Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Where are we going with all of us? What about peace?

While typing ferociously to get the phd draft for my promoters done by the end of this week, many violent things have happened in a short period of time (Brussels airport blown up, Orlando night-club shooting, brexit and its resulting discrimination, and now once again Istanbul airport). Each time I told myself: just type, give the world a rest, just keep on typing. And I did. But with this last bombing in Istanbul, I will use my keyboard for 20 minutes of blog reflection on the question that keeps popping up in my mind: where are we going with all of us?

A question that my family is familiar with, stemming from before and after WWII. I come from a mixed religious family, catholic and protestant. My parents have had two nationalities: Dutch and Belgian speaking flemish . And different members of my family have had different experiences during worldwar II, some due to political reasons, others due to the unforeseen circumstances of life. All of this means that debates regarding politics, nationality, religion, difference in language... came up from time to time. But at the end, for those of my family coming out on the other side of the war, one thing was clear: nobody wins, violence needs to be avoided at any cost, and whichever nationality or religion you feel you relate to, we are all just human, trying to belong here on our bit of land we call earth and see our children come to fruition. This is also why I believe in research, it adds to our body of knowledge, it might benefit all of us, and it provides an international basis for discussion, critical yet positive discussion.

It is needless to say that violence is happening once again (and yes, in some places it has been going on for far too long), but violence is spreading once again in areas that were able to provide some peace for some of its citizens for a relatively longer time. And now it seems as if history is again repeating itself. I am not saying we are heading for war, but I can hear the squeaking sounds of history rearranging itself to prepare a serious bit of historical madness (just as Yanis Varoufakis mentioned to Owen Jones). As soon as old labels come out of the closet, and are placed on people, you know that the devils playground is growing again. As humans we really have the possibility to be informed, to use science to our benefit, to seek out peace and actively sustain it. But, why is not this happening?

The aftermath of the brexit referendum showed increased, or shall I say outspoken, discrimination towards everyone not speaking English, and not having a white complexion, even though all of us can be just as british as the one's defining it in their own name to separate us. This type of discrimination does not come overnight. The people from Rwanda know this, the former Yugoslavians know this, the Jews know this... it is a fueled process. First you fuel those who are highly interested, and then some of the others are pulled in. I guess it is similar to the uptake of technology, within the diffusion of innovation (might be the diffusion of discrimination). With early adopters, right up until the late majority and laggards (in terms of taking up).

During the Yugoslav wars I met with women in black, at the time a worldwide grassroots movement. As my friends from women in black warned me, nuance will become ever more scarce. It is all about pushing people to have mandatory opinions, radical opinions. Without radical opinions protest marches cannot be lead. Citizens will be pushed to have opinions, whether these are valid or not. Based upon facts or not. False facts will be disseminated, to feed these mandatory opinions. A bit like the leave or remain campaign of the brexit referendum. The non-dissemination of real facts are to be blamed on all of us, or non of us. For critical thinking is as much our own responsibility, as it is the system's responsibility (in my view, there are wonderful philosophers with wonderful arguments for all sides, even the middle). But for me, being a feminist, I believe the personal is the political, and as such it is the full set of stakeholders or participants who are responsible, each within their own reach.

Somehow, and amidst all the increasing propaganda that focuses on either nationality, or religion, or whatever works to infuse mayhem, somehow we need to keep talking and nuancing to have some kind of energy that pushes back this new wave of violence and negativity. For violence that can culminate in regional aggression based on whichever opportunistic reason, takes everyone down. We all loose if this rush towards violence is not stopped. All of us will loose family and friends, either mentally due to difference in opinion, or physically due to violence, feeding on violence.

A bit of personal history. My grandfather was in a camp in Germany (he was put there as a prisoner) for two years, the camp was on the later Eastern Berlin side. When the Russians came to the camp, they thought it was populated by Germans, so they started putting the workers with their back to the dormitories they were in, and shooting them one by one. My grandfather saw them coming, co-workers falling down... and then one colleague prisoner of his started stammering in Russian, he was able to attract attention, and as time passed by very, very slowly, that war prisoner was able to make the Russian soldiers understand that they were actually in a work camp, shooting war prisoners. The shooting stopped, the remaining prisoners were free to go. My grandfather started walking. He walked all the way back to Antwerp, starting in Berlin. As he walked he first saw other refugees, trying to get home by whatever means they could, being dressed in whatever they could find. Everywhere he went he saw bodies decomposing as everyone was living in chaotic times. As he passed the German border, he than saw Germans soldier refugees, trying to get back home, they faced insecurity, as some people simply took shots at returning Germans, literally shooting them in some kind of revenge.
When my grandfather got home, he contacted my grandmother who could not believe her ears. She thought he was dead, not having heard of him for those two years. Just like her best friend was dead, dead because of a bomb blowing up a cinema. She was supposed to go and see this movie in the cinema with her best friend, but as luck has it, her father forbid her to go that evening. My grandmother very rarely spoke about the war, and when she did she mentioned foreign soldiers that freed Belgium, but never in terms of fabulous gratitude, but on the fact that they raped. My other grandparents had a big farm, and my grandmother had a sense for business, so she smuggled food to different places. She nearly escaped this act of treason, as she was pulled of a tram on her way to the city (where she used to smuggle some of the goods to), but she reacted to a gut feeling, and left the parcels behind as she was taking off. She got lucky as the germans did not find anything on her. And once the war was finished she sold goods to everybody (everyone, also those who were on the 'wrong' side of the political spectrum). One sister of my grandmother lost her partner in the war (soldier) and on the very day Belgium was liberated, her only son walked onto a mine and died. Violence is not simply killing those that take an active part in it, it affects all of us. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Free bidding for funding seminars for early researchers #PhD #EU #funding

While I am nearing the end of my PhD journey (which is basically: 'type until you drop' and 'what do you mean there is an outside world with real people?'), I am now confronted with: what happens next. I am lucky to have some options (one as a pedagogical adviser which I like), and I also applied for a Marie Curie-Sklodowska fellowship (a highly acclaimed 3 year academic scholarship). But to be honest funding is a main issue for any academic. Which is why I am happy that the KMI (Knowledge Media Institute of The Open University) has made two free webinars available which focus on the act of bidding for funding. Including why you should apply as well as how.

The bidding for funding seminars are aimed at doctoral students as well as early researchers, so an interesting and timely mix. Gladly sharing the description:

"The Bidding for Funding: Opportunities for Students workshop aims to provide an overview of some of the major sources of funding for research and knowledge transfer within UK and EU available to postgraduate research students. It will deal with funding to support their phd projects as well as looking at opportunities to support their research beyond their phd.  Dr Hitesh Patel will provide an overview. The workshop will also provide an opportunity to hear from Dr Sam Eden in the Dept of Physical Sciences, Science Faculty. Dr Eden will share his experience of securing external funding through a range of schemes to develop their academic career. He currently holds an EPSRC Accelerator Fellowship and also had funding from an EU Marie Curie Fellowship. There may also be an opportunity to hear from a PhD student and learn from them about how they have gone about sourcing funding for their phd project. The workshop will cover topics such as:
  • OU support for seeking external funding and sourcing funding opportunities
  • major sources of UK and EU funding
  • submitting proposals
  • developing external funding bids – opportunity to look at some successful and unsuccessful proposals and discuss and review these
  • questions and answer
Select from replays below to look at the recordings (approx 50 min).
10:00 am Dr Hitesh Patel
11:00 am Dr Sam Eden

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

#CALRG16 Lightning presentations – quick topics

Interesting start using non-text assessments in online courses. Creative non-text artefacts for assessment use. Presented by Soraya Kouadri Mostefaoui based on research that has started in 2010. Set of 6 criteria. Content criteria: meeting the brief, factual accuracy & understanding. Presentation criteria: appropriateness of components used, ordering of ideas, technical level, and narrative. Soraya is looking for people with similar interests or who have already implemented similar non-text assessments in their courses, so feel free to contact her (Her linkedIn profile here).

Chenxi Li reporting on Chinese undergraduate students' online English language learning experiences and perspectives. This is a study of synchronous English language classes through audiographic conferencing tools in China. What are Chinese students’ online language learning experiences of audio graphic conferencing classrooms and what do they think about them? What are the major problems for audio graphic conferencing ELT classes in China? This study attempts to answer these questions above through questionnaires and interviews with online English teachers and learners. An innovative data collection method proved to be very effective which combines an online survey tool (Survey Star) with a popular social networking mobile App (WeChat). The quantitative findings will be mainly reported in this presentation: big classes in one conferencing class: so almost no students get individualised feedback, tech problems, people are still happy about the overall experience. many students complain that teachers cannot deal with the tech problems (not always correct assumption), 86% students say they have interacted but it does not compute with the actual interaction stats. So maybe their interpretation of interaction is limited to very small, basic interacting: "hello". Some students feel it is hard to concentrate. lack of online teacher training in these contexts.

Ralph Mercer talks energetically about online learning: an exploration of the last 20 inches. The last 20 inches referring to the last bit where students have learned and interact with teachers/trainers... Can we built a system where learners self-assess and develop learning agency, as this will affect learning positively. What are the key attributes for starting to self-assessment: self-report good and bad learning day, to learn to build better learning days in general. Looking for common threads using self-regulated, cognitive factors. If the student is more motivated, it will result in better learning. So moving towards Learning Wellness Framework. It is a personalised tool, where the students themselves built a sort of fitbit for learning, for themselves. And which they can compare to external feedback or people afterwards: e.g. teachers, trainers expectations. Ralph's abstract: "My research will look at the physical and social spaces that surround online learners and explores how the attributes of those personal learning space influences online learning habits and effect learning goal achievement. From this research I intend to demonstrate that the adoption of a learning wellness framework could increase self-regulated learning habits and minimize the influence of personal learning spaces. Learning Wellness is described as the convergence of personal learning informatics and self-regulated learning combined with physical/emotional wellness principles to persuade (nudge) learners to develop self-agency and learning skills to succeed in the online learning environments ."

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

#CALRG methods & findings on Self-Directed Learning in FutureLearn #MOOC #SDL

This morning, during the CALRG conference, I shared some slides describing the methods and main findings on informal self-directed learning inside FutureLearn MOOCs. In hindsight, I had better added extra information on my findings, less on the rationale behind the methods. So to balance the presentation, I added a couple of slides related to each of the 5 learning components comprising the FutureLearn learning experience as perceived by the participants, and as their data was interpreted by me.

My study looks at adult learners with at least 3 years of experience in online learning (could be actively using social media, having engaged in online courses (elearning or mooc or spoc...)). And I wanted to understand how these learners self-directed their informal learning inside of FutureLearn MOOCs. The initial findings pointed towards five components influencing the learning process: context, individual & social learning, technology, organizing learning and individual characteristics. However, once each learning component was investigated to see which were the most influential inhibitors and enablers of learning, two main inhibitors or enablers of learning emerged: intrinsic motivation, embedded in the individual characteristics of the learner, and personal learning goals, which influenced how the learner organised their learning. Although motivation and learning goals were categorized to one specific learning component, each of these inhibitors/enablers of learning influenced each of the other learning components as well.

#CALRG Keynote Allison LittleJohn professional and digital learning #liveblog @allisonl

Allison Littlejohn opened the CALRG conference day focusing on FutureLearn MOOCs. The keynote had two objectives to keynote: showcase work from OU, and encourage at the end the contributions add to the body of knowledge.

Professionals learn for present and future work.

Littlejohn & Margaryon (2013) technology-enhanced professional learning (triangle with learning in the middle and learning processes, work practices ad tech use.
Driver for learning is tasks, work-processes.
Formal and informal learning: Eraut (2000 – 2004) learning can be intentional (formal, non-formal) and unintentional (recognised, unacknowledged).
Context, resources … and their impact on learning.
Self-agency, driving learning from your own perspective is central to both self-directed as well as self-regulated learning. Learning work is dynamic, so there is a distinction between learning as a student and learning as a professional.
SRL factors: self-efficacy, goal setting (adapting according to need), task strategy, task interest (motivation), learning strategy (ability to integrate new with existing knowledge), self-satisfaction and evaluation, help seeking, learning challenge (resilience to challenge).  
Learning opportunities such as workplace context influence learning activities.
Interesting in study Littlejohn is the profile with negative help-seeking, overlap with individual learner witness.

Key factors in MOOC learning

Context counts (introduction to data science), Hood Littlejohn, milligan (2015) context counts.

Motivation matters (introduction to data science). External motivation for (self-perceived) low SRL,   intrinsic motivation for (self-perceived) high SRL. The latter not necessarily following the course structure, but learning what they needed in terms of learning goals. Emotional language difference in terms of how they share their learning. The low SRL tend to follow all the course elements, while high SRL select more often. Help seeking: Qualitative difference in terms of high SRL and low SRL, as high SRL tend to be less present in forums, yet more goal-oriented in seeking help (in-side AND outside course), including network peers outside of the course. While low SRL were active in forums, yet less focused.
Goal setting was different for low SRL and high SRL.
Milligan, littlejohn, hood, learning in MOOCs, a comparison study, proceedings of the European Stakeholder Summit on experiences and est practices I and around MOOCs (EMOOCs2016).

Integrate to innovate: we must integrate informal and formal (Tynjala, 2008). Delphi study on MOOCQ – MOOC quality. Quality based on the learner experience, is a unique experience, and a huge challenge in terms of quality measures. (eg. Semantic analysis, how people discuss what they are learning, Helen Crump). From a government perspective the quality post-MOOC is important in terms of return on investment towards society (employment, life quality…). The way quality is measured is also a Power measurement, as quality perception is related to power dynamics.