Action Research and Learning Design

The issue is examining why it is we follow a particular track

oransay

Credit: Ronald Macintrye, Postal Deliveries to the tidal Isle of Oransay, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Evaluation of Learning Experience of e-Learning Special Interest Group (ELESIG) recently launched a MOOC on the EU MOOC platform and aggregator EMMA. The MOOC is titled “Researching Learners experiences and use of technology using action research” #LERMOOC. It includes linked case studies based on partnership work by OEPS. In them I reflect on the three phases of content development, reflecting on design, production and use. I explore the value and tensions around working in partnership with an external organisation, in this example Parkinson’s UK.

The value of partnership comes from getting closer to the learners and their experiences through working with practitioners, in particular in the design phase where you can surface and test assumptions, evaluating them as part of the design process; but also in use, where the materials can be embedded in existing social contexts through the partner’s networks. The tension is often about how systems speak to each other; sometimes these are technical questions, sometimes ones of organisational culture.

The purpose is to create partnerships with organisations to allow you to get closer to understanding the learners, it is exploratory, and the case studies focus on the process, on wayfinding, surfacing my own action research into the learner experience as part of being a reflective practitioner.

Click on this link to read the OEPS case studies.

Ronald Macintyre

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“The Gathering”

“Hands at the Cuevas de las Manos “, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina Image Source: Mariano, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentina#/media/File:SantaCruz-CuevaManos-P2210651b.jpg, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Hands at the Cuevas de las Manos “, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina, Mariano, CC BY SA 3.0

OEPS will be attending the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) event “The Gathering” on the 22 and 23 of February 2017 with a stall (near the entrance) and a workshop on the 23 of February at 10 am. Why are we operating in this space, after all OEPS is an HE project isn’t it?  The short answer is many of OEPS key partnerships are with Third Sector organisations, and we have something to share about our experiences. Our starting point was research in widening participation which suggests the most effective way to draw someone distanced from learning into education is through partnerships with organisations they trust – see a recent OEPS post about Barriers to participation in online learning. So, we also have plenty to learn from attending.

Rather than reflect on OEPS interest, perhaps a more interesting thing to consider is why the Third Sector is operating in this space. When we consider the role of the Third Sector, we typically think about their role in filling gaps, the spaces left by the public and private sectors, structural holes often experienced most acutely by the most vulnerable in our society. Exclusion is experienced across a range of axes, and these can layer over and accentuate each other.  Our partners tell us education is one of these, and access to good quality free and open as a resource for educators and learners is vital.

We will share our experience of partnership working and using approaches informed by participatory design to develop approaches to engaging people in the design, production and use of OER. Partners from Parkinson’s UK and Scottish Union Learn will be on hand to share experiences. However, we are also aware our experiences are partial, a snapshot.  The workshop is an opportunity for us to share the issues but also to share the questions and learn together. In particular looking at what a future which assumes education and information is free and open look like for Third Sector organisation and for learners/clients they support.

We still have a few spaces left. You will need to register for “The Gathering”  (which is free) before being able to book the workshop.

We look forward to seeing you at the event.

Ronald Macintyre

Students as Co-Producers …?

student co-production, a mirage?

The problem with students as co-producers is that they already are creators of value, we just need to recognise it

At the OEPS forum in Glasgow in late 2015 the final plenary was about what the OEPS project does.  On one level the agreement with the Scottish Funding Council details exactly this. Kerr Gardiner, from the OEPS steering group (you can read an interview with him on the OEPS hub) argued that OEPS would have only met the letter of the KPI’s if it only “made stuff”. I agree, educational practices are about doing things, and doing things to find out how to do things, to find answers, and to find out what the right questions are in the first place. One of the questions Kerr asked on that day was, why open educational practices are not leading to a world where students are recognised and valued as creators/producers of knowledge.

I said to Kerr at the end of the day that I had also wondered about this question and I would think about it further. The Thought piece: students Participation, Openness and the Curriculum is the result. In it I make some quite provocative claims. I suggest one of the problems is quality assurance, where student participation is part of a series of competition mimicking metrics and part of the application of private sector models to public goods. Academics are rightly suspicious of “tick box” approaches to measuring the value of education, as are many learners, and student co-production has become tarnished by association.  This links to treating learners as customers and approaches to student co-production drawn from contemporary narratives on “Service Design”, designing for and from end users, or “Design Thinking”, start with the assumption of learner as consumer. This approach fatally undermines participation, as even though learners sometimes behave as service users, learning is about more than this. Learners know this, as do educators.

Atención al cliente: Customer Service, Rahul Rodriguez, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rahulrodriguez/9160573259 (CC BY-SA-2.0)

I mention design, in part because I used to feel “Design Thinking” was part of the solution, I now see the assumptions about customers and how value is created do not map well onto education. However, what does apply is the sense of who is the expert, designers think of themselves as the experts in process and, even when listening to “customer”, the product. Likewise, educators have their own values. I noted above that this makes them suspicious of approaches to education that treat learners as customers and measuring the value of education through crude metrics. However, being the arbiter of quality and value in learning also makes it difficult for educators to “let go”. So while it is tempting to blame issues around student participation on the marketisation and metricisation of value in HE perhaps educator ego also makes a contribution.

“Letting go” is not easy.  For example, in community development, where educators have done so, they report feeling uneasy about their role and function. There are pressures from learners to be the expert, not to mention organisational resistance to change and the effect on career prospects. Learners are also at risk, opening up the curriculum means building learner capacity, it has resource implications and needs to be supported, and it has long-term risks around raised expectations, which go unfulfilled.

The Present Order is the Disorder of the Future, quote from Antione de Saint-Just, from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden “Little Sparta”, Little Sparta, https://www.flickr.com/photos/psyarch/3841401884 (CC BY-SA-2.0)

These are fraught questions, clearly the technical affordances of digitisation and open licences offer the promise of opening up curriculum. However, as I argue above, and in more detail in the paper, political, organisational and cultural issues, assumptions and attitudes embedded within the stories education organisations tell about themselves represent a significant hurdle to opening up curriculum to learners. As I indicated at the start, the issue with students as co-creators of value in education is that they already are; it is just we have trouble seeing it.

Thought Piece: Students Participation Openness and the Curriculum

Ronald Macintyre

#OEPSForum4 Reflections

By Ronald Macintyre (OEPS project), originally posted here

This the fourth of our OEPS forums was focussed on change.  The focus was based on the feedback we had received from previous events, that the OEPS community wanted an opportunity to talk about and reflect on the changes they felt were needed at all levels and scales, from the individual to the national. I led one of the afternoon sessions, it was called “Open education and digital engagement through a widening participation lens”. When I reflected on ‘what change’ and how to put together something meaningful around big terms like Open Education, digital, and widening participation what struck me was the sense in which we often think of how they relate to each other, as enablers, as conditional statements, and as dilemmas.  For example, in the widening participation world, digital technologies and assumptions about ubiquitous access and digital literacies can act as a barrier, at the same time if we are to promote social justice we need to ensure we reach into the digital world. Or we talk about (or at least used to) digital technologies as enabling OER.

Of course my own reflections are based on my context, a context that conditions the way I approach questions. In the workshop I tried to be open about how my context framed the way I address issues and view change. Suggested context (for me) is made up of three things:

  • Our role, what we do and how we (and others) see our role, as facilitator, teacher, builder, or decision maker (all overlapping).
  • Organisational culture, “it’s what we do around here”
  • Personal values, what I believe the value of education is, and how I think about the role of education in creating public value.

Using the following template I asked people to write in a post-it:

In my Context [describe your context] I understand/think of the role of digital technology/open education/widening participation [delete as applicable] as enabling …. [Fill in the blanks]

Crude I know. But here is some of what people said:

  • In my context in eLearning the role of digital technology in open education is enabling but difficult to roll out and increase engagement.
  • In my context as an eLearning manager, University Leftie, I understand the role of widening participation in terms of enabling equality of opportunity
  • In my context as a lecturer I think the role of digital technology as enabling wider student engagement and breaking down barriers through unlimited access
  • In my context s an education adviser in virtual learning, educator, open organisation, Third Sector strategy, policy developer in virtual learning the role of open education as enabling as many health and social care professionals to improve practice on [health issue]

Just a small selection, but they capture the themes, a sense of interlinked nature, with one enabling but creating tensions around another.  Access was prominent, of course open is about access. But we also see concerns and tensions between access to and engagement with, questions about participation and what being open does in the world. In the second exercise we started to tease out those dilemmas and tensions, again crudely I provided a set sentence as an example.

For me the role of digital technology in Open Education is …

For me the role of digital technology in Widening Participation is …

Slightly over the post lunch lull at this point people were getting warmed up, the comforting hubbub of a workshop where people were thinking and talking, and the papers ended up flooded with post it notes.

  • For me the role of digital technology in widening participation is ambiguous access/participation, potentially one useful component
  • For me the role of digital technology in widening participation is like another chance to market
  • The role of digital technology in widening participation is as a tool not a solution
  • Digital technology in widening participation is another way to engage unreached people, a way to provide different learning styles
  • The role of digital technology in widening participation is providing access to education
  • For me the role the digital technology in widening participation requires more digital literacy education
  • Digital technology has the potential to democratise learning but we might just look at cats

Some useful aspirations, and some reservations, what came across in the statements was the sense of digital as part of series of tools, a tool whose position was ambiguous, and not just because of the cats. There is sense of open and online unrealised potential, that it is a challenge which needs to be grasped. In the final exercise we looked at what had to change about their context to enable us to realise our ambitions. I explained that I tend to end up describing a problem and stating some aspirations when I engage in thinking like this. Again using my crude fill in the blanks I asked them to consider

If [open education/digital technology/widening participation] is to enable then …. [Insert here what needs to change in your context] needs to change

This drew some interesting and challenging responses

  • If open education is to enable wider participation then; a whole organisational change is needed to focus on unreached groups rather than focus on “warm contacts”
  • If digital tech is to enable widening participation we need to be willing to value the open and share our work, e.g. be prepared to be filmed talking about our work
  • Top down policies and leadership to allow for OER to be a priority in Educational Institutions
  • Change in context, self-select organisations whose values reflect your own in order to achieve the changes you want!
  • If digital technology is to enable open education then digital literacies need some improvement in the local context (i.e. staff training)
  • If open education is to enable furthering the goal of the common good then the policy ‘open is not the default’ needs to change to ‘open is the default’!

These are the challenges, some top down, buy in from management, open as default, stop using open as way to market “warm contacts”, start getting serious creating a culture of open (or move on as one suggests), engage proactively in digital participation for staff, the learners you do have and more broadly. Some of the things are facing in, a mix of bottom up capacity building and cultural change and top down policy (I will spare reading the post-it suggesting SFC gives more money). Others are about turning to face out, what open does to blur the boundaries between the classroom, the online and the wider community.

It was all a bit rushed, and people wanted more time to talk through the ideas that were emerging, it meant I missed out the last exercise in each of the workshops. So below is the closing exercise.

To close I thought I would ask you to share one of my “What ifs” And invite you to jot down some of your “what ifs” regarding digital technology, open education and widening participation.

Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Diffusion_of_ideas.svg Public Domain

We know a little bit about innovators and early adopters, they tend to be well educated and have good incomes, they tend to be societies ‘haves’.

If I think about my context I suppose a lot of what we try to do is push things along the segments:

What if I do not accept the benefits of an innovation (like free open online education materials) are not shared equally.

What if I do not accept this distribution is “normal”

I am not sure what the answer is to this, but sometimes you do not have answers to these “what ifs”, they simply are about thinking outside “the facts”, not accepting the context, and looking at how to drive change.

I invite you to note your “what ifs” and share, and to keep thinking about this.