Monday, April 29, 2013

MOOCs: more action in 1 year than last 1000 years

What happened here? MOOC mania seemed to come from nowhere. Faster than Facebook and here to stay, in just a year MOOCs emerged from a unique mix of entrepreneurial spirit, a few leading US Universities, supported by not-for-profits and venture capital. It’s an ecosystem that can take an idea and support it through to a sustainable business. That’s impressive.
Big Bang Khan
Whatever the obscure origin of the word or examples of previous HE online courses, MOOCs mania has its origin in one, big-bang source – Salman Khan. Khan was a necessary condition for MOOC mania. It was he who popularised the short video where the lecturer was literally taken out of the picture. Forget all of that YouTube EDU and iTunes U stuff, basically dumps of dull lectures, it was Khan who got the big numbers by doing something different. OER had also stalled with MITOpenCourseWare languishing and OpenLearn an also-ran; resource dump that simply mimicked all that was lazy and bad about internal HE courses. They were within the paradigm. To be fair, Downes and Siemens were different, and certainly deserve praise for avoiding this old-school approach, but I don’t see any real causal influence on Khan and subsequent MOOC mania. Sebastian Thrun has already paid his dues to Khan.
Why was Khan the catalyst?
This is interesting, as it’s yet another example of innovation coming from outside of the bubble. It took a hedge fund manager to shake up education because he didn’t have any HE baggage. Khan’s developed his ideas through direct contact with learners, not through research project or grants. It was in dealing with his young relatives that he suddenly thought – guess what, I can save time here by doing cool videos. Neither was he hung up on the whole ‘academic hubris’ thing. It didn’t matter that his face wasn’t on screen. He understood that learning maths was about the maths, not the face; semantic memory, not episodic. In short, he dumped the long-form lecture. This was about the learner, not the teacher. His second masterstroke was to slam them up on YouTube. He intrinsically understood scalability, first, in terms of the rapid production of short videos, secondly by making them available on an already existing free platform. Then, something crucial happened, funding from the Gates Foundation ($5.5m), Ann and John Doerr ($110k) and Google ($2m). Lastly, remember the ecosystem here – Khan is a Harvard  MIT guy – the institutions that subsequently funded edX.
One University stands out as MOOC central, that’s Stanford. Paul Hennessey is easily the most visionary leader of any Uni8versity on the planet. The man who categorically does NOT want to build any more lecture theatres (that’s counts as a radical position in HE). What Stanford does, and we in Europe should be envious, is understand how to turn students into aspirational autonomous achievers. It’s in the DNA of that organisation. Udacity owes its very existence to Stanford, in that Sebastian Thrun, inspired by Khan, set up his Stanford course online and that led to the founding of Udacity. Ng and Koller, both Stanford academics, set up Coursera. NovoED was also a Stanford product, originally Venture Lab, started by Amin Saberi and Farnaz Ronaghi. Let’s not forget Class2go,another open source product out of Stanford, that has merged with edX. Harvard and MIT have each put $30m into edX (other money coming from the liks of Jonathan Grayer and Philipe Lafont).
Another key player has been inspirational in all this - the Gates Foundation. I’ve dealt with these guys and they’re good. They do their research, identify the sweet spots and take action. It was a matter of weeks that a company I had invested in, Cogbooks, who have real adaptive learning and MOOC product, had been spotted through research, invited to the US and put in front of potential customers. They put a cool $5.5m into Khan, $4m into edX. Then we have the MacArthur Foundation, Hewlett and the National Science foundation weighing in with other supportive initiatives.
The third ingredient is, of course, capital. When you have a world class institution, like Stanford, producing students and academics with ambition, it attracts capital. Capital matters, as it allows you to keep up product development, while keeping your promise on delivery. It also allows you to bring on business expertise and support. Coursera has had $16m from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and NewEnterprise Associates. Andreesen Horowitz put $15 into Udacity.
Lastly, don’t forget existing companies such as Google who put $2m into the Khan Academy and Pearson who have teamed up with both Udacity and edX to offer proctored examinations through Pearson VUE. Desire2learn, a player in the HE VLE market raised $80 million and acquired Wiggio, a group collaboration tool, and Degree Compass, a student support tool. They have entered the MOOC market, with the venerable Siemens and Downes.
It took a drop-out like Gates to turbo-charge the PC industry, a maverick like Jobs to take it much further, Bezos to transform book selling, Torvalds open source and subsequently OER, Jimmy Wales to give us Wikipedia and Khan, then Thrun, to give us MOOCs. As I keep saying, we’ve had more pedagogic change over the last 10 years than the last 1000 years because of these outsiders and technology. It happened because the time is right. HE is in a mess with spiralling costs, old agrarian timetables and old pedagogies. Outside pressure, in the form of entrepreneurial spirit, some leading Universities, with support from not-for-profits and that all important ingredient, capital, has given us, in a year, an alternative to something that has been around for nearly 1000 years. MOOCs are a powerful force for good. They promise to break down the barriers between higher education and the rest of the world, to the benefit of both.
MOOCs: taxonomy of 8 types of MOOC
MOOCs: Who’s using MOOCs? 10 different target audiences
MOOCs: a breath of fresh air, albeit the same air

Thursday, April 25, 2013

MOOCs: Who’s using MOOCs? 10 different target audiences

Fascinating graphic,a sit shows that nearly 42% of the target audience for MOOCs are not the developed world. It also raises an interesting question. Who is it for?’ are four words that tease out a MOOC strategy or lack of strategy. For most it is a marketing exercise in terms of the brand, a way of reducing internal costs on high volume courses, a way of recruiting potential students (directly or through their parents). Yet others see it as a way of flushing out funding from Alumni or presenting an ‘accessible’ face to Government.
For MOOCs, several target audiences have emerged:
1. Internal students on course – cost savings on volume courses
2. Internal students not on course – expanding student experience

3. Potential students national –major source of income
4. Potential students international – major source of income
5. Potential students High school – reputation and preparation

6. Parents – significant in student choice
7. Alumni – potential income and influencers

8. Lifelong learners – late and lifelong adult learners
9. Professionals – related to professions and work
10. Government – part of access strategy
Lifelong learning MOOC
This is the big one, as it produces the big numbers. There seems to be a genuine thirst for courses on a wide range of subjects for people who just want to learn more. This is heartening. Rather than locking in learning within expensive institutions, we may be on the edge of a cliff from which new forms of learning can soar. What’s surprised people is the diverse nature of this group, as they come from lots of different countries.
The set of people who are external is huge and diverse in terms of age, national v international, nationality, ethnicity and first language. You really have to focus down with some profiling (define a typical user) or risk negative reactions from some groups. Most Coursera course are aimed at an external audience but who is this audience? If your course is for people with busy lives, is it wise to offer such strictly synchronous courses?
Internal + external MOOC
Do you want your existing students, either slated for the existing course or others, to do your MOOC? If MOOCs are to fulfil their promise of changing the way we teach and learn and reduce internal costs, this may be necessary.
Sebastian Thrun’s famous MOOC did take existing students, none of whom were in the top performing 400 students. NovoED aim to produce group MOOCs aimed at both internal and external students. It has happened, will happen, and if MOOCs are to change the face of HE, it must happen.
The University of Alberta’s Dino 101 Dinosaur Paleobiology MOOC hopes to attract huge numbers and I’m sure it will. Due for release in September 2013 it’s billed as being “led by Phil Currie, the world’s premier dinosaur hunter”. This is much smarter than the blatant AUE approach, as it is aimed at three audiences:
·         Free to anyone (marketing)
·         University of Alberta students can do it and get a credit (core business0
·         Students from around the world for course accreditation for a modest fee
This is more strategic as it takes the one asset and targets three audiences. They’ve also cleverly sneaked in another marketing objective – tourism, “It will also help highlight the best of Alberta’s rich dinosaur assets”. Smart thinking.
Outreach MOOC
Many MOOCs are more marketing than learning. There one species of MOOC, the outreach MOOC or more accurately the marketing MOOC, that is sprouting up everywhere. These MOOCs are aimed at marketing your brand to new students, parents of potential students and alumni, all potential sources of income, hence the use of the word ‘marketing’. I know academe hate the word ‘marketing’ unless it’s a course in their revenue-rich business school but this is a marketing MOOC.
A good example is the Australian National University, who is building an edX MOOC aimed at high school students, alumni, adult learners and parents, the first two topics are 6 week courses on Astrophysics and Engaging India (English & Hindi). She admitted her University had no real strategy for MOOCs but thought this was a way of testing the water. At least she was honest, as I see precious little strategic thinking around MOOCs but lots of groupthink and bandwagon behaviour.
Professional MOOC (VOOC)
A lot of IT courses are clearly aimed at the skills market and professionals who want to get a job or promotion. Udemy is full of such courses. There’s nothing new here, other perhaps, in them being free, though many do have a cost. This type of course has been long available on the web. An interesting example is the Google MOOC, aimed at a specific skill, improving your search skills. We can expect many more of these, MOOCs or Vocational MOOCs (VOOCs) that tackle a specific skills or issue.
Marketing problem
Many MOOCs want to hit a number of these audiences but this is not easy as they have different needs in terms of approach, commitment, start times, accreditation needs, technical issues and support. Knowing your target audience from the start matters, as it influences the choice of platform, as well as design and nature of the content. Initial data suggests that large numbers of people from around the world, who do not have easy access to Higher Education, have taken MOOCs (41%). The language level for those with English as a second language may therefore have to be considered, as well as level of difficulty, relevant examples, appropriate peer activity, group needs, synchronous or asynchronous, and so on. You may also want to be clear in the registration process about the data you want to identify and gather for later analysis.
The problem is that the decision makers often don’t have the marketing skills to differentiate between different addressable audiences. External adult learners may not want a long-winded, over-engineered, six to ten week course on anything. Life’s too short. Yet academics are used to producing courses of this semester length. What many may want are mini MOOCs. They may want them to be asynchronous starting and ending when convenient for them. This, of course, is exactly what’s happening. All in all, however, the good news is that MOOCs are forcing HE institutions to change. MOOCs may very well be the force that makes them more open, transparent and relevant. There will, of course, be a backlash, but the digital genie is out of the bottle - MOOCs are here to stay.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

MOOCs: a breath of fresh air, albeit the same air

A Secretary of State for Education in the US likened Education to a giant blob. No matter what you did to to change the blob, it always healed up or reformed back into its original shape. Are MOOCs puncturing or reshaping the blob? Or are they just orbiting the blob?
Forces from the outside world, namely technology and hard economics are putting pressure on the blob and MOOCs are, potentially, blob busters. Their potency comes from the fact that they’ve burst open the limitations of old teaching methods and reach out with alternatives that are part of the more general open culture of the web.
MOOCs appropriate MOOPs
Nothing’s new with MOOCs. Massive Open Online Pedagogies (MOOPs), such as short videos, search, wikis, quizzes, forums, collaborative groups, online problems, online assignments, peer learning and peer assessment have all been around for some time and are now being absorbed into MOOCs. I haven’t found a single brand-new, online pedagogic technique in any MOOC. This is neither a criticism nor a problem. The iPhone is a cluster of existing technologies where the sum is greater than the parts. Indeed, Brian Arthur’s in The Nature of Technology thinks that this is an essential feature of technology, the coalescence of existing technologies to create something exciting and new.
MOOCs provide an ideal sandbox for reflection, debate, research, experimentation, outreach and real action on pedagogy, on a scale we’ve never seen before. Every facet of learning is being re-examined and in some cases re-evaluated.
So what sort of pedagogies have been appropriated into MOOCs? Here’s just seven MOOPs (Massive Open Online Pedagogy) that have been used in MOOCs:
MOOP 1 – Short videos
Recorded lectures are still relatively rare, accounting for a tiny fraction of those delivered, but they’ve had a profound pedagogic effect. A soon as they took off the digital genie was out of the lecture hall. The evidence is clear, students want, use, like and benefit from them. The unrecorded, 1 hour lecture (only an hour as the Babylonians had a sexidecimal number system) remains the main obstacle to pedagogic progress in HE. It puts a block on the four main evidence-based features of learning; attention, active learning, adequate feedback and spaced practice. MOOCs use recorded lectures/videos extensively.
YouTube, used by hundreds of millions, has had a profound effect on MOOCs,proving that less is often more as was video sequences long inserted or made available in online learning courses. TED, watched by millions, reinforced the need to make video lectures focused, short, with injected passion and less reliance on PowerPoint. MOOCs quickly learnt this lesson. Then we had the Khan Academy, a huge influence on MOOCs, who effectively removed the lecturer from the screen to focus on the content with narration and, in this case hand-drawn maths. This works because, in maths, you need to work semantic and episodic memory. This pedagogic approach was enthusiastically adopted by Sebastian Thrun at Udacity.
MOOP 2 – Content and the humble hyperlink
Under this you have documents, reading lists, links and so on that use the hyperlink, to give students access to content. The humble hyperlink is the hero of online pedagogy, the simple idea that knowledge can be linked and made accessible by a simple click. Long before MOOCs, the hyperlink had been the mainstay for interactivity. It allowed the expansion of, drilling into or jumping across content, thereby personalising learning. This is the glue that holds the course content together.
MOOP 3 – Online assessment
Online formative and summative assessment, always a stalwart of online learning, became the norm in MOOCs. Conditional branching also allowed different routes to be taken, remedial loops presented and simulations to be constructed, all based on performance. Given the very large numbers of students and paucity of teacher bandwidth, this made sense. Students had to get software-based feedback, if large numbers of students were to progress through the course.
MOOP 4 – Peer learning
Forums and chat are among the oldest Massive Open Online Pedagogies, used since the very inception of the web. In MOOCs, forums and other software assisted forms of peer learning genuinely seem to aid learning. Students do like the experience of getting help and encouragement from other students. Peer learning is scalable. Indeed, it is a pedagogy that benefits from scale. The more learners the better and more efficient peer matching and learning can be. Peer learning also encourages critical thinking, peers are often closer to the problems than teachers with bonding a wonderful side effect. An often forgotten benefit is that teaching is also a powerful way to learn. Above all, we know from the work of Mazur and many others, that it increases learning, retention and attainment. Arora, Peerwise and many others have been used for years in sophisticated, peer learning. In practice, by contract, peer learning is still in its infancy in MOOCs. Coursera’s forums are often described as chaotic and confusing. However, MOOCs are bringing peer learning to the attention of many, encouraging its use.
MOOP 5 – Peer assessment
More controversially, peer assessment in terms of comments, judgements and even marks, are given y peers. Peermark and others have been doing this for some time. It gets round the problem of scaling up students numbers while relying on a small number of academics. The real question is what’s lost in the process of scaling. To be fair, many who have seen this in action (and it’s early days) think it is reasonable and pretty fair. Participants in MOOCs are supportive and keen to be as objective as possible. It’s not as if traditional assessment in HE is in any way efficient or even truly objective. Formative assessment is often scarce, very light and late. It is not uncommon to wait weeks for an essay to be marked and returned. This makes MOOC peer assessment seem like a quantum leap.
MOOP 6 – LMS/LCMs/VLE/CRM functionality
Although they would be loathed to admit it, many MOOCs run light LMS/LCMS/VLE/CRM  structures for registration, email, comms, assignments, peer learning, peer assessment, handling large amounts of tracked data and so on. MOOCs are massive and therefore need to be managed by scalable software. None of this is new, as typical LMSs/LMCSs/VLEs have long coped with copious amounts of learners, their management and data.
MOOP 7 - Social media
Social Media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ is a MOOP used by hundreds of millions, so it is natural that they would incorporated into, or at least used parasitically, by MOOCs. In fact, most MOOCs go nowhere near social media but those that do tend to simply have a Facebook page or twitter hashtag and feed. MOOCs are not sophisticated in terms of porosity to outside sources and more sophisticated uses of social media.
MOOCs are aggregated MOOPs
This is just one part of a general move towards the online democritisation, decentralisation and disintermediation of Higher Education. In truth, this had already started with the annihilation of older offline pedagogies with newer Massive Open Online Pedagogies (MOOPs). Most of the components in MOOCs merely reuse what was already established on the web – search (Google), hyperlinks, short videos (YouTube, TED, Khan Academy etc), wikis (Wikipedia, Wikispaces etc), communication (email, chat, forums etc.), collaboration (social media), peer learning, LMS/CRM (mass email and comms management etc.).
MOOCs are not really a single innovation, as all MOOCs are not created equal – they’re all-sorts. Neither are they innovative in terms of pedagogy, as they are invariably assemblages of previously existing online pedagogies. MOOCs assemble different existing MOOP component, and it’s really an. umbrella term for large online courses, and those have been around for a long time. What’s important is that it is a leap forward compared to many high volume, lecture-led, low feedback, low contact courses, that are all too common in Higher Education.
Nothing new under the sun
Ecclesiastes, that most idiosyncratic book of the bible, says ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’ and so it is with MOOCs. We have yet to see the serious use of high-end, adaptive techniques, AI, different species of high-end simulation, gaming and the many more adventurous forms of online learning experiences. The use of peer learning has been patchy and the use of social media has been peripheral. To be fair we can already see that the investment and commitment is there to see MOOCs evolve and start to push the pedagogic boundaries. They are a breath of fresh air, albeit the same air.
Arthur, W. B. (2009). The nature of technology: What it is and how it evolves. New York: Free Press.
Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction: A user's manual. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

MOOCs: taxonomy of 8 types of MOOC

We're not payin' because this guy...
...this guy's a fuckin' mooc.
  But I didn't say nothin'.
And we don't pay moocs.
  A mook? I'm a mooc?
  What's a mooc?
  What's a mooc?
  I don't know.
  What's a mooc?
  You can't call me a mooc.
I can't?
Scorcese's Mean Streets (1973)
What are MOOCs?
The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed” said William Gibson, that is certainly true of MOOCs. We have MOOC mania but ‘all MOOCs are not created equal’ and there’s lots of species of MOOC. This is good and we must learn from these experiments to move forward and not get bogged down in old traditionalist v modernist arguments. MOOCs will inform and shape what we do within and without institutions. What is important is to focus on the real needs of real learners.
Taxonomy based on pedagogy
To this end, it is important to define a taxonomy of MOOCs not from the institutional but the pedagogic perspective, by their learning functionality, not by their origins. So here's a starting list of eight:
1. transferMOOCs
Transfer MOOCs literally take existing courses and decant them into a MOOC platform, on the pedagogic assumption that they are teacher-led and many rely on a ‘name’ of the institution or academic to attract learners. The pedagogic assumption is that of transfer from teacher and course content to learner. Many mimic the traditional academic course with lectures, short quizzes, set texts and assessments. You could describe them as being on the cutting edge of tradition. Coursera courses largely fall into this category.
2. madeMOOCs
Made MOOCs tend to more innovative in their use of video, avoiding talking heads in favour of Khan Academy or Udacity hand on board sequences. They also tend to have more of a formal, quality driven approach to the creation of material and more crafted and challenging assignments, problem solving and various levels of sophisticated software-driven interactive experiences. Peer work and peer-assessment, used to cope with the high teacher-student ratios. These tend to be more vocational in nature, VOOCs (Vocational Open ONine Courses), where the aim is to acquire a skill or skills. Udacity take this approach. Remember that Thrun and Norvig were not academics but corporate researchers working for Google.
3. synchMOOCs
Synchronous MOOCs have a fixed start date, tend to have fixed deadlines for assignments and assessments and a clear end date. They often around the agricultural, academic calendar. For example, Coursera offer courses on strict startand end dates with clear deadlines for assignment. Udacity started with their ‘hexamester’ 7 week courses with fixed start dates. Many argue that this helps motivation and aligns teacher availability and student cohort work.
4. asynchMOOCs
Asynchronous MOOCs have no or frequent start dates, tend to have no or looser deadlines for assignments and assessments and no final end date. The pedagogic advantages of asynchronous MOOCs is that they can literally be taken anytime, anywhere and clearly work better over different time zones. Interestingly, Udacity have relaxed their courses to enrol and proceed at user’s own pace. Some sceptics point towards this as being a tactic to reduce drop-out rates due to missed assignment deadlines. Note that Coursera offers a completely open self-study option but this does not warrant a certificate of completion.
5. adaptiveMOOCs
Adaptive MOOCs use adaptive algorithms to present personalised learning experiences, based on dynamic assessment and data gathering on the course and courses. They rely on networks of pre-requisites and take learners on different, personalised paths through the content. This has been identified by the Gates Foundation as an important new area for large scale productivity in online courses. These MOOCs tend not to deliver flat, linear structured knowledge but leaning experiences driven by back-end algorithms. Analytics are also used to change and improve the course in the future. Cogbooks is a leading example of this type of MOOC.
6. groupMOOCs
Group MOOCs start with small, collaborative groups of students. The aim is to increase student retention. Stanford, the MOOC manufacturing factory, has spun out NovoEd (formerly Venture Lab) which offers both MOOCs and closed, limited number, internal courses. They argue that some subjects and courses, such as entrepreneurship and business courses, lose a lot in looses, open MOOC structures and need a more focussed approach to groupwork. The groups are software selected by geography, ability and type. They have mentors and rate each others commitment and progress. Groups are also dissolved and reformed during the course.
7. connectivistMOOCS
Pioneered by Geperge Siemens and Stephen Downes, these connectivist MOOCs rely on the connections across a network rather than pre-defined content. Siemen’s famously  said “cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication”. More simply, Smith says “in an xMOOC you watch videos, in a cMOOC you make videos”. The whole point is to harvest and share knowledge that is contributed by the participants and not see the ‘course’ as a diet of fairly, fixed knowledge. These course tend to create their own trajectory, rather than follow a linear path.
8. miniMOOCSs
So far, MOOCs tend to be associated with Universities, whose courses last many weeks and often fit the semester structure and timetable of traditional institutions. We have also seem=n the emergence of shorter MOOCs for content and skills that do not require such long timescales. This is mpore typical of commercial e-learning courses, which tend to be more intense experiences that last for hours and days, not weeks. They are more suitable for precise domains and tasks with clear learning objectives. The Open Badges movement tends to be more aligned with this type of MOOC.
Note that these are not mutually exclusive categories, as one can have a transfer MOOC that is synchronous or asynchronous. What’s important here is that we see MOOCs as informing the debate around learning to get over the obvious problems of relevance, access and cost. This is by no means a definitive taxonomy but it’s a start. I’d really appreciate any comments, critiques or new categories. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Latin: Mary Beard and why it has no place in core curricula

"Debate is the key word
So says the venerable Mary Beard in her new book Confronting the Classics. “the classical tradition is something to be engaged with and sparred against, not merely replicated and mouthed”. Exactly. Yet when I dared to criticise the place of Latin in our school curricula, in two separate posts, you’d have thought I was the barbarian at the gates of contemporary civilisation. First, I outlined the research that scotched that old myth about Latin helping you learn second languages such as French, Spanish, Italian and so on. (Latin makes learning a second language more difficult) Second, I outlined the true reasons for Latin being so prominent in our 21st century schools, many of them made unpleasant reading (10 reasons not to learn Latin).
At the time Mary Beard commented on these pieces in her characteristic, level-headed and rational manner. She defended Latin but thought that Greek may be a better option if you’re after ideas, philosophy, epics and drama. She also gave short thrift to the old chestnuts used by Latinists to keep Latin as a key subject in school curricula, seeing it as a product of a narrow curriculum and unimaginably, dull pedagogy.
ad hoc arguments for Latin
In her latest book she tackles the subject of learning Latin head-on in the introductory essay. Latin was “for generations the gatekeeper of rigid class, privilege and social exclusivity…it gave you access to a narrow elite”. She rejects the hyperbolic claims that Latin improves intellectual and linguistic development, IQ or the learning of French, Italian and Spanish (a much loved dinner-party trope) and claims that most of these sort of arguments that support learning Latin are “perilous”.
Latin a matter or proportionality
the overall strength of the classics is not to be measured by exactly how many young people know Latin or Greek from school or University. It is better measured by asking how many believe that there should be people in the world who do know Latin and Greek.” This about sums up my position. I am not against the study of Latin or any other dead languages. This is largely a matter of proportionality for our Universities. By all means let a few study Latin. What I am against is too prominent a role for Latin in contemporary school curriculas. Our young people have enough on their plate at 5-18, as the range of subjects expands to include a wider range of science subjects, IT and other vocational skills. A dead language at this stage is merely the dead hand of educational history being played out by interested parties.
There is only one good reason for learning Latin, and that is that you want to read what is written in it….” This is another key point made by Beard. Let’s forget about all of those excuses for Latin being in some special intellectual category. It is not. Taking the line, as Gove did recently (he had to furiously backtrack), that Latin should be given special status above IT and every other vocational subject on the curriculum is absurd. To do, as Toby Young has done, and make it compulsory, is idiotic.
PS Sense of wonderment
What Mary Beard’s book is largely about, is instilling a sense of ‘sense of wonderment’ in the classical world. I’ve had that since the age of 15 or so, without studying Latin. Beard excels in this task in both print and on TV. This book, in English, is about scholarship ridding us of misconceptions and myths. She does this with panache. Knossos, Pompeii and the Laocoon are stripped of their misleading modern appearances. Those pesky, verbatim, Thucididean speeches are subject to a re-evaluation. Alexander the Great and Cleopatra are placed in the context of later ‘spin’. There is a reassessment of the Galba to Vespasian period, a stirring defence of those bad boys of Rome, Caligula and Nero. Asterix the Gaul is seen as a distortion of Rome’s model of governance. The archaeological evidence for the Boadicean rebellion is reassessed (there’s almost nothing). Great book by a wonderful woman who understands that the Classics are to be cherished and debated, not defended uncritically and fossilised.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Malaysia: Chromebook/cloud provision for 10 million! (not taking the tablets)

Malaysia has today announced the national adoption of Google Apps for 10 million (read that again) teachers, students and parents. Primary and secondary schools will get Chromebooks and use cloud services. This is a massive attempt to reform and turbo-charge a national education system through technology and I applaud their vision.
In one stroke they’ve got a solution that solves all of those irritating problems, fiscal, technical and pedagogic, that plagues tablet projects. Chromebooks have quick start-up times, are robust, secure, use a cloud based approach that makes delivery of services and content easy and provides good analytics. At last a country that understands procurement and puts learning needs above shiny objects. I fly there this week, so hope to report back in more detail, but here’s a starting primer.
Chromebooks are thin, lightweight devices with physical keyboard. This is important in terms of learning productivity, as one can type 20% faster than touchscreen, with less errors, and do far more sophisticated work on essays, coding, pixel accurate graphics tools etc. than tablet devices allow. (see end of post)
The advantage of a low-cost Chromebook is that it boots quickly, connects immediately, is browser-based using the internet and cloud, rather than difficult to manage local storage and apps. This gets both students and teachers into productive learning quickly and life is a lot easier in terms of delivery, tracking, assessment, data and security (virus protection is built in). Remember that this is cloud storage, avoiding local data on the devices, making them much easier to manage and maintain.
Cloud-based learning
Cloud-based design means access anywhere, anytime from any device and with Google Apps, you’re not buying licenses for Microsoft and other software. Students and teachers use Google Apps for email, calendar, documents, data, and much more. As all docs and data are in the cloud, you don’t have to worry about storage and backups, and OS updates happen automatically every time you switch it on. Your school does NOT need servers! Even of a Chromebook is lost, stolen or broken, no learning data is lost. Focus on WIFI and you have your comms sorted (note that Chromebooks can also have 3G add-ons for mobile network access).
IDC comparative research showed that Chromebooks would save $1135 for each device, as they take 69% less time to deploy and 92% less time to manage. The per-device costs come out at $7.75 per month over three years. This gives considerable costs savings when compared to tablets, desktop PCs and laptops. You can, of course, expect these costs to fall, making it easier to move to one device per teacher and student.
The good thing about this research is that it really did look at productivity in terms of real teacher and administration salary costs in relation to support and classroom downtime. None of the woolly ‘survey-monkey’ qualitative stuff we get from UK tablet trials.
Importantly, the research showed that the devices were highly reliable and reduced expensive teaching and administration time by 82%. This was important as there were often zero help-desk calls and minimal calls on support across the projects. Above all, there was no need to worry about redesign and realignment of existing systems and no problems with losing files. All of this leads to more time on learning and less on dealing with and fire-fighting IT issues.
The downside is that Chromebooks do not run Windows, so if you have Windows apps, you may think you’re in trouble. Fear not, Google provide Windows virtualisation. Internet dependent devices need adequate and robust wifi, as the applications need to be run online. This can be a problem if the network is interrupted or fails. Fear not, Chromebooks cache work so that you can continue until the connection comes back. You do, however, have to invest in wifi to match use.
The advantages for teachers are that the devices start up quickly, are easy to use and require little support allowing teachers to teach and learners to learn.  In one UK school, James Wilding explains that they rolled out an enlightened, cloud-based solution as follows:
Teachers first - 3 months to bed down the tech and allow the teachers to adjust
Students next – 3 months
Curriculum provision – 6 months to build –up expertise, habits, processes and effect change management
I say ‘enlightened, as this seems like a sensible approach based on change management, not device dumps. The excellent Ian Nairn, of c-learning. tells me of a school who have ditched their expensive tablets for Chromebooks and the cloud.
This is big news. I also think it is good news. A procurement based on a strong fiscal case, a real detailed analysis of the technology and long-term support, as well as the idea that pedagogy should be in the driving seat. Free and low cost solutions on any device is what cloud-based learning offers. Google Search, Google Docs, Wikipedia, Khan Academy, email, calendars, blogger – the list goes on and on. I’ll report back from Malaysia next week.
Other posts on tablets:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Keep on taking the tablets: 7 reasons why this is lousy advice

Purveyors of the metaphor ‘Keep taking the tablets’ often fail to realise its downside. Like much over-prescribed medication, it can be pushed by aggressive sales, lack adequate investigation and diagnosis, be too narrow a treatment, lack evidence other than placebo effects and have some nasty side-effects.
I’ve written about tablets in two previous posts 1) Too cool for school: 7 reasons why tablets should NOT be used in education, 2) Tablets: 7 researched ways they can INHIBIT learning This final piece in the triad looks at the bigger picture with seven reasons  for  being wary of the tablet bandwagon.
1. Aggressive vendors
In an interesting lunch with someone who works for a tablet manufacturer, and has a great deal of experience and expertise in education and technology, someone I respect, I encountered some horror stories that do not appear in the ‘research’. He, like me, despairs of the mad rush towards 1:1 tablets in schools. Both of us own and use tablets and both of us have spent a lifetime trying to get technology used in education but this latest bandwagon effect, is worrying. Vendors are too close to Gove and government, with freebies and special meetings. Beware also the shadowy figures, connected to government, who have an eye on the low hanging fruit of government contracts. Witness Rachel Wolf’s rapid rise from Gove researcher to Newscorp tablet salesperson.
2. Naïve funders
Keep taking the tablets’ was the title of the E-learning Foundations Conference. This lack of objectivity by a funding body is simply bandwagon behaviour. A few of the Trustees are no doubt proud of their ability to look at their Board papers on their new iPad – note that they rarely take notes, annotate or do anything productive on their screens and often have the printed papers out at the side. A little technology is a dangerous thing!
3. Poor diagnosis
Procurement is not just a few columns in a spread-sheet. It involves the calculation, or at least best effort approximation, of risk. These risks come in all sorts of shapes – fiscal (purchase, insurance, maintenance etc.), technical (bandwidth, networking, printing, storage, security, technical support etc.), adoption (teacher use in classroom, collection from leavers, illicit use etc.) and change management (governance, leadership issues, parent reactions, teacher CPD etc.). Few do a really thorough job on this and fewer still demand an evaluative approach that builds-in quantitative measures on the evaluation of attainment.
Governors of schools and colleges tend to be older, not particularly tech savvy and certainly not capable of doing the necessary governance checks on procurement. With schools breaking free from being overseen by Local Authorities, that layer of procurement expertise has gone. To be fair, it was never that good, but its disappearance has led to a lot of idiosyncratic buying.
Have all of these tablet taking projects really completed a cost-benefit analysis against  a) Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy, b) Notebooks/laptops strategy or c) Flip technology out of the classroom? Have lost-opportunity costs been taken into account? I doubt it.
4. Narrow treatment
Pedagogy matters. Failure to plan and cost teacher training can lead to technology slowing down and not accelerating learning, as hoped. For example, my respected educational technologists witnessed iPads being collected in by a teacher at the end of the class ‘for marking’. There are cases of tablets being distributed to students only and not teachers! Without an implementation plan that involves teachers, before the tablets are distributed, you are simply creating more problems than you solve.
Learning needs are very different horizontally across subjects and vertically through age and increasing complexity. The failure to see the need for long-form writing in English, History and other subjects, detailed editing in coding, need to have pixel accurate control in graphics packages and so on renders tablet use literally useless as one moves across the curriculum. Similarly with increasing demands on productive tasks on learning. The further up the educational attainment ladder the learner climbs the less use tablets become.
5. Placebo research
Why do the well-known, negative disasters and negative findings rarely appear in the research. Medicine is built upon randomised double-blind trials with rigorous research, education is not. Even I  the oft-quoted Hull report, one disaster, where iPads were given out yet wifi was only installed months later, was treated as a mere blip. Most of the research is akin to the placebo effects one sees in homeopathic medicine. It’s qualitative, survey-monkey-level research that merely confirms the known fact that if you give kids and teacher a free iPad they like them. This is the allure of consumer electronics, attention not proven attainment.
6. Nasty side-effects
Idiosyncratic tablet projects are pregnant with problems. The technology may bite back as teachers struggle with connectivity, printing, storage and so on. Teachers can come out in a rash of negativity when their practical and training needs are ignored. Students may spend huge amounts of time on relatively shallow learning or other distracting activities
7. Groupthink
This is an old story in education and technology – the over-prescription of untried ttechnology as if it were a wonder-drug. Something new and shiny comes along and before long it’s become a bandwagon, we jump aboard without thinking too much about where it’s taking us, then the wheels start to fall off. Even when the wheels have fallen off you don’t get to hear the bad news, as there’s been so much invested.
I’m not against the use of tablets in schools, I just think that turning it into a ‘movement’ is a mistake and that too many of these projects are poorly planned, badly procured and lack proper evaluation.