Sunday, 5 May 2013

Activity 25 Open Learning and Museums

Goodbye and Thank You

Well, it's all over. I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed this MOOC. It has allowed me to learn much more about the open educational resource movement and, even more importantly, has made me challenge some of my assumptions about museum learning and about open learning.

The final activity for the course was a video which was supposed to highlight some aspect of what we have learnt from the course and how we might apply it in our professional lives. Here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks to the Open University for running this course and many thanks to my fellow students for their invaluable feedback and comments. I learnt a lot from all of you. Let's keep in touch through Google+.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Activity 24: Considering Open Learning Literacies

A Checklist of Open Learning Literacies

In previous posts, I have been critical of some of the learning theories that have arisen out of the Open Educational Resource movement, especially Connectivist and Rhizomatic learning theory. For me these theories exclude too many members of our society who cannot or will not be able to access OERs. 

Having said that, there are clearly some qualities that people need if they are to successfully negotiate the world of the OER. Let's go through these qualities one-by-one (there is some cross-over with Jenkins' (2009) eleven new skills learners:

This means both physical and intellectual resources. In order to access OERs users must have the tools to gain that access. This requires either a computer or a smartphone plus internet access. According to Ormond Simpson's Supporting Students for Success in Online and Distance Education (Routledge, 2013) over 20% of people do not have access to the internet at home and the figure for the United States is over 30%. As for the developing world, it is estimated that only 5% of sub-Sarahan Africa has home internet access.

The intellectual resource does not mean the intellectual level of an OER user but the confidence that the user has of their own abilities and intellectual capabilities. The use of OERs does require users to have some confidence in their own abilities.

Again there are two aspects to this:
  • the first is the ability to critically view the OERs that are on offer and to ensure that the OERs are both useful and authoritative.
  • the second is to ensure that if there is a discussion about the use of OERs then users must make sure that they are able to both give and receive positive criticisms.
This is the ability to successfully your way around repositories of OERs.

Successful users of OERs need to be accepting of the viewpoints and perspectives of others. People will see the content of OERs in completely different ways and there must be an acceptance that there is not a 'right' and 'wrong' way of looking at OERs.

As Ken Robinson  says in his well-known TED talk on creativity in education, we should not avoid mistakes when we are learning. The successful use of OERs should experiment with the content they find. This will inevitably mean that they will make mistakes. This should be encouraged.

Because the most successful users of OERs are those who are most comfortable with self-directed, informal learning styles, then it clear that motivation is an important quality. You have to want to engage with these materials in order to get the most out of them. The question remains: What happens to those who lack this motivation?

Thinking Skills

Using OERs does require a particular way of thinking. It asks users to willingly move across forms and disciplines and to accept multiple perspectives and opinions.

Digital Creativity
This means that users of OERs should not just be the passive recipients of learning materials but must also be able to repurpose it and to share what they have created. This requires some technical and creative skills in editing and creating OERs. This can mean anything from being able to edit a word-processed document through to being able to work with video-editing software.

Final Thought...
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the skill sets needed to work OERs. It would be good to hear from other #h817open students and see if we can agree on a common set of open learning literacy standards.

Activity 22: An Open Education Technology

Which Form of Technology Best Suits the Creator of Open Educational Resources?

When choosing which technology is best for the creator of Open Educational Resources we should start with a discussion about what kind of 'openness' the creator is comfortable with. As David Willey (2007) puts it there are degrees of being open. A door that is slightly ajar is open but a door that is fully wide open is clearly more open.

Willey states that there are 4Rs of Reuse for OERs. The more of these 'Rs' an OER allows then the more open it is. However, the technology chosen can restrict how 'open' these educational resources are. 

For instance, if a creator chooses YouTube for video content then there is no facility to reuse since there is no way that the video can be downloaded (at least not from within YouTube itself). The same goes for photo-sharing sites such as Flickr. The images on Flickr cannot be downloaded from the website itself.

So we need to find a platform that allows content creators to put up resources that can be downloaded, remixed and revised before being redistributed on the same platform.

For content creators in the formal FE and HE sector, this is easy as their institutional VLE can be used. However, VLE are usually in themselves not open as they are only open to members of that institution. However, some institutions such as MIT's OpenCourseWare and the Open University's OpenLearn are VLEs that are open to all but in order to contribute to these platforms content creators have to be on the staff of those institutions. Some "digital scholars" are like the wandering scholars of Medieval Europe and travel (both physically or digitally) from place to place. Where is their central location for OERs?

Blogs might be the way to post Open Educational Resources. Blogs are great for collaboration, thought-sharing and discussion. However, blogs are unable to upload files that can be downloaded such as video, images, PDFs etc.

So my answer is as an open technology for open education that can be used by anybody (either as a creator or consumer) is Dropbox

Dropbox allows users to upload any type of large (or small) file and for those files to then be shared with others who can then reuse, remix and upload them to Dropbox too.

Social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ can be used to publicise these OERs and to discuss them with other users and creators.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Considerations on Rhizomatic Learning

Blog for Activity 20 for Open Learning MOOC

It is easy to see Rhizomatic Learning as a form of networked learning. People get together, working and learning with each other through a set of digital networks (such as online discussions) or physical networks (such as a reading group meeting in a coffee shop).

Dave Cormier suggests that this is not what he is talking about. Networked learning is neat and structured. This picture is a good example of networked learning:

It's neat and structured and everything is linked to everything else. Rhizomatic Learning reflects the uncertainty that we find ourselves in from an economic, social and even moral point of view. Things are falling apart and the centre cannot hold. 

Rhizomatic Learning might resemble the roots of a plant such as this:

There is no centre, links between the different parts may or may not exist and there is the possibility that parts will break off and begin to grow again.

You can also read Charles Handy's "The Age of Unreason" or Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock" for more on the uncertainty of the future.

Because this uncertainty is inevitable then we need to restructure the way we learn to take account of it. This is learning without a centre, without a structure and without any boundaries. The best description is on Dave Cormier's video on Rhizomatic Learning. You can view it here:

It reminded me of something that the educationalist Ken Robinson said in his now very well-known TED talk on creativity and education. At one point he says that we are preparing our children for a world that we cannot possibly predict. How do we know that our children (or adults) are learning the right things?

The video of the talk is here. It's worth watching in full - not just because of his ideas but also because he is very funny:

I was with a friend a while ago who teaches at my local FE college. She said that a few years ago her students walked into college "looking up". They had dreams, hopes and ambitions. They talked about the future in  a way that suggested that they wanted to get to that future. Now she said her students are "looking down". The future for them looks at worst bleak and at best uncertain. They are avoiding the future with a mixture of nihilism and an attempt to hold on to their adolescent years for as long as possible. 

The banking crisis of 2007-8 and the current financial crisis spreading across Europe has created a world of uncertainty and most people really do not want that. They want knowability and predictability. Remember the old Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times". Not many people can survive in interesting times although some will not only survive but will thrive.

This is my main problem with Rhizomatic Learning. It only works for those who will be able to thrive in this age of uncertainty. I see people who are doing well in this linked-together and globalised world and they will be able to take to Rhizomatic Learning like a duck to water. However, there will be many who are not and they will view it as being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Except, of course, uncertainty is inevitable and we need to equip ourselves and our children for this. The question has to be asked. What can Rhizomatic Learning do for the person who is disenchanted about education or has been unemployed (or underemployed) for quite some time and sees nothing in the future except more of the same?

Implementing Connectivism

This blog is for Activity 19 of the 'Open Education' course

The idea is to recast the fictional course that I created in Week 2 but adopting a highly connectivist approach.

As a reminder, here is the original course:

A Fictional OER on Digital Skills


This course is aimed at the older Greek and Greek–Cypriot diasporas in Britain, Australia and Germany who went to these countries in the 1950s and 1960s, either as economic migrants or to escape the civil war in Cyprus or military dictatorship in Greece.

The course is intended to help members of these communities develop digital skills to maintain links with their country of origin.

Brief Proposed Structure of OER

Informational Websites
There is a lot of information of Greece and Cyprus. However, the vast majority of it focuses on Ancient Greece and some of the modern Cypriot material concentrates on the civil war. I could find nothing on the present crises in either country.
Joining Discussion Groups
There are no materials on how to join and use discussion groups.
Using Social Media
There are some OERs which look at the educational impact of social media but nothing instructional.
Language Skills
There are several Greek language courses
Modern Culture
There are some resources on modern Greek and Cypriot culture and music

In order to recast this course, let's go through each of the key principles in turn and see how useful it is.

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • This would happily work with this course. There will always be different opinions within any community. On top of that, as it means that it means communication between communities in the country of origin and communities in new countries, where some of the culture of the 'new' country will have been absorbed then that will also create the opportunity to learn from a diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.
  • This will happen at first with the aid of the person who set up the course. However as the participants become more confident in the use of digital technology and connections are made between different groups then diverse information sources will be brought together.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Given that the purpose of this course is two-fold: to develop digital skills and to create contacts between different parts of the diaspora, non-human appliances are of paramount importance. However, like the previous principle, this will be something that will gain in importance as the course develops.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  • This is different from simply learning something new. It requires the members of the course to have the motivation to know more and to give this  a higher priority than what they already know. In a sense, this will depend on the reasons why the learners started the course in the first place. They may simply want the reassurance of having their knowledge reinforced. In that is the case, then this principle may be less true.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • This will happen with the formal end of the course. Developing digital skills is not normally something that stops once the course ends. Connections made during the course will be maintained through chat rooms, social media, email etc.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill.
  • The online world is, in a very real sense, connectivist. Although each week of the course is discrete the links between them mean that the participants in the course will be making links and connections almost without realising it. The trick is to find a way of teaching the ability to see these connections.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • This seems to me to be the most problematic of the connectivist principles. Whilst I am not saying that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, I am suggesting that older people may not see this principle as a priority - especially if some of their time is spent re-learning what they have forgotten.
  • Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.
  • Again for older people this principle might be slightly disconcerting. The idea that the world around them is constantly shifting is one that they may have difficulty with - especially if the world that they grew up in was one in which the reality around them was fixed and predictable.


The connectivist theory of learning is one that has arisen out of the shifting sands of the digital and social worlds in which we currently live. The old certainties are either gone or are placed under a lot of strain. In a sense, connectivist theory sits comfortably with the idea of the 'digital native' and the 'digital immigrant'. See Mark Prensky (2001) for a discussion on this.

Connectivist learning theory does not help those who are used to different way of learning and who may have difficulty adapting. The 'digital natives' will be learning in a connectivist way without thinking about it. 

I am also not sure how connectivism helps those who are reluctant learners or who have had a bad experience of learning in the past. It requires a certain amount of confidence and expertise to do what connectivism asks. Not everybody has that.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Activity 14 Comparing MOOCs

This blog is for Activity 14 'Comparing MOOCs'

Background to MOOCs

DS106 is an open online course run by the University of Mary Washington. The course teaches participants about different forms of digital storytelling.

Coursera is a website led by Stanford University and works with various universities in offering some of their courses as MOOCs.

DS106 does require a lot of digital literacy from it's participants. The course organisers encourage students not only to write about their experiences and assignments in blogs but in other forms of 'digital artefact' such as animated gifs, audio and video.

The website also seems difficult to navigate and again requires some level to digital competence to move around.

Coursera does not require such a high level of digital skill. The website is easy to navigate and it has made it simple to enrol on a MOOC. Most of the MOOCs run through Coursera do not require high digital skills. At most it is the ability to write and publish a blog and occasionally to create a 'digital artefact'.

DS106 seems to cater for a wide variety of learning styles. There are opportunities to read and watch the written and visual work of other students. As an Open Educational Resource DS106 is truly 'open' in that it enables all of the 4 Rs set out by David Willey in "Defining the Open in Open Content" (2007).

Coursera has a page on it's website that explores its pedagogic philosophy. This page highlights the following:

  • the efficacy of online learning
  • the importance of retrieval and testing through the assignments
  • the concept of 'Mastering Learning'
  • peer assessments
  • Active, rather than passive, learning

General Approach and Philosophy
The general approach and philosophy of DS106 is one in which students are expected to take control of their own learning and to make a contribution to the course through assignments. In this sense, DS106 is, strictly speaking, not a MOOC in that the start and end date for the course is open-ended. It seems closer to an Open Educational Resource.

In the 'About' page Coursera writes that:

We are a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. We envision a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions. Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundreds of thousands of students.

Their philosophy is then the same as other MOOC providers. However, there is an aspect of 'high status' attached to this. It would be interesting to see whether courses from the more prestigious universities are more popular than those from less well-known higher educational institutions.

Although Coursera states that their courses allow students to learn at their own pace and to enable creativity to be part of the learning process. This is less true than with DS106. The MOOCs on Coursera have a firm start and finish date with set assignments that should be completed each week. This does not sound much like learning at their own pace. Digital creativity seems less important as well. Much of the assignments seems to revolve around writing and reviewing blog posts.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Museums and MOOCs

This blog is for Activity 12 as part of the 'Open Education' MOOC 
run by the Open University


MOOCs stands for Massive Online Open Courses and has rapidly become one of the educational buzz-words of the moment.

The term was first used by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada to describe an online course run by two fellow academics, George Siemens and Stephen Downes. It emerged out of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. See Willey's "On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resources Initiatives in Higher Education" (2007) for a useful discussion of OERs.

This video by Dave Cormier is a helpful explanation of what is a MOOC is.

Since then universities, especially in the United States, have started to produce their own MOOCs. Many of them can be found through MOOC "portals" such as Coursera and EdX. British universities, led by the Open University, have recently announced that they will be offering MOOCs through FutureLearn.

Lets go through each of these initials one-by-one:

Hopefully, this is self-explanatory. There is no barrier to enrolling on any courses offered and given that they are free this encourages many people to enrol on MOOCs. According to Sir John Daniel's "Making Sense of MOOCs" (2012) when MIT offered a course called Circuits and Electronics about 155,000 people from 160 countries registered to start the course. Of the 155,000 people, 23,000 got as far attempting the first problem set, half-way through the course there were 9000 students left and only 7000 saw the course through from beginning to end.

This extremely high drop-out rate has led to some criticisms of MOOCs. However, during a "Google Hang-Out", George Siemens, one of the original MOOC creators, questioned whether completing a course should be regarded as a sign of success and non-completion as an indicator of failure.

Again this is self-explanatory. The materials for MOOCs, whether they are scholarly articles, lecture notes or video-ed talks should all be freely available on the web. These are normally distributed across different websites. The online element also refers to the way in which students complete their assignments. This is normally in the form of a blog or a digital artefact. It also refers to the way that teaching staff interact with students and how students interact with each other. This can be an online discussion forum or through the use of various social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Google +.

This is where MOOCs look to the Open Educational Resources movement for inspiration. In essence it means that all of the materials available for a MOOC must be easily and freely available. There are, however, degrees of "openness". A door that is slightly ajar is open but is less so than a door that is wide open. This is discussed by David Willey's "Defining the Open in Open Content" (2007). 

Two of the best-known websites for Open Educational Resources are MIT's OpenCourseWare and, more recently, the Khan Academy. Museums have been creating Open Educational Resources (almost without knowing that's what they were doing) for many years.

Open Educational Resources allow students to create their own learning journey by picking out learning materials on an a la carte basis. This kind of free-form, self-directed and informal learning is one of the great strengths of museum learning, whether in a physical or digital environment. In the digital world, it is this lack of structure that separates OERs from MOOCs.

MOOCs run courses. This means there is a start date, it continues for a number of weeks (normally between 6-8 weeks) with a set amount of work to be done each week and is then completed with an assignment. Some MOOCs provide certification for students that complete the course and some do not. 

Given the number of students involved input from tutors is normally through an email setting out assignments for each week and possibly taking part in a video conference. This also means that marking for assignments is either done automatically on a website or is marked by other students. This was my experience when I completed the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC offered by the University of Edinburgh. My final "digital artefact" was marked by three other students and I did the same from three others. Again there has been some criticism of this form of "peer-to-peer marking".

Museums and MOOCs - The Story So Far

Given the relatively recent arrival of MOOCs it is not surprising that museums have not as yet explored how they might participate in the world of MOOCs.

There have been some people who have begun to explore whether museums could create their own MOOCs. 

At this year's Museums and the Web conference David Greenfield gave a presentation on Museums and MOOCs. His blog from the conference is available here with some more material here.

David Barr has also posted a blog on museums and MOOCs called "Why Not Mooseums?

Apart from these explorations of what might be done, no museums have as yet jumped on the MOOC bandwagon. The British Library is a partner in FutureLearn although it is still too early to know exactly what the BL will be offering. There were rumours that Coursera were in talks with MOMA in New York but nothing appears to have happened.

In correspondence with Rose Cardiff, the e-learning editor of Tate Online, the Tate were considering launching their own MOOCs but have decided, for various practical reasons, not to go ahead at the moment.

Museums and MOOCs - Some Considerations

There is little doubt that museums have the content for running a successful MOOC and that this content is unique to every museum, large or small. Many museums have already put a large proportion of their collections online. These Open Educational Resources such as those created by UCL Museums mean that many museums are already in a position to create MOOCs. It simply requires a re-purposing of the materials that are already there.

According to an article in March 2013 in the "Chronicle of Higher Education" academic staff involved in the creation of MOOCs took up to 100 hours to create the course and then 8-10 hours a week whilst the MOOC is in progress.

For museums this may involve creating some talks and commentaries by curatorial staff that are put online along finding links to open and relevant scholarly articles.

MOOCs could also be created to accompany major new temporary exhibitions. For example, the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum could form the basis for a MOOC on prehistoric Europe. Temporary exhibition MOOCs might encourage more visits to the exhibition itself.

Learning Styles
Much museum learning takes place in a informal and free-choice way. This is the learning style that most museum staff (especially museum learning staff) are familiar with and expert in. However, museums have less experience in the creation of formal and structured courses (with the possible exception of day schools) and with accreditation at the end. If museums are to create MOOCs then they will be working in a new way.

Working in Partnership?
Museums may want to work in partnership with other organisations in the creation of MOOCs. This would have the advantage of sharing resources and expertise. Universities already are experienced in creating MOOCs so it may make sense to work with them. As an example, a university could offer a MOOC on Ancient Greek and Roman art using significant collections from one or more museums. University museums, such as the Fitzwilliam, Ashmolean or Sainsbury Centre seem to me to be in a strong position to be a partner in the creation of MOOCs. It would mean that academic and technical staff at universities will be working with curatorial, learning and other staff (including volunteers) in museums.

The BT Archive have recently been working with Coventry University and the National Archive on JISC-funded digital archive of 500,000 objects. This Open Educational Resource could form the basis for a MOOC on the history of telecommunications.

Partnership between museums is also a possibility. As an example of this, the Rural Museums Network could work together on MOOCs on rural and agricultural history. Again it would enable museums to share their resources and expertise.

MOOCs do not have to be academic in nature but could also be purely practical. This would have the advantage to reaching for audiences who may not be interested in academic study. Using Craftsy as an example, museums with significant textile collections could offer a MOOC in sewing and knitting skills by using their collections as an inspiration. The role of museum volunteers might be invaluable here.

There are various factors about museums and MOOCs such as funding and sustainability that I have not covered here. The purpose is to explore whether museums might usefully become part  of the MOOC movement. I hope that this blog will go some way to being part of that discussion.

MOOC Reading List (with thanks to the Open University)

Bates, A. (2012) ‘Daniel’s Comprehensive Review of MOOC Developments’, Online Learning and Distance Education Resources 2012/10/ 01/ daniels-comprehensive-review-of-mooc-developments/

Daniel, J. (2012) ‘Making sense of MOOCs: musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility’, Journal of Interactive Media in Education, no. 18, jime/ article/ view/ 2012-18

Downes, S. (undated) The MOOC Guide site/themoocguide/ home

JISC (2012) What is a MOOC?, JISC webinar 11 July, 2012/ 07/ webinarmooc.aspx

Kop, R. (2011) ‘The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: learning experiences during a massive open online course’, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 12, no. 3, index.php/ irrodl/article/ view/ 882

McAuley, A., Stewart, B., Siemens, G. and Cormier, D. (2010) The MOOC Model for Digital Practice edblog/ wp-content/ uploads/ MOOC_Final.pdf