Posted by: MandyS | April 1, 2014

BIG OER v little oer

I thought that instead of just writing about the differences, I would try something different instead. It is basic I know (and not a patch on other presentations) but it is a start. I can see this as being a useful way of sharing snippets of information with my own students – and it makes for good revision. As Weller says, “people learn from each other’s shared efforts”.

What I like about Martin Weller’s take on this is that open education resources, whether produced by institutions or individuals (or preferably both), form the basis for sharing.  As he says, ‘openness is a prerequisite of networking’ and open education resources rely on ‘critical mass content’. The more choice there is the better it is for the learner to be able to choose what suites their requirements, be it an open course to fulfil their desire to learn something new or open resources to explain a particular issue at work.

The point is that the two are not competing with one another, instead they are complimentary; the drawbacks of one are the benefits of the other. As a lawyer, it is a bit like the sources of the constitution; their are legal rules (statute, case law etc.) and then their are conventions (prime minister chosen from the majority party) which develop over time to fill in the gaps left by the legal rules but without which the constitution would not operate effectively.


Education today is arguably a necessary but costly resource. Unsurprisingly, the current focus is therefore on ‘building open and sustainable communities to share practice and resources’ (McGill et al., 2013). Both the JISC HEFCE-OER-Review-Final-Report and the OER Research Hub laudably extol the virtues of OER but are equally pragmatic about the challenges widespread adoption faces.

In assessing the priorities for research in openness, I identified motivation, sustainability and cost as being key. Having now read the report and considered the OER Research Hub hypotheses, I still see these as three key issues.

1. Motivation: although ‘staff enthusiasm’ is a significant driver for OER, a market is just as fundamental to its sustainability. A business phenomenon maybe, but educational institutions are firmly entrenched in the commercial sphere and need to be alive to the fact that learners are equally as significant. Whilst the report identifies that financial pressures on learners makes ‘informal and work based learning much more attractive and evidences ‘increased student engagement and confidence in using open resources’, it is significant that ‘the majority of students had not heard of the term OER’ and there is no direct evidence of  ‘improved performance and satisfaction’, as envisaged by the OER Research Hub. The challenge is convincing learners of the perceived benefits to motivate their engagement.

2. Sustainability: what is the reality for OER when the funding runs out? provided motivation is maintained then, arguably, OER can be sustained. The report suggests that mainstreaming OER is the way forward but there is a danger that progression will slow because of the need to comply with institutional policy and practice. Arguably, what is envisaged is a cultural change in both teachers and learners so that ‘sharing’ becomes the norm and ‘open thinking’ is embedded into the ‘curriculum design process’ rather than open resources themselves.

3. Cost: OER, as freely shared and reused learning material, has no cost implication for educational institutions. In fact, it is a cost efficient ‘marketing tool’; widening participation and improving the ‘equitable access’ envisaged by the OER Research Hub, will likely enhance institutional reputation and ultimately the learner base. But at what cost to the academic and teaching staff? reduced numbers, creator to curator, diminished reputations? Clearly these are factors likely to impact on motivation to adopt open practices but in reality, many are already engaged in the widespread sharing of materials via social media e.g. blogs, Twitter.

Ideally, the way forward is ‘integrating OER into established blended learning’; a type of hybrid course, half ‘open’, half traditional, which allows teachers and learners to co-construct resources appropriate to their needs and context, which also fits with the OER Research hub hypothesis of ‘different usage and adoption patterns’.

But beware the MOOC! Although a medium for raising interest in open resources amongst learners, there is a risk that, whilst academics and institutions are at variance as to the benefits of OER and how it might be effectively and efficiently introduced, learners will take the impetus and turn to MOOC’s as a means of supporting their ‘informal and work based learning’.


McGill, L., Falconer, I., Dempster, J.A., Littlejohn, A. and Beetham, H. (2013) Journeys to Open Educational Practice: UKOER/SCORE Review Final Report, London, JISC. Also available online at





Posted by: MandyS | March 27, 2014

Flavours of Openness

So…a couple of readings/viewings to acquaint oneself with the  ‘views on different aspects of what openness means in higher education’:

CNN-1333 Open Course (2012), The extended argument for openness in education identifies 3 principal influences in education:

1. Open Educational Resources – educational materials are provided free of charge to the public; based on the ethos that education is all about ‘sharing’ (knowledge/information), by using the internet as a medium for distribution, education becomes ‘affordable and accessible’. More importantly, the use of open licensing circumvents copyright restrictions and means materials can be revised, remixed, reused and redistributed (4R’s) so that materials can be aligned to meet specific requirements.

2. Open Access – enabling researchers, as opposed to publishers, to control reproduction and distribution of their work.

3. Open Teaching – which essentially provides education to those who are not able to attend campus courses.

Wiley (2010), Open education and the future (video) again describes openness as ‘freely sharing artefacts’ which can be ‘revised, remixed, reused and redistributed’ without the constraints of copyright; sharing being the ‘ethos of education’ and the ‘best teachers share the most completely with the most students’. What he does highlight, however, is the importance of technology in supporting openness, which he demonstrates using the dissemination of ‘expertise’. One can share expertise without losing it; it is ‘non-rivalrous’, but if one expresses expertise in a book there is ‘competition for access to it’; one runs the risk of ‘losing it’ simply because the book can be taken and not returned. However, where expertise is expressed ‘digitally’, it maintains its ‘non-rivalrous’ state as numerous people can access it ‘all at the same time’, competition for access is averted and expressions of expertise are not lost. But, technology has to be used appropriately if it is to support openness effectively. The internet allows for immediate and free sharing but CMS turns openness ‘against itself’ by restricting access via passwords and deleting information on the conclusion of a module. Likewise, the need to protect ‘intellectual property’ is ‘outdated in education’.

From this, one has to discern the ‘key concepts of openness in education’, ideally in a ‘visual representation’. This I will add at a later stage but for now this is what I take from the two views:

Openness in education is: Shared, free, accessible, affordable, personalised, technologically reliant, dependent on open policies being adopted, not constrained by copyright.

Posted by: MandyS | March 17, 2014

Experience of open education

Well this should be reasonably straightforward as I have absolutely no experience here. It may be that I have used OER en passant but certainly not deliberately.  Nor have I taken part in a MOOC. I have tried to think why this might be but it may be because my background has never demanded it.

This is going to be quite a learning curve but I am interested to find out more.

Posted by: MandyS | March 17, 2014

Reflection on Block 1…

…to be honest, it has been and gone in a bit of a blur. I tried so hard to be more organised, especially with sorting info into one place, which I think I have achieved,  but it didn’t help the TMA go any easier. The biggest plus point is using Twitter.  I have made a real effort and actually found some really useful info both for H817 and W201.  In some respects it’s helped me analyse what I am doing and achieve some focus. Not that I understand it any better…as the TMA proved!

So to Block 2…

Posted by: MandyS | March 7, 2014

A good definition for innovation…

…well I am not so sure it is good but I thought I would try to bring together the observations of others so that I can at least try to formulate some sort of definition (given the TMA is now looming).

According to the Concise Oxford dictionary ‘innovation’ is:

 bringing in new methods, ideas, etc.; making changes

and ‘new’ is:

 of recent origin or arrival; made, invented, discovered, acquired, or experienced recently or now for the first time.

So innovation appears to cover two situations:

1. where something has not occurred before. To me, this is more akin to invention so would the computer be a good example here? Although based on mechanical binary systems I am struggling to think of anything it might have replaced. Others that occur to me are electricity, the motor car, the television…

2. where something which already exists is altered or used for a different purpose or in a different context. I thought about the internet here, in particular the World Wide Web. We have always had public access to information via libraries but, for me, this is a good example of innovation; by using technology, the same information can be made available world wide at the click of a button.

On that basis, innovation covers a broad spectrum; from rare ingenuity to subtle transformation. It would also appear to be self-perpetuating i.e. innovation leads to innovation e.g. the introduction of electrical mechanisms led to the introduction of computers and technology which in turn has led to changes in the way we access information, communicate with one another and carry out our day-to-day lives, both professionally and socially.

Wikipedia argues that the underlying feature of innovation is the concept of ‘improvement’ i.e. it is ‘better’ than before, whether it be new and original or changed in some way. Interestingly, Wikipedia aims to distinguish innovation from improvement on the basis that it is ‘doing something different’ rather than doing the same thing. At first I struggled with the nuance here but I suppose what is suggested is that something can be improved even though it remains the same e.g. touching up a photograph using Photoshop. Whereas if the same thing is done in a different way, this can lead to innovation e.g. using mobile technology to keep oneself updated whilst on the move as opposed to say reading a newspaper. In that regard, perhaps increased efficiency is also associated with innovation?

Wikipedia further argues that innovation meets a ‘demand or need’. If the aim is to make something better and/or more efficient then it may be that there is a ‘need’ to do so e.g. as a result of cost-cutting exercises of various organisations. However, the ‘need’ may not be immediately obvious and innovation could simply arise as a result of developments over time or societal changes e.g. the introduction of various labour-saving devices in the kitchen (washing machine, dishwasher). Arguably, is it ‘need’ that distinguishes innovation from invention? The motor car wasn’t a ‘necessity’, in fact in the early days it was a luxury, but now it is here, car companies strive for innovative ideas to meet the needs of users e.g. central locking, keyless entry; ‘invention is the creation of the idea, innovation is the better use of that idea.’

So what about my own definition? Based on my analysis, I’ll go with the following:

a new idea, artefact or process or a change in an idea, artefact or process which can result in different, better and/or more efficient ideas, artefacts or processes.

Posted by: MandyS | March 5, 2014

Innovative Pedagogies

Sharples et al. (2013) looks at ‘how innovations in pedagogy could change education over the next 5 years’. The 10 pedagogies identified are:

  1. MOOC’s
  2. Badges
  3. Learning analytics
  4. Seamless learning
  5. Crowd learning
  6. Digital scholarship
  7. Geo-learning
  8. Learning from gaming
  9. Maker-culture
  10. Citizen inquiry

Needless to say, all of these ‘new’ pedagogies mirror the four theories i.e. behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism and connectivism to some extent or other. For example, the idea of badges is clearly associated with behaviourism and Crowd learning is clearly aligned to connectivism. Am I surprised by this? No, as I said previously, legal principle governs legal practice so it follows that educational theory will drive pedagogical innovation. What I do find interesting is the fact that some of these innovative pedagogies seek to integrate more than one theory as a means of developing learning e.g. the use of badges to recognise achievements (behaviourism) is integrated with the connectivism of Crowd learning. I like this because it demonstrates that no one theory takes precedence over the others, instead there is an interplay between the theories to provide a cohesive learning experience.

What I would question however, is the ‘innovativeness’ of some of these pedagogies. The report gives the following example for ‘seamless learning’:

as part of a project on healthy eating, a teacher might ask each child to take photos of meals over two days. The children use an application on a smartphone or tablet to log the contents of each meal (e.g. ‘pepperoni pizza’, ‘apple juice’) and the software produces a bar chart showing their nutritional intake for the day, compared to the recommended nutrients for children of their age. Back in class, the children can compare data and create group presentations of their shared results.

In the good old days when I studied ‘O’ Level Biology, the class had to keep a diary for a week detailing what we ate, which included weighing all ingredients so that we could eventually determine things like calorific value, fat etc. In class we converted our data into graphs etc. and then shared our findings via a chart on the, dare I say it, blackboard. Sound familiar? Was this not seamless learning? Likewise ‘maker-culture’, have learners not been engaged in making artefacts to develop their understanding of how something works for a good number of years? I can certainly remember making the ‘electric-connection’ in class. Arguably, in both instances, it is not the pedagogy which is ‘new or different’ and therefore ‘innovative’, rather it is the introduction of technology which expands the capabilities of the pedagogy and transforms it to an ‘innovative pedagogy’.

Posted by: MandyS | March 3, 2014

Technologies to watch

In Technology Outlook: UK Tertiary Education 2011–2016 (Johnson and Adams, 2011), various technologies are identified which are likely to have an impact on ‘learning in the future’. Some more short term e.g. cloud computing, mobiles, open content and tablets, and some more longer term e.g. augmented reality, telepresence and smart objects. I have completed the table but found the ‘my organisation’ bit a little difficult. My organisation is the OU and I am fairly certain that it is likely to have implemented a good proportion of these technologies already or be in the process of doing so. However, my interest is the Law Programme,  and this is a different story. The introduction of technology is limited to the use of i-tutorials, podcasts and forums across the modules and OU Live for the introductory ones and certainly none of the ones referred to in the report.

So which three would I like to see adopted? I am a firm believer in adopting technology into legal education which is likely to mirror that already in use in the profession. Believe it or not, the use of technology abounds in the legal profession . Many years ago, live links were introduced into courts to avoid the expense of prisoners being brought to court for administrative hearings. The technology was quite simple, but the practicalities comical; remembering to remain seated so one did not go out of view of the camera being the most notable. Live links are now the mainstay of many proceedings and in America it would appear that virtual courtrooms are becoming the norm also. CPS lawyers were given Tablets to prosecute with about three years ago when the ‘files’ became digital and the tech savvy defence have not been slow to adopt the advantages of paperless practice. On that basis I think two of my technologies would be firstly Telepresence; I am intrigued by this and see it as an alternative to video conferencing, which has already been trialled for mooting. A brief spot of research reveals virtual classrooms have been trialled at Universities in London to allow students the opportunity to experience court room procedure and legal negotiation (Education without walls). I would think it may also be useful for mooting, but I will have to investigate this further, and Tablets; the report refers to Northumbria University researching the value of using iPads in legal education so this is something I would like to follow up.  The third one was a bit more difficult and I have looked at all the technologies to see which might be the most useful to the Law Programme. I think open content is perhaps the most obvious as it provides the students with the opportunity to engage with materials which they might not otherwise have access to.

…or an appraisal of Price and Kirkwood (2011).

It is impossible to disagree with the fact that “a range of technologies could be used to
support a range of educational purposes” and the list of uses provides an overview of what is important in determining whether the use of technology can be justified:

  • the use of technology to support flexibility and widened access to the
  • the support of more mobile and transient learners, those in the workplace,
    or those geographically remote from a campus
  • the ability to support students with specific learning difficulties who may
    find aspects of the curriculum difficult to access
  • the ability to engage students in a variety of ways in their learning
  • supporting appropriate assessment and feedback for students
  • supporting students’ skills development and professional practice through
    virtual environments
  • supporting students’ revision and reinforcement
  • supporting students’ reflection upon learning and personal development
  • developing students’ abilities to link theoretical and practical aspects
  • supporting students’ interactions with peers and engaging them in
    collaborative work
  • preparing students for life beyond university by developing their
    networking and discernment skills.

No one technology could ever support each of these criteria so, for me, this is not the starting point. The overarching determintation justifying technological use has to be the context and the goal to be achieved. I found it interesting reading how different technologies have been applied in different contexts and what the outcomes of their use were so, as the report suggests, the basic tests to be applied are:

1. How is the technology used to achieve the learning goal?

2. How is it integrated with the needs of the student?

3. How is the learning and teaching context accommodated?

In that regard, these practice-based scenarios have a key role in evidencing how technology can be used to support learning and teaching and the report makes a significant point; such evidence is underutilised by practitioners. Instead of testing out new technologies to accumulate a wealth of evidence, why not focus on developing ‘new practices’ based on the available evidence of how technology has been successfully (or otherwise) applied. Easier said than done? Especially given the report’s view that the fundamental issue here is not necessarily justifying the use of technology but changing the mind-set of both educators and policymakers as to the cost-effectiveness of the ‘integration’ of technology into learning and teaching.

What I have found intriguing with the current activity is that despite an apparent acceptance that the focus should always be the pedagogy and not the tool used to support it, technologies have been suggested at will without a clear focus of what that pedagogy might be. Does this mean that practitioners accept the theory ‘in theory’ but in practice it is more a case of ‘this looks interesting, let’s give it a go?’ On that basis, is the justification for the use of technology because it ‘actually fits’ the pedagogy or because it has ‘been made to fit it’?

Posted by: MandyS | February 24, 2014

Choosing and evaluating a technology

So, a variety of contexts together with a technology in support of that context have been proposed. To make the best of a bad job, I thought I would look at each of the proposals and consider my reasons for support or otherwise.

1. Twitter to improve business communication. I like Twitter and use it for work, study and socially to keep in touch and up-to-date. Many businesses (Solicitors firms, Barristers, Law Society, Judicial Office) do use Twitter as a communication tool with both their staff, members and clients. Its relatively quick and easy to use, which is key for the busy practitioner. Effective communication within a business is a key issue and so investigating technologies capable of improving it would be beneficial. Blogging might be another here or even the use of Audioboo suggested for revision, given that bite size information is often all that is needed. Another that has been suggested is Yammer, which is a bit like using Facebook/Twitter but within an organisation.

2. Blogging to engage university students. I suppose it depends on what one wants the students to engage with. If its collaboration then it may be a good starting point but although I like blogging and find it particularly useful in organising my thought processes, I think many students would consider it relatively time consuming unless there is a significant gain. If its engaging with the materials, perhaps something a little more interactive might be more appropriate. Prezi (as suggested for science) might be good for presentation as would Blendspace. The former would perhaps be more appropriate in an organisational setting but I can already see how I would use the latter for presenting legal updates to lawyers in a much more engaging way than using PowerPoint. I am not sure how Blendspace allows for collaboration though?

3. Popplets and Audioboo for revision. These are new to me so I have had a look to see what they entail. In theory, I can see the attraction for revision – bite size information which learners love. The only downsides I see for Popplets is that it is Ipad or Web. My daughter uses her phone for this type of revision because it is mobile and small enough for her pocket. Granted Ipad is small but not quite as portable and if one doesn’t have an Ipad is one restricted to the computer? Mobility may be an issue here. Audioboo strikes me as being an audible Twitter. This being the case, is it possible to restrict what you get? I am just thinking of the amount that comes via my Twitter and what I would have to sift through to get to the revision part.

4. Natural readers as an alternative to written format. I think I would have to see how this works in practice for a particular project that is envisaged by the activity.

5. Prezi to present content graphically. This is one of those things that I have heard about but not looked into. Having done so, I am quite impressed and can see how this would enhance any presentation. My concern is how creative one has to be or whether the creation is guided. Also, the first site I looked at suggested only the first months use was free, thereafter one pays a subscription?

6. Polleverywhere to engage students during face-to-face learning. I suppose the idea for this is that it is anonymous encouraging students to reach a view without being singled out as being opposite to everyone else. I can see the value in this but I do wonder how many students attend face-to-face with laptops or would be willing to use their mobiles for this purpose?

7. Dipity to create a collaborative timeline. Again, I had to look this up and I can see the potential for many uses in my law group so I am grateful for this having been suggested. I think this would be a good technology to consider for assessment of a collaborative activity, which one of the other groups is considering, and I can also see it as a worthwhile revision tool.

8. Voicethread for asynchronous support during assignments or revision. This would be another good collaborative tool as one can mix audio with visual and so has the advantage over Audioboo for some purposes.

A web based learning course or lecture has been suggested as the context. Although general in application, it allows for the consideration of a variety of technologies to support it, but it perhaps needs narrowing down as to the type and length. Tools for presentation beyond PowerPoint might be an option here? I can’t envisage a forum being used for a one-off lecture but maybe Twitter might be an option, as with those attending conferences? I also like the idea of the context of tools to support revision as students are always keen to find easier ways in managing this side of their studies. Ideally, revision should be an on-going process and the tools suggested so far would encourage that.

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