the words ‘This is not so much a question, more a statement…’. I wanted to be the radical voice, challenging orthodoxy and unsettling the status quo. Not because it felt good to be a rebel but because I honestly believe that innovation comes from challenging your ideas with others and collaborating to do something better. But instead I retreated into saying what I believed and putting my hands up and almost saying ‘sorry’ after I had said it.

Recently I read a book chapter by James G. March from Stanford (published in 1976) called ‘The Technology of Foolishness’ where he argues that organisations and the decisions they make can become wrapped up in a web of ‘received doctrine’ of intelligence and choice. He aligns this doctrine with three assumptions of rational decision making (the pre-existence of purpose, the necessity of consistency and the primacy of rationality). Any e-Learning approach is judged by the objectives and purposes it sets (and not always achieves), the importance of ensuring that consistency is achieved across disciplines and through qualifications usually resulting in the provision of a lowest common denominator service (where the least controversial aspects become the organisational norm) and that the rational expectations of faculty and student experience are indeed more primary to the aspirational expectations of people choosing to innovate, experiment and push boundaries.

March argues that we as adults have constructed a world in which we know what is good for ourselves. We ‘know’ the consequences of any decision we or others make, whilst children are freed from this rationality and predictive intelligence. The result in the case of institutional resistance to technology is a series of common mantras….

#‘It’s a nice idea, but it won’t work’,
#‘It would be good to do if we had more time’
#’I am sure it’s a great thing with the kind of students YOU teach, but with my kind of students…’
#’The lecture has worked for 125 years, why do we need to change it?’
#’Students don’t know what they want, but our employer’s sure do’

So, why do we find it hard to even have these debates without resorting to a series of well-worn defences based on our understandings of what are the almost guaranteed consequences of what is being proposed? March argues that for effective decision making we need to ‘suspend (our) rational imperatives towards consistency’. What does this mean in terms of e-Learning? For me, this is about introducing conceptual and attitudinal behaviours into higher education design, pedagogy and management that will not always embraced, either by staff overworked at the coalface or by management beset by constraints and objectives too often in conflict or contrary to the philosophical intent of the academy.

March describes these behaviours in the context of what he calls the ‘technology of foolishness’. Linked closely to the notions of play, where the usual rules are suspended allowing us to seek out new rules through experimentation and reject the usual objections to rational behaviours or accepted intelligence. Resistance to technology in higher education occurs despite the overwhelming evidence of societal change arising from the internet and social media (technology-change sceptics? Technology change is not man-made perhaps?). People who play with technology in higher education are often seen as zealots, tinkerers, or techies or at best, early adopters. Their work is often marginalised to their own context, shared with the converted and siloed within e-Learning-centric activity and practice. Many institutions still actively separate learning and e-Learning as if the ‘e’ part of this cutting edge experimental state is not really the same as teaching. Comparing online learning and face to face teaching is seen as not comparing apples with apples. The debates around using technology and changing pedagogy are positioned as dichotomous, mutually exclusive and competing paradigms, ignoring the decades of successful and innovative blended learning.

Take the dreaded MOOC debate. This has become rent with almost an ideological extremism bordering on George W Bush’s euphemistic ‘you are with us or against us’ argument. I recently presented at a MOOC conference where I took what I thought was a fairly critical approach to the debates around the impacts of MOOCs on HE. Granted it was to a room of MOOC advocates and providers, so ‘fox in a henhouse’ was probably an appropriate metaphor. But I felt, not through any comments or questions or responses, that I needed to temper my opinions a little, ensure it was clear that I was not a MOOC sceptic or technology neophyte making uninformed observations around a well understood field. What became clear to me after presenting these opinions in a number of places is that there is an accepted and arguably melodramatic narrative that MOOCs will change the world, the education has already passed a tipping point, weak brands will die and strong brands will survive, just like the music industry. Anyone who argues against this is misinformed, ignorant or an idealist pining for the days gone by. And it is easy to portray those who disagree with you as naysayers, luddites or people who just don’t get it. Now, this is not a universal set of behaviours. I have had some engaging and pragmatic debates with MOOC players, and both our understandings are better for it.

As a sector it is critical that we apply the same rigour and criticality to our own behaviours as we do to our students and our research. We need to be able to engage in debates, discussions and experiments at an institutional level. It is equally important that these debates are not just navel gazing or pointless circles of rhetoric and opinion. They need to be centred on questioning the key assumptions made in our delivery of learning and teaching.

Graeme Gibbs wrote his seminal piece ‘Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing’ in 1981, yet 34 years on we are still arguing about it and every word he said is prescient today as it was then.  Now, we can assume that, for example, the debate around the lecture has been won and the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the sage (by sheer evidence of activity). We can equally assume that it is harder to change the status quo than it is to accept it. But for me the debate that occurs around the lecture is not interesting. It is like a football game, where one team keeps back passing and plodding around until the other guys get a chance to do the same. March equally agrees that a dichotomous ‘one or the other’ approach will get us nowhere in enhancing and promoting innovative decision making. He argues for a combination of foolishness and rationality that will allow for the development of ‘unusual combinations of attitudes and behaviours supported by an embracing of playfulness and inconsistency. The ability of an institution to embrace and celebrate real innovation is crucial. The ability to reconsider what we consider success and failure and how we let these expectations shape the way we implement and evaluate new ideas and strategies.

“…an education that is understood in complexity terms cannot be conceived in terms of preparation for the future. Rather, it must be construed in terms of participation in the creation of possible futures” Davis and Sumara (2009)

What does this mean for those of us who are arguing for new approaches for teaching and learning? Are we ground down by these resistances, the side-tracking and the endless debates about the same thing? We need to re-examine the way we approach the debates around the efficacy or importance of making change. These are three fairly general observations I would make, that might represent a starting point to the debate. I will note that these could be seen as entirely aspirational or perhaps idealistic. In the light of my previous reflections, I just say, SO WHAT! Debate me!!

1. We must create and nurture an organisational culture that supports innovation. People who experiment and challenge rules and recognised ways of doing things are not rebels, or radicals or crazies. Innovation comes from places that can’t be actively pigeonholed or defined. An organisational imperative to support innovative practice is crucial. The ability to fail in those innovations equally critical. What does it look like? No idea! It will be different from one place to the next. Not everyone can do the 3M model. But what is important is that innovation is not a buzzword, or a work package. Innovation is a culture; it is an attitude to challenging the status quo and actually having the will and support to change if it proves necessary. People doing innovative stuff need to get rewarded and celebrated.

2. We must accept that there is a role of ambiguity, chaos and uncertainty in an organisation. Now, any one of us who has been in HE for any length of time is pretty well screaming at the top of their lungs – WELCOME TO MY LIFE! And yes, that much is true. These factors have often been linked with fear and paralysis to provide a gorgeous and lush motivational cocktail for faculty and staff in HE. But, the ability of staff to dive in without knowing the answer, develop counter-intuitive approaches to learning design, use technology in a way that seems to be against the institutional systems put in place to govern it and share those experiences in an environment of support not defence, will at least encourage them to try again. At best it will be the game changing, epoch making thing that MOOCs will never be. How did we come up with the model of teaching and learning we use now…someone tried something different and it worked. Wonder if they were regarded as pariahs?

3. We must understand how learning has already changed and in what ways do we need to respond to the change. The learners arriving at university are already e-learners, with lives lived in a post-digital world, where there is no real and online world, there is just the world. They have developed skills for living in a 21st century world which are different or at least adapted from those required to live in a pre-digital world. Technology is not class or category of learning. It is a means, a society changing and generation shaping means. It is transformative, emancipatory, democratic (for now), challenging and contrary. Institutions have to develop the skills of adaptation, agility, flexibility and criticality around technology and its impact on learning. The line between learning and eLearning is already well and truly blurred. Perhaps it needs to vanish altogether.

My final quote from March goes a little like this, ‘There is little magic in the world, and foolishness in people and organisations is one of the many things that fail to produce miracles’. I don’t have a magic bullet, or equally bulletproof case studies that prove beyond this will work. This is however, the debate we have to have. The debate that we need to start in order to challenge, reinforce or change the way we do higher education. Do I have solutions, answers, suggestions or models that might help? Yes, of course! You can dig through the archives of this blog for the views of a range of eminent scholars, practitioners and rock and roll victims (I will leave it to you to decide which I am!). But perhaps in a small way, each of us engaging in this debate will go some of the way to ignoring the hyperbole and get to the heart of what learning and teaching will look like in the post-digital age. And yes, it will more than likely have to be revolutionary or at least different from what went before.

 

Follow me and more of these debates on twitter @peterbryantHE

ReferencesDavis, B., & Sumara, D. (2009). Complexity as a theory of education. TCI (Transnational Curriculum Inquiry), 5(2), 33-44.
March, J. G. (1976). The technology of foolishness. Ambiguity and choice in organizations, 69, 81.

Posted by: Posted on by Peter Bryant

Jul 21 2014

The Centre for Learning Technology are now Learning Technology and Innovation

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The Centre for Learning Technology (CLT), the hub for technology-focused innovation in teaching and learning at LSE, are now Learning Technology and Innovation (LTI). The new name better reflects our aim to bring new and innovative ideas to LSE and the wider academic community.

As always, the team will continue to work with staff on digital literacy, flipping lectures, Moodle and other technologies supporting teaching and learning at LSE.

Along with a new name, we also have new office in the lower ground floor of Aldwych House. Contact details, email addresses and the website will gradually changing over the next few months with no interruption of service. You can email us via lti.support@lse.ac.uk, as well as by calling us on 020 7849 4697.

Posted by: Posted on by CLTSupport Tagged with: , ,

Jul 16 2014

Reflecting on students as partners

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Several conferences I’ve attended in the last few weeks have had the theme of students as partners and as the SADL (Student Ambassadors for Digital Literacy) project ends it’s first year I think it’s timely to reflect on what we’ve learnt, what worked and what we could do differently. The project team included staff from LTI, IT Training, TLC, the Students’ Union and we worked with two academic departments: Social Policy and Statistics. We specifically recruited undergraduate students.

First what worked?
Recruitment went well and our project managed to grab the interest of students and in many cases keep them interested for the year. However we do really need to understand why a few students didn’t engage with us and why they just attended one or two sessions. Did it not meet their expectations? Were they too busy? Was it not relevant? Our end of project survey has some useful data here. Last week at our first NetworkEDGE seminar, Stephen Downes urged us to not just talk to the successful students but those who drop out.

Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Jane Secker

Jul 10 2014

Beyond institutions: Stephen Downes at NetworkEDGE

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Yesterday I attended our new series NetworkEDGE: The Future of Education online, because we live stream (and record) these things and therefore I could. We were lucky enough to have Stephen Downes inaugurate, and I watched, listened and tweeted along.

(I’m ambivalent about tweeting during talks. Tweeting is great for note-taking, sharing, interjecting, pondering publicly, chatting with others in the audience while keeping an eye on the main speaker. But it’s hard work, difficult to do well, and distracting from careful listening. It helped to have seen the slides beforehand, as Stephen posts them on his site.)

Downes shared his utopian anti-institutional view of education with us and that’s the kind of thing I lap up. He pleaded for “learning beyond institutions”, towards personal learning in a networked world. This is the impression I got: here’s a dedicated anti-establishment guy, who despairs at the capitalist ideology at the core of education; who dislikes that learning is now an industry; who thinks that most educators waste time and effort in their attempts to improve their teaching, their learning. Wasted, because it goes towards improving essentially capitalist systems, structures, models, even though these fail us (us = the learners, the educators) time and again. How much better to smash our educational idols, and to break away, move away:

  • Move towards learner autonomy.
  • Move towards anarchic learning, based on no models, no systems, no traditional ideals.
  • Move beyond institutions and towards self-organised networks of learners.

(“Smash”, “idols”, “beyond” – of course Downes is no Nietzsche, but there is a certain Nietzschean sentiment in his ideas).

“The right model is to do away with models” he told us. – this is an idea I can get behind, a nicely phrased aporia, along the lines of “O my friends, there is no friend”. Now, one might argue that Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall, which Downes referred to, is itself a model, Mitra often suggests so: that’s why he was able to translate the idea from rural India to schools in England. His model is anti-institutional, it seeks to depose the teacher, but it is still a model. Like Downes, Mitra is interested in self-organising systems – and where you have systems, you have a model! The point is that there are no standards or rules which apply consistently or work universally and at all times. This is a good thing to bear in mind. Standards (rules, regulations) are always exclusive, limited and limiting. They hinder innovation, stifle creativity and reduce everything to sameness. We need people like Downes to remind us of this. We need to be asked that we do away with ALL such rules, so that at the very least we might discard some of them, and re-introduce autonomy into our sector. As he told us later “Autonomy, rather than control, is essential in education”. This is as uncomfortable an idea for institutions as it is for the individual. Control is something we desire (if not need), whereas autonomy can often be disquieting. However, some claim, control is an illusion anyway, so we might as well move away from trying to control our learners and allow them their autonomy.

I agree with many of Stephen’s principles, even if I do so at my peril (i.e. by sort of wishing the hand that feeds me would whither and die). Wouldn’t an anarchic utopia be fun? Yes it would. Will it happen? Not any time soon. Still I applaud Stephen for demanding it.

But I don’t agree with everything he claimed. Take his starting assertion that “pretty much anything works better than the traditional lecture method” – it’s neither true nor very scandalous. (But it is a standard opening in ed talks these days.) I learnt a lot from Stephen Downes’ lecture yesterday, and I know that discussing an article or blog post of his instead would not have worked better; it would have worked worse. Naturally, he addressed the irony of him lecturing (a full 90 mins!), but suggested that the lecture itself was secondary to its becoming  a resource to be shared. Yet my engagement was greatest at the actual time of listening, and throughout I wished I had been in the room with others. Yes, I agree that his lecture was “about creating the opportunity for dialogue and interaction” and that it served this purpose well. But surely this is what all lectures (can) do. No one working in education seriously believes that learning is about remembering, about recall. Yes, assessment practice tends to reward recall, and thus it places value on it, but this is what is fundamentally wrong about assessment practice, it is not evidence that we think learning is recall. Call the paradox a logical error, do not extrapolate that it shows a greater truth about our values.

Secondly, at some point I started to wonder if Downes equated learning too much with reliance on resources. Resources (and tools to create and share these) are central to his connectivist MOOC, as are the connections between learners and the conversations they have. But I missed a closer inspection of that elusive thing, ‘learning’. Sure, he reminded us: “content is only the MacGuffin” (think Maltese Falcon), there to move the conversations and relationships along, and he insisted that “learning is the conversations that happen’ – but this is not quite clear or useful enough for me. Learning cannot all be conversation, and often it benefits from leadership too. Autonomy and self-organisation are all well and good, but I’ve overheard serious conversations so dumb they’d blow your socks off, and they could have benefited from an expert gently pointing out that what had just been discussed was a) factually wrong and b) badly argued. But where does such expertise come from in self-organising networks? Also, in Downes’ self-organising networks, won’t the “filter bubble” prevent networks from being properly diverse? Won’t these self-selected online communities, be obstructed from benefiting from ethnically, socio-economically, politically different perspectives?

Finally, I am skeptical about his over reliance on technology. I tweeted a question to that effect, and he did his best to answer, but he thought I was worried only about “what happens when the lights go out” and reassured me that there are bigger threats (authoritarianism, big corporations – I know that, they too are technological systems!) than running out of fossil fuels. Rather, I meant to ask what effect our over-reliance on technology might have on our way of being: our relationships, attitudes and social behaviours. I don’t share Downes’ optimism about technology. I think it is important to evaluate our use of it critically at all times, and question its proliferation, especially in education. I imagine Downes doesn’t disagree with proper critical questioning, but I nevertheless suspect that he thinks technology overall is a boon.

And that’s fair enough.

@authenticdasein

Posted by: Posted on by Sonja Grussendorf Tagged with: , , , ,

Jul 1 2014

Launching our new seminar series: NetworkEDGE

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NetworkEDGE: The Future of Education is a new seminar series organised by CLT. Building on the impact and success of NetworkED, are are launching a landmark series of talks and debates about the future of Higher Education called NetworkEDGE.

Our first speaker is Stephen Downes works for the National Research Council of Canada. He has been a Senior Researcher since 2001. Stephen will present his thoughts and insights on the future of Higher Education. Being widely recognized to have taught (with George Siemens) the first Connectivist MOOC, Stephen has long been a distinct voice in the field of technology and pedagogy. His blog OLDaily, is the sector’s go-to site for considered and critical musings about the use of computers and the web in education.

To book a place to attend the seminar at LSE visit LSE online booking system. External guests are very welcome and should email Niamh Ryan to book a place. We will also be live streaming and recording the event which will start at 3pm BST.

Posted by: Posted on by Jane Secker

Jun 23 2014

How do the new copyright exceptions affect you?

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You may have heard in the news that new copyright exceptions came into force in the UK on the 1st June 2014. At LSE I have been trying to keep staff up to date with the changes and what they mean for teaching, learning and research and with this in mind I have drafted a set of guidelines. However, I thought I would take the opportunity to highlight a few of the new amendments – which are mainly changes to copyright exceptions, and what they mean in practice.

The changes around educational copying are probably of most interest to those of us in higher education. Section 32 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act had an outdated (some might say ludicrous) clause that permitted educational copying provided a ‘reprographic process’ was not used. This ruled out any form of photocopying or scanning for teaching and meant essentially you had to rely on your Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) Licence or write things out in long hand! The new exception means you can display material on interactive whiteboards (or on the VLE) provided you must include a sufficient acknowledgment – essentially it sanctions what a lot of teachers were probably doing already. However, this exception is subject to ‘fair dealing’ so you should stick to a small amount of the work and the material you use must be illustrative of a subject you are teaching. It certainly broadens the scope for including third party material in teaching (for example in PowerPoint or on Moodle) for illustrative purposes, but a teacher will need to judge what constitutes ‘fair’. Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Jane Secker

Jun 12 2014

Linking to Library Catalogue records from Moodle – important news

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LSE Library will be launching its new resource discovery system on the 1 August, which will upgrade the Summon and Catalogue search tools. The new search system will provide all Library users with a simple, single point of access for searching, discovering and accessing all of the Library’s content. However as part of this move the URLs of all Library catalogue records will be changing.

If you maintain your reading list via the Reading Lists @ LSE system then links to Library resources will be updated automatically and you won’t need to do anything.

If you aren’t using Reading Lists @ LSE, and instead have embedded links to the Library catalogue directly into a Moodle page, or hyperlinked from a Word document or PDF, those links will break when the new discovery system is launched. This means that after the 1st August you will need to update any existing links manually.

Links to journal articles using stable URLs (or DOIs) will not be affected.

If you’re not already using Reading Lists @ LSE and would like to take advantage of this useful and intuitive editing tool before the switchover, please contact your Academic Support Librarian – the Library has been carrying out a conversion project over the last couple of years, so a version of your list may already have been set up for you in the system. The Library can arrange a short desktop training session to show you how to edit and maintain lists, and you can discover the basics through this short screencast.

Posted by: Posted on by Jane Secker