The network corrections

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(doesn’t make cloud pun)

At the Open University we get a ‘study leave’ allowance every year, which was meant to replace the traditional summer breaks enjoyed by academics at campus universities. I try to take mine in December and January every year, last year it was when I wrote the Battle for Open book. This year although I’ve nominally taken it, I haven’t actually stopped doing any of the normal work because it doesn’t stop conveniently for you: bid deadlines need to be meet, project meetings are scheduled, PhD students still need supervision, management reports have to be written, etc.

This isn’t a moan about the pressures on academic life however, study leave is something of a luxury and unless you have a very specific project or plan, such as sabbatical at another university, I think this is just the way of things. But in order to actually do some writing, I booked myself a week in Cornwall, with just my dog for company. I’m writing this post at the end of this week, which has been very productive. It made me reflect on how we need to adopt new strategies to accommodate the pressures that being networked creates. At home I have created a non-screen room, which is just for reading, listening to music, watching the fish, playing drums. No screen activity. Actually it is more accurately a disconnected room – I don’t even allow myself to take my phone in there. It’s been very interesting to create this separate space, and I even retrieved my large CD collection from the garage to enjoy in there.

Just as this isn’t an moan about the pressures on academic life, it is also not another of those anti-connectivity pieces. When commentators such as Sherry Turkle bemoan the intrusion of the network life into the personal sphere I think they are usually comparing it with a very privileged past. For instance, when I was a teenager my parents ran a shop and would often work 6 days a week, not getting in until 7 most nights. Compare this with when my daughter was young and I used to walk her to school and pick her up most days. I could do this because network connectivity allowed me to work at home a lot, and when I picked her up I could take her to a play place or swimming, without feeling guilty because I could check emails a couple of times when I was there. Similarly, when my then wife was recovering from cancer a few years back I could spend time at home without losing touch with work, and also feeling that my profile didn’t disappear, because I could maintain it through blogs and social media.

So, the benefits that networking has given me are worth the price of the resultant blurred boundaries and intrusion into personal space. Without going into digital natives territory, we are the first generation to have to deal with this mass connectivity change. It will be assumed from now on, but we, as individuals and society, have had to make the adjustment. Inevitably we will get it wrong, we will over adopt sometimes and under-utilise at others. The only surprise about that be that people are surprised when it happens. But we’ll get it right over time.

My writing week, the disconnected room – these are examples of the corrections we make to get the network balance right. And we’ll become more adept at this. Also, business tip: helping people make these corrections will be an increasingly fruitful area.

The stories in the legs

For the past five years I’ve done an end of year review of my running (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) . It’s the only running post I do now, and I usually add some philosophical rambling to justify it. I’d like to do it again this year, to carry on my own little tradition, but it’s impossible to do a running review this year without mentioning the major life event that occurred, namely the (unexpected) breakup of my marriage. I don’t want us all to feel awkward, so I’ll keep that bit to a minimum, but basically, assume ‘running’ is a great big life metaphor throughout this post.

First, the stats:

Mileage: 1008
Duration: 165hrs 39 mins
Av distance: 6.1
Av pace: 9.52

It’s been an up and down year with running, I trained for the Windermere marathon in May. Things went a bit awry before this, and it was agreed I would go up and do the marathon while significant things happened at home. Let’s just say I hope it’s a long time before I am again required to find the courage it took to complete that weekend and that race. The marathon was hillier than I expected (it was in the Lake District, why was I surprised?) and it was a hot, brutal day, so I limped around in 5hrs 15. But this one really was about completing – is it possible to be literally running a metaphor?

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This was a welcome sight

I joined a local running club then, and June and July saw a real upsurge in the ‘running as therapy’ style. At this stage I was on target for about 1400 miles for the year. A holiday in Scotland with daughter reduced my mileage a bit, and I signed up for the inaugural Severn Bridge half marathon. This was hillier than I expected (you may detect a theme here), and for the first time I came in over 2 hours for a half. This was part of my build up to the Cardiff half though, so I wasn’t too bothered. However, my hip bursitis from a few years back began to niggle again, so in the lead-up to the Cardiff race, I eased off when I wanted to be pushing hard. In the end I was pleased with a time of 1hr 56 given this.

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If they remade the Bridge in the UK, this would be it.

I then took 3 weeks off to rest my hip, and also had a week in Arlington, visiting George Siemens. I kind of lost my running mojo around this point, and with the annual goal of 1000 miles now beginning to be in doubt, I signed up for the Newport half in March. I’m the type of runner who needs a definite goal and a plan to stick to. This has meant that I have just passed the 1000 miles mark for the year, with a couple of days to spare. In the end I’m happy with this, any year I do a marathon, two halves and complete 1000 miles is a success. I know from having had years when I’ve been injured or not completed 1000 (see last year) I always berate myself ‘why weren’t you pleased when you did do it?’

The next year will be interesting in terms of my relationship with running. Over the past year I’ve developed, or resurrected, a lot of interests: I’ve joined a book club, I’m a Cardiff Devils season ticket holder, I watch a shitload of films, I’ve upped my cooking and gardening, and I’m completing my Masters in History (albeit with minimal effort). I’m unsure whether to continue this broad approach or whether to go deep in one, and whether running will be it, or if it will continue to be part of a mix.

Running is an odd pursuit, both boring and exhilarating, and also quite an existentialist one. As I plodded around the marathon, firstly my intended target time became unrealisable, then my revised one became problematic. But even at mile 16, with yet another hill to slog up, the race is both decided and yet undecided. You carry the story of the previous miles in your legs (have you gone out too fast, or been too cautious?) but yet much of what happens can still be determined, you can push hard for a few miles, ease off and make sure you finish, drop out and go to the pub, or find a new constant pace. Yes, it’s a bloody metaphor.

Double book launch online

Tomorrow (Dec 16th) at 3pm UK time I’m doing an online book launch for my Battle For Open book. I’m sharing it with Martin Eve, who will be talking about his Open Access and the Humanities book also. If you’re interested in openness, open access, books, or just want to procrastinate, then please join us, The room will be open from 2pm (we’ll record it too so if you’re reading this after the fact, you can watch the playback).

One thing about going with a small publisher like Ubiquity is that they don’t have the marketing budget of someone like Elsevier. However, having published three books previously I’m not convinced this marketing does much. They generally ask you for ideas about where to send it, and much of the marketing is done by your personal networks. But I confess I don’t know how important all those catalogues, stands at conferences, and glossy flyers distributed via post are in terms of overall sales. I suspect they may help with giving the book a longer life. So, this represents a bit of a test. Ubiquity have some marketing and will get it into library catalogues, so it’s not a pure comparison of self-marketing vs traditional, but it will be interesting to see if it makes much difference in terms of citations (or sales even).

So, doing things like the webinar are part of that. I hope it’s interesting to others and not just self-indulgent. I will talk a bit about the book’s central theme but also about the process of writing this book also. And the relationship with Martin’s book will hopefully throw up some useful points for discussion too. Failing that, we can just sing Christmas carols and have mince pies.

Why a book?

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Did I mention my Battle for Open book is out? I SAID DID I MENTION MY BOOK IS OUT.

Ahem. Audrey Watters asks why a book, and it’s a question I asked myself with my last book. Here are some thoughts on the process of writing it, and how it relates to blogs and other outputs.

As with the last one, my blog is invaluable. It’s not quite like David’s book which is a collection of his blog posts, but anyone who reads this blog and then the book will be familiar with a lot of its content. When I realised there might be a book to write in this area I went through my blog and copied over anything that was relevant. This came to about 30,000 words. Now, some of that I didn’t use in the end, and nearly all of it I rewrote to an extent (there is a very interesting different tone of voice between book and blog). But nevertheless, for a 60,000 word book, to have nearly half of it in some form straight-off is a real kickstart. Whenever I do my blogging pitch people ask me ‘how do you find the time’, and I often counter that once you get past a certain point, it becomes a time saver. I don’t know how any academic writer functions without a blog. I sometimes found myself writing something and then thinking ‘hold on, haven’t I done something on this before?’ and I’d go back to the blog to find an erudite, well formed and argued article/rambling piece of nonsense that suited my needs.

What I like about a book is that you can make an extended argument, loop forward and refer back within one coherent piece. You can do the referring back in blogs but you write those over an extended period, and they’re usually short pieces. The book allows you a longer run at a subject and you have a reasonably clear idea how these ideas will build on each other. Blogs are much better at capturing thoughts over an extended time frame and for patterns to emerge. Like my last book, I didn’t realise I was in the process of writing this book on my blog for a period of a year or two. Then I began to see a common thread between posts that could benefit from the extended book approach. Again, how do people write books without blogs?

And why a book and not something more creative? Jim Groom might chastise me for being beholden to that text stuff. Alan Levine would have done something far more creative using photos and an application he developed himself. I could answer this by arguing that the form was appropriate for the content, but actually that’s not true. Others could have done something far more innovative and said the same thing. In the end I think it’s because, to paraphrase Laura Marling, I write because I can. It’s what I’m half-decent at, so you may as well go with that.

So, let’s end with some Laura:

Models for book publishing

If you’re into edtech/open education (and who isn’t?) then your cup runneth over these last couple of weeks with books to read. There are four I’ll highlight (including mine!) and they represent different approaches to writing and publishing, so they make a nice comparison.

First up is Martin Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities. Martin is a great OA champion and this book explores the context and issues surrounding OA for the humanities. It’s published by Cambridge University Press, with the digital version available under CC-BY-SA licence. This represents a fairly traditional model, with publisher paying the author some royalties, although often a bit reduced from the normal rate. (Martin contributes his royalties to Arthritis research by the way). The publisher is taking the punt that it will sell enough copies to make a profit on the investment required for the services in producing the book (copyediting, layout, etc).

My book, The Battle for Open, represents a slightly different approach. It’s published by Ubiquity Press (who we recently linked up with for JIME also, they’re my new publishing BFFs). They operate a ‘gold’ model, where you pay upfront for the services. However, they’re not looking to make a profit on the book then, and as with their journals, these costs are reasonable. Depending on the services you choose, it is around £3-4,000. Now that’s a lot for an individual, but in terms of research projects, it’s the same sort of price as going to a fancy conference overseas, and that type of dissemination is regularly built into budgets. I would argue that publishing an open access book might be a better use of such funds. I’ve heard tales from colleagues who’ve been quoted figures along the lines of £20,000 from big academic publishers to make their book open access. This is taking no risk at all, since that would probably cover the profit on a regular book anyway. This is available CC-BY in PDF, Kindle, epub formats, with the hardcopy available for the reasonable price of £12.99.

Next are two books that come from blogging chums. David Kernohan’s A New Order and Audrey Watters’ The Monsters of Education Technology. Both of these arose from a hackathon exploring self-publishing. David’s is a collection of his blog posts and Audrey’s her keynote talks. The digital versions are freely available under CC licences again (although I’d urge you to buy the digital format of Audrey’s one).

There are a few interesting things about this approach to me. Firstly, it’s a good example of that guerrilla approach to research that I like to bang on about. David and Audrey didn’t need anyone’s permission to publish these books. Secondly, both books are really good, better than many monographs we see published. This is, of course, primarily a function of their ability as writers, but it also demonstrates the value in spending time on smaller outputs. David’s blog is always worth reading, and Audrey’s keynotes are like masterclasses. In her book she says people keep telling her she’s going about keynotes the wrong way, you’re meant to do one and then repeat it (guilty as charged), but she spends ages creating a new one each time. This book demonstrates the value in doing that, as does David’s in keeping a blog where you explore issues that fall outside your daily job.

I like all four of these books (especially mine) for their subject matter, but more so because they demonstrate that different models to book publishing are possible and valid. These different models will meet the needs of different authors, and the good thing is, they’re all appropriate. When I started blogging I was intrigued by the changes that the digital approach made to academic practice. I think we’ve all become a bit jaded to that now, but these four publications demonstrate that it is still an interesting, and ongoing process. Anyway, that’s your Christmas reading list sorted right there.

Better than Christmas – OER Research hub report

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The OER Research Hub completed its second annual report for the founders, the Hewlett Foundation in September. It plots the evidence we’ve gained against the 11 hypotheses of the project. It’s not the final report which we will deliver next year, but it has some very interesting findings. We have over 6000 survey responses from educators, informal and formal learners, and librarians.

Some of the key findings are:

  • 37.6% of educators and 55.7% of formal learners say that using OER improves
    student satisfaction
  • 27.5% of educators and 31.9% of formal learners agree that OER use results
    in better test scores
  • 79.4% of OER users adapt resources to fit their needs
  • 79.5% of educators use OER to get new ideas and inspiration
  • 88.4% of learners say that the opportunity to study at no cost influenced
    their decision to use OER
  • 74.9% of informal learners use OER to have a learning experience
  • Knowing where to find resources is one of the biggest challenges to using OER
  • General knowledge of well-established OER repositories is low
  • Only 5% of educators say they don’t share information about OER
  • The more educators use OER, the more they are willing to share
  • Only 12.4% of educators create resources and publish them on a Creative Commons license
  • Videos are the most common type of OER used.
  • Cost of and access to materials can have an effect on student retention
  • 40.9% of all formal learners in our sample consider that OER have a positive impact in helping them complete their course of study
  • 79.6% of formal students think they save money by using OER
  • 31.5% of informal learners say that their interest in using OER is a chance to try university-level content before signing up for a paid-for course
  • 31.3% say their use of OER influenced their decision to register for their current course.
  • 83.2% of informal learners say they are more likely to take another free course or study a free open educational resource, and 24.2% say that they would go on to take a paid for course as a result of using OER

There is still a lot more to do, in particular we really want to get at good comparative data demonstrating improvement in scores (or otherwise) following OER adoption, so if anyone has leads in that area please get in touch. Nevertheless, I would contend that this represents one of the most comprehensive investigations of OER impact, and so will be of interest to anyone in the field.

We’ll be doing further analysis and digging into some of the findings in further detail over the coming months. The report is available under a CC-By licence, and available in a nicely designed PDF booklet, so really, your Christmas wishes are already fulfilled, which is nice.

Innovating Pedagogy report 2014

It’s been slightly over a year since the last Innovating Pedagogy report, and 2014’s edition is now available. As before it was written by a small team in IET at the OU. The remit is to look at technology related innovations, but with more of a teaching and learning perspective than some of the technical reports around. We try not to revisit topics from previous years, although if some significant development has occurred then we will. This is the 3rd of these reports, and when we started we wondered if we’d run out of topics without revisiting things, but actually there were at least another 10 we listed that we wanted to write about, but felt it prudent to keep it to ten. So the topics included this year are:

  • Massive open social learning
  • Learning design informed by analytics
  • Flipped classroom
  • Bring your own devices
  • Learning to learn
  • Dynamic assessment
  • Event-based learning
  • Learning through storytelling
  • Threshold concepts
  • Bricolage

A lot of these are not necessarily new this year, and could have been incorporated in our first report, but it’s about trying to gauge when they gain enough momentum to be of interest to a reasonably wide audience. The report is written in an accessible style (we hope) and aims to be relevant to a broad audience in education. As always it’s not intended to be the definitive list of things that are significant, rather some topics we think are of interest. Anyway, you can download the report here and share with friends.

JIME, Ubiquity & OA models

jime
I’m a co-editor of JIME at the Open University. It’s had a long tradition here, started in KMi it piloted open peer review, using it’s own software back in the late 90s. It has always been open access, and when maintaining our own software became a burden, it switched to using the open source system OJS. It’s focus has changed over the years – although it’s called the Journal for Interactive Media in Education, it is more about open education and ed tech in HE now. It has remained free to publish in and open access. I think its story is similar to that of many journals run by universities, they tend to operate on the periphery of people’s time. This means we can’t spend as much effort on things such as updating the website, implementing new features, experimenting with technology, or pushing it through different library registers and databases as we’d like, because any time we do have for it is spent on maintaining the core journal operations.

We’re now entering a new phase of JIME’s life, which I think offers a model for other university owned journals. We have stopped hosting and maintaining the site, and handed that side of things over to Ubiquity Press (who are also publishing my book, more of which later in another post). Ubiquity use OJS at the back end and they keep the Article Processing Charges (APCs) as low as possible at £300 per article, to handle all the back end work (their model is explained here). Compared with the £3000 type APC fee from many publishers this represents a reasonable charge, and it also includes a portion which goes to a fund to allow fee waivers for anyone who can’t pay the fee. I’ve been critical of Gold OA before, but I think it’s a question of degree, a modest charge to cover the type of work that is needed to run a journal site, do all the library stuff, layout, etc. seems appropriate.

Because JIME has always been free to publish we didn’t want to start charging APCs, so IET are covering the cost of 3 issues per year. This isn’t that costly (as our US friends say, you do the math). And previously we were probably spending more than this in staff time for the technical input and admin time spent on running our own system. It also allows us editors to concentrate on the stuff we do know about, the academic side of things, instead of running the journal. Ubiquity will handle updates to the new system, and implement things such as altmetrics.

When universities talk about impact, and outreach, paying for a handful of such journals from each university would represent a modest outlay for any one institution, but a considerable overall collection of journals. All free to publish and free to access. Some of these costs could come from the library funds currently spent paying large publishing firms who make considerable profits. It’s a critical mass problem, when enough universities do it, then it’s worthwhile and makes an impact on the bigger system, so becomes more worthwhile to participate in. We’ve taken the step, why not join us?

Eduball


I read Michael Lewis’s Moneyball over the summer (you’ve probably seen the Brad Pitt adaptation). It’s a great account of how stripping baseball down to the stats allowed a small team to compete against teams with much larger budgets. What is particularly intriguing is how this multi-million dollar industry was basically doing it all wrong. Mythology, tradition, inherited wisdom created a culture where certain attributes were overvalued, and others undervalued. Players who were invaluable to a team when you looked at their stats were passed over by every single club, because their shape was wrong, or they didn’t look right when they swung a bat.

It’s hard not to read it and draw some analogies with education, and in particular the learning analytics approach. I imagine a copy of Moneyball sits on every analytics nerd’s bookshelf. There are undoubtedly parallels that can be drawn, but equally interesting is why the Moneyball approach doesn’t work in education.

Let’s consider some of those similarities first. Education is rather shrouded in mystery, folklore and received wisdom. We don’t know what works, but we know what’s good when we see it. It is an industry with a lot of money involved in it and like baseball people care passionately about it. It is also often resistant to change. To the analytical mindset the only outcome worth considering is scores. And in improving scores, I will bet there is as much in education that is irrelevant as there is in Lewis’s account of baseball. Teachers are like the wizened old scouts telling the Harvard whizkid that will never fly, and education just isn’t done like that.

There is something undeniably romantic about this vision of the outsider coming in with their new method and revealing all the wastage, all the misinformation that people have been operating with for centuries. And, I genuinely believe analytics will reveal some surprising and unsettling findings for educators, and that long-cherished beliefs about what’s important simply won’t hold up against the data.

But it’s also worth considering why education isn’t like baseball. Firstly, baseball, for all it’s romanticism and mythology, is much simpler. There are very simple, observable metrics – games won, runs scored. You can add in more, but really that’s all you need to work against. This is not the case in education, although the increased obsession with scores attempts to make it so. There are a lot of other things you’re doing in education beyond those metrics – getting students to become critical thinkers, to develop skills in groupwork, communication, reflection, etc.

The reason it isn’t the case in education brings me onto the second major difference: Baseball is ruthless. The system doesn’t need to care if a promising player doesn’t make it, they can trade for someone with better stats. It can sacrifice all to achieving those metrics (and because baseball players are paid good money, this isn’t such an ethical dilemma). This is not the case in education. While some of the prestigious universities can keep up their status by ensuring only the best enter and stay, the system as a whole wants people to progress through, even if their ‘stats’ aren’t great. For the individual, for society, it’s better to have people coming through even if in moneyball terms you’d cut them.

I blog this partly to remind myself – sometimes an analogy is powerful and we tend to over-apply it. As with the disruption (klaxon) of the record industry, people have seen education as being exactly the same. It is important to see similarities, but also to recognise key differences. Anyway, go and read Moneyball if you have the time, it’s good fun.

Open by default

I’ve heard this phrase a few times, often in relation to open data eg. the open data charter. I think it’s a useful starting position for those in higher ed, across all aspects of practice. That is, assume you should be operating openly, and only if there are valid reasons not to, shift away from that, instead of the reverse situation as it is now. It is important to emphasise that there are perfectly valid reasons why you may not be open in a particular aspect, eg an online learning forum for new learners may be better conducted in what they feel is a safe space. So open by default merely suggests that you should consider what you lose by not being open.

Open practice brings a number of benefits, depending on the particular task at hand. These include:

  • Altruism – it’s a good thing to do generally to share, and is at the heart of much of what academia is about.
  • Efficiency – if the feel-good factor of altruism doesn’t cut it for you, then there is a more pragmatic stance, that sharing content, ideas, data, source code is simply a more efficient way to work.
  • Increased profile – this can be important for research projects who want different stakeholders to know about their existence and to engage with them, individuals establishing an academic identity, and resources (eg open access articles) that you want to be widely accessed.
  • Dissemination – probably a combination of the previous two (efficiency and profile), but much of higher education is concerned with dissemination, and conducting this in an open manner is really the best route.
  • Wider participation – whether it is contribution to a project, forming ideas or getting learners to engage with a broader audience, then open practice offers an effective route.
  • Unexpected outcomes – we all have stories of how open practice can lead to (pleasant) unpredicted outcomes, such as the use of content in different contexts, new connections, the formulation of project ideas, etc.
  • Innovation – the open space is often one that allows room for experimentation and innovation outside of formal conventions.
  • Easy collaboration – it is actually really difficult to collaborate – it requires memorandums of understanding, project plans, commitment. I am (still) often reminded of Scott’s post about the difficulty of sharing, whereas being open just means it happens.

Those are quite considerable benefits. So the open by default stance says, before you surrender all of these, make sure what you are gaining by not being open is worthwhile. In essence: Is closed worth the cost? There will be many times when the answer to this question is yes, but one should at least make the case (even if it’s just to yourself) for this. Currently the reverse is true, which is actually quite odd when you consider it.

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