Decisions decisions …

We have spent the last couple of months considering what applications and technologies to use for the PC3 framework. All the trips in to ePortfolio conferences (see previous posts) and such have been focused on finding the right combination. The webinar a week last Friday with Campus Pack Fusion was the last up for consideration. In the last couple of days I have been putting all this information together, mapping all these resource and their potential to the PC3 framework which resulted in this:

Mapping technology to framework

Mapping technology to framework

The Studeo, personal learning space, was originally perceived as some type of ePortfolio, hence the conferences. At Wolverhampton we were first introduced to the possibility of using a blog, such as WordPress, to support this personal reflective space. There are several issues with this such as external or internal hosting, making it public or private, and limitations on space if video blogging is used frequently. Campus Pack Fusion sort of answered some of these problems. The pack contains both a blog and a private journal module that can be embedded in X-Stream or hosted separately.

However the team discussions keep coming back to three essential elements of the Studeo that blogs (in the main) just don’t support, but portfolios do. As follows:

  1. Each post or reflection created by a learner should be able to be linked as evidence to a set of competencies (either directly or via a referencing system).
  2. The learner should be using one application for reflection, and be able to choose who they wish to share each post with. Rather than having a public and a private blog.
  3. At the assessment or any other critical stage learners should be able to select a collection of suitable reflections and present them however they choose.

The remaining parts of the framework have coursed a lot less problems or already exist. At the moment its looking like we will be using:

  • Home page – X-Stream with power or hyperlinks to external apps
  • Studeo – PebblePad
  • Health Check – PebblePad
  • Learning Bank – IntraLibrary & X-Stream
  • Commons – Ning
  • Coaching Lab resources – Face-2-face, telephone, email & Elluminate for communications.

This still may change as development goes on 🙂

Campus Pack Fusion

Attended a webinare today showing the various elements of Campus Pack Fusion (CPF).  This suite of tools plugs into the X-Stream virtual learning environment (VLE) that is used at Leeds Met. It can also run independently as individual learning spaces. It uses the same build, tutor and student views provided by the VLE, and the various tools are selected from a drop down list. Each can then be configured regarding who has access, description, purpose etc. the tool set includes a blog, wiki, podcast feed and private journal (only student owner and selected tutors can view).

We are looking into this package as a solution to an ePortfolio. At the moment the blog and wiki tools are the same as you would find on the web. The company are in the process of developing some templates to represent portfolio but no details were given on how this will look. The two main issues that I have with this package, as compared to dedicated ePortfolio, is that view and edit permissions are set by the tutor (with X-Stream version only) and they apply to all content not specific posts (both in X-Stream and external). A work around would be to use the external learning space for all reflections and then cut and paste selected content into an assessed blog or wiki with in X-Stream. That way a student can choose what they want to share and still be able to reflect intuitively for themselves.

I captured a few screen shots here to give some idea of the interfaces we would be working with:

I did have one idea while attending this, which was really well done by the way. That was to use a wiki as a competency resource collection. We could set up a page for each competency that students need to cover. Everyone, students to tutors, can add and comment on any content, modules, courses and other resources they have come across, or simple as a way of sharing experiences and providing support. This would have to be external to X-Stream as it would be a useful resource to pass form cohort to cohort. This is somewhat similar (or may be exactly like) to the competency wiki put forward by Serge Ravet at ePort2009 workshop.

This suit could do the job we are looking for with some work-a-rounds. There’s no clear way at the moment for individual students to link evidence to competencies, an element we are keen to provide. We would also have to use a simple spreadsheet for competency evaluation, something we have already considered as a first step. The MindMap below shows how various aspects of CPF and other apps could be used to build the PC3 framework. The permissions setting is a bit of a bind, and doesn’t really achieve what we were looking for. Being able to reflect and then choose who, if anybody, to share that reflection with is an empowerment feature that encourages ownership of the work. How important this will be I’m not sure at the moment.

MindMap showing CPF apps linked to PC3 Framework

MindMap showing CPF apps linked to PC3 Framework

Avoiding critical dependencies

Just catching up with some old JISC podcasts and came across an interesting interview with John Selby from HEFCE (podcast 68) which focused on the impact of JISC supported work. He highlighted the importance of embedding outputs not just institutionally but sector wide and discussed ways JISC might do this better. Certainly engaging senior management is an important factor and demonstrating benefit not just “good ideas” – as is developing links internationally to avoid a parochial perspective. All of these apply at project level as well as for JISC – we need to consider early on how our work might be adopted elsewhere and what our “sales pitch” might be – why would anyone else want to take up our ideas and solutions – what problem do they have that we are offering a solution to?

It is very easy to become caught up with the day to day activity of the project and imagine that we can leave all this until later – when we have results to share, evidence to provide. But I suspect that unless we have this broad perspective from the beginning we will inevitably be playing catch up later. What we do, the decisions we make on a day to day basis should have a view of the wider relevance to the sector as well as our institutional perspective. On another project we were yesterday considering the concept of “critical dependencies” in relation to sharing practice: what elements of what we do are critically dependent on our specific context and what is more widely relevant? We need to plan to avoid critical dependencies as far as we can if we want our work to have broad relevance and impact!

Interview with Carnegie Leaders in Learning Director

A couple of days ago I interviewed Margaret about using the Carnegie Leaders in Learning cohort as our first pilot group for the PC3 project. I will be doing this with key staff members of each cohort prior to their initial induction onto the PC3 module. The aim of the interview was to construct two comparative scenarios. The first depicting the types of learners and their progress on the course as it stands now, prior to the personalisation route being introduced. The second was a bit of future gazing about how they perceived their learners would progress through the new personalised route, and the types of difficulties or enhancements this would bring. These will be presented in due course when I have finished the analysis. However, as this first interview was with a member of the PC3 team, it also brought up some things that maybe of interest during the development of the PC3 module and the integration of students into the personalised process.

Coaches are going to be the first port of call when difficulties arise, as well as directing learners to other university resources. For this they will all need some shared resource space that has best or most effective key contacts for the various facilities. This maybe something that is developed as shared experience, but we may want to start thinking about putting together an initial pack.

Once the PC3 module has been completed by the students they will, hopefully, be moving on to other modules that they have chosen and negotiated with their coach and the module tutor. There are several things that need to be roughly in place before this can happen smoothly. We will need to form a protocol for contacting modules students are interested in, some formal documentation on the negotiated time scales and assessments (type of learning contract with the module leader?). Some form of briefing for tutors taking on students that are being coached, with a view to defining the coach’s purpose, responsibilities and limitations. This may also include some help and advice on how best to integrate incoming students, partially once we have had experience of possible difficulties that can arise.

Another area we discussed was that of peer support. This is an area of much debate in academia with those who advocate that it is essential to successful learning and those that feel it is supportive but not always necessary. There are many examples of successful learning in isolation. However for PC3 we decided that providing a social space for our learners, to use as they see fit, will be part of the supportive process. With the first pilot group they will be entering the personalised route as a single cohort and will most likely progress as such. Some of the difficulties around peer support may not necessarily be immediately obvious during the first group. For later groups that may become more fragmented as they progress it might be an idea to enable them to invite students not on the personalised route, but who they are associating with within modules, into their social space. This way as a student moves from module to module they develop a group of personalised peers around them.

One of the main benefits to potential students taking this coached route, is their ability to organise their time to suit them. From our perspective this means making sure enough material is pre-prepared for students to access as and when they need to. One of the scenarios Margret highlighted during our interview was allowing students to access recorded lectures. This is something we must create a process for, particularly for modules taken after the initial PC3 module and those that are outside the Carnegie faculty. How we are going to do this I’m not quite sure at the moment, but I do know that during discussions with the CETL ALiC team about podcasting, many lecturers wanted to have the opportunity to edit the material rather than record and publicise. Will have to see if this preference has changed, but it is the editing that takes time and training, and maybe a barrier to this process. Food for thought?

All in all a good discussion and I’m currently writing up the scenarios from this. Still working on the best way to represent them, but should come to me soon.

Making It Personal – London

Back to London, at least the weather was on the cooler side, this time the University of Greenwich for the Making It Personal conference. Unfortunately trains and tubes are still up in the air and I didn’t make it in time for the first key note. However I was able to follow the comments on the Twitter stream which I found really useful. Hoping this one gets put onto the web, but haven’t managed to locate it yet.

The first presentation of the day for me was Let’s get personal: Does your computer listen to what you say?,   (Abigail Mann, Chris Tilley), an intriguing title. The abstract was more so, using interactive audio podcasts, a bit of an oxymoron, within scenarios and enable the learners to have a two way conversation. Having seen how successfully podcasts were being used to extend tuition in the field of dance @ Wolverhampton, I was naturally keen to understand how this was being achieved and whether it might be of use to the PC3 project. Used in the department of Law for postgraduates the software shows a video podcast of simulated interviews. At key points the video is paused by the software and the learners are expected to ask the right questions that fit into the conversion in the simulation. Their responses are then recorded and feedback given on how they performed. Students found this to be a challenging and innovative idea, and they were able to practice thier skills within a safe environment. The whole process encouraged students to put more into the assessment and generally do better than previous methods. I did think that this might be a good way to do questionnaires (this might have been mentioned by the presenters), a means of adding the human touch, or maybe even semi-structured interviews. It also might be a nice way to provide a framework for those just learning how to reflect on their practice, something we will be doing a lot within PC3. It also links into a previous LeedsMet project SoundsGood which the presenters said they had drawn on in developing their system. Further information: including presentation slides and project wiki.

The next presentation (Mary Kiernan & Ray Stoneham from Greenwich) was more of an interactive workshop and raised several issues. The one that sticks in my mind at the moment is the assumption, particularly in undergrad courses, that all the students on a course have the same goal, but just require a personalised route to achieve it. This doesn’t ring true for me, and I suspect strong evidence against this will be found in the pC3 cohorts. While learners on a course may all have the goal of achieving the end result of the course, their individual perspectives of: why they want to achieve, and how it will benefit them, will vary considerably. It comes back to that niggling term that keeps cropping up, context, or multiple views of the same object. I’m hoping that that process of coaching will enable us to identify individual contexts more clearly, and thus define individual goals more clearly. Awaiting feedback on the activities the group undertook during this session, will post when they become available.

The third session was one I had seen before at a JISC workshop but wanted to find out more about. Tag clouds and skill conversations (Carol Shergold & John Davies University of Sussex), is a really interesting project, linking tagging to competencies. I think we need to look at this is more detail in regard to PC3. Their research found the tag clouds and evidence linked to individual skills, were invaluable during tutorial lessons. Having access to some sort of skills cloud during coaching conversations and the process of identifying underlying skills across university modules will be useful to us. I need to investigate this project more.

The final key note was by Serge Ravet, Chief Executive of the European Institute for E-Learning (EIfEL) some one I have bumped into several times over the last few weeks at these events. As usually it was an inspirational and controversial was well received by the attending crowd. The issues of fragmented digital identity and access rights to personal data were raised, and again he put forward the idea of a single data store for all individuals. A distinction between personalisation and individualisation was drawn, with the latter being the ideal. The drive towards self-directed learners is critical, but this clashes with current institutional tendencies towards having control, structuring the curriculum. We have already experienced some of the problems linked to this in developing the PC3 framework. All in all a worth while trip.

Coaching training

Yesterday the core PC3 team completed the first two day session of their ILM Level 5 Certificate in Coaching course. We were in a group with members of the Carnegie Leaders in Learning partnership, most of whom have prior coaching experience, so those of us who have never done this before have the benefit not only of an excellent coach in Sarah Readings (who is leading the course) but in peer coaching from colleagues.

It was a pretty intensive two days but I found it fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable. It became very clear how different this is to tutoring or mentoring – and how difficult I am going to find it to step back from offering advice. Twenty years of tutoring creates habits that are hard to kick! Learning rather to listen and to ask the kind of questions that will prompt the coachee to explore the issue themselves rather than rely on guidance from us is not trivial but it is empowering to the coachee. The philosophy is that we all have the potential within ourselves to move forward from where we are – and we develop better when change comes from within us rather than from external sources.

How this will work in coaching learning remains to be seen. Clearly there is still a need for tutoring at a subject level – but how far can our students develop themselves as independent learners if we encourage them to take responsibility for their own learning in this way? I am looking forward to finding out!