A little internal reflection (CSET Conference 19 April 2007)

April 23, 2007

On Thursday (19th April 2007) the department I work in had a one day mini-conference where we gathered into little panels and each said what we are working on and then had a chat about it. I thought that it worked really well and makes a change from often not really knowing what our colleagues are up to until we hear them give a keynote at a conference hundreds of miles away! The agenda for the day is available in this wiki from Doug Clow (Head of the Centre or Studies in Educational Technology) but we didn’t have formal talks or gather notes so it was a day when you needed to be there to get best benefit.

For the session I was involved in we had enough critical mass from OpenLearn to make a panel of our own with Giselle Ferreira, Teresa Connolly, Tina Wilson, Steve Godwin and myself each sticking to the five minute limit to say a little bit about what particularly interested us and where we saw things were going. That 25 minutes can be summarised as:

Points that came out were that having had our heads down working (as Giselle says in the trenches) means that we keep seeing interesting opportunites that we would love to spend more time on: such as culture, disciplinarity and the challenges that we see. The production process and its evolution and representation is in itself interesting and the tools of OpenLearn are becoming our own tools of choice. In particular Compendium Knowledge Mapping Tool from the LabSpace is proving to be a star playing a role in getting legacy content out, showing process flow, mapping research activity, and learning designs. This is all alongside its main role for OpenLearn as a tool for learners and educators. We are also learning more of what our learners want and finding personal stories that demonstrate the role of free access to education as a tool for helping people. OpenLearn is then part of what study for free might mean and the other aspects (support, assessment and accreditation) need to emerge as well.

More important though was that we then had an hour to talk with the audience and that then led into the rest of the day where we could pick up and ask questions of others. Questions for us covered the way the tools were working, whether having units that were shorter than complete OU courses limited things, how we saw people becoming contributers, whether things were getting easier, and whether our future plans were radical enough. A final question from Paul Lefrere asked if we were doing enough to let the world know what we are up to. My answer at the time was that I didn’t think we were partly through pressure and a bit of institutional modesty and also partly through trying to be sure of our position. However a better answer came from an email received while we were talking that revealed that OpenLearn had received a platinum award from IMS Global Learning Consortium – so maybe we are not so bad at making a splash after all.

The rest of the day also saw what to me could be good connections with other peoples work: with EU4ALL on ways to research users and use OpenLearn content as a resource to experiment with accessibility issues; with the Accessibility in Educational Media group on use of eye-tracking and building a library to show people how sites work for usability, accessibility and education; with Grainne Conole on her modelling of learning designs in Compendium; with Martin Weller on broadcasting issues and futures for universities; with Chris Pegler on reuse; Chris Jones on models for networked learning (he hopes now to use OpenLearn LabSpace to support a workshop at CSCL 2007). I also got into a discussion with Robin Mason and Mary Thorpe on whether the next stage was to value designs over content or actually that designs themselves will start to be by-passed as it becomes more important to find instant answers rather than spend time developing skills and knowledge. I made my point by using Wikipedia to pretend to be an instant expert on meta-knowledge: but I am not sure myself on quite what needs to change.

I missed a final session on our own IET courses but earlier discussion had flagged up that we still very much see these as having an experimental and a forthcoming course on research (ok in true OU style I only know it as H809!) chaired by James Aczel has tried hard to avoid content overload.This is the corollary of freely available content: we need to design activities that assume things can be found rather than keep reinventing it.

To me this felt like valuable contact – I hope we are not all too busy to keep the connections going.

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