Category Archives: Uncategorized

Taking Time Out

Whenever I take time out, I always give advanced warning because it seems in today’s socially online society you can’t just step off without some warning first. I once made this mistake and the rumours of my possible tragic ending a few years back were both humorous and glamourous. 

Now I’m known for working crazy hours and having very little sleep and forever bouncing around on caffeine free boundless energy. But recently I’ve pushed myself too far, I’ve worked too many hours, and to be honest this last week I’ve found myself very close to burn out. I’ve never soared this close to the sun before and I can’t say I like it very much. 

So, this Thursday I finish work for 3 weeks. My emails are being switched off. My apps are being switched off. My DM notifications are being switched off. I’m going to be focusing on me and my doctorate. Then due to circumstances beyond discussion on this blog posting I’ll be working from home for a few weeks returning to social app society in time to present at ALT-C and to campus upon my return. 

The next two months are make or break for my doctorate to get to the next deadline, and I plan to do whatever it takes to make it. 

See you on the flip side folks. 

I do. Or do I?

Whilst I’m in the final few months of my doctorate and spending my days and nights drafting and restarting my thesis, one thing still really bothers me. 
Engagement. 

For the entirely of my doctorate I’ve had a love hate relationship with the term engagement, largely because the literature refers to it but never truly defines it. Ah ha! I hear you cry, you should do that and then become wildly famous and cited like those Cormier and Siemens blokes we all read about!

But here’s the catch, to whom am I defining it for? 

In that lies the crux of my problem. Institutions would like engagement defined by course completions and certificate purchases, but the socialist in me thinks what about the learner? Shouldn’t engagement be defined by them? 

When someone gets engaged in a relationship the societal expectation is that they will get married, some do it quickly, some take years, some never get married and just stay engaged. Have either failed at being engaged? No. 

So why do we place the same societal expectations on learning MOOCs? I was thinking about this last night/this morning on the gravy train home from a gig where I bought my first vinyl. Now, I’m engaged with the music, I was brought up on vinyl, but I’ve yet to by the record player to listen to it. Have I failed as a fan in the band’s eyes? Probably not. (I already know they love me, it’s written on the album sleeve.) Will I see them live again? Absolutely. Will I get round to buying a record player one day soon? Most definitely. Will I treasure and keep my vinyl in the meantime. You bet.

The problem with MOOCs is (and I hark back to an earlier blog post on this) is that traditional for-qualification expectations are placed on MOOCs because they are ‘courses’. But the majority of the reasons for registering on MOOCs are different to university qualifications so why do we keep beating ourselves up about this? 

We speak of personalised and student centred learning but we define what it is they are aiming for, how and when they will do it, and what success will look like for them at the end.

So I question to myself if this is right, if strategies should be based on what we want rather than what the learners want, and I continue to plough though endless papers in the hope of forming that answer that is academically robust beyond this blog post.

Until then I’ll still be, doctor in waiting 

The Afterlife 

With my draft thesis submitted I’m finally in my last 6 months of my doctorate (approval of said draft thesis pending). The Research School had scheduled the last few days as a study break for much needed respite. It was a glorious few days and an insight into the afterlife once I get there. 

For me it’s been a long hard slog to get here, I’ve been studying solid for 8 years to date with still 6 months to go plus viva and corrections. I haven’t really taken breaks (apart from getting my divorce and waiting to be accepted on the EdD programme) so to be honest I never thought I would get to the point of academic study freedom. I had to stop myself recently from thinking of signing up for the LLB in February simply on the grounds of ‘because I don’t have one.  I am an academic Pavlov’s dog. 

So what to do with the afterlife once I get there? Sleep of course but then what? Thoughts turn to two things, the research I’ve identified that I will do and genealogy. Somehow given the nomadic nature of my family the engagement patterns of MOOC learners will be easier to research. 

However there’s no rest for the wicked. Today I resume my normal working pattern which is a relief and return to the literature for final inclusion in the next draft of the thesis. 196 days until final submission. 

Until then I’m still, doctor in waiting. 

Data, Data Everywhere, and not a Min to Think


Lewis Carroll once said “if everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does”.

Working in MOOCs at The Open University I’m in a permanent paradoxical position of knowing that not enough MOOC data is shared within the wider research community, whilst at the same time drowning in MOOC data internally that isn’t in the position to be shared. Which means on more than one occasion I can find myself stumbling down a rabbit hole of data as I find it ‘curiouser and curiouser’. 

This has caused a number of issues for my doctorate over the years as I could have so easily change my focus so many times based on the data I have at my disposal. At times I felt myself like Alice surrounded by files that say ‘Read Me’. 

So as I can only write so much for my thesis and base additional academic writing on…what to do? Simple, host my very own Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

When I came into the role of Senior Producer: MOOCs after working for years on MOOC research and MOOCs in presentation I wrote an internal resource ‘MOOC Central’ a one stop MOOC shop for all things OU MOOC. It has sections on advice and information on MOOCs from idea creation to presentation including a section on research and guidance as to how OU staff and doctorate students can apply to access the data. 

Since the launch of MOOC Central last year the number of data applications has markedly increased. Which means I no longer feel like I’m speaking in jabberwocky. So now I’m no longer the Cheshire Cat but more the White Rabbit encouraging others to tumble down the rabbit hole with me. 

Now please excuse me as I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date…with data. 

I Walk the Line 

There are many elements of my life that are a balancing act. My day job and my doctorate are two of them. 

Given my role I’m in a continual political position which sometimes I have to control with every fibre of my being to maintain tact and public professionalism whilst I scream internally and swear profusely in my mind. 

Today, one impacted heavily on the other and I honestly don’t know how long I can remain upright on shifting sands. 

So a need a moment to vent, another to hug my dog, and a further few more to work out how I’m going to assemble an impossible structure from the rumble I’m left with. 

Today I’m less Phillipe Petit, more Bob the Builder. Because yes I can. Just give me a minute first. 

Back in Time for MOOCs

A long, long time ago in a place before doctorate known as 2012 I was working on concepts of MOOC application for formal study, when FutureLearn was merely a twinkle in our VC’s eye.
The ideas that I had at the time were based on the mapping of MOOCs to our formal curriculum for each qualification to produce programmes of micro credentials to encourage learners into becoming formal university students. Sadly in a time when Coursera was in its infancy, my idea was deemed too big and dare I say…revolutionary…for its time.

Then interestingly today the topic of my old idea gathered momentum in an impromptu meeting based on an off handed comment I made as the formal meeting drew to a close. As a result I was requested to dust off my 2012 folder and find my original plan to forward to the interested parties for further discussion. 

Am I upset? No. Am I frustrated at times? Yes. 
One of my greatest lessons I’ve learned in my 12 years at the OU is that sometimes it’s about timing. I am forever finding myself building on ideas in new projects I conjured up from old ideaa in my days of OU yore. And in this case hindsight tells me that these were the droids I was looking for. 

So how does this fit in with my doctorate? Well in the case of the EdD it’s about professionally developing not only yourself but your field. Keep my 2012 vision in mind, and from the review of over 100 presentations of MOOCs I hatched upon the plan that I’ve been developing of disaggregating and reconstructing the learning designs of MOOCs to increase theorerically engagement. The EBC project is now in production and will be launched to the public in the summer with talks of a potential ABC project for next academic year. The data from which will form part of my postdoctoral research based on my four P’s model I’m proposing in my thesis. (More blog posts with acronym explanations and hopefully an ALT-C submission to follow). 

If today taught me anything, the Rebel force is strong in this one. 

Dear Jo…

I’m asked often the difference between studying towards a PhD and an EdD. Whilst many understand a PhD, fewer know of EdD’s and the process. Now I’m not saying this because I’m in my final year of my EdD, but I’m a total EdD convert. 

The EdD is more structured and progress reports are similar to drafting sections of chapters, with more PR submissions than a PhD. The EdD is also a professional doctorate with the purpose of the research to contribute to professional practice in education. I’m thankful to say that my doctorate feeds my day job on a daily basis and vice versa.

So what’s the catch? For me there’s only one, the forging of where my day job ends and my doctorate begins. Not in the aspect of time management of undertaking an EdD in three and a half years in parallel to working full time, but in the content writing. 

Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes wonder if I should be on a MOOC Eggheads special, however my biggest downfall is actually the mental separation between when I write for business and when I write for academia. Strangely when I write for journals etc. I’m fine (new book chapter with Professor Graham Pike out shortly) but when I write for my doctorate as it’s so close to my day job I sometimes slip between the cracks of my two roles. So what to do?

Well, my supervisor struck upon a genius idea. As my role is partly in learning design and work with academic authors to create pen portraits for MOOCs, then I should have a pen portrait for my thesis. 

So everyone meet Jo. Jo this is everyone. Dr Jo is an academic who doesn’t know much about MOOCs but would like to create a MOOC within her role and needs to understand how to create an engaging learning design. I find myself thinking of Jo often, and use her in meetings with my supervisor. I ask myself when writing ‘what would Jo want?’, ‘does Jo need to know this?’ and it’s helping me to frame my writing and forget the divide between doctorate and day job. 

My next deadline is the 10 April where I’m due to submit 45,000 word first draft of my thesis. So I best get back to it otherwise Jo and I will be burning the midnight oil. The 31 October final submission isn’t that far away either. 

Until then, I’m still Doctor in Waiting…