Experiencing a MOOC

There’s a lot of talk about MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) in HE at the moment. institution has signed up to FutureLearn, a consortium of UK HEIs intending to offer courses from mid-2013 onwards. A lot of the ‘talk’ about MOOCs is around how game-changing they could be for the sector. Could they sound the death-knell for traditional teaching and learning? What are the implications for organisational development and change? What would ‘the student experience’ mean when students are co-learners and co-assessors and distributed potentially worldwide? Interestingly, some MOOC students are meeting up in physical locations where they find they’re co-located with other co-learners.

It all seems to be a lot of hype at the moment, with no clear business models (although some are emerging) and few providing accreditation. But worthy perhaps of at least awareness amongst those of us who may have to support any resulting change in strategy, organisation and people’s practice.

I hadn’t been tempted to sign up for a MOOC until the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) began the design of OcTEL, an online course in Technology Enhanced Learning. Even just typing this paragraph is giving me acronym headaches, and I suspect this MOOC may have quite a lot more. But OcTEL is one of the Innovation and Transformation Fund (ITF) projects for which I’m Programme Manager, so it seemed that if I were going to sign up for one, this ought to be it. And it’s being developed through a collaboration of volunteers which offers an interesting model and, I suspect, quite a lot of challenges, for learning design and delivery.

Registration is now open, and the programme starts 4 April, with an introductory period until 14 April, for people to familiarize themselves with the MOOC way of learning and interacting. The course starts in earnest on 15 April.

MOOCs lose a lot of participants during the course; to keep me on track, I thought I’d add an occasional blogpost here – if that’s ok – to share what the experience has been like. You might like to register and join me so it’s not just a one-sided view.

Workshop: Changing the Learning Landscape

cll-web-bannerAs part of the Changing the Learning Landscape programme, the Higher Education Academy and CLL partners (including Jisc) are putting on 12 workshops assist academic staff, and staff with curriculum development and support roles, in the use of technology to enhance teaching and student learning.

Four of these workshops, developed in association with SEDA, are focusing on digital literacies:

14 March 2013 (Exeter) Where are we now with digital literacies? The experience of learners and the implications for development

30 April 2013 (Leeds) Influencing strategy and change processes to enable the embedding of digital literacies

21 May 2013 (London) Influencing strategy and change processes to enable the embedding of digital literacies

29 May 2013 (Birmingham) The role of digital literacies in supporting continuing professional development in HE contexts

The workshops are designed to be accessible to those new to the field of digital literacies and learning technologies, and are aimed at anyone with a staff/educational/teaching development aspect to their role, and to curriculum leaders, professional services and support staff. For further information on these, and to sign up, go to

There are also eight workshops aimed at academic staff in a range of disciplines. For a full list of CLL workshops, please see

#ODHEG: The External View

We spent an hour or so considering who/what an ODHE blog might be pitched at/do, bearing in mind that a number of truly valuable stories can’t be shared in a world where there’s fears about ‘competitive advantage’, sharing ‘dirty laundry’ in public. What can a blog truly do, and where does it fit in with other tools such as the LinkedIn Group, the national meetings, and is something else required still?

JISC Digital Literacies Audit

images-1The ODHE is working within the JISC ‘Digital Literacies’ programme, which is introduced as follows:

Many learners enter further and higher education lacking the skills needed to apply digital technologies to education. As 90% of new jobs will require excellent digital skills, improving digital literacy is an essential component of developing employable graduates.

Courses that embed core digital skills, as well as subject specific use of technology, enable students to gain the skills and confidence they need to use digital technology not only to support their learning but also in the workplace.

JISC have offered a document which enables institutions to think about the digital literacy capabilities they have – a useful exercise to encourage thinking about what, and why … and potentially pushing towards change.

Twitter – Two Ears to Listen, One Mouth to Speak

I so enjoyed Simon Inger’s blog about iPads, I thought it might be of some interest to share thinking about one way I use my own iPad.

twitter-bird-blue-on-whitestock-illustration-3365311-classic-car-1959-chevy-impalaI was quite skeptical about Twitter when I first decided to try it out but I saw that it was increasingly being used, particularly by students. When I was still in my 20’s I decided I never wanted to end up like an older friend. He simply refused to listen to any music later than 1960. He even drove a car from the 50’s – beautiful but certainly not the only choice around. I may not be on the leading edge of technology but choice for me continues to be important.

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” (Epictetus, Greek philosopher, AD 55-c.135 by way of Tim le Lean). This quote epitomises the value I find in Twitter. To me, Twitter is:

1. A newspaper – I can use it to catch headlines and current activities from news organisations like the Guardian, THE, etc. as well as “headlines” from people and organisations within and outside the University of Kent that I have chosen to “follow.” I can dig deeper by clicking on the links attached to the tweets.

2. A source of continuous professional development – Following organisations and thinkers that I respect (I call them my virtual mentors) who write about leadership, innovation, diversity, strategy, and change as well as other areas of interest provide me with a steady stream of current, often internationally acclaimed thinking, on topics I care about. I can take five minutes to scan a few practical presentation skills tips or read an inspirational article to kickstart my own motivation when I am having a difficult day.

3. An event tracker – Twitter is a terrific way to keep an eye open for upcoming events and to have another method at your fingertips to tell others about events you are involved in or that you want to draw attention to. When it comes to events, Twitter is just one of a host of methods to get the word out.

4. A way to share thinking and research with others – This can happen either by typing 140 characters as a single message or by directing the reader to a blog or a website. Connecting people and ideas is easy when I see some resonance or possible common interests or goals. It’s also not as intrusive as an email; the broadcast approach of Twitter means people choose to engage with a tweet or not. The receiver of tweets can control and manage their own information, sharing or responding as they choose.

5. A way to build a positive community – Twitter makes it easier to communicate appreciation for others – for individuals or for organisational initiatives. It’s possible to send an expression of praise not just to one person in an email but to everyone who has chosen to follow you and is, therefore, by default, a part of your digital community. Of course, the reverse also holds true; criticism and negativity is just as easy to spread on Twitter. I consciously choose to use Twitter as a positive force. If I have an issue to deal with or a problem with a person or something that has happened, Twitter will not be my communication method. I only have control over my own tweets but I can choose to try and exemplify what I appreciate in others – particularly a sense of collaboration and a focus on continuous learning.

6. A way to be yourself – I do make conscious choices; I use Twitter and LinkedIn as my professional communication social media platforms. Facebook and Instagram are saved for my friends and family where I share a range of silly and serious topics, personno-foodal politics and family photos. But I also see something very positive in allowing who you are as a person shine through on Twitter – I have been known to post a picture from a great local festival or a Canadian winter driving scene; a link to a news story that has affected me deeply or a mention that I am finally heading off on a long anticipated holiday. However, I try not to share certain details – I’m not a chef and I know you don’t care what I made for lunch!

The best way to know if you will like Twitter is to try it. Read (listen) more than you tweet (talk) and there is much to be gained.

By Cindy Vallance, Head of Organisational Development, University of Kent
Twitter @cdvallance

My first month as an iPaddler

Why would anyone get an iPad for work?  They just allow high-tech doodling, rudely doing things other than focus on the meeting you’re in.

The tide turned for me when a colleague from e-learning gave a presentation to a regional forum, “My Favourite 10 Apps.”  As someone who proudly has only 4 purchased apps on his phone (or used to), I would once have shuddered. But Nitin was talking about work: “Here’s what I use that makes my working life easier and better than when I carried spiral-bound notebooks everywhere (until surprisingly recently, for a learning technologist).” So having ummed and ahhed for a while I placed the order, resolving to jump in with both feet, waist deep. What have I learned in the month since then?

Lesson 1. iPads aren’t designed for corporate environments, and vice versa. My University doesn’t officially support Apple products but iPads are so much easier to use than other tablets that most people are getting them, including the Executive Committee. But the infrastructure and knowledge are building slowly. Note-taking and document reading apps are essential but it’s taken weeks to home in on the ones other people are using here, chosen among hundreds on the app store. Unlike MS Office, there’s no default suite of software that is the best choice for the corporate all-rounder, so you need to be ready to learn on your own. And then tutor your HR Director who has been issued with an iPad for Executive papers, but doesn’t know where to start. I suggested that perhaps giving devices to so many senior managers might have been accompanied by a training plan, to which a Dean replied: “There is; it’s called “ask Kevin.”  Kevin is the DVC and a bit of an expert iPaddler, apparently.

Lesson 2. Taking notes is no problem. I’ve utterly abandoned my spiral-bound notebooks for most meetings, and as Nitin promised, being forced to type makes the notes more precise and concise, you spend more time thinking and listening. My touch-screen typing has speeded up considerably, but I might still get a folding keyboard case. I’m obviously not as visual as I thought I was, as I haven’t really tried the scribbling apps, but I daresay that’ll come, although probably with a stylus rather than a finger end. And my notes are synced to the cloud, ready to be sifted, sorted, filed and cut-and-pasted into other documents back at base.

Lesson 3. There’s a whole new community out there. I’ve been to several conferences and the iPaddlers lean across and ask what you’re using, and show you their favourites. It’s a terrific ice-breaker in a hall of strangers. “You simply must use iThoughts, it’s brilliant, look…” And just when you thought you’d found an app that does what you want, along comes one that does it better. (Much like strangers……)

Lesson 4. Tablets aren’t laptops. (Well du-uh.)  My best analogy is that so far for me it’s a supercharged document folder, with papers, notepad, pens, diary etc., all in one place and – here’s the neat bit – you can reach into it and fetch the things you’ve forgotten to carry across campus that day. But you won’t be creating any amazingly formatted word documents. Nor will you be taking something on a data stick or plugging it into a projector to show that powerpoint or video. You can, however, connect to people and things across the world, which my trusty Change Academy folder doesn’t do so well.

Lesson 5. Fingers are icky. The iPad 3 that I’ve got has an astonishingly clear high-definition screen, really amazing. But boy does it show the greasy finger marks. Or maybe it’s just me.

Lesson 6. Nobody looks good on Facetime.

Lesson 7. Change Academy document folders are really handy for carrying iPads around.

So I think I’m converted, and don’t really see the point of fighting it. What’s the key advantage, the real deal-breaker? So far it’s the steadily diminishing piles of paper that accumulate in my room and, when I come to sort and file, mostly get recycled because I know there’s an electronic version somewhere. For 400 quid you’d expect something more profound, but the longest journey starts with the first gesture-sensitive interface, as they will one day say.

And finally, Steve Jobs, I hear, willed that his ashes be scattered on his iPad, his iPhone and his iMac. He wanted to be left to his own devices.