International student collaboration with #icollab

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Photo: CC BY-SA 2.0 Martin Fisch

Over the coming weeks, 2nd year Computer Science & IT students at NUI Galway will have the opportunity to collaborate with students in Spain (Barcelona), Germany (Berlin), New Zealand (Auckland) and the UK (Salford) on the iCollaborate or #icollab project. The project, now in its third year, is described by Helen Keegan as “a community of practice where… students work together on creative social tech projects that cross disciplines, levels, time and space.” I’m delighted to be joining Helen, Mar Camacho, Ilona Buchem, Thom Cochran and Averill Gordon — and our students — in participating in #icollab. Our CT231 class at NUI Galway will be bringing Ireland into #icollab for the first time.

Coordinating a project with students in 5 countries, crossing 12 time zones, and working in different terms has its challenges. But the project coordinators decided at the start to view these differences as an asset. Students in each location share their work and students in other locations can engage and connect — sometimes immediately, sometimes later that day, sometimes much later. As Helen Keegan describes:

“We’re now looking at the ‘tag-team model’ of education: the projects never end, as there is always a cohort to carry on, and lead into the next group, and when they overlap that’s great – that’s where the genuine collaboration happens. …Traditionally, we deliver modules/courses, neatly chunked into 12 weeks, with units of assessment, leading to grades etc. and that’s the way things are (generally) done. I’m not saying scrap all of that, but I do think that modules are best served as springboards to other things. Increasingly, students are connecting across levels and cohorts through Twitter and now we have ex-students getting together with current students, undergrads coming to postgrad classes (and vice versa) as they’ve connected online and have a genuine interest in getting involved in other groups/further curricula outside of their taught modules.”

As the Galway group’s first foray into sharing across those boundaries, CT231 students are posting their Ignite presentations online (via the CT231 Student Showcase), inviting feedback and conversation. In a Google+ hangout last week with NZ colleagues, Thom and Averill asked me if CT231 students would also be willing to post videos of their presentations, as another means of students connecting and sharing. The following day we did a trial run of this in class using the Bambuser app. Bambuser enables live video streaming from mobile phones or webcams. Using the app is simple: one click opens the app, one click records and streams (in public or private), and one click stops recording and uploads to the user’s Bambuser page. Once posted on that page, others can view the video and add comments.

bambuser captureOne of our student presenters agreed to be filmed this week so that we could trial the app and learn how best to use it for recording presentations (thanks, Jack!). The experiment was a success and we learned some valuable tips for future recordings. After sharing the video via #icollab, feedback from New Zealand was available to us the following morning (thanks, Thom!). We look forward to extending the collaboration with students in the coming weeks.

Right now I’m looking forward to the next weekly Wednesday night Google+ hangout with Helen, Mar, Ilona, Thom and Averill and discussions with my students the following afternoon, as we collectively create the terms and the vision for #icollab 2013.

Image source: CC BY-SA 2.0 marfis75

Distributed Creativity: open education and challenges for higher education

“I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process [of] establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.”Joichi Ito

As an educator involved in online learning I’ve noticed a change this year. I’ve had more conversations about online learning with colleagues who teach in classroom-based programmes – particularly about open online learning – than ever before. The growing interest in Khan Academy, MOOCs and Stanford University’s online courses has made many in higher education realise that clear divides don’t exist any longer. The boundaries are blurring between real and virtual spaces, formal and informal learning, teachers and learners. Open, participatory and social media are not just enabling new forms of communication, they are transforming learning.

Learning is changing, but what of education? A couple of blog posts this week questioning the value of going to university at all are probably just the first of many.

A number of colleagues and I have been discussing these issues, as practitioners:  the opportunities and challenges of open online education, the role of the university, and our role as educators. Following is an edited draft of my initial contribution to these discussions. Your comments and feedback are welcome.

The growth of open online learning over the past decade has been steady. Open content, often discussed in terms of OERs (Open Educational Resources), is defined as “materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone”. The key to OERs is that they are openly licensed and thus available for use by all. The argument for using OERs is clear: if every university teaches introduction to programming, for example, then why should we all develop materials to teach this? Why not use openly available, openly licensed, excellent material, and spend more of our time on activities such as engaging with students, developing improved assessment strategies, etc.

There are many excellent sources of OERs (Open Educational Resources), including the NDLR; MERLOT; MIT OCW; OU Learning Space; OER Commons; Khan Academy; Stanford University’s online courses and more.

In terms of open online learning, MIT OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy and other video-based resources can be characterized as 1st generation, while the recent initiative by Stanford University, among others, can be considered 2nd generation, in that it includes not only learning materials, but instructional design, a learning structure and assessment – providing an experience closer to that provided within formal education. Stephen Downes recently suggested that the next generation will be widespread use of OERs along with automated, analytics-based, competency-based testing mechanisms, or open assessment. Indeed, this is precisely what OER university (OERu), among others, is setting out to do. Other open initiatives such as MOOCs and Open Badges have further potential to disrupt traditional higher education. Over 2000 people are currently participating in the #change11 MOOC “Change: Education, Learning and Technology”. Mozilla’s Open Badges project, particularly the DML competition on Badges for Lifelong Learning, is currently gaining a huge amount of attention as well.

Our challenges as educators in the further and higher education sectors? Here are just a few:

Open resources – Most students are aware of open educational resources, and these are shared widely, e.g. Khan Academy, YouTube, MIT OCW, and the recent Stanford University online courses. As educators, what are we doing to create or link to relevant online resources for students? Creating screencasts, video lectures, audio or video podcasts (and making these openly available) or linking to OERs (and OER repositories) can supplement lectures and provide students with valuable material for study and revision. Just as we refer students to the best textbooks, journals and databases, we should link to excellent, relevant, online open educational resources. Our challenge here is to create and share material in new ways, learn to use different tools, and stay abreast of online learning developments.

Open, participatory and social media – Students use social media and social networks in many ways, not least to support their studies, e.g. DropBox, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter. Once again, as academic staff, we must look to our own practice. Are we making use of tools such as social bookmarking, social networking, web-based applications, and online curation tools to model good academic practice and to share resources with students, and with one another? Not all student work must be submitted directly and privately to the lecturer – opportunities for openness, sharing and collaboration should be considered.  We are challenged to consider using open, social tools (at least sometimes) – instead of closed, 1:1 tools – in order to open up the learning process and make it more authentic.

Emerging technologies – In the 2011 Horizon Report, mobile devices and e-books are the most current of the emerging technologies identified. How are we addressing these trends? The Horizon Report lists examples of education institutions innovating in these areas for teaching, learning and research. Even if we are not at the front of the innovation curve, we must address these emerging technologies in our programmes in a coordinated way, and communicate to our students and others how we are doing that. For example, how are we making use of mobile apps, or making our own learning content available on mobile devices? How are we facilitating students in using open access or e-textbooks?

Openness – In most undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, students are encouraged to examine their digital footprint and digital identity, and to consider the value of building a deliberate, positive, digital identity. This is a core element of digital literacies. Our students are visible to us online, and we are visible to them. As academic staff, are we open and positively visible online, as professionals? Are we modelling academic values in virtual spaces? The best way to share and publicise open educational resources is through the use of social media and social networks, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs. In order to communicate and share our work and our values, our challenge is to consider our approach to openness – as individuals, as departments, and as universities.

Again, I welcome feedback and would be happy to hear from anyone who is currently engaged in similar discussions at their own institution. If you are at NUI Galway and would like to join in this discussion, please get in touch. I can be reached at catherine.cronin[at]nuigalway[dot]ie.

Image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 yobink

Students, peer learning, and Google+

Two groups of higher education students in Ireland — IT Professional Skills at NUI Galway and Emerging Technologies & Trends at LIT-Clonmel — are engaged in a collaborative project using Google+. We are now midway through the project.

As described in my previous blog post, 2nd year students in IT Professional Skills (#ct231) develop research, writing and presentation skills, but the foundation of the module is the exploration and development of digital literacies. Students explore digital identity, changing definitions of privacy, search personalisation, social media, social networking, social bookmarking, and curating information.

When I learned that Bernie Goldbach was teaching a similar module (#litet) at LIT-Clonmel, and each of us planned to use Google+, we agreed to suggest a collaborative activity to our students. Both groups of students agreed to give it a try.

We began simply by creating a shared circle and outlining a joint assignment with specific discussion questions. For the past ten days, students have been posting ideas, reflections, links and comments on topics including privacy, digital identity, useful tech tools, and the use of social media in education. Students are referencing work by danah boyd, Jeff Jarvis, Cory Doctorow, Rey Junco, Eli Pariser and Ken Robinson, among others.

The most powerful aspect of the activity is the peer learning which is taking place. The dynamic is one of conversation and exploration. The asynchronous nature of the discussion allows reflection; engaging conversations are taking place over several days. Some students post public comments on Google+, and some post only to our shared circle. Interestingly, in this activity we are both practicing and teasing out the issues surrounding online privacy and digital identity.

What do students think? Below is a collection of student voices on the topics we are discussing, as well as opinions on Google+ itself. Students will be producing their own digital media creations later in the term — I look forward to sharing links to many of these.

We welcome your thoughts, feedback or questions: #ct231 and #litet on Twitter; #ct231 and #litet on Google+.

Student voices: Privacy and digital identity

“There is considerable debate about whether or not young people care about online privacy. Well as a young person I am very concerned about privacy and controlling the information I share online. I am very specific about what I want to make public about myself and even then I try to restrict who has access to that information.”

“I decided since Jeff Jarvis took interest in our work, I would return the favour and view his opinions on Privacy.”

“Just read an article online about privacy in the digital era. It’s amazing to see how the definition of privacy differs between people, companies, marketers etc… I never really appreciated the extent of how privacy influences an individual’s online experience. Privacy in itself is a fluid concept and users are not likely to read the privacy policy for each site mainly due to its length, this means users are placing a lot of trust in sites and effecting how comfortable they are socialising online.”

“‘Filter bubble’ is a new term to me since I started the CT231 module this September… The Filter Bubble is minimising the connections we can have and minimising the information we can share and, in turn, shared with us. IMO, to truly enjoy the Internet to its full potential, we must break out of our filter bubbles.”

“Before I started Professional Skills, I had little or no knowledge of the term ‘digital identity’. As I researched the topic, I slowly realised how much my digital identity affects me and will affect me in the future.  A shocking example is how employers commonly search for your online digital identity when you are in the running for a job. This is even more evident for the IT sector, where one could imagine the employers would have the relevant know-how to search for ones digital identity.”

“I do believe though that more of an effort should be made to educate users on the importance of online privacy but at the end of the day I guess it’s up to the individual how public or private he/she wants his/her social network to be.”

Student voices: Social media in education

“I think that using social media in the classroom is a great resource for students. If a student is working on an assignment and they don’t understand something, who better to ask then to ask the lecturer who set the assignment! Twitter allows this question to be posted instantly, the lecturer or indeed another student would be very prompt in their response. Twitter allows lecturers to instantly share their ideas or websites or posts that they have just discovered themselves with students, instead of having to wait until the next lecture. It can also allow people who are not in the class to engage in the classroom discussion, possibly including sources they know about or their opinion on a topic. Twitter lets the classroom open up and engage to a world full of people with experience and knowledge.”

“I have also noticed how well this particular class have taken to our use of Twitter and Google + to complete our assignments. It definitely feels like less of a chore when doing assignments on a social media site.”

“Students are willing to take on Facebook as an educational tool as well as a social one, whereas there is a reluctance amongst faculty members to do so. [This] mirrors the actions of our first year class, where most students welcomed the group, no faculty members did.”

“I agree there should be a more prominent link between sites like Khan Academy and social media sites. I’ve no doubt that in the future more sites like this will be established for the next generation of students to ensure even greater online collaboration between them and lecturers from all over the world.”

“I find sites like YouTube offer a great step by step solution to any questions you might have where the highlights from lectures are posted and are rated based on their quality. Recently our class has begun to use more social networking sites like Facebook and tools like DropBox to share notes and keep up to date with lectures I found this to be a great benefit in studying and managing my work.”

“Schools and colleges discourage students to go on their social networking sites during college/school hours by banning the sites on their computers. Yes, social networks could be a very distracting site for students while in school, but there are also many educational values to these social networks. I have a firsthand experience using social networks for educational purposes with this module and I feel that if more colleges and schools did it, using social networks for education could potentially rise by a high percentage.”

“I have only been a Dropbox user for an hour now and I have fallen in love with it.”

“Dropbox is an amazing site which enables you to save files and easily access them online. Since I have started to use the site I have found myself relying on it more and more. Before my introduction to the site, I would continually find myself in situations where I wanted to work on a project, but couldn’t due to the fact that my documents were stored on a computer at home or in college. Because of Dropbox, I am no longer faced with this problem. I look forward using the site for other reasons in the near future also. As we will be faced with many group work projects throughout the college year, I can imagine that it will be extremely useful to be able to share a folder as a group where we upload our part of the project as we do it.”

“I think a really big aid in learning these days is video tutorials. There are countless videos available on YouTube covering every aspect of every subject. It is really useful to be able to stop a lesson/lecture that is difficult to grasp at a certain point and rewind back and watch it again. I find it way easier to pick up a new concept if I am learning it through video as opposed to through a traditional classroom setting, or from reading textbooks. There is no pressure to grasp the concepts before the lecture moves on, maybe that is another factor that makes learning through video seemingly easier. The best videos I’ve found are from Khan Academy.”

Student voices: Using Google+

“I am liking Google+, I didn’t think I would like to make the transition from Facebook to Google+ but now I’m seeing that Google+ has all the best features from Facebook and a lot more good ones from other social networks.”

“I really dislike Google+ I have been using it since beta and have found that Facebook is much easier to navigate and share information, Google+ looks clean but I prefer Facebook’s layout, it is also restrained because you cannot create events and Facebook pages on certain topics and people. There are more options with Facebook although there may be issues with privacy.”

“I must admit at first I wasn’t overwhelmed by Google+ when initially joined. Facebook has become the norm for my social networking activates and trying to change over to Google+ felt like just what it was, an assignment for college. However, over the last couple of days Google+ has really grown on me. I like the idea of separating people into circles, social circles, academic circles and Career circles. Google+ is like a crossbred social network, trying to combine all the best bits from other social networks such as twitter and Facebook.”

Google+ seems to be more universal as in people will be able to use it for a lot more than just talking to friends (like Facebook), the idea of setting up different circles for different areas of your life will be very useful.”

“When I began to use Google+ I was instantly impressed by how we could filter the information that we wanted to share through the use of circles. I felt more secure in the fact that we could post something jokingly to friends and not be embarrassed when older relatives or people it was not intended to be viewed by see it.”

Image (created for @purposeducation): CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Josie Fraser  
 

Student ideas for assessment

In Professional Skills #CT231, a 2nd year BSc IT module, students develop their research, writing and presentation skills — both in conventional formats (written reports and in-class presentations) and using web 2.0 technologies. The foundation of the module is the development of digital literacies, defined by FutureLab (2010, p. 3) as “the ability to participate in a range of critical and creative practices that involve understanding, sharing and creating meaning with different kinds of technology and media.”

CT231 students explore digital identity, changing definitions of privacy, assessing information, search personalisation, social media, social bookmarking, social networking, online publishing, and audio, video and multimedia presentations. In recent years, students have produced excellent and creative work for assessment such as writing and editing Wikipedia articles, creating “tip sheets” for other students and creating blogs (or expanding existing blogs).

This year, instead of giving students a list of options for projects, I decided to find out what students would like to create. Last week, I asked students the following question:

Students generated ideas on their own at first and then worked in small groups to identify similarities and differences. A few students struggled with the open-ended task (as illustrated in the photo at the top of this post). This is not altogether surprising. Students explained to me that this is the first time they have ever been asked to decide their own modes of assessment. Given that this was new territory it was affirming to see that most students welcomed the opportunity and suggested plenty of ideas — there was great energy in the room during these discussions! The range of ideas was diverse, more so than any list I could have formulated. This was great learning for me and something I will do again.

Student ideas included:

  • create/edit Wikipedia article
  • blog/website
  • video tutorial(s)
  • multimedia presentation (e.g. Prezi)
  • video documentary
  • podcasts (audio/video)
  • Skype conference
  • Google+/Twitter blogging
  • photography
  • interactive test

This week we discussed the list and made plans for students to select from these options. A grading rubric will be drafted and discussed with students, so that all work submitted for assessment — diverse as it may be — will be assessed using the same criteria for “effective communication”. I’ll share our rubric when it is finalised.

Image: source

Twitter and the research journey

This morning I decided to crowdsource a response to the following question: “How can Twitter help with research/collaboration?”.

Here’s what you said (using Storyful)

Many thanks to all who contributed!

Image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Daniel*1977

PeLC11 workshops: valuable takeaways

As described in my previous post, the Plymouth eLearning Conference (PeLC11) offered a wealth of opportunities for learning and connecting with other educators. In the month since the conference, my own reflections and conversations with others have highlighted the relevance (for me, at least) of four of the workshops. These are recorded below, for future reference.

Writing for the Web ~ Matt Lingard @mattlingard

In his practical workshop Writing for the Web, Matt provided plenty of useful information as well as inviting us to apply the ideas to our own work.  Among the concepts Matt shared were the F-shaped reading pattern on the web and the journalists’ inverted pyramid. Another takeaway was the importance of a blog post title. Most people see only this; it is the basis on whether readers will click through to read the post — or not!

eSafety ~ Simon Finch @simfin

Simon began his session with a powerful video (based on a Rhianna music video) on social media and the mixed messages received by young people. Even more useful, for sharing with educators and parents, are 3 short videos recorded by Simon at the conference on the topic of eSafety at schools: Use of Social Media and mobile devices in schools ; New teacher behaviours ; and Acceptable use policies (AUPs) in schools. Thanks for these useful and sharable resources, Simon!

Creating a Community of Learners Online ~ Lynn Boyle @boyledsweetie

Lynn Boyle from the University of Dundee spoke about her experiences in creating a community of learners online. I missed Lynn’s workshop, but enjoyed speaking with her about what she’s learned about creating community online using informal, weekly webinars. Lynn recorded two terrific videos at the conference, which I have since shared with all of our online facilitators on the online MScSED programme at NUI Galway. Thanks, Lynn — and thanks for photo, too!

Creating a Community of Learners Online – part 1

Creating a Community of Learners Online – part 2

               

Social Media Develops Academic Literacy Skills ~ Bex Lewis @digitalfprint

Dr. Bex Lewis from the University of Winchester spoke how Social Media Develops Academic Literacy Skills. The presentation was based on her experiences teaching a “Manipulating Media” module focusing on critical thinking, evaluating sources, referencing, analytical and critical writing, and self-directing learning. Social media tools were integrated throughout the module — to considerable success. This is an excellent presentation, filled with useful links for further reference.

Open, Connected and Optimistic: Reflections on PeLC

“Sharing with each other; this is the precious work we have to do.” John Davitt

I’ve enjoyed reflecting on the Plymouth eLearning Conference which took place last week. I summarised my initial reaction in a comment on Simon Finch‘s blog post on the conference:

So beautifully captured, Simon. The Plymouth eLearning Conference was an amazing combination of things: open, informal and full of laughs, as well as intense, reflective and thought-provoking. I just about wrote and drew my way back to Galway… ideas, plans, mind maps. Ready to roll! It was, indeed, a privilege to spend time with so many people hopeful and blazing with energy about the future of learning.

Steve Wheeler hosted an event which featured stimulating speakers and workshops, yet allowed time and comfortable spaces for conversations and connections to happen. I pay great credit to Steve and the talented team behind this event; the conference organisation was flawless. Somehow Plymouth even flaunted perfect summer weather (in April!).

Stephen Heppell set the tone in his keynote, describing himself as “more optimistic than ever” and calling this generation of newly-qualified teachers “the best I’ve ever seen”. He gave numerous, (literally) mouth-watering examples of student-designed learning spaces and student-led learning , e.g. creative seating, all walls as whiteboards, even classroom ovens for baking bread. Heppell inspired and challenged us, saying that this generation will astonish us with their learning — but only if we astonish them with the best possible learning environments.

John Davitt, playing with the concept of the keynote address, gave a talk which inspired, provoked and delighted. He reminded us that when learning is new and difficult, each of us walks a different path. Activity is key — so as educators we must seek to turn activity “from an afterthought to an artform”. I think this is a great challenge for higher education, particularly, where it’s easy to allow tradition and procedures to constrain us. Using the 4 axes of the sensory matrix: see, hear, touch and feel, John warned us to beware the Bermuda triangle of teaching. He demonstrated his RAG app, a Random Activity Generator for generating new ideas for learning activities — do check it out. Davitt concluded: “let’s celebrate our own learning curve”.

The future of learning is open and connected. Twitter continues to be a powerful tool, connecting learners across boundaries of sector, geography, culture. John Davitt gave the best definition of Twitter I’ve yet heard, describing it as a tool for “anarchic learning and peer support”. The Twitter backchannel during the conference (#pelc11) was a non-stop reflection and discussion of what was happening in the lecture theatres and beyond, with people sharing ideas, resources, questions and criticisms. Thanks to Twitter, this communication was real-time, open, raw. Educators tuned into the conference from far beyond Plymouth, contributing and interacting. When Stephen Heppell described great education as being “collaborative, collegiate, unstructured and global”, he was describing what we were doing at PeLC. How could we not offer this opportunity for great education to our students?

In numerous sessions, the call for mobile, open, connected learning was made. Conference contributors — including the wildly enthusiastic trainee teachers who presented at the TeachMeet (#tmpelc11), encouraged by the irrepressible @chickensaltash — shared their experiences of using Twitter, Facebook and blogging with their students. Let the students choose their own tools. These forms of public and connected writing can help students to develop academic literacy skills which go beyond basic writing skills to include reflection, online networking and giving and receiving feedback. School leadership must be brave and embrace openness. We are moving in the direction of more mobile, sharable devices and less single-focal-point classrooms.

As Stephen Heppell said, we live in a world of transparency; we just haven’t embraced this in teaching yet. More change will happen in education in the next 10 years than in the past 100. But very few at the Plymouth eLearning Conference doubted Heppell when he concluded his keynote: “the next decade will be the best in your professional lives”.

Postscript: Sharon Flynn and I were the only delegates to attend from Ireland, both of us travelling from NUI Galway. I hope that there will be more delegates from Ireland next year, for a learning experience that is more than the word “conference” can capture. Direct flights from Dublin to Plymouth — it’s an easy journey which I look forward to making again. (Postscript: Alas, no more direct Dublin-Plymouth flights, still looking forward to #pelc12 though!)

Related post: #pelc11 workshops

** More blog posts from the Plymouth eLearning Conference:

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