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There is something slightly disturbing about checking the web for uses of your work. One finds the odd undergraduate presentation that has 'borrowed' a graphic, or quoted your quotes as notes, and other lyrical misdemeanours. One even risks finding oneself renamed, although I have to say I find 'Simorn' a little too contemporary for my tastes. What is particularly interesting is to find oneself cited in such a way that one is 'designated', purposed as a standard bearer for a position one didn't know one held. I'm intrigued to find that my IRRODL article on the SOLE model from February 2011 served as an illustration of 'applied non-cartesian concepts' by psychologydegree.net (20.03.13 Page now removed) . Fascinating.

Version 2.3 of the SOLE toolkit (August 2011) introduced a ‘dashboard’ allowing the course designer to see the distribution of student workload across all the weeks, or learning units. Version 2.4 (October 2011) sees the incorporation of a ‘Weekly Objectives’ view, drawing together the weekly objectives set against the module outcomes for the first time. Each iteration is designed to provide staff and student with a greater transparency to the learning design intention.  Version 2.4 is also distributed as a fully populated exemplar, rather than a blank template to aid its deconstruction and usage.

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OER

The challenge faced by the Open Educational Resources University is not translation, context or learning styles, it is not a question of interoperability of learning environments or granularity of learning objects, SCORM compliance or IMS standards; it is perhaps rather a question of academic identity. We have a lot of identify work to do.

I remember first meeting  Wayne Mackintosh at the Third Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF3)  in Dunedin, New Zealand, in July 2004, hosted by DEANZ, the Government of New Zealand and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). The theme for PCF3 was "Building Learning Communities for Our Millennium: Reaching Wider Audiences through Innovative Approaches". Wayne was convener of our thoughtful, diverse, varied and anarchic think-tank. We talked about kite-marks, quality standards, intellectual colonialism and poverty. The seeds of the OERu were visible then.

It is no surprise to see Wayne Mackintosh, Director OER Foundation, leading the initiative for Open Educational Resources University, OER university (#oeru). The initiative is raising some interesting critiques, and questions, which Tony Bates summarizes succinctly. But these are still issues of institutional norms, governmental process and sectorial quality assurance. I sense we are asking a lot of people.

There are people in the world who are good at facilitating learners' encounters with new concepts and ideas, there are people who can enthuse, capture and motivate; and there are those who write, design, narrate and structure learning in meaningful ways. It is as often pride, as much as institutional conventions, that gives rise to academics' conviction that they must fulfill all these roles. Whilst an academic was once the guardian, seeker, generator and clarifier of the codex of knowledge in their domain, they are now primarily its steward and pride is best placed in a more defined function.

That knowledge was once defined in terms of individual libraries, writings and musings suggests only that it was confined to the means available to communicate it. To consider it now practical, or realistic, for an individual to hold the key to a domain of knowledge is nothing less than a delusion born of vanity.

The world of knowledge creation, dissemination and propagation has changed radically in the last 30 years, and with it, academic identity. It is simply illogical, not to say inefficient, to expect a single academic to research, write, and teach all the content for their university courses. What the OER movement represents is a 21st century model of knowledge propagation, a contemporary revisioning of the master-pupil relationship, and a means of making learning accessible beyond the single, constrained, voice of the solipsistic academic.

For the faculty that make-up our institutions to accept their emerging role as validators of the learning that happens without them necessarily ‘teaching’ what is validated, and teaching what is validated by others….. that is a huge leap into the unknown, and that surely, is the biggest challenge facing the OERu.

"In search of the virtual class: education in an information society" published in 1995 by John Tiffin and Lalita Rajasingham begins with a description of a girl climbing into her sensor suit and shooting off to a virtual waterfall for a geography lesson. Digital Immersion was the future. The description of the learning envisaged a different kind of learner.

As the learner changes to take a significantly more determinant role in their own learning process, in a world in which Choice is the defining quality of the consumer and therefore the product, the model of our universities must look like the model of our students.

Universities must accept that the very nature of the University will change as societal expectations of their function ( most evident in student expectations ) changes. Which Universities will be brave enough to shape the learning spaces of the future?

Last month I wrote a short piece about the way the SOLE model might be used to reconceptualise the physical and virtual spaces in which learning will occur in the 21st Century. There are other models, my suggestion is simply that you need the model first, that a conceptual model of learning provides a useful mechanism to debate and design the spaces we intend for our learning. If we do not then we, Universities, will end up describing a 'what' we offer the student but not the 'why', and as we surely all recognise by now consumers don't buy what you make, they buy why you make it. "Give me an educational rationale for why my lecture theatre looks like this, why my VLE looks like this!"

What does that mean in practice? In 2009 I was fortunate enough to be invited to deliver the closing keynote at the Estonian e-Universities conference in Tartu, Estonia. I asked delegates to do a little foresight thinking with me, a little futurology. Not something particularly 'big' in the UK or New Zealand (where I worked a the time). In my scenario I described Trin, a girl born in 2009 in Estonia, and asked the audience to future-think with me what her educational life would be.

I had several points I wanted to share, that the academic qualifications she would study in 18 years time most likely did not exist today, that her career choices were likely to be more complex and 'portfolio' driven than today, based on evidential skills not qualifications and so on. In amongst this discussion was the suggestion that the very future of the educational spaces she encountered would change. My suggestion was that Trin would go to a school in 2020s, when it suited her parents who blended home-schooling with community-schooling to fit with their family scenario. That the school itself was built into the fabric of the community, in buildings shared with other community services, post-office, library, social centre for the elderly. The extension of this sees Universities being porous knowledge mediators not guardians of the book-tower. Universities that used to shape our epistemological universe will do so again, but as our universe changes and expands, so must our universities.

In the two years since 2009 I can see things already diverging from my future-think, but some things I'd suggest are still relevant and the SOLE model provides one way of interpreting and predicating this change. As we accord learners a more central role in the learning process, should we not be exploring spaces through the SOLE model, or something like it? Should we not be asking what spaces we need to engineer for students to help them fulfil the holistic experience the SOLE model represents?

The universities that will shape the learning spaces of the future are those that are able to conceptualise, visualise, the world in which this future learner lives. The campus has had it's day.

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There is no such thing as blended-learning. Or rather there has never been anything except ‘blended’ learning. Of course we all know that, we’re just lazy with our language and as Orwell(1) said “…if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Maybe it’s worth thinking about the terminology we use.

I have no problem with a conversation about the right blend, indeed I rather like the verb ‘blend’, it’s the noun ‘blended/ing’ I find problematic. Let’s stop talk about the ‘blended approach’ and describe instead our model of learning. Let’s agree on our underpinning theoretical structures (if you like that sort of thing), identify our context and that of our learners (culture, expectations, destinations, prior experience, infrastructure), and let’s describe our model.

Teaching Online 2008 - VoiceThread in Sakai
Teaching Online 2008 - VoiceThread in Sakai

What we have in the contemporary ‘blended’ debate is a healthy concern with what students’ do, and where, how and when they do it. Rather than teaching our one-hour lecture and our two our seminar and despatching students’ into the dark dusty stacks or the ‘short-term loan’ mêlée, we now seek to engineer the ‘blend’ of approaches we want them to take. The scrap for the library carousel and scouring the desks of the studious for the only copy of the ‘reference-only’ gem has now been replaced by a broader concern for the ‘design’ of the students’ learning. We blended twenty years ago and we blend today, only the context has changed. This is a good thing.

So why don't we call it that, why don't we call it ‘our learning model’? Since here is so much pressure on Universities to differentiate themselves why don't we seek to develop, articulate, refine and promote the Massey Learning Model, the Athabasca Learning Model, the Wisconsin Learning Model.

‘Blended’, like many terms in education, has been in vogue and now risks being taken for granted and misused. Alternative terminology also has its supporters; ‘mixed-mode’ and ‘hybrid’ are also used synonymously. The most common conception of blended learning is one in which there is a combination of face to face, real-time, physically present, teaching and computer-mediated, essentially online, activity. The term has come to imply an articulated and integrated instructional strategy. The term blended is often used to imply something more than the evolution of digital materials ‘supplementing’ face-to-face instruction, rather it implies that each ‘mode’ can serve a student’s learning in different ways. In practice this might mean that a two-hour lecture and a two-hour seminar become a web based lecture, a face-to-face seminar and several web based activities, allowing more time for contributions, more time for voices to be heard.

The contemporary argument is often simply maths. In a class of 40 where one would hope to have a thoughtful 10-15 minute contribution from each student, a seminar would need to be 8 -10 hours long. Online that same reflective and expressive opportunity is unbounded by class-time.

There are many reasons to reconsider the reliance on face-to-face instruction.

Participation, the opportunity to contribute, is one. But there are also opportunities for content to be paused, reviewed, annotated, questioned, spliced and shared in ways that live synchronous face-to-face contact cannot be. Media-rich course content, video and audio, interactive resources, formative assessments, all serve to allow the student to choose not just when, but also where, to study. The ‘where’ question then also gives rise to the other popular motif amongst University leaders, mobile learning.

The reason it is so difficult to establish what the right ‘blend’ is, is simply because the context of the learning determines the nature of the blend. The students’ context establishes what can and can’t be done in a specific mode, what time parameters exist, what technology restrictions and what assessment evidence is ultimately required.

Perhaps the biggest argument in favour of a blended approach (20 years ago and today) is simply that it requires engagement. Managing to access content and activities, participate appropriately and incrementally develop a portfolio of formative assessment towards a final summative goal, requires, self-management, discipline, at least some digital literacy today, and some motivation. Turning up and sitting in class is not hugely onerous (although arguably it demonstrates time-keeping).

So if you’re an institution considering the ‘Blend’, I’d like to offer a suggestion. Don’t. Instead consider the nature of your context (past-present-future) and articulate the learning model around which your exemptions and exceptions will develop, articulate a learning model to rally staff to a shared concept of learning (believe me, ‘blended’ won’t excite them) and articulate a model that learners will say “I recognise that, that’s my concept of myself as a learner, I’ll go there”.

Take a diagnostic model (here’s one I prepared earlier…) and define your own unique model of learning (better still invite me to come and work with you on it), and I guarantee you will be blending (verb) but you won't have to try and sell the stillborn ‘blend’ (noun).

(1) Politics and the English Language" (1946) George Orwell

It was a real shame (I’m rarely disappointed) to have had to miss the JISC/CETIS Design Bash in Oxford today. I was very much looking forward to catching up with progress on the LDSE and sharing the SOLE model iteration described in Madison-Wisconsin in August. In the end the meeting I had to attend would have done fine without me, but that’s the way things fall and “beggars can’t be choosers” (or as we say in modern parlance, “the salaried do as they’re told”).

Design Bash

I imagine there was a great deal of interest in Oxford today. The pressure on organisations to share learning designs, share practice, and share efficacies shows no sign of abating. I look forward very much to catching up as best I can with what’s on Cloudworks for this years event.

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It’s a long way from the staff workload issue that the SOLE model and toolkit sought to answer, but perhaps a model can serve as a central conceptual pattern through which institutions can challenge, their own conceptions of learning, and teaching, and learning spaces.

The extent to which a model of the learner’s world can represent the learning process itself has been an interesting facet of the SOLE models development. To what extent does a model designed to represent the elements of engagement the learner is required to recognise, and take ownership of, come to represent the ‘world of learning’ itself?

I’ve started two new chapters of the SOLE manuscript to explore this. The first asks whether the changing nature of faculty roles, of what it means to be a ‘professional practitioner’, can be usefully supported by the SOLE model. Does it make sense to use this model of learning to ask what roles engage with learners under each of the model’s elements and look at our institutional responses through this lens? Could the SOLE model become a structure for faculty development and workforce planning?

Changing Roles through the lens of the SOLE model

The second chapter under development looks not at faculty or students but at spaces. With student fees being a live issue in the UK at present, and lots of press attention on what students’ expectations are of their University experience, most institutions are thinking hard about ‘what they offer’. How do they turn their campuses from liabilities into significant assets? As the learner changes, as we give them a more central role in the learning process, should we be exploring spaces through the SOLE model, or something like it? Should we be asking what spaces we need to engineer for students to help them fulfil the holistic experience the SOLE model represents. I think a conceptual model of learning provides a useful mechanism for these conversations.

Learning Spaces through the SOLE lens

Can one know too much about the learning we design? Why is it we appear to know so little? It's hard to share what you can't articulate. This is an attempt to make the learning expectations, aspirations and intentions we have of learners as transparent as possible. The desire to produce a useable, intuitive (or at least helpful) toolkit to implement the SOLE model of learning design has seen several small incremental updates in 2011.

Version 2.3 of the SOLE toolkit is released today 5th September and introduces a 'modes of engagement' schematic to a new 'dashboard' sheet within the toolkit workbook. The toolkit remains a standard Microsoft Excel workbook, without macros or protected cells that any user can customise and adapt.

Download the toolkit and explore.

Dashboard in Version 2.3 Beta

Following the presentation of the SOLE model and toolkit at Madison-Wisconsin in August 2011, a number of conversations about the ‘diagnostic’ function of the SOLE  toolkit have taken place.

One of the concerns of faculty and students is contact time. How much contact time am I being offered (versus how much I take advantage of), what other opportunities for facilitated guidance do I have. Why indeed, do I as the student not recognise the ‘directed’ learning I have been pointed to, and in the case of the SOLE approach, the entire toolkit forms an advanced organiser that demonstrates the consideration faculty have given to my learning time as a student.

The version of the Toolkit presented at the 27th Distance Education Conference at Madison Wisconsin broke down the learning engagements students were being asked to complete under the 9 elements of the model into 5 areas, or modes, of engagement. These are exploring the notions of learning engagement as reflective, introspective, social, facilitated and directed. In the next version of the toolkit I’m exploring a ‘dashboard’.

The Dashboard is a separate sheet that simply presents an overview, to faculty and potentially students, of the modes of learning being designed for the student. It shows at a glance, alongside the full profile of activities for each week or unit, a schematic that illustrates how much of the activity is facilitated, directed, and so on.

 

Terminology in education is a fascinating thing. Words are after all concepts. Concepts change, evolve and mutate frequently more quickly than the words associated with them along the way. Learning once meant to go to the place of learning associated with what one wanted to know, the monastery to learn about religion, the blacksmith to learn about metals, learning was learnt at the foot of the master. As European notions of learning evolved so did our concept of what was valuable to be learnt. The book gave rise to libraries, and libraries to Universities. Where else would one go to study the ‘learning’ in the books?

Our concept of learning has now reached well beyond the word itself, and so we have created prisms through which to view its process, pedagogy, andragogy, heutagogy; and an array of theoretical lenses, constructivist, social-constructivist, connectivist.

No where is this mis-match of word and concept change more evident than in the very new domains associated with e-learning in its multitude of forms. Even a ‘simple’ concept such as ‘online’ when associated with learning in the 1980s usually meant CBT (Computer-Based Training and a dedicated PC ), in the mid 1990s with home based dial-up browser based access (lots of CMC- computer-mediated-conferencing), in the mid 2000s with moderately rich multi-media VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments). In 2011 being online can mean all of the above, and access through tablets, television, game-stations and hand-held devices, in the office, at home and literally anywhere there is a wireless or data access point. Being online is changing.

Blended is the perfect example of this. Blended as a concept becomes fairly meaningless the more it is discussed. The addition of some online (see above!) activity to a campus based programme was in the 1990s deemed ‘blended’, although many would suggest a blending of lecture and self-study, reading and discussion had long been a feature. Blended meant blended with technology. But, as the technology environment evolves (the current notion is the ‘digital ecology’), the nature of the ‘blended’ learning experience necessarily changes. This environment or ecology is fluid, variable (by social-access and geography most notably) and so the nature of the learning opportunities associated with it are also fluid.

It is not only the contemporary nature of technology, its ‘here and now-ness’, it is also the contextual nature of technology. The choices I make about what I am prepared to access and when are not the same as someone who happens to be my age, or share my job title, or live in the same street. My context is unique to me. Hence my ‘blended’ opportunity is totally unique to me. Mark Brown's summary of
The Golden Rules: Review of Distance Education Literature is insightful.

Learning designers who attempt to design effective ‘blended’ learning opportunities frequently fail to satisfy their students’ expectations. Not because some are digital natives and some are not, as Open University research demonstrates. So why? Because my notion and your notion of blended are simply different. What I can do as a learning designer is to design into your opportunities for study, into the learning that I am able to support and believe is appropriate, the flexibility for you to make the very best use of your context. Your digital ecology context, your prior learning context, your social context and professional context, we can design learning that allows you to ‘blend’ it into a meaningful learning pattern for you. It doesn’t matter if we mean different things with the words we use. Blended should come to represent as a concept the choices we facilitate not the technology we provide.

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