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Final Open programme role

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 15/05/2024 - 11:29

This is going to be a month of ‘Lasts” for me, so I beg your forbearance for the extended farewells. Last week I chaired the last Board of Studies meeting for the Open Programme. This was a role I took on five years ago. The Board of Studies is the tri-annual meeting where we bring together issues relating to a particular qualification area. The Open Programme covered the Open Degree, the combined STEM degree and Open Masters.

I’ve blogged previously about these, and in particular the power of allowing students choice and flexibility in their pathway. A point I’ve made often, but as Jack White would say, it bears repeating, is that this flexibility (over 250 different modules can be combined for the Open Degree) is a function of asynchronous study. It allows students, even if they are studying at full time intensity, to combine modules of their choice without fear of timetable clashes. There may be some overlap in assessment dates and occasional events but there is sufficient flexibility built into most timetables to alleviate these. This is a benefit so often overlooked when institutions adopt online learning and replicate the lecture model, with all of its inbuilt logistical headaches.

More importantly though the Open qualifications treat the student with respect I think. They are shapeable to their needs, interests, and context. Of course, named degrees are important, and the dominant mode across the sector, but they are not the only possibility. Many of our open students speak passionately about how this flexibility gave them what they wanted and needed.

A small whinge – I think the OU itself rather hides this jewel away and doesn’t promote it anywhere near enough. When I tell people about it they often respond along the lines of “that sounds great, I wish I’d known about that when I did my degree”. At the OU and across the sector we need to be encouraging more of this type of study, in a complex, messy world the narrow confines of specialist degrees won’t be sufficient by themselves to wrangle the society we live in to a meaningful, caring one (although specialism will be an important part of the mix).

The photo is the fantastic bespoke artwork the lovely Open team commissioned through conversations with Bryan Mathers.

Say hello to PEE – your Personal Engagement Environment

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Sun, 12/05/2024 - 12:05

I’ve blogged about the Twitter Diaspora, arguing that Twitter was a default place for many in higher education. Alan suggests that the Town Hall was something of a myth, and while there’s probably some truth in that, I would content that, during the 2010s, if you were in higher ed, and active in social media, then you had a Twitter account. You would likely have other platforms also, and maybe some you preferred over Twitter, but Twitter could act as a default engagement platform. That assumption no longer holds true.

In a very timely special issue of JIME on social media, Apostolos Koutropoulos and 8 co-authors consider this fragmentation of educational discourse (again, I would argue they wouldn’t be doing this if Twitter hadn’t been the default engagement network). They conclude that:

As some of the established social media like the social network formerly known as Twitter ‘go down’ and others like Mastodon or Bluesky ‘rise’ we must finally realize that these or indeed any social media platforms will always continue to ebb and flow – they are out of our control. They never were the third spaces that some believed they were, or wanted them to be.

I do agree with Alan when he says “Accept the distributed, disaggregated ness of it all”. I don’t think there is a “next Twitter”, ie one platform where you can pretty safely assume people will connect.

Which brings me on to the PEE – Personal Engagement Environment (I may have to work on that acronym). Some of you may recall that around the late 2000s we got excited by the idea of Personal Learning Environments, the idea being that individuals stitched together their favourite tools to create their own learning environment. This morphed into a Personal Learning Network, which moved the focus away from the tools and more to the people and resources in your own network. Back then we used to create radial diagrams comprised of logos of the various tools we used. Scott Leslie did a really nice analysis of these diagrams, noting that there were 6 broad categories: tool, use, resource, flow, people, or hybrid oriented (with tool focused being the most common). Here was mine in 2011 (aww, bless, look at all those defunct services):

While a lot of this was because we were excited about all that Web 2.0 stuff, it was also a useful way to map the tools you used regularly. Dave White developed a useful mapping activity around digital residents and visitors which did a similar thing.

While I’m all up for more radial diagrams, this is more of a way to think about post-Twitter life. Each of us develops a personal engagement environment, the different elements of which will be emphasised for different purposes and audiences. It’s a return how we operated pre-Twitter dominance I guess. You may have a main platform (eg blog), a work focused one eg LinkedIn, a personal one eg Instagram, a general one eg Threads, a course focused one eg podcasts, etc. For any one engagement activity you may post to all, one or some of these. Consider the example of wanting to share a new article you have had published – you may blog about it, and post a link on LinkedIn and on Threads. If you wanted to boost someone a post from someone else, that may just be LinkedIn. For conference engagement you may focus more Mastodon, etc. You may decide that you don’t need or want a lot of engagement, and just stick to one platform such as a blog.

As Koutropoulos and co state “Times are complex, supercomplex”, and depending on the type of engagement you want or need, then your PEE (no, definitely need a better acronym) will be complex as well. I think we have to accept that, and embrace it. Get those diagrams going!

April 24 round up

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 01/05/2024 - 09:09

I was looking forward to April, I had booked study leave and had a number of small, fun projects I wanted to get started. Well, it transpired that April had other plans. For no particular reason I had a mental health wobble in the first week, and was just getting over that when an elderly parent emergency arose, which necessitated several trips and stays in Bedfordshire. This included missing the much anticipated hockey playoff weekend in Nottingham with my daughter, and abandoning a holiday in West Wales. Add in an emergency dental appointment, and yes, April can do one. I looked back at my google doc for plans for this month and it is a wasteland of unchecked lists. The saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans, comes to mind.

Because I’ve been doing lots of driving and hanging around in hotel rooms, I have gotten through a lot of books this month, although I’ve also been struggling to find ones that really engage me. One book that definitely did was Data Feminism by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein. They set out how a feminist perspective on data science is necessary to combat dangerous misuse, stating “Underlying data feminism is a belief in and commitment to co-liberation: the idea that oppressive systems of power harm all of us, that they undermine the quality and validity of our work, and that they hinder us from creating true and lasting social impact with data science.” They set out 7 principles of data feminism, and I would argue that all institutions would be well served by approaching any large scale use of data, AI, analytics with those principles in mind. The book is available as open access also.

Speaking of feminism, I also read an intriguing book with a great title, House of Psychotic Women by Kier-la Janisse, in which she uses analysis of exploitation and horror films as a route for autobiography. Navigating her complex, and sometimes traumatic childhood in particular, it’s a thoughtful (if sometimes difficult) interweaving of personal history, feminist theory and film critique.

And, speaking of data, I also read an ice hockey analytics book, which prompted me to develop my own NHL playoffs predictor model. This has given me the following playoff bracket prediction, so let’s see how well my model does against that reality thing:

In my previous post I mentioned the book The Revenge of Analog, and an event mentioned in this book is the success of Record Store Day. Although I couldn’t participate on the actual day I managed to pick up a couple of releases later, including the 3-LP box set of Wilco’s The Whole Love. I also enjoyed Kacey Musgraves’ exploration of contentment in Deeper Well, and decidedly less content, we saw the return of the Phosphorescent with Revelator. At one point this month I nodded in agreement with his sentiment “I don’t even like what I like any more”. But, I got to spend some days in West Wales with the view above, so can’t really complain.

The price of process

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 23/04/2024 - 14:45

(Photo by Natalie Cardona on Unsplash)

Like Maren, I read David Sax’s The Revenge of Analog last month, and some points in it chimed with some other thoughts I’d been having around AI. The book makes the case around how analogue industries and formats have revived despite their apparent inevitable demise in face of digital alternatives. It is sometimes too keen to reinforce its won hypothesis and ignores counter points (the education chapter had me wincing in places for over-simplification), but overall it marks an interesting reaction to technology. It can be viewed in some respects as an argument against technological determinism, that despite all of these predictions of doom, people tend to behave in unexpected ways and new models come through.

This is not just persistence of the old format, but how that format or practice is changed through the basis of a digital prevalence. For example, the sale of vinyl records has grown steadily over the past 20 years but that doesn’t mean the people who purchase them don’t also have Spotify accounts, and use this to discover new music, or that artists don’t use digital means to connect with audiences and distribute music.

He also makes the point that analogue is often more profitable than digital, whether it be sales or advertising, it is a case of “digital pennies versus print pounds”. And this gets to the feeling I had about AI following on from the inevitable discussions at conferences about its impact. The areas where analogue has proven resistant and popular is where people have come to value the process over the product. Tabletop gaming is a good example – many of the games could be played as well, if not better, online but it is the process of sitting around a table with friends, interacting over the game that is valuable. And while audiophiles make a claim about the sound quality of vinyl, I think it is really the process of purchasing, owning, handling and listening to music in a physical format that is the essence cherished by those of us with unwieldy vinyl collections.

Which brings us on to AI. The use of AI tools is generally fine when the process itself doesn’t matter. Producing monthly reports that no-one will read? Sure, use AI. Making an image for a presentation to a few people? DaVinci your heart out. However, if you are writing a paper, or an essay where the act of writing increases your own understanding then AI is at best a prompt. If you want to create art for a research project that reflects your values and identity then the act of doing so (as we know with our work with Bryan Mathers, who always emphasises that it is the conversation that is important) is in itself valuable. Plus you are demonstrating that it matters to you by employing someone or utilising your own time.

What this perspective reveals is how much of the higher education experience we have made seem like it doesn’t matter. Writing research papers is merely a means to increase an h-index, or get promotion, so you may as well get AI to do it. We have stressed grading to such an extent that writing essays for students is mainly only about getting the grades, so why shouldn’t they use ChatGPT? The focus on performance metrics has created a sector filled with garbage process that we have to undertake because that is how to win but that are essentially meaningless in themselves. They are begging to be AI’d to death.

Ted Gioia has an interesting newsletter post about MacGuffins. The point of a MacGuffin in film is to give the onscreen character some reason to pursue their quest, the Holy Grail being the archetype. But actually he notes, the MacGuffin is in itself irrelevant, it could be anything. When it becomes a physical object it becomes meaningless “The quest was previously about transforming your life. Now it gets turned into a physical object—and a vague one, with all the key details missing.” This could be a description of much of higher ed.

There is something in the value we place upon certain analogue based experiences and higher education’s response to AI I think. It should be a wake-up call to reinstate the value of the process itself and to consider the importance we place upon garbage processes. It’s worth asking “does this process matter?” if the answer is no, then expect it to fall foul of AI. If the answer is yes, then we need to demonstrate and reinforce that, because it is difficult to tell now which of the processes actually add value to the individual undertaking them, and which are just meat for the metric grinder.

A F2F OU?

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 05/04/2024 - 10:13

Some of you may have seen this article in HEPI in which the author makes an argument against the possible establishment of a city centre base for the Open University. I will say up front, I have no insider knowledge here, and as I’m leaving, no skin in the game, these are more just thoughts based on being a long time OU and distance/online learning advocate.

The article makes a strange case, partly aligning their opposition to the move on the basis of CO2 emissions, which I’m not in a position to judge (but equally they offer no evidence for). Their argument is basically, if we all wish hard enough, academics will want to come to the existing Walton Hall campus. Yeah, that ship has sailed. Saying we could make it more attractive by innovating and that will attract new staff is going the wrong way I’d suggest – being able to work remotely and live, say, in beautiful West Wales while still being a full, active member of staff would be more of a draw for new staff I’d suggest.

The possible city centre provision (and from what I understand nothing has been decided yet, but options are being considered, which seems sensible), would not necessarily be for existing OU students. We might think of it as a separate offering, let’s call it F2F-OU (to be clear, that’s what I’m calling it, not a proposed brand name), that shares some resources with traditional OU, such as content, expertise, accrediting powers, etc. In this model students would either enrol with F2F-OU or Trad-OU (maybe there would be different fees? I don’t know). This does not contradict the existing OU offering or its open, distance, four nations remit.

There are some areas for concern here, the OU has not been great at large scale strategic moves (see USOU), and finances are tight across the sector. It’s an understatement to say this is not the ideal time to be thinking about opening a new F2F university. But I’m not in the meetings so don’t know what finance models are being proposed, I’d hope some independent oversight would be given to these. There are also legitimate concerns about lab facilities, particularly in STEM, and these would need to be resolved to maintain a decent research status. It might also be a huge distraction when we cannot accommodate it.

The bit I do find interesting though is more sector-wide. I occasionally give talks, during and after the pandemic, to HEIs who are now in the position of having to shift some provision online, become more flexible and find hybrid models that work economically and pedagogically. It would seem logical (but again, no inside knowledge here) that the F2F-OU offering would make use of existing OU content and supplement this with some F2F provision. Getting this hybrid blend right, so students have some of the benefits of F2F and the flexibility of high quality distance learning materials would be an attractive offer, not just to students, but as a model to the sector more widely. As F2F universities are embracing elements of an OU model, perhaps it makes sense for the OU to embrace elements of the F2F one. Whether the city centre move goes ahead or not, I think cracking that model would be the innovative and exciting piece here, whether for OU students or in collaboration with partner institutions. I don’t really care one way or the other about the move itself, but academically, if it is a catalyst for developing sustainable hybrid education models, then that is interesting (to me anyway).

These types of proposals can induce a good deal of anxiety, particularly around core values and mission and I’ve seen plenty of people projecting fears on to the proposal which are not part of what is being suggested. Maybe that’s inevitable when the proposed solution is still in relatively early stages. I had the sense of doom with the 2018 OU crisis, but I don’t feel it with this proposal (with the large caveat that this is only if the finances work out), since it doesn’t undermine the traditional OU offering and potentially offers a new model that is suitable for the type of robust higher education I have talked about elsewhere.

But hey, I’ll be on a beach sipping cocktails by 2030, so what do I know?

March 24 round up

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 01/04/2024 - 11:55

It’s been a busy presentation month. I gave a metaphors talk for Rikke Toft Nørgård’s Digital Pedagogy and Learning special interest group. I like these more informal presentations, and we had a fun chat about Nordic metaphors afterwards. I hosted a session for the European Digital Education Hub, on learning environments. Preparing for this prompted me to think more about AI enhanced learning environments, so it was one of those presentations that help move along your own thinking. Dominic Orr joined me and gave an excellent overview of the work they do at Atingi. I’ve blogged about the OER24 experience, so won’t say more here except to say it warmed this cynical old man’s heart.

On the book front, I’ve been a bit immersed in horror and Stephen King this month. King was an author I read a lot as teen, the classic era of his writing. But then I put those childish things behind me and read “proper” literature. Returning to his writing some 40 years later I am chastened by that snobbish attitude, and also really able to appreciate his craft in creating characters you like spending time with. If he were less of a genre writer he would probably be feted more as serious literature (not that it bothers him I suspect). I enjoyed Nige Tassel’s odyssey to track down all of the artists who had appeared on the NME’s C86 tape. It’s a warm, humane book about what happens after brief brushes with fame. Many of the people he spoke to still play music in some form (and a surprising number seem to be into cycling), and it is that sense of creating music for its own sake that comes through (and also that the NME was pretty shitty to a lot of them having created this genre themselves).

It’s been a good vinyl purchasing month with the release of new albums from several artists whose previous albums had been firm favourites. Hurray for the Riff Raff’s new release, The Past is Still Alive was a more subdued affair than the “nature punk” of Last Days on Earth. On it Alynda Segarra’s chronicles their chaotic youth of being a teenage punk runaway, jumping trains and dumpster diving. As with the last album the sound is deceptively upbeat whether they are singing about ICE brutality, transphobia or fentanyl abuse. But that’s kind of the point, they find humanity in the tales of the dispossessed, in the tradition of Steinbeck. Brittany Howard’s new release, What Now, has a LOT going on. It’s a massive sound, with funk, soul, complex jazz rhythms & orchestration. Every track is a good album in itself. My favourite of the month is Waxahatchee’s Tiger’s Blood. I quite iked Waxahatchee’s last album, Saint Cloud, but her collaboration with Jess Williamson, as Plains was incredible. This album continues in that vein of country with the benefit of hindsight. If it was a person they would live in a trailer, drive a battered pick up, swear like “a dry county welder”, and be the smartest person you know.

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An OER24 transmission

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 01/04/2024 - 11:20

I mentioned my visit to Cork to pull off One Last Job at OER24, which I am now safely and legally returned from. There I gave a fun presentation with Maren on podcasting and internet radio, and one on the afterlife of my 25 Years of Ed Tech book. The conference was excellent, with thought-provoking, engaging and warm keynotes from Rajiv Jhangiani and the double act of Laura Czerniewicz and Catherine Cronin.

We had a compact, full GO-GN workshop the day prior to the conference. I like seeing new generations of GO-GN scholars coming through, there were few of the attendees who had been before and it felt like a new wave of scholars now benefitting from the network.

The OER conference has long been my favourite one to attend, with its combination of quirkiness, critical perspectives and generous people. This was the first one to be hosted since Maren departed ALT, and much kudos goes to CEO Kerry Pinny and events manager Katie Johnson for making it such a success. It is always difficult when taking over from someone who has been at an organisation for a long time. Often the temptation is to make your mark and just change everything. Kerry and the team maintained the ethos and warmth of the OER conference, but also tweaked things and made it their own. It was an exemplar of how to move onwards sensitively, and yes, maintain that meticulous informality (I’m going to make that term a thing).

A couple of small things that I thought worked well (and it’s often the small things that make a conference). The format was generally three- 15 minute talks and then a 15 minute question period in one session. This meant the sessions all moved very quickly, there was never any sense of “I’m trapped in a never ending session that I zoned out from ages ago” which sometimes happens. The timekeeping was something Tom Farrelly had apparently drilled into the session chairs, and the use of the Tomato of Doom timekeeping apparatus kept everyone on schedule. This also meant you could reliably switch between rooms and attend different talks. The conference programme software was a bit confusing at first glance, but it really came into its own when sessions were live and you could see what was happening and upcoming.

There was also an ego-indulgence at the end, as this was possibly my last OER conference (certainly my last as GO-GN director), and Rajiv said embarrassingly nice things about me and everyone generously allowed me to babble on a bit. If you enjoy seeing reserved British men squirm, then this video is for you (watch the amazing Gastas first though).

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One last job…

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 19/03/2024 - 12:29

Next week I head to Cork for OER24. While I may get invited to conferences once I leave the OU, this could well be my last one, and will definitely be my final one as GO-GN director and OU employee. That’s right, before I head off into the sunset, I’m going to do One Last Job, what could go wrong?

In the manor of all One Last Jobs, a crack team has been assembled to pull it off. We have the GO-GN squad, running a workshop the day before the conference for a small team of explosive experts OER Researchers. As I’ve probably mentioned before, working on the GO-GN project for the past 11 years has been a delight, and by far the most enjoyable and rewarding externally funded project I’ve been part of. So I’m pleased to go out with a final workshop.

Reservoir Penguins

Then there are the getaway drivers, I mean, co-chairs Tom Farrelly and Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin, and the location of Cork. A fine pairing to ensure the meticulous informality I like so much in conferences. What a place to pull off the heist of the century. And of all the conferences I attend on a semi-regular basis, I have to say the the OER one is my favourite. I have attended every year since 2014, and I think it has really grown and developed over that time in terms of the critical and thoughtful lens it brings to open education in general, but also in establishing its identity and own way of doing things. If I had to choose the venue for One Last Job, it would definitely be the OER conference.

At the conference I will be cracking the safe with Maren Deepwell as we talk about podcasting and internet radio as open practice (you can hear us discuss this in the podcast), undertaking crowd control with a talk on 30 Years of Ed Tech and the curious life of an open access book (along the lines of this), and blowing the joint with a GO-GN session on 10 years of the network.

And then I’m outta there! Maren has also arranged for some drinks on the Thursday at a pub (this just means we’ll be there, we haven’t laid anything on, no free booze I’m afraid. I repeat, no free booze).

Because we all know how One Last Jobs end, you don’t have to wait until I’m dead to say nice things about me – Maren has kindly set up a Kudoboard where you can share embarrassing selfies of us gurning at the camera.

One Last Job, that’s all I need…

Don’t you want me? Questions to ask of new AI-VLEs

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 18/03/2024 - 10:19

In my last post I was doing a backwards glance prompted by the Accenture-Udacity deal. In this one, I’ll look forwards. Apart from the MOOC angle, the other key aspect of the announcement was the investment in AI-enhanced learning environments.

In terms of learning environments, the VLE/LMS has been the main player since around 2002. Prior to this there was a mixed economy, combining different commercial solutions, home spun set ups, open web tools. It was both a delightful cottage industry and something of a wild west. From the turn of the century the shift to an institutional wide, enterprise solution became inexorable until by the mid-2000s pretty much all HEIs had a VLE of some sort.

From then it has largely been a case of integrating new technology into existing systems – the addition of learning analytic dashboards, different forms of assessment, improved content management, etc. But it has been a steady, regular set of improvements with no major shifts once the main players settled down. Someone from 2004 would not be at a loss presented with a VLE from 2024. This is not a bad thing, as I said in the last post, the notion of technology revolutions is oversold.

But with the advent of AI we may be seeing the first major shake up in the industry for a while. I should stress, I am not being a cheerleader for these new platforms, there will be plenty of breathless excitement about their potential to transform education, revolutionise universities, etc. But there will be plenty of sales pitches made to HEIs, and pressure to change or upgrade, as well as new possibilities to legitimately explore. What I want to explore here are the questions we need to ask of such platform vendors, and ultimately, of ourselves as educators.

Electric Dreams

Let’s consider what the new AI-enhanced platforms will offer. There’s likely to be a few key elements:

Personalisation – the desire for personalised education is never ending. It is largely unquestioned – of course, more personalisation is better. We’ll come to that later, but one offer will be that AI can enhance personalisation for learners. If a student can’t understand this content, then they can generate further versions. Plus they can have intelligent on demand tuition (see below)

Content creation – being able to generate content, or have your own content AI checked will be a strong offer. You can create smart looking online course quickly, allowing you to concentrate on the important stuff. Labour saving is a persistent promise of technology from washing machines to driverless cars.

Enhanced content – as well as creating content, what will be offered is different types of content – simulations, virtual worlds, lectures from historical figures. This type of content has traditionally been very costly to create. Now, maybe not.

Assessment and feedback – AI will generate automatic assessment, that will be unique to each student, so cannot be cheated and will offer immediate feedback. More labour saving now you don’t have to create those pesky multiple choice quizzes. It will also check for cheating by students

Monitoring and Control – AI enhanced analytics will monitor student performance, and either alert the instructor or offer interventions itself (An Einstein looking version of Clippy pops up “You seem to be struggling to understand quantum equations, would you like additional support with that?”).

Tuition – the very early forms of AI were often focused on the development of Intelligent Tutoring Systems. They failed because mapping a domain turned out to be way more complex than people anticipated. But generative AI doesn’t need that mapping, it “just” crunches the numbers on everything it has. So a friendly looking AI tutor can offer support on just about any topic the student wants help with.

I’ve probably been a bit facetious with some of the above, but for a learner, judicious use of these tools might be pretty helpful. Students, particularly those studying on their own at a distance, will often stumble when they don’t feel they understand something and it prevents them from progressing in that study session. If you live with a house of students you can go and ask one of them, or pop a question into WhatsApp. But if you don’t have these networks to hand, an AI tutor could be very useful in helping you continue, for example.

Keep feeling fascination

All of which brings us onto thinking about the type of education we want to foster, and the role such a system will play in that offering.

What about the community – in all of the elements above, social interaction between humans is missing. There may be some AI element to this (chatbots in forums?), but it’s probably appropriate that we don’t really want AI in there much. But it is often a crucial element in education. In some research we’ve done with Open Degree students, it’s become evident that the question “how does this impact student community?” is one that is rarely, if ever, asked in IT procurement decisions. Community is often just assumed to arise in campus universities as a by-product of co-location. But if we move to more hybrid, online models then this cannot be taken for granted, it has to be more explicitly fostered in the learning environment. How does the new platform do that?

What about the cohort – similarly, if we promote personalisation, that comes at the cost of a shared sense of cohort. If my cognitive psychology is structured differently to yours, what are we sharing in terms of common experience? Progressing through with a cohort is another social connection component that is very powerful for some (not all though) students.

Quality issues – the more that content and support is outsourced to AI the greater the danger of errors sneaking in. Apparently humans do not generally have six fingers. Given the link to vocational and professional awarding bodies there will be a strong legal component to this and quality control.

Ethics – it’s probably not a question asked often enough, but there will be a whole bunch of ethical issues with the large scale adoption of AI. Does it rely on cheap labour elsewhere? Is it building of existing content without permission? What if a student has ethical objections to its use? What are the mental health implications of students feeling that they are continually monitored? Is it ethical NOT to use AI when the students will be encountering everywhere in society? Plus many more we haven’t thought of I expect. These won’t be easy to answer but they need to be at the forefront of any procurement decisions, not awkward after thoughts

Being boiled

If I was to draw out one theme from observing learning environments develop since the mid-90s, I would say that we see a constant tension between control and freedom. And more control nearly always wins. It’s probably cooler to be on the freedom side of this equation, but the control aspect is not without its merits, particularly for learners, and doubly so for learners at a distance. A more controlled environment is one the institution can support and manage effectively, and therefore offer support. You really don’t want the technology to become a barrier for distance learners and having an environment you can help with easily is a must.

Plus it helps students know that they’re on track – “am I doing the right thing? Am I doing enough?” are common concerns for many learners and you don’t want to add in constructing your own learning environment into that.

Then we add in GDPR, duty of care, privacy and security issues and increased control of the platform seems like the only sensible decision. But it comes at a cost for learners and educators. The open web is more like what they will experience in ‘real life’ and it also provides rich resources, and modes of expression that the stripped down, sanitised VLE cannot. But it also contains toxic behaviours, rampant commercialism and misinformation, which are problematic in education.

The point of this ramble about control is that dynamic will come into play once again with AI-enhanced platforms. If my conclusion that control wins holds true here also, then we need to consider what a very controlled, locked down version of such platforms look like. These could be the worst of both worlds – the invasive, inflexible monitoring of AI systems without any of the freedom to use those tools creatively. There is a line of questioning to be followed around the nature, and desirability, of control that these platforms will offer.

We’re only Human

Ultimately the most interesting thing about the application of AI in any domain, including education, is what does it reveal to us about being human? (And not, how much money can we make from this?) This will be at the heart of any adoption of AI learning platforms. What does it mean for the human learners? What do the human educators do in this environment? How do we promote and support interaction between people?

These are big questions, and they are not the type of ones that crop up on a features list when conducting procurement. The danger then is, that they never get asked. We shouldn’t see this new wave of VLEs as just an upgrade, a new version on the roadmap, because then in ten years time we’ll find we didn’t ask these more fundamental questions and we’re too deep in now with the configuration of platforms to reshape them. It may be awkward, but in the next few years as HEIs consider new platforms, make sure there are people in the room who ask these questions.

Anyway, I’m not sure why I went on a Human League riff with the titles here, perhaps because students and educators are the Human League in this new world and need to stand together. So, here are the aforementioned League, with that hairstyle and that song:

Don’t look back in anger (or anything else)

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 15/03/2024 - 13:35

Because I was too busy indulging in self-pity in my last post I forgot to blog about Udacity being acquired by Accenture to build a platform to take advantage of AI, blah, blah. Audrey Watters taking a rare foray back into ed tech to say “I told you so” reminded me to blog something. Audrey says it better, but that’s never stopped me before… There are lots of takeaways from this tale. Here are some that occur to me:

Self-Reflection is the real unicorn. Investors like to talk about unicorn companies, but it seems the real unicorn (as in, it doesn’t exist) is any sense of self-reflection or humility in the media or silicon valley narrative. Guess what? MOOCs didn’t disrupt higher education! Who could have guessed? Apart from everybody who knew anything about it. See also: Blockchain, Virtual Worlds, microcredentials, etc, etc. And yet, when outlets like Bloomberg report on this there’s never any “wow, we got that wrong folks!” It’s always, either the fault of the company or tech involved, or it was really a success and onto the next thing.

Low impact is the norm. It is, of course, not the case that all technology fails to impact higher education. The web, social media, online databases, even the humble VLE have all had significant impacts. But the number of over-hyped solutions to imaginary problems that disappear quietly outweighs these. Our default assumption should therefore be that any new tech will have a minimal impact, not the current view that every new tech will fundamentally change the entire ecosystem. I previously categorised technology, or rather the talk around technology, into rapture or useful pitches. We get too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

MOOC? What is MOOC? Maybe Udacity will claim a success in being bought out and perhaps turning a profit(we don’t know how much of the $1 billion supposed investment in AI went on purchasing them. 50c would constitute “part of”). But it’s the last meagre wave of the flag for MOOCs surely, after all that hype and promise. At JIME we recently put out a call for a special issue based on learning at scale and the legacy of MOOCs. When people who had been prominent in the MOOC research were approached by us, many of them responded along the lines of “I don’t have anything to do with MOOCs anymore and I don’t want to write about them”. It was as if this was a shameful period in their past, now it’s like “MOOCs? No, doesn’t ring a bell, did he play for Chelsea?” The focus of the special issue is learning at scale more generally but also what can we learn from over a decade of MOOC research (we now have lots of great submissions along these lines). This desire to abandon the past and move onto the next thing is another version of the self-reflection unicorn. It also brings me onto…

Education Technology is, like, over, man. To reinforce something Audrey comments on, the Bloomberg article begins “Remember education technology?” Wait, what?! I wrote a book railing against the amnesia in education technology and this quote would have been a summary of the “Why write this book?” section (Downes said I was wrong about amnesia, I just wasn’t looking properly. Hmmm). Remember the pandemic? What was it that kept education going on a global basis with about 3 weeks preparation? Oh, yeah educational technology. And for those at the back, MOOCs didn’t invent educational technology and are not synonymous with it. Do we have to repeat this, like, forever?

Yeah, but AI. The obvious comparison with MOOC hype is AI hype. So one could draw the conclusion that in 10 years we’ll be going “remember AI?”. I think that’s unlikely, it looks set to be a technology that will integrate into existing tech and is causing higher ed to ask fundamental questions of itself and practice. If AI does nothing else but get rid of the essay as the default assessment mode, then it’s impact is profound. But the MOOC lesson should at least give us caution over some of the more revolutionary, rapture type claims. I’m sure everyone will make sure they don’t make any over the top claims this time, eh?

Overall, the takeaway for me is that we should assume that generally tech revolutions in education end in a whimper, not a bang. Set your expectations accordingly.

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The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 07/03/2024 - 14:47

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Welcome to the Wonkalarity

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 04/03/2024 - 10:26

If you live in the UK you will probably have seen the story last week about the Willy Wonka Chocolate Experience in Glasgow. It promised a rich immersive experience, but turned out to be a disappointing, depressing warehouse with some bad props. We get one of these stories every year usually about a Santa’s grotto which is, well, less than might be expected.

These stories often go viral, the mismatch between promise and reality is ripe for memes. This one I think offers an interesting prompt for considering issues around AI. For a start the advertising of the experience used AI generated images, so there is a good example about the expectation and reality of AI itself. I mean, there is a whole thesis to be written about these two images:

The BBC article also reveals that the owner of the company published 17 novels last year, which seem to have been written by AI, and one of the actors at the Wonka event said the script was gibberish and appeared to be written by AI. Now, it could be that the phrase “written by AI” has just become a synonym for “badly written”, but it seems there may be an element of truth here. This raises the issue that AI lowers the cost for producing novels, scripts, advertising. This is a grifter’s dream as it means they don’t have to pay people for any of this stuff.

This obviously opens up avenues for misuse, but lower cost of entry has possibilities also. The internet has always been about removing barriers for participation. You can take the view that AI is ‘bad’ because it comes with so little ethics attached and so much power, or you can view it as just a tool. You can use a word processor to write beautiful poetry or racist diatribes after all.

Questions to ask then are “do the potential benefits outweigh the inevitable misuses?” Because there will be both. Do we get more of the first picture or more of the second?

Lastly I think it is a solid reminder of the importance of our embodied experience. We are people, who inhabit bodies in a physical world, taking in information from many senses. At the end of AI magic there is always that crunch point.

Anyway, I think if you want to have some fun conversations about AI, the Wonka experience offers a useful prompt for considering different aspects. Plus, it’s quite funny.

February 24 roundup

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 28/02/2024 - 10:06

(photo shows Irwin DeVries, Audrey Watters, Brian Lamb and Rajiv Jhangiani in 2015)

As February comes to an end, I feel I am entering the wind down phase of my Open University career, with departure scheduled for June. The replacement for my role on the Open Programme is being recruited, we’re planning for my last GO-GN workshop at OER24, and I’m handing over editorship of JIME. It leaves one in a slight liminal space mentally and work wise – I’m busy doing handover, and continuing workload, but I’m not required for planning things that will take place after I leave. It’s not so much that I have less work, but rather that mentally it’s less demanding as there are so many topics I can just shrug my shoulders about now. I read this article about effectively designing inbetween spaces, particularly staircases. The author states “Done right, the staircase becomes a world unto its own – a place to linger, to get views outside…, a place to reflect, to connect and to be active.” I guess I need to find an equivalent for this career period, and avoid “soul deadening transitions”.

I would like to pay tribute to a colleague who passed away at the end of January, Irwin DeVries. I met Irwin for the first time on a seemingly interminable conference dinner outing in Bali in 2014, and we usually met up at conferences once or twice a year after that. He was a funny, humble, insightful and generous person, the sort who made everyone better for knowing him. In his leadership and humanity he was a role model for so many of us to follow. Brian Lamb has a touching tribute to him, I know I’ll miss his bumbling persona and quick wit.

An ed tech news story that lots of people commented on this month, was the use of holograms at Loughborough. To which my response was *gallic shrug*. Apparently students “absolutely love” the technology and have been begging for selfies with the gadget”. Well, duh, it’s fun and new. I expect people would love selfies next to a tank of snakes also. This kind of tech is only really interesting when it becomes ubiquitous – sure if we can have holographic meetings, then why not? But until then the thing it’s competing with – 2D easy access representations – are good enough, and the gain from this tech is not worth the cost and inconvenience. As for AI powered holographic lectures from Einstein, I’m sure that’d be fun for a week or so, then it’d be back to actually learning. It’d be interesting to revisit this story in a year’s time and see if that hologram kit is still in heavy use.

On the books front I am smashing it this year. I read 17 books this month (although a few were novellas), perhaps highlighting the decreasing work demands I mentioned above. I’ve blocked about the excellent feminist and race critiques of horror that I read, the metaphors in Entangled Life and thoughts from the apocalypse fiction ones. I read a fascinating account of the history of the music press, Totally Wired: The Rise and Fall of the Music Press. As someone who read Smash Hits avidly and then transitioned to the NME in the 80s which was a life bible, it was insightful to see those periods placed in context. However, the author’s contention is that this period of music journalism mattered because people wrote about it as if music mattered. He makes a noble attempt to bring into focus voices other than the dominant white male rock journalists, but ultimately the tale is so full of arrogant, often misogynistic and homophobic, men with drug problems that it becomes counter-productive. You begin to think that maybe it didn’t really matter at all.

Vinyl wise, I picked up a lovely edition of Gruff Rhys’s new album Sadness Sets Me Free, and also acquired new releases from Grandaddy and J Mascis. All three of these are fine examples of artists who have stuck around, doing what they do, while refining and tweaking it. Hey, just like blogging, eh?

10 Lessons from Apocalypse literature

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 26/02/2024 - 13:41

As you probably know I spend too much/nowhere near enough time reading horror fiction. I know some people feel that’s kind of juvenile, but after years of challenging myself to read difficult literature, I decided to just enjoy reading. Plus genre literature gets a bad press and people are generally snooty about it. All of which is a precursor to try and justify the number of horror related analogies cropping up in these posts. Speaking of which…

I’ve been on an apocalypse literature riff recently – you know the sort of thing, zombies, vampires, ecocide, virus, mutant insects, more zombies. These were nearly all written pre-Covid and its interesting to read them now in light of that experience – we’re all pandemic experts now. I’ve also been giving a version of my “Developing robust models of higher education” talk at various events. My argument is that we need to develop a robust model of higher education as the pandemic revealed weaknesses from a system based so heavily on physical co-location, and that it isn’t just about Covid, but any number of crises at an individual, institutional, national or global level that may cause failure in the traditional model.

Reading this sub-genre and giving these talks was coincidental (I think – maybe there was some subconscious prompting in my fiction choices going on, but let’s not psychoanalyse this), but it has led to some cross-fertilisation. As I read of the success or failure of dealing with another version of the apocalypse, I couldn’t help but wonder if there are some more general lessons we can draw from this literature that can be applied to thinking about building robust models of higher ed. So here are my 10 lessons from apocalypse horror for ed tech:

  1. Always underprepared – whenever the crisis hits there are a number of decisions prior to this that mean the protagonists are underprepared. This can be the government cutting funding for warning programmes or individuals not having sufficient provisions. In the higher ed case this can be seen with an over-reliance on the traditional campus model and insufficient planning for more flexible models.
  2. Existing technology is reversioned – we see this a lot, with the wizened old hand demonstrating how their ham radio can still communicate or the sharpened shovel becomes the ideal zombie decapitation weapon. The point is that often existing technology is good enough, and placing emphasis on existing tools such as the VLE, the content management system, telephone support lines, eportfolio systems, online journals and blogs can create a varied, functional education system even if they are deployed in a different or more scaled up version than currently.
  3. New technology is developed – having said that, some wiz always comes up with a new piece of tech that vaporizes those vampires on an industrial scale. I’m always dubious of technosolutionism (see the next point also), but any crises usually sees a technology if not invented then its adoption dramatically accelerated. Look at Zoom and Teams post-pandemic, that way of working is now the norm for many instead of an awkward additional request. For higher ed it’s important to recognise these shifts and to adapt practices accordingly.
  4. Grifters arise – there’s always someone selling a fake cure, or setting up a commune of their own in the apocalypse novel. People want certainty, answers, reassurance. The same is true in higher ed, people will use any crisis as an opportunity to sell their blockchain, unschool, digital natives, hole in the wall bullshit solution. Knowing how to differentiate these from the tech or approaches in the previous point is a key skill.
  5. Cooperation is key to success – after the initial panic and death toll, people inevitably begin to cooperate. Sharing resources, building defences, allocating expertise – it’s all essential to get through the crisis. Those zombies pick of the lone wolf quickly enough. In higher ed we are conditioned to be much more competitive, at least in the UK, where we are fighting for students, research funding, NSS rankings or whatever. The only way to effectively prepare for and cope with the next crisis is to similarly find modes of cooperation. Whether that is around mutual goals, shared teaching resources, memorandums of understanding that allow students to study modules from other providers or shared tech infrastructure, we’re just not as good at this as we should be.
  6. Many existing practices are inadequate – a lot of existing knowledge is not only inadequate but positively dangerous in apocalypse lit. Fighting a rational enemy with supply lines provides a mode of warfare that is inappropriate for combatting the undead. Similarly in higher ed, we revert back to many hallowed practices – the lecture! – which is simply not a valid approach in the face of a new reality. Weick uses the analogy of firefighters who didn’t drop their tools when fleeing a brush fire, despite this impeding their escape, stating “Dropping one’s tools is a proxy for unlearning, for adaptation, for flexibility, in short, for many of the dramas that engage organizational scholars”. Higher ed is not good at knowing when to drop its tools.
  7. Adversity shows us who we are – this is an old adage, and is often the moral lesson of apocalypse stories. We get to see how people react in adversity and often it is not the way we might predict. In higher ed, adversity can reveal aspects of the system itself. Does it really care about students? Can we really find ways to share knowledge and cooperate effectively? There were a lot of positive stories from this during the pandemic, but equally we have to have systems that allow those positives to flourish.
  8. Things are forever changed afterwards – a lot of fiction will end with a wistful nod to how things have changed forever now. Remember during the pandemic we thought a more caring, respectful society might emerge afterwards? Yeah, maybe not so much. In higher ed some things have changed, more often around ways of working. Having virtual meetings or online conferences is often the norm now. I remember how pre-pandemic I’d have to travel for some meeting in Manchester or London, which could have just as easily been done online, but that just wasn’t the norm. Students have become accustomed to accessing resources online, and attending (or catching up on) lectures online. Being able to incorporate these prolonged changes into practice post-crisis is vital for the sustainability of the sector.
  9. Things go back to exactly how they were afterwards – equally, lots of this fiction portrays how people just go back to how they were before within a year or two and put it out of their collective memory. We’ve seen this a lot in higher ed, the demand to return to campus and face to face lectures. To apply all of our resources to returning to how it used to be misses the opportunities for development, and also sets up a conflict with the previous point about adopting new elements. Hence all those empty lecture halls.
  10. It couldn’t happen again… a common epilogue in this literature, after the seeming victory, has one mutated insect/rat/zombie/vampire crawling out of the wreckage, leaving the reader with the inevitable, “here we go again” feeling. Partly this is because horror doesn’t like happy endings, or the author wants a sequel, but it can also be taken as a warning against hubris. All the victorious backslapping should be accompanied by a memento mori, not so much remember you are mortal, but remember this can happen again. This is the point I attempt to make in my talks. We need to be preparing for the next crisis (if we’re not already in it), be it cost of living, political upheaval, another pandemic, global conflict, pollution, climate change, or more locally at an individual or institutional level.

If another major crisis hit next month, would we be much better prepared than 2020? Are we ready? I would hazard that we are not. Although I’m being somewhat lighthearted in the use of the horror literature medium, these are all lessons that are worth considering. Maybe we should start leaving World War Z on our senior execs desks instead of the latest management report.

Ed tech indie horror

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 12/02/2024 - 19:16

I’ve been reading some interesting takes on horror recently: the meta-fiction of Native American author Stephen Graham-Jones; the influential feminist analysis of horror exploitation movies Men, Women and Chainsaws by Carol Clover; a personal account of the importance of horror in Kris Rose’s Final Girl: How Horror Movies Made Me a Better Feminist; and The Black Guy Dies First, Robin Means Coleman’s analysis of black representation in horror. And it got me thinking about analogies to ed tech. I know, as usual. First of all, the horror take…

It has to be acknowledged up front that horror is often problematic – slasher films centre on the male gaze; women tend to die more horrifically and in close up; in the occult film the central focus is male transformation to a gentler version and the woman has to do the emotional labour (in this case being possessed by a demon) in order for the guy to realise it’s ok to eat avocado toast; and there are a number of racist tropes in horror such as the magical or sacrificial figure, whose function is to help the white character.

But there is also a lot of positive interpretations to be found. For example, Kris Rose argues “Another relatable thing about Final Girls, they often aren’t believed when they try and tell people that their lives are in danger. Not being believed is a daily fact for most women. When we see this being portrayed on screen it can be validating for women. … Often in real life scenarios women who ask for help are not believed or are dismissed as being over dramatic… A lesson I think we can all take away from our Final Girls is that we should believe women more.”

In Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, the book that coined the term “final girl” Carol Clover examines exploitation horror movies as a serious genre, and becomes something of a convert. She highlights that in the Final girl there is cross-gender identification in that the predominantly young men in the audience identify with and root for the female hero. The men who might act as rescuer, as per traditional folk tales, are usually incompetent and end up dead. The woman has to do it herself. The killers are nearly always male, and sexually immature or frustrated – sort of Leatherface as the original incel. So there is little here by way of traditional male identification.  She argues that if Rambo strayed into a slasher or occult movie he would end up dead or reformed. Arguably horror represents a better grounding for raising young feminists than the conventional action film.

Robin Means Coleman proposes that “black horror is our social syllabus” in that it is used to expose, confront and challenge racial issues, from the black protagonist getting killed by troops at the end of Night of the Living Dead, to the oppressive pseudo white liberalism of Get Out.

And so, tentatively, to ed tech. I think part of what has enabled these positive aspects to emerge in horror is that it is a genre often ignored or dismissed by ‘serious’ film makers and writers. The studio thought Hitchcock had lost the plot when he wanted to make Psycho, until it made them lots of money. This allows a degree of freedom to subvert and invent. It becomes a board church (perhaps not the best term to use in relation to horror) that welcomes anyone to come and have a go. The films Clover writes about were all largely independent movies made outside of the mainstream. There is a burgeoning indie horror author field.

This brings us back to the notion of the indie ed tech approach. Using open source or self-hosted options, the sort of things that Brian Lamb and Jim Groom wrote about long ago. If the VLE, Meta, X, etc represent the big studios then lightweight tools self-hosted are the indie alternatives. These can be relatively simple, for example the metaphor generator, or any of the fun stuff Alan Levine creates. My point is not so much that this tool can do this, and here’s one for something else, but rather by operating in an indie way we create new literacies. Clover comments on how the moral panic around horror in the 80s was very patronising and didn’t appreciate how knowledgeable and literate the audience were in watching horror. Mainstream conventions had been inverted. I would like to think the same happens with ed tech where an indie approach can help in similar subversion of the dominant tech bros narratives.

Dangers of tech metaphors in nature

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 08/02/2024 - 14:14

In Metaphors of Ed Tech I suggested that we should approach metaphors drawn from nature with caution, writing:

“it is worth emphasising that metaphors drawn from nature are probably the most prevalent, and the most dangerous, of metaphors. Making appeals to what is deemed ‘natural’ and applying it to any form of human endeavour has led to justifications for social Darwinism, misogyny and repression, with the implication that certain states are naturally occurring and therefore inevitable.”

But the opposite is also true – we need to be wary of technological metaphors applied to nature. I came to appreciate this because I’ve been reading Merlin Sheldrake’s intriguing overview of fungal life and science, Entangled Life. He sets out the many different ways that symbiosis and natural networks operate, including the oft-quoted Wood Wide Web, wherein resources are shared in through a complex mycorrhizal fungal network. Sheldrake points out however that the phrase Wood Wide Web leads us into “plant-centrism”, which ignores the active role of fungi, stating:

It is a metaphor that tugs us into plant-centrism by implying that plans are equivalent to the webpages, or nodes, in the network, and fungi are the hyperlinks joining the nodes to one another. In the language of the hardware that comprises the Internet, plants are the routers and fungi are the cables.”

“Fungi are not passive in the network and gain from the web and shape it themselves. This is not just unfair to fungi but also distorts our focus and understanding of the processes in play. In popular accounts the emphasis in always on trees, ignoring the role of the fungi. “Everything changes when we see fungi as active participants”.

He further argues that the metaphor is problematic because it encourages people to impose values and utopias onto the natural system. As the Internet promised non-hierarchical, more community based systems, so many people have latched on to the Wood Wide Web as demonstrating the value of sharing, and altruism. While there is some truth in this, it also varies widely, some plants just take, some take now and pay later, some make exchanges, etc.

The Wood Wide Web was a useful metaphor for what was quite a mind-blowing concept, that there was this subterranean connection between the visual forest we perceived. But while metaphors drawn from nature abound in much of our everyday language and as I argued, I’d always be wary of people proposing ‘natural’ metaphors for human activity, the book was also a useful reminder to see the manner in which technological metaphors applied to nature can be limiting also. Anyway, it’s a fascinating book. But it’s fascinating because it’s about fungi and that is enough in itself, their value is not determined by what we think it can teach us about ourselves.

PS – congratulations if you read this post without making the “he’s a fun guy” joke to yourself. I failed.

Meticulous informality of GO-GN

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 05/02/2024 - 14:15

A few years ago, I used the term ‘meticulous informality‘ to describe what I liked about the ALT conferences. Maren has blogged how it’s a term we’ve discussed since occasionally on dog walks. Both parts of the term are equally important for participants in an event: informality encourages participation and suggests equality; meticulous means care and support. One without the other is not sufficient – just meticulous can be stuffy and hierarchical, and solely informal can be chaotic and confusing.

Without it being an explicit intention, it captures our approach to GO-GN also. Having just hosted the largest GO-GN workshop in Edmonton, I know how much time and care goes into getting so many people to one location, when you are responsible for every aspect. The work our administrative team of Kylie and Hannah do in organising travel, hotels, meeting spaces, food and entertainment is meticulous indeed. I feel this kind of labour is sometimes overlooked in academic circles (and I also think even some GO-GN members don’t appreciate the level of work required). At the workshop we create an informal environment through the activities and the manner we structure the days.

I have joked that the breakfast is the most important part of the GO-GN workshops. I feel this because it’s a time when all the members are together and breakfast is an inherently informal meal. But the meticulous informality pervades many aspects of GO-GN, not just the workshops. The Research and Conceptual framework reports have been successful in part I think because they combine meticulous depth of the research from members, expertly curated and added to by Rob Farrow, combined with the informal, approachable graphics from Bryan Mathers. Come in, those graphics say, you are welcome here. The same would apply to webinars we host, or our communications I feel.

It’s just a hypothesis, but I wonder if part of the disillusion many feel in higher education is that we have drastically increased the meticulous part of the equation, while simultaneously decreasing the informality aspect. As I contemplate my post-OU life, I think meticulous informality will be a guiding principle for projects I want to be involved with.

January round up

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 29/01/2024 - 12:09

Despite being 27 weeks into the year it is still only January apparently. I gave a keynote at an excellent event organised by the Open University in Wales (pictured with my colleague John Butcher), to celebrate the launch of their Access Insight Project, looking at the experience of Access and Foundation students across Wales. It’s an excellent report, with HE and FE providers across Wales all collaborating effectively (not always the case in higher/further ed). I was asked to give a ‘provocative’ talk before lunch to get people chatting. Provocative can often be a synonym for ‘obnoxious’ but I hope I avoided that. I worked up the metaphor of the internet design for building robust systems in Higher Ed, looking at the systemic, institutional and course level. My slides are on Google.

On the GO-Gn front we have organised a one day seminar for 12 members who we are bringing to OER24. If you’re going to that conference (and why wouldn’t you?), come and say hi to us. This may well be my last OER conference, so I’m glad it’ll be in a fun place (Cork), with friends such as Rajiv Jhangiani, Catherine Cronin, Tom Farrelly, and Laura Czerniewicz. Speaking of prepping for my OU departure, I’m also very pleased that my colleague Rob Farrow will be taking over from me as co-editor of JIME (along with Katy Jordan) when I step down in June.

I have been hitting books hard in this longest of months with fifteen completed. I’ve reactivated my Goodreads page for 2024, so you can track all my reads there. I’ve also dipped into using The StoryGraph, some stats shown below (they need to make these embeddable).

Marie Arana’s scholarly, comprehensive and hugely readable biography of Simon Bolivar is worth reading for the narrative alone, but it probably contains lots of lessons about revolutions, aspirations and the hard work of everyday governance that one could apply to many sectors (not least, educational technology). I am a big fan of horror writer Stephen Graham Jones, and the second of his Indian Lake trilogy, Don’t Fear the Reaper is a meta-fiction in slasher lore. Having grown up watching VHS horror in the 80s, I like the idea of this literacy in the subject – I wasn’t bunking off school, I was studying. I’ve been boring everyone talking about the importance of microbes – basically everything is down to microbes after reading I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong. Other notable reads this month: finally got around to reading last year’s hot novel, Yellowface, which was a funny, nimble take on social media, publishing, and racism; Jordan Peele edits a fine anthology of black horror writers short stories in Out There Screaming; another excellent Mexican horror from Sylvia Moreno Garcia, featuring film and Nazi occults in Silver Nitrate.

I started 2024 with some solid vinyl buying options. Maren picked up this Welsh/Brazilian fusion album from Carwyn Ellis which makes you wonder why there are not more Latin Welsh albums. It’s marvellously sunny and uplifting, which was very welcome in January. I don’t know if January is too early to call album of the year, but Bill Ryder-Jones’s Iechyd Da (Welsh for Good Health), is going to be a contender. Cinematic, sweeping & romantic, many tracks start with a simple piano and climax with strings & school choir, as if each one poses a mournful question and finds its own optimistic resolution.

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