Design for Life

I’ve finally worked some Manics lyrics into my blog post..

design for life - Manic Street Preachers

Why the title Design for Life? – Well there is a very good reason why I’ve not been blogging these past three months. I’m currently on secondment to the big production engine of the Open University (Learning and Teaching Solutions) and heading up the development of a new area there called TEL (Technology-Enhanced Learning). This new sub-unit is responsible for the aspects of Learning Design as we apply it within the Open University context, so we’re referring to this as “TEL Design”.


Learning Design in it’s purest form is technology and pedagogy neutral but within TEL design we are seeking to to use evidence based approaches to the production and presentation of modules so that they are designed appropriately considering learning outcomes (LOs), tuition/support approach, assessment and the overarching student experience. The OU has already being doing this for some time through the Learning Design team in IET who have been working with module teams on activity planning and module mapping processes to ensure that a sound pedagogic approach is being considered which is appropriate for the level of study and disciplinary context. This work however needs to be scaled up as we have perhaps in the order of 100-150 modules being refreshed every year from a provision of around 600 modules which form the OU curriculum. I’m therefore simplifying what is a very complex activity, working with module teams to turn these sound pedagogic approaches into practical module/course designs suitable for each disciplinary context which form part of a coherent student journey and consider appropriate use of technologies.

Learning Design Diagram

So tackling each area of my role:

Evidence-based Practice

Within TEL we have a group of around 20 very seasoned practitioners in module production or aspects of teaching, either within or outside the OU. This group have excellent experience in what works, is appropriate for design of online learning activity and which enhances the student experience. i.e. lots of empirical knowledge.

magnifying glass image

(a) We are building a library of examples of best practice

(b) We are establishing, through a survey, the evidence bases that are currently being used within the OU to establish what is “best practice”. (we have huge amounts of of evidence to draw upon – see our Learning Analytic colleagues such as Doug Clow for details of that work!).

(c) We are considering where evidence is needed and of what type. For example in some cases a “deep dive” approach may be more suitable. We are working with colleagues in IET on projects exploring analytics and evidence to support decision making for both improving design during production and also for in presentation adaption and improvement.

(d) We are also considering how much to rely on phronesis or discretionary practitioner judgement. There is a lot of interesting literature in this area, I particularly enjoyed the McNamara Fallacy and the problem with Numbers in Education article by Carl Hendrick on the dangers of using data for decision making on very complex models.

Scholarship, Development and Training

I’ve been working on a development plan for “TEL Design” practitioners. I’ve been co-ordinating work on this, looking at job descriptions both internally and externally and mapping the skills and competencies into a framework which also matches to the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning (UKPSF) from the Higher Education Academy. During March 2015 I released a questionnaire to TEL staff to ask then to rate themselves against areas of this framework. We are currently creating plans to meet these needs which will be through:

(a) Identifying the most reflection imageurgently needed skills and competencies required by the majority of people and consequently running workshops and training sessions to up-skill our staff, for example Grainne Conole ran a workshop in March for us on “Strategies for designing and evaluating effective learning activities”.

(b) Exploring what specific skills and competencies are required by individuals and creating personal development plans (PDPs) to meet those needs

(c) Using practice-based approaches to improve competency, for example mentoring and encouraging staff to engage in HEA fellowship programme through the OU OpenPAD scheme as a method to encourage reflection and improve practice.

(d) Developing a scholarly culture within the unit, this includes encouraging TEL staff to be involved in publishing and attending events relevant to their practice and to recognize and reward achievement in areas of specialism and knowledge within the TEL group.

Strategy and Culture

This is by far the biggest challenge as we are having to carve out a shape for the design process within the OU’s current production methodology and management processes.

training pants image

The good news is that we are doing this at a time when the curriculum systems are being refreshed, when the OU curriculum itself is being refreshed through a curriculum: fit for the future programme and the Learning and Teaching Vision and Plan 2025 provides us with imperative to establish the evidence based design approach within production and presentation. I’m also located within a unit which is currently going through a re-focus process so the design processes can be considered within an overhaul of the whole production life-cycle processes to make them more efficient and effective. In order to make this stick we need a cultural change and that’s perhaps my biggest challenge. OU module production has become very risk averse and procedural and the people are necessarily used to that safety blanket of knowing what’s coming up six months before they need to start work, things need to change here and the ability to be agile and adaptive is increasingly important.

We are doing this successfully in MOOC design where the timescales are shorter and the methods used are bespoke and usually outside of regular process, the challenge now is to make that the norm rather than the exception.

moons

I don’t have all the answers here but I have a number of ideas which I’m currently exploring.  I’m also looking, with my colleagues in TEL and LD, at the activity structure for the TEL Design workshops and I’m considering a model which I want to share for discussion. More on that in my next blog post.

Web 2.0 thinking..

I’ve had a couple of days away from computers in Ireland with my family and apart from giving me a chance to catch up with stuff it’s given me a chance to look ‘from the outside’ in a bit to computing.

Firstly although I didn’t go on the computer my sisters both did to show me things and they use the computer differently to me. They tend to remember particular words associated with their stuff and then they go to Youtube or Flickr and type those words in then scroll down until they find their one. This works OK for them and it’s a good enough approach I guess as long as the words are uncommon. (in the case of my sisters they’re to do with circus performing (Belfast Festival of Fools being one example of their search terms!) and so it’s a good method.

Now that I’m back though and my kids are again inundating me with questions I’ve had a bit of a Web2.0 idea/revelation. When people ask me for stuff I can either search my memory for the answer, go online or look up the Encyclopaedia. Sometimes however these don’t come up with the satisfactory answer. So how does this link with my sisters approach? – Well my idea (and I grant I’ve heard similar before from others, although not exactly the same) is to create a series of ‘data miners’. What are these? – They are little bots that I send off to do the searching for me (nothing new I hear you ask that’s just like doing an aggregated search?) no! – These bots do the equivalent of Google and Yahoo and bring back stuff. They also know about me and my preferences, they’re working on MY behalf. The other thing they do is KEEP ON SEARCHING. So that if when they return result I don’t find what I’m looking for then they keep on working on this for as long as I consider it important. They then ALERT me to things they find that matches my criteria. As time progresses I can add refinements to help them, this increases the likihood of success. These bots don’t live on Google or Yahoo but they live whereever I need them to live, could by my favourite website or on my computer. I can create as many miners as I want and I can kill them off at any time.

I’m going to create these and make my fortune. But first I’m going to look at the Festival of Fools photos and videos and have a good laugh. I’m not going to go to Twitter as it’s down yet again. Sorry guys but you must keep this site up, people are getting grumpy!