Of Course

George Siemens and I ran the Course to Discourse mini-conference the other week, to discuss the future of the course. The elluminate recordings are now up if you missed it. Here is the slideshare of my presentation:

I opened the conference and so I was trying to set the tone for what was to come by considering the impact of digitisation on education. I employed a rather reductionist strategy by considering higher education as being comprised of a number of components. I used the analogy of newspapers to consider how each of their components had been weakened by digitisation. I argued that we can think of these various components as being held together like atoms in a molecule. Not all all molecules are equal and neither are all industries – the strength of the bonds between the component atoms will vary. The question then is to what extent are these components in higher education weakened by digitisation and how strong are the overall bonds that make 'Higher Education' a valuable package?

As for the mini-conference overall, I thought it went well. Attendance was pretty good (at about 70 people), but I think we could have done better. I only blogged and tweeted it, but didn't make a real effort to put the call out in mailing lists, etc.

The line-up worked very well I think. George and I bandied a few names around by email, contacted them with a rough brief and put together a quick schedule, and yet I don't think the synergy and flow between them would have been better if we'd spent months planning it and coordinating in intricate detail.

The technology worked well, although I saw a few reports on twitter that some people couldn't get access. I want to run more open sessions like this, and Elluminate seems a reasonable lightweight choice, so I hope access isn't an issue.

The discussion in the sessions was lively, and there has been some continued debate in the Moodle forums that George set up, although I still think this continuation post-event is something we haven't quite cracked yet – how do you make the event the start, rather than the end?

Anyway, thanks to all those who presented (Josie Fraser, D'Arcy Norman, Grainne Conole, Alec Couros, Tony Hirst as well as George and myself) – I really encourage you to check out the recordings of at least some of these talks, as there is some great stuff here. Also thanks to all those who 'attended', and kudos to George for setting it up and sticking with my half-baked idea.


  1. Phil Greaney says:

    Hi Martin
    Really pleased to see you put these resources here. Timely, too, since like some of my colleagues on the OU’s H800, I’m working on the ‘nature’ of the course. I’m thinking of this particularly in terms of sharing learning designs, and how the potentially changing notion of a course would affect the foundations for sharing.
    I had trouble getting access, but I hope it’s a temporary thing (Elluminate doesn’t like the Safari 4 beta on the Mac). Once I’d uninstalled Safari beta, it worked fine (but alas too late to join in). So, I hope Elluminate works fine for you in the future.

  2. Christian says:

    Hi Martin,
    Interesting stuff – why do you consider that newspapers / journals have been weakened by digitisation? Or, to rephrase that – what do you mean by ‘weakened’?
    Also, you seem to be saying that bonds between components make education more valuable. I think that bonds between components make a course more comprehensible, comprehendible and tied together (i.e. if the tutorials support what you’re doing in lectures, and the exam examines you on what you’ve learnt in the lectures) but I don’t think this has any effect on the value per se. After all, I can do the most wonderfully integrated course on how to surf, but if I live in Switzerland, it’s not very valuable to me (unless I move to another country).
    I haven’t been able to read the conclusion on your slides though – would you be able to change the font on the presentation please? Cream on white is really hard to read.

  3. Martin says:

    Christian – in terms of newspapers, sales/circulation are at all time lows, and most of the business models they have tried eg subscription, have failed. They lost their advertising revenue – the common simplification is that Craigslist killed the newspaper, and while that is a simplification, the unbundling of adverts and classifieds from papers has undermined their business model. Clay Shirky is good on the demise of papers – and generally one can lay this at the door of digitisation – most people get their news online now. The Guardian is an interesting example of a paper that is attempting to embrace this and find new revenue streams.
    the bonds make the proposition as a whole valuable – otherwise you can have the separate components. I’m not talking about a specific course (of course surfing isn’t relevant if you don’t want to surf), but of Higher Education as a whole – if you can get that tutorial type support and content as separate bundles eg through a Google online marketplace, AND it is cheaper, and more relevant, then the value proposition of HE as a whole becomes weaker.
    Prior to digitisation there wasn’t any alternative really, but this was exploring whether there will be.
    Sorry about the readability, I think it got worse with transition to slideshare.

  4. I missed your session and all of Friday but still enjoyed it.
    The busiest part of teh Moodle forum without doubt was the introductions thread. And most of this started before the course. It’s hard still to really get a handle on who everyon is participating. It would be great if Tony could mash something together where you could view participants by where they worked, which field/stage they worked in etc. It would also be good if people listed the id they are going to use in elluminate on their profile, and their twitter id… and links to their blog/digital identity. Yes, some do but not everyone.
    It could also help if presenters or another started the conversation after presentations. What surprised them most? What would they like to follow up on?
    The moodle discussion showed that people were happier to get together and talk BEFORE the event. But maybe we were not so sure what the focus was afterwards. The presenters see, to move on and we are left with recordings of the event but it feels as if everything is over.
    When I have time I’ll catch up on your presentation and join the conversation!
    PS It took quite a while for the presentations to go up on moodle and perhaps that allowed everything to dissipate as well.

  5. Christian says:

    Ah ok, interesting stuff – so you’re essentially saying that because there is now a diversity of sources from which students can source stuff (i.e. facebook and wikipedia rather than tutorials and the library), higher education’s strength has been reduced? In the same way as newspapers no longer holding the monopoly as information sources – and with the benefit of online largely being free – this has weakened their proposition?
    V. interesting – it’s the classic ‘diversification = smaller audiences and revenues’ debate which happened when satellite TV was born (and then cable … and then freeview … and then iplayer etc!). I think your suggestions at the end are good ones as well (I managed to play with the brightness on my monitor) so good stuff.

  6. Martin says:

    @Anne – yes I think there are other tools and strategies for integrating the presentation into a wider discussion – I’m not sure Moodle is the right tool for instance.
    @Christian – yes, I think the cable tv example is relevant. It’s not just diversification but also something about the manner in which integrated industries become unbundled online – the music industry is another good example: A&R, recording, distribution, marketing, and retail were all bundled together in a physical format – but when you go online there is no need for a company to do all of these for you.
    I ought to stress I wasn’t arguing that this _should_ happen, just that it _might_.

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