Here is a list of the 12 most viewed posts over the last 6 months. [Last updated 10 February 2013.]
4,532 - 16 bits per second - the bandwidth of consciousness
1,105 - If ever you need a really comprehensive "title" drop-down
689 - Futurelearn - an OU-led response to Coursera, Udacity, and MITx
622 - Mathematics summer school closed in Turkey because it involved "education without permission"
498 - Both episodes of Dylan Wiliam's "The Classroom Experiment" now available
387 - The Finnish school system: many jaw-dropping moments in this interview with Pasi Sahlberg by John Hattie
370 - Peter Norvig's TED talk reflecting on creating and running the online AI course
362 - Aaron Swartz RIP: links
344 - Decoding Learning - a report that gets to the heart of the challenge of enhancing learning with technology
336 - The chances of edX, Coursera, Udacity et al reaching "Facebook numbers" should not be lightly discounted
Clayton Wright - source
The 29th Educational Technology & Education Conferences Listing [1.1 MB DOC] has been published by Clayton Wright.
Here is Clayton's covering note (which I've taken the liberty of reproducing in full, with one samll change at the end in the attribution of an article by Clayton that appeared in the Association for Learning Technology's Newsletter in 2011).
Conferences that May Be Worth Your Time
Frequently, I receive requests from those new to the field of educational technology to suggest conferences that would be worthwhile to attend. It can be a difficult request to fulfill as the response:
Here is a longish thumbnail sketch of the design of the course, followed by two appendices. Appendix 1 concerns peer review. Appendix 2 is what the course web site has to say about grading and certificates of completion.
Comments, questions and corrections would be most welcome.
1. The course is advertised as needing about 10 study hours per week. This is about right: though in my case I had to skimp a lot while I was on holiday, other than wrestling unsuccessfully with a proof that had been set as course work, the non-fruit of which is shown above.
What can go wrong on a ski-trip?
Over Easter this year – with my friends B and A – I did a 9 day hut-to-hut ski-tour running roughly North to South across Hardangervidda, the huge high wild roadless plateau of central Norway, that is bounded to the North by the Hardanger glacier, and to the North and West by the innermost lobes of Hardangerfjord. (At one point the glacier and the sea are less than 10 km apart.)
I did a similar trip in completely different weather and snow conditions in 2008 with B and daughter M (from Haugestøl go Haukeliseter). This year we started at Hallingskeid on the Oslo to Bergen railway a little East of Finse and a bit before the trains begin their steep decent towards Bergen. For me the trip finished about 2 km short of the road at Haukeliseter after nearly 200 km. (For aficionados our route was Hallingskeid – Rembesdalseter – Kjeldebu – Dyranut – Hadlaskard – Torehytten – Tyssevasbu – Litlos – Hellevasbu – Haukeliseter.)
This Easter, central Norway was blessed with high pressure, leading to sunny, cloudless, cold and largely windless conditions. Lack of snow and previous strong winds meant that there was plenty of lumpy and grooved sastrugi to contend with, and a lot of hard and quite smooth unforgiving and sometimes shiny icy surfaces. And it was exceptionally cold, with -30C on some nights and daytime temperatures of between -23 and -5C.
In the continuation post below are a few pictures from the wonderful trip. But the purpose of this long post is to record what happened when things went wrong. I’m doing this partly to help others better to understand the anatomy of an accident, and partly to get what happened out of my system. What follows is a slightly edited version of something I wrote in Oslo on 1 April on the way home.
[This is a Guest Contribution by Ian Chowcat.]
When I first explored the Web back in the 1990s one of the greatest thrills I found was being able to virtually visit universities and courses across the world. Since then we have been able to download course materials and view lectures – the Open Culture site is currently listing over 700 free online courses. Now in the era of MOOCs more is promised: with unprecedented ease we can actually participate in courses run by universities the other side of the world. But can MOOCs really provide good learning experiences?
To sample MOOCs for myself I signed up for two courses from Coursera last autumn (being optimistic about course loads on top of full time jobs may well be a characteristic of would-be MOOCers). One, on models for making sense of the world, was enjoyable enough, with video lectures delivered in traditional style by a very engaging lecture, but it fell by the wayside as I became absorbed by my second choice: Modern and Contemporary American Poetry led by Professor Al Filreis of the University of Pennsylvania.
This is a cut-down version of an undergraduate course he runs. In ten exciting weeks we sampled key texts, mainly American, in modernist and post-modernist poetry, starting with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and running right through the key movements until arriving at the daunting shores of contemporary language poetry, chance operations, conceptual poetry and the uncreative writing tendency stimulated by the web itself. I have no hesitation in saying that it was one of the greatest learning experiences I have ever had: I haven’t had so much fun, or felt that I learnt so much so quickly, since my BA over thirty years ago.
What made it so great? The huge passion and enthusiasm of Al Filreis himself certainly helped – passion both for the subject matter and for this way of teaching. The teaching method involved helpful short quizzes. There were four assignments, providing the chance to write brief critical essays and to try out some post-modernist poetic techniques for ourselves: these were peer marked so you also got the chance to read and comment on what other students were writing. The course forums were very lively, with 957,000 views of messages from the 36,000 students who enrolled on the course. Although the Coursera forum structure leaves something to be desired, nevertheless students across the world were hazarding their own interpretations of the poems, and passionate debates broke out whenever boundaries were being pushed further than some people could accept. There was also a Facebook page and twitter feed.
But for me what really clinched the course were the videos produced for each course reading – over 80 of them, with running lengths from nine to twenty-seven minutes. These weren’t lectures but guided discussions. In recordings of high technical quality Professor Filreis and a group of student Teaching Assistants conducted collaborative close readings of each of the texts. While the Professor nudged and cajoled, and only rarely rhapsodised, the students showed how sense and meaning could be made of even the most obscure pieces – and there were many of those in this course (Kenneth Goldsmith’s presentation as poetry of a transcription of everything he said for a week provoked the most virulent debates and was the breaking point for many. But then modernism was always meant to be about aesthetic appreciation of the everyday).
I am convinced that this was a course in which co-creation between students and pure peer to peer learning would not have sufficed: the forums and peer assessments were great vehicles for testing out our interpretative abilities, but in themselves would not have provided the grounding that was needed to make progress. Nor would lectures have done the trick. It was the vicarious learning involved in seeing students being guided to fumble their way towards sense-making that gave participants like me the encouragement that the enterprise was possible, and the tools for being able to go on independently both during and, crucially, after the course. Without this I would have been where I started: struggling alongside others in the same position to make any inroads on the seemingly impenetrable. Lectures would have provided guidance from someone who had been down this path over many years, but the real trick was to link the two: to show in practice how beginners could be guided to develop and use the necessary approaches for themselves, and in so doing to become engaged ourselves in interpretative activity.
As a result I feel whole new worlds of literature have opened up to me which were previously literally closed books.
While difficult texts have not become magically easy I can now see a path to understanding. The main downside has been the damage to my bank balance due to the compelling need to invest in several shelves of new books.
In the current ferment of debate over MOOCs many doubts are being expressed about their pedagogical model and their quality. All I can say is that here is one instance in which a MOOC provided the occasion for what I think was a first rate learning experience. Perhaps this model of vicarious collaborative learning is one that others could follow.
The course runs again this September: check it out if you have any interest in the world of experimental contemporary poetry. It’s currently free, of course, though if there had been a donation box on the way out I would gladly have paid. You can find an overview, with links to some other participant views, at https://jacket2.org/commentary/modpo-overview and there is a link there to the course home page where you can sign up.
Tsunamis and avalanches kill. They are so vile and fearsome that I think it is almost in bad taste to compare social and technical phenomena to either of them.
IPPR's use of one of the term in its An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead (written by Michael Barber and colleagues from Pearson) caught my eye, and reminded me of a talk - Universities, eLearning and The Internet Tsunami [PPT] - that I heard at the 2000 ALT Conference by Jack Wilson, then of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
I've only skimmed the two documents so far, but the fact that quite similar things are being said now as were being said 13 years ago probably shows that these kinds of apocalyptic visions are a bit wide of the mark, and that what is really going on is better viewed as a rather slower "tectonic" movement, that peppers the landscape with very big but patchy bursts of change.
I believe that looking back in 20 years we will see that over the previous 40 years technology's impact on learning, teaching and assessment will have been very profound indeed. In effect there will have been several big step changes. But I do not think that apocalyptic metaphors - which in some respects play into the hands of the naysayers - are helpful for organisations needing to take wise decisions about what to do next. Jack Wilson's much more recent talk at the 2012 Sloan Consortium conference - Evolution or Revolution? The relentless advance of online learning - Neither hype nor negativity can stop it [PPTX] - is of a very different ilk.
For various reasons I'm keeping a close eye on maths MOOCs (or, strictly speaking, xMOOCs, in the jargon explained here by John Daniels [PDF]).
I've been dipping in and out of the Udacity/San José State University College Algebra course, and I am about to start Keith Devlin's Coursera/Stanford Introduction to Mathematical Thinking course, which starts on Monday 4 March. In the latter case I intend to do the course thoroughly, Easter holiday permitting, and to write about it as I go along, though probably not as systematically as I did in 2011 during the Norvig/Thrun AI course.
Keith Devlin, who hails originally from Hull - almost close enough to Sheffield to feel an affinity - is writing regularly about the practicalities of MOOC design, with a particular focus on "the question of the degree to which good, effective mathematics learning can be achieved at scale, over the Internet". Here are two examples:
In Your Massively Open Offline College Is Broken Clay Shirky eloquently counters Venture Capital's Massive, Terrible Idea For The Future Of College, a no holds barred attack on MOOCs and their proponents by journalist Maria Bustillos.
I agree with Shirky's line in the excerpt below, though I wonder if, as someone who can more or less name his price as a public speaker, Shirky is being a bit disingenuous getting down amongst the academics with his "us", "my peers", and "we".
But setting that aside (and I do not grudge Shirky his success) what is very striking about the reaction of academics to MOOCs is its similarity to some of the reactions in the UK [353 page PDF on House of Lords web site] to the pressure from Government and the funders to move scholarly publishing to an Open Access model.
The competition from upstart organizations will make things worse for many of us. (I like the experiments we’ve got going at NYU, but I don’t fantasize that we'll be unscathed.) After two decades of watching, though, I also know that that’s how these changes go. No industry has ever organized an orderly sharing of power with newcomers, no matter how interesting or valuable their ideas are, unless under mortal threat.
Instead, like every threatened profession, I see my peers arguing that we, uniquely, deserve a permanent bulwark against insurgents, that we must be left in charge of our destiny, or society will suffer the consequences. Even the record store clerks tried that argument, back in the day. In the academy, we have a lot of good ideas and a lot of practice at making people smarter, but it’s not obvious that we have the best ideas, and it is obvious that we don’t have all the ideas. For us to behave as if we have—or should have—a monopoly on educating adults is just ridiculous.
1. In the case of scholarly publishing, the O'Reilly funded PeerJ is one of the upstarts to watch.
2. In the UK it is in further education colleges (which generally do not have lecture theatres) where degree-level students are given the most individualised attention.
If you've the time, do watch this insight-rich 1989 discussion between Mara Mayer and Lawrence Cremin about technology in learning (via Stephen Downes and then Mike Caulfield).
Caulfield draws points from the discussion astutely, but you'll need to watch it for its many "aha" moments (as Caulfield says, you can safely skip the first 10 minutes).
The video is very relevant to current discussions about MOOCs, equity of access and provision, "hard-to-teach/hard-to-learn" subjects, and professional development.
Unusually the discussion focusses simultaneously on schools (Cremin) and on HE (Mayer), which adds greatly to its value.
The International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste plays a key role in training physicists from developing countries. Some readers will remember Enrique Canessa and Marco Zennaro's terrific presentation in London in May 2011 about ICTP's elegant low-tech automated lecture capture system, which allows archiving and sharing traditional lectures and talks carried out using, for example, very large chalkboards found in classrooms and/or using more modern presentations systems. ICTP has just released EyApp which is an iPhone app that applies the same principals. From the media release:
EyApp enables your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to make a video composed of a series of captured images along with simultaneous audio recording. With just the press of a button, the App automatically captures images at intervals ranging from 5 to 20 seconds (or manually by the user) and then synchronizes the images with a continuous audio signal.
The resulting recording is a smaller size compared with traditional video (HD or standard resolution) because the still frames can be processed by the highly-efficient compression algorithms used by the H264 movie format found in modern mobile i devices.
The film is then ready to be shared immediately or, when saved on a device's photo/movie gallery, can be further edited with other Apps, shared by email and rich-media messaging systems or via social networking Apps, or transferred to a computer. EyApp makes it easy to create personal recording archives as well as to share them via YouTube.
An Android version is follow, and EyApp is available now for download from the iPhone App Store. My feeling is that combined with a Swivl to hold the recording device, EyApp would have specially good potential for low-cost systematic capture of workshops and speaker sessions.
In this 50-minute session from the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival, Michael J. Sandel gets his audience (and viewers like me and you) thinking about the adverse civic and moral consequences of market mechanisms being introduced into so many areas of public and working life. At the same time he exemplifies a (very difficult to carry off) approach to large group learning.
Here is a rough transcription of Sandel's conclusion, which probably owes its impact to what came before it in the talk:
I think it is no accident that two things have been happening over the past 30 years. One is that what we've discussed today: the tendency to rely more and more on market mechanisms without any public debate. And something else that's been happening which is the hollowing out of public discourse in general. What passes for political discourse these days consists mainly of shouting matches on talk radio and cable TV, and ideological food fights in congress. People are frustrated by this. I think one of the reasons for this is our reluctance to engage in serious public debate about big and controversial moral questions.
But the result of that reluctance is that we have a public discourse that is either managerial and technocratic, which inspires no-one, or, when passion enters, we have shouting matches. People want a better kind of politics.
People want to elevate the terms of our public discourse. People want to address big things in public. So I think that the hollowing out of our public discourse, and the market triumphalist faith that has gone unexamined even after the financial crisis have a common solution. It's not an easy solution. But it's a new kind of politics of the common good that admits, that welcomes into public debate moral engagement on big tough controversial questions, not because we will all agree: we won't; but because it may teach us to listen and learn a little bit better, and it will also lift our sights from the rancour that inflicts our politics, to what I think is a more strenuous kind of citizenship; but also a more satisfying democratic pulic life.
Despite some of the sentimentalism, the kowtowing, and the US-centrism, there is plenty of interest in this 68 minute recording of a panel session on 24 January in Davos. Thrun and Koller get too little of the floor, I think; and what the session generally lacks from the chair, NYT journalist Thomas Friedman - who knows how to gush - is critical challenge.
Additional paragraph added at * on 30/1/2013 picking up on an issue raised by Stephen Downes.
Above and below are two screen-shots from the Sutton Trust-EEF's Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which describes itself as "an accessible summary of educational research which provides guidance for teachers and schools on how to use their resources to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils" and which "currently covers 30 topics, each summarised in terms of their average impact on attainment, the strength of the evidence supporting them and their cost".
Think if it as an interactive and more practically focused version of Visible Learning by John Hattie; and note the extent to which approaches that are in political vogue in England (like setting by ability, or uniform) are judged to be harmful or ineffective rather than beneficial. For more on the latter, see Ian Gilbert's The Research v The Government.
* As the toolkit explains, average impact is estimated in terms of additional months progress you might expect pupils to make as a result of an approach being used in school, taking average pupil progress over a year is as a benchmark.
I'm a governor of a big FE college, which means I need to keep an eye on issues like value added measures of teachers' or institutions' performance.
Five items have recently caught my attention and I thought that gathered into one place they might be useful to others. [I'll consider adding more if you send them to me.]
The first two are brief rebuttals of work funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [PDF] that purports to show that there is year-to-year consistency in the "value" that individual teachers add to learners.
The third is a classy more general piece about the instability of value-added estimates, from the Albert Shanker Institute. The fourth is a recently published article by Schafer and colleagues which challenges commonly held assumptions about value added. Finally there is a short video by the research psychologist Daniel Willingham (yes, the Daniel Willingham cited by Michael Gove in his speech in praise of tests in November 2012 - on which Willingham was himself moved to comment), which summarises the problem with value added in a particularly accessible way.
I think Stephen Downes (picking up on analysis by Michael Feldstein) hits the nail on the head in this comprehensive well-linked commentary on developments in Californian HE relating to online learning, MOOCs etc. Specifically:
The problem, to my mind, is that the aristocrats - the professors - fundamentally don't care whether the sysem is accessable or affordable. Tha's what has to change. Feldstein proposes:
- aggressive program of experimentation and evaluation
- a data-driven and public conversation about the cost and sustainability models
- personas and use cases that help the stakeholder groups have focused and productive conversations
I think the initiatives have to reach beyond mere planning (there's always the clarion call from professors for "more research" and a "coordinated program" and an "emphasis on quality", but at a certain point it becomes more important to do than to plan, to try a bunch of things on a larger scale and take notes about what worked and what didn't).
Worthwhile also reading Donald Clark's MOOCs: ‘dropout’ a category mistake, look at ‘uptake’? which concludes:
We need to look at uptake, not dropout. It’s astonishing that MOOCs exist at all, never mind the millions, and shortly many millions, who have given them a go. Dropout is a highly pejorative term that comes from ‘schooling’. The ‘high school dropout’. He’s ‘dropped out of ‘University’. It's this pathological view of education that has got us into this mess in the first place. MOOCs are NOT school, they eschew the lecture hall and are more about learning than teaching. MOOCs, like BOOKs, need to be seen as widely available opportunities, not compulsory attendance schooling. They need to be encouraged, not disparaged.