Tuesday 16 December 2014

Call for papers #MOOC and #online learning focus

Get your papers out and use one of these calls to do it. Three options, in chronological order of the deadline for submission:

eMOOCs2015 conference

Deadline for submissions: 12 January 2015
Location of the conference: Mons, Belgium
Date of the conference: 18- 20 May 2015
Type of submissions: papers on MOOC experiences and research papers. 
Information on the call can be found at http://www.emoocs2015.eu/call-moocs 
Guidelines for submissions can be found here: http://www.emoocs2015.eu/moocs_call_instructions
And layout instructions can be downloaded here: http://www.emoocs2015.eu/sites/default/files/guidelines_for_submissions.doc 
Description of the conference:
Organised by the Université catholique de Louvain and P.A.U. Education, the event aims to be an opportunity to gather European actors involved in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), from policy makers to practitioners to researchers. This conference is the follow-up of the EMOOCs 2014 Summit. The conference will be held in Mons, Belgium. Mons will be the European capital city of culture in 2015. “Where technology meets culture…” has been one of Mons 2015’s main investments.
The conference will include four tracks: Institutions, Experience, Research, Worldwide, and for the first time a preconference MOOC will be organised. The conference website can be found here. 

Paper publications for special issue, MOOC old and new focus issue from IRRODL.

A special issue is being gathered for IRRODL which is entitled: Towards a European Perspective on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): The Past, the Present and the Future
Information on this special issue can be found here: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/announcement/view/10 

Over the last months, the massive open online course (MOOC) debate has finally come of age, especially after Sebastian Thrun publicly announced that “we have a lousy product” (Chafkin, 2013), and a series of backlashes have led to the conclusion that MOOCs mostly benefit those learners with a lot of cultural capital. Before this turning point, MOOCs were portrayed as a completely new educational innovation, and its conceptual ancestors such as distance education were ignored. Furthermore, other types of MOOCS, such as the those based on the notion of connectivism, advocated by scholars such as Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Rita Kop, as well as the work around open content (Wiley & Gurrell, 2009), have been squeezed out of the collective memory.
However, these approaches are located within a certain culture that frames our thinking and acting about pedagogy. More precisely, the open education paradigm (for an overview, Deimann & Sloep, 2013) has been dominated by Anglo-American actors such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which started the global open educational resource (OER) movement a decade ago by opening up their teaching materials to the general public.  Meanwhile, a world-wide MOOC industry emerged and challenged many of higher education’s traditions.
To this end, we are inviting contributions that deal with the following aspects:
  • Papers introducing theoretical/conceptual models from the area of open distance education (ODL) that inform the current MOOC debate (e.g., lessons learned);
  • Papers aimed at connecting academic traditions and cultures from European and other regions (e.g. aca- demic charisma) to prevalent issues of the MOOC debate (e.g., drop-out, business model);
  • Empirical (re)analysis of MOOC studies against the background of previous knowledge from the ODL field;
  • Vision papers focusing on emerging trends such as social production of knowledge or “digital solidarity” (Stalder, 2013) that can expand the focus of the current discourse.
Deadline for paper submission - January 20, 2015
Acceptance of papers for peer review - January 30, 2015
Final editorial decision based on peer review - April 20, 2015
Projected publication date - July 20, 2015

Ec-TEL conference 

Deadline for submission of abstracts: 16 March 2015
25 March 2015 - Submission of full version
27 May 2015 - Notification of acceptance
Submissions through easychair: https://www.easychair.org/conferences/?conf=ectel2015
Author guidelines here: http://www.springer.com/computer/lncs?SGWID=0-164-6-793341-0

Location: Toledo, Spain.
Dates of conference: 15 - 17 September 2015

The European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning (EC-TEL) is a unique opportunity for researchers, practitioners, educational developers, and policy makers to address current challenges and advances in the field. Through EC-TEL, established and emerging researchers as well as practitioners, entrepreneurs, and technology developers explore new collaborations, strengthen networks, and complement their core expertise.

Developments in information and communication technology, for example new communication patterns like in social applications, mobile devices and ubiquitous network access, together with social and economical changes lead to a networked world. The increasing networking in different scales from global to local is having a profound effect on learning and teaching. It makes new forms of collaborative and personalized learning experiences reality. Learners shift between formal, non-formal and informal learning. They come together in different social settings and communities. Teachers roles are also subject to change.

There is a pressing need to shape learning arrangements in such a way that they exploit the potentials and meet the requirements of a networked world. To address these challenges the theme of EC-TEL 2015 is Design for Teaching and Learning in a Networked World.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

#PhD sharing #online and #MOOC #research instruments

The last couple of months I have been hammering away with data. Trying to collect meaningful answers to the question: "how do experienced online learners determine what they want to learn and how?". Well, the research question sounds a bit more formal, but I like the question this way. This central research question came out of the results from a pilot study which I planned during the first closed beta courses of FutureLearn. The pilot study is in part described in my probation report, which I uploaded in academia and can be found here. The probation report is a report you need to submit to UK based universities to proof that you are PhD material, and that you have been working on research with academic rigor and good progress for approximately 10 months.

And to add to my PhD journey, I will share the first research instruments used for my main study via this blogpost, see below. More instruments or details will follow as I proceed.

sub-questions to build narrative towards answers to the central research question
In order to get answers to the central research question mentioned above, I divided the central research question into five sub-questions, which will hopefully give an idea of the elements I investigated to come to a more complete answer:
1. What are the MOOC participants learning objectives?
2. What are the actions undertaken by the learner to attain self-determined learning goals?
     a. Who do learners connect to in order to learn?
     b. Which technologies do learners use (devices, tools and resources)?
     c. Do they mediate that learning with others or other technologies in order to add it to their learning? If so,          how?
3. What makes a MOOC learner reach further to find an answer to their learning, or what is the point beyond which they think it is not worth the effort to reach an answer for their learning objective?
4. Did emergent learning happen resulting in unexpected learning outcomes?

Quick overview of the methodology

This main study gathered Self-Determined Learning (SDL) experiences from experienced, online learners while they are enrolled in a FutureLearn course. The research consisted of three phases, leading up to conclusions on SDL in FutureLearn courses.

  •  Phase 1 – expectations: gathering expectations of the participants enrolled in FutureLearn course via an online survey
  • Phase 2 – experiences: collecting learning logs in which the participants are asked to describe two learning episodes every other week for the duration of the course
  • Phase 3 – reflections: interviewing the participants (one-on-one) taking part in the study via structured interviews looking into the differences between their expectations and actual perceptions on their SDL as they were participating in the FutureLearn course

The FutureLearn research participants were volunteers selected from those taking part in one of three specific FutureLearn courses. The selection was based on their prior online learning experience (which could be online learning in general, self-taught learning while using the web, MOOC, mobile learning... but they needed to be online and engaged in some kind of learning for over 3 years). 

The pre-course survey questions
For phase 1 just a couple of questions were asked. The aim of the questions was to get an idea of the motivation of the participants for enrolling in that particular course, as well as to allow me to double check their previous online learning experience. 

1.       What is your prior online learning experience? (Multiple choice: no prior experience, 1 year or less online learning experience, less than 3 years online learning experience, less than 5 years online experience, more than 5 years online learning)?
2.       What type of online learning do you have experience with? (Multiple answer: MOOC, online learning, distance education course, learning experience by self-organised learning to stay on top of my field of interest, learning online from my network, self-taught online learning on random subjects, other)
3.       What is your reason for registering for this particular course (Multiple answer: professional interest, personal interest, learning need, other)?
4.       What do you expect to get out of this course? (Open question)

Although you will not find questions related to demographics here, these were in fact provided to all FutureLearn participants as part of the overall pre-course FutureLearn course survey. And I certainly did not want to double up with the survey the participants already filled in (in the past I found that saving time is essential for willingness to participate). 

Learning log template used
In phase 2 the learning log templates were the most important research instrument used in the process of this research study. All the participants were asked to fill in the learning log template at bi-weekly intervals, and to provide two templates for each 'learning log week'. The reason for pacing the learning log frequency, was again to save time for the research participants, yet at the same time get insight in their learning process. I only asked them to start filling in the learning logs from week 2 of the course, as past research into MOOC dynamics showed that from week 2 there is a significant drop in participation from curiosity based participants and at the same time an increase of participation from active participants. 

For those interested in having a look at the learning log template, have a look at this academia upload here. The learning log template consists of open and closed questions, allowing me to find quantitative as well as qualitative data.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

#OEB14 session initiating Unified Learning Theory brainstorm #education

During the last Online Educa Berlin conference, I tried to see whether an open format would work. The general idea was: all of us eLearning experts coming together to find a solution for an existing challenge (I know, I still need to work on shortening the format description :-)

Format of session: peer-to-peer experience sharing
The process was based on talking among ourselves as peers, and at the same time experts, after haven given an eLearning or learning challenge.
The challenge was that current eLearning and learning in general is completely dispersed, and disconnected from a central learning model/framework/theory. How do we - as experts, as practitioners - look upon this disconnected amalgam of different models, and specifically: would there be a way to combine all of these learning types.

Towards a Unified Learning Theory
So what did I have in mind with the suggestion that there are multiple models for different types of (e)Learning, yet no one model - or as I had it in my mind: Unified Learning Theory, an analog for the Unified Field Theory, in combination with String Theory, although I must confess that the idea I have in mind is more related to String theory (if a non-physicist can make that assumption). As an example of why I feel the Unified Learning Theory might parallel String theory approach: the magnification levels (now, I now this is still very sketchy, so feel free to share shortcomings or positive additions:

Different levels:

  • Learning overall
  • Educational field (e.g. mobile learning)
  • Models related to those particular fields (e.g. FRAME model)
  • The elements put forward in those frameworks/models (e.g. device aspect, learner aspect, social aspect)
  • And breaking those elements down to their basic parts: 
    • either the stimuli or patterns that influence these elements of the models (e.g. with regard to learner aspect: prior knowledge, financial options)
    • or the base elements of these elements: neural pathways, social drive, ...

As you can see, and if I tried with different learning fields, it seems I cannot break all the elements down to the same base elements, which then again points more towards Unified Field theory where things co-exist one next to the other (again, seen from a simple pedagogy/techy educated mind). Or maybe the full breakdown logic should be viewed differently?

The reason I wanted to explore this peers-talking-on-a-topic format, was indeed because I have been tampering with this idea of the Unified Education Theory for some months now, but I could not connect the dots. So, more people needed to become part of this quest.

Below, I share the notes of the ideas that filled the room as an increasing amount of people joined the dialogue. (and I am grateful for all of the participant inputs!)

  • The brain cannot help but learn (unless the learning gene is missing)
  • learning can be attributes (conditions of learning, paths of learning)
  • Models simplify learning, yet learning is very complex (note from myself: which pleads for an approach using complexity theory)
  • neural pathways are influenced by elements
  • there is an intention connected with learning, so how do we decide where and when to learn what?
  • where do we situate incidental learning, and how much influence does this incidental learning have on our overall learning?
  • What do we know about what makes learning effective in multiple learning contexts?
  • The conditions for learning differ from types of learning, the conditions for learning and teaching must differ to reach the different learning goals put forward by the actual learning
  • Different learning fields, result in different learning models that are needed, and different learning interactions (e.g. a discussion for language learning purposes, has a different learning outcome (writing, understanding...) then a discussion used in a math field (exchanging solutions, approaches).
  • Personal learning strategies can be very varied as well. 
  • Learning can have multiple forms, and not all these forms are understood, or not all the outcomes of these forms are understood: e.g. leisure learning, serendipitous learning. Although these are not taken up fully in the learning canon, they do resonate with 'the flow' that can accompany learning as put forward by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 
  • Contextual learning, which relates to the actor/network theory is an important theory in media studies.
  • The identity of the learner: as part of being, or acting competent, the same for the identity of a project. 
  • The choices in learning are in part elite due to abundance or scarcity of learning options and needs. 
  • Learning is based on personal competency and being able to evaluate and direct the process
  • Time and personal readiness influence learning, and the ability to learn
  • There are reoccurring elements in learning: motivation, frustration, self-esteem, trust in one's self, trust in others, passion and emotion accompanying learning, current state of mind, being open to learning ...

Dichotomies were coming up as the peer-to-peer session went on:

  • specific learning versus generic learning
  • deep learning versus leisure learning
  • autonomous learning versus curriculum learning
  • curiosity as driver (frequently seen in children's learning, some school systems) versus intention as driver for learning (curriculum and training based learning) - but it might also be that curiosity instigated initial learning, and is followed by intentional learning
  • content abundance versus flattening of the learner construct
  • Perseverance and discipline versus serendipitous learning
  • Professional versus personal outcomes

There retrospect, I do think all of us participating in the session felt there was a multitude of aspects related to learning. As such it might be that an attempt to bring them into a coherent (or even incoherent yet mapped out) format might be of interest to allow all of us to talk about specific learning, within the full architecture of learning. At this point, and thanks to the session I feel a Unified Learning Theory might be something to go for.

Parallel with online and f-2-f appreciation/emotion. 
A sort of PS: suddenly, as the brainstorm was happening, an emerging idea came to mind. It suddenly dawned on me that what the participants were sharing, the emotions (e.g. "I really liked the fact that this was an open session", "Can we keep the conversation going afterwards?") were similar in content to that of MOOC participants who had been engaged in open discussions on a particular subject matter. So again it seemed that you cannot take the human out of human, in which ever virtual or real world the interaction is taking place.

Friday 5 December 2014

#oeb14 Ellen Wagner @edwsonoma on PAR and #data are changing everything

This was a very illuminating session by Ellen Wagner, as it provided real options to tackle educational challenges (on the level of institutes as well as learners) on the basis of common educational data retrieved from a varied amount of higher ed institutions. REALLY interesting.

Analytics are taking the world by storm.

Learning analytics, big data is at its vanguard.
Staggering revelations about big data: in just 5 years we will look at 40 zetabytes information, that is HUGE.

All these data that are floating around are not being analysed that much as we think. It takes an amazing amount of time, tech talent, and human interpretation to find value from the data.

The full effect of data can not be envisioned today, as it hits all of society.

Where are we heading?
Pushing the data in LMS, in comprehensive analytics is very complex.
Big data landscape is getting bigger every month. But virtually no company on big data is involved in education.
there is a specific reason why: money of course, but in education - despite of the fact we talk about it - we do not use it yet. We cannot process it using normal analytical tools. Most of data comes in spreadsheets, so there is a big step to figure out of the big data solutions compared to our educational analytics.

While big data raise expectations, student data drive big decisions in .edu.
Because it is new, we do not really know where we will go.

Ellen shares some US cases, to show which work is being done.

In US there is an educational problem. There is more student dept than there is house doubt, this is unsustainable, and people sometimes cannot pay it back within their lifetime
Some schools have 'open enrollment', which results in very high drop out rates unfortunately.
So colleges are now given score cards. But this means there must be standards. The metrics at present are focused on the first time freshman... but this means 85% of the contemporary learners do not fit that profile.

Public education has dropped dramatically. Performance metrics are the basis for funding, but as standards do not exist it means that it is tough to get the expectations and hit targets.

So the score card metrics need to be reviewed.

Additionally, pedagogy are not mentioned on the score cards.
In California: license of student textbooks must be tied to student performance, but this effects universities lives.

Metrics have ramped up expectations of what analytics can do. But the challenge is to build metrics that are constructive for both students and educators.

Education is helping people to grow.

Prescriptive analytics: proscribing educational treatment.

Use case: predictive analytics reporting framework (PAR)
a national, non-profit, multi-institutional collaborative focusesd on institutional effectiveness and student success
a massive data anlysis effor using predictive analytics to identify drivers related to student risk
Par uses descriptive, inferential and predictive analyses to create benchmarks, institutional predictive models and to inventory, map and measure student success interventions that have direct positive impact on behaviors correlated with success.

If you - as an educators - do not know what happens with your learners, than how can we suspect to change education for the better?

pedagogy is important, but the emotional effects of education and the feel of education must be taken into account as well.

The privacy issues related to the learner data are staggering.

First meeting with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: NO, we do not think you can do it. So she went on a school circle to see what they wanted, could offer, needed. 700.000 student records, from multiple institutes. The data setup was upped to 8 million records.. this got the YES from Bill and Melinda. Granted, the data were nothing compared to weather data, business data.

But descriptive benchmarks can now be done, for each institutions predictive data can be given based on their student records.

something unexpected emerged: making a prediction is not enough. Finding how this can address the challenges is the most important thing.

It is difficult to get the open, transparent to work with due to educational ethica student related issues around their data.

First three years: building the data resources to get started with analytics.
Now: start the analysis.

The institutes varied: community colleges (done rarely), schools that were considered progressive, as well as 'old school', competency based universities.

We tried to collect data that was available for every student, every school: the simple things that could get hands on => common data definitions.

All data is anonymised (both learners, as well as schools. But the schools keep the encryption to link data to learners (VERY important cfr InBloom project for k12 schools, which resulted in a big emotional issue around data)

If solutions are found to improve learners education, that would be delivered to all. so every action taken by the school is questioned for impact, enabling to make the actual impactful strategies visible.

So they used structured, readily availbale data. Openly published via a cc license

One of the things that happened: they can now make comparible conclusions.

Great point on online versus f-2-f colleges (note to self: add movie)

Descriptive benchmarks (cross instittutional) and predictive insights (institutional specific), all with specific filters, e.g. isolate subgroups.

Predictive models reduce guesswork to find students at risk.

For those institutes that have open enrollment and attract all students, these predictive insights can be complimented by different other factors that you - as an institute can research: for instance the inpredictability of humanity (no paycheck in time, death, health issues)

Putting it all together
determine student probability of failure
determine which students respond to interventions
determine which interventions are most effective
allocate resources accordingly

Now also (based on John Campbell work)
inventorying and categorizing student success interventions / supports using a commmon framework
based on known predictors of risk and success
in the context of the academic life cycle

addresses "now what?" by linking predictions to action
enables cross institutional benchmarking
supports local and cross institutional

[Ellen: very hard time to turn down a dare :-)  ]

#oeb14 Ola Rosling with a #flipped keynote approach

These are the notes I took during Ola Rosling's keynote at Online Educa Berlin. Yesterday Ola Rosling made a very important remark on Big data and power, as big data is in the hands of the few, that same data is under the power influence of that few. This means that as long as big data is not made transparent and public, data use risks at being distorted by the power of those who own the big data. I liked that. So inevitably I was looking forward to this appearance at the keynote panel this morning during Online Educa Berlin.

He merges his previously acquired knowledge from google, and is now taking it to education. He works now for Gapminder… think it is related to Hans Rosling (his father, as Ola pointed out).
In his keynote approach he tried to explore a flipped keynote approach. At the end of his keynote, I did have the feeling that it was not completely flipped. There was interaction, but no discussion, not learning from each other. But a very nice experiment, and useful to work on as a concept.

Flipped keynote: got homework out before conference.
Answer the following two question to improve the conference itself
How did deaths per year from natural disasters change in the last century?
More than doubled
Remained about the same
Decreased to less than half
Answer: 12% so less than half

In the last 20 years the percent of people living in extreme poverty has …
Almost doubled
Remained about the same
Almost halved
Answer it almost halved

Women aged 30 spent how many years in school? (Men of same age spent 8 years)
7 years
5 years
3 years
Answer: 7 years

Let’s analyse the answers:  main conclusion: intuition distorts reality and our opinions.

Now the same questions were asked the chimpansees. This is because the people might be assumed by something, where chimpansees do not.

After this he looked at the fact based reality, and our assumptions based on emotions, not facts. As an example he looks at demographics of the world and its facts (amount of people per continent now and in the near future, money as it has evaluated over the years). 

#oeb14 Stephen Downes on personalised #learning

These are liveblogging notes from Stephen Downes keynote.

Preoccupations around the learner, and how they seem to be pro-active online, but rather passive in face-to-face situations. The idea of the learners as citizens and learners as consumers.
How do we equip the learners of today for the jobs today and in the future.

Stephen Downes on reclaiming personalised learning
The overall theme is that education is in for a reality check. The reality check he wants to share is that education and educational companies must face the fact that they no longer own the learners nor their learning.
The learner is no longer the customer, the learner is now the product. Maybe in the form of tuition fees, maybe in the form of big data.
When they talk about the learning process, the core concept is about being interactive, repurposing, about personal learning.
To teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to reflect and construct.
Learning is a form of recognition. It is something that feels natural, and that grows following patterns, this enables recognition.

Reclaiming the web, means it is important to have his own space, this is what is meant by reclaiming. The concept of bringing back to us of what is ours.
Education has been the march of the LMS – the giant silos of learning. Once you leave the LMS institution, your own content is lost. Education as a discipline where the personal content is no longer personal in many occasions. We must not only reclaiming the content, but we must reclaim the production, the process.

Stephen distinguishes between personal learning and personalized learning. Personal learning is all your own learning. Personalized you take from the shelf and tweek and then say: it is personalised. Metaphor: caramel and caramelized.

The web is not a platform, it is a bunch of personal spaces. This is the basis for the cMOOCs in 2008. The fact that these mooc were distributed added to the fact that this learning was personal. This created a network where the participants genuiinly owned their learning. But what followed took the learning away from the personal to the personalized again, where the data was no longer personal.

Learning data, learning data are important, but should not be commoditised. Not everything needs to be commercialized. Institutions need to learn this distinction: let it go. Platforms and proprietors do not own the  data. The data should belong to the person.
Why? They do not own this market no matter what they think. But a person should be able to choose from ALL sources, if you are locked into a platform what you can see is not visible. This is top down control, which is something we do not need for learning. Learning is not acquiring something, but becoming something. We do not become something by consuming prehashed content, but by resharing, creating, recreating content that is of importance to us as a personal learner.

Analytics purports to tell you who you are. All humans are put into 16 categories, There is a distinction between big data and personal data. Big data= many people using one service, personal data is the one person using many data services = deep analysis. This truly tells the story of ‘me’. And who would want that all this personal data would be given to outsiders.
Personal network versus institutional library. Personal network of connections, resources and content that you as a person aggregate.
Education as the commodity, not the student. The things we do belong to us, the person.

With that in mind that Stephen supports the idea of reclaiming personal learning

LPSS – learning and performance support systmes: It is a network of personal learning environments.
http://lpss.me – prototype PLE – it does instantiate the end to end solution of personal learning, and storing it in a space of your choice.
The design is based on putting the learner at the center connecting to services and institutes. It is not a platform, but a connector of resources and services. To be used for your own purposes and goods. The idea of Ed Net Neutrality.
No matter which provider, they should not indicate what you should do. The personal learning record – data owned by the individual, shared only with persmissions.
Look at downes eporfolio-and-bades-workshop-oeb14.hml

Relevant PLR (personal learning projects). Third parties can provide analytics services, but they do not get free unfettered access
Analytics as a service….
(inge check out owncloud)

We collectively need to decide whether our own personal data is something that needs to be commoditised or should be reclaimed as a person, as an individual.

Thursday 4 December 2014

#OEB2014 keynote debate #data corrupts #education

This is the transcript of what I plan to say during the OEB14 debate... but it will depend on my brain power and time itself (a bit of a long text). Feel free to share ideas and comments on it. Text follows the slides.

For those wanting to co-author on the potential negative effects of data on education, feel free to have a look at what I call 'the big data ramble, a plea for more human indicators' (beware that is a draft, so more chaotic than the text I bring below, but ... I want to use the chaotic draft as the basis of starting up a position paper with any of you who have an idea on the subject as co-author). 


I will focus on two topics: how does data risk to add to the digital divide? And why does data replicate existing societal norms?

Digital divide

One of the reasons that data is currently corrupting education, is because big data increases the digital divide. Let me give you some examples.

The have and the have not’s … institutes - Digital divide dividing our educational institutes
As big companies retain more and more data, they are now looking for educational partners to use that data. But which partners are they choosing, and how does this affect the other educational institutes?

The digital divide – or the data divide - trickles down from the big Universities all the way to the vulnerable learners. As big universities might be able to pay for data access and results, and use those data to improve the learning goals of their (cognitive, and data minded) students. The less financially strong universities will have access to less data, less tools, which will affect learning/Teaching (although I do add that this might indeed not result in loss of teaching quality).
Which students will be able to pay for those universities? For if data storage and data mining is so expensive, it seems only logical that the educational fees for the data rich universities will rise.
This means that learners from less financially stable backgrounds, or parents with less financial means will have less opportunities.

(Example: oh but that is not going to happen some of you might think… but let’s look at Viktor, he is associated with a couple of large, financially rich universities: Harvard, Oxford)

The digital data-minded professors
The same is true for teachers, professors, research assistants. Learning analytics might provide insights, but these insights need to be translated back to the learners. Which means that all of us in education will have to become data savvy at some point.

Selecting the learners that fit the profiles provided by algorithms
Administrators facing tough budget decisions will look to the application of learning analytics with a profit oriented mind. In a world were profit rules, students from demographic groups that perform less can be seen as a potential loss.
If a university recognizes that a particular demographic group is more likely to quit school, the university may choose to slash recruiting on that group and exclude them for no personal reason of its own. Traditionally poorer performing demographic groups might be excluded based on economic/statistical data reasons. And this practice is already starting, for one university in Belgium is forcing out low performing students after their first year.
Example: looking back, I can tell you that I was one of those weak learners, I was scared out of my wits in my first year at the university. All of a sudden I had to learn?!!! But by some weird twists of faith, I eventually made it, and I am now part of education).

(example me, addition: Aida Opoku-Mensah : 51 million?)

Education for the purpose of future jobs, which jobs?
In 2013 during the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) 84% of leading educators, policy makers and governments claimed that the way learning happens today will not adequately prepare young people for the world of tomorrow. By this they referred to preparing the young for future jobs. Big data would solve this.
This seems like a very valid claim to make. One that made sense to me… until recently. Just a couple of weeks ago a new UK report came out focusing on job expectations. In that report the experts predicted that by 2030 one third of the current jobs will be lost due to automation… If there are less jobs to fill, the goal of education should turn towards multiple goals: not education resulting in professional work only, but education should also be aimed at reaching a better quality of life, becoming a truly fulfilled human being, and enabling a new society.
But with big data entering education and automation increasing, there is a strange selection criteria seeping in. If less jobs are available, not that many students need to be prepared for those jobs. So it might be more profitable to only focus on those students who are at the top of the crop.

The facts versus the actions
Until data became a reality, the teachers and trainers were the corner stone of education. Research proved this time and time again. So did we act upon that data?
At the moment government and the financial markets provide us with to contradictory messages. On the one hand we all need to accept cuts in education and training, for we need to help all of us get out of the crisis. On the other hand bigger budgets and funding than ever before are going straight into big data research and implementation (for education among others), because data will enable an improved education.
Why are bigger budgets provided to replace the proven human teaching with automated training that still needs to come of age? (sordid logic)

the drive towards the Norm

What is data other than the reproduced norm of society? The gatekeepers – those with power - build the quizzes, construct the algorithms that are needed for educational data-mining. And based on what? On the need of the day, not the need of the individual, not the need of a sustainable, qualitative society.
As all technologists and developers know, wo/man-made algorithms reproduce the norm of those who constructed the algorithms. (example hit prediction)

Not moved by the norm, but enchanted by the one
For me I am not moved by the norm, but enchanted by the one. Change does not come from the masses, it is the single mind that finds and touches the truth felt within each one of us. The masses only reproduces existing norms, existing power.

If we think of Mahatma Ghandi, Emmeline Pankhurst, Barack Obama, Rosa Luxemburg, Marcel Proust, Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, Rosa Parks, Steve Jobs, … we know that they are individuals, they were never the norm. What is the algorithm of a great person?

The existing norm will also defend its own existence, in spite of data based proof
One of the fields with the most data gathered overtime, even before big data, even before data itself became a concept, is the weather and geological phenomena. And if we look at the last century, data is gathered that points towards climate change. Everyone agrees that climate change is now a reality.
But does it change anything? No. Having big data, does not change anything as long as the political, social and more importantly the economic systems is not willing to change and drop some of their power, some of their profit, and combine forces for a human, global solution.

With regard to education the same has happened. Unesco has been gathering data on what is needed to ensure education for all (which is by the way in part train-the-trainer, the human element of learning/Teaching), but even though the facts needed for change are known for decades, we cannot seem to meet the ‘education for all’ goals no matter how many millennial goals are stated.
So what is the hidden power behind the data, and where does that hidden power direct us towards?

Let us all think for one moment about who we are, you, me, each single one of us.
The question is simple: how much of me is the norm, how much of me is unique?

My guess is, we all were and are exceptions to a rule at some point. We are innovators, and purely because of that we situate ourselves outside of the norm (bell curve early adopters)

I have a Dream … but does data support it?
Educational data is currently build upon the idea of efficiency. But life is not made out of efficiency only, life is quality, life is creativity, life is – at best – living your dream. And if your dream situates itself in the cognitive fields, data will help you find your way and improve your cognitive abilities. But if your dream situates itself in a creative or vocational field, than data will be less likely to support that goal. For dreams are not profitable in many cases, although dreams do enrich each one of our lives

And by making decisions on what we need, what the norm should be, again the digital divide between those who have and have not will increase. Data risks corrupting education, unless we consciously step away from pure profit goals, and turn towards a global, human society.


As my colleagues have showed data has achieved new insights, new innovations in health, urban planning and such. But for all the good data is said to do, if we do not ensure that each one of us can actually get a job, get paid, then we will not be able to pay for healthcare, we will not be able to drive a car in a well-planned urban area. The success is of data is only as strong as the lives it can help improve and before all sustain in the long term. As long as the digital divide is not turned back, as long as data is not reproducing the norm, but ensuring a more balanced society filled with creativity and quality, educational data will have a corrupting effect.

live blognotes from Howard #hRheingold #oeb14

I was quite excited to hear Howard Rheingold. He took the stage wearing a colourful shirt (colours being his visual trademark and passion).

Live blognotes from the keynote given by Howard Rheingold
Before technology => pedagogy. Without the best pedagogy, the technologies would not be so interesting.
Concepts of importance according to Howard (and agreeing)
Learner-centred: multiple learning is now possible, if you have access to media, and you know what you are doing as a learner.
Inquiry based learning is of interest, knowing how to ask the questions in a world where so many things change so rapidly.
Collaborative learning: more learners collaborate on projects, as well as cooperative learning. Being responsible for each other’s learning. Being aware of what other’s interest and expertise is. So that the group of learners can be bigger than the sum of the individual learners.
Networked learning: learners can connect to each other across locations, regions, groups…

Howard’s passion was/is based on virtual communities.  He started virtual communities decades ago, and got more experience on this topic based on trial and error, use and experience, explicitly enabling the learner group to have a voice.
The idea is to create a conversation that is bigger due to collaboration/corporation/co-working.

It started as learners amplifying their individual voice by using blogs, commenting on discussion forum… the sense of agency, the ability to create your own networks is enabled by the web, and social media in particular.

Co-teaching: the learners teach everyone, including the teacher. Where the first meeting is face-to-face, the dialogue is kept going online.

The real change in mindset happened when he introduced the concept of co-learning. So the shift really went from the teacher lecturing, to the learners teaching themselves. It is increasingly collaborative.

What do self-learners need to know in order to effectively teach and learn from each other? (he does make explicit that only a few kept the conversation going) => peeragogy (free handbook, open to suggestions from all of us). Peeragogy.org
There is a place for teachers, but we cannot scale up the training of teachers. And do people want to pay more taxes to pay teachers => social-political issues.
More people than ever before have access to learning (remark from me: yes, but… it is not because you learn, you are able to see what type of learning will help you forward in life, or will increase critical thinking. Wisdom does have a tendency to come with age).

The web is not just corporate platforms to interact. It would not be there unless students, individuals construct information (remark from myself: yes, but are these self-made content pages taken up by search engines?)

Media should be mixed based on its usefulness.

Procedural knowledge is increasingly freely available, but understanding how all of these fit together in order to attain more knowledge needs to be researched. As such an expert facilitator helps, but more and more people connect together. 

Friday 28 November 2014

Join the #eMOOCs2015 call for contributions and let's meet

Finally, after weeks of tough organising and getting all the information into place, the eMOOCs2015 conference site is up and running, and the call for contributions is open to all of us.

Whether you are a researcher, a k-12 teacher, a trainer for a big company, or getting a MOOC together for ngo missions... the eMOOCs track offer a wide variety to get your experiences known to other colleagues. As I am the chair of the Experience track, I would say: get your papers and videos coming, for experiences are the driving force for all of us.

The eMOOCs conference is the biggest MOOC conference in Europe, and if you want to see what was going on in 2014, take a look at the collected papers from the previous conference rolling out here.

Some practical information:
Dates: 18 – 20 May 2015
Location: the campus of the Université catholique de Louvain in Mons (Belgium)
Website of the conference: http://www.emoocs2015.eu/
Call for contributionshttp://www.emoocs2015.eu/call-moocs
Deadline for the contributions: 12 January 2015.
Special attention: the contributions can be in the classic paper format, or they can be shared as videos to allow a flipped classroom approach during the conference.

The guidelines and process of submitting a contribution can be found here:

And just to be clear, you only need to upload a video if you want to get into the Flipped MOOC-experience. 
I think I will get a video ready based on my paper (but time will tell). Sharing a bit more on the experience track expectations here:

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other open education concepts have changed the learning and training within and beyond the academic world. While universities are opening up education to online users worldwide, the corporate and non-profit world explore the benefits of a more online driven training for both personnel, clients, and the public at large. The experience track aims to feed the general debate on MOOCs by bringing together our shared knowledge and experiences. This includes experiences from experts who have been running MOOCs, supporting the production of MOOCs, involved in the selection of MOOCs, or analysed data. It also includes experiences of using MOOC-related technology in different contexts (e.g. in-house training, k12 contexts, developing regions, etc.). The experience track aims to share experiences, results, solutions, and to document problems.
**** pre-conference Flipped MOOC-experience chat ****
eMOOC2015 plans to support a special “flipped MOOC-experience chat”. The main idea is that open discussions should replace or add to the traditional conference presentation mode. Therefore MOOC experts are encouraged to submit a written publication (via the conference management system, easychair) and in case of acceptation also an additional 5-minute-video focusing on the main content and including questions addressing the provided topic.
The video has to address the MOOC experience with an experience focal point, provide 3 to 5 thought-provoking or reflective questions related to the topic and the results of the experience to gather interest for a broader public. A twitter chat will be organized for each video, starting from the questions provided by the expert. The idea behind these twitter chats is to start the conversation going with all interested parties prior to the eMOOC conference.
NOTE: If you are interested in the flipped conference MOOC – track you have to check the appropriate box during your submission to the conference management tool.

Friday 21 November 2014

Ideas on #bigdata and #education? Share your help

If you have firm thoughts on Big Data and how it affects education at present or in the future ... then HELP ME! I would be thankful to hear your thoughts! I will face two GIANTS in Learning Analytics and Big Data: George Siemens (visionair and educational explorer) and the formidable Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, an established top notch Big Data researcher (Harvard, Oxford, Guru on Network Economy). Now there is no doubt in my mind that these guys are the best in their (and our, my) field. So it is going to be a hell of a job to come up against them with firm arguments in a "Big Data corrupts Education" debate. My argument: yes, data is corrupting education. Luckily, I will be joined by the fantastically intelligent and erudite Ellen Wagner (chief research officer for Predictive Analytics, and allround educause genius)

A bit of background on the upcoming event: in just under two weeks from now Online Educa Berlin starts. A conference bringing together eLearning academics, corporate trainers, mLearning ngo visionairs... all kinds of people with great insights and knowledge related to technology driven education and training. On Thursday 4 December 2014 the heat will be on! Ellen and I will go head to head with George Siemens and Viktor Mayer-Schonberger in a debate on whether or not Big Data is corrupting Education.

The location and timing of the debate can be found in the OEB2014 program here.

The stakes are high, and as the wild card in this bunch, I am totally aware of my need for help, from you the in-crowd. You: those who know, those who can pull a creative argument out of their sleeves in a moments notice, or after deep and thorough reflection ... each option welcomed as I am the only one in this bunch outside of the educational establishment.

As a means of saying thank you, I will post the names (if you provide them) of all of you who sent me ideas, trains of thought, insights... Your names will be posted on a slide projected during the live stream (and recorded) debate.

To recap: Ellen Wagner's and my stand: "Big Data corrupts Education", Viktor and George's stand: Big Data rocks and will save education (or something along those lines).

Some thoughts I am working on, so new arguments or strengthening arguments welcomed:

  • Big Data as it is now will exponentially enhance the faults as occurring in small data
  • Utopian visions are easy with each new invention, practical implementation and real-world facts are much harder to cope with.
  • Formal learning does not give a full picture of the real (informal and formal) learning that occurs inside of each one of us.
  • A norm translated into algorithms, reproduces that same norm multiple times. 
  • Big data can only be stored and filtered by big companies (private sector), where education and its tools should stay public good (transparent, personal). Big data is in the hands of little data elite.
  • Privacy issues: what if a persons data is sold and infinitely stored? (data trail from kindergarden onward) 
  • Jobs are diminishing at a vast rate, new jobs are being set up. Which algorithms can anticipate the skills for these new jobs. Or broader: is finding a job the ultimate goal of education?
  • Correlation is no replacement for causality. Causality is the basis of all strong research.
  • Even for those areas were research has been providing conclusions and guidelines for centuries, these conclusions are not necessarily being put to real use (the return and money conundrum). 
  • And at the moment my central idea is: the philosophy behind education as it is lived at this moment in time is flawed, as such reproducing Big data algorithms to reach the current educational trends will be reinforcing flawed educational actions.  

Thursday 20 November 2014

#Flipped classroom overview and options for #teachers

The flipped classroom approach is quickly gaining momentum. Nevertheless, it has its advantages and challenges depending on which learner group you have under your wings.
In this presentation I am giving an introduction to the Flipped classroom approach, while focusing on what is proven, the pro's and con's, the options you have as a teacher, and some related links. The presentation was part of a set of pedagogical sessions for the GuldenSporenCollege in Kortrijk, Belgium.

There are two versions of the presentation, one in English (also shown below) and one in Dutch (with more Dutch links and sources) the Dutch presentation is also uploaded and can be found through this link here

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Free report on #innovative #pedagogy, practices and use

The Open University of the UK has just published a new report on innovative pedagogy (37 pages). This is a yearly report (compare it to NMC Horizon report, but with a pure pedagogical focus). In this report they look at ten innovations in teaching, learning and assessment that are gaining influence.

I find the focus on social learning of interest, as the report states that "Education can be dramatically enhanced by social networks, a report from The Open University claims. Massive open social learning brings the power of social networks to people taking online courses, by recommending, liking and following the best content created by other learners. The so-called 'network effect' comes from many thousands of people learning from each other, but it needs careful management to reach its full potential. " In a way this is supporting the Utopian vision of the web when it first reached a multitude of people. So an old idea is now grounded, and I must say I like this idea of social learning. 

The report focuses on each topic and elaborates on it briefly (approx 3 pages), giving a description, some important issues related to the topic and resources. Nice.

Which innovations are described in the report:

  • Massive Open Social Learning (a social learning view on mooc)
  • Learning design informed by analytics (a productive cycle linking learning analytics to effective learning - Yeah Bart!)
  • The Flipped classroom (inside and outside classroom learning, flipping homework and class interactions)
  • Bring Your Own Devices (learners bring their own devices - smartphones, cameras - into the classroom)
  • Learning to learn (a good focus on learning how to become an effective learner)
  • Dynamic assessment (I like this one as it offers ideas on personalized assessment for learners)
  • Event based learning (time-bounded learning moments)
  • Learning through storytelling (ancient, and very effective learning format, now with new options)
  • Bricolage (tinkering with all kinds of resources, kind of a mash-up for learning)

The lead author of this report is Mike Sharples, and he sees the social learning shift that is happening now as an educational parallel of the art shift that happened when file sharing became more prevalent. But if you look at the co-authors (Anne Adams, Rebecca Ferguson, Mark Gaved, Patrick McAndrew, Bart Rienties, Martin Weller, Denise Whitelock), you can see how all these great researchers ensure a good and well researched read.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

#PhD awakening: life at the #OU and in UK

After a chaotic month, where I seem to have hibernated (well, autumnated?) immersed in data collecting, my mind suddenly switched back on again. There still seems to be a lot of PhD work that needs to be done (plan interviews, analyse first data batch, dance to get my body moving), but it is time to reflect and share again.

At the end of this blog I have added a presentation for all who want to become a post-graduate student at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK. But first a brief insight in Life as a PhD student at the OU.

Switching identities 
In the past year and a half I switched from a well paid full-time, international job to a scholarship at the OU where I started as a student again. In order to study, I moved to the UK (Stony Stratford). This switch resulted in changes, some anticipated, some quite surprising. One of the surprising one's was the fact that I felt my identity was no longer straight forward. It had shifted from 'someone who knows' to 'a starting student who has a lot to learn', evidently there is a saying which I believe in (and paraphrasing heavily): the more we know the less we know... but although I knew this saying, actually experiencing a change in external and internal image resulted in profound reflections on importance, work as an identity provider, and the need to be seen as 'someone who knows' (for me that is). This realisation made me humble again, and more understanding for people who experience these shifts due to life's sudden realities: pensioners, immigrants, ... people that need to pick up a new life, away from what they felt was 'normal' and part of them.

Me, the foreigner
The fact that I moved to another country where I would be seen as a 'foreigner' as soon as I spoke in my Flemish English voice, also resulted in some new experiences. For some people it never matters where you are from, you are just you. Luckily, in the past I have encountered many of those people, mostly because they are also part of the world, and have had multiple continent experiences. For others a foreign accent tend to rouse suspicion, most of the time that suspicion would diminish as soon as I mentioned I would be a 'Belgian'. Which is also strange, as one is never as much a Belgian as in another country. The culture and social do's and don't's are of course different (like all countries these 'normal behavior guidelines' are never outspoken, yet explicitly present) and it takes a while to get used to the differences. How come the interpretation of normal is so different for all of us? And why is different so threatening to some people? We are all constantly changing, our bodies and minds are seldom similar from one day to another, yet difference is such a manipulated concept.

Family under the microscope
When you move to another country with your family, you can bet on it that your relationship will come under additional pressure. Suddenly the social security of family, friends, and even acquaintances is no longer ready and available. You need to survive in the new environment relying on your partner and child/ren. In my case that means tackling extra discussions, because all of our joint personal characteristics got gigantic! There was no way we could voice our personal complaints to others while drinking coffee/tea/beer/wine... it was just us. Frustration became a recurrent feeling, until we accepted once again what each of us stood for. We realized why we were partners, why at some point we choose for each other: "with all our qualities and defaults". This was a crucial step in our mutual family relationship: suddenly - and more then ever - we accepted who we were. We saw each other under a microscope, yelled, complained, and made up with the realization that we were indeed stronger then before.

Stagnate or go for change?
As all these experiences still boggle my mind from time to time, and life's certainties seem to be broken down on a daily basis, I often wonder: is it worth it? The change in life? Becoming a student once again? Because the future is uncertain, my age is quickly approaching 50 (WHAT!) and that gives me an additional strange feeling of doubt.

Yes, it is. Oh yes! It is so worth all the tension, the adaptations, the new reflections, the uncertainties, the feeling of doubt and the realization of the really important things in life. But, I have to add that I am in a rather luxurious position: I do have someone to come home to, I know people that I can depend on, and I have a home somewhere on this planet that I can call my own. So, I can actually make this choice, and the choice is not thrust upon me.

Get your proposal in and become a PhD student yourself

Friday 26 September 2014

#PhD: importance of personalisation in #qualitative research

Although I know and understand the concept of trust in online communities, up until yesterday I underestimated the effect of being among participants to allow them to connect.

In my current main study, I am investigating online learning as it is done by experienced online learners. I look at how they learn inside of the course. I ask them to fill in and share learning logs to get an idea of their informal learning as well. The learning logs also try to capture who learners talk to, or reach out to, either to find additional answers, or simply to share learning experiences. And as the first learning logs are coming in, I read them with the utmost interest and enthusiasm. The learning logs capture the learning in self-reported descriptions coming from participants taking part in three different FutureLearn courses. Although my research is qualitative, I was not fully part of the courses, not as much as I wanted to at first. But then the importance of personalisation kicked in and now I adjusted my way of research a bit.

Increasing personalisation
The first steps I took to increase a personalized approach for each of the research participants was:

  • building different documents, research instruments and communications for each course. Practically this means 14 different communications, 7 different research instruments, 6 different reference documents. Not taken into account the small adaptations I made to the documents (e.g. for those participants joining the research later on in the course, requiring a different research timing).
  • ensure each document, communication, or research instrument was written in a personalized way (this is not always easy, but it turned out to be definitely worthwhile)
  • providing a course recognizable unique identifier for each participant, creating a visible link between a number  and the course (the unique identifier is a number used to anonymise participant data)
  • address each participant with the first name they provided in the informed consent. This I do for each communication going out from me to them.
  • add the unique identifier to each outgoing communication, making sure it is connected to that participant

As you can imagine, all the above measures increase the mistakes that can be made. I have been mailing about 900 communications at this point in time, all personalized - or trying to. And indeed I have been making mistakes (e.g. forgetting attachments, referring to wrong online links that are actually from other courses under investigation). Rectifying these mistakes is necessary of course, but it means sometimes participants get multiple mails, which is tough on their time schedules.

How far can you go with personalisation?
Though the learning logs are coming in, I kept feeling I was not reaching out to my research participants in a way that I could reach out to them. I felt I was missing a step. As such I strolled through the three courses of which I had participants. After having taken a look at the courses, I took another look at my research instruments (the provided learning logs in particular). Then I realized that my instruments were not personal enough. Not personal as referencing to the participants, but personal in connection with the FutureLearn courses to which the learning logs were referring too. I suddenly realized I could make them fit each course more carefully, hence making them more meaningful, more trustworthy (or that was what I was thinking).

So I went back to the drawing board, and before the last of the three FutureLearn courses started, I made sure that I personalized some of the research instruments (mainly the learning log) to make it more recognisable to the participants of that specific course. This was really necessary, as the third FutureLearn course (Basic Science: Understanding Experiments), was a hands-on course, while the other two courses I am investigating were more classic study courses (no hands-on experimenting, just understanding): one on Decision making in a complex and uncertain world, and one on the Science of Medicines.

More time, better realisations, becoming more involved
While having adjusted the documents and instruments, and beginning to get more familiar with the communications that need to go out, I was beginning to breath again. Gaining time once again. So, I had a look at the courses once again. 
This is where I realized I had not engaged with the courses the way I intended. Granted, for the course on Science of Medicines, I had planned to follow the course week on Diabetes only, as I have diabetes type 1 and I feel that all knowledge can help by keeping in tune with my illness. 

So I started to engage with the courses, and suddenly I realized that this extra layer of engagement provided me with a triple return! 
  • First of all I participated in the same courses as my participants, I could understand some of their remarks in more detail. 
  • Second I connected with some participants, hence becoming more of a 'real' person to them. Not the distant researcher, but the human sharing experiences.
  • Thirdly I learned the content of the courses, and got motivated to learn more. 
Wondering what the limit is of this type of personalization?

Did this result in an extra return for my research? 
It seems so, as people seem to respond more on my requests to share their experiences. So now I have a potential paper taking shape in my mind on the importance of being their as a researcher, also for online phenomenological research (which is what I am doing), and pointing towards possible effects of being part of the learning environment in a non-formal role, simply as a participant but for no other reason then simply taking part in the course. A bit of ethnographic research presence, but with less impact on the proceedings in the learning environment. 

Well, just sharing so I can remember once I write my thesis. Research is such a learning journey!