My Retirement Week

I am just recovering this week from a busy, celebration filled week last that I want to share with my blog friends.

The week started by a quick trip to Barcelona, where besides being able to watch FBT Barcelona win the final Champion League match, I was honoured being made a Senior Fellow in the European Distance & E-Learning Network.  I think I am the first person born outside of Europe to receive this honour, so it was a great way to start the week.

The EDEN conference was good (as usual) and it was fun to revisit Barcelona, after Sue and my two month stay there in 2013. No, the Sagrada Familia is not finished, but wonderful new towers are now in place – no photos as I decided to leave my iphone somewhere in the Barcelona airport ūüôĀ

Then back home to do a keynote at our Centre for Distance Education annual conference.  It was a small conference and was I able to mostly re-use themes from previous presentations.  The talk was about the multifaceted topic of Interaction in Distance Education, which I realize has been the major theme of my whole academic career. The picture below shows Mohamed Ally and me with the wonderful painting of the town of Athabasca, that I received as a retirement gift. It was then on to the big event of the
leaf graphicday, the Retirement Party I had organized for myself (with help from many friends)!!

I had watched Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt ¬†as he sat watching the clock on his final day of work, and I wanted to go out with a bigger splash than that! So I invited all the faculty at Athabasca, many friends, my Edmonton relatives, some Unitarians and whomever else I thought might like to come. Now, planning a party with such an open invitation (somehow I forgot the RSVP part!) meant we really didn’t know how many people would come.

We rented the Riverdale House, which is a smallish meeting room above the rink shack at the community league a few houses from where I live. ¬†The idea was to spill out into the park and community gardens, around the House, when we filled up the building. Now, I ordered “no rain” since June in Alberta is the rainiest month – and ¬†we only got a few sprinkles. What I had forgotten to do, was order the outside heat and it was a bit of a chilly evening.

My friend Don brought a sound system, and we heard and laughed at many good stories. Then we did a¬†“jam” with wishot-219hoever brought an instrument. I had my hammer dulcimer, but not having played for a week while in Spain, jet lag and the pressure of the event, meant I was not in top form! ¬†The BBQs made some great food and there was a fair bit left to donate to the Youth Emergency Shelter.

I also dug out a box of what remains of my old toy business and a book case full of books that I had authored or done chapters in, to create a “From wooden toys to online learnin” display.

ishot-217

My main motivation in the party was to bring together the many Alberta friends from far different walks of life and provide them a chance to meet each other. they are all interesting folks- well at least interesting (or boered) enough to come to a party For me!!! Рand to a degree I think it succeeded.

Of course, I was asked what next? ¬†As I said in a previous post, I’ve got a number of projects on the go, a couple of keynotes booked for this fall and I hope time for time for bike riding, blogging, skiing, music and developing new hobbies and ways to serve.

 

At risk of using this blog more than I usually do to ‘blow my own horn’ I want to end this post with two of the many very kind (and often too generous) emails and cards (thanks) that I received. My first Doctor student, Stuart Berry wrote on his blog:

I understand that you are officially retiring from Athabasca University and I am sorry I cannot be at your farewell party. I would, however, like to pass on my best wishes as well as some thoughts with regards to the impact you have had upon my life and career, and through a similar lens, what impact I know you have had on the lives on many students throughout your academic career.

I was your first doctoral student. We met for the first time at Athabasca in August of 2008 during the cohort weeklong residency. You had earlier written to me and proposed you and I might be a good fit for my proposed research interests. I was over-the-moon as I knew you by reputation and the thought of having the Canada Research Chair in Distance Education as my potential dissertation supervisor was, I thought, a dream come true. In retrospect, this was a dream come true, but for many reasons that at the time I did not nor could not appreciate or imagine.

In our six years together as mentor and student I was frustrated yet continuously encouraged by you to find the limits of my academic capacity. I was nurtured and supported in the opening of doors, the ramifications of which neither you nor I fully appreciated at the time, yet you did not blink. You continued to be excited with and for me in this journey. You were always present. You taught me about the whole idea of presence, not just through your daily academic work with students and your prolific publishing record but most of all by you being everything and more you talk about and tell us in your very public writings: You live as you speak and write. I never once felt anything other than your continual presence throughout my doctoral journey.

I saw impenetrable walls. You waited patiently for me to see these obstacles through different eyes knowing when I understood what was needed to be known, the walls would become new knowledge and understanding and would cease to be perceived barriers. I know at times I resisted your shaping and your gentle nudgings. Maybe that is just part of the journey but as I have had the time and space to revisit and re-examine my six year journey with you I feel what stands out most is your gentle, open, and unhurried approach to dealing with the challenges we all face everyday.

Your list of accomplishments is quite legendary. If I have learned anything from you it is this: we are all working together for a common purpose; our hearts and minds need to be ever open; the work we do in education is for everyone and not a select few; and, most of all, the journey is the gift. I thank you for allowing me to be part of that journey.

It has been an honour and a pleasure and I wish you a long, healthy, and happy next phase of your life, especially sharing it with your wonderful Susan.

Stu

Comments like Stu’s make me really appreciate the opportunity to be a teacher.

I’ll end with the email from Athabasca Medieval Studies professor Marc Cels. ¬†Marc didn’t realize this, but Susan and I are great admires if Hildegard of Bingen. In fact in 2003 we made a special stop in Bingen on a driving trip through Germany. ¬†He wrote and attached the picture of one of Hidegard’s visions below:

I regret that I won’t be able to attend your shing-ding this evening as I’m feeling under the weather. I really wanted to come to give you a proper send-off and to express my gratitude for all that you’ve done for AU, your sage advice, your example the you have given us, and your particular assistance to me and our colleagues at the Centre for Humanities. I wish you well with your next projects and hope that retirement will allow you to focus on what you enjoy and to put aside what distracts!

You’ve acted as a sort of DE Guardian Angel or Patron Saint at AU, so I offer you an electronic icon of the woman who I think should be the official patron saint of D.E. (I just haven’t gotten around to writing the Vatican): Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). I assign students of my medieval history course a sample of her writings and book illustrations. This German abbess is famous for receiving divine revelations (the ultimate form of DE!) and sharing them broadly, having founded several monasteries or convents with busy scriptoria. Though a woman and a nun barred from the cathedral schools and nascent universities, she provided herself with a good education, excelling as a composer of music, writer of plays, poet, mystic, philosopher/scientist, preacher and a critical commentator on the affairs of her day (by a copious correspondence). Her advice was sought out by popes and emperors. The image is from her book of visions, the Liber Scivias, and I believe the manuscript was illustrated by the “Visual Designers” under her direction, so this is close to a self-portrait. It shows the mystic receiving a divine vision and recording it on her tablet with the help of her discrete clerical secretary.

So, you see, the perfect model for a DE scholar! Thanks again for being our flesh-and-blood model, Terry.

Hildegard_von_Bingen

Differences between students using PLE and LMS systems

I don’t usually comment on¬†articles in “closed” journals, but making an exception in this case. I hope¬†you¬†can find it in a library data base, or one of the authors uploads it to a public site or you can “rent ” it from Wiley for 48 hours for $6! The article:

Casquero, O., Ovelar, R., Romo, J., & Benito, M. (2015). Reviewing the differences in size, composition and structure between the personal networks of high- and low-performing students. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(1), 16-31.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12110.

This is one of the few studies that use a quasi-experimental design to measure differences in network formation and structure between low and high achievers in two types of online learning contexts. The first context was based on traditional LMS (Moodle) activities and design with the the usual content display and threaded discussions.  The second used a variety of tools including iGoogle, Google Groups and FriendFeed and an array of  digital resource repositories such as Delicious, Flickr, YouTube, Scribd and SlideShare. The instructor and learning activities were the same in both contexts. Coincidently, this second model is similar to my own courses in which I use the LMS for grade management and some static content display. However, unlike the mix of tools used in this PLE, I use our in-house Elgg environment (Athabasca Landing) which enhances privacy and student control of data.

As has been found in very much studies of interaction in formal courses, ¬†the students who are most active (highest participation levels), score higher marks. This correlation is often used by researchers to justify their interaction interventions. However, as always¬†correlation doesn’t imply¬†causation. Involved, motivated students always both participate and score higher than those who don’t – no matter what learning activities are designed.

In this study  social network analysis tools were used to measure the individual networks developed as evidenced by comments and contributions. As expected higher performing students had more highly developed, denser and more extensive  social networks Рagain demonstrating motivation and participation. However, more interesting was that the PLE students interacted more and also built more expensive personal networks. The authors note:

¬†in public spaces, such as open forums, all the individuals are equally exposed and equally positioned to access the information flow. As a result, the present study demonstrates that when public spaces based on indirect interactions are set up in online courses, students’ selection procedures for interaction are not focused on the individuals, but rather on those shared resources and the will to collaborate

Obviously, the information flow in Moodle forums can be rich, but the more extensive opportunities to contribute, and as importantly to browse and consume information produced by others, increases with heterogeneity and richness of sources of that flow.

One problem in this and other networking studies is the sample selection. As in¬†far too many studies of online learning, in this study the¬†120 participants were all taking a course on Networking and Web 2.0. I have never seen data on how many online research studies use students studying some component of online learning as the subject matter. ¬†This is sort of like studying people’s reaction to smoking indoors, but only reporting the attitudes of smokers.

In any case this is an interesting study and provides further evidence for expanding the learning contexts beyond the confines of a teacher constructed LMS. Network growth, social capital accumulation, transparency, persistence and network literacy are all enhanced when these ‘connectivist’ learning outcomes¬†are aimed for, and instantiated in a course that grows beyond the LMS.

The start of this year promises to be an active one for consumers of distance education and open learning research. IRRODL will be publishing 3 issues in the next 6 weeks, beginning with Vol. 12(1) that is described and linked to in this post.

This special issue of IRRDOL focuses on the exciting convergence of interests between open and distance learning (ODL) and the recognition of prior learning (RPL). The guest editor of this special issue is Dr Dianne Conrad who is the director, Centre for Learning Accreditation at Athabasca University. Dianne has used her contacts in this community to solicit the quality research articles and field notes that help us all understand more deeply this important and timely topic.

We hope you will take the time to visit the site, download, bookmark and cite articles in this issue. As usual the articles are disseminated in HTML, PDF, MP3 (audio) and EPUB (mobile) formats.

Finally I wish to thank all authors, reviewers, editors (and especially Dianne Conrad) and sponsors who make quality open access publishing possible.

Terry Anderson

Editor,

International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning

Athabasca University

Table of Contents

Editorial The landscape of prior learning assessment: A sampling from a diverse field Dianne Conrad HTML PDF MP3 EPUB

Research Articles

Dwell in possibility: PLAR and e-portfolios in the age of information and communication technologies
Judith O. Brown HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Preconditions for post-employment learning: Preliminary results from ongoing research
Linda Salter HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Validation of competencies in e-portfolios: A qualitative analysis
Olaf Zawacki-Richter, Eva Maria Baecker, Anke Hanft HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Creating a positive prior learning assessment (PLA) experience: A step-by-step look at university PLA
Sara M. Leiste, Kathryn Jensen HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Language of evaluation: How PLA evaluators write about student learning
Nan L. Travers, Bernard Smith, Leslie Ellis, Tom Brady, Liza Feldman, Kameyla Hakim, Bhuwan Onta, Maria Panayotou, Laurie Seamans, Amanda Treadwell HTML PDF MP3 EPUB

Field Notes

A dynamic community of discovery: Planning, learning, and change
Michelle Gordon, Martha Ireland, Mina Wong HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
The development of an online instrument for prior learning assessment and recognition of internationally educated nurses: A pilot study
Elaine Elizabeth Santa Mina, Carol Eifert, Martha Ireland, Carol Fine, Gail Wilson, Vaska Micevski, Ruth Wojtiuk, Martha Valderrama HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Going online to make learning count
Cathy Brigham, Rebecca Klein-Collins HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Prior learning assessment and recognition: Emergence of a Canadian community of scholars
Christine Wihak HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Evaluating prior learning assessment programs: A suggested framework
Nan L. Travers, Marnie T. Evans HTML PDF MP3 EPUB

AuPress to expand open access online learning publications

I am a big supporter of Open Access presses Рlargely because they serve potential readers without means or capacity to purchase books and as importantly, because they increase the readership and dissemination of ideas.

Athabasca University Press (AUPress) was Canada’s first open access, scholarly press, and¬†provides¬†all of its books for free download in PDF format and of course sells paper copies. These paper copies are offered for sale from the AUPress site, on Amazon and in epub format via sonybookstore. The download statistics for books and individual chapters are impressive and paper sales are about the same as scholarly publications from commercial or non open access scholarly publications.

For example my own edited book “Theory and Practice of Online Learning has been downloaded well over 90,000 times, read online by a large number of google book readers of the 20% offered at this site for free, and sales of over 1300 books. AUPress does pay royalties (about the same % of sales as commercial publishers). Interestingly I also got a small check from Copywrite Canada, from Universities who are paying for including chapters in reading packages- even though the students could download them for free!

I had a meeting with AUPress staff yesterday and we discussed ramping up production and promotion of the Issues in Distance Education series for which I serve as series editor. The series¬†currently¬†has 5 titles and 2 more “in press’.

If any readers are interested in producing a¬†volume¬†for this series, I hope you will contact me or the Press for author’s guidelines and further details. Like all AUPress books, each¬†volume¬†must survive two rigourous peer reviews. We are developing new guidelines for editors of edited¬†volumes. The current practice is to accept publications only after the complete draft manuscript is submitted. This is problematic when an editor is trying to solicit chapter contributions and has no guarantee that the Press will accept the completed¬†volume. However, an editor can communicate that the volume is being readied and hopefully published in open access format by AUPress, but there is no¬†guarantee¬†that any¬†individual¬†chapter or the whole book will survive the review process. The upside of this process is that a completed chapter or a book, can likely find an outlet someplace, even if fails AUPress’s review.

So please forward this post to any potential DE, online learning or even blended learning author wannabes and check out, download, or if you can afford it, order an AUPress book!

ALT-C – Great conference in Manchester

I was very fortunate to be able to attend what I consider to be one of the best higher education, ed tech conferences in the world, last week in Manchester, UK. I was even more fortunate to be asked to do the closing keynote. The annual Association for Learning Technologies sponsors the Conference (the C) and a Journal Alt-J. This year, was a sold out event and lots of great presentations, conversations and networking. Alt-C is probably the best kept UK secret, as it is a world class event, but the attendees are at least 90% UK ed tech innovators. The conference features the usual keynotes, panels, tradeshow, concurrent sessions, posters, food and drink. Unlike some others I’ve attended, this one was very well organized, few presenters missing and tight adherence to time lines leaving a fair chunk of time for discussion after each presenter. Continue reading

The disruptive effects of ‘free’ education

After reading Wired Chris Anderson’s (2009). Free: The Future of a Radical Price (available but ironically only for free to residents from the world’s richest country, the US, from SCRIBD), I spent some time reflecting on the disruptive effects of ‘free’ on higher education provision and opportunity.

Free has not only effected media consumption, publishing, and software production but also has capacity to create very disruptive, low end challenges to higher education. A low end disruption offers a service to a large new market by providing satisfactory (but not necessarily equivalent, at least at the beginning) services to large new groups of consumers. The most publicized example in higher education is the University of the People, founded by Israeli entrepreneur Shai Reshef. UoPeople is headquartered in California and is now registering students for its first courses to begin in September 2009. Mr Reschef provides a good overview of his vision and the logistics of operating a very low cost institution in a recent Higher Ed podcast. Continue reading

From Teaching or Tutoring to Mentoring

A couple of months ago I was honored to be asked to give the annual  Ernest Boyer lecture at an all -college gathering of Empire State CollegeState University of New York. I had heard about Empire State for some years, as it was founded in 1971 Рabout the same time as the Open University UK and my own Athabasca University. Each of these were new initiatives devised new institutional delivery models to increase access to University programming for adults. The OUUK and many of the institutes that were spawned after it (like Athabasca) choose an industrial model of distance education to increase affordability and the access to programming. This meant that specialty course development teams created extensive and often multi-media course packages that were delivered by mostly part time tutors to students at a distance. This model created economy of scale through mass production and division of specialized labour. I had assumed that Empire State operated under a similar model, as it too emphasizes distance education programming, adult learners, flexibility and access.

I was quite wrong! Continue reading

New Open Access M-Learning Book

This is the second book in the series Issues in Distance Education from Athabasca University Press. I am the series editor, and wrote the forward to this text, so obviously there is lots of room for conflict of interest (though no pecuniary gain) in this review.

The book is edited and contains an introduction by Athabasca University professor Mohamed Ally. The text consists of 3 sections: Continue reading