The last two years has been the warm up for the final year marathon that I find myself in.
Even though the EdD process is thorough in its application of progress reports throughout the years nothing quite prepares you for the drafting of your thesis.
In my case the marathon seems to have increased its mileage with the inclusion of data from 19 MOOCs, across 76 presentations over a 3 year period. For the last three weeks I’ve been battling through Chapter Four: Data Analysis and Discussion and I’m still writing. A few years ago I went to support my good friend and fellow serial student Carrie-Anne Walton at the London Marathon. After she crossed the finish line she told me that the hardest part was Canary Wharf with its tall buildings filled with reflective glass, dazzling your eyes and permanently disorientating you as you weaved through the streets almost doubling back on yourself to exit that section of the race. Right now I’m in my Canary Wharf.
With only a few weeks to go until my April 10 deadline I’m doing everything I can not to hit The Wall. I keep pushing through by writing different sections of Chapter Four moving between the two research questions to avoid reflective blindness.
I’m not at Green Park yet, but when I do believe me when I say there will be cheers heard from miles around and possibly even a sports massage to relieve the tension building as I type.
I won’t get over the finish line today, but the end remains in sight. Medals at the ready.
When Jane Austen wrote this immortal line she had a different marriage of minds in her sights. However last weekend I had a diversion from my doctorate studies. Well, more like a meander.
Recently my colleague the eminent Professor Graham Pike and myself were approached about writing a chapter for a forthcoming ed tech book Creativity and Critique in Online Learning. The book is set to explore and examine digital innovation developments from the perspective of critical practitioners. Instead of simply focusing on describing particular pedagogical tools, each chapter will also draw on the experiences and action research of those actively engaged in teaching in an online environment.
Given our work together on the MOOC Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigation currently presenting on FutureLearn, it may come as no surprise that our chapter is entitled: The Challenges of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
The chapter unfolds with a literature review to set the scene as to the challenges of MOOCs (different pedagogical approaches, large heterogeneous learner populations, limited data, large drop out rates, to name but a few) before reflecting on what this means for MOOCs in a critical context. The latter half of the chapter is set to explore data from Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigation in comparison to other MOOCs that I’ve worked on for presentation through FutureLearn.
Last weekend I authored the literature review and the critical reality of MOOCs. Given my work and doctorate studies in MOOCs it seemed an obvious task divide, which is now with Graham for critical reading. This week we progress to how we write up our data findings. We have specifically been reviewing engagement and drop off with MOOCs as this is one of the biggest challenges that MOOC authors and platform providers face.
Forensic Psychology sits separately to the other MOOCs that I’ve worked on for presentation on FutureLearn in that it’s learning design centres around a narrative that is released like a Dickensian serial on a week-by-week basis. Learners are unable to jump ahead into future weeks to find out which police inspector was right and who committed the crime. There are no plot spoilers in this MOOC just a clever narrative of clues, plot twists, and red herrings that learners have to navigate. Due to its learning design this course fares better than most in sustaining engagement.
So where is the challenge?
Well, pedagogically it’s not always possible to replicate this method of narrative and weekly release in every MOOC and though at a slower rate, learners are still disengaging in a similar pattern. In understanding when learners are more likely to disengage may help us to understand when would be best to apply interventions to aid to maintain learners throughout the course.
There will of course be additional challenges as to whether those inventions are suited to such a large population and whether the data demonstrates an increase in engagement. Such interventions may be platform, course or demographic specific, so may be difficult to scale when widening the scope.
The challenges may indeed only create more challenges.
I have a feeling that will be the subject of another chapter or paper in the future.
In my recent blog posts I’ve been unpacking the methods I have been using to conduct my research – but to what purpose?
My hypothesis is that the engagement in and study of MOOCs by learners does not replicate that of students in formal courses. Nor in many ways should it. Controversial I know.
I’ve spent the last 4-5 years looking at MOOCs, and became more involved since taking my first MOOCs #Change12 and #opened12.
Three years ago I became involved in the production of MOOCs by The Open University for FutureLearn and OpenLearn. I’ve now partaken in over 50 MOOC learning design workshops and in all that time the same discussions take place. How do we strip down big courses into smaller ones? What is the learner journey? How does the narrative flow from week to week? What do you mean learners won’t want to learn the whole course? Why is drop out so high when it is free?
I think you can start to see why I decided to tackle these questions through the medium of my doctorate.
In my time I’ve reviewed over 100 dashboards of our course presentations. And from that, wider reading, interviews with learners, conducting my own research and working day to day in MOOCs over the years I’ve come to my own hypothesis through the guise of an analogy. And here it is…
Instead of learners studying MOOCs in an expected linear journey, they are actually reviewing MOOCs as recipe books. Something to dip in and dip out of, take what they need and then move on.
I have a plethora of recipe books – I’m attracted by the title, the cover, the celebrity chef, the promise of learning new recipes and the knowledge of subsequently recreating them in the future without the recipe will bring. I lovingly covet them on a multitude of online sites, read reviews, look at the enticing pictures, and then add them to my cart. I’ve been known to go a little crazy and add more than one to my cart at any one time, purchase them based on the time of year or in conjunction with a promotional activity or media event. I am a publishers delight.
But am I a Michelin starred MasterChef? Sadly no. So why is this? I have all the tools in front of me, I have the celebrity chef to guide me through the pages, mouthwatering photos and even YouTube channels and Instagram videos at my fingertips. Why am I not creating new delicious recipes every day to fatten my neighbours, colleagues and my faithful(ish) adventure rescue hound with? Because it’s a recipe book.
Now I love cooking and baking, anyone who follows me on Instagram knows my love for food and to veganise pretty much everything, My hound loves this even more than me. However a recipe book is designed to be dipped in and out of. More than one can be used in conjunction with another. Recipes can be merged and remixed to create something new. And there are only so many dinner parties that I can throw before I’m exhausted, need to take a break, put the book back on the shelf and then re-energise for the next one. But what do I do in the meantime? I add another recipe book to my cart. Why? In the hope I’ll cook from it in the future.
So what does this mean for MOOCs?
From the interviews and survey I have conducted many MOOC learners like to dip in, learn about something they already have a vague understanding of, learn enough that they are satisfied and then put the MOOC back on the shelf. When questioned about disengagement, quitting, dropping out, etc. they don’t see themselves conducting this type of activity – simply they learnt what they wanted to and that was that. The MOOC is still there for them to take back off the shelf at a later date, maybe learn another step, combine it will knowledge they have gathered from another MOOC, and recreate the knowledge consumed at a later date either in their own reflections or with friends and family.
So has the MOOC failed? No. Is the MOOC not designed for the learner’s needs? Yes.
Going back to the recipe books, I don’t know a soul that takes a recipe book, follows and cooks every recipe in the book in the order laid out. But why not? The books are designed in sequential order – appetisers, starters, mains, puddings, after dinner munchies – so why not cook all the recipes in that way? Because we cook what takes our fancy from the photos, ingredients needed, time to cook, outcome required, and purpose for cooking. Why can’t MOOCs be the same?
My proposal is this – for some instances MOOCs are needed to be sequential linear designed courses, for example for external assessment or accreditation. However the large majority do not. So scrap the learning design process that we have taken formal courses. These are learners not students. Learners want to dip in and out, they want to learn only the bits that interest them and shelve the rest.
It’s time to apply adaptive learning of our MOOC learners.
How do we do this? Make it modular.
Take the recipe book analogy once more. When creating a dinner party, you have in mind what you want from it. You review the recipe books and select the dishes that interest you the most and disregard the rest. So why not apply this to MOOCs?
If learners had the option to fill a template of 3-4 sections, each of which are a week in length and they had 20 one-week options to choose from. Would they then select the one-week options that interested them the most?
By doing away with the concept of a linear course and creating something I like to call ‘Open Online Learning Objects’ (OOLO) – discreet individual pieces of content that could be studied in any order, could be more engaging for the learner. In return the academic community would have a greater understanding of the types of combinations a learner selects, their ordering preference, and which OOLO’s disengage them the most.
Further study could then be conducted to see if this reflects in the formal curriculum. I’m continuing reviewing this concept as I begin to write up my thesis.
So this is my food for thought that I wanted to share with you all.
Though I’m in my final year, today was my first time at a doctorate writing circle meet up. Prior to attending I spent time deliberating which 500 words of my research I should submit to my inner circle of the group for critique and discussion.
I decided up my introduction and research questions as not only are they the foundations of my research but also useful for context for future work to submit to my group. The lucky things.
In return I received work on Martian space dust with added terrestrial dust devil’s and the working context of teachers. It definitely made a pleasant change to be reading outside of my academic field and to see other research being conducted across campus.
However, when the time came to attend, I was a bag of nerves. For the first time I would be sitting in a room of PhD students discussing research where I am an EdD. And the only EdD at that. I debated whether they’d spot me a mile off and whether my EdD would be viewed in a similar way to the PhD.
Thankfully the opening gambit was on the lack of biscuits, a topic I’m well versed due to the multitude of meetings I attend sans biscuits and from the occasional conference slide. I finally felt at ease, research chat a go-go.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are absolute bonuses to being in the EdD doctorate programme at The Open University. The way the programme dove tails with my work is exemplary, however it’s designed to be conducted at distant so my fellow EdD’s are scattered across the globe and see collectively once a year at Residential School. As Belle and Sebastian had put it, until now I had been wrapped up in books.
The only downfall of the EdD programme is that even though I’m actually on campus I don’t feel part of the doctorate student community here. Recently the OU launched of our new Graduate School and though absolutely fantastic for our PhD doctorate students, the EdD wasn’t mentioned in any press release. Not once. *insert Mutley grumbling noises*
So, to the big question – how did it go? Well I had a great discussion with the session supervisor and also received some feedback from the other two students in my inner circle. All of which I put into practice straight away. In addition I saw how other doctorate students set about constructing their writing, the difference in styles, and to share our thoughts about the big push to thesis submission. It felt reassuring to hear that we all had the same concerns as we embark on our final year. Collective mutterings of ‘oh God’ and ‘holy crap’ were oddly comforting.
And next? The writing circles are held every month until June, so in the meantime I’m finishing my progress report due Monday and from that selecting my next 500 words to submit. I’m even looking forward to reading more about the micropolitics of the classroom and diurnal variations in dust devil’s activity. < I dream of the day a question on University Challenge comes up on this so I may impress my dog. He’s a tough audience though.
Oh, and in the absence of biscuits I pledged to bake muffins for next time – I can’t give up on my Elle Woods persona entirely now can I? After all she is right, orange is not the new pink.
Until next time, I’m still…doctor in waiting
A few weeks back I had the pleasure to attend ALT-C and listen to a fantastic and insightful keynote by Josie Fraser – In The Valley of the Trolls (available on YouTube). In her keynote Josie advocated when dealing with trolls it was best to ignore, block, and delete.
Now normally I advocate of this method, however a troll in my community this week got a little more than they bargained for when writing this post on the Facebook fan page of Sainsburys…
I’m not going to get into the semantics of dairy for health, but as a vegan myself we are subjected to trolling pretty much on a daily basis. However, unlike in Josie’s keynote this isn’t just reserved to the world on online, it has been on many occasions to my face. I can’t even seem to escape it as some people I know even introduce me as ‘this is Hannah, she’s vegan’ (way to go guys). So ignoring, deleting, and blocking can then become somewhat trickier when the troll is standing right in front of you…
In the situation with the lady that posted to Sainsburys she informed us that our cheese wasn’t cheese so should be called Gary and none of us would be invited to her wine and cheese parties in the future. Now this invite blacklisting would sadden some, especially as we are the ones that eat the celery at these parties. However the community and then Sainsburys chose *not* to ignore, delete or block, but instead fight back with humour to lessen the troll…
With a few hours the troll-fightback campaign had gone viral. Gary was truly born, adopted by all vegan/vegan friendly companies and vegans as our new word for cheese
It even made the news and so the question is…what happened to the lady?
Well, it seems the troll is now considering a candlelit dinner with none other than…Gary.
Earlier this evening I met with a good friend of mine after a day of meetings to put the world of educational technology to rights. The caveat of this post is that most thought provoking discussions I know have taken place in the presence of either caffeine or alcohol. In this case the latter as ironically it’s caffeine I’m unable to handle.
Midst the discussion that moved from recommendation engines (a given with his role), MOOCs (a given with my role), mobile learning and OER (a given in both our roles), we moved to the subject of adaptive learning.
In education we are often thinking in the mindset of putting the learner at the centre of their own learning. With SocialLearn I worked on exactly that, and now with MOOCs I’m researching how a variety of learning designs can be adapted for a particular demographic of learners most likely to take that MOOC to provide positive engagement. A number of academics I know would advocate whole heartedly to this approach of adaptive learning.
However, my esteemed colleague-from-another-company played the role of devil’s advocate and asked:
“What is it that we are adapting them for?”
He proceeded to explain that if we concentrate our entire efforts to providing learner-centred learning that though we are adapting the learning to them we aren’t actually adapting the learners themselves to the outside world. And isn’t that what education is for?
What if we adapt our learning to be delivered for example in mobile format and podcast as their learning preference, but when they reach the outside world their in-workplace learning is a printed/pdf manual or training workshop – where are the learner’s adaptive learning skills now? How will they engage?
It poses a question that I haven’t considered much before, and frankly don’t have the full answer to yet (as I pen this from my train home), but I’m more than happy to open the debate to the wider community. No doubt we will broach this topic once more when I’m next in town.
This is my first blog post in a little while after stepping back from the online world for a few months over the summer due to personal reasons. I’ve reflected over the summer on my use of social media and online accounts and have made changes to most of them, this one being my last to address. Quite possibly because it is frankly the one that I used the least, but moving forward plan to use the most.
As I entered my final year of my doctorate at the beginning of September I made a number of cutbacks to avoid distractions from the now remaining three D’s in my life – Dog, Doctorate, and Day Job (if my boss and supervisors are reading this, these are listed in no particular order. Thankfully Toby (the dog in question) can’t read though if he could, he would think himself number 1 regardless).
But today I made an exception to such exclusions of distractions as an old friend and colleague was in town from the land of down under, and so popped over to mine for a spot of quintessentially British afternoon tea. This being an academic reflective blog post, I had to shoe horn in the reference to cake somewhere.
Having not seen her since the beginning of my doctorate we had much to catch up on, and she made reference to how purposefully stressful I seem to make my life, and how in return I seem to thrive upon on as an energy source. So though each time she sees me I’m more stressed than before, I seem to look the better for it.
So this has given me reflection for my latter D’s – Doctorate and Day Job. Last week I found myself deeply unhappy, over the past few months I had got into a position of sedation that caused a ripple effect far greater than I had expected. For the past two years I have been privately unwell, which has resulted in having to undergo surgery twice whilst working and studying. The first surgery I managed to hide from pretty much everyone by scheduling it with my consultant to coincide with a Christmas holiday (I really know how to spoil myself), but the second needed an 8 week recovery so my absence from campus was more apparent. Resting and lethargy is not something I am good at. But, in this situation I had no choice. Out of the public view for two years I had been increasingly battling with summoning energy to get up in the mornings and get through the day which due to imbalances in my blood levels I was also having increasing issues with my memory. This resulted in planning of elegant outfits to distract from my tiredness (bright clothes and lippy works every time) and copious note taking and list making on my iPad and phone for even the smallest of things.
Though I put all my energy into my day job – my bank manager and my boss will be happy to hear that, I felt that I couldn’t always replicate the same at the end of the working day with my doctorate. Thankfully I’m blessed with exceptionally patient and understanding supervisors who were fully in the know. Also thankfully my consultant was sympathetic to my needs so scheduled surgery for the summer, between academic years for my doctorate and day job.
For the squeamish of you (and because I do like to maintain a level of privacy in my life) we roll forward to the present day, where my friend is commenting on my purposeful mission to make my life stressful. Why do I do that? Some would stick to the day job, others would do full time into their doctorate, most would definitely stay away from additional freelancing and publishing – why would I do all of these at the same time?
And so after when I was left to my private contemplation, I reflected upon the fact, I don’t think I can cope *without* stress.
Stress is not a recent addition to my life. At the exceptionally young age of two it was discovered that I was born with an illness that would most likely result in my infant death. In later years I always remember the grave concern on my parent’s faces when they recall this event. Thankfully (and some in my family would see as miraculous divine intervention) I was able to undergo surgery privately through a random act of kindness to address the illness (given my allergic reactions to all anesthetics I’m amazed at the number of surgeries I have had in my life). But the consequences of that early surgery affected me throughout my childhood and do to an extent even to this day, as I engineer my life to accommodate. My skills at doing this have turned what should be a negative, into my most positively commented feature about me. Irony hey. Stress continued to multiply in my life, ending my childhood in some respects when I was 12 when my father became ill. Being a daddy’s girl my whole life turned on a pinhead and I felt as though I was in another parallel universe. This continued until I was 23 when he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly (though if I am honest subconsciously I expected it). Roll forward a few years and I was undergoing stress from within my marriage and at 29, I left him after 13 years without taking a single day of leave from my day job (which at the time was project managing the development of SocialLearn…let’s not go there). A few months later I started to form a proposal for my doctorate whilst continuing to advance my career. As I said sitting still really isn’t my forte.
My doctorate started well, I enjoy studying immensely even to the point that in my final year of my MBA I was also studying my first year of my MSc whilst working a 70 hour week on a global project. Glutton. Punishment. But then I became ill, and I have felt that I allowed myself to become distracted, creating too many research avenues to go down – academic curiosity is a bitch sometimes. So now I find myself regained in health, but lost in direction. Then it happened. Complete loss of confidence in everything. Given my life (Inside Hollywood would never believe the full unedited story) this was actually a complete first for me.
So what would most people do? They would hibernate, shut down, close off, quit, reduce activities. What do I do? Do what I do best, pile on the stress, allow the fear of failure to get to me, snap out of it, and then focus.
I’ve burnt the midnight oil all week on my doctorate after the day job and dog walks are complete. Slept 4-5 hours a night as I used to two years ago and then dress (maintaining the style I’m now known for) and got straight back to the day job. I’m back to burning the energy I get from stress that I love that most. I can finally see how my final year of my doctorate is going to be and what I can get from that in my master plan moving forward (day job and dog will also be affected, both have been consulted). And I finally feel that I can breathe again. Big breaths of fresh energising air.
In the very essence of the application of stress, I plan to turn my piece of rough academic coal into a doctorate diamond.
As a result this blog will be used more regularly than before for my captured thoughts as I work through my plans to fruition.