A bit of experimentation with visualizing blog comments using Textexture

I’m still processing all the comments that were left on my blog about mainstreaming OER and Open Education last week. I’ve done a quick summary and as a quick visual overview a wordle of the comments.   However I thought I would try and do something a bit more sophisticated and perhaps more enlightening.  I’m a bit fan of the visualizations Tony Hirst does using gephi, and have played a bit with it, usually with the help of my former Cetis colleague, David Sherlock. Anyway, I was all set for an afternoon of visualisation delights at the weekend, but gephi didn’t want to play. I’ve since found out it is probably a java/mac issue . . .

However in my search for an alternative I came across Textexture, which will “visualise any text as a network” (using gephi).  Below is a screen shot of the network for the blog comments (the embed code doesn’t work for me in wordpress), but if click on the picture you’ll be taken to the interactive network.

I’m not sure how much more this tells me, other than confirming the interconnectedness of ideas.  But, it is a pretty simple service to use and we all love a network diagram.

Network visualization of comments

How do you mainstream open education and OER? OER – v OEP: the crowd has spoken #oer15

This is just a quick follow up from my post looking for some feedback for my #oer15 keynote. Firstly, a huge thank you to everyone who commented, tweeted and retweeted a link to the post. My stats as wordpress keeps telling me “are booming”. I’ve been sent a number of links to examples of mainstreaming OER which I’ve collated in storify. I’ll be looking at these in more detail over the coming weeks.

The post generated a record number of comments for me so in the order that they commented, a huge thank you to: Alan Levine, Pat Lockley, Charles Knight, Dave Cormier, Tony Hirst, France Bell, Chriss Nerantzi, Simon Thomson, Melissa Highton and late entry Rob Farrow. A special thanks to Pat who has really engaged with all the comments, and I think just beat Dave in the number of comments posted. A wealth of ideas and viewpoints have come through, far too many for me to do justice to in one post. So, to give a snap shot I thought I do the old word cloud trick.

word cloud of blog post comments
The comments have drifted from the “how” of mainstreaming more to the “how” and back again. So on the one hand we have strong advocacy for clarity and rigour around licences and content, and on the other a desire (need) to experiment and extend practice more. Whilst Simon showed examples of replacing the R(source) in OER, Melissa argued that we need to extend the rigour of OER practice and OEP just muddies that, as it’s all a bit woolly and half baked (the things Dave Cormier and I really like). Tony made a great point about needing to consider ourselves as OERs. In many ways people are the greatest OER asset that any institution has.

Lots, and lots to cogitate. I urge you to read the discussions and keep contributing.

How do you mainstream open education and OERs? A bit of feedback sought for #oer15

The theme of the OER15 conference is Mainstreaming Open Education

“. . .  the aim being to explore approaches that are moving OER (& OEP) into the mainstream, and also barriers that need to be addressed for that to happen.”  http://blog.edtechie.net/oer15/oer15-is-go/

As part of my keynote I want to explore and share my experiences with mainstreaming open education and OERs.  I think part of the reason I “got the gig” was down to a couple of posts where I questioned some of the assumptions about open and actual (mainstream) practice.

Whilst I love the simplicity of the slogan “the opposite of open is broken” in reality it is a bit more complicated than that. We are still a way away from an open by default approach in my institution and I suspect many others. There is a cost to open, and many of us don’t have access to external or internal funds to kickstart and maintain open approaches.

So, this post is an attempt to do a bit of crowdsourcing and feedback before the conference on OER and open educational practice in mainstream education.

Here at GCU we have OER guidelines (which hopefully will be actual policy one day soon), that’s still not that common so can I count that as mainstream? In terms of practice it’s difficult to measure what impact they are having.  Guidelines alone does not a mainstream culture of OER creating and sharing make.  Sharing, even within our walled gardens is still not on the radar of many of my colleagues. Personally they are really useful for me and my team as we have somewhere to point people to in terms of creating and releasing OERs.  So maybe just having that simple workflow is actually a mainstream practice- or at least the beginnings of one. The guidelines have been driven by Marion Kelt in our library so are very much a bottom up approach, which in many instances is how policy should develop.  I have a noticed a change in the past year in that I hear “openness” and OERs being talked about much more regularly now by staff at all levels.

In my own practice, I do self-identify as being an open practitioner.  I try and share as much as I can, mainly via this blog and also now via our team blog. Wherever possible I take try to take an open approach. To take Martin Weller’s guerrilla research analogy , I quite often take a guerrilla approach to educational development. I use as many open (and often just open as in free) resources, software, platforms as I can.  I encourage my colleagues to do the same – sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. GCU Games On,  The open event we ran last year was only possible due to the fact we could engage with and use a number of open resources.  This case study I wrote for the OEPS project explains our approach in more detail.

I’m not sure if that approach is mainstreaming or more like pic’n’mixing. But in the mainstream you have to be very pragmatic and work with what you’ve got, not wait for what you’d like to work with. Doing a little openly is better than doing nothing openly, right?

So, how/do you you do it?  Do you have examples of mainstream and by that I mean I mean regular, everyday, use and/or creation of OERs by the majority of teaching staff in your institution? How do you get and maintain the “open habit”?  If you could share anything in the comments I’d be really grateful and I will include them in my talk at the conference.

Embedded or insurgent? – where Sheila’s been for the past few weeks.

Bi-centenary Tricolour, 1989, Ian Hamilton Finlay with Gary Hinks,

Bi-centenary Tricolour, 1989, Ian Hamilton Finlay with Gary Hinks.

I’m conscious that so far in 2015 my semi-regular weekly round ups of Where Sheila’s been or what Sheila’s seen haven’t quite made it to 2015.  This is due to a number of things including #byod4l and other work “stuff” which I have been the focus of any blogging I’ve been doing.

I’ve been at GCU for about 15 months now. So no longer a newbie, toddling around more confidently now and waiting for the terrible 2’s to strike.  I know more people, I’m getting involved in more things (e.g our annual Programme Leaders event -see the sketch note here – earlier this week), have seen a cycle of the academic year.  In many ways I feel that I am embedded in the institution.  Embedded is quite a loaded term and nowadays is most commonly associated with journalist in war and conflict situations, not with universities.  However I have just finished reading Martin Weller’s The Battle for Open, and so military analogies have been on my mind bit.

Whilst Martin states the case for the battle of open very eloquently and persuasively in the book, I have still have some concerns about the battle analogy. That said,  I have been swayed a bit by the general argument running through the book.  Open is a “thing”, it is accepted in education from open access publishing to OERs, there is more and more evidence of it’s impact both for individuals and institutions, there can be economic as well as altruistic benefits.  It’s the next bit of the open journey, after the battle that I’m thinking about. The war after the battle if you like, and who will “win” that, and what is my own role in that next stage?

Like many others I identify myself as an open educational practitioner. I share as much and as often as I can.  I have gained so much from being open, the altruistic aspect of open-ness has had a real impact on my career. I don’t think I would have the job I have if I hadn’t adopted open practices. I certainly wouldn’t have been considered as one of the keynote speakers for OER15 if I hadn’t.  That said, I acknowledge that I have had the luxury of time to develop my open practice – others have/do not.

So in my current role, and the bigger war for open-ness what should I do now? Open-ness is becoming more accepted here at GCU, we have OER guidelines developed by our Library which should very soon be actual policy. I am aware of open education being talked about more by many members of staff, including some of our senior management. I’d like to think I’ve had some small part to play in that. But if I’m embedded there must be a  tension that I just report/work from “behind the front line”? Shouldn’t I be part of  an insurgency and fighting the good fight, exploding open-ness all over the place?  In reality, like most open practitioners,  I think I’m probably doing a bit of both.

We all have to work within our own contexts and structures to actually bring about change – particularly mainstream change. I don’t want to have to think about fighting battles all the time. I just want to help improve the learning and teaching experience for our students and staff.

I would love to be able just to change a few words in this article on 5 Reasons Your Company Should Open Source More Code to 5 Reasons Your University Should Be More Open , pass it up the chain and voila suddenly job done. But as we all know it’s not that simple.

Mainstreaming anything takes time, it can be dull and frustrating. That can lead a lot of warriors going off to fight other more exciting battles. Will open-ness, in all its flavours, ultimately just be for some and not all? Just some of the thoughts that  will be taking up a lot more of my time as I prepare for OER15.

Digital students, case studies, fairy tales and lumps of wood

I’ve spent a bit of time this morning looking at the newly published institutional exemplars from the Jisc Digital Student programme which is investigating “students expectations of the digital environment”.  Based on findings from a study commissioned in 2013, the programme has run a number of consultation events ( I’m really glad that GCU were able to host one of them last year ) and has identified a number of key challenges:

The exemplars now provide tangible examples of how institutions are tackling these challenges. They are very short but give a good overview of a range of approaches being taken across the sector.

The programme had an initial focus on HE but is now extending its work into FE. I am sure there is huge potential for sharing of experiences across the sectors.  Here at GCU we have a particular interest ensuring that our articulating students from FE have as smooth a transition (both in terms of the physical and digital environment) as possible into HE. You can see more about our approach in our College Connect strategy.

I sometimes think it is bizarre that we need to have programmes, sectoral themes, projects specifically aimed at “student engagement”. Surely engaging students is what education (at any level/sector)  is fundamentally about. However as we all know, those pesky students can get in the way of our neatly planned programmes, modules, exams.  Reading this gently powerful fairy tale from Graeme Arnott earlier this week also reinforced to me that in our fight against the “education is broken” meme, we can’t blame everything on evil technology companies – our own stereotypes and attitudes are just as dangerous.  I think that ensure we listen and act on what our students want from their digital environment can help us avoid more digital blocks of wood aimlessly wandering around our educational forests.


A really useful book and and a useful approach to writing? #edtechbook


picture of the really useful ed tech book

The vast majority of my writing takes place here.  I’m not very good at formal academic publishing or book writing but I have co-authored with David Walker a chapter for the upcoming Really Useful #EdTechBook. #edtechbook, as it’s know in the twitter-sphere, is the brainchild of David Hopkins. David has not only persuaded a great line up of authors to contribute to the book,  but has also edited and is, as you read this, self publishing the book ready for launch on 28th January. If you can’t wait for the printed version, an CC licenced PDF version is available now.

One of the reasons I agreed to be involved in the project was the opportunity to co-author. I’ve known David for a while but we haven’t really done anything collaboratively so this was a really good opportunity to do something together.  Our brief was to write something not too academic, but something that as the title of the book alludes to was “useful”.  As well as keeping everyone on track David has also published interviews with all the authors. Our interview is available here.

I really enjoyed writing our chapter with David. It was good to be able to share our views on “stuff” to reflect on our experiences and careers to dates,  and to expand our thoughts about the development of learning technologists and their relationship with and to more traditional educational development/developers. It’s also good to have someone to keep you motivated and to meet deadlines. David also came up with the title of the chapter “Learning Technologist as Digital Pedagogue”, which I think was a stroke of brilliance and bound to provoke discussion by itself.

Our chapter really began with a series of questions we kept coming back to. We both wanted to get some evidence/validation of our views so we decided that we would write a blog post to see if we could get some initial feedback from our network. Our post “Is there something about a learning technologist?” got a great reaction. It was the highest viewed post of last year. More importantly it got 23 comments and a number of responses on twitter too.  In turn, we were able to use many of these responses in the chapter itself.  People were so generous with their time and insightful feedback. That in itself gave us even more motivation to write the chapter and also a sense that there was an appetite for our discussion.  Some of the early reviews have also mentioned our chapter which again has been great to see.

“As an Academic Developer in Higher Education, the book made me reflect on our professional relationship with Learning Technologists. Sue Beckingham in her chapter talks about the hybrid or blended professional for example, a mix between Learning Technologists and Academic Developer and the need to work together. David Walker and Sheila MacNeill take it one step further and raise an  important question about the future of Learning Technologists: “Is there something fundamental that distinguishes Learning Technologists from educational developers? Do we still need both roles?”  This question, I feel, could form the basis for further collaborative exploration between Learning Technologists, Academic Developers and the wider academic community.”,  Chrissi Nerantzi, Principal Lecturer in Academic CPD, Manchester Metropolitan University. 

More information about the book is available here.

#byod4l day 5 creating and a few final thoughts

On Friday we took a slightly different take on the creating theme of the day and in our lunchtime session we had a look at google cardboard. There was a bit of creating involved in building the headset!

Google cardboard instructions

We actually have quite a bit of activity here in GCU within virtual worlds, notably in our School of Health and Life Science.  Google cardboard isn’t quite a virtual world but at £12 the headset is a pretty affordable way to get a look at some more immersive apps.  We even managed to get it working with an iPhone. We were quite excited by the potential for students to build some apps for use with it.  Personally I felt a bit sick after about 20 seconds on a virtual roller coaster,  so still not convinced some of this VR stuff is really for me.

Google cardboard headset

Over the week we had some really good discussions with the staff who were able to join us in our daily drop in sessions.  In terms of creating padlet and twitter did seem to come top of the list both in terms of actual and potential use.  Padlet is such a useful and simple tool to use. The fact that you don’t need to register for an account, it can be embedded into many other places (including our VLE) is very attractive.  The daily tweet chats were a really great way for people to “get” twitter and see how a #hashtag can work and engage a lot of activity and sharing of practice.  We had a few more twitter converts by Friday with some really good ideas for using twitter in their learning activities.

In terms of timing it wasn’t the best week for us, as there were exams on and so a lot of staff were marking, and that really limited any student participation. We’re also preparing for the start of our ELIR this week (Enhancement Led Institutional Review) so a lot of our staff were involved in preparation work last week. However, we were pleased that some staff were able to take the time and come and talk with us.   Hopefully a few of them will apply for some badges too. Based on the experience I think we definitely be involved again. Thanks to Sue and Chrissi and all the team for creating, supporting and extending a really vibrant community and useful week of activities.