Reflective post to the end

This is the last post in the online network learning (ONL) study program and I will reflect on the course and the learning experience during it.

Coming from a different country the learning/teaching strategies are significantly differnet from the swedish system. In Germany the lectures are seen as a “teazer” and real knolege has to be found in the literature. There is also no specific text book that follows the course. This and the fact that this was my first touch with PBL learning formed a part of my learning experiences. As was the help I needed to render other members of my Pbl group to help them overcome the initial struggle. This really showed the differences in digital literacy. There is a gap in what techniques we would like to use and which we actually have time and the opportunity to use.

My team and I are regulary using the whole suite of google products to prepare and perform experiments. The true realtime interactivity makes this the ideal tool for group work. Despite this I discovered a few more tools during the course. The other suggested tools like padlet and coggle were new to me and it is nice to get pushed into using these novel opportunities. Prezi and other alternative presentation tools I had played with in the past but never used for any serious production. With the limited storage and forced clowd usage in the free versions I struggled to use them for serious production. With ignited interest in this kind of presenting I found a possible alternative in a plugin for inkscape and will strive to use this for future presentations.

Very positive was the direct contact to our facilitator (Lotta). Due to little activity in you Pbl group discussions she provided a significant part of the input and her engagement and dedication has to be highlighted.

A very good part of this course was the exposure to large online learning platforms with its related challenges and solutions. In retrospect the things that stuck in my mind were the technical trick on how to generate content for the course. So how to make an effective online lecture using screen recording or even “recorded paper” techniques. The way how different styles like longer or shorter modules affect the efficiency of the lecture and using the experience of “veterans”. From the concept I personally learned the most of the lectures with a more practical orientation. If this course should be repeated I would recommmend a stronger focus on those sections. Especially with this in mind I would recommend that a strong push from the training teach is made to unify the systems used in Lund and make the training in their usage part of the course. Currently we have more then 8 systems in use (that i used and I heard that 25 are in circulation). I haven’t found any that didn’t contain a significant amount of bugs. Usage of a well established open source system would/could improve this situation. Also make their usage wider spread. This also would have a significant impact on the administration of students and contents. The usage of such a closed system will have additional benefits with respect to copyright questions for teaching and training material.

Due to the differnet interests in the group we struggled to reach the state of a clear discussion. Here some more focused tasks might have been helpful. The problems were very free designed. This could just have been the lack of training in these kind of tasks. Most of our PBL group that were active came from the natural science section. I think the method is very useful during face to face meetings and during meetings with a larger group on hangout. We however rarely reached the critical limit during the hangouts. Despite or maybe because of this the intensity in the discussion was strongly variying with the topic. The most fruitfull debates we had about the questions of open or closed access to the materials combined with the question of copyright. I was happy to see that there is actually a clear and comprehensive ruling on this, which enables us to use copyrighted material for lectures without having to ask for permission all the time if the material is only provided to a limited public. With this in mind a closed online learning platform would be very nice. This could also handle the formal requirements for courses and be used in safety training and keeping track of the progress, reducing the workload from non teaching/researching tasks. This might enable a more flexible use of motivation and rewarding schemes too.

During the course I had the possibility to exchange ideas and tricks in one by one conversations. Also here it was realtively clear that the more practical related and clearly defined the tasks were the more discussion and depth was reached during the conversations. The topics here often turned about the very practical problem of motivation and reward of students. One thing i found very intersting is that despite that it appeared very very differnt from the system used in Germany it is essentially the same. But the communication is very different. If a task is seen as mandatory or voluntary.

All in all there were a few very interesting moments in the course and for me the fact that i coudl schedule it freely after my time (I’m a lot on travel) was enabling. I would motivate further courses in this style, with PBL designed for online courses in a style that does not require a presence. I learned a number of interesting new tools and techniques and would like to thank the organizers for this experience.

Advertisements

Open educational practices

This was a very interesting session,actually the first one with serious discussion. The main topics were benefits, copyright and credits. Below a few random thought that appeared and stuck in my brain

My group discussed mostly about the question of copyright. This is actually quite interesting. For topics like math or coding the sources are relatively easy produced. In science of event technical subjects things are a bit more tricky. I try to use my own pictures for nearly everything that i use. But especially if talking about applied science this is ending pretty fast in a dead end if real world illustrations are very necessary for illustration.

During the search we found the “Bonus copyright access” (http://www.bonuscopyright.se/pages/Kopieringsregler_For_Hogskolor_Och_Universitet_From_2014) which was a kind of relief.  It allows nearly all picture material to be used in education unless it is explicitly forbidden (with a few extra restrictions see our padlet to the topic http://padlet.com/wall/k4uojqdcl8h9 or a summary here http://www.legalahandboken.se/fragor/upphovsratt/anvand_bild/bilder1.html). The interesting restriction is however that it has to be made accessible behind a locked access unless it is CC (or similar) marked or one has explicit permission. I have tried to get permission twice before to be allowed to print a poster with a few photos. With very mixed success. I am not sure if I would like to do this for each lecture I give, or better i will not be able to in the short time that i usually have to prepare a lecture. I guess this will come with the years… My way around this is to usually cover the pictures in the version I give out and replace them with a  link to the original image (unless CC). This is not elegant but the only clean way to do this. The main problem is that the student share any version they can get their hands on. So as soon as the document is online once, it is published.

This has a few interesting consequences. One typical I discovered is that there are several “versions” of material in circulation. Since this year I place a date on the bottom of each slide, to know which version they are working with (as well as link where to get the newest version) A second consequence is less nice. My hobby is photography. I gave a few rather nice and hard to take photos as examples in presentations. The interesting thing is that they now appear not only in presentations without acknowledgement, they were even printed in a few daily newspaper with the remark: photo by Lund university. I have to admit that this stung. I have no problem of sharing my work. I life for teaching, but if somebody uses my work in such  frame I would like to be acknowledged properly. Since this time no photo leaves my PC without a clear watermark embedded in it. I wonder if this would not be a good idea for every presentation.

Interesting other discussions was about the responsibility of the owners of a blog or similar thing. In short the owner is responsible for most things and better takes care (http://www.legalahandboken.se/sociala_medier/bbslagen.html). This document gives an interesting overview about the hard choices for  a MOOC (https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/PUB9014.pdf) especially the summary on page 4 in the upper right corner scares me. After this the fair use (or in Sweden bonuscopyright) is challenged by a number of factors, at least internationally. I do not want to know how this is to interpreted if pages like google sites are used by Swedish universities. Which rules apply? scary. I think this is a strong motivation to use university internal servers for a MOOC and limit the access to Swedes or provide really open material.

Flexible mobile learning

Mobile learning has many aspects which what we were confronted in the material. One aspect of it certainly is the study with video material that relocates the classroom to a different location. I found the videos really inspiring. The concept of short 10 min videos is tempting, since it gives also the teacher the chance to sort his thought and structure it in pieces. Alone this will have a positive on the learning behavior. I like the approach Jonas took in his video, creating a lecture and after giving it repeat the lecture on the video. this shows the reflection process.

He raises a few interesting questions in his lecture. How do we train the students to work. From his google analytics graph we could clearly see that the learning was concentrated on a very short time. What has a lot of disadvantages. It will be interesting to see the same statistics when he starts to employ the flipped classroom approach. In this case he gives the students incentives to distribute the learning over a longer period. In my experience this is important.

There is another aspect that I found at least in the difference between German and Swedish learning. In Swedish learning the lecture in the university is seen as the main source of information. Which might be true in Math but can not be true in many other subjects. In German learning the lecture have to give the main points and some information but a large part of the learning happens mobil anyway. It is practice to give a significant amount of hand in and let the student find their own sources. A very valuable skill. Also to expect that the students actually do this hand in until the next lecture. I found this was extreme in the one course i gave here. Nobody studied beside the lectures. At the very end they did try the homework, but what was designed for 4 weeks of work can not be done in a weekend  without access to a library and created frustrations.

This is a discussion that has to be taken up at the same time like mobil learning. We need to teach our students in Lund how to learn again. At least in some subjects. The resources are there. And I am very happy to use such sources as are created by the online teachers. I did create the first lecture on movie now and will create more with time. With a little bit of searching a lot can be found.

It would be very nice if there would be a general platform to share resources. There are few forums, and several people create their own resources and link to them. I have not found a platform spanning resource sorted by subject (detailed subject) eventually with the possibility for rating. This would be  a valuable resource for students and teachers and avoid us creating everything anew. For many of us it is the case that teaching is payed fully by research. And an additional hour of work is 600SEK worth.

I found the tools he found very interesting. Especially the black board tool. Many thanks to Janus for the lecture and inspiration.

As Literature I studied the work from Hrastinski (Asynchronous and synchronous e-learning. Hrastinski, S. (2008) Educause quarterly, 31(4), 51-55). An interesting concept he mentiones is that there are very different type of communication happening between the students if the main communication channels are  synchronous or Asynchronous. The the latter beeing mostly content based while the former also contained some planning and structural discussion.

Kearney in (Viewing mobile learning from a pedagogical perspective.  Kearney, M., Schuck, S., Burden, K., & Aubusson, P. (2012)Research in Learning Technology20) discusses the general advantages that can be gained from mobile learning evolving around the more effective use of space-time. Beside these concepts they introduce personalisation, authenticity and collaboration as additional advantages of mobile learning. While I can fully agree with the first one I must say that I see the authenticity and collaboration with skepsis. An important distinction has to be made between e- learning and mobile learning. Also I suspect that the strength of authenticity but also collaboration strongly depends on the subject studied.

Lastly i read through the (Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas Ryan, A., & Tilbury, D. (2013) http://84.22.166.174/assets/Documents/rc_import/npi_report.pdf). They pick up several ideas for improved teaching: learner empowerment(pretty much the same like student generated content and co-learning),  future-facing education (a vision to find creative alternative and do “not run with herd to end up as cottlet’ ),  decolonising education (we live in a global world and we have to adjust our training and educational systems), transformative capabilities (give the basic skills and let the learning be self guided, a life long…),  crossing boundaries (of classical subjects), social learning . In total this work seemed to be more oriented towards policy makers with less direct approaches.

Reflections on how to enable collaborative learning

This is indeed a heavy topic for a skeptic like me. Steve Wheeler shows a beautiful vision with the Connectivism and citing “I store my knowledge in my friends”. I do agree that well planned teamwork is an extremely powerful tool for motivated students, building together can let them interconnect knowledge or how it is often phrased “deepen their learning”. But this is the point where I feel the but.

In German their are a lot of wordplays that often have a hidden deeper meaning. Or better a hidden origin. One of my favorites is the word “begreifen” which means loosely translated: “understand” as well as “touch”.

I found this extremely true. Depending on the topic, what the students could “touch”stayed with them. Touching in this meaning has to be seen in a wider frame. Certainly if we can engage emotions or activity with a learning topic this is also connecting. So well defined smaller tasks can be taught and solidified in this way. As a Physicist we had a lot of “labwork”and received training. Indeed we did in total about 35 different labs within 4 semester, the last 5 very intense. Everything i learned there stayed with me until today.

How do I see this linked to connectivism? There are three main concepts that I understood learning through connections can provide.

A broader knowledge base:

This is indeed true and using tools to further the sources of knowledge is certainly a very valid point. I however have found that in most cases the knowledge that a well schooled teacher can provide is fully sufficient for the basis task. This task beeing to give an overview and incentive to learn more and be eventually the source of answers. Most of the questions students have comes at the time of deeper contemplation, working a problem. Here I see a potential gain in learning in groups. That students can answer the question very fast from each other. But moreover i see a potential weekness. There If the answer is known by one individual, the other do not “work the problem”. If the answer is not known the point in which the group is useful is the key to my opinion. If the student does not know how to approach a problem, a paedagigic advice is good, or better already missing. If he is stuck is the moment the group is of use. But this is also the moment he would search for advice. Do a lot of connections help? Yes they provide just the right incentive but not the solution. Is this how they are used? Only by a student who wants to struggle. I have about 1 in 20 of those. Permanent group work good for learning?  Large communities  good to get “unstuck”? In forms of forums or moments when help is needed they can help. So thumbs up for forming offline or online networks and compare solutions after a struggle. This is however a different kind of seminar, or better this is how seminars should be.

The teaching experience:

This is a second base where groups larger or smaller are very useful. The teaching experience and the task to structure the knowledge in ones brain sufficient to teach it. Have i ever seen this in Online forums? Yes but very rarely. There are people engaging in answering questions and guide people on the right path, but how many people take the time to not throw an answer but really teach? In seminars, yes a lot, in life groups working together, a lot, online, never, a way to fast world. Either one knows the answer or gives a link like this http://lmgtfy.com/?q=moos. There are people in foren that really take the time and generate a beautiful pedagogik approach. But they are rare. How can we change this? By giving more tools to play with? I doubt it. Giving a policy and maybe train people in real life intersocial skills. Certainly. I do neglect the social component here but this was not the question.

The information intake:

This is the third reason why connectivism is faimed. So many media and look i show this in this way and this way and this way…. In a basketball book form the 80’s I found a very nice picture (Mikes, Jay. Basketball fundamentals : a complete mental training guide. Champaign, Ill: Leisure Press, 1987.). Every persons attention is like long pointer in  a clock. The more different times (or in this cases senses) I want to point at, the shorter each pointer gets. The attention span of each person is very limited. The more information i offer simultaneous the more divided the attention does become. Connectivism is for me the essence of this. Seen the lecture hall with hundreds of students hidden behind their laptops. Yes I can interact with them, yes I can engage students in this way. But I could do this before. I got them laughing, looking puzzled, surprised. I got feedback from their faces.  Is it useful to use tools for polls in lectures? Without doubt, is it useful to let them discuss about the lecture on facebook simultaneous? How much will they take from the very limited time they get with the lecturer? Does the communication make sense when working a problem? certainly! Does it make sense simultaneous to an introduction? I doubt it.

There are nice illustration of the attention problem:

My favorite: nerd sniping: https://xkcd.com/356/, or the hiking path for twitter: https://rangerwinslow.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/nonsequitur-120517.gif

One concept that I learned after revisiting the topic after the course had finished is the concept of the “Learner generated content”. (Learner generated content: Quality criteria in online collaborative learning. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. Pérez-Mateo, M., Maina, M. F., Guitert, M., & Romero, M. (2011)) Especially with online courses I can see how this concept can have a very positive effect on the student. The reflective process that has to precede any production of content will deepen the understanding and the way of presentation does come from a “closer” perspective. The groups in this paper chose a wiki to illustrate the structure behind the problem but i could imagine also examination tasks or an analysis flow diagram or a whole number of similar methods.

Reflections on the digital me

Digital born was I in the early nineties, as the internet was fresh and we all still struggled with a slow modem. As many youth at this time the email account existed mostly to confirm the applications into some of the life chat sites that popped up everywhere. Clients like ICQ and jabber were quite fresh and community chats with so called “offline meetings” tried to connect digital personalities with real personalities. Like most people Facebook or similar accounts were generated to connect to the world just laying outside the door, freed from bodily limitations.

Privacy

Unlike the wide majority privacy was and still is an important factor that unfortunately is not seemed to be important anymore. From the beginning I tried to restrict the numbers of pictures that are publicly available of me and also limit the entries in platforms providing scientific CV’s to a minimum number that is still useful. The reasons are several fold. First of course it is difficult to know which platforms will be present in the future and it is extremely time consuming to keep them all up to date. An out of date platform however is worse then not to be present there. The limitation to damage in case of the nowadays often occurring security breach (and the possibility of stolen identities) is another added benefit. But in reality I am scared what profiling companies can say about me and predict once they get a large enough data set. Imaging the damage a linked network can do to the individual and the lacking government control in Sweden trying to limit the personal data available seems like a good idea. As an example might be named insurance companies raising the premium because a customer bought two bars of chocolate last week. Something that already is reality in Germany. Here it is disguised as a discount if one provides voluntary proof that once lives healthy. Just imaging if these companies get full access to my life.

Email

Nowadays the email identity is one of the most important in the world of scientist. Most of our communication is handled over this account. Writing email is a not to neglect fraction of our everyday lifes. Especially with the advent of smartphones, this and its connected communication elements can reach us every hour of the day and night. Which is often enough also expected. Students can be impressed by receiving emails at any hour of the day. The shared calender can inform when somebody is available and can be expected to see and answer an email immediately.

Google docs and Co

Interesting are the community features attached to i.a. google identity. We are using docs and co since a while to write proposals and paper with colleagues far away. Used in this fashion they are very useful, cheap and fast tools to collaborate. Under students working together I have however observed a behaviour that seems typical for our time. Working in such a document it often deteriorates into the case where everybody utters his opinion and leaves the discussion there. There hardly is any discussion or argument anymore. Digital literacy involves therefore not only the knowledge of such tools but also a training on how to use them. An aspect often neglected during the training.

Social media

The digital me exists in may platforms nowadays. The big providers of scientific discussion forums have finally started to interlink their platforms which makes it easier to keep them up to date. Google scholar is of course one of the automatic platforms nobody can avoid, but also Mendeley, Researcher Id, Orcid, Linked in and its German pendant Xing contain the basic information about me and links to other platforms. Who wants can find me on department and my privat webpage. As well as in the most common social media. The usage of which is for me strictly to enable somebody to make contact to me, as it is the main pathway for many students.

Payed content in social media

Interesting and telling was the attempt to post a job offer in some of these platforms. Once i posted a new job on our homepage i received a storm of calls from all different media. Let me tell you there are more then one would believe, all claiming their superiority in reaching precisely the right clientele for this particular vacancy.  All of course only asking a few hundred Euros for this posting. Interestingly the prices half or even quarter once more then one posting is bought. I now started a discussion in the university to make an agreement with one/some of them to achieve a significant number of postings, lets see if they reach a price equal to money i spend on the phone fending of the calls of this unwanted attention.

But this is also the digital me, the digital (or in this case real) employer or better representative for the job posting.

Uses for teaching/learning

Carefully limited and used and online presence is something very important. It provides a first point of contact to a person and should therefore be up to date. To many presences are therefore hard to maintain and one does well to limit oneself to a smaller number. I used online student managing programs and platforms in the past with good results. They provide a nice platform to manage content but also administrative tasks. They also provide a very transparent and secure way to handle “hand ins” and their feedback. A little problem seems to be that every data center seems to like their own system, in Lund I used Live@Lund, Luvit and Redmine (or some similar name). Each of those was pretty useful but also had a bunch of missing features/instabilities. Just for fun i tried a few of the student/knowledge administration software that are available for free. Some of those are a quite mature and I would wish that the universities would pic and improve one of the existing tools instead of all baking their own little system. All in all they are a useful addition to education and certainly make the administration a lot easier.

Publishing all results online in a blog style? I am strictly against most options along this line. This blog contains only thoughts and musings and all of them are personal and I stand to them.

A large fraction of learning however is making mistakes. If students are forced to publish their findings, it is very difficult to a reach a level of anonymity that gives them the comfort to be bold in their learning. The result will be text full of opinions and only few content or a to short time to work on it.

Where to go from here?

Well it motivated me too look around to find links to put in the reports we had to create. During this search I stumbled over a few interesting webpages (that had not much to do with ONL but teaching techniques). Lets see how it develops…

Introduction

Dear reader, This blog was created as part of a course on online learning tools. Part of this course is to reflect on a few topics over the next month and to post them in a blog. I do not know if and how this blog will develop further after this period. May these thought be an inspiration to some and an amusement to others.

Jens