This is the season for conferences. Immediately after MINA 2014 — 4th Mobile Creativity and Mobile Innovation Symposium in Auckland (where I discussed Phonar Nation), I attended an ascilite (Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education) conference at my home campus, the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. At ascilite 2014: Rhetoric and Reality, I delivered a presentation about Finding and Sharing Educational Resources using Twitter, Hashtags and Storify. Again, I recorded the audio using my iPhone, uploaded the file to Soundcloud and embedded it below, along with the slides, which I uploaded to SlideShare. You can play the audio while advancing through the slides without leaving this post. The paper has been published online as part of the conference proceedings.
This paper reports on the use of Twitter, hashtags and Storify to connect with individuals inside and outside the university who have a shared interest in the future of libraries. The objective was to discover and share educational resources that were applicable to a class project, by engaging with experts through social media, rather than by searching for the resources directly. A related aim was to discover how even limited social contact with others could result in a more collaborative, networked approach to problem solving, in keeping with contemporary design practice. Over the 13-week course, 250 Twitter messages were collected, narrated and archived by the course Lecturer (and author), using Storify. During class discussions, students reported that the resources were useful, and they commented on the effectiveness of reaching out beyond the classroom in this way. This trial also provided insights into how such collaborations could be taken further.
Here is a presentation I delivered at MINA 2014 — 4th Mobile Creativity and Mobile Innovation Symposium, which took place November 20-21 at AUT (Auckland University of Technology) in Auckland, New Zealand. The sessions were recorded through Google+ and archived. My session (27:30) can be viewed on YouTube. I also recorded the audio using my iPhone, which I held as I talked. I omitted the discussion that followed the talk because the questions and comments were not picked up in the recording. The 23 minute talk, which I uploaded to Soundcloud, is embedded below along with the slides, which I uploaded to SlideShare. If you play the audio while clicking through the slides, it’s almost like being there. I also created a Storify archive of about 180 tweets that were published during the symposium.
In this paper, I discuss Phonar Nation, a free, open, five-week photography course that was offered twice during the North American summer in 2014 as part of the Cities of Learning initiative. Photographer and open education pioneer Jonathan Worth created and taught the non-credit course to individuals from 12-18 years of age through a website designed to work on mobile devices (http://phonarnation.org/). The author followed the course as his twelve-year-old son completed it from New Zealand. The community-based Phonar Nation initiative extends the work that Worth and his colleagues have done with Phonar (Photography and Narrative), an open, for-credit undergraduate course at Coventry University.
I argue that Phonar Nation highlights several related developments in education that are leading to innovative approaches at different levels and in different contexts. Firstly, Phonar Nation is not only open access but it also uses and produces material that is open to be shared through the use of Creative Commons Licenses. Secondly, it is collaborative, both in the way that it is produced and taught, and in the way that participants are encouraged to engage with one another in community settings and through social media sites. Thirdly, Phonar Nation exemplifies an approach to learning that advocates call Connected Learning, which is accessible, interest-driven, socially situated and geared to extending educational and economic opportunities.
This is a brief report on the 2014 Innovations in Tertiary Education Delivery Summit (#ITES2014), which took place on June 5-6 2014 at the Auckland Museum. The focus of the summit was online education generally, and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in particular. The two big questions that were posted on the conference website and discussed in small in groups during the event were:
How will technology change the nature of tertiary teaching and learning in the next ten to twenty years?
What are the challenges of changing delivery and uptake of education for existing institutions?
A discussion document, Massive Open Online Courses, prepared by the Tertiary Education Commission, was released ahead of the summit to provide some background about MOOCs, especially in the New Zealand context. A 2016 scenario guide to effective tertiary education in New Zealand: Planning resource for senior managers (13-page PDF, Sept. 2012 Andrew Higgins, Niki Davis, and Pinelopi Zaka) served as a scenarios guide. A 206-page Government and sector-level tertiary e-learning initiatives An annotated bibliography (NZ Ministry of Education, June 2014), published just before the summit, provided a review of the literature dealing with eLearning initiatives, with a focus on Open Educational Resources and MOOCs.
The two-day event was opened by Hon, Steven Joyce, and the presenters included Professor Jim Barber, Simon Nelson (FutureLearn), Christian Long, Dr John Gattorna, Mark Sagar, Stephen Haggard (read his Maturing of the MOOC, 2013) and Salman Khan (founder of the Khan Academy). The New Zealand Herald reported on the summit on Friday June 6.
MOOCs — ‘how to live with them and love them’
Stephen Haggard’s ITES2014 presentation (from slideshare)
A show of hands at the beginning of the summit indicated that few of the participants had experienced a MOOC first hand. Not many used Twitter during the event (I archived 276 twitter posts that included the “#ITES2014” hashtag) and, although attendees were invited to post comments on a website, the conference presentations were not streamed or archived. This is a shame, as many good points were made and several innovative projects were discussed (the archived tweets include links to some of these).
Minister Joyce said “Can I encourage you to focus completely on the learner”, and he noted that more would have to be done to “incentivise innovation”. However, he also acknowledged that the tension between teaching and research was likely to continue. Several presenters talked about the disaggregation of higher education and the increasing need for institutions to specialise. They advocated for substantial changes to the tertiary sector, and for a more flexible, technology-enabled, customer-driven approach. The small group discussions, however, dealt with some of the more practical issues and concerns. These included the importance of open licences (see Creative Commons) and the danger of compromising public control over higher education by partnering with for-profit MOOC platforms.
Simon Nelson announced that the University of Auckland will be offering two MOOCs through the FutureLearn platform later this year (‘Academic Integrity’ and ‘Data to Insight’). There were no other major announcements or discussions of planned initiatives. Whether Massive Open Online Courses will be part of the tertiary landscape in ten or twenty years from now is hard to say, but is its is likely that digital networks will be, and that more change is going to come. Rather than asking how technology will change the nature of tertiary teaching and learning in the future, perhaps we should ask ourselves what changes we would like to see and how we can work together to develop, and realise, a shared vision.
On Wednesday evening (March 26), I joined about 30 others at the launch of the Dunedin Free University. Appropriately, the event took place at the Kokiri Training Centre, 51 Macandrew Road, in the heart of South Dunedin. The Twitter profile for @DunedinFreeUni describes it as a “Free Knowledge Community”. There is also a website and a Facebook page for the project.
The Dunedin initiative is based loosely on the Melbourne Free University model (@MelbFreeUni), which was started in 2010. We heard about how the Melbourne project is structured, how it has grown over the years, and how we could learn from it. Participants gave short talks about the increasingly instrumental nature of higher education, and how knowledge is often treated as a commodity to be sold, rather than as a contribution to the public good. We heard about the history of free education, and how citizens have initiated community-based intellectual discussions in different countries in the past. Someone reported on the problem that rising tuition fees presented, especially in the UK.
We talked about what a community-based knowledge sharing group could do, and what it would need. Meeting spaces were discussed, ideas about how to access books and other resources were suggested, and the use of a photocopier was offered. To get things started, a course on sustainability, running on the last Wednesday of the month for six consecutive months, starting at the end of April, at the Kokiri Training Centre, 51 Macandrew Road, was discussed.
Whatever else they do, institutions institutionalise. Whatever else we teach there, we teach institutionalisation. Many of the systems and technologies that comprise, and operate within, traditional institutions of higher education have been internalised to such a degree that they have become invisible to us. We can’t change what we can no longer see. By operating outside traditional institutions, and by leaving behind the roles, hierarchies, and behaviours that they frame and enforce, we are free to redefine our relationships and to rethink what a learning community can be.
Last week was Open Education Week (March 10-15). This annual event followed the final week of the “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education”, a six-week Coursera MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that several of us at the University of Otago took part in. #FutureEd (the hashtag used for the course in Twitter and other social media sites) dealt with the opportunities for changing how we teach and learn in higher education, given the development of the Internet and innovations in pedagogy. It was a very American-centric course, which is understandable. As a colleague likes to say, the best way to begin is to “dig where you stand“. The issues that were raised by the instructor, Cathy Davidson (from Duke University) are relevant to New Zealand and most of the other OECD countries. The course has encouraged me to dig where I stand here in Dunedin, New Zealand, and to think about how I can learn from the ongoing global conversation about change in higher education and apply what I am learning to my national and local contexts.
MOOCs are adding to the increasing number of responses to the wicked problem of how to provide higher education in an environment characterised by continuing financial austerity and rapid technological change. It won’t be (and never has been) a one-size-fits all winner-takes-all single (or best) solution. We are likely to see an increasingly varied and complex future for higher education in which the various players and providers are more deeply intertwingled than ever.
CCK08 (Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, 2008) and the cMOOCs that followed could be described as pedagogically disruptive, as the coordinators (George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier and followers) were (and still are) experimenting with techniques that would help individuals to build and maintain their own personal learning network, rather than focussing on creating better (traditional, institutional) courses. Coursera, Udacity and the other xMOOCs (the “x” is from edX, the MOOC platform founded by Harvard and MIT) might be characterised as disruptive in terms of their business model (giving the course away, the freemium model, long tail, etc.) but, however technologically sophisticated, they are not progressive in terms of their pedagogical approach or in their use of open strategies. The fundamental differences in the objectives and the degree of openness between cMOOCs and xMOOCs was the focus of at least one discussion about #FutureEd that took place on Twitter. #FutureEd was notable for the degree to which Professor Davidson and her team opened up the Coursera MOOC through the use of Creative Commons licences, connecting the MOOC to place-based courses, and encouraging parallel discussions on Twitter and on the HASTAC network, which is dedicated to “Changing the Way We Teach and Learn”.
The response to MOOCs by many university academic and managers (focussing on Coursera, Udacity and other xMOOCs), is that they are an inferior experience offered by venture capital-funded start-ups that have not managed to develop a workable business model. Therefore, they can be dismissed as a short-term experiment. Sebastian Thrun’s admission that Udacity’s low completion rates signaled a failure that required a significant shift in strategy was picked up by many who were waiting for their “I told you so” moment. This, despite the view that ‘failure’ in business is like iteration in design — it’s the way you find the approach, model, and solution that works.
Within academia, some healthy discussions are taking place about how to best provide our students with a high quality public education in the context of networked communication. These discussions should include the opportunities that open strategies present, as well as the pros and cons of MOOCs as one of many possible models. Unfortunately, the high profile privately owned for-profit MOOC platforms, which employ the traditional lecture format and machine marking of multiple choice quizzes, have diverted attention from the more transformative possibilities of open, collaborative practices that digital networks can support.
Although we (university academics, administrators and managers) like to consider ourselves as the champions of advanced teaching, learning and research, and as the guardians of the institutions that support higher education, the future may not be determined by what we believe is best for our students and for the future of universities. It is much more likely to be determined by those who have the money and the power to influence public opinion and public policy (and the former does not necessarily determine the latter). The disappointing reality is that the cMOOC vs xMOOC debate, and the growing open education movement will be of little interest to large private businesses and neoliberal politicians. We have seen the freezing, or actual reduction, of the public contribution to higher education across the OECD countries in recent years, especially since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. A belief in the public benefits of higher education has been replaced by a narrative in which tertiary education is considered to be a private good for which the individual consumer must pay. Unless we work hard to make our voices heard outside the academy, the public debate will be dominated by this view — one that devalues public education and shows more regard for the ‘free market’ than for the public good.
We are fooling ourselves if we think that higher education is immune from the significant changes that have reshaped other sectors. We are not likely to be left alone. The governments intention to reduce the size of University councils and to increase the number of ministerial appointees, despite considerable opposition, makes this clear. Tertiary Education Minister Stephen Joyce’s statement that universities need to “think more strategically and move more quickly on areas like online learning and MOOCs” suggests what might be in store. Change is going to come. The question, in New Zealand as in other countries, is whether it will come from within or from without, and whether it will serve the public interest or whether it will deliver yet another slice of the public sector to the maw of the market — one institution and one student at a time.