Effective social teaching and learning

Eric and I introduce the group to our social media session (That’s me on the right) – Image courtesy of Ian Roddis .

eric

Several months of planning, and a few nights waking up in a sweat, have led to a successful one day social media event which I co-chaired with colleagues from Learning and Teaching Solutions (LTS) on “Embedding Social Media to effectively support OU learners”.

There were two reasons that it’s taken so long to arrange:

  1. I wanted to introduce external perspectives to the topic to refresh our thinking. To this end my fantastic co-chair Beccy Dresden got in touch with Eric Stoller and we brought him to work with us. You’ll get a sense of his work from his blog. The thing I most like about Eric is his passion and enthusiasm for effective knowledge of, and use of, social media (more on that later).
  2. I wanted to tackle this problem at three levels in order to get actionable outputs and from both a top-down and bottom-up perspective, by that I mean (i) the Vice Chancellor, (ii) the people at Director/AD level responsible for learning & teaching, communications and marketing and (iii) the people who work directly in support of academic practice around module production and presentation.

I structured the day to begin with a conversation with the Vice Chancellor about the Open University and use of social media for a variety of strategic purposes, then we held a wider conversation which I chaired with a group of senior OU staff, from both academic and non-academic areas on “Embedding social media to effectively support OU learners facilitated by Eric Stoller”, then in the afternoon Beccy chaired sessions with academic support staff which began with a Keynote by Eric followed by parallel sessions around Social media for professional development with Eric and Lawrie Phipps (JISC) and Exploring the possibilities for social media within distance learning material hosted by Beccy Dresden and Steve Parkinson from Learning and Teaching Solutions (OU) and concluded with a plenary/roundup.

I began the morning session by introducing four provocations:

Provocation 1 – “Do we need a social media strategy for learning?”
Provocation 2 -“How and when do we embed social media practice within our modules and across the curriculum?”
Provocation 3 – “What can we learn from others?”
Provocation 4 – “Can we use social media to bridge the informal/formal divide?”

We then has an introductory chat about our different perspectives with social media and Eric followed this up by giving a talk which went into more detail starting with why does social media matter?

 

We kept the presentations short to allow plenty of time for discussion and the session has a lot of stimulating and interesting perspectives thanks in large part to Eric’s facilitation. Eric asked me before the session what type of conversation should we expect “..sometimes it’s a conversation about org culture and daring to dream/experiment that is needed…sometimes it’s more about choosing which tools are relevant right now and how to apply them in strategic / worthwhile ways.” I said that it was a bit of both and that turned out to be the case. Eric was also interested in the variety of perspectives and knowledge, for example some people in the room, such as Ian Fribbance, have used social media effectively in their practice for some time. The OU has some examples of great use of social media within pockets of the curriculum, and indeed for more general tips on best practice with social media such as the social media toolkit produced by Communications, but there are also pockets of skepticism around social media and particularly about its relevance within formal learning and teaching. In fact one person at the meeting had never used social media and didn’t want to try it, to which Eric exclaimed “This is 2016! – I’ll not force you to use social media but we will talk later!”. The OU is also a place where practice is diverse and where OU academics don’t necessarily engage directly with students but that aspect is managed through tutors (or ALs) so there can be a disconnect.

Here are my key takeaways from the session:

  1. We aren’t using social media consistently and effectively to support and facilitate our discourse within the Open University and that has  consequences for our engagement with our learners and more widely within our teaching communities.
  2. Things are improving. Examples of use of social media which have in the past been treated as ‘renegade’ are now being seen as exemplars of good practice, which is encouraging. e.g. the use of FaceBook within Social Science to support 26,000 learners
  3. It sounds like assessment may be the key to unlocking a bit of a cultural shift towards using social media more effectively…that and the push by certain individuals at the senior level is crucial. (this was echoed by Eric)
  4. We don’t need a formal strategy (considered to be constricting) and LTS are considering how to build a “manifesto” already as a grass roots approach, so what the group thought would be most valuable was an enabling framework within which people could experiment with optionally using social media within their contexts.
  5. We need to ensure that academic staff are developed and supported to be digital scholars, which includes using social media effectively, so we see a need to build this into the “academic excellence” objective that is currently being formulated.
  6. We need to ensure that we consider appropriate platforms and risks when using social media so we see a need to build these elements into the “leadership in digital innovation” objective that is currently being formulated.
  7. We need to provide greater support for ‘grass roots’ initiatives and to remove barriers to adoption, this includes advocacy at senior level but also enabling through joined up thinking and grass roots initiatives such as the special interest group for social media.
  8. We need to continue to engage with external perspectives to help us to see how we compare, and to ensure that we are leading the way around social learning.

Eric is reporting back his thoughts to the Vice Chancellor, and we are now exploring how we can work with the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching Innovation), the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Academic Strategy) and the Head of Digital Engagement in particular to form an action plan to take this work forward – with thanks to Simon Horrocks, Beccy Dresden and The LTS team in particular who are supporting this work and considering the next steps.

Watch this space.

Community Spirit

footbridge over canal

Where I live...

I live in a small community in a historic and picturesque village on the outskirts of Milton Keynes.

The community has gone through up and downs, and most notably when a local man Paolo Sicorello disappeared earlier this year, he was well known in the community and, for example, went to school with my wife so most people knew of him or his family. I was amazed by how quickly the whole community got behind the search for him. There was a Facebook campaign and groups out organising search parties, with the help of the police, again coordinated through Facebook.

Eventually he was found dead in the canal, he had fallen in and drowned. His Facebook campaign became a memorial site and there were some absolutely wonderful stories and heartfelt outpouring on the site which I think his family really appreciated.

Recently I’ve again seen some of that community spirit as we’ve had problems with a group of travellers. These are not the nice sort of travellers. These are the damaging property, thieving, fighting in public and littering type of traveller. I know the other type exist as I spent some time with courteous travelling folk in my distant youth. These ones are a breed apart.

Anyhow the travellers moved in and the community started to find things going missing and property being destroyed.

poniesWe have two ponies which graze on local paddock land owned by the Parks Trust and the travellers took particular interest in the animals. They started marking up the signs on the bridleways as if they were planning to use these as a way to get to the paddocks at night. Another horse owner found a plait in the mane of her horse. A sure sign that travellers are interested in stealing it as they use the plaits to find the animals at night.

The good thing was how the community seemed to rally together. People informed local land owners straight away and the manor park lands ware closed to the public. People went out checking on their walks for anything out of the ordinary and kept watch on each others property.

The police were informed within hours of the travellers arriving to a new site (they kept switching sites but staying in our area). Community Support officers patrolled the area and the parks trust rangers also did patrols of the paddocks. We even had local security firm come and agree to do patrols of the paddocks for free and put up signs on the gates to deter criminals.

Of course the measures were not infallible and we did have a chain a padlock stolen. Thieves actually broke down the fencing to remove the padlock and chain from next to the gate. The parks trust rangers thought it was an attempt to test how easily they could break in and how quickly we’d respond. The rangers phoned around and arranged for contractors to replace broken items and we texted them the crime reference number after we telephoned the police and the parks trust sent the police the images of the damage via their mobile to use to support a criminal damage claim as well as theft if the criminal is ever caught.

Since then nothing further has happened. The parks trust are considering installing CCTV surveillance on that area if there’s any further trouble and the police are using the local paper to inform people to keep a look out and raise awareness. The travellers have now been moved on by the police so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that they don’t return.

I do love the humanity I see displayed around me – both on-line where digital media affords different and new types of community interaction and in the real world where people use ubiquitous and ambient technology, mobile phones,digital cameras and text alerts to help the community. This type of community has existed for thousands of years but the wonder is how the newer technology has become an integral element of the community spirit.

Nevolution

Nevolution = Evolution through networking

Star Trek

Borg - Are we evolving into them?

Since listening to a keynote by Grainne Conole recently at MoodleMOOT I’ve been thinking about the concept of people and technology co-evolving. It’s not that profound a concept really and links to a previous post about the “hidden influence of social networks” we adapt to technology probably more profoundly that the technology adapts to us.

In the case of Twitter this is becoming somewhat of a concern to me because I’m starting to become the type of person who will try to make his posts witty and engaging (perish the thought), this leads to a tendency to exaggerate or enhance. You have this kind of hyper-reality dynamic played out in Twitter where there are the seedlings of truth but couched in the attention grabbing advertising blurb that gets them noticed, you then run the risk of becoming obsessed by ego rather than the topic. It’s not true of all interactions of course, and there is a lot of very good factual information provided without hype, but I’ve been on twitter now for a number of years and it’s only recently that I’ve started noticing the ego-centricity of Twitter.

I think blogging is similarly an egocentric method of communicating and I remember when Martin Weller first encouraged me to blog many years back I was concerned at the time about it being all a bit of an ego massaging exercise. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that when I started my blog I tried deliberately to blog about things that I’d refer back to and find useful for me and my work so treated it like a diary and reminder. A “To-Do” of research ideas. I did originally intend to blog about all things but technology is the predominate subject within many of my posts and perhaps it because my “other life” is one I’m still not comfortable in sticking into blog posts because that does seem rather egotistical. I do occasionally do put family stuff up on Facebook.

So that leads me to another evolutionary trend which is that I’ve noticed now that I’m CATEGORISING my online persona and using different media to reflect different parts of myself and to interact in different ways with different groupings of people. In Facebook the club of followers is quite narrow and when people are flagged to me as “mutual friends” that perhaps I should friend, I don’t tend to do that unless I have a close connection with them in the real world.

So Facebook is, for me, only a group of real friends and close colleagues, and where I feel safe to share personal information.

Twitter on the other hand is more like a pub where I have some close friends that I’m out with and where there are various other interesting people who I know or ‘follow’, some of which are celebs and where listening to them is amusing. The pub persona also means that I do a bit of boasting and bragging and ‘hyper-reality’ is the norm.

Blogging for me is that part of me that wants to remember things which I find useful and may also be useful to others, so my use of blogging is a kind of therapeutic method for me to relieve myself of some thought that I’ve been struggling to articulate. It is like revision classes where I’m repeating stuff that I may have mentioned in class (in a tweet or on Facebook) and trying to explain it, mainly to myself, so that I can work out if it’s got any validity.

This persona building is happening constantly and it’s evolving over time. I also have my “linkedIn” and my “academia.edu” and various other elements of myself expressed online.

How much though is the media I’m engaging in changing me? …am I becoming ‘hyper-real’?

Monetising knowledge

Albert Einstein”Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Albert Einstein (or so the legend goes)

Gill Kirkup, a colleague of mine, was last year seconded to a project exploring how you can put a value (in terms that those who look at the ‘bottom line’ can understand) on the social and environmental dimensions of procurement. Gill explained it to us recently at a meeting and I was fascinated by the idea.

Martin Weller ‘tweeted’ this week that every conversation he has had recently has been about money. This is very uninspiring and is especially a concern for things which themselves don’t necessarily demonstrate benefits that you can put a cost on, speculative research and development for example and services that are hidden or where their benefits are slow to be realised, or where the emphasis is about improving or maintaining quality.

How much should universities invest in free and open access to knowledge resources when faced with a funding ‘crisis’ and public sector squeeze? – What subject areas should be removed from the curriculum to target the skills needed for employers, and how does that impact on our ‘knowledge economy’? – How many universities will drop research completely as it becomes less financially viable to maintain compared with charging higher fees and rolling out a STEM based curriculum model competing with the ‘for profits’ sector? – What in the end is the role of university to society?

I have no answers only questions….but I don’t think we should be all about monetisation and I’m interested in what Alex Salmond of SNP has said about pledging free education. Here are a couple of quotes to finish…

“And out of educational access came social mobility as we reached all the talents of a nation to change the world for the better – we can do so again.”

“We would only fail if we were to betray our traditions and mortgage the future.”

Strong rhetoric. Perhaps we need more of that.

Hidden Influence of Social Networks

I’ve been interested for the past few years in the inference that can be done using publicly available information. The web means that people nowadays give quite a bit of information away freely in their public profiles. There are now a number of tools which automatically attempt to link peoples user accounts together based on profile information provided and there is a lot of other information that is picked up through the routes and links that people click through and make determinations about the type of person, sometimes referred to as social graph privacy.

I found the article “Eight Friends Are Enough” from a group of researchers at Cambridge interesting because, using data provided from Facebook, it seems to support the claims that much can be inferred by the information provided by the person and by their peers (friends). I’ve seen various media articles using this research to make bigger claims for example there was an article in last week’s Sunday Times about how governments are using this type of information for political gain, removing dissident factions and controlling populations. Our own government for example is conspicuously scanning email traffic looking for terrorist threats.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out in the future. I already know that for example I have spent money buying things that were brought to my attention through services designed to target advertising to me based on my previous preferences. That’s a small and some would say innocuous example of how information is used. Humans are influenced by others, the ‘wisdom of crowds’ can sometimes mean that large numbers follow a direction because they see ‘trending’ on Twitter or highlighted on Facebook. Is this any different from reading it in print? – I think the difference is that if you think enough of your friends have liked something you may give it extra gravitas. So the more of the social network we engage in the more our individualism may get polluted? – Or perhaps it no different from going to the pub and agreeing with people just to keep them happy?

Certainly the web opens opportunities for social influence marketing, and consequently for other uses of that information.

Here’s an interesting video on YouTube by Nicholas Christakis: The hidden influence of social networks

Hmm. Ripples in the pond.

Customer Service and Quangos

I’ve went out with friend for a curry on Friday to a restaurant that none of us had been to before so I checked out the reviews online on revyu.com and several other revue sites via my iPhone. I found it had received mixed reviews and was a bit concerned about going on the basis of the feedback but decided to give it a go. I should have taken more notice of the feedback – The service was awful from the word go and even though the restaurant was only ever half full the staff couldn’t cope and it took 1.5 hours before we even got the starter. It was very much like an Eastern version of Fawlty Towers.

Some of my friends complained but to no avail. Even at the end it took more than half an hour and three attempts to wave down staff before we got the bill. The philosophy seemed to be (if there was one) that letting the customer wait allowed time for people to drink more and therefore bring in more revenue through beverages. This has been proven to be a poor business model since quicker turnover on tables (according to those that run restaurants, such as Monsieur Ramsey) is the best way of securing greater income and keeps staff motivated since there is more opportunity for tips etc.

By comparison this week I also took my bike to the bike shop to get it repaired since it has done 10,000 miles and needed a new sprocket. I had just recently bought a set of tyres from the same shop and noticed some lines down the side of the rear one so I asked them to check it at the same itme. They replaced the sprocket and checked the bike over and also replaced the tyre with one which would have cost £10 more than the one I bought originally and didn’t charge me any extra for it. This is the sort of service I value and it may only be £10 but it makes me feel good that they’re prepared to do that for me. I have bought three bikes from them in the past so they know that a small investment in my loyalty will secure future custom worth much more then the new tyre. Good Job CycleKing!

So to conclude my mini-rant on customer service I recently applied for a job at the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) as Head of IMS. I went for interview and impressed them so they invited me back to meet the CEO and see around the place. I had always thought of QAA in the same sort of way as many other quangos and similar government inspired organisations in that they may be liable to greed or excess and permit luxury over the essential business of running their area of delegated authority. I was presently surprised however by how lean a business they are running and how their drive for efficiency and strategic management of their workforce mimics the drive within the HE organisations that they work with. I didn’t get the job but I have had a very useful insight into how QAA supports the business of running education in the UK and how this is benchmarked against international HE practice.  Let me explain by example…

The OU is looking at new models of providing courses. One of the most inspiring for me is the 2+2 model whereby students can apply to do two years of study at the OU remotely (part time) and then complete the final two years at another HE institution in the UK that is partnering with the OU on this scheme. This allows students to work at home (and save some money) in the first two years but then complete at a more traditional campus-based institution and receive a qualification through them. This could be particularly inviting to international students who wish to study here and continue on to work in the UK. It also allow other HEI’s to reduce the work in particular subject areas (and reduce costs) without having to remove the subject area from their curriculum. But how can such compleity in study and flexibility be managed to ensure quality and consistency? – enter (according to the CEO) the QAA and other bodies associated with ensuring quality and contributing to ensuring the awards are administered fairly. Without such a body, independently managing the quality assurance process the move to two year degrees, the 2+2 model or any other new form of degree awarding scheme would be much more problematic so in my opinion if these organisations can deliver good customer service then they have a vital role to play.

I’m not into quango bashing for the sake of it – by all means reduce complexity but if you want flexibility and quality in our UK education services then we need have independent oversight of that and continue to invest in mechanisms to benchmark and ensure quality across the sector.

Anthropomorphizing Technology

I’ve just read an extract of Clay Shirkys Cognitive Surplus book in the Times along with a very good interview about him and other web gurus. Unfortunately you have to pay to get Times articles these days (hmmm. Ironic) but there’s a good review if it in Guardian. There are lots of good videos on YouTube of him talking about the concept of cognitive surplus so I encourage you to listen to them.

Clay Shirky

…anyhow I could spend the rest of the year dissecting Shirky’s writing because I love his enthusiasm and agree with much of what he says but what I wanted to get out in this post is the fact that people are really anthropomorphizing technology. He does it and Skirky has particularly emotional prose about the internet and how when he used the internet in 1992 it was an emotional experience for him (his brain flipped out!), his compatriots do it when they write about the internet and technology and we’re all doing it as a society.

I was out drinking with Martin Weller the other week (always a bad idea) and we got to talking about the fact the friends of ours talk about a piece of technology with such irrational love and affection that to an outsider it seems bizarre but to us it’s quiet normal although we might not always share their love of a particular technology. Some people at the OU for example love FirstClass because we’ve used it at the OU since the mid 90’s and some feel a kind of ownership of it that others might not.

It’s not just ownership though but a sense that the technology is life enhancing.  Take the recent ‘buzz’ about the iPad. When all is said and done the iPad technology is not a big leap forward from that of tablet PC’s or indeed from Apple’s own iPhone but it really got into people emotionally in a way that I haven’t seen a technology do to the same extent before. It was slightly scary to see the reaction of some people to it and how they talk about it as if it is a living breathing thing.

I think there are two distinct patterns here.

1. A kind of addictive quality to new technology where it fills a gap that people never knew they had.

2. A sense of ownership and stakeholding for technology that has been around a long time and has given that person a wholesome experience over a sustained period of time so that they have become personally involved with the technology in a way they wouldn’t have imagined when they first saw it.

Both these have parallels to relationship building. The instant attraction of new lovers, and the slowly growing deep love of long term relationships.

…I don’t think that’s a coincidence.