Monday, 2 November 2009

End of the second presentation

The second presentation of H809 is over, and we're hard at work on updates to the course for next year.

There was a good haul of distinctions in 2009, and average results were up slightly. Well done to all H809'ers on these great results.


The course team has been through the outcomes of the student end-of-course survey in some detail now. Thanks to all those who gave us feedback. Here are some highlights...

Workload: It looks like the changes to the materials and assessments made for this presentation have turned out well. In particular, the level of student workload now seems just about right. This is great news, and suggests that in updating the course for 2010 there should be no net increase or decrease in the amount of reading and assessment required.

Podcasts: The survey also found that the podcasts were a hit once again, and so I'm going to record a couple more to keep them refreshed.

Wiki: The wiki was a big success, unlike last year: I suspect the difference was that my seeding the wiki with slightly rubbish content at the start helped to give more people the confidence to edit pages. For next year, we might be trying a public wiki for the glossary as part of the openEd project (see below).

Blogging: There was about the same level of blogging as last year: Jo Iacovides is currently writing a report on our experiment of having a course blogger. Many thanks to Jo for her work in this role.

Topics: Some good ideas for new topics were suggested. In particular, more about research into social networking would be appreciated, so we'll consider possible readings on this topic for 2010.

TMAs: Late return of some assignments was an issue for some students this year, and we will need to seriously consider for 2011 whether - because it's a 20 week course - we need to move from three TMAs to two TMAs in order to allow sufficient time for feedback to be acted on.

Forums: There was less interaction in the forums than last year, so we'll need to have a think about what we can do about that for 2010.


In other news, we've been lucky enough to win some funding from the EU Lifelong Learning Programme to support a three year project to make an 'open' version of the H809 materials that other project partners will be translating and reversioning. More on this news soon...

Au revoir

Finally, let me wish everyone who did H809 this year all the best for the future. Do let me know if it ends up helping you give a conference presentation, publish a journal paper, embark on a PhD, or simply develop your research interests.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter if you'd like to keep in touch. I promise a follow back if you mention H809! And well done once again on your result.


Saturday, 25 July 2009

Highlights from the 2009 H809 blogs

Once the course is in presentation, my habit has been to setup a blog aggregator here, so that H809 bloggers' voices take centre-stage. I then have to remove to aggregator at the end of the course, because those blogs might well be used for future courses or for professional reflections, or discontinued. So this post is to highlight some posts from the 2009 blogs that I found particularly valuable:

In which Jan reflects on the role of the tutor in virtual learning communities, noting the importance of trust and relationships. "When teaching algebra, I often take a rather Zen approach, asking students to imagine that they are the letter x. I am beginning to feel that the same is true of web 2.0..."

Which considers how learning theories might relate to researching game-based learning.

About the idea of wikis as stigmergic collaboration, and noting some interesting undercurrents of social norms in relation to editing etiquette.

Which considers, among other matters, where one should choose to locate one's research: "Do you take a very local micro-ethnographic approach or try to look at things more holistically taking wider society into account?" Some great visitor comments there too.

Which concludes with "Trying to take a social constructivist approach in an exam-based culture is like trying to walk across a ceiling. "

Which notes that lifelong learning can sometimes feel like a love-hate relationship. "But as with all relationships, they’re only as good as you make them!"

Thanks to all H809 bloggers for their thoughtful and interesting posts.

Well done to 2009 H809'ers

I've posted this message in the forums:
Well done on getting to the end of the course!

Through the forums, blogs and assignments I've been finding it really interesting discovering your various research interests, in many countries and in diverse settings.

Many thanks if you completed the end-of-course survey. We'll be updating the course for next year's presentation, and I'm sure this survey (once analysed!) will be of great help. We'll be refreshing the readings, and we'll also be giving some thought about why the level of participation in forums was lower than last year, and what we might be able to do about it.

It's been a bitter-sweet presentation for us. It's been wonderful seeing so many H809'ers progress in their thinking. But those of us working in the Institute of Educational Technology felt the death of Professor Robin Mason very sharply. Her obituary in the Guardian newspaper sums up her huge contribution to the OU and the wider online education world.

Whether you're going on to further postgraduate studies or applying new ideas to your practice, all best wishes for the future. In time, I hope to read more of your work in leading research journals!

Results are expected towards the end of September. The course website and forums are available until 19 December.


Dr James Aczel
H809 Course Team Chair

Monday, 8 June 2009

BERA/SAGE Practitioner Research Awards 2009

The British Educational Research Association (BERA) has some awards open to practitioners who have used research to develop their practice in the UK within the past three years.

One category of award is for those working in 16+ settings, including higher education. The other is for those working with under-16s, including schools, early years and social care or health settings.

The research is not restricted to any particular methodology, and entries can be submitted by an individual, a team, or by a researcher on behalf of an organization or institution. Entrants do not have to be members of BERA.

The deadline is 17th July 2009.

The BERA website has full details.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Being "nice" about editing

Janshs has an interesting post on wikis as stigmergic collaboration. I think she's noticed some interesting undercurrents of social norms in relation to editing etiquette:

With my GCSE students' wiki, a turning point seems to have been an idea which I adapted from Mike Wesch of putting 40 words and phrases on the wiki and giving the students a period of time to write something for each one. This was so much better than just asking them to use their wiki pages as a blog. By focusing their activity on a specific concept, they began to edit and comment upon, as well as add to each other's work. Of course, this is also what happens on the H809 student forums to a great extent. I think the nub of the difference is that we rarely actually edit each other's text. perhaps, as adults, this feels too discourteous? The truth is though, that my teenage students did this in a sensitive and supportive manner - for example, "I like that idea for solving a problem and this is another method that I sometimes use".

Last year's H809 wiki started completely blank... And pretty much stayed that way. This year I seeded it with some deliberately haphazard initial content, and there's been much more activity, leading to a valuable resource in progress.

Could be a random variation, of course, as happens from cohort to cohort (much less forum discussion this year, for example, but about the same amount of blogging). However, as per Janshs' observations, the "leavings" have typically been polite additions rather than edits that might be seen as a rude slight on a peer's contribution.

Now if the wiki content is carried over to next year's presentation, will that cohort feel less nevous about editing what would be seen as "old" text? Or would the distinction be quickly lost?

Visible attribution to a particular cohort might help initially, but perhaps following the threads of changes might become increasingly tedious as edits grew, and so the nervousness might continue. Opening up the wiki to the world (probably a GOOD THING anyway, so long as it didn't inhibit those new to wikis from contributing) would decrease the chances of it being a peer that one's edits offend, but make it more likely that the edits would be seen by an original contributer.

A wiki that consists only of additions and not revisions would be missing the chance to improve readability when accuaracy, coverage and detail are improved. At the same time, losing the norm of respect for peers would also be undesirable. So does a wiki made by such a community need additional etiquette compared with, say, Wikipedia?

And if so, this wouldn't be the only community with such a tension between a desire to improve a shared resource and a desire not to offend. How might one delineate such communities? Hmm... lots to think about...

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

And we're underway!

The first week of the course is an 'interesting' time. Some participants are newcomers to online learning; while some teach online extensively as part of their jobs. Some are newcomers to The Open University and its own particular (baffling? lovable?!) terminologies, technologies and processes; while others are old hands and have already completed postgraduate or undergraduate OU degrees.

Some are whizzing ahead through the Block 1 materials, knowing they've got to get ahead because of a holiday or job deadline in a month or two. Others are waiting impatiently for their login and password to arrive so that they can make a start. Some know a huge amount about the subject area already, others are self-declared novices.

This year there's been an unexpected last-minute rush of registrations that meant we looked, at one point, like needing an extra tutor. We normally try to keep the size of online tutor groups around 12-15. We're possibly ok, after all, but it was looking dicey for a while: a late-arriving student or two is manageable; a late-arriving tutor is much tougher for all concerned.

But the first week is also exciting, because we get to meet all sorts of new people, brought together for diverse reasons but with the common goal of making sense of this area of study. And I'm constantly impressed by how so many - old-timers and newcomers alike - go out of their way to help others to get going.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Who takes H809?

Looking back at last year's cohort, there's a real mix of people from a variety of interesting backgrounds:
  • In terms of jobs, there are university professors, school teachers, college tutors, e-learning developers, headteachers, publishers, librarians, company directors, project managers, educational consultants... Several people also work as OU Associate Lecturers.
  • Specialist subjects include languages, science, mathematics, medicine, social care, teacher training, drama, music...
  • In terms of location, many are from the UK, but there are also quite a few from across Europe, including Spain, the Republic of Ireland, Switzerland (very well represented), Cyprus, Finland...
BTW The cost of the course is the same for North America, Australia, India, and Russia as it is in continental Europe, so I hope we get more of a contingent from these regions this year. We know from the Google Analytics statistics on this blog that the interest is there. Beyond that, we do understand that the course fee is often the stumbling block in some parts of the world. My personal hope is that governments will come to see the value of equipping education professionals with up-to-date research and evaluation skills.
  • Motivations for taking the course: about 60% indicate they're taking H809 to benefit their career, and about 40% to improve themselves. About two-thirds are aiming for a Masters degree in Education or considering a PhD (or other research degree). Some want to get formal accreditation for research and evaluation; some want to get into action research; and others simply want to hone their skills in evaluating new technologies for learning.
  • It was important to many that the course is fully online, that it explores the use of research tools, that the feedback from their tutor is of a high quality, and that they are able to apply what they've learned to their own professional context.
The Open University website has full details of the course. The official closing date for registration is 6th February, but it can take a few days to get sorted, so register as soon as possible to avoid a late start. Any queries: please feel free to email me directly.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Course Blogger

A bit of an innovation for us this year on H809: We're experimenting with having a "Course Blogger".

Blogs are an increasingly important medium of academic discourse in the field of educational technology (see Martin Weller's view, for example) . And H809 is a course for those who want to learn about research in educational technology. So we encourage course participants to keep a personal reflective blog, as a way of exploring the potential of the blogging medium. And this year, we've decided to create a formal Course Blogger role.

What will our Course Blogger do?

Well, overall the aim is to maximise the value of the online experience for those taking the course.

This can include:
  • Synthesising, analysing and building on questions, points of interest, resources, links and references raised during the discussions within individual tutor groups and elsewhere on the web.
  • Commenting on the substance of course participants' blog posts: providing an incentive for newbie bloggers to get the posts out.Blogging about their own research, giving course participants an idea of how research happens in practice, an example of academic blogging, and insights into a particular topic.
  • Helping out with online discussions and activities.
  • Identifying and archiving stuff that might be useful for the course in subsequent years.
  • Oh, and of course reflecting on what a Course Blogger should do...

Will it work?

Not sure: it's an experiment, so the worst that can happen is that we get interesting recommendations for how not to do it in the future. But we'd be interested to hear of similar endeavours and how they fared.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Highlights from BETT 09

I spent yesterday in London at the BETT Show, billed as the world's largest educational technology event. It was certainly extremely busy, in terms of both exhibitors and visitors. Goodness knows how busy it will be on Saturday, when teachers who weren't able to spare a weekday from school will attend...

It was impossible to see everything in one day. So here are my inevitably selective personal highlights:

Collaborative interactive Tables
The photo shows my research student Jo Iacovides making music with the just-launched Microsoft Surface. It's multi-touch, orientation-aware and web-connected. It can play video, interact with physical artefacts, and simulate physics beautifully. Some lovely ripple effects on the opening screen. Everything is resizable, and navigating maps is much more intuitive than with mouse or keyboard. "Like a massive ipod" says Jo. Microsoft has finally made something stylish.

We also looked at Smart Table, which looks similar to Microsoft Surface, but the applications so far are more focused on the primary school than on the wow factor. Like Microsoft Surface, Smart Table is multi-touch, Windows-based and relies on upward-pointing cameras embedded in the table, so it's not just an interactive whiteboard placed horizontally.

Neither product is available to buy yet. Smart Table is expected to be available in about six months at £5,500. Microsoft Surface is currently in excess of $10,000 and won't be available in a consumer version for about a year. But the potential for the hospitality, entertainment and military sectors will bring the price down quickly. Robust open source alternatives will follow.

The challenge now for collaborative interactive tables is killer educational applications.

Jo: "want one".

The netbook form-factor, originally introduced by Asus, is much more education-friendly than traditional laptops. A selection of new models were displayed on the "Wall of Cool", which was an actually plausible claim.

Intel chose BETT for the launch of its new Classmate, which can operate as a tablet PC. I shared many of the reservations about the development assumptions underlying both this and the One Laptop Per Child initiative; but I admire the diverse educational usability advances that Intel and OLPC have achieved in recent years.

2Do It Yourself

2simple were demoing software that enables children (and teachers!) to make flash games. It looked good, although couldn't get a proper understanding of its potential because Jo and I kept being accosted by a steady succession of slightly over-enthusiastic
salesfolk from the company!

CapturaTalk v2
I was seriously impressed by this software for Windows Mobiles from Iansyst. You take a photo of some text, and CapturaTalk converts it into speech. Brilliant. I'm going to download the demo to check it out properly, but as a regular screen-reader user myself, I'm very excited by this product.

In the past I've tried several text-to-speech products for my mobile, and of course I use both Optical Character Recognition and speech-output packages on my PC. To go directly from printed text to speech on-the-move would be terrific. CapturaTalk also reads from Word Mobile, emails and Pocket Internet Explorer.

The main limitations at the moment are the price (£350), the small range of supported mobiles, and the fact that the Windows Mobile touch-screen platform is lousy for many varieties of visual impairment. But it looks good for me!

Mantra Lingua RecorderPen

Like similar products, this device reads hotspots in specially-formatted books; but the interesting thing about the RecorderPen is that it allows children to record their own narrations to those books. Lots of potential for language learning. And by using special stickers, children can give voices to physical objects. Lots of potential for the creation of educational games.

All the expected professional associations, government agencies and interest groups were represented at BETT, but I want to single out MirandaNet for mention. Not just because it's an international organisation promoting the use of ICT in education (it's one of many). And not just because they seem like a decent bunch of people promoting practice-based research in educational technology (although that's a pretty good reason, given that H809 can directly help with that agenda). No, it's because amidst all the hustle, bustle and noise of BETT, MirandaNet were managing to record a number of podcast discussions. A lot more interesting than the usual glossy leaflets and free pens!

Kudlian I Can Animate

Kudlian were demoing this good value, easy-to-use animation kit. I can imagine a good many future film directors getting a start with this!

Finally, I want to repeat a thought I raised a while back. Worldwide there's a lot going on relating to ICT in education: products, publications, conferences, seminars, companies, agencies, associations, and so on. They are often a rich source of enthusiasm, case studies, and issues.

But teachers who want to pursue their interests more deeply might want to take a step back and ask questions such as...
  • How strong is the evidence for claims?
  • Are alternative explanations possible?
  • How could the claims be tested more strongly?
  • How can we use theory to help us do things better?
This is where the international accredited online course H809 can help. If you're interested in taking things further, you've got until the end of January to register.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Action research as professional development

What makes effective professional development for teachers?

Last year, many of the participants on our course 'Practice-based research in educational technology' were using it as a way in to action research. And I think they did so not necessarily because they wanted to end up as educational researchers (although some will), but because they see action research as able to play a key role in their own professional development.

That teachers can be researchers was not always accepted. I remember years ago, as an eager PhD student, being told quite firmly by an eminent professor of education (who didn't know I'd been a schoolteacher) that he didn't object to teachers trying out new strategies and reflecting on them, but that teachers shouldn't be reading the research literature and they certainly shouldn't attempt to do anything called "research".

Luckily times have moved on, and professionals working in schools and universities in many countries are increasingly being actively encouraged to get involved in research as a way of developing practice and moving careers onward.

For example, huge numbers of teachers attend the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). And in the UK, support for teacher research is evident at the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) and in the government sponsored National Teacher Research Panel. There is now also a Special Interest Group in the British Educational Research Association devoted to promoting Practitioner Research.

I'd be interested to hear of the situation in other countries. I hope the view that teachers can't be also be researchers is dying out everywhere.

P.S. Only a couple of weeks to go before registration closes for the 2009 presentation of our course. Full details here.