Author Archives: Phil Barker

The end of Open Educational Practices in Scotland⤴

from @ Sharing and learning

On Monday I was at Our Dynamic Earth, by the Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh, for a day meeting on the Promise of Open Education. This was the final event of the Open Educational Practices in Scotland project (OEPS), which (according to the evaluation report):

involved five universities in leading a project based in the Open University in Scotland. Its aims were to facilitate best practice in open education in Scotland, and to enhance capacity for developing publicly available online materials across the tertiary education sector in Scotland. The project particularly focused on fostering the use of open educational practices to build capacity and promote widening participation.

 

There have always been questions about this project, notably the funnelling of money to the OU without any sign of an open bidding process, but at least it was there. With the OEPS finishing, two things caught my attention: how do we get political support for open education, and what open educational practice is current in Scotland. To paraphrase Orwell: if there is hope, it lies in the grass roots [hmm, that didn’t end well for Winston].

Open Education in Policy

Good places to start looking for current practice at both policy and operational levels are the ALT-Scotland SIG and Scottish Open Education Declaration. There are strong links between the two: key members of ALT-Scotland (notably Lorna M Campbell and Joe Wilson) are involved in developing and promoting Scottish Open Education Declaration; and OEPS also supported some of this work. The Scottish Open Education Declaration and ALT-Scotland have been successful in supporting policy in Scottish HE around open education, and beyond, but it would be nice if this success were recognised and supported from outside of the Open Education community.

It seems you only get recognised at a political level if you claim to be able solve big problems: local and global inequalities, widening educational participation. Anyone who says Open Education will solve these inequalities is a charlatan, anyone who believes them is gullible. As Pete Cannell of OEPS said, open as in licensing content is not the whole answer (to widening participation) but it is important part of answer.

Open Education in Practice

More hopefully, there is a lot happening at grass roots level that is easy to overlook. Edinburgh University are leading the way,  with central support and a vision. As I saw, they are producing some fine OERs created by student interns.

A similar model for production is being used in my old workplace of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University, but with less by way of strategic support. A small team of content interns, working under Lisa Scott, have been using open tools (WordPress, H5P, Lumen5) to create learning resources for the new Graduate Level Apprenticeship programme in Software Development. The actual course is closed, delivered in BlackBoard, but the resources are openly licensed and available to all (this not only allows the team to use CC:SA resources in their creation but saves the hassle of setting up access management to the collection).

Like Edinburgh, Glasgow Caledonian University has a policy for OER and a repository replete with resources, but the examples I found seemed locked for local use only. That’s not a criticism (and I may just have been unlucky in what I tried to view) because the important thing is that here is an example of open supporting the work of one of our Universities.

In Dundee, Natalie Lafferty runs a student selected component of the medical course on The Doctor as Digital Teacher for which students create a learning resource. Here’s an example of an iBook created by one student using original and openly licensed resources, and an account of its creation.


There are probably other examples from Scottish F&HE that I don’t know or have forgotten (sorry about that–but do use the comment box below to remedy this), but one of the key messages from the Promise of Open Education meeting was that Open Educational Practice is not just about Universities giving access to resources they create, valuable as that is.  There were great examples presented at the conference of OEPS working with Dyslexia Uk and Education Scotland, and working with Parkinson’s UK. And in the final discussion Lorna Campbell did a great job of highlighting the variety of open educational practice in Scotland, from Scotland’s three Wikimedians in residence and networks such as Girl Geek Scotland. And that really is just the tip of the iceberg.

The end?

So, in conclusion, this was not the end of open educational practices in Scotland. The future lies not just in continuing the legacy of one project, but in the ongoing efforts of a great diversity of effort. But you know what, it would be really nice if those efforts got the recognition and support from national policy makers.

[Acknowledgement: the feature image for this post, which you may see in Tweets etc,  is the conference pack for OEPS Promise of Open Education. Courtesy of OEPS project.]

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Wikidata driven timeline⤴

from @ Sharing and learning

I have been to a couple of wikidata workshops recently, both involving Ewan McAndrew; between which I read Christine de Pizan‘s Book of the City of Ladies(*). Christine de Pizan is described as one of the first women in Europe to earn her living as a writer, which made me wonder what other female writers were around at that time (e.g. Julian of Norwich and, err…). So, at the second of these workshops, I took advantage of Ewan’s expertise, and the additional bonus of Navino Evans cofounder of Histropedia  also being there, to create a timeline of medieval European female writers.  (By the way, it’s interesting to compare this to Asian female writers–I was interested in Christina de Pizan and wanted to see how she fitted in with others who might have influenced her or attitudes to her, and so didn’t think that Chinese and Japanese writers fitted into the same timeline.)

Histropedia timeline of medieval female authors (click on image to go to interactive version)

This generated from a SPARQL query:

#Timeline of medieval european female writers
#defaultView:Timeline
SELECT ?person ?personLabel ?birth_date ?death_date ?country (SAMPLE(?image) AS ?image) WHERE {
  ?person wdt:P106 wd:Q36180; # find everything that is a writer
          wdt:P21 wd:Q6581072. # ...and a human female
  OPTIONAL{?person wdt:P2031 ?birth_date} # use florit if present for birth/death dates  
  OPTIONAL{?person wdt:P2032 ?death_date} # as some v impecise dates give odd results 
  ?person wdt:P570 ?death_date. # get their date of death
  OPTIONAL{?person wdt:P569 ?birth_date} # get their birth date if it is there
  ?person wdt:P27 ?country.   # get there country
  ?country wdt:P30  wd:Q46.   # we want country to be part of Europe
  FILTER (year(?death_date) < 1500) FILTER (year(?death_date) > 600)
  SERVICE wikibase:label { bd:serviceParam wikibase:language "en". }
  OPTIONAL { ?person wdt:P18 ?image. }
}
GROUP BY ?person ?personLabel ?birth_date ?death_date ?country
Limit 100

[run it on wikidata query service]

Reflections

I’m still trying to get my head around SPARQL, Ewan and Nav helped a lot, but I wouldn’t want to pass this off as exemplary SPARQL. In particular, I have no idea how to optimise SPARQL queries, and the way I get birth_date and death_date to be the start and end of when the writer flourished, if that data is there, seems a bit fragile.

It was necessary to to use florit dates because some of the imprecise birth & death dates lead to very odd timeline displays: born C12th . died C13th showed as being alive for 200 years.

There were other oddities in the wikidata. When I first tried, Julian of Norwich didn’t appear because she was a citizen of the Kingdom of England, which wasn’t listed as a country in Europe. Occitania, on the other hand was.  That was fixed. More difficult was a writer from Basra who was showing up because Basra was in the Umayyad Caliphate, which included Spain and so was classed as a European country. Deciding what we mean by European has never been easy.

Given the complexities of the data being represented, it’s no surprise that the Wikidata data model isn’t simple. In particular I found that dealing with qualifiers for properties was mind bending (especially with another query I tried to write).

Combining my novice level of SPARQL and the complexity of the Wikidata data model, I could definitely see the need for SPARQL tutorials that go beyond the simple “here’s how you find triple that matches a pattern” level.

Finally: histropedia is pretty cool.

Footnote:

The Book of the City of Ladies is a kind of women in red for Medieval Europe.  Rosalind Brown-Grant’s translation for Penguin Classics is very readable.

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BTL Surpass for online assessment in Computer Science⤴

from @ Sharing and learning

Over the last couple of years I have been leading the introduction of BTL’s Surpass online assessment platform for  exams in Computer Science. I posted the requirements for an online exam system we agreed on a few months ago. I have now written up an evaluation case study: Use of BTL Surpass for online exams in Computer Science, an LTDI report (local copy). TL;DR: nothing is perfect, but Surpass did what we hoped, and it is planned to continue & expand its use.

My colleagues Hans-Wofgang has also presented on our experiences of “Enhancing the Learning Experience on Programming-focused Courses via Electronic Assessment Tools” at the Trends in Functional Programming in Education Conference, Canterbury, 19-21. This paper includes work by Sanusi Usman on using Surpass for formative assessment.

A question for online exams in computer science showing few lines of JAVA code with gaps for the student to complete.
A fill the blanks style question for online exams in computer coding. (Not from a real exam!)

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Quick notes: Naomi Korn on copyright and educational resources⤴

from @ Sharing and learning

I gate-crashed a lecture on copyright that Naomi Korn gave at Edinburgh University. I’ve had an interest in copyright for as long as I have been working with open access and open educational resources, about ten years. I think I understand the basic concepts pretty well, but even so Naomi managed to catch a couple of misconceptions I held and also crystallised some ideas with well chosen examples.

hand drawn copyright symbol and word 'copyright' in cursive script.
from naomikorn.com

First, quick intro to Naomi. Naomi is a copyright consultant (but not a lawyer). I first met her through her work for UKOER, which I really liked because she gave us pragmatic advice that helped us release resources openly not just list of all the things we couldn’t do. Through that and other work Naomi & colleagues have created a set of really useful resources on copyright for OER (which are themselves openly licensed).

Naomi has also done some work with the Imperial War Museum from which she drew the story of Ethel Bilborough’s First World War diary. It’s there on her website so I won’t repeat here. The key lessons (to me) revolved around copyright existing from the moment of creation until 70 years after the author’s death; copyright is a property which can be inherited; ownership of the physical artifact does not necessarily mean ownership of the copyright; and composite works (the diary contained press cuttings and photos) creating more complex problems with several rights holders. All of these (and the last one especially) are relevant to modern teaching and learning resources.

In general copyright supports the copying and use of resources through permission from the  rights owner (a licence) and various copyright exceptions. However, sometimes it is necessary to fall back on a pragmatic approach of taking a reasonable risk, for example when the rights owner is not traceable.  Naomi described some interesting issues around the use of  copyright resources in teaching and learning. For example, there are exceptions to copyright for criticism, review or quotation and for teaching purposes. However these are limited in that such use must be fair dealing (I learnt this: that fair dealing/fair use is an additional limitation on an exception, not a type of exception). Fair dealing is undefined, and may not include putting materials online. Naomi described how easy it is for use of a resource under an exception to become an infringement in the context of modern teaching as the private space of teaching becomes more public. For example a resource used in lecture which is videoed, the video made public. All the more reason to be careful in the first place; all the more reason to use liberal licences such as creative commons, which are not limited to a specific scenario.

copyright pragmatics

All the way through her talk Naomi encouraged us to think about copyright in terms of being respectful of other people: giving the credit due to resource creators. She left left us with some key points of advice

  • make sure that you know the basics
  • make sure you know who can help you
  • ask when you’re not sure

fun fact

For copyright purposes, software is classed as a literary work.

 

 

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An ending, and a beginning⤴

from @ Sharing and learning

On 30 June 2017 I will be leaving my current employment at Heriot-Watt University. I aim to continue to support the use of technology to enhance learning as an independent consultant.

I first joined Heriot-Watt’s Institute for Computer Based Learning in 1996 on a six month secondment. I was impressed that ICBL was part of a large, well-supported Learning Technology Centre–which was acknowledged at that time as one of the leading centres for the use of technology in teaching and learning. You can get a sense of the scope of the LTC by looking at the staff list from around that time. Working with, and learning from, colleagues with this common interest was hugely appealing to me; so when I had the opportunity I re-joined ICBL in 1997, and this time I stayed.

In my time at Heriot-Watt I have been fortunate beyond belief to collaborate with people in ICBL and through work such as the Engineering Subject Centre (and other subject centres of the LTSN and then HE Academy), EEVL, Cetis and many Jisc projects. But things change. The LTC was dismantled. A reduced ICBL moved to be a part of the Computer part of the School of Mathematics and Computer Sciences (MACS). Funding became difficult, and while I greatly appreciate the huge effort made by several individuals which kept me in continuous employment, like many in similar roles I frequently felt my position was precarious.  I really enjoyed teaching Computer Science and Information Systems students, and I worked with some great people in MACS, but the work became more internally focused, isolated from current developments…not what I had joined ICBL for.

What next?

When Heriot-Watt announced that it planned to offer staff voluntary severance terms, I applied and was happy to be accepted. My professional interests remain the same: supporting the selection and use appropriate learning resources; supporting the management and dissemination of learning resources; open education; sharing and learning. I do this through work on resource description, course description, OER platforms, I use specific technologies like schema.org, LRMI and wordpress. I intend to continue working in these areas, as an independent consultant and with colleagues in Cetis LLP. Contact me if you think I can help you.

Photograph of a person up a flight of stairs into the open. by flickr user Allen, licensed CC:BY.
Exit, by Allen ( https://www.flickr.com/photos/78139009@N03/) Licence CC:BY. Click image for original.

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CMALT – Another open portfolio⤴

from @ Sharing and learning

I’ve finally made a start on drafting my CMALT Portfolio (and so has Lorna,* we’re writing buddies), and in the interests of open practice I’m going to attempt to write the whole thing as an open Google doc before moving it here on my blog.  I have a shared folder on Google Drive, Phil’s CMALT, where I’ll be building up my portfolio over the coming weeks.  I’ve made a start drafting the first two Core Areas:  Operational Issues and Learning Teaching and Assessment, I’ll be adding more sections shortly, I hope. I’d love to have some feedback on  my portfolio so if you’ve got any thoughts, comments or guidance I’d be very grateful indeed.  I’d also be very interested to know if anyone else has created their portfolio as an exercise in open practice, and if so, how they found the experience.

Wish me luck!

An open door and the word Openness, in ALT branding.
CC BY @BryanMMathers for ALT

*Credit: This post is totally copied from Lorna’s post, with slight adaptation, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License she used.

More importantly, she let me copy her idea as well. That’s open practice which can’t be formally licensed, though I know that she is cool with it.

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Thoughts on Support for Technology Enhanced Learning in HE⤴

from @ Sharing and learning

I was asked to put forward my thoughts on how I thought the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning should be supported where I work. I work in a UK University that has campuses overseas, and which is organised into Schools (Computer Science is in a School with Maths, to form one of the smaller schools). This was my first round brain dump on the matter. It looks like something might come of it, so I’m posting it here asking for comments.

Does any of this look wrong?

Do you/ have you worked in a similar or dissimilar unit and have any suggestions for how well that worked?

What would be the details that need more careful thought?

Get in touch directly by email or use the form below (if the latter let me know if you don’t want your reply publishing).

Why support Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL)?

Why would you not? This isn’t about learning technology for its own sake, it’s about enhancing learning and teaching with technology. Unless you deny that technology can in any way enhance teaching and learning, the questions remaining centre on how can technology help and how much is that worth. Advances in technology and in our understanding of how to use it in teaching and learning create a “zone of possibility,” the extent of which and success of how it is exploited depend on the intersection of teacher’s understanding of the technologies being offered and the pedagogies suitable for their subject (Dirkin  & Mishra, 2010 [paywalled ? ]).

Current examples of potential enhancement which is largely unsupported (or supported only by ad hoc provision) include

  • Online exams in computer science
  • Formative assessment and other formative exercises across the school
  • Providing resources for students learning off-campus
  • Supporting the delivery of course material when students won’t attend lectures
  • Providing course information to students

Location of support: in School, by campus, or central services?

There are clearly some services that apply institution wide (VLE), or need to be supported at each campus (computer labs), however there are dangers to centralising too much. Centralisation creates a division between the support and the people who need it, a division which is reinforced by separation of funding and management lines for the service and the academic provision. This division makes it difficult for those who understand the technology and those who understand the pedagogy of the subject being taught to engage around the problems to be solved. Instead they interact but stay within the remits laid down by their management structures.

There should of course be strong links between the support in my School and others, central support and campus specific support, but an arrangement where these links are prioritised over the link between support for TEL in maths and computing and the provision of teaching and learning in maths and computer science seems wrong.

What support?

This is something of a brain dump based on current activity, in no particular order.

  • Seminar series and other regular meetings to gather and spread new ideas.
  • Developing resources for off-campus learning (currently we need in CS to provide support materials based on existing courses for a specific programme) these and similar materials could also be used to support students on conventional courses who don’t attend lectures.
  • Managing tools and systems for formative assessment and other formative experiences, e.g. mathematical and programming practice.
  • Developing resources and systems for working with partner institutions who deliver courses we accredit, some of which may be applicable to mainstream teaching.
  • Student course information website: maintenance and updating information, liaison with central student portal.
  • Online exams, advice on question design and managing workflow from question authoring to test delivery.
  • Evaluation of innovative teaching (where innovative is defined as something for which we are unsure enough of the benefits for it to be worth evaluating).[*]
  • Maintain links with development organisations in Learning Technology, e.g. ALT and Jisc and scholarship in areas such as digital pedagogy and open education which underpin technology enhanced learning.
  • Liaise with central & campus services, e.g. VLE management group
  • Advise staff in school on use of central facilities e.g. BlackBoard
  • Liaise with other schools. There is potential to provide some of these services to other schools (or vice versa), assuming financial recompense can be arranged.

[*Note: this raises the question of whether the support should be limited to technology to enhance learning, should address other innovations too.]

Who?

This needs to be provided by a core of people with substantial knowledge of learning technology, who might also contribute to other activities in the school.  We have a group of three or four people who can do this. It is a little biased to Computer Science and to one campus so there should be thought given to how to bring in other subjects and locations.

We would involve project students and interns provided this was done in such a way as to contribute sustainable enhancement of a service or creation of new resources. For example, we would use of tools such as git so that each student left work that could be picked up by others. As well as supervising project students within the group we could co-supervise with academic staff who had their own ideas for learning-related student projects. This would help keep tight contacts with day-to-day teaching.

Funding and management

This support needs an allocated budget and well controlled project management. Funding for core staff should be long term on a par with commitment to teaching within the School. Management and reporting should be through the Director of Learning and Teaching and the Learning and Teaching Committee with information and discussion at the subject Boards of Studies as appropriate.

Reference

Dirkin, K., & Mishra, P. (2010). Values, Beliefs, and Perspectives: Teaching Online within the Zone of Possibility Created by Technology Retrieved from https://www.learntechlib.org/p/33974/

 

 

Comments Please

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Flying cars, digital literacy and the zone of possibility⤴

from @ Sharing and learning

Where’s my flying car? I was promised one in countless SF films from Metropolis through to Fifth Element. Well, they exist.  Thirty seconds on the search engine of your choice will find you a dozen of so working prototypes (here’s a YouTube video with five).

A fine and upright gentle man flying in a small helicopter like vehicle.
Jess Dixon’s flying automobile c. 1940. Public Domain, held by State Library and Archives of Florida, via Flickr.

They have existed for some time.  Come to think about it, the driving around on the road bit isn’t really the point. I mean, why would you drive when you could fly. I guess a small helicopter and somewhere to park would do.

So it’s not lack of technology that’s stopping me from flying to work. What’s more of an issue (apart from cost and environmental damage) is that flying is difficult. The slightest problem like an engine stall or bump with another vehicle tends to be fatal. So the reason I don’t fly to work is largely down to me not having learnt how to fly.

The zone of possibility

In 2010 Kathryn Dirkin studied how three professors taught using the same online learning environment, and found that they were very different. Not something that will surprise many people, but the paper (which unfortunately is still behind a paywall) is worth a read for the details of the analysis. What I liked from her conclusions was that how someone teaches online depends on the intersection of their knowledge of the content, beliefs about how it should be taught and understanding technology. She calls this intersection the zone of possibility. As with the flying car the online learning experience we want may already be technologically possible, we just need to learn how to fly it (and consider the cost and effect on the environment).

I have been thinking about Dirkin’s zone of possibility over the last few weeks. How can it be increased? Should it be increased? On the latter, let’s just say that if technology can enhance education, then yes it should (but let’s also be mindful about the costs and impact on the environment).

So how, as a learning technologist, to increase this intersection of content knowledge, pedagogy and understanding of technology? Teachers’ content knowledge I guess is a given, nothing that a learning technologist can do to change that. Also, I have come to the conclusion that pedagogy is off limits. No technology-as-a-Trojan-horse for improving pedagogy, please, that just doesn’t work. It’s not that pedagogic approaches can’t or don’t need to be improved, but conflating that with technology seems counter productive.  So that’s left me thinking about teachers’ (and learners’) understanding of technology. Certainly, the other week when I was playing with audio & video codecs and packaging formats that would work with HTML5 (keep repeating H264  and AAC in MPEG-4) I was aware of this. There seems to be three viable approaches: increase digital literacy, tools to simplify the technology and use learning technologists as intermediaries between teachers and technology. I leave it at that because it is not a choice of which, but of how much of each can be applied.

Does technology or pedagogy lead?

In terms of defining the”zone of possibility” I think that it is pretty clear that technology leads. Content knowledge and pedagogy change slowly compared to technology. I think that rate of change is reflected in most teachers understanding of those three factors. I would go as far as to say that it is counterfactual to suggest that our use of technology in HE has been led by anything other than technology. Innovation in educational technology usually involves exploration of new possibilities opened up by technological advances, not other factors. But having acknowledged this, it should also be clear that having explored the possibilities, a sensible choice of what to use when teaching will be based on pedagogy (as well as cost and the effect on the environment).

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