Friday, February 21, 2014

Amazing 3D phone from Google (Kinect in a phone)

Google have just released details of their 3D sensor phone. It’s a sort of Microsoft Kinect in your phone.  It combines that personal, powerful and portable device with the very environment in which you live in and move through. To put it another way it automatically creates and stores context. This is much bigger, I suspect, than the promo video suggests.
Why does this matter?
Well, most people have a rather primitive view of perception and consciousness, as if our perception is some sort of x-ray vision that reaches out to the world and scans it as we move and think. The very opposite is the case. We recreate that world in our brains and re-present it in created consciousness. We recreate our environment in 3D as we perceive and move through that world. This phone does something similar – it recreates the world through which you move. How? It’s an Android phone with sensors that makes over a quarter of a million measurements every second. 
Initial applications include the use of this recreated 3D world for the visually impaired and blind. You could also use it practically for mapping your home or a room for decoration or garden for redesign. Eventually it will scan 3D objects for storage and 3D printing and so on.
Contextual learning
My interest would take things much further. I’d use it to create your own personal environments for contextual learning. We have long known that learning, specifically retention and recall are increased through context. Sit an exam in a room where you actually learnt that material and you do better in that exam. For most 'learn by doing' tasks this is especially true.
Imagine creating a lab, workshop, shop or any other physical space where that 3D model can be used to create context-specific, simulated learning. Induction (onboarding), product knowledge, sale straining, health and safety and hundreds of other business as usual training tasks could be constructed for your personal working environment. All it would take is an authoring tool with the ability to tag objects and locations, then add a learning layer. You could even use it as a memory aid, locating what you want to learn in your known locations then use the memory palace technique for practice, retention and recall.
I'm currently involved in two brilliant 3D sims in vocational learning where we're creating 3D environments for training, assessment and certification. They really do measure competences in detail and could revolutionaries this type of learning. Eventually this sort of simulation could be personally created and commonplace.

Boy things are moving fast in the mobile arena. It may not be robots in the home that matter after all, but our homes with robotic ability to enhance our lives. I want one…..

Friday, February 14, 2014

Imperial’s Debra Humphries hits bum note on MOOCs

Just back from a European Summit on MOOCs in Lausanne and this is one of the shortest blogs I’ve ever written but something made me mad. Debra Humphries from Imperial College London gave a keynote speech and quoted Diana Laurillard "very intelligent people leave their brains behind when it comes to technology" and quite without irony, didn’t realize that most of the audience thought this applied to her. 
I hate how this quote is being misused i.e. as a statement that really suggests ‘I know it all, you know nothing’. This is NOT what Diana meant, as she’s a considered person, as much against the lazy thinking as anyone. But it’s being used as an accusation towards people doing good things by people who are largely behind the curve or even worse haven't done their homework. In practice, the quote is probably best applied to the very people who quote it.
What also annoys me is the fact that so-called experts are being put on panels and talking about MOOCs, without having taken one or even doing the necessary research. I first experienced this at WISE in Doha Qatar, where the two people on a panel of four had not taken a MOOC and had cliched views about what they were. The same thing happened in a debate on MOOCs at Online Educa, where the two people arguing against MOOCs hadn't even looked at one. This is unacceptable, especially among academics and educators. At least do your homework.
I saw no reason for the inclusion of Debra in the programme. She was late, didn’t engage with the conference, had her head in the sand and said nothing that was either interesting or new. She claimed to be taking the strategic view (in a tone that suggested no one else was) but when asked what that was, couldn’t really say. The lively and excellent chair, Pierre Dillenbourg, lost patience and had a go at the end of her talk – “these people have paid to be here, why not tell us something”. Exactement!

Origins of MOOCs: sources, streams, tributaries to flood

Several spats have broken out over the origin of MOOCs, with several sources claiming that they were first, or delivered MOOCs before someone else. The problem is the search for a single source is, to a degree, fruitlesss. MOOCs are like a river, they have several tributaries as their source, some larger and more bountiful than others. At various points these have come together with others joining downstream to form a mainstream flow. I’d even argue that the river is widening out again into a delta of separate streams.
Dozens of people claim to have been delivering MOOCs going way back but let’s acknowledge that ‘distance learning’ has been around for most of the century, either by post, radio, TV, CDs and so on. This was clearly a long and steady tribitary. Several significant sources arose in the 80s and 90s on the nascent forms of the internet and web.
Open Universities
Another source and stream, that flowed into the MOOC river has been the Open Universities such as the OU in the UK, formed in 1969 but there are over 20 of such open access Universities worldwide. We owe them a debt in creating an environment where access and entry was open and costs free or low. I also have no doubt that the hundreds of other
Open Education Resources
Open Education Resource tributaries also contributed to what became an inundation. David Wiley played an important role here as did the spirit of open access and open licensing. MITOpenCourseware was a landmark but there are plenty other sizeable examples.
Origins of name
What IS absolutely clear is that the acronym MOOC was created by Dave Cormier in 2008 a label he attached to a specific source, the course Connectivism and Connective Knowledge  by Downes and Siemens. They deserve to be seen as the origins of both the word and one type of MOOC, a connectivist MOOC. We then had  a hiatus.

Upstream feed
Thereafter the MOOC phenomenon (it is a phenomenon) was massively amplified by the Khan Academy, who was using his method in 2004, but quit his job in 2009 to get the Khan Academy going, with it’s millions of video views and free courses. This was significant, as it created short, faceless, videos of maths, screen-capture style that hugely influenced subsequent MOOC development. This developed into an upstream supply. 

Banks burst
Sebastian Thrun (who publically acknowledged his debt to Khan) and Peter Norvig (Google employees) were then significant, as their AI course, in the fall of 2011, caught the imagination and boosted the phenomenon even further with quotable stats about participants. The river then began to rise to full flow.

Start of the flood
Stanford also plays an important role here as it produced a number of courses and entrepreneurs, such as the two Ng and Widom courses, shortly after the Thrun course. Ng and Koller then deliberately left the confines of Stanford to set up Coursera. They claim that Coursera could never have happened within Stanford. Then we have EdX, the MIT with their first course in March 2012, which is unlikely to have happened without MIT OpenCourseware. These tributaries then began to seem like a full blown single MOOC river.
They have all contributed to the growing river of MOOCs that we have today and turned into a huge worldwide movement, with multiple investment streams and models. Even now it is evolving fast. We have moved well beyond the cMOOC v xMOOC binary, which I think was, but is no longer, useful, into a wide range of MOOC types (lecture-based, recource based, adaptive, connectivist, gamified, lab-based, vocational, synchronous, asynchronous, mini-MOOCs), on a wide range of subjects, from a wide range of organisations (educational, public, not-for-profit, government and corporates) to a wide range of audiences (schoolkids, students, employees, adults, professionals, people in developing world and retirees), across a wide range of ages from 11 to 91. It’s all good.
Almost the only thing Kissinger said that I agree with is,The reason that university politics is so vicious is because stakes are so small”. There is no definitive meaning of the word MOOC, as meaning is use, and usage changes. There was one origin of the word MOOC and a course to which that word was attached – Siemens and Downes. But let’s also pay our dues to the many other sources of the phenomenon and move on. They are all good people who had good intentions and got things done. That is the important point. For my own part, I’d rather get on with it, than endlessly debate the past.
I think I was the first to post Scorcese's Mean Streets use of the word MOOCs in 1973I

Thursday, February 13, 2014

MOOC Factory – boy was I impressed

Just back from a European MOOC Summit in Lausanne, and I'll write about that later, but first let me tell you about something I saw - the MOOC Factory. 
The MOOC Factory at EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de lausanne) is a well oiled machine and it’s no accident that this is a centre of MOOC excellence, as they are a practical organisation and I strongly believe that MOOCs have a huge role to play in vocational education. They have several big advantages:
1. Leadership
2. ‘Can do’ mindset
3. ‘Vocational’ mindset
4. Solid approach to production
5. Global ambitions
1. Leadership: (President) Patrick Aebischer
This guy’s a mover and shaker and asked a simple question, not What will happen? but What has happened? with MOOCs. He asked for data – and gave us some. He had commissioned 20 MOOCs, through the EPFL MOOC Factory reaching 400,000 students. He was clear about the fact that the data shows that the age of MOOCers is older and with a much wider range than traditional campus students and that there was a huge demand for practical, vocational courses. This has led him to the correct conclusion that MOOCs have huge potential  as an astounding tool for continuous education”.  This was a recurring theme for the Lausanne summit.
2. ‘Can do’ mindset
There was none of the woolly, old-school, defensive mindsets of traditional academe, where people tend to fire off arrows, draw a chalk circle around the arrow and say ‘Look, I’ve scored a bullseye!’ There's no 18 year old students there. What about driopout?….. They have faith in courses that are massive, open and online, backed up with a strong moral outlook, that says, this is not about the traditional campus student and academics but CPD, vocational learing and the developing world.
3. ‘Vocational’ mindset
It is no accident that a strongly vocational institution has forged ahead here. First, they have the resources and skills to get things done but they also realise that there is a huge thirst, backed up by the demand data for MOOCs, by people in employment for courses that they take of their own volition. This CPD and vocational market is huge, Udacity are there, Coursera are moving there, EdX is also there and so are these guys. They were all in the 'business' track at the summit - which I thinkw as the most interesting.
4. Solid approach to production
They have a slick, rolling programme of production, with a skilled and enthusiastic (important) team and a focus on production values, that is very professional. I got a tour of the production facility and studios and was impressed. Most of their MOOCs are in STEM subjects, including many in computer science and coding. So their core studio production process involves lectures and demonstrations, where the teacher is writing symbolic stuff with semi-transparent hand, on a tablet or cutting to head and shoulders when talking. It was not only a superb set-up but run by people who really know what they are doing in terms of process and production.
5. Global ambitions
They have been impressed by the take up of their courses in Africa and see that as a huge market. In Africa, they see a strong demand for 1) Foundation courses, and 2) Priority themes such as water, energy, nutrition, health and agriculture i.e. vocational courses. I couldn’t agree more. Abstract, academic, liberal arts courses are inappropriate in many places. A rising Africa needs practical, not academic education. Even in the developed world we have come to realise that we have let the vocational sector atrophy, compared to the academic, so why foist a broken model onto others.

My Lausanne trip was interesting for two reasons. First, it confirmed my view that HE may not be the true vocation for MOOCs. In fact HE may be a sideshow compared to the already evident data that shows MOOCs being enthusiastically taken up by people who work in corporates, government and not-for-profit organisations. It’s a global CPD, lifelong learning, vocational market. Second, as I’ve always believed. MOOCs, if they are to retain learners, like any other medium, need professional input, not only on strategy but also platform selection, costing, production and marketing. More on this later.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Boom! First pure online degrees get through QAA review

Two good thing happened in 2012; 1) loans for part-time students in HE and 2) alternative providers (those not in receipt of funding from HEFCE) could apply to QAA. Martin Bean and I lobbied for these in a meeting with David Willetts.
IDI (Interactive Design Institute), who I’ve written about before, are one such innovative ‘alternative provider’. Formed in 2004 to deliver visual arts and design courses online, IDI teamed up with the University of Hertfordshire in 2008. Since then IDI have adapted a number of UH undergraduate degree programmes for pure online delivery. Currently they deliver, end-to-end online: BA (Hons) Graphic Design, Photography, Illustration, and Interior Architecture & Design. An online BA in Fine Art is planned for 2013, with online MA courses in design to follow.
Zero face-to-face learning
IDI students have their own online studios, with world class software designed around detailed feedback, where they access learning materials, projects and activities and communicate with their tutors on a one-to-one basis (asynchronously). They interact with their fellow students within online forums. All assessment takes place online. The only time students ever get together in a physical location is when they attend their graduation ceremony, held each November at Edinburgh Castle. I’ve been gowned up, given speeches and handed out prizes at both of the last graduations and both were eye-opening experiences, where I got first-hand feedback from learners, tutors, IDI staff, the Dean and Vice Chancellor.
Mulltiple and flexible intakes
IDI have three intakes a year in October, February and June. They offer both full time and part time study routes and currently have 500+ students enrolled across their undergraduate degree programmes. Their students are primarily UK based, but they have students in ones and twos in over 68 countries worldwide, and international student numbers are growing. To date IDI show consistently low drop-out rates and high levels of student satisfaction and achievement.
First purely online degree provider through QAA
Importantly, they were among the first of the ‘alternative providers’ to apply to be reviewed by the QAA, and the first purely online provider of Higher Education degree level courses ever to go through a QAA review in November 2012.
QAA results
IDI has been through a Review for Specific Course Designation by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and has received its final report, which is available in full here. and have received the following judgements from QAA:

The review team has confidence in The Interactive Design Institute's management of its responsibilities for the standards of the awards it offers on behalf of its awarding body. The review team has confidence that The Interactive Design Institute is fulfilling its responsibilities for managing and enhancing the quality of the intended learning opportunities it provides for students. The review team concludes that reliance can be placed on the information that The Interactive Design Institute produces for its intended audiences about the learning opportunities it offers.”
In plain language this is good news as they have been been approved in terms of QAA standards but more than this, the QAA review team identified the following good practice:
  • use of the virtual learning environment to encourage student engagement in enhancement activity
  • engagement of students in designing the content of the virtual studio and an application for mobile phones and tablet computers
  • online student support mechanisms identify students who are not engaging with their learning.
Unique model – secret sauce
What makes IDI’s model unique, and is key to its success, is a belief that students studying at a distance require more support, not less. A network of qualified tutors, who are subject specialists, communicate with IDI students on a one-to-one basis within individual online studios. This communication is mainly asynchronous – a deliberate choice. This is their secret sauce – asynchronous but considered, constructive feedback that leads to reflection and is fully archived. My own belief is that this is a superior to many campus systems based on synchronous lectures and often scant feedback that takes ages to get back from tutors. Students can normally expect a response from their tutors to any message within 24 hours Monday to Friday.
Plenty of discussion
Students engage with their peers within online forums. There are forums for each course and module, as well as for specific activities. Forum participation is largely informal, however the forums are also used for group activity, and at key stages, participation in a forum can form part of a formative or summative assessment.
Continuous review
Fundamental to IDI’s approach to course development is an understanding of how students learn. The team have developed a methodology for taking the university curriculum and adapting it to provide structured and logical learning paths which consist of comprehensive support materials and practical activities. The course materials deliver the teaching, whilst IDI tutors provide critical feedback, advice and encouragement. The course content goes through a continuous cycle of review in response to student and tutor feedback. This feedback is gathered at regular intervals at a 4 week student feedback questionnaires, module reviews and course committee meetings, which take place each semester, and feeds in to the University’s Annual Monitoring and Evaluation Reports (AMER).
Strong support
Behind all of this, a dedicated team of Course Managers and Student Support Advisors provide students with pastoral support, monitor student engagement and liaise with colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire to coordinate the assessment process. This means that tutors are entirely freed up to able to focus on the student’s learning.

This pure, online offer is clearly successful in terms of quality, student achievement, peer communication, student and tutor support. It is groundbreaking and if we are to change HE for the better we need a massive expansion in this type of delivery. Why? This proves that we can lower costs and keep quality, increase the number of intakes per year, not rely on expensive campuses and spend less money on degrees that are as good and arguably better than their campus equivalents. If you are genuinely interested in deleivering pure online degrees, speak to these guys, they’re passionate about their students and learning and have built a model that is now proven in terms of quality.