Open programme art work

At the risk of making this blog a Bryan Mathers fanboi site, I am devoting another post to his work. As I’ve mentioned, I’m the Chair of the Open Degree Programme at the OU. We got Bryan in to help us think through our joint principles. The aim was also to create some artwork we can use in presentations, that are social media friendly and illustrate key benefits about the open degree.

So here they are with some thoughts:

Woman holding a shield with the OU logo, reading The Open Programme, Perfect for Brave Learners

Brave learners – we like to suggest that open learners are brave, in that taking control of your own learning path requires a sense of responsibility. It is easier in some ways to follow a prescribed pathway for a named degree – you know if you do these modules they will give you an understanding of topic X. But choosing your own path means you have to make those decisions for yourself, which is a lot of freedom – and as we know, with great power comes great responsibility.

3 Footsteps with the works interest, career and passion. Text reads The Open Degree: walk your own path

Walk your own path – the freedom aspect is highlighted in this image. But it also emphasises factors which can influence a student’s choices. These are not necessarily the same for everyone, some people will be purely interest driven, others career focused and others will balance a mixture of these elements.

Fist holding aloft a degree certificate. Text reads Rebel Degree

Rebel degree – I like the idea behind this one, that open programme students are rebellious to some degree. It is likely to appeal to people who find the conventional pathways too constraining.

Astronaut on the moon, text reads Since 1969. Open Degree Programme

Space cadet – this one tied in with the OU’s 50th anniversary in 2019 which was also the moon landing 50th anniversary also. It helps us stress that in fact the OU designed its courses to be multidisciplinary, specifically because the architects of this new university felt that it needed a new type of degree structure.

Person at base of tree path, each leaf is a person. Text reads choose the path of greatest interest

Path of greatest interest – this ties back to my idea of situated degree pathways, in that students can change their degree pathway as interest or context suggests, rather than having it pre-determined from the outset. It also emphasises the many, many different pathways possible.

Pick n Mix

Pick n mix – I sometimes refer to the open programme as our pick n mix degree, because a) I LOVE pick n mix and b) it is a useful shorthand for a lot of people. But it is probably worth noting though that some don’t like the metaphor because it implies a lack of connection between the components and perhaps a randomness in choice (they’ve obviously never gone through a pick n mix with me).

Pic of man with dog over his shoulder. Text says Prof Martin Weller, saying If we didn't have an open programme we'd need to invent one

Prof Weller – Bryan added in this one as a freebie, and I’ve adapted it as my Twitter avatar. It also features Teilo, so is obviously the winner here. I wanted to stress that Open is in our title and the open programme is central to our identity. And also that it is a concept that is particularly timely now and so if we didn’t have it, we’d invent it.

The Ed Tech suitcase

Some of you may remember the hoo-ha we had around Ed Tech as discipline a while ago (re-reading this, the comments are incredibly rich). The general feeling was that a discipline was ill-suited to ed tech for three reasons: a discipline ends up excluding some and prioritising other voices; ed tech is multi-disciplinary by nature; the way it operates is more networked and fluid.

However, not being a discipline leaves it with some weakness, namely the kind of historical amnesia we see so often, and a vulnerability to commercial ed tech setting the narrative.

So while it seemed that a a discipline wasn’t appropriate I wondered if there were better ways of framing ed tech that might highlight its strengths and overcome its weaknesses. One I’ve been toying with is the suitcase metaphor, so allow me to test it out on you.

an open suitcase with camera, laptop and sunglasses next to it
Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

Consider packing a suitcase for a trip. It contains many different items – clothes, toiletries, books, electrical items, maybe food and drink or gifts. Some of these items bear a relationship to others, for example underwear, and others are seemingly unrelated, for example a hair dryer. Each brings their own function, which has a separate existence and relates to other items outside of the case, but within the case, they form a new category, that of “items I need for my trip.” In this sense the suitcase resembles the ed tech field, or at least a gathering of ed tech individuals, for example at a conference.

If you attend a chemistry conference and have lunch with strangers, it is highly likely they will nearly all have chemistry degrees and PhDs. This is not the case at an ed tech conference, where the lunch table might contain people with expertise in computer science, philosophy, psychology, art, history and engineering. This is a strength of the field. The chemistry conference suitcase then contains just socks (but of different types), but the ed tech suitcase contains many different items. In this perspective then the aim is not to make the items of the suitcase the same, but to find means by which they meet the overall aim of usefulness for your trip, and are not random items that won’t be needed. This suggests a different way of approaching ed tech beyond making it a discipline.

Techniques for making the suitcase items mutually useful to the overall aim then might include running primers for people new to ed tech, explicitly bringing multi-disciplinary perspectives to bear on tech issues, having agreed problems to address, crowd-sourcing principles, and so on. The approach is to reach some form of consensus but that consensus is itself fluid and changeable, varying over time and location, just as the suitcase contents will vary depending on specific trips. This perspective of ed tech allows it to remain more fluid and malleable than a discipline.

Old suitcases arranged together, some bearing stickers
Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

A second framing of the suitcase metaphor is to view it as not the container for the field, but the individual ed tech practitioners case. They will bring items in that case which will be unique to them, and the case itself becomes customised over time. Just as people add stickers to their cases, it becomes a record of the journey itself. There is a German metaphor for a case, a Reisebegleiter, which translates as travelling companion, but also carries connotations of something that comes with you through life. This creates an interplay between the temporary and longevity of travel. I enjoyed Maren Deepwell’s recent post which explores this interplay by referring to a Travelling Monument Kit, stating it explores “the relationship between travelling and permanence (she kindly gave me the German metaphor above too). Travelling is all about leaving things behind, discovering new ones and changing perspectives… it’s about change. Monuments are normally fixed in place and time, permanent markers of things to be remembered.” The Travelling Monument Kit is a suitcase that contains permanent objects, or monuments of travel. This “explores how we can create lasting meaning amidst change… It’s about creating something solid and strong, a connection, to bring things into perspective.”

For the individual ed tech practitioner the suitcase becomes something akin to the travelling monument kit across their career. The monuments will include original disciplinary knowledge, and as they progress to unknown areas in ed tech, they seek to make these connections, and gather more monuments. These might be technology, conceptual frameworks, methodologies, or connections with other individuals, events, projects. This perspective emphasises two aspects that ed tech should seek to preserve and cherish. The first is that it recognises previous experience as valid in this context, the second is that it is unique and unpredictable. Everyone’s kit will be different, and it is by developing that kit that they bring understanding to an area that is often new to them, but is also changing itself. Again, such a perspective might suggest ways of thinking and facilitating this in ed tech. We can provide the equivalent of travel guides to help navigate in these travels without prescribing the actual journey, and portfolio accreditation such as ALT’s CMALT process which operates around a portfolio allowing recognition of different experiences.

Disruption’s legacy

Clayton Christensen passed away yesterday. I never met him and he was by many accounts a warm, generous individual. So this is not intended as a personal attack, and I apologise if it’s timing seems indelicate, but as so many pieces are being published about how influential Disruption Theory was, I would like to offer a counter narrative to its legacy.

I think to give it fair credit, the initial idea of disruptive innovation was both powerful and useful. Coming as the digital revolution really began to impact upon every sector of our lives, people were looking for theories to explain the new logic of these businesses that seemed to arise from nowhere and achieve global domination overnight. How could Kodak disappear? Why did Microsoft become bigger than IBM? The concept of sustaining and disruptive technologies offered a means of explaining what was happening. I confess that used it myself a few time back in the 00s.

But some time around the web 2.0 boom, disruption shifted from being one possible explanatory theory to a predictive model, and then to a desirable business plan. These are very different things and they carry with them different responsibilities. Every start-up wanted to ‘disrupt’ an existing business. It shaped Silicon Valley thinking more than any other theory, and in 2020, I think we can review that and say it was almost entirely harmful in our relationship with technology. Here’s why:

  1. It legitimised undermining of labour – the fact that Uber, Tesla, Amazon etc all treat their staff poorly is justified because they are disrupting an old model. And you can’t bring those old fashioned conceits of unions, pensions, staff care into this. By harking to the God of Disruption, companies were able to get away with such practices more than if they had simply declared “our model is to treat workers badly”.
  2. It is a bad theory that didn’t know when to die. I know I said it was useful, but once it became over-stretched and applied everywhere it rapidly began to fall apart. Disruption as originally described rarely happened, but once it didn’t happen people just went looking for the next thing to disrupt. Like the appeal of transmuting base metals into gold, it was so powerful an idea that they didn’t question whether it was fundamentally flawed. As I’ve argued before, not only is it destructive to apply to education, it’s just a really poor explanatory framework in that sector.
  3. It dismissed existing experience and expertise. I won’t lay all the blame for the current distrust of expertise and veneration of ignorance at disruption’s door, but it played a part. Disruption demands that incumbents cannot make appropriate innovation (because they are focused on sustaining technology), and so it requires outsiders to make real change. They must be untainted by the old fashioned thinking that hampers the incumbents.  It explicitly prioritises an absence of domain knowledge and seeks to undermine expertise.
  4. It was uncooperative. When disruption became an aim, instead of a rare outcome, then it shaped how silicon valley approached business. If you want to disrupt a sector then the intention is to effectively eliminate it, as I said before, it’s an extinction event. You replace that sector or industry with a new monopoly. This model does not allow for cooperation and collaboration. There can be only one. It is essentially an ultra-capitalist theory, and could have only really come from the US. Who knows what a more socialist theory of technology might have given us?
  5. It wasted so many resources. Given all of the above, the amount of time, money, human effort that has been wasted in seeking disruption above all else is incalculable. It framed so much of the Silicon Valley mindset that they could not fathom different models, which might have been more collaborative, more empathetic, and more realistic.

You could argue that this is just an unfortunate side effect of people taking a good theory and mis-applying it. But Christensen was no innocent bystander in this, and actively sought to push disruption beyond its narrow limits. He is a warning of what happens, particularly in the US, when an academic gets superstar status. If you desire wealth, influence, your own institute then that desire works counter to many academic principles. It is not in your interest to carefully prescribe the limits of your theory, to seek contrary evidence, to be cautious about its application.

With the passing of its founder, I hope we can now also lay this theory and mindset to rest.

25 Years of Ed Tech book – get those pre-orders in!

25 Years of Ed Tech cover

Next month my book 25 Years of Ed Tech is published by the lovely people at Athabasca University Press. It will be available under a Creative Commons license, with the digital copy free. But, look at that lovely Bryan Mathers cover – wouldn’t you want a physical copy of that in your hands? If so you can pre-order via Athabasca site or via Combined Academic in the UK.

I expect there will be a flurry of self-promotion over the next couple of months. Bear with me. I will reveal the highlight of the book now, which is its dedication, which screams “I have no friends”:

To my two canine writing buddies, Teilo and Bruno, on whose walks most of the ideas in this book were developed, and who listened patiently to my musings on MOOC and metadata.

If that isn’t enough to convince you, here is an excellent review from Gill Ryan, which contains the phrase “A must read”.

Also, extra bonus, here is the back cover that Bryan designed, which we kept the glasses from but didn’t use the text:

back cover of 25 Years of ed tech book

Self plagiarism and self protection

My dog on the beach in West Wales
My writing companion

I was away last week in a cottage in West Wales, trying to get some momentum on a book I am writing. The book is something around Metaphors of Ed Tech. It will be no surprise to anyone I’m sure that it will involve working up a lot of existing blog posts. Some of my friends (looks at Jim Groom and Dave Cormier) like to rib me about rehashing blog posts to make books, but there’s a lot to be said for it. So here is my “protest too much” justification.

Jesse Stommel had a good thread on “self-plagiarism”:

I agree with this, repurposing is a very useful thing to learn. I often use, adapt and repurpose content I’ve written. For a start, not everyone has read everything I’ve written (shocking I know), so taking that blog post from two years ago and adapting it for a book may well give the idea a new audience. Secondly, I usually change and adapt it to a new context, so the ideas extend. That’s kind of how humans work, we don’t start with a tabula rasa every morning. Thirdly, it allows for linkages and intersection with other content in the book or essay so it becomes a different thing.

So that is the intellectual justification for self-plagiarism (I do use the phrase sometimes, but in a self mocking way). There are some practical benefits also. Writing a book is a daunting undertaking: All those empty pages; All those words waiting to be transmuted from your little grey cells to the screen. I mean, I can write the dedication, but beyond that, it’s a struggle. Last week I went to my cottage, and took with me a document that had 20,000 words I had culled from past blog posts. Over the course of the week I got that up to 35K, of which about 25K are reasonable. I had to rework nearly all of the existing words, but having a structure, having inertia made it a much more manageable task than starting from scratch.

Another reason I would contest that using blog posts to build up to a book is useful is one of self protection. You get to test out your ideas in public and if they’re really awful, people will tell you. Many of you will have heard the Naomi Wolf interview last year in which the premise of her new book was shown to be based on a misunderstanding on her part, live on radio. I don’t comment on this to dump on Wolf, she’s done important work, but rather that it is the most tangible example of something I think all researchers fear – that they have made a mistake and it will be exposed too late. PhD students I supervise often express a version of this anxiety after their thesis has gone to print. If you’re a big hitter like Wolf then you are probably obliged not to make your work public before the book comes out, so that you can do the publicity tour and unveil the key ideas. But for us little leaguers there is a definite benefit in testing ideas out publicly before hand.

Innovating Pedagogy 2020

Cover of Innovating Pedagogy report

Sorry I’m a bit late with this, I’ve been writing (more on that in the next post).

The annual Innovating Pedagogy report is out. As ever this is written by my colleagues in IET, in collaboration with another institution. This time it was the super smart gang at the National Institute of Digital Learning at Dublin City University.

The report continues with the aim of focusing on pedagogic developments that are related to technology, but crucially not focusing on the technology itself. This year’s innovations are:

  • Artificial intelligence in education
  • Posthumanist perspectives
  • Learning through open data
  • Engaging with ethics
  • Social justice pedagogy
  • Esports
  • Learning from animations
  • Multisensory learning
  • Offline networked learning
  • Online laboratories

I think the first of these captures the nature and intent of the report very well. It is not an AI puff piece, nor is it wholly critical. There is a strong emphasis on ethical considerations and practical application throughout the report. I’m particularly pleased to see open data, and engaging with data ethics as topics in there, as these both represent the possible direction for ed tech that will be important in the coming decade. But that is my personal bias, and like a bag of Revels, there is something in there for everyone. I hope you find it useful and engaging.

Download PDF here.

Annual book post with added pointless lists

In 2018, 2017, 2016 & 2015 I did this with pointless graphs, but this year I am adding a new twist to the visual aids and going for the pub bore’s favourite weapon of mass irritation – the list.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am now almost entirely converted to audiobooks (blame Josie Fraser, she got me started). Don’t judge me, instead revel in just how many of those beasts I got through – currently 93 and I will add one or two more over the holiday period, although I expect I’ll fall short of reaching 100, like a massive loser. Here they are broken down by genre:

Crime was the biggest category with 29, followed by Non-Fiction (22) and Literary Fiction (21) then a smattering of Sci-Fi, Horror, and spy novels.

In terms of author gender, having been evenly balanced in previous years, this was a clear victory for women, 56:37:

I much prefer women writing crime than men and a lot of the non-fiction I read this year was by women as we are living through something of a golden age of feminist science writing. Which brings me onto my first list.

6 non-fiction books I’d press upon you until you felt obliged to read them to shut me up:

  • Inferior – Angela Saini. A look at the many, and inventive ways that science has got women wrong. Saini is an excellent writer who has a deep understanding of the various branches of science involved. She is also fair, and thorough. This is an exemplar for how to use science to refute bad science and to convey a powerful message.
  • Invisible Women – Caroline Criado-Perez. Everyone read this book this year. What Criado-Perez does so expertly is take something we all sort of knew, that women are under-represented in all sorts of data sets, and methodically, remorselessly exposes it across diverse examples. In one book she has settled the argument and given something for every tech bro to be gifted.
  • The Five – Hallie Rubenhold. This book explores the lives of the five victims of Jack the Ripper, but it is not about their murderer (or murders). It is a meticulously researched account of the social, economical and legal structures in Victorian England that put those five women in that position. By deliberating avoiding any account of their deaths, and instead detailing their lives with sympathy and reality, it powerfully reclaims these women from their misogynistic fate.
  • Midnight in Chernobyl – Adam Higginbotham. After watching that TV series, I read this. It deftly weaves together complex economic, social, political and scientific threads with a human perspective.
  • Superior – Angela Saini. Following up the laser dissection of sexism in Inferior, Saini turned her attention to race science. Again, her ability to combine different aspects of science, to explain the flaws and bring these together in a compelling argument should act as a full stop to any of this nonsense ever being spouted again (sadly it won’t though).
  • Empty Planet – Daniel Bricker, John Ibbitson. I blogged about this, a challenge to the convention that population crisis, I appreciated how it made me think about so many things from a different perspective once you change one underlying assumption.

4 fiction books that are reasonably new and you’d enjoy

  • A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles. I was a big fan of The Rules of Civility, and Towles new book did not disappoint. It tells the tale of Count Rostov, sentenced in the Russian Revolution to never leave the Hotel Metropol. In a depressing year for most of us when cruelty is the new political directive, this is a gentle book full of kindness and humanity.
  • My Sister, The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite. This short novel focuses on Korede’s continued attempts to cover up for her Instagram inflencer sister, who has a habit of being forced to kill her boyfriends. It’s a refreshing, wickedly funny voice.
  • Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie. As with the previous entry, this novel centres around the relationship between two sisters, Isma and Aneeka. They are drawn into an international weave of terrorism, politics and family tensions. This might be heavy handed by another writer but Shamsie keeps the focus on the individual characters to create a powerful, moving story.
  • American Spy – Lauren Wilkinson. When so many spy novels are dominated by hard drinking men, this account of Marie Mitchell, a black woman caught between her country and her lover, Thomas Sankara the President of Burkina Faso provides a much richer, humane account of the consequences of espionage.

4 books I didn’t like as much as other people seemed to, but that’s okay.

Maybe not classics, but 6 books I just enjoyed

And finally, all 93 for you to be judgemental about

  • Master & Commander – Patrick O’Brien
  • The Adversary – Emmanuel Carrere
  • Dying Fall – Elly Griffiths
  • The Murder Room – P D James
  • My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
  • The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
  • The Wood – John Lewis-Stempel
  • The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K Le Guin
  • Ivon – Michael Aylwin
  • The Happy Brain – dean Burnett
  • Our Mutual Friend – Dickens
  • A Distant Echo – Val McDiermid
  • Ordinary Thunderstorms – William Boyd
  • Emma – Jane Austen
  • Dead Water – Ann Cleeves
  • Dune – Frank Herbert
  • Joe Strummer – Chris Salewicz
  • Inferior – Angela Saini
  • The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton
  • Mabinogion – Sioned Davies
  • Notes on a Nervous Planet – Matt Haig
  • Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
  • Nutshell – Ian McEwan
  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris
  • Invisible Women – Caroline Criado-Perez
  • Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
  • Take No Farewell – Robert Goddard
  • The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
  • Heroes – Stephen Fry
  • In the Woods – Tana French
  • The Seasoning – Manon Steffan Ros
  • Milkman – Anna Burns
  • The Salt Path – Raynor Winn
  • The Stranger Diaries – Elly Griffiths
  • The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante
  • The Gendered Brain – Gina Rippon
  • Redbreast – Jo Nesbo
  • The Owl Service – Alan Garner
  • Wild Fire – Ann Cleeves
  • Superior – Angela Saini
  • My Sister, The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • The Elements of Eloquence – Mark Forsyth
  • One Moonlit Night – Caradog Prichard
  • The Life of Rebecca Jones – Angharad Price
  • The Leopard – Jo Nesbo
  • The Fog – James Herbert
  • A Murder of Quality – John Le Carre
  • Why be happy when you could be normal? – Jeanette Winterson
  • The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Melmoth – Sarah Perry
  • The Company of Liars – Karen Maitland
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carre
  • Exposure – Helen Dunmore
  • Taxidermists daughter – Kate Mosse
  • The Woman in Blue – Elly Griffiths
  • Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
  • An Honourable Schoolboy – John Le Carre
  • The Girl who fell from the sky – Simon Mawer
  • The Passage – Justin Cronin
  • In Her Wake – Amanda Jennings
  • Codename Villanelle – Luke Jennings
  • The Porpoise – Mark Hadden
  • Midnight in Chernobyl – Adam Higginbotham
  • The Wych Elm – Tana French
  • Empty Planet – Darrell Bricker, John Ibbitson
  • She Begat this – Joan Morgan
  • An American Spy – Lauren Wilkinson
  • Smoke Gets in your Eyes – Caitlin Doughty
  • The thirteenth tale – Diane Setterfield
  • White Nights – Ann Cleeves
  • The Noonday Demon – Andrew Solomon
  • The Five – Hallie Rubenhold
  • Gut – Giulia Enders
  • Oranges are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
  • The Zig Zag Girl – Elly Griffiths
  • The Bat – Jo Nesbo
  • The Woman in Black – Susan Hill
  • The Last Witness – Denzyl Merrick
  • The Thirteen Problems – Agatha Christie
  • The Lewis Man – Peter May
  • The Hoarder – Jess Kidd
  • The Beatles – Hunter Davies
  • The Chalk Pit – Elly Griffiths
  • A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
  • Normal People – Sally Rooney
  • Call for the Dead – John Le Carre
  • Close to Home – Cara Hunter
  • A History of Britain in 21 women – Jenni Murray
  • Dead Beat – Val McDiermid
  • Dracula – Bram Stoker
  • Lost Dog – Kate Spicer
  • The Janus Stone – Elly Griffiths

40 years of ed tech at the OU

cover of the book Educational Visions

My colleagues in IET at the Open University have published an open access book with the lovely Ubiquity Press people. It is free to download in various formats here (or you can buy the hard copy, order it for your library etc). It celebrates the work of the CALRG research group.

I like a bit of ed tech history on this blog, which I think is interesting in its own right. But what I particularly like about this book is that they use this history to then consider future developments. So there are four themes, and each has two chapters: Foundations and Futures. As Ann Jones, Eileen Scanlon and Rebecca Ferguson say in the intro, the book:

informs future developments in educational technology, by reviewing the history of computers and education, covering themes including learning analytics and design, inquiry learning, accessibility and learning at scale. The lessons from these developments, which evolve, recur and adapt over time give an indication of the future in the field. The book informs readers about what is already known and demonstrates how they can use this work themselves.

The reason I think this is important is what also drove me to write my 25 years of ed tech book, namely that there is a wilful historical amnesia in much of ed tech. In the intro to 25 years, I pick on Clay Shirky’s quote about MOOCs in 2012: “higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or mooc), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup”.

To be fair, I could have selected from any number of quotes from a range of ed tech futurologists particularly around MOOCs, but this one is telling and gets at why I think ed tech history is important. Firstly, it is (perhaps wilfully) ignorant of the long history of e-learning at universities and posits that MOOCs are the first flush of online learning. This in itself highlights the need for a broader recognition of the use of ed tech in higher education. Secondly, given this history of e-learning implementation, the quote is not so much about the technology of MOOCs, but rather the Silicon Valley-type business model being applied to higher education. It was the large-scale interest of venture capitalism and a seemingly palpable example of the much-loved disruption myth (although, as usual, these predictions proved to be false) that generated much of the media interest.

I think it is important to argue that while the start-up based culture is certainly one model of ed tech innovation, it is not the only model. By first ignoring its own history, and then allowing a dominant narrative to displace it, higher education fails to make the case that there is another model, which operates to different demands, timescales, and metrics. The CALRG book is a good example of this mode of operation.

Thirdly, this combination of historical ignorance and imposed narrative necessitates that much of the existing knowledge established over years of practice and research is ignored. In order for disruption to take place, and Udacity to be “our” Napster, it is a requirement that the incumbents in an industry (in this case, universities and colleges) are incapable of engaging with the new technology and unaware of its implications.

I would suggest that understanding the history of ed tech is a method to refute this narrative. So, grab yourself a free download and get refuting.

2019 blog review


Warning: Blogging as therapy session follows

I usually end the year with a review of my own year on blogging. Not a review of ed tech blogging as a whole and the themes of the year, but just me. And in that is something of my current identity doubts with my own blog. This is my 44th post of the year, down on my usual 50 or so, which hints at that questioning also. The thing I’ve been struggling with is that a lot of the bloggers I admire have effectively become very good ed tech journalists, writing very well researched, thoughtful essays. These are excellent, but working in academia, blogging performs a different function for me – I write research papers and books which is the place for the carefully argued work. My blog felt like an antidote to that in a way – a place to put out half baked ideas and quick posts that are knocked off in-between other things.

This is exacerbated by the political situation and general crapness of things. I used to comment on this stuff, but increasingly I feel that it’s more useful to just STFU and let people who are better informed and write about such with a greater depth than I do have the space. Don’t add to the noise (this is also a useful approach to being a man asking questions at conferences I find).

These two aspects – of wanting to write in an informal manner and not wanting to distract from better placed voices on many issues means I often find myself thinking about a post and then going “nah”. And once you start doing that in blogging, the threshold to post becomes greater, and the inclination to do it declines. I didn’t comment on the demise of the OpenEd conference or the recent arguments about Instructure, for example because I felt others had said it better.

The result of this can be a solipsism – the thing I do know about, which other people won’t blog about, and which I can do quickly and informally is me. Although there has always been a personal aspect to blogging, one that’s just me, me, me quickly becomes tiresome (as this post attests). Anyway, no answers to this, just working it through. I do have plans for a series next year but it has a Martin-centric focus, so we’ll see how it goes.

Get on with the review!

In terms of blogging this year, I had 320K visits from 118K visitors. I started the year with my 1000th post. The most popular post was my confessional Academicing with Depression. This also attracted the most comments – which shows that people are nice. I had fun playing with the Ed Tech Metaphor (and Open Degree) Generator which reminded me of the old days of blogging, when Tony Hirst and Alan Levine would patiently explain stuff to me. Perhaps the most EdTechie post of the year was VAR lessons for Ed Tech. A random one I’m re-bigging is Situated degree pathways.

On a professional front it has been a good year for me and I have a lot to be thankful for. I feel a tad guilty about this given the general chaos the world is descending into, but it’s a reminder that personal and global tides can operate at different frequencies. Some people meet the love of their life during war time after all. I started the year with my (rather belated) inaugural lecture. I have sort of become one of the unofficial spokespeople for the OU, and in our 50th year got to present at the Hay Festival which was a real privilege. I became Chair of the Open Programme, and this really provided an opportunity to bring together different strands of open education. We managed to secure funding for a further three years for the GO-GN project which is simply a delight to work on. I completed my 25 Years of Ed Tech book and had it accepted by Athabasca Press, so it will be out early next year. And towards the end of the year I was awarded a Commonwealth Learning Chair in OER, which will allow me to help expand the GO-GN network.

I can’t imagine we’ll look back on 2019 with any fondness more generally though. But I am thankful for what I have. And look, it’s hard to be down when you get greeted by this enthusiasm every day. See you all in 2020.

The GIF(t) of Impact

Back in 2017 I blogged how ALT had taken a different approach to developing strategy which had made the often dry, boring process more engaging and meaningful. Well, it’s now nearly 2020 and we’re developing a new strategy, so ALT have handily updated on what they achieved over the last strategy period. And as well as a nice report, we have GIFs! It may seem trivial, but I think being able to boil your outcomes down to some GIFs may be both a useful exercise in practising clarity of message, and also make them more social media friendly. It’s a practice I may adopt on other projects too (although one should be aware of accessibility issues and ensure this is not the only method of dissemination). Don’t worry if you can’t grab the info from the gifs, it’s all in the report.

So here are the GIFs. First up, some big numbers, that show the range of communications, including youtube videos (mainly conference presentations), blog posts, webinars and a very active twitter community.

Then one which highlights the ALT members activity and how we celebrate different voices in ed tech (this is particularly important when more conferences sell keynote slots to big vendors – providing a diverse, independent voice is needed more than ever).

And lastly, the professional body aspect as embodied in CMALT.

Gif of ALT impact report