Archive for January, 2011

OER and the curriculum

Monday, January 31st, 2011
Flower made from 5 spoons and a marble

AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by kcolwell

Last Wednesday I attended the latest in the very useful series of Elluminate sessions organised by the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery programme.  Entitled “Academy/JISC OER Programme: implications for curriculum design and delivery”.  This session gave a really valuable overview of the JISC OER initiatives so far in this context.  For our study the following questions posed by Helen Beetham particularly resonated.

  1. What kinds of OERs do we see being adopted and re-used, and how? What new skills/expertise are required?
  2. How can OERs be integrated sustainably into curriculum processes? In what ways are curriculum processes challenged/contested/changed by use of OERs?
  3. How does the use of OERs impact on (e.g.) Student engagement? Student autonomy? Student achievement? Staff workload? Pedagogies in use?
  4. What kind of communities (e.g. Subject-based)benefit from OER sharing/reuse? How can OERs enhance existing open practices in learning/teaching communities?

If you want to experience this for yourself a recording is available at .

Using technology to support prospective students

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Aimed at staff responsible for coordinating the marketing of courses and managing student enrolments, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of using technology to support the very first stage of the curriculum delivery process by making it easy for prospective students to find the course they wish to study and, where possible, to enrol and pay for their chosen course(s) online.

The project found that to encourage students to choose your institution, you should:

  • Make finding courses as easy as searching on Google;
  • Provide easily accessible information about all aspects of a course and the institution, and offer answers to common questions about what a course involves, both in pedagogical terms and practical ones;
  • Provide testimonials or case studies of previous students’ experiences of studying your courses;
  • Make enrolling on and paying for a course as easy and straightforward as possible, using online enrolment and payment wherever possible.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 3: Using technology to support prospective students.

The Social Threshold

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Society is constantly negotiating the boundaries between the public and the private. Surveillance, comments made in private but at work and exposing private lives in the papers are just some of the areas under permanent discussion. Back in days-of-yore the threshold between the public and the private was commonly the door-step. We talk of ‘Crossing the threshold’ as in stepping in from the public space of the street to the privacy of a dwelling. All cultures have always had back channels which circumnavigate the formality of this type of threshold, of being ushered into the front parlour, but it generally used to be possible to assess the level of privacy of a given situation by the walls it was taking place within and who was in the room.

Front Door

Social Threshold (some rights reserved:

The integration of technology into society and the new forms of interpersonal connections it can facilitate erodes the ‘who is in the room?’ or ‘what room am I in?’ systems of assessing privacy. This stretches from snail-mail all the way through to security cameras. We can easily be caught out by technology which makes socially demarked spaces leaky. For example:

  • Discovering the mobile phone in your bag has dialled someone and left a 5 minute voice message of the private conversation you were having with a colleague.
  • Realising that the baby monitor has projected the lullaby you were singing to your child into the living room and probably the living rooms of a number of neighbours who also have young children.
  • Finding out after the fact that the conference session in which you made an offhand comment at about your institution was being live streamed onto the web.
  • Stumbling across tagged photos of you at a party posted in Facebook by others.

These are examples of where the public/private character of a physical space is disrupted by technology. When the primary ‘space’ is online the situation becomes more complex. Here are a few examples from my own experience:

  • Discovering that my ‘Can someone please make it lunchtime?’ tagged tweet in a small parallel conference session was being projected in a Twtterfall on a huge screen behind an eminent panel in the main hall.
  • Being told in an online meeting room that all private text chat messages were visible to moderators, after having made slightly disparaging remarks about the session in ‘private’ to a colleague.
  • Essentially being told-off on the phone by my very Scottish mother for using the American spelling of ‘whiskey’ in a tweet about 30 minutes after I posted it.

In all these cases assumed levels of privacy had to be reassessed in an uncomfortable moment of disjuncture. My imagined social map of the spaces had to be quickly redrawn as the original boundaries were shown to be permeable.

Researchers investigating Massively Multiplayer Online games or Virtual Worlds understand this type of disjuncture which in these cases is forgrounded by the presence of an avatar. The potential embodiment of the individual’s identity and form within the virtual space highlights the fact that he or she is existing simultaneously across two worlds. It’s the shifting nature of the extent to which the individual is in the physical or the virtual world which can cause suspicion and unease to the uninitiated. The boundary between the online and offline worlds has been described as a ‘semi-permeable membrane’ with influences passing in both directions.

I suggest that these membranes or social thresholds not only exist between online and offline spaces, but also between online platforms and constantly need to be redrawn as we attempt to map our own sense of the public and the private. In my case I was technically aware that my tweets were open to Google but it was only at the point at which I discovered my mother Googled for them that the threshold shifted. A wall had been knocked down in my public/private landscape.

My ‘Digital Visitors and Digital Residents’ continuum focuses on the importance of the social perceptions and motivations of individuals as they approach the web. A shift from Visitor to Resident activity involves crossing a social threshold. The position and width of the threshold along the Visitors and Residents continuum will be different for each individual, dependant on their perception of when a platform or online activity becomes social or public (with a small or large P). This is the point at which a platform changes from being a ‘tool’ to a ‘space’ in the mind of the individual, when the mode of engagement takes on a social edge. Google Docs is a good example; for me it is simply a word-processing tool until I notice that others are editing, at which point the public/private boundaries shift slightly and the tool has became a social space; it has moved one step closer to being public. My behaviour changes as I begin to cross the social threshold.

Google Docs

Word processing becomes social

Social media platforms, with their inherent hyper-connectivity require the user to hold highly complex multi-dimensional maps of them as social spaces, with many thresholds of differing permeability. It’s a long way from closing-the-front-door type methods of creating privacy boundaries. Some people are very skilled at managing the ‘edges’ of these social maps and manage their digital identities with great skill and to great effect. The rest of us have come to expect occasional moments of disjuncture.

I would argue that our notions of the public and the private don’t yet account for the width of these social thresholds or for the speed at which they can shift. We constantly negotiate the boundaries between the public and the private but we have an expectation that these boundaries, while moving, will remain sharp. The web and especially social media platforms defocus our understanding of these boundaries. Our ability to map and remap our relationship with these social thresholds is a key form of digital literacy, and possibly a new life-skill (if I can call it that).

What intrigues me is the possibility that those growing-up with these technologies may have a different perception of what privacy means and different approaches to managing their social landscapes. We now generally agree that the Digital Native does not exist as defined by age, but other generational nuances may exist, not in access and skill but in terms of managing and accepting shifting social thresholds.

Customizing open source software: benefits and pitfalls

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Aimed at e-Learning developers, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of customizing the Moodle assignment module, to highlight the benefits and pitfalls of working with open source software.

This aspect of the Cascade project had two key challenges: (a) to specify requirements for enhanced assignment-handling functionality in Moodle; and (b) to develop the code itself.  Both proved far more challenging than anticipated.

The experience of the project suggests that customizing open source software to meet the institution’s bespoke curriculum delivery requirements can result in the development of a robust system offering improved services to stakeholders, however there can be pitfalls.  Key recommendations for other developers considering similar projects are:

  • Define the processes involved before working on the development of software; a broken or unclear process cannot have an effective technological solution;
  • Keep all stakeholders informed of what the final result will be, providing updates when the requirements/functionality change;
  • Have everyone concerned with functionality and bug identification use an issue management system from the start of the project;
  • Use version control to manage code, but keep it simple;
  • Learn and work with the norms of the open source community for maximum wider benefit.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 2: Customizing open source software: benefits and pitfalls.

OER reuse landscape

Friday, January 21st, 2011

We started our investigation into reuse of OER by reviewing both the relevant research literature and a less formal, but equally important debate, in the blogosphere. The purpose was to:

  • Understand what issues associated with reuse have already been covered in the research and what still needs to be explored; and
  • Identify things that we haven’t thought about but might want to explore in our own research.

Below we give a brief summary of our observations; however, at the end of this post you will find a mindmap with the OER reuse landscape as it has presented itself to us in the literature that we have reviewed. The map has been published and is available for anyone to edit. We envisage it as a living document, so please contribute – for example, by adding new nodes, restructuring the old ones, or adding notes or new references.

Now, some of our general observations:

  • There are many beliefs as well as context-, position-, and perspective-sensitive opinions about the benefits that sharing and reuse might bring to society, education, teaching and learning in general, as well as to specific groups of users.
  • Something, but not enough, is known about who reuses what. Although quantitative data on downloads and hits tell us little about a particular user and their preference for specific types of OER, there is some qualitative evidence that particular user groups have preferences for specific attributes of reusable resources: e.g. teachers tend to prefer materials made out of loosely coupled assets that one can pick-up and incorporate into a new whole (see JISC Synthesis and Evaluation Report).
  • Almost nothing is known about the how and the why of reuse, but we were able to identify some interesting case studies with evidence of reuse and related benefits (e.g. Greaves et. al. 2010) (we are looking for more so please contact us if you have one or know of one).
  • More and more voices are now advocating a shift from the supply-driven concept of OER towards an understanding of their place in current teaching and learning practice, and whether (and how) they might contribute to changes in this practice. In this respect, they suggest discarding the concept of an ‘open resource’ and focusing on the concept of an ‘open person’ instead.
  • The areas defined as most challenging to the successful uptake of OER in educational community are: quality assurance, teaching culture and tradition, and the conflicting agendas of different stakeholders, e.g. institution promotes sharing and reuse of OER but at the same time only excellence in research is being rewarded.
  • Although our research is about reuse, nonetheless we should keep the notion of sharing at the back of our minds, as there seems to be a close link between the former and the latter in several aspects (for more about this, see our mindmap).
  • The OER “umbrella” seems to cover a huge range of resources (as shown on the mindmap), which may not make it a very useful concept from the user’s perspective. Certainly, it makes evaluating the impact of OER on teaching and learning practice very difficult. What we intend to achieve, however, is to broaden our understanding of the area to an extent where it will be possible to make suggestions about where further, in-depth investigations are needed.


Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

After over two years work we have reached the end of the JISC-funded Cascade project – wrapping this up and the final reporting requirements are a big part of the reason why I have blogged so little in recent months.  This was a huge project looking at a very broad cross section of activities in the Department for Continuing Educatiosplashn at Oxford.

Technology-enhanced curriculum delivery is a large area and has the ability to affect everything we do; therefore, it was essential to closely define the scope of the project. Following a detailed scoping exercise, we focussed on areas where using technology offered the greatest potential impact, either through financial efficiencies, greater effectiveness, or application across a number of activities. This resulted in a project that developed sustainable new services that provide:

  • VLE support for award-bearing courses, incorporating online assignment-handling and access to generic content;
  • Wider availability of online enrolment and payment services;
  • Support for the course design process.

We quantified the benefits these services offer the Department in terms of greater efficiency, improved service or innovation, and have developed tools, processes and documentation to streamline and embed them in our work.

The cuts in funding faced by the Department as a result of the ELQ policy is now being mirrored across Higher Education as a whole, making many of our project outputs more relevant than ever to a wider audience. In particular they offer:

  • Suggestions of areas where other institutions might achieve comparable benefits;
  • Information on how to achieve such benefits;
  • Shared outputs upon which others can build;
  • Open source code for enhanced assignment-handing in Moodle;

allowing others to benefit from our developments. All outputs are available on the Cascade project website’s outputs page, and in the next few weeks I will blog in more detail about some of these.

Leveraging technology to drive business performance

Monday, January 17th, 2011

As part of our Cascade project we developed a series of five case studies to highlight areas of our work where we had the most interesting or useful outputs.  The first of these looks at the senior management perspective and is titled Leveraging technology to drive business performance.  It focuses on developing internal capability through the application of technology (or e-administration) so that operational and institutional strategy, as well as administrative processes and procedures, are delivered more efficiently and effectively.  The case study covers the following topics: project planning, problem identification, cost benefit analysis, managing organizational change, consensus building and developing a clear methodology for the embedding of project activities, and provides key points for effective practice and a series of recommendations for others hoping to achieve similar objectives.
Read the full case study, at: Leveraging technology to drive business performance.

Course launches

Monday, January 17th, 2011

It is that time of year again and we are in the middle of our online course launches for another term.  We are offering  43 courses this term including our new courses in Writing Fiction for Young Adults, Writing Fiction, Elizabeth I, and Right and Wrong: an introduction to ethics, many are full, but there are still places on a lot – so if you would enjoy some intellectual stimulation over the next couple of months and are interested in Archaeology, Art History, English literature, Creative Writing, Economics, History, or Philosophy do take a look at what is available.