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Tag: open education

International student collaboration with #icollab


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


MOOCs: Community as Curriculum

learning in a MOOC

Like many educators I know, the start of 2013 has been about MOOCs. I’ve been participating in #etmooc — the Educational Technology & Media MOOC started by Alec Couros, Alison Seaman and a great team, and #edcmooc — E-learning & Digital Cultures, organised by another great team at the University of Edinburgh (and hosted by Coursera). Both have gotten off to lively starts, with thousands participating and activity spread across Google+ Communities, Twitter, Facebook, course blogs and thousands of participant blogs, among other places.

Before diving headlong into Digital Storytelling (Week 4 of #etmooc) and metaphors of the Future in Digital Culture (Week 2 of #edcmooc), I’m pausing to reflect on the learning process, or rather my personal learning process in these courses. I’d participated in other connectivist or cMOOCs previously but only intermittently; a few sessions each of Change11 and #CFHE12 last year. To be honest, I didn’t make a full commitment to either, but in each case I engaged with new ideas, new blogs and new people — all of which was valuable.

My intention this time was to bring something different to my MOOC participation: focus. Even without participating in every webinar, watching every video or reading every article or blog post, I intend to complete each course from start to finish. Like many other participants, my goals at the start were mixed. I want to learn more, through engaging with others, about the areas being explored in each MOOC (connected learning, the open education movement and digital literacies/citizenship in #etmooc, digital and learning cultures in #edcmooc); to contribute to conversations and sessions in areas where I have experience, both as a learner and a teacher (e.g. digital literacies, digital identity); to learn more, through both observation and participation, about organising and facilitating large, open groups of learners; and to challenge my thinking and reflect on my own learning processes. I may already consider myself an open learner and digital scholar, but the more I change my practices — the more I “unlearn” — the more I uncover assumptions and practices which can be (need to be) challenged even further.

Three weeks into #etmooc and one week into #edcmooc… and the water is fine. I started with #etmooc and the energy created there has been phenomenal. In some ways, this has detracted from my #edcmooc experience in that I have less time — but in other ways there is great synergy. This is partly because many people are participating in both MOOCs, but that’s not the only reason. Although I wouldn’t always choose to participate in two MOOCs at once (!) I’m finding that it is possible to be in two MOOC ecosystems at once and to participate and collaborate in and across both.

In Dave Cormier’s excellent #etmooc session on Rhizomatic Learning last week — the source for both the title of this blog post  and the quote by Alec Couros in the image above — he reviewed his 5 steps to succeed in a MOOC: Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster and Focus. As I’m experiencing, first in #etmooc and now in #edcmooc, connected learning can be powerful when it progresses to networking, clustering and focus.

For me this has happened around digital identity — a focus of much of my own learning, teaching and research. Through both Twitter and the Google+ communities for each MOOC, I’ve found others thinking and engaging with the course ideas who are reflecting particularly around issues of identity and digital identity. I’ve engaged in some great discussions after reading thought-provoking blog posts by Angela Towndrow on understanding digital identity and connection, Carolyn Durley on developing a voice as a connected learner, Jen Ross (also a member of the #edcmooc team) on online teacher presence, and (via Jen) Amy Collier on the online teacher’s body. Blogs, and the ensuing conversations, have become my prime place for conversation and learning in both MOOCs.

This mightn’t be the same for everyone — but that is the power of open and connected learning. We define our own paths, we make our own connections, we chart our own learning journeys. At the risk of conflating these two MOOCs (there are, of course, differences), in both #etmooc and #edcmooc there is a strong sense of connection and community, despite the huge scale. Regular sessions — webinars, Twitter chats, Google+ hangouts — are like social glue, as Alec Couros describes, objects for sociality and study. The networking and clustering continue in smaller interest-driven groups. Of course not all participants will have the same experience and as the number and variety of MOOCs (both ‘x’ and ‘c’ varieties) expands there’s still much to learn about MOOCs and scale, accessibility and sustainability. However, in the face of the very public failure of another Coursera MOOC this week, #etmooc and #edcmooc are examples of how connectivist MOOCs can work well to facilitate powerful learning.

Quoting Dave Cormier: “If we make community the curriculum, membership becomes how we scale. It’s all about belonging.”

Image source: CC BY 2.0 Catherine Cronin

My #etmooc introduction

intro image

As with most MOOCs, the first week of #etmooc was a whirlwind of navigating new spaces, connecting with new people (as well as some old friends) and getting an overall sense of the course and the community. There’s a positive vibe in #etmooc that I’m enjoying. The Google+ community is proving to be a great place for conversations and sharing ideas, resources and feedback.

I welcomed the first week’s challenge of creating an introduction using a new tool. I’d been wanting to try Mozilla Popcorn Maker since learning about it a couple of months ago. Popcorn Maker enables you to enhance, remix and share web content such as links, maps, images, video, audio and live feeds — a unique tool. Well, a few technical setbacks later, and with some expert help from Laura Hilliger, I completed my intro today (not a moment too soon, as it’s the start of Week 2!).

=> my #etmooc intro  (using Mozilla Popcorn Maker)

A few fascinating #etmooc posts and conversations over the past couple of days… but that will have to wait for my next post.

#etmooc begins!


And so it begins! Over the next several weeks I’ll be participating in #etmooc, a MOOC defined as somewhere between a course and a community aiming to tend to the latter. #etmooc’s rather broad title is Educational Technology and Media. What’s attracted me is that it’s a connectivist MOOC or cMOOC in which over 1500 people will be working together, collaboratively and cooperatively, on the shared problems of education and society.

The list of co-conspirators for the MOOC is long and varied, but the heart of the group of organizers is Alec Couros, whose passion for open, connected learning is huge.

The topics we’ll explore in #etmooc are Connected Learning, Digital Storytelling, Digital Literacy, The Open Movement and Digital Citizenship. These topics are familiar to many of us — I explore many of them in my own teaching. But I’m hoping that #etmooc will be an opportunity to dig deeper, into the topics and into myself — my assumptions, my “well worn paths” of thinking — to challenge myself and to learn, in community.

Intrigued? Interested? If so, check out the #etmooc website, Google+ community, #etmooc tweets and the blog hub of #etmooc participants. You can join #etmooc for the entire journey or even just occasionally. All are welcome and it’s not too late. 🙂

Next blog post, my #etmooc intro… coming soon!

We connect, we learn, we move into the future together.

Image credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 marfis75 

Change, (Higher) Education, and Us

History has much to teach us about change. Time and again, social changes which begin with seemingly improbable goals bring about new realities, becoming the fabric of our lives. We each will have personal examples of this. From my childhood in New York City to my nearly 20 years living in the west of Ireland, examples abound. The remarkable becomes the accepted.  Looking back from our current vantage point, many major social changes seem as if they were inevitable.

Today we are living through a time of enormous change in education. The pace of developments in open online education, in particular, has been dizzying: OER, Open Courseware, iTunesU, the Khan Academy, connnectivist MOOCs, institutional MOOCs, open badges. In the past seven months alone, we’ve seen the launch of Udacity, Coursera, MITx, EDx and TEDEd. What might higher education look like in 10, 20 or 30 years? Will our universities look the same, serve the same purposes? In all likelihood, they will not. And when we assess our education institutions at that future point, will we say: “Of course. Given the changes occurring in technology and society, the change was inevitable.”

I was asked to give one of the keynotes at the recent Galway Symposium on Higher Education (described in a previous post). The theme of the symposium, “The Written Word”, gave much scope for participants to consider not just writing but learning, teaching, literacies, assessment, openness and creativity. I welcomed the opportunity to focus on change, particularly  recent developments in open education, and to consider re-imagining the future of higher education.

As with social change, our voice — our vote — in education is essential to creating the future. My heart sinks when I hear wonderful educators say, “I don’t know anything about/I don’t have time for… [fill in the blank: Twitter, blogging, even social bookmarking, etc.]”. I know that this means that their voices will likely not be part of educational futures which are being shaped now.

It’s not about age or the hopefully-dead Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants argument. (And anyway, why would it be about age, when our students are of all ages? As educators we surely are seeking to engage and include all of our students.) And it’s not about using this tool or that, or being for or against using a VLE. I think that the future is being shaped by educators who are open to change, open to continuing to learn, and open to learning from failure. These are the educators who inspire both their peers and their students.

In January 2012 Michael D. Higgins, Uachtarán na hÉireann (President of Ireland), received an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from the National University of Ireland. In his speech at that occasion he spoke of the role of the university in moving boldly into the future:

“The university is, and remains I suggest, a space from which new futures have always emerged and must do so again. The ethos of independent scholarship is what delivers a previous scholarship’s achievements into the present and challenges that scholarship for renewal and replacement… To navigate successfully through today’s troubled, uncertain, and probably uncharted, waters, now, more than ever before, we need vision, foresight and bold strategies. Now, more than ever, an original and confident education system is needed…”

We must be willing to ask the difficult questions. In moves toward open education, many long-held practices are being re-evaluated: open publishing questions (blind) peer review; the use of social media questions the “walled gardens” of classrooms and VLEs; pedagogical research questions the effectiveness of lecture as a teaching method, new educational initiatives outside higher education will continue to question the cost/benefit ratio of university degrees. What are your opinions? Which new practices are worth developing? Which current practices still hold value? Which practices do we wish to hold onto, and which should be left behind? Only those willing to engage with these new technologies and new practices will be in a position to evaluate them, and to make decisions which shape the future of education.

CC and publicly available images:

Rosa Parks, donated by Corbis-Bettmann, Shavar Ross (Flickr); President Barack Obama on Rosa Parks bus, The White House (Flickr); Presidential Inauguration, Michael D. Higgins, Irish Defence Forces (Flickr); Separate factions on Irish Street, Downpatrick, Burns Library, Boston College (Flickr); Mary Robinson and Nadhifa Ibrahim Mohamed in Somalia, Trocaire (Flickr); Dunnes Stores strikers, Trocaire (Flickr) – used with permission; NUI Galway, Nelson Mandela visit, 20 June 2003

Galway Symposium on Higher Education #celt12

The 10th Galway Symposium on Higher Education will be held here at NUI Galway on June 7th and 8th. The theme is The Written Word: Writing, Publishing and Communication in Higher Education. The popular annual event, organised by CELT (Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching), attracts people from across higher education in Ireland and beyond. This year’s keynote speakers are a diverse and fascinating group including Adam Rutherford, Mary Lea, Aileen Fyfe, William St. Clair and Adrian Frazier. Symposium sessions — including workshops, papers and Pecha Kucha presentations — cover a broad range of topics, e.g. flipped learning and teaching, writing for publication, academic integrity, active learning, social media in research, developing online learning, and “serious play” (!).

I was delighted to be invited to speak at the conference this year, on the topic of open education. I’m following Brian Hughes’s lead and publishing my abstract here in my blog; I’ll follow up with a more detailed post after the symposium. In the meantime, I welcome your comments and feedback.

#CELT12 Plenary: Exploring Open Education, Re-imagining Higher Education

We are in the early days of open education. The boundaries are blurring between real and virtual spaces, formal and informal learning, educators and learners. Open, participatory and social media are not just enabling new forms of communication; they are enabling new ways of learning, and thus are transforming education. In Joichi Ito’s (2011) words: “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.” What this means for the future of higher education is still unclear. We have a great opportunity, however, as educators, scholars and students, to engage in re-imagining and creating that future – what Keri Facer calls future building (2011).

Catherine will explore current practices of open education, both within and outside HE, based on her research and learning and teaching experiences. Open practices in education will be explored: open research, open learning and teaching, open publishing; as well as the digital literacies required to engage in open education practices, particularly using social media. A radical approach to open education is to work metaphorically and physically (inasmuch as possible) beyond the confines of the classroom and lecture hall: engaging with students as co-learners; openly sharing ideas, feedback and reflections – with students and with wider learning communities; and acknowledging the value of informal learning and personal learning networks (PLNs) as the key to integrated and continual learning. As educators, we each must consider our own approach to openness and to open education. What role will we play in building the future – as individuals and as universities?

Online education – a snapshot

Open online education is changing rapidly. The first few weeks of 2012 has seen the launch of Udacity, Stanford’s Coursera and the first course offering by MIT’s MITx. In trying to put these developments into context, I’ve drafted a table illustrating key aspects of this evolution in online education, focusing particularly on open online courseware (as opposed to more discrete OERs). This is not meant as an exhaustive catalogue, but simply as a concise summary of recent developments, enabling comparisons. [Table updated 5th March 2012.]

Full table click here:  Online education – a snapshot

(Summary table below the break.)

Image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 sundaune

Related blog post: Distributed Creativity: open education and challenges for higher education

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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