Bigmouth Strikes Again

or why I write a blog……

There are any number of reasons for people to write  a blog, and this useful short article from Martin Weller of Open University gives his reasons for blogging. His own blog can be found here.

My reasons are multiple, but here’s a few of them:

1. A place to store ideas

Quite simply, this space provides me with a place to collect ideas, other links, references I may wish to follow up. This is the blog as a resource for the writer. the other reasons are less selfish.

2. To comment and communicate

A key part of my role, as I see it, is to be able to share my thoughts with colleagues across the institution and in my broader networks outside the university. Blogging provides a quick and easy way for me to comment on HE issues that are important to my role. Importantly, I leave the comments switched on on this blog. Social media should be about openness, so  anyone can then comment and join in the discussion.

3.To Create

Every academic and manager in a university should be involved in creation of knowledge or in analysis and synthesis of others’ thoughts. Too often we forget to do this, and blogging is a way in which I can continue to write, to critique the ideas of others, and generate understanding that can be translated into my job here at the university.

4.  To Share

Blogging is all about being open, so this is a simple one.  If I (or anyone) goes down to London for  a meeting, the cost to the University of travel and conference fees can easily be £500, ignoring any lost opportunity cost. In a world that relies on teamwork, collaboration and openness together with declining resources, it is only sensible that my notes and analysis of off-campus events are written up and shared with the widest possible audience

5.  To develop networks

I advertise this blog via email to senior staff in my own university. I also have a wider readership, as I use Twitter to highlight new articles and drive readers towards them. Much of the discussion then goes on away from the blog, but it means I am still connected to a wider community of thinkers.

So my question is this – why wouldn’t you want to share your thoughts in an increasingly connected and open world?

Ed Tech in the Guardian

This week’s Guardian education section contained two interesting articles on aspects of educational technology, both of which have been written about before in this blog.

Firstly, Peter Scott (professor of higher education studies, Institute of Education) has suggested that Moocs will probably turn out to be little more than an edu-tainment ‘bubble’. Regular readers will know that  I am not a huge support of Moocs per se but that they might offer some advantages to traditional delivery.

Apart from the glaring inaccuracy of “The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is credited with being first, and now some big global media companies have piled in. “, when we all know that the first Moocs were developed in Canada by George Siemens et al, Prof Scott also states “Attempts to deliver HE-lite through further education colleges and private providers are never going to get very far” and thinks government perceives Moocs as a solution to this. Again, I think there  a plenty of FE colleges now delivering HE and private providers such as BPP who feel that they are delivering HE, but maybe just not the elitist HE that is backed up by hundreds of years of history.

Despite these issues, his reflection on Moocs as a neoliberal fix is perhaps the real issue to be discussed – why are we letting policy makers, venture capital funded companies and university administrations reduce the discussion about the future of mass higher education to the impact of some not very exciting or innovative technology?

The second article discusses the possible future use of learning analytics, another technology like Moocs that are highlighted as one to watch in the Horizon NMC publications. Again there is the danger of looking to this as an example of what Evgeny Morozov would describe as technological solutionism, however, it is clear that analytics could provide some really useful insight int how students learn and whether or not they are engaging with the courses.

Two things leap out to me from this article apart from the benefits we could see in supporting students and those are: cultural changes need and how analytics might be used to look at how academics perform.

Again, as with Moocs, just because a technology exists, doesn’t mean that it will provide an instant solution to a real or hypothecated problem. It is all very well to develop information systems that can indicate how well a student is or is not performing, but unless an institution has developed all its other support mechanisms, for instance study skills support and personal tutoring, together with the appropriate culture change, then the IT solution will not actually lead to benefits in student attainment.

And any analytics system would look at not only how students are interacting with their university, but also how academics and other staff are – for instance in how they use a VLE to support teaching, and how they respond to requests from personal tutees. As UCU president, Simon Renton is quoted “By their very nature, such sources of data do not take into account a range of other contextual factors which are of critical importance when making judgments about individual staff members’ work”.

Two technologies then, which will have an impact in higher education in coming years, but maybe best to look at them through the cynical lens of Morozov’s views on solutionism, and recognise that the real changes will take more than just technology.