OEPS at the #Design4Learning conference

by Ronald Macintyre

The Higher Education Academy/Open University (HEA/OU) organised conference, #design4learning, was focused on learning design and learning analytics. OEPS presented in the poster section, see here [http://oro.open.ac.uk/id/eprint/41467], and no, we did not win. I am sure you can tell from the # title this was an elearning conference, and as one might expect twitter was very busy. All the ingredients were there: various papers with cool models of how to design learning journeys, the pros and cons of all that student data we can collect, those ubiquitous MOOCs, there was even a touch of open. In that sense it could have been like any other elearning conference but actually it was a little different; something is stirring in the elearning community.

Once you put an ‘e’ (or for a while an ‘’i’) in front of a word, things change, costs change for a start; they go up, and often in an apparently uncontrollable way, not just in education of course, the most obvious recent examples have been in the NHS where the Government eventually just gave up. Looking at some of the big elearning projects, costs have been huge and while they tend to deliver a platform or a tool, one often gets the sense that no real thought has been put into how useful or well used they are. Mark Johnson’s paper captured the post-project angst of an unused platform very well; the £10 million plus project iTEC has come to an end, the platform and tools look great but he felt it was by no means clear if it would ever be used. His blog is here http://dailyimprovisation.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/design4learning-protscience-and.html. I had an opportunity to chat with him later, again he emphasised the pressure placed on those in the community to bring in the next big project, the pressure to keep yourself and your team in a job. Also, the easy obsession of decision makers with the transformative power of technology which is often more about enabling the creation than what the creation enables [note: apologies to frequent readers who must be getting bored of this turn of phrase].

It does look like this flow of money is drying up, and policy makers are starting to ask questions. Questions like: what kind of transformation, who, how many – they are starting to want evidence. This sense permeated the conference, a sense of ennui, or more bluntly as someone whispered in my ear “the end of the gravy-train”. It seems harsh but the conference was full of introspective and quite self-critical analysis of the claims made for and by elearning. For example, Terese Bird’s [http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/education/people/ili-staff/terese-bird] session which looked into a future and saw Pearbucks Ltd., a hydra formed by Udacity, Starbucks, Pearson, in it she presented a vision of HE without HE, with the private sector stepping up because HE could not get its act together. In some ways it was part of a narrative that argues the possibilities of elearning are just around the corner, if we do not grab them someone else might. Though within this narrative I sometimes feel we talk ourselves into a constant state of becoming, arriving at critical questions but drifting towards introspection rather than action. Others, more in line with my own views, looked at the damage done by deliberate unrealistic hype. Alejandro Armellini’s [http://www.northampton.ac.uk/directories/people/ale-armellini] “Old Wine in New Bottles” asked us to consider whether the way we dress up ideas in new jargon is useful. When we call doing prep before a tutorial ‘the flipped classroom’ are we doing anything other than making people feel cynical about educational researchers, where sometimes all we have discovered is a new name for something that goes on anyway and our innovations are merely about terminology. If that is the case, why should people attend to anything we say? It is a good question and it requires action.

Very interesting, but what has this got to do with being open? Well, OER/OEP in the UK grew out of the elearning community; we would do well to heed the warnings coming out of that community. Then of course there is “the bubble”, “boom and bust”, it is amazing how easy it is to forget, or even to imagine the “hot” area you are in is not like the other hyped ones, the one I am in is being hyped because it is great. Actually, mostly those areas that get “hot” within educational practice are “hot” because they have the “potential” to do great things. Interest in Open Educational Practices is not another “Darien Scheme”, it has potential, and as you can see from our poster it is “doing things”, but people might lose faith if we make unrealistic promises, or fail to deliver on realistic promises. So perhaps it is time to turn to Burns, not the “parcel of rouges”, but:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us.

Perspective – perspective in “seeing ourselves” we need to ask critical questions, not navel gazing, but questions that ask what open does and can do in the world, it is about practice. In the end I suppose it comes back to being a reflective practitioner.


Posted on December 5, 2014, in article and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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