July 16, 2018

Short video on the impact of open content on teaching

The Open University of Catalonia has produced a short (3 minutes 45 seconds) YouTube video of me talking (in English) about how open content will change the role of instructors.

Click here or the image above to view the video 

Pushing the boundaries of higher education – in Barcelona

The pavement of Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona

If you are going to push any boundaries, Barcelona is as good a place as any to do it. Home of Antoni Gaudi, Joan Miró, Picasso (for a significant period in his work), the chef Ferran Adrià, and the fully online Open University of Catalonia (UOC – Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, established as early as 1995), Barcelona has long been in the forefront of innovation and change.

The headquarters of UOC on Avenida Tibidabo

UOC is running an event up to and including October 3 that

will address the challenges that current higher education models face and showcase innovative initiatives and practices that offer creative answers for pressing issues.

Speakers include:

  • Terry Anderson (Emeritus Professor at Athabasca University and Director of the Canadian Institute Distance Education Research)
  • Lisa Marie Blaschke (Director of the Master of Distance Education and E-Learning at Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany
  • Jim Groom (Instructional Technologist, Co-founder Reclaim Hosting)
  • Brian Lamb (‎Director of Open learning and Innovation Thompson Rivers University, Canada)
  • Allison Littlejohn (Academic Director for Learning and Teaching and Professor of Learning Technology at The Open University, UK)
  • Annette Markham (Professor MSO of Information Studies and Co-Director of the Digital Living Masters Programme at Aarhus University, Denmark)
  • Yishay Mor (Director of the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in teaching at the Levinsky College of Education, Israel)
  • Rikke Toft Nørgård (Associate Professor in Educational Design and Technology at the Center for Teaching Development and Digital Media, Aarhus University, Denmark)
  • Philipp Schmidt (Director of Learning Innovation at the MIT Media Lab)
  • and yours truly

I will be focusing in my contribution on the changing nature of online learning (from mainly fully online, text-based, asynchronous to a blend of face-to-face teaching, video-based synchronous, asynchronous and social media) and the implications for faculty/teacher development and training.

There are still places open for the event. For further information, go to the web site. See ya in Barcelona!

The front of an apartment building on Consell de Cent

Developing a next generation online learning assessment system

Facial recognition

Facial recognition

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (2016) An Adaptive Trust-based e-assessment system for learning (@TeSLA) Barcelona: UOC

This paper describes a large, collaborative European Commission project headed by the Open University of Catalonia, called TeSLA, (no, not to develop a European electric car, but) a state-of-the-art online assessment system that will be accepted as equal to if not better than traditional face-to-face assessment in higher education.

The challenge

The project argues that at the moment there is no (European?) online assessment system that:

  • has the same level of trust as face-to-face assessment systems
  • that is universally accepted by educational institutions, accreditation agencies and employers
  • incorporates pedagogical as well as technical features
  • integrates with other aspects of teaching and learning
  • provides true and secure ‘authentication’ of authorship.

I added the ‘European’, as I think this claim might come as a surprise to Western Governors’ University, which has been successfully using online proctoring for some time. It is also why I used the term ‘next generation’ in the heading, as the TeSLA project is aiming at something much more technologically advanced than the current WGU system, which consists mainly of a set of web cameras observing learners taking an assessment (click here for a demonstration).

Also, the TeSLA proposal makes a good point when it says any comprehensive online assessment system must also be able to handle formative as well as summative assessment, and that this can be a challenge as formative assessment is often embedded in the day-to-day teaching and learning activities.

But the main reason for this project is that online learning assessment currently lacks the credibility of face-to-face assessment.

The solution

A non-invasive system that is able to provide a quality continuous assessment model, using proportionate and necessary controls that will ensure student identity and authorship [in a way that offers] accrediting agencies and society unambiguous proof of academic progression….

Any solution must work fully online and take into account ‘academic requirements’ for assessment, including enriched feedback, adaptive learning, formative assessment and personalized learning.

This will require the use of technologies that provide reliable and accurate user authentication and identification of authorship, face and voice recognition, and keystroke dynamics recognition (see here for video examples of the proposed techniques).

The solution must result in

a system based on demonstrable trust between the institution and its students. Student trust is continuously updated according to their interaction with the institution, such as analysis of their exercises, peer feedback in cooperative activities or teacher confidence information. Evidence is continuously collected and contrasted in order to provide such unambiguous proof.

The players

The participants in this project include

  • eight universities,
  • four research centres,
  • three educational quality assurance agencies,
  • three technology companies,
  • from twelve different countries.

In total the project will have a team of about 80 professionals and will use large-scale pilots involving over 14,000 European students.

Comment

I think this is a very interesting project and is likely to grab a lot of attention. At the end of the day, there could well be some significant improvements to online assessment that will actually transfer to multiple online courses and programs.

However, I spent many years working on large European Commission projects and I am certainly glad I don’t have to do that any more. Quite apart from the truly mindless bureaucracy that always accompanies such projects (the form-filling is vast and endless), there are real challenges in getting together participants who can truly contribute to such a project. Participants are determined more by political considerations, such as regional representation, rather than technical competence. Such projects in the end are largely driven by two or three key players; the remaining participants are more likely to slow down or inhibit the project, and they certainly divert essential funding away from the those most able to make the project succeed. However, these projects are as much about raising the level of all European countries in terms of learning technologies as becoming a world leader in this field.

These criticisms apply to any of the many European Commission projects, but there are some issues that are particular to this project:

  1. I am not convinced that there is a real problem here, or at least a problem that requires better technology as a solution. Assessment for online learning has been successfully implemented now for more than 20 years, and while it mostly depends on some form of face-to-face invigilation, this has not proved a major acceptability problem or a barrier to online enrolments. There will always be those who do not accept the equivalence of online learning, and the claimed shortcomings of online assessment are just another excuse for non-acceptance of online learning in general.
  2. Many of the problems of authenticity and authorship are the same for face-to-face assessment. Cheating is not exclusive to online learning, nor is there any evidence that it is more prevalent in online learning where it is provided by properly accredited higher education institutions. Such a study is just as likely to reduce rather than increase trust in online learning by focusing attention on an issue that has not been a big problem to date.
  3. Even if this project does result in more ‘trustworthy’ online assessment, there are huge issues of privacy and security of data involved, not to mention the likely cost to institutions. Perhaps the most useful outcome from this project will be a better understanding of these risks, and development of protocols for protecting student privacy and the security of the data collected for this purpose. I wish though that a privacy commissioner was among the eighteen different participants in this project. I fail to see how such a project could be anything but invasive for students, most of whom will be assessed from home.

For all these reasons, this project is well worth tracking. It has the potential to radically change the way we not only assess online learners, but also how we teach them, because assessment always drives learner behaviour. Whether such changes will be on balance beneficial though remains to be seen.

Keyboard dynamics

Keyboard dynamics

Full report on the Open University of Catalonia now available

The Tibidabo headquarters of the Open University of Catalonia

Contact North (2012) The Open University of Catalonia: Fully Online Multi-lingual Innovation-focused Accredited Sudbury ON: Contact North

In an earlier post I wrote about current research and innovation at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). Contact North now has produced a full report on UOC in its ‘game-changers’ series that looks at the seven key enabling factors that make this institution a game-changer.

Contact North will publish its next report in this series, on the U.K. Open University, some time in January.

Research and development in online learning from the Open University of Catalonia

Media TIC, home of the eLearn Centre

Two weeks ago I visited two open universities (the UK OU and the Open University of Catalonia) and a research lab of the Institute of Education at the University of London. Full reports of the visits will be appearing later this month on the Ontario Online Learning Portal for Faculty and Instructors managed by Contact North. These reports are looked at from the perspective of key ‘game-changers’ in online learning, and provide an overall picture of each institution.

However, I want to use my blog to discuss in more detail the research into online learning that is being conducted in these institutions, because as a result of these visits I want to question why here in Canada we are so disorganized and frankly ineffective in the way we conduct research in this area, despite having several world leaders in online learning research and development.

First though I will provide a series of posts on the research and development being done at the three European institutions we visited. The first post is on research at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), where there are two research and development units as well as a program of innovation specifically on online learning.

the eLearn Centre.

The director is Albert Sangrà, a former colleague of mineThis unit has 10 full time researchers and 134 researchers across the world (including some from Canada) affiliated or collaborating on research with staff from the eLearn Centre.

The time factor

The eLearn Centre decided to focus on a four year program of research on the time factor in online learning. The four year period ends this month. This study covers topics as diverse as learning rhythms, the timing of curricula and courses, student time management, and the effect of timing on feedback and learning. The research team leader is Elena Barberà.

Research students doing dissertations as part of their graduate studies in the eLearn Centre, and affiliated researchers, have been asked to include a least a question on the time factor when collecting data and analysing their results, whatever the topic of their thesis or dissertation. As a result the centre has been able to produce a six monthly journal on the time factor in online learning.

There are now five issues of this journal published to date, with 28 different papers published, covering the time factor in assessment, collaborative learning, time management in networked learning, and the time factor in online teaching and learning in maths and physics.

Open educational resources

The eLearn Centre is a partner with several other European universities in a European Commission project called OERtest, whose objectives are:

  • creation of a single portal for accessing Euro-centric OER content
  • development of quality standards, assessment guidelines, financial models, curricular provisions and any other administrative requirements necessary to allow for HEIs within the EU to assess learning received exclusively through OER
  • assessment of the feasibility for EU HEIs to offer assessment services for OER
  • establishment of a European network to promote and follow the development of OER and Open Educational Practices within the EHEA.

eLearn centre staff are also engaged in another European Commission project, OporTunidad. The project intends to foster the adoption and pilot of open educational practices, and open educational resources), at an institutional level, in Latin American countries. The focus here is on institutional strategies that promote the adoption and use of OEPs and OERs. Contact at UOC: Lourdes Guàrdia

e-portfolios

Another focus of research is on e-portfolios. The centre has taken a lead role in developing a Spanish national community of practice on the use of e-portfolios in post-secondary education, with 14 institutional members, with a focus particularly on the use of e-portfolios for assessment. Staff from the eLearn centre are also particpating in another project funded by the European Commission, Europortfolio. The aim is to create a Learning Community Portal as a space to publish, share and review data and resources on ePortfolio practices and technologies across Europe. Contact at UOC: Lourdes Guàrdia

Dissemination

eLearn Centre staff disseminate their research and experience through establishing a community of practice for UOC faculty for training in how best to use OERs and e-portfolios, as well as drawing on the research for more formal teaching such as in UOC’s Masters in e-Learning.

The eLearn centre also worked in collaboration with the New Media Consortium to produce the Iberoamerican edition of the Horizon Report 2010, which specifically looked at the Spanish/Latin American context, and has an invited visiting scholars program, and a program for inviting institutions to visit.

In addition to its research, the eLearn Centre also provides training in e-learning through its Doctorate program, and its Masters, Diplomas and Certificates in Education and ICTs.

I have touched on only part of the work of the eLearn Centre. There are 10 other research groups associated with the eLearn Centre. More details can be found at: http://www.uoc.edu/portal/en/elearncenter/index.html

A 'xarcuteria' on Carrer Casanova, Barcelona

The Office of Learning Technologies

Its mission is ‘to create the learning environments of the 21st Century for the new digital generations and global citizens.’ It has a staff of 42, and its director is Magì Almirall. This is an educational technology development group. This department develops a wide variety of tools and applications for use in the university. In 2011 it was working on a total of 38 projects.

A major focus at the moment is the development of ‘My mobile UOC’, that enables students to access their learning on any kind of devices, websites and other environments such as SmartTV or Chrome Operating System. Several of the projects focus on helping students with disabilities, by making the online environment more accessible.

The Office has developed a number of social media applications and tools, such as microblogging tools and small group online videoconferencing facilities, as well as augemented reality tools for creating virtual worlds.

All these tools are integrated or interoperable with the university’s in-house developed Virtual Campus, an open source, combined learning management and administrative system. Once the tools developed by the office become adopted and operational, the responsibility for maintaining them passes to the Learning Services division. However, the Office is also responsible for the overall design of the university portal and the community services that are run through the portal.

The Office of Learning Technologies reports to the Vice Rector, Technology, who manages a fund of around 100,000 euros a year for innovative projects that are bid for internally through an RFP process. The theme this year has been mobile learning, including the development of apps for learning.

Summary

The Open University of Catalonia is a fully online university with more than 60,000 students and an annual operating budget of 100 million euros ($125 million). This has enabled it to set up these R&D units at a sufficient scale of operation that they can take on substantial projects that will have direct impact on the operation of the university, both pedagogically and technically. Given that both these units are relatively new, their influence on the external world of online learning is likely to grow, despite language and cultural differences.

A Modernista building on the Rambla Catalunya