Evaluating eduhack.eu

I was recently contacted with the request to contribute to the internal evaluation of an EU project within the Erasmus+ programme, the project Eduhack, which aims to “improve the skills of teachers-in-training and recently-graduated teachers in developing and delivering eLearning courses, with particular attention to OERs and MOOCs”, with a focus on higher education. So this is what I was asked to do:

  1. Register at the project website and indicate the address of your blog (or set up a new one);
  2. Choose one of the project ‘courses’ within the areas of ‘digital resources’, ‘teaching’, ‘assessment’ or ’empowering learners’;
  3. Read and watch the relevant elements/materials;
  4. Carry out the ‘do’ activity;
  5. Post your results/write up a report on your blog (sic);
  6. Fill in the evaluation questionnaire

Topic: Curate and organise digital resources

As a long-term content curator, I was curious about this topic, so that was my first choice. Each topic/item seems to have a standard structure containing 4 elements: Read, Watch, Do, Resources.

The ‘Read’ element provides a short summary of what content curation is, why you would use it as a teacher in HE, names to possible platforms, and how they can be used. The ‘Watch’ element has two video fragments illustrating the use of curation. The first one has short snippets of interviews with expert curators about the why and how. The second one is a mini-lecture (using a Prezi’) about curating. The ‘Do’ element suggests creating an account on either Pinterest or Scoop.it, or – if you already use Pinterest or Scoop.it – to write a blog post on ‘how you are using or could be using these tools in your teaching’. The ‘Resources’ element on the page contains to links to relevant introductory articles.

My reflection on curation (is also my #CMALTcMOOC specialty)

I have been in the business of digitally-supported learning for about 15 years now, and I am still trying to find the right mix of instruments for curation that fit me best. I have given presentations about content curation both in Dutch and English for colleagues.

  • Starting from social bookmarking, I first had a del.icio.us account until the service ended, and in 2007, I moved over to using Diigo, which I still use in the background, meaning that all my tweets that contain a URL are being stored in my library. Only very rarely do I actively add a bookmark to my library.
  • Since 2004, I have experimented with a blog on blogger.com (mainly at conferences), but quickly found that I am too ADHD to keep up writing well-thought-out and profound reflections. So my blog has a very uneven history. Recently I moved to this WordPress blog, in an effort to build a portfolio for the CMALT accreditation.
  • So when I discovered tools for content curation, I started using several different platforms, such as Netvibes (since 2007), paper.li (since about 2010), and eventually also scoop.it.
    • Netvibes was/is a content collector, where I combined a number of relevant RSS feeds for myself and for my peers and students, trying to bring together academic sources and more popular contributions in a number of domains. With the ‘demise’ of RSS as a broadly used standard, the value of Netvibes in my daily professional practice has all but disappeared.
    • Paper.li was/is an automatic news-clipping service, which takes the twitter-feeds of my network, and publishes the content of the most popular tweets on a daily or weekly basis. I used this for a short period with my students within a course on Quality of Education where I asked them to tweet and use the course code as a hashtag. The paper.li would then harvest all those contributions. Currently, paper.li still produces a weekly paper, but admittedly I don’t read it anymore.
    • Scoop.it has become my favourite platform, and I use it regularly, but intermittently. I curate a number of topics (both in English and Dutch), and I have co-curated two topics with colleagues (one on networked learning with Prof. Em. P. Sloep). Co-curation makes very good sense in situations where all teachers are flooded with high workload.
      The educational subscription also allows me to co-curate a topic with students, but I have not started doing that yet. The course that I teach is only a 10-week course, and as such s not really suited for co-curation woth students. I am considering using a co-curated topic with a small group of thesis students, though.
  • My main sharing platform has become Twitter, which suits my ADHD the best. I keep track of what people in my network are tweeting about, and often retweet relevant contributions. If these contributions fit with one or more of the topics that I curate on Scoop.it, then I will add it on Scoop.it, write a short paragraph with a personal opinion or reflection, and then also tweet the link to the scoop.it post. Currently, this approach works well for me, but I would still like to further explore content co-curation together with colleagues and students.

Tablet view of my scoop.it interface

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CMALTcMOOC – Operational issue – VLE bug resolution

Just finished participating in the weekly #CMALTcMOOC hangout with Thom, Todd and Ian, and decided to put out a ‘quick and dirty’ blogpost about one operational issue that I encountered this week.

Virtual Learning Environment glitch

Our institution uses its own VLE – yOUlearn – which is based on the Liferay platform, and which is continuously being designed and developed in-house. Last weekend, the system was updated and Monday morning a new version was available. Because it was the first Monday of the month, I needed to update the list of available thesis positions for our Master students.

yOulearnAfstuderen

And somehow, during the updating of the page, the named links at the top of the page would disappear, time and time again, whereas they worked fine just 10 minutes before. So I reported my experience – via e-mail – to my colleagues, the learning techs collaborating with the software developers, and suggested that it may be a bug from last weekends’ update. After about an hour of e-mail back-and-forth, we sat together at a PC, and I was able to demonstrate that I wasn’t just ‘imagining things’ or that I ‘must have made a mistake’. It turned out that an HTML-cleanup module was triggered for users with the ‘teacher’ and ‘author’ roles, and this was only supposed to trigger for users with a ‘student’ role, to prevent the addition of scripts and potentially malicious code.

Reflecting on that experience, I had several thoughts:

  • It’s a good thing that the Open Universiteit is a small institution (approx. 600 staff), with close links between staff at all levels. That allowed for a quick resolution of this issue, which would have affected all teachers and tutors. Having worked at a huge institution in Leuven (with 8.000 staff), this experience would have been a bit more daunting, I presume. But then again, even a University the size of the KULeuven would never dream of developing a VLE from scratch 😉
  • Through the years, colleagues have learned that I am pretty good with technology, and that makes the (learning) tech people more willing to take my experience seriously. Personal experience and reputation seem to play a role in this type of encounter. In Dave O. White’s terminology: the colleagues at the OUNL consider me as an experienced ‘digital resident’ as far as our institutional learning technology is concerned, and accordingly seem to take my input more seriously.
  • The culture within the VLE development group is its own sub-culture. Their focus is on the reliability, robustness and scalability of the technology that they are developing, and not so much on the usability or functionality from a user perspective, or on the teaching and learning aspects. In my discussions with the development team, I keep bringing up the importance of having end-users (both students and teachers) closely and continuously involved in the development, but that concept seems to be so difficult – maybe even threatening – that user involvement is still very limited.
  • Referring to Amber Thomas’ ALTC keynote (below), I think it is important to have individuals translate between learners, teachers, learning technologists and ICT-people. I often take the role of the ‘Tech translator’, and very much enjoy it.

The CMALTcMOOC Journey Begins

This is my first WordPress blogpost. The messages you find below, are imported from my old Blogger site. As you may read below, I have at different occasions tried to start (and keep on) blogging, but somehow my character or attitude are not compatible with blogging. Yet here I am, trying once again. Now the purpose is to build a portfolio in order to achieve the CMALT accreditation, offered by the Association of Learning Technology.

https://cmaltcmooc.wordpress.com/

CMALTcMOOC

In memoriam Erik Duval: TEL Rockstar or TEL-evangelist?

This is a picture of the late Erik Duval talking about “Open learning in practice” on October 24, 2011 during the VLHORA Studiedag “The Educational Highway” at the Flemish Parliament. It was an interesting programme that day, with keynotes by Steven van Bellegem, and Stephen Downes, and parallel workshop sessions with most of Flanders’ experts in the field of technology-enhanced learning: Pedro de Bruyckere, Cindy de Smet, Jan Elen, Jos Dumortier, Jan Seurinck, and of course Erik Duval.
The picture illlustrates Erik’s typical presentation style: one hand in his pocket, relaxed, eyes sparkling, with a semi-smirk on his face, semi-improvising his way through his never-ending stream of mostly graphical slides. Typical for Erik was that he would be sitting in the audience until 10 minutes before his speech or keynote, refining his presentation, or linking his thoughts to issues mentioned by the speakers before him. An avid Apple-fan, he had a huge collection of slides in Keynote, from which he made a selection on-the-fly to fit the audience, the theme or some recent topic. Also, he didn’t rely on his slides, like so many others. The slides would most often illustrate the story that he told, and if the presentation technology failed, Erik would still keep you chained to your chair with his intense, and often somewhat controversial style of storytelling.
In the flood of social media reactions on Twitter and Facebook that was triggered by his untimely passing on March 12th, some people have called him a Science Rockstar, or even the Steve Jobs of Flemish higher education. Of course, some of his talks were controversial or provocative, but that was mainly to start people thinking and get them to reconsider pre-conceived ideas, or look at an issue from a different perspective. But he was no rockstar in the sense of aloofness, prima-donna-ism or inflated ego. Erik was as down-to-earth an academic as you may ever encounter, always stressing the work of others, usually downplaying his own contribution, and friendly to a fault.
He was a Steve Jobs in the sense that he was very influential, innovative and that he passed away much too soon, but the comparison stops there. Erik was first and foremost a family man, firmly rooted in Antwerp, who preferred video-conferencing and skyping above travelling and plane hopping. He was also open and generous with his knowledge, insights and ideas, and not just trying to monetize them. He was the ultimate educator when guiding and supporting his students, PhD researchers and colleagues. His research group often had the highest number of PhD students within the department or even the faculty, mostly due to Erik’s network and ideas. When talking with Erik, he would give you his full attention, even though he always seemed to be in a hurry.
Was he a TEL-evangelist, as the title of this post suggests? Definitely not in the sense of someone trying to convince you about his viewpoints at all costs. He didn’t just talk the talk, he applied his ideas in his own work with his students and colleagues, and led by example.
Erik and I have been colleagues for more than 10 years, first at KULeuven, in projects such as Pubelo or on the advisory committee for the KULeuven VLE. Later we kept in touch through conferences, workshops, PhD defenses and of course online. I remember a semester where Erik invited some close members of his international network to join his HCI students through Facebook to allow them to test Facebook apps that the students were developing. Last time we had dinner together was at Bozart in Brussels some years ago, when I had arranged a meeting of a number of Flemish TEL-experts, together with Stephen Downes who was visiting for a keynote. When Stephen came down with the flu, the rest of our group went to dinner anyway, and enjoyed a lovely meal and lively conversation.
Erik will be missed in our international family of researchers and practitioners of technology-enhanced learning, but his ideas, his enthousiasm and soul will stay with us for a long time to come.

Bless me reader for I have sinned – #ocTEL week 0

Bless me reader, for I have sinned. It has been two and a half years since my last blog post 😉

It seems like I never take the time to reflect and work on my own professional development. There’s always so much stuff that needs to be done, with a higher priority – but often with less importance, if you think of it.

So – by way of penance – I decided to join the 2nd run of the open course on Technology-enhanced Learning (#ocTEL), after hearing so much positive feedback at last year’s ALT Conference (#altc2013).

What’s my main goal in attending ocTEL this year? What do I want to achieve? Well, you could call it industrial espionage. Together with Wilfred Rubens (@wrubens), I will be developing a MOOC on blended learning at the Welten Institute of the Open University in the Netherlands. I want to learn which tools we could use in our MOOC, and see how we can connect those to our main site (a Liferay-based learning environment).

Moreover, I want to test whether I can use my attendance in the course as credit for our internal professional development requirements, and whether it would be useful to direct my colleagues to next year’s ocTEL.

ocTEL is not my first MOOC, so I kind of know what to expect in terms of overwhelming experiences, getting lost, and finding interesting people to network with. So I have attended the first webinar, and based on that, I have started a Scoop.it topic, that I am hoping to populate together with co-curators from the ocTEL course.

The digital scholar – which way to go?

Within the context of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) #change11, week 3 dealt with different aspects of digital scholarship. This week’s discussion was based on the new book by Martin Weller called: The Digital Scholar. I participated in a webinar with Martin on Wednesday, and heard him present a strong case for the potential impact of digital technologies on professional scholarship.
Now I have been following Martin’s contributions in this discussion for some time now (I have referred to his work in my workshop about social media for PhD students, and will be interviewing him later for an internal workshop at Open Universiteit), so I kinda knew his story.
I find that what I’m missing from his story, is a perspective for individual teachers and institutions on how this digital scholar will look in practice.

  • Is it enough to use social bookmarking or to share your conference presentations, or is that a start that will inevitably lead to more?
  • Are you only a ‘real’ digital scholar if you refuse to publish in closed journals and only opt for open access journals? How to deal with publishing your publically-funded research results?
  • Do I need to be a rebel within my institution, and how does it effect my own career? Or can I act as an evangelist and try to convince people that the end of the world as we know it is near?

I am convinced that the digital scholar is the scholar of the future, but I guess what I’m looking for is some guidelines on how to achieve a gradual, yet speedy innovation within our institutions that will lead to a point in the near future where we look back upon 2011, and wonder where the change actually happened. Can we formulate a path of inevitability that will sneak up on our decision makers and allow us to gradually become digital scholars, or do we need a shock therapy to achieve this?
And – by the way – I made a first downloadable ebook version of Martin’s book. The internal links in the document are not all functioning perfectly, but you can download the book as is (also on non-Kindle readers) and enjoy reading it offline too. I’ve made pdf, ePub and mobi versions available on Dropbox, made with the help of the calibre tool.

Professional identity and social media

It seldom happens these days that I meet someone – or hear someone speak – who causes immediate recognition and identification. This morning was one of these occasions where you think: “How come I wasn’t following this person already?” Anne Marie Cunningham‘s talk about professional identity was very much related to the work that I have been focusing on the last couple of years, namely the role of social media in professional learning. We at CELSTEC have been focusing rather on the technology side of what we call “Learning networks for professionals“, but I notice that in recent workshops and presentations people keep asking me more about the issues around social appropriateness, openness vs. safety,  reputation, being taken seriously, etc.
Anne Marie’s talk – similar to this workshop – addressed exactly those issues. Looking forward to getting the presentation and recording online. Some of @amcunningham’s most remarkable quotes were:

  • “Online identity has more to do with behaviour and relationships than the information provided.” True, but usually the information constitutes the ‘social objects’ around which behaviour and relationships are centred.
  • “I’m too busy to be unprofessional online.” A great oneliner, but I forget the context in which she said this. Personally I do not distinguish much between my personal and professional online identity. I prefer those online ‘friends’ who tend to blur the professional and the personal. I don’t expect my students or colleagues in real life to just forget their personal background or worries between 9 and 5.
  • “To be a doctor is to be who the patient needs you to be”. Does that apply to my students and professional network as well? Could you paraphrase this as: “To be a professional is to be who your customers need you to be?” Tricky, that one. @amcunningham quoted this in relation to an anecdote that she reported on, in which a seemingly innocent question for information suddenly turned into a kind of online doctor-patient consultation. I had a similar episode a while back when someone contacted me on Skype. She was an exchange student studying at a Dutch university, taking an elective distance e-learning course in the UK, and she had a problem with one of her assignments. I spent a good half hour ‘coaching’ her in trying to solve her problem (without solving it for her), whereas I could have just ended the conversation and said: “I am not your tutor or coach, so I am not the right person to talk to”. Are you ever a non-teacher / non-e-coach when you are online 24/7?
  • Levels of professional identity: (3) socialised mind -> (4) self-authoring mind -> (5) self-transforming. This sounded very interesting, and I will be looking for the source of this theory.

Interesting issues, brilliant presentation. Great start of the day.