Weinberger suggests that ‘everything is miscellaneous’ – and there is much to agree with in his world view. But one of the biggest puzzles to me is why so many blogs are just collections or quotes of other people’s views/pictures/videos? Are blogs also just miscellany at heart? Does it matter? Is miscellany just another word for trivial?

Well, moving swiftly on, I’m currently enjoying reading some straight down the line cognitive science in the form of papers on discourse analysis informing the development of embodied pedagogical agents. A rumour doing the rounds is that the Institute might be ‘advised’ to focus its research in educational technology on adults only. There is research in the Institute which quite properly focuses on adult learners. It is called, variously, student learning, academic practice, studies in higher education. But technology is a cross-cutting theme – much of the best research in educational technology began in the classroom (e.g. Papert, Pea, Heppell to mention but a few) and much of the theorising that our field uses, similarly, began with children (Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner). Coming from the cognitive sciences, there are times that I would argue that much adult learning is a recapitulation of the developmental process observed in children. And most of the work on intelligent tutoring systems has been undertaken with young people, like the papers I am reading at the moment (e.g. Graesser 2005).

And so is this yet another blog that just consists of a miscellaneous collection of other people’s views loosely knitted together with some trivia of my own? Dang!


Business as usual

Despite the fact that we are being reviewed this week, business in the Institute carries on as normal. We are just completing our annual promotions round. Ideally, everyone submits a refreshed and revised CV to the promotions panel (consisting of all the managers) who (a) provide feedback on the presentation of the CV – the OU has a particular style that all who wish to enter in must follow – and (b) consider who might have a case for promotion.

It is a fairly intensive process, but one that ultimately is worthwhile if everyone plays the game. Unfortunately, over the years the advice from various promotions panels has been variable, leading to a certain amount of cynicism from ‘old lags’ who doubt that their cases will ever move forward. All I can do is encourage people to maintain their faith – we are doing our best, and if you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t win the lottery! So a decent CV is good starting point, chaps.

Beyond Current Horizons

Last week spent a couple of fascinating days in the company of some wonderfully stimulating people. We gathered under the auspice of FutureLab as the Expert Advisory Group for the Beyond Current Horizons programme, which aims to provide a ‘long term and challenging vision for education in the context of socio-technological change to 2025 and beyond’, and whose purpose is to:

‘explore how futures thinking tools can be used by the education system in order to ensure that it can more independently determine which ‘visions of the future’ should be used to determine education strategy and decision making.’

The programme is sponsored by the Technology Futures Unit in the Department for Children, Schools and Families. This enterprise is extremely exciting – it provides the opportunity to poke around in all kinds of future-gazing documents, looking more at their methodology than at the specific predictions. But the scope sweeps in the state, politics, society at large, religion, global/local, receding horizons, family, public/private, demographics and spiritual thinking. And that’s all before you’ve thought about knowledge, information, communication, learning and teaching.

One of the issues that grabbed my attention, though, was the extent to which British (English?) society communicates to its young people that they are a precious resource that is going to become more scarce as time passes.  As the average lifespan gets longer, and the birth rate falls, more and more of us are going to depend on the vitality, creativity and public spiritedness of our young people. Are we bringing up a generation of young people who feel this valued? I don’t think so. Various indicators in futures documents signal that the age of consumerism may be coming to an end, basically, because we can’t afford it any more (financially, politically and environmentally). We will be pushed back to the quality of our relationships to satisfy our needs and wants at all levels – in the family, in the workplace, in our educational establishments, whatever they may look like in the future. All our children need to be brought into this thinking, rather than alienated from it by a generation terrified out of its wits by tabloid hysteria and mind-sapping reality television. Eh! Glad I got that out, Norm…

Current events

Almost a week at work, and since ostensibly this blog is about the Institute of Educational Technology as we run up to review, I guess I should put something in about what I’ve been up to. A few highlights to get us up to date… 

We started the week with IET Committee, which was pretty busy, what with the review, new courses and the move to the new building and all. IET committee brings together members of the Institute with representatives from the faculties and other units such as the Library and KMi, as well as our Associate Lecturers. It is the body that authorises the Director of IET to proceed with the Institute’s business (better pay attention then, eh? J). The new management structure was presented and approved, as were the two new courses. H800 is the new backbone for the Master’s course, so is a key development; H810 is an innovative collaboration with TechDis, who are providing us with curriculum around the topic of accessibility.  

On Tuesday there was Academic Promotions committee, where we considered the updated CVs of all non-professorial academic and research staff to give advice about promotions or awards – or even advice about how to write a CV! This process will run for a bit longer, as, due to illness, we didn’t have everyone we needed to complete the activity.   

When I became Acting Director I joined a group convened by my predecessor, Peter Knight, called ‘How shall we teach in 2012?’. This group meets periodically for lunch to discuss the topic, and expand our thinking. Much is changing on campus at the moment (this will be a recurring theme!), in particular the Student Support Review, the developments in the VLE, new PVC, ELQ etc. Wondering to whom we should be reporting, the group had been experiencing a ‘crise’, thrown into sharp relief by recent events. Denise Kirkpatrick had commissioned a workshop entitled ‘Think tank for vision of Higher Education 2012’ to provide a view of what OU staff think will be important in the future, to feed into discussions with Microsoft. She had asked me to run the workshop, which I did. Many of the members of the 2012 group were invited, and several attended. So the question was: is that it? Should we wind up the group? Were we just turning into a cosy lunch club? Luckily, we’ve decided to give ourselves one more chance. We’ll use the output of the workshop and see if we can push forward one more time – and if we are still unsure, then we’ll wind up (Christina, you’re such a hard task master!). 

Wednesday was partly spent organising a national workshop for the UKCRC/BCS Grand Challenges in Computing No. 8: Learning for Life. This workshop will run before the main Grand Challenges ’08 conference in London on 18/19 March 2008. I convene and chair the Learning for Life Grand Challenge, and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to move us forward on developing a roadmap for the research.  

Today, Thursday, the issue of the moment was scholarship. The OU is taking stock post-RAE to consider how to support all staff in developing their scholarly activities. The RAE created some bad feeling around the notion of some staff seeming to be designated ‘research active’ which was understood to mean ‘included in the RAE’. This left staff who were not designated research active feeling that they were regarded as lesser citizens in some way. I do not believe this is a correct interpretation of the situation, but I can see how and why this perception came about. Perhaps one of the only benefits of the move towards the research excellence framework (aka metrics) is that this invidious division should largely disappear. Publications, in principle, will stand or fall by their merits, and if we tried really hard at national level, we could have scholarship and research excellence measured by the same kinds of metrics. We might then be in a position to exemplify Boyer’s statement: 

“The arrow of causality can, and frequently does, point in both directions. Theory surely leads to practice. But practice also leads to theory. Teaching, at its best, shapes both research and practice”.  

Working with my Deputy Director Linda Price, I have been considering how the Institute can support staff in the OU who will need support in their scholarship activities. Linda is a member of the CASTl group (Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) and has been developing a workshop. The OU is running a teaching and learning conference in April, and, to some extent, we wait for this event to announce a new strategy for scholarship. However, we feel that putting together some resources now will stand us in good stead for when the faculties begin to engage with this wholesale. We are looking at developing a companion site for scholarship to sit alongside the EPD website. If approved, this could be announced at the conference. Let’s see how it goes…

Uncanny (Second) Life

Spent a very enjoyable morning talking about alternate reality games, Second Life and Halo in a supervisory team meeting with my PhD student, followed by a fascinating talk by Sian Bayne from Edinburgh University on educational uses of social technologies. She talked about the ‘uncanny’ quality of Second Life, a concept that set me off. 

As an ex-Cognitive Scientist, I still find myself flabbergasted by what people routinely manage to do with their socio-cognitive systems. People move in an out of the various digital worlds they inhabit, creating continuity for themselves and weaving complex strands of existence that interpenetrate their ‘real’ experience (whatever that is), their fantasy and their on-line experiences. We none of us think this is particularly difficult, or odd. It only becomes so when it either doesn’t work or it goes wrong. That’s what’s uncanny.

If it is possible for something to change, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s changing at the moment! Life in Universities used to be fairly stable, fairly quiet and fairly predictable, but no more. There are challenges on all horizons, many of them very exciting.  I am quite happy to embrace change – my family complain that I change the house around on such a frequent basis that people can never find anything. And I’m amazed at how long it takes to get used to a cutlery drawer having moved from one location to another. My family, including me who moved it, all still go to the wrong place months afterwards…why is that? So when we move the Institute around, how is that going to feel? We have changed our Director, our strategic plans, our management structures, our line managers and we are engaging in the massive change to a new building. Is it any wonder we are feeling just a little bit lost?


Fresh start

My first blog post. By the time I got this all to work, I had to leave to go and watch Henry the VIII, so all you people out there, you’re going to have to just wait a little bit longer before I tell you the secret of the universe….sorrreeee!