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Oops! How did that OER happen?

Image by Tim Morgan

I have just finished a Google Hangout with Sukaina Walji and John Baglow where we started planning our OER. Creating our own OER? How did that come about? Well it was all John’s fault for not being clearer. Or possibly mine for not reading properly.

In response to one of my posts John wrote

Nat, do you work in He or FE, where I am? In preparation for our TMA I am thinking about ways that MOOCs could have a role in my college. It would certainly be with adult learners, not the 16-19 students and maybe CPD and HE courses in FE are the best candidates.
I wonder if we could produce a mini-MOOC just for our own staff. What do you and Deborah think?

I read…….. “let’s create a MOOC!”

John replied

Nat, when I wrote “perhaps we could produce a mooc for our own staff” I meant we in my college – but maybe we could come up with one ourselves! What topic do we already have some stuff on? I teach teacher training now. Maybe we could come up with part of a mooc for our own colleagues. It wouldn’t be very massive of course. Any ideas for a subject? Blended learning? Improving your learners’ digital literacy? Communication? …..

Then Sukaina joined in and that was that.

This to me is the epitome of open learning and captured the spirit of creativity, collaboration and of in the “momentness” it’s supposed to embody. Despite having using G+ for a while this was my first Hangout and John introduced me to Etherpad so if nothing else I have learnt something already.

We have since down scaled the MOOC to an OER but that doesn’t matter. We have started something, we will invite others to join in, and we will see where it takes us. Hopefully we will create am OER. Maybe someone else will develop it into a MOOC. Who knows. Watch this space………..


PLN – Innovative or Old Hat? – Activity 16

Photo by Garfield Anderssen

Activity 16
Now you have a definition of PLN, the question you need to answer is:
‘Does this offer anything new?’
In terms of innovation, can we say a PLN is truly innovative, or merely a rebadging of existing practice? As with many new terms in educational technology, some people find a PLN usefully captures a new development, while others say it is simply a new term for an old practice.
In considering this, take into account the scale and possibilities offered by new technologies, past networking practice and any of the references you found when constructing your definition.
Write a blog post setting out a position statement on what PLNs are and whether it is a useful term or not.

Of course PLNs are not new. Since the beginning of time humans have reached out and connected with each other and tried to establish networks.

People still connected with each other before the Internet and the World Wide Web was invented. In fact, academics trying to connect with other academics was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the internet. Prior to this people phoned each other, met face to face, held meetings, sent memorandums (for the youngsters out there memorandums are basically emails but on paper, hand written and put in a person’s pigeon hole. If you don’t know what a pigeon hole is you haven’t lived). People would hold training courses and attend conferences.

This blog sums up the changes perfectly.

What is new is the way they are done. We now have the technology to connect with anyone, anywhere at anytime in our neighbourhood or the world. Social media is now being considered as a PLN, even as part of someones personal development.

The blog author summarises;

The kinds of discussions I have, and information I share with my PLN hasn’t changed all that much over the years–what works in class, how students learn, how to become a better teacher. How I meet other teachers, where we discuss ideas, and how we share information has changed. Significantly. My PLN now includes teachers who live quite far from me—in Asia, Australia, the Americas, Europe and Africa. I meet them online. I learn from them online. I share with them online.

There are a lot of sites and posts about PLNs out there which highlight their importance and how guidance is being sought by users. It would appear there are PLNs for PLNs!

35 ways to build a PLN online

Your PLN made easy

Supporting PLNs for educators

What is the point of a PLN?

In this blog, Teachers Helping Teachers: The PLN Road Map Andrew Marcinek explains how to start a PLN

Find like-minded people and start a conversation. Make your PLN personal and beneficial. And remember, it’s ok to make it all about you

PLNs are not new they are just wearing a different coat. The term, PLN, is useful because it is simple and says exactly what it is. It is up to you how and what tools you use and who you connect with (personal). The aim is to acquire knowledge through connecting and collaborating (learning). It’s all about talking to the people you work with and people all over the world (network).

My definition

A network of people who work together (digitally or face to face) and support each other in a learning experience. Learning is improved by this connection which is dynamic, global, supportive, exciting and constantly on the move

highlights the other exciting aspect of PLNs. They aren’t just for teachers and their students or even subject and industry experts. It’s a network of people which can be anyone. Because of the technology and resources available to us we can all be students whenever we want to be.

Activity 15 – Defining a PLN (Personal Learning Network)

Photo by Sue Waters

Activity 15 concerns PLNs;

As with many new terms, PLN is used in a variety of contexts. The Wikipedia entry defines it as:

‘an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment . In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.’ (Wikipedia, 2012 )

Use search tools and the discussion in the forum to formulate your own, one-sentence definition of a PLN.

I have had PLNs in my life, at college and uni, but this wasn’t what they were called then. Study group or partner was what we would have called them except we didn’t give them a name, we just did it generally because we had been asked to as part of an assignment. In my experience you either teamed up with friends and did well (once you had stopped snacking, gossiping and flicking through magazines) or were teamed up by a teacher and it turned out badly. Someone didn’t pull their weight or turn up and there was always an over-ambitious one that out shouted everyone else in the group.

It is only since I started doing MOOCs that I have discovered the power of PLNs. Actually I didn’t discover it in my first 2 MOOCs, it was the third one E-learning and Digital Cultures where I was truly inducted. Some of you may have already heard me going on about this course but it really was a defining moment for me. I had embarked on a course I was terrified and exited about. On my previous two MOOCs there had been no interaction on social media and I wasn’t keen on the official forums. All of a sudden I was thrown into a thriving, dynamic and supportive network which I still remember with great fondness today.

Obviously PLNs don’t need to be purely digital, you can have a discussion by the water cooler or in the canteen. But social media and technology make them global, instant, dynamic and potentially as big as you like. My experience of them has made me determined to try and create or build upon a PLN in future courses if one doesn’t already exist. To me it is an essential component of any learning experience.

I came across lots of websites dealing with the subject which highlights how important they are becoming/have become. I have included a selection;

Ways to build a PLN

How to create a robust and personal PLN

What is the point of a PLN?

So to the difficult bit. My one sentence definition of a PLN

A network of people who work together (digitally or face to face) and support each other in a learning experience. Learning is improved by this connection which is dynamic, global, supportive, exciting and constantly on the move.

(Okay two sentences but that was hard enough without trying to get it in one!)

The MOOC Approach – activity 12

Photo by OCLC

Activity 12 for Open Education is;
Before we examine MOOCs in more detail, briefly consider if the MOOC approach could be adopted in your own area of education or training. Post your thoughts in your blog and then read and comment on your peers’ postings

The first thing that comes to mind when considering this question is staff (teaching and non-teaching) and not students.

It is difficult to find time for all staff to get together and learn. We hold twilight sessions and inset days but there are a limited number of days in the year set aside for this. There is also a lot to fit in and it is mainly teacher focussed. MOOCs could be offered as part of the twilight/inset days or as separate personal development, or even both. Courses could be tailored to teaching, non teaching and combined groups.

We don’t always have the space to have all the staff learning together and MOOCs would create a virtual space for debate and collaboration. I would love to be part of a staff MOOC, particularly if it involved all the additional “chatter” found when using social media and blogs.

Obviously there will be staff that either won’t be interested or need encouragement but I can definitely see its value in staff development.

In terms of students, I think it would be useful but would need to be targeted and used in conjunction with traditional methods. Our students are aged 11-18 and many would benefit greatly, especially as they are considered to be “digital natives”. For some students, who perhaps don’t respond to traditional methods, for whatever reason, this could be a way of engaging them.

In practical terms it could also be used for students absent for long periods because of illness for example. They could also prove helpful during holidays to target those students revising for exams. We currently hold one off revision sessions in the holidays but MOOCs would be a great supplement.

Some adaptations would need to be made but I think MOOCs would play an important role, in partnership with traditional pedagogy for staff and students.

cMOOCs or xMOOCs? Both please

image courtesy of Wesley Fryer

I am now on week 4 of my Open Education course and the theme is MOOCs (Massive, Open, Online Course). This is rather handy as I am currently doing 5, so I hope I have something to say!

This week we have been asked to;

Compare either DS106 or the Change MOOC with offerings from Udacity or Coursera

Write a blog post comparing the courses with regards to:
– Technology
– Pedagogy
– General approach and philosophy.

I have decided to look at DS106 and Coursera. Apart from this one from the Open University, all my MOOCs have been offerings from Coursera, so I have some experience from a student perspective.

The biggest difference between the two is that one is a cMOOC and one is a xMOOC. DS106 is a cMOOC. This is basically a MOOC that is based on connections (connectivism) and is less structured, or at least more dynamic in that the participants seem to drive the course. I suppose you could call them a virtual learning community. Coursera is a xMOOC

Have a look a look at the two sites and the different philosophies are immediately apparent. You get a different vibe from each site. DS106 feels like you have just walked into a party where there are nibbles and drinks all over the place and groups of people chatting in every corner of the house. The music is eclectic and dancing varied. Even walking in as a stranger you will soon find someone to talk to. Coursera is like visiting your favourite restaurant. If you are celebrating a special event it can be exciting. The rest of the time it’s familiar and, hopefully, makes you feel welcome. You know what to expect, food, wine, staff, etc and, as a regular customer, you will have an established routine.

Basically Coursera is a traditional “classroom”. You can see from the photo of the HCI course I am doing that there are lectures, assignments, deadlines, syllabus and quizzes.

It is everything you remember from school, college or university, just online. In fact in Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility Bates is quoted as saying that the teaching methods

‘are based on very old and out-dated behaviourist pedagogy, relying primarily on information transmission, computer-marked assignments and peer assessments

If you visit the DS106 site you will see the difference straight away. There are assignments but the difference is that lots are suggested by participants themselves. It feels more relaxed, as you can see from this excerp from their About page

Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need

It goes on to say

First of all, in ds106, there are multiple levels of participation- but most importantly, it is designed so you can pick and choose the when and where. We expect NO APOLOGIES for not being able to participate when other parts of life intrude. There is no concept in ds106 of “dropping out” c.f. Groom, Jim (2010-present), “ds106 is #4life”.

The other big difference, highlighted in the above quote, is that there is “no concept of dropping out”. You can dip in and out as you like. You can of course leave a Coursera course anytime you like. There are no fees to pay so you won’t lose anything except perhaps any time you may have invested. If you leave you have to click on the “unenroll” button which makes it feel formal and of course you won’t receive your final grade for any of the quizzes or assignments you may have already done. You don’t join Coursera with a view to leave, although the “drop out” rate is high, but with DS106 it almost feels like you should pop in and out. Some people argue that students aren’t dropping out but engaging with MOOCs the way you should. Dipping in and our, using and sharing resources. The problem (depending on your point of view that is) is that Coursera is structured whereas DS106 isn’t.

There are some similarities, no formal accreditation for example and the need for basic IT equipment (computer and Internet connection) and a certain level of IT and social media literacy. However, technology, it is claimed, is another area where there are differences in c & xMOOCs. xMOOCs use technology but are less focussed on connecting in the same way cMOOCs do. In the quick start guide on their website they specifically ask you to do a number of things including, create a gravatar and social media accounts, create and/or register a blog and explore digital tools. You are generally not required to do this in Coursera but it may depend on the course. For example it would have been impossible to complete the E-learning and Digital Cultures course offered by Courera without social media, blogs etc. However, it is possible to get through most of the courses with access to a PC and the Internet and nothing else. I have taken Coursera courses where I haven’t connected with a single fellow student.

There are differences in MOOCs. However, a lot does also depend on the participants. I have been on Coursera courses where it has all the flavour of a cMOOC and others where it is definitely an old fashioned xMOOC. The subject matter is the driver of this. One of my courses The Ancient Greeks, lends itself to tradition. Whereas, Human-Computer Interaction is more about connectivism. Both are Coursera courses but both are very different.

Although there are differences in DS106 and Coursera generally we have to be careful not to tar all of Coursera’s courses with one brush. I see the same differences in the Secondary School I work at, some classes will be more dynamic, IT based, exciting and allow for more interaction compared to others. Think maths v PE. It also depends on the the teaching style, overall school philosophy and resources. Ultimately, some classes are just “cooler” but teachers and students can make of them what they will.

Just as there are different MOOCs there are different types of learners. We need to embrace the variety of MOOCs as it ensures that there is one out there for everyone.

Activity 11 – Big OERs v Little OERs

image by Dan Bennett

In Wellers’s the openness-creativity cycle in education he talks about the concept of, and the difference between, little and big OERs.

We have been asked to write a blog post of less than 500 words on the benefits and drawbacks of big and little OER approaches.

So what are they and what is the difference? According to Weller;

Big OERs are institutionally generated ones that arise from projects such as Open Courseware and OpenLearn. These are usually of high quality, contain explicit teaching aims, are presented in a uniform style and form part of a time-limited, focused project with portal and associated research and data.
Little OERs are individually produced, low cost resources. They are produced by anyone, not just educators, may not have explicit educational aims, have low production quality and are shared through a range of third party sites and services.

Having looked at a number of OERs I think that both have their place within the world of open learning.

Big OERs obviously have the full weight and backing from a recognised institution and, in theory, will be of better quality and more likely to be accurate. Little OERs are more likely to be created by an individual so less easy to verify and the quality may be affected.

I have used a number of big and little OERs in my time as a MOOCer and find they are interchangeable. In my philosophy course for example I will use the recommended reading (Big OER) but then dip into individual’s blog (Little OER) to get a summary. The recommended reading is usually dense and complicated so it useful to read others thoughts to gain understanding.

Little OERs can be produced by anyone, academic, student or industry expert and take little or no time to produce. They may be considered “extra accessible” compared to big OERs as they are produced by individuals and perhaps less intimidating to people accessing them. Some may argue that big OERs are more academic and accurate but the little OERs are also produced by academics and experts. In addition, something can be just as valid even if it isn’t produced by an academic.

I also find that the individual can be more creative and are not governed by the same constraints as larger institutions. On the other hand larger institutions are able to produce big and little OERs. Professors and departments within an institution may produce a MOOC (big OER) but within this course lots of little OERs are produced i.e. individual blogs, discussion forums and assignments.

The little OER will continue to increase and proliferate as open learning continues to grow. Learners will also become teachers and teachers will become learners. Old lines of stuffy professor and naive student have become blurred. Social media and blogging have played the biggest role in this as it is so easy for anyone to create and “publish”.

Both types of OERs play a role in open learning and we just need to know when and how to use them.

Activity 10 – Applying sustainability models to OERs


For this activity we were asked to read On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education by David Wiley.

Then, look at the following open education initiatives, and for each one determine which of Wiley’s three models of sustainability you think they are operating:
Change MOOC

Consider the following:
Was the sustainability model for each OER initiative apparent?
Did Wiley’s models cover all approaches or did you think a different model was operating for one or more of them?

To start, what are the three models of sustainability?

1. The MIT Model summary
The MIT model is big as it’s aim is to publish all of it’s 1,800 courses. New courses are added and old courses are archived. To do this a large organisational structure is required and of course the budget reflects this. The average cost of producing a course is $10,000. Money is obtained via foundation and private donor support and through the creation of partnerships.

2. The USU Model
The aim here is to publish as many courses as possible. Although there are paid staff the number is a lot less than MIT and is heavily supported by student assistants and volunteers. The average cost of producing a course is $5,000 and they have obtained foundation status.

3. The Rice Model
There are no specific objectives set in terms of the amount of courses to be published. Rice Connexions is

a dynamic digital educational ecosystem consisting of an educational content repository and a content management system optimized for the delivery of educational content.

Information in the repository is not just from the host university but authors from anywhere in the world can contribute. Therefore it is simply the facilitator of the website and in a way it’s governed by those that contribute. There are no support staff and as a consequence the budget required to produce a course is low.

The above are just my summary of the models and you can read more by following the link to Wiley’s paper.

Now, which of the models do the following open education initiatives follow?

If the MIT model is based on large budgets, an extensive range of courses and a big organisational structure I would suggest that this is the model Coursera follows. It has a Leadership team, advisory board and about 38 support staff. Like MIT they have staff to work on all aspects of the operation including recruitment, software engineers, business development, and a student support specialist. They have been very successful in creating partnerships and work with over 60 universities around the world offering free courses to anyone who wants to study them. Coursera has been funded by millions of dollars in venture capital, by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers amongst others, and is beginning to look at ways of creating income. This includes career services and adding verified certificates for a fee. Essentially Coursera is a business using business models to sustain and further develop its operations.

Change MOOC
I had trouble understanding this one as it appeared to be just one course but it wasn’t clear. I would suggest this was a low budget and not micro managed. I looked at archived newsletters and there are none for 2013. Four course facilitators are mentioned but no other staff. The course appears to have ended in May 2012. I would say this is the Rice Model in some respects but in others the Rice Model seems to be more dynamic and, so far, sustainable, whereas this one appears to have died a death.

Jorum is a repository for accessing and sharing learning and teaching resources and is run by Mimas at the University of Manchester. They describe themselves as

Mimas is an organisation of experts. Our role is to support the advancement of knowledge, powering world-class research and teaching. Technology is at the heart of everything we do.

As a nationally designated data centre, we host a significant number of the UK’s research information assets. But our core expertise is building applications that enable a wide range of users to make the most of this rich resource – from students and researchers working with census data to investigate social inequalities, to scientists using satellite imagery to survey and protect our environment.

They have a directorate and management team and a large body of staff. They work with a number of partners including, the British Museum, the University of Bonn, other universities and commercial organisations. Mimas has a longstanding relationship with Jisc and together they have created and funded Jorum. Jisc is a registered charity, which works with a number of higher education institutions. Their aim is to promote the use of digital technologies. This is very much a MIT model.

Open Learn (Open University)
The Open University’s contribution to the OER movement was launched in 2006. It receives some of its funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (Hewlett, as in the founder of Hewlett Packard, and also contributed $1million to the start up of the Creative Commons project). Open Learn is essentially another portal of the Open University which is a long established and well organised body. It’s main partner is the BBC but it also has partnerships with the National Health Service, Universities and Colleges Employers Association and Confederation of British Industry. I can’t find any specific information about staffing but there is mention of an “OpenLearn team” and I imagine that with the backing of the Open University’s resources this team would not be insubstantial. Again, I would say OpenLearn follows a MIT model as it has a large staff body, is well organised, well funded and is embedded into the organisation of it’s “parent” the Open University.

I think the examples we looked at were clearly identifiable as one of Wiley’s models. They generally fell into the MIT or the Rice Model. I also believe that his models covered all the approaches. There may be cases where they are interchangeable or they evolve from a Rice to a Connexions, and then a MIT model. However, the three I identified as MIT models seem to have jumped straight to a MIT model, I assume because they are part of a reputable and long standing organisation, or in partnership with one, and because of successful funding models.

On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education by David Wiley.


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