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Personal Learning Graphs (PLeG)

Personalized and adaptive learning has been described as the so-called holy grail of education. The idea is not new, though its technological instantiation is getting increased attention. In a well-funded education system, personalized instruction happens when guided by a teacher as each students strengths and weaknesses and knowledge gaps are known. However, when classrooms start to exceed 20+ students, some type of mediating agent is needed in order to address knowledge gaps as it becomes impossible for a teacher to be aware of what is happening with each learner. So, while the human educator is the original (and best) personalized learning system, the current funding constraints and other resource challenges have raised the need for alternative approaches to make sure that each learner is receiving support reflective of her needs.

Many of the personalized learning systems now available begin with an articulation of the knowledge space – i.e. what the learner needs to know. What the learner knows is somewhat peripheral and is only a focal point after the learner has started interacting with content. Additionally, the data that is built around learner profiles is owned by either the educational institution or the software company. This isn’t a good idea. Learners should own the representation of what they know.

Last year, I posted on personalized learner knowledge graphs. Since then, I’ve been working with several colleagues to refine and develop this idea. Embedded below is a summary of our recent thinking on what this would look like in practice. Personal Learning Graph (PLeG – pronounced ‘pledge’ (acronyms are hard)) is intended as a response to how work and life are changing due to technology and the importance of individuals owning their own learning representation.

The death of Athabasca University has been greatly exaggerated

I keep hearing rumours about Athabasca University dying or at least being on its deathbed. I guess stories like this don’t help: AU taskforce releases sustainability report. This article was picked up by Tony Bates, who states: “So Athabasca University is now in the same position as the Greek government, except it doesn’t have the EU, the IMF, or the Germans to look to for help – just the Alberta government, which itself has been fiscally devastated by the collapse of oil prices.”

I’m conflicted by Tony’s response. He has forgotten more about digital learning than most of us will ever know. He has a global view of the sector and has been in the trenches as a leader. His diagnoses of how AU’s problems came about resonates with the discussion that I have heard. Unfortunately, Tony also adds needless rhetoric to a situation that has qualitatively changed with the new government in Alberta. His comments don’t reflect the new Alberta context.

I don’t know all the behind the scenes discussions relating to this report. I don’t know the specific intent of the sustainability report. My impression from what I’ve read (see: Athabasca University’s Hostage Crisis and Athabasca University facing insolvency, Alberta government may have to step in) is that this is a political game (request for more funding) that is being played in the public sphere.

It’s amply clear that governments are divesting from public education. The defining challenge of our time is inequality. Any sufficiently advanced and civilized society should ensure a) healthcare is available to all and b) an education is available to all. Education is not the goal. The goal is a populace is able to improve their position in life and to live life on the terms of success that they define for themselves. Education is the best way that we have of doing this today.

The education system we are building today is failing to enable opportunities and is instead a system of hardening power structures and socio-economic positions. President Truman anticipated this, nearly 70 years ago:

If the ladder of educational opportunity rises high at the doors of some youth and scarcely rises at the doors of others, while at the same time formal education is made a prerequisite to occupational and social advance, then education may become the means, not of eliminating race and class distinctions, but of deepening and solidifying them

Publicly funded online universities (such as AU, OU, OUNL) have to date been the most successful systems in enabling educational access to learners who do not fit the traditional learner profile. While a number of traditional universities have recently started using the rhetoric of targeting and supporting under-represented students, open universities have been doing it since the 1960s (and some systems prior to that).

I hope that the new Alberta provincial leaders, and counterparts globally, would recognize and support the revolutionary and real life impact that open universities have had on the quality of life of many learners. It’s discouraging to see that at the exact point where many state and provincial leaders around the world start to recognize the need for improving education access, those systems that have been serving this mission for 50 years risk being cut off at the knees by limited vision and appropriate government support. Fortunately, early indications suggest that the government in Alberta is starting to listen: “”I take this situation seriously,” Sigurdson [Advanced Education Minister] told Metro. “The Alberta government is ready to work with the university and help it become more sustainable.”"

Digital Learning Research Network Conference

I’ve been working with several colleagues on arranging the upcoming Digital Learning Research Network (dLRN) conference at Stanford, October 16-17, 2015. The call for papers is now open. We are looking for short abstracts – 250 words – on topics of digital learning. The deadline is May 31. Our interest is to raise the nuance and calibre of the discussion about education in a digital era; one where hype and over-promising the power of technology has replaced structured interrogation of the meaning of changes that we are experiencing. We have a great lineup of speakers confirmed and are expanding the list rapidly. The conference will include social scientists, activists, philosophers, researchers, and rabble rousers. It will be an intentionally eclectic mix of people, institutions, and ideas as we explore the nodes that are weaving the network of education’s future. Representation from the following research organizations has already confirmed from: Stanford, Smithsonian, University of Michigan, University of Edinburgh, Columbia University, CMU, state systems (Georgia, California, Texas, and Arkansas), and SRI.

Join us for what will be a small (max 150 people) and exciting exploration of a) what education is becoming, b) who we (as learners, activists, and academics) are, and c) where these two intersect in forming the type of learning system that will enable us to create the type of society that we want for future generations.

For a more thoughtful analysis of the conference and our call for submissions, see Bonnie Stewart, Kate Bowles, and Kristen Eshleman

From the call:

Learning introduces students to practices of sensemaking, wayfinding, and managing uncertainty. Higher education institutions confront the same experiences as they navigate changing contexts for the delivery of services. Digital technologies and networks have created a new sense of scale and opportunity within global higher education, while fostering new partnerships focused on digital innovation as a source of sustainability in volatile circumstances. At the same time, these opportunities have introduced risks in relation to the ethics of experimentation and exploitation, emphasizing disruption and novelty and failing to recognise universities’ long-standing investment in educational research and development.

The Linearity of Stephen Downes. Or a tale of two Stephens

Stephen Downes responds to my previous post: “I said, “the absence of a background in the field is glaring and obvious.” In this I refer not only to specific arguments advanced in the study, which to me seem empty and obvious, but also the focus and methodology, which seem to me to be hopelessly naïve.”

Stephen makes the following points:
1. George has recanted his previous work and is now playing the academic game
2. Research as is done in the academy today is poor
3. Our paper is bad.

Firstly, before I respond to three points, I want to foreground an interesting aspect of Stephen’s dialogue in this post. I’m going to call it “academic pick-up artist” strategy (i.e. tactics to distract from the real point of engagement or to bring your target into some type of state of emotional response). I first encountered this approach by the talented Catherine Fitzpatrick (Prokofy Neva) during CCK08. Here’s how it works: employ strategies that are intended to elicit an emotional response but don’t quite cross over into ad hominen attacks. The language is at times dismissive, humorous, and aggressive. In Stephen’s case, he uses terms such as: hopelessly naïve, recant his previous work, a load of crap, a shell game, a con game, trivial, muddled mess, nonsense. These flamboyant terms have an emotional impact that is not about the research and don’t advance the conversation toward resolution or even shared understanding. I’ll try to avoid responding in a similar spirit, but I’ll admit that it is not an easy temptation to resist.

Secondly, Stephen makes some statements about me personally. He is complimentary in his assessment of me as a person. I have known Stephen since he did a keynote in Regina in 2001. I’ve followed his work since and have greatly valued his contributions to our field and his directness. I count him as a friend and close collaborator. I enjoy differences of opinion and genuinely appreciate and learn from his criticism. (do a “George Siemens” search on OLDaily – he has provided many learning opportunities for me).

Stephen says a few things about my motivations that require some clarification, specifically that I am trying to make an academic name for myself and that I am recanting previous work. I honestly don’t care about making an academic name for myself. I am motivated by doing interesting things that have an impact on access to learning and quality of learning for all members of society. I am a first in family degree completer – as an immigrant and from low socio-economic status. There are barriers that exist for individuals in this position: psychologically, emotionally, and economically. Higher education provides a critical opportunity for people to move between the economic-social strata of society. When access is denied, society becomes less equitable and hope dims. My interest in preparing for digital universities is to ensure that opportunities exist, equity is fostered, and that democratic and engaged citizenry are fostered. The corporatization of higher education is to be resisted as values of “profit making” are at often in conflict with values of “equity and fairness”. I want my children to inherit a world that is more fair and more just than what my generation experienced.

I will return later to Stephen’s assertion that I am recanting previous work.

1. George has recanted his previous work and is now playing the academic game

With academic pickup artistry and my motivations foregrounded, I’ll turn to Stephen’s assertions.

It has in recent years been engaged in a sustained attack on the very idea of the MOOC and alternative forms of learning not dependent on the traditional model of the professor, the classroom, and the academic degree. It is resisting, for good reason, incursions from the commercial sector into its space, but as a consequence, clinging to antiquated models and approaches to research.

This get at the heart of views that Stephen and I have discussed on numerous occasions. I believe in the value of the professoriate. In this instance, he is Illich to my Friere. As I interpret Stephen’s work, he would like to see all learning opportunities and control shift to the individual and sees limited value in the higher education system that is as much about preserving faculty positions as it is about preserving the academy. Stephen and I both resist commercialization of education but vary in how we want to see the university of the future. Stephen wants a university model without universities. This comes, I believe, from his unfortunate experiences in doing his phd where his supervisory panel played a hard heavy hand in determining what is and isn’t research that they valued. I’m sure his experience isn’t unique.

Faculty can be stunning idiots when it comes to preserving and perpetuating their egos. The pursuit of knowledge and advocacy for equity often takes a seat to ego and the goal building a faculty “mini me” who is expected to pick up a research stream done by a panel or department and toe the line. In contrast to Stephen’s views, I love universities. I want a future of more, not less, universities. Universities are not perfect, but they are the best model that we currently have to enable individuals to improve their position in life and a power structure that exists to counter and comment on the corporate and government power structures. Can these goals be realized by networks of individuals (i.e. the second superpower)? If the world was populated with primarily Stephens, then it might be possible. For many people, however, education is not a goal in itself, but rather a means to employment. Systems are needed to preserve and perpetuate the highest ideals of society. If left to chance, then the views of the most aggressive will become the norm. While society slept, many of the wealthiest were busy creating a tax system that preserved their resources and created inequity. In the past, unions existed to serve as an organizing structure to advocate for the rights of individual works. Stephen would argue that we could today do this organizing and democracy preserving work through networks. I agree that networks are important, but argue that institutions are a type of network that has been configured to better meet these needs. Some structure is needed. Perhaps not as much as we see today in universities, but a minimum level or organization is required in order to provide learning opportunities to society’s disenfranchised. Simply giving people access is not enough. Social, scaffolded, and structured support is needed.

Perhaps as a result, part of what Siemens has had to do in order to adapt to that world has been to recant his previous work… This recantation saddens me for a variety of reasons. For one this, we – Siemens and myself and others who were involved in the development of the MOOC – made no such statements. In the years between 2008, when the MOOC was created, and 2011, when the first MOOC emerged from a major U.S. university, the focus was on innovation and experimentation in a cautious though typically exuberant attitude.

I haven’t recanted my previous work. Stephen displays a linearity of thought, of cause/effect, that confuses me. I see the world in networked structures. Learning is about network making at neuronal, conceptual, and external levels. Knowledge is networked. The history of ideas is networked. I don’t see a “one or the other” approach to research, to corporate involvement in education, or to learning in general. Instead, I see 3D lattice-like network structure that have multiple dimensions and connections between those dimensions.

Siemens has moved over to that camp, now working with EdX rather than the connectivist model we started with… Again, these rash and foolish statements [from Agarwal] are coming from a respected university professor, a scion of the academy, part of this system Siemens is now attempting to join.

I disagree with this statement, largely because I have privileged access to my own thinking. In this instance, and at least one prior when I did a talk at Online Educa many years ago and he stated that I had become fully corporate, Stephen is putting me in a box. Nobody puts George in a box! I am part of the academy in terms of employment. I am part of the academy by nature of grant writing and research. I am part of the academy in terms of publishing with my peers. But I am not only a one-dimensional entity. I did not take a traditional academic route. My publication history is not typical. Many of my citations come from open public works rather than traditional publications. To say that I have recanted prior work is simply not true. I am bringing my previous work into a different context – one that allows for networks and university structures to exist. Stephen is doing something similar with his work with LPSS. Has he sold out to the corporate oil and gas sector?

The inclusion of the Chronicle article as part of Stephen’s comments makes this a more complex discussion. We are now not only looking at what Stephen feels is a bad report, but that my professional ambitions are now being interpreted through a Chronicle piece. My criticism here, and something that was not clear in the Chronicle article, is about the academy’s embrace of MOOCs. Stephen takes the “we” personally, whereas he was never the intended target of the “we”. I would love to see all media interviews and recordings posted fully with articles such as this. My use of “we” in the above quote is problematic. By “we”, I was speaking about education/hypesters/corporate entities like Udacity/Coursera. This is something that Rolin Moe also asks about.

And what is key here is that he [George, over here, still in a box] does not believe our work was based in research and evidence… He says nice things about us. But he does not believe we emphasize research and evidence.

I was making an argument that didn’t come off clearly. This is perhaps a similar failing to Stephen’s previous assertions that his work is about “making” not only reporting. I don’t believe he meant it in the way that others interpreted it. What Stephen was saying there, and I’m saying here, is that there is an approach to work (in my case research and in his case writing software) that produces hope for desirable outcomes rather than despair at seeing a seemingly inevitable techno-solutionist outcome. I’m not denying that Stephen does research. But he has placed himself in a difficult position: he doesn’t want the institution of higher education but he wants to be seen by people in the academy as someone who does the same type of work as they do. Stephen defines himself as a philosopher. His papers reflect this spirit. He doesn’t frequently subject his ideas to the traditional peer review that defines academic research (for obvious reasons – he doesn’t trust or feel that process has much value). His writing is open and transparent, however, so anyone could engage and critique if they were so inclined.

2. Research as is done in the academy today is poor

The comments above aren’t a direct engagement yet with our paper. In the second half of this post, Stephen expands on his primary concerns which are about educational research in general.

He says:

Why is this evidence bad? The sample sizes are too small for quantificational results (and the studies are themselves are inconsistent so you can’t simply sum the results). The sample is biased in favour of people who have already had success in traditional lecture-based courses, and consists of only that one teaching method. A very narrow definition of ‘outcomes’ is employed. And other unknown factors may have contaminated the results. And all these criticisms apply if you think this is the appropriate sort of study to measure educational effectiveness, which I do not.

Educational research is often poorly done. Research in social systems is difficult to reduce to a set of variables and relationships between those variables. Where we have large amounts of data, learning analytics can provide insight, but often require greater contextual and qualitative data. Where studies, such as Bonnie Stewart’s recent PhD, are qualitative, criticism against size can be leveraged. These are both unfair in that no single node represents the whole knowledge network. Research is a networked process of weaving together results, validating results, refuting results, and so on. It is essentially a conversation that happens through results and citations. The appeal to evidence is to essentially state that opinions alone are not sufficient. The US Department of Education has a clear articulation of what they will count as evidence for grants. It’s a bit depressing, actually, a utopia for RCTs. While Stephen says our evidence is poor, he doesn’t provide what he feels is better evidence. Where, outside of peer-reviewed articles and meta-studies, can academics, administrators, and policy makers find support and confidence to make decisions (the stated intent the introduction of our report)? What is our foundation for making decisions? If the foundation is opinions and ideas without evidence, than any edtech startup’s claim is equally valid to researchers, bloggers, and reformers. Where is the “real research being performed outside academia” and what are the criteria for calling that activity research, but what’s going on in the academy, and funded by NSF, JISC, OLT, SSHRC, as being largely trivial?

Stephen then makes an important point and one that needs to be considered that the meta-studies that we used are “hopelessly biased in favour of the traditional model of education as practiced in the classrooms where the original studies took place.” This is a significant challenge. How do we prepare for digital universities when we are largely duplicating classrooms? Where is the actual innovation? (I’d argue much of it can be fore in things like cmoocs and other technologies that we address in chapter 5 of the report). Jon Dron largely agrees with Stephen and suggests that a core problem exists in the report in that it is a “view from the inside, not from above.”

I need to reflect more on Jon’s and Stephen’s insight about research rooted in traditional classrooms and the suitability of assessing that against a networked model of education and society.

3. Our paper is bad

At this stage, Stephen turns to the paper itself. Short answer: he doesn’t like it and it’s a trivial paper. The list of what he doesn’t like is rather small actually.

At this stage of reviewing his post, I’m left with the impression that much of Stephen’s complaint about our paper is actually a discussion with himself: The Stephen that disagreed with his phd supervisory committee and the Stephen that today has exceeded the impact of members on that committee through blogging, his newsletter, presentations, and software writing. Our paper appears to be more of a “tool to think with” and enable Stephen to hold that discussion with his two selves, effectively Stephen of today affirming that the Stephen in front of the phd committee made the right decision – that there are multiple paths to research, that institutions can be circumvented and that individuals, in a networked age, have control and autonomy.

Stephen next statement is wrong: “With a couple of exceptions, these are exactly the people and the projects that are the “edtech vendors” vendors Siemens says he is trying to distance himself from. He has not done this; instead he has taken their money and put them on the committee selecting the papers that will be ‘representative’ of academic research taking place in MOOCs.”

The names listed were advisors on the MOOC Research Initiative – i.e. they provided comments and feedback on the timelines and methods. They didn’t select the papers. The actual peer review process included a much broader list, some from within the academy and some from the outside.

They do not have a background in learning technology and learning theory (except to observe that it’s a good thing).

In my previous post, I stated that we didn’t add to citations. We analyzed those that were listed in the papers that others submitted to MRI. Our analysis indicated that popular media influenced the MOOC conversation and the citations used by those who submitted to the grant. Many had a background in education. George Veltsianos shares his recent research:

Our tests showed that the MOOC literature published in 2013-2015 differed significantly from the MRI submissions: our corpus had a greater representation of authors from Computer Science and the Gašević et al., corpus had a greater representation of authors from Education and Industry. In other words, our corpus was less dominated by authors from the field of education than were the MRI submissions. One of Downes criticisms is the following: “the studies are conducted by people without a background in education.” This finding lends some support to his claim, though a lot of the research on MOOCs is from people affiliated with education, but to support that claim further one could examine the content of this papers and identify whether an educational theory is guiding their investigations.

He goes on to say that the MOOC conversation has changed and that greater interdisciplinarity now exists in research.

Final thoughts

Stephen and I have had variations of the conversation above many times. Sometimes it has centred on views of what is acceptable knowledge. At other times, on the role of academics and knowledge institutions in networks. Some discussions have been more political. At the core, however, is a common ground: an equitable society with opportunities for all individuals to make the lives that they want without institutions (and faculty in this case) blocking the realization of those dreams. We differ in how to go about achieving this. I value the legacy of universities and desire a future where they continue to play a valuable role. Stephen imagines a future of greater individual control, less boundaries, and no universities. Fundamentally, it’s a difference of how to achieve a vision that we both share.

On Research and Academic Diversity

In my previous post, I mentioned the release of our report Preparing for the Digital University. Stephen Downes responds by saying “this is a really bad study”. He may be right, but I don’t think it is for the reasons that he suggests: “What it succeeds in doing, mostly, is to offer a very narrow look at a small spectrum of academic literature far removed from actual practice”. This resulted in a Twitter exchange about missing citations and forgotten elearning history. Rolin Moe responded by saying that the history that we included in our citation analysis of MOOCs was actually the one that most non-elearning folks follow “depending on lens, Friedman Pappano & Young are more representative of who’s driving EdTech conversation”.

We took two approaches in the report: one a broad citation analysis of meta-studies in distance, online, and blended learning. This forms the first three chapters. While we no doubt missed some sources, we addressed many of the most prominent (and yes, prominence is not a statement of quality or even impact). In the fifth chapter, we evaluated the citations based on the MOOC Research Initiative, which received close to 300 submissions. We only analyzed the citations – we didn’t add to them or comment on their suitability. Instead, our analysis reflects the nature of the dialogue in academic communities. In this regard, Stephen’s criticism is accurate: the narrative missed many important figures and many important developments.

The heart of the discussion for me is about the nature of educational technology narrative. At least three strands of discourse exist: the edtech hypesters, the research literature in peer reviewed publications, and the practitioner space. These are not exclusive spaces as there is often overlap. Stephen is the most significant figure in elearning. His OLDaily is read by 10′s of thousands or readers daily – academics, students, companies. His work is influential not only in practice, as his Google Scholar profile indicates. Compare his citations with many academics in the field and it’s clear that he has an impact on both practice and research.

Today’s exchange comes against the backdrop of many conversations that I’ve had over the past few weeks with individuals in the alt-ac community. This community, certainly blogs and with folks like Bonnie Stewart, Jim Groom, D’Arcy Norman, Alan Levine, Stephen Downes, Kate Bowles, and many others, is the most vibrant knowledge space in educational technology. In many ways, it is five years ahead of mainstream edtech offerings. Before blogs were called web 2.0, there was Stephen, David Wiley, Brian Lamb, and Alan Levine. Before networks in education were cool enough to attract MacArthur Foundation, there were open online courses and people writing about connectivism and networked knowledge. Want to know what’s going to happen in edtech in the next five years? This is the space where you’ll find it, today.

What I’ve been grappling with lately is “how do we take back education from edtech vendors?”. The jubilant rhetoric and general nonsense causes me mild rashes. I recognize that higher education is moving from an integrated end-to-end system to more of an ecosystem with numerous providers and corporate partners. We have gotten to this state on auto-pilot, not intentional vision.

When technology drives education, a number of unwelcome passengers are included: focus on efficacy over impact, metrics of management, reductionist thinking, etc. To sit at the table with academics and corporate players is essentially to acquiesce to capital as a driving and motivating factor. Educators have largely been out maneuvered, as indicated by the almost luddite interpretation by media to any resistance by faculty and teachers. We can’t compete through capital at this table. So instead we have to find an additional lever for influence.

One approach is to emphasize loosely coupled networks organized by ideals through social media. This is certainly a growing area of societal impact on a number of fronts including racism, sexism, and inequality in general. In education, alt-ac and bloggers occupy this space.

Another approach, and one that I see as complimentary and not competitive, is to emphasize research and evidence. At the decision making table in universities and schools, research is the only lever that I see as having comparable capacity to capital in shaping how decisions are made and how values are preserved. This isn’t to discount social networked organization or alt-ac. It is to say, however, that in my part of the world and where I am currently in my career/life, this is the most fruitful and potentially influential approach that I can adopt.

Preparing for the Digital University

We’ve released a new report: Preparing for the Digital University: a review of the history and current state of distance, blended, and online learning (.pdf).

The report is an attempt to reposition the narrative of digital learning away from “look, my cool new technology does this” to something more like “here’s what we know from research and here’s what we can extrapolate”. Innovation is a bunnies and kittens type of concept – who could possibly oppose it? Sometimes new is not better, especially when it impacts the lives of people. Remember the failure of Udacity and San Jose State University project? Even passing familiarity with research in learning sciences could have anticipated the need for scaffolded social support. Instead, a large number of at-risk-students had yet another blow delivered to their confidence as learners, further entrenching negative views of their capability to success in university. This is bad innovation. It hurts people while it gains media accolades and draws VC funding. With our report, we are hoping to address exactly this type of failure by providing a research lens on how technology and learning are related in various contexts.

Five articles are included in the report and provide an overview of research literature, while a final article looks at future technology infrastructure :
- Distance education
- Blended learning
- Online learning
- Credentialing
- MOOC research
- Future learning technology infrastructures

From the introduction:

It is our intent that these reports will serve to introduce academics, administrators, and students to the rich history of technology in education with a particular emphasis of the importance of the human factors: social interaction, well-designed learning experiences, participatory pedagogy, supportive teaching presence, and effective techniques for using technology to support learning.

The world is digitizing and higher education is not immune to this transition. The trend is well underway and seems to be accelerating as top universities create departments and senior leadership positions to explore processes of innovation within the academy. It is our somewhat axiomatic assessment that in order to understand how we should design and develop learning for the future, we need to first take a look at what we already know. Any scientific enterprise that runs forward on only new technology, ignoring the landscape of existing knowledge, will be sub-optimal and likely fail. To build a strong future of digital learning in the academy, we must first take stock of what we know and what has been well researched.

Nothing new here: Arizona State and edX partnership

I’m learning that if you call something existing by a new name, or if you get some press, you can discover well defined concepts and claim them as your own. Today’s example: Arizona State and edX Will Offer an Online Freshman Year, Open to All

The project, called the Global Freshman Academy, will offer a set of eight courses designed to fulfill the general-education requirements of a freshman year at Arizona State at a fraction of the cost students typically pay, and students can begin taking courses without going through the traditional application process… Students who pass a final examination in a course will have the option of paying a fee of no more than $200 per credit hour to get college credit for it.

So, for $200 a credit hour ($600 for a 3-credit course), you may well pay more than you would at a small college. The fees charged then are not innovative or game changing. The idea of open access? Oh, well the OU started that in the 1960′s: Brief History of OU.

The only innovation here? Marketing & PR.

Once systems like ASU, who have launched some innovative ideas over the past decade, start looking at what has been done in education and what is known about learning, and then launch a legitimately new idea, rather than playing a PR game, we may have the prospect of substantial educational change.

Post Doctoral Position at UTA

I’m pleased to announce a new post doc position at LINK Research Lab at University of Texas Arlington (we will be announcing several additional positions in the next month in various topic areas).

The first position, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, is focused on assessing labour market data, specifically how the changing nature of work impact higher education institutions. For example, what type of work will we be doing in an age of increasing automation? How do universities identify important trends that require alteration of teaching practices from current models? What will the university look like in a global learning and knowledge economy? What will we teach? How will we teach? How will our students (and employees) learn?

We’ve taken a slightly different approach to this position, reflective of the networked and interconnected world of work and higher education. The successful candidate can work remotely from UTA for part of their time. Supervision will be done by Drs. Shane Dawson, Dragan Gasevic, & George Siemens. Additionally, the candidate will spend 2-3 weeks at University of Edinburgh and 2-3 weeks at University of South Australia (Adelaide). The international trip costs will be covered by participating universities, separate from the position salary.

The formal stuff:
The official position description is here: http://www.uta.edu/hr/eos/faculty-search/posting/DDTL02122015PDF

Overview:
The relationship between work and formal education is changing. A traditional view holds that formal education prepares individuals for a lifetime of employment. Education in this view is event based. Essentially, once the degree has been completed, the individual moves into the workforce. However, as a result of the complexities and challenges associated with the modern economy, this model is no longer the norm. The traditional full time student is now a minority in the USA, as part time learners and mid-career masters students and alternative programs (such as competency based and online learning) increase in numbers. The nature of work and employment is also changing, as routine labor is increasingly automated. Bill Gates recently stated that within a decade, 50% of today’s jobs will be automated. The repercussions that this has for the economy and the quality of life for people are significant. The impact on the future of universities and colleges, specifically in relation to how higher education prepares individuals for employment, is an important area of research. The skills/employment gap refers to the relationship between what learners know and can do when they graduate and what employers expect. A second gap, that of developing the whole person (such as in a liberal arts education) versus developing an individual for primary employment, also exists as work moves to a creative economy. The balance between formal education, learning, work, creativity, and knowledge advancement will be the primary focus of this post doc position.

This position will appeal to individuals with strong awareness of labor data, employment trends, and how automation is altering work and how this in turn influences the role of higher education institutions in society.

Experience of Applicants
Applicants will have a completed, or soon to be completed, PhD in areas related to this position such as: higher education reform, higher education policy and strategy, job and labor market statistics and trends, impact of automation on work, expanded and changing learning opportunities through digital learning and emerging assessment models (competency based learning), or history of labor and the role work plays in the health and well being of members in a society.

Position Details
The position will run for a duration of three years with annual renewals. This position contributes significantly to University of Texas Arlington’s new strategic plan (http://www.uta.edu/strategicplan/), notably regarding sustainable communities (and megacities), sustainability, global impact, health and the human condition, and data-driven discovery.

Specific activities include:
- conducting research (including grant writing and co-supervision of doctoral students)
- engagement with state and national agencies in assessing and evaluating prominent employment trends
- identification and assessment of effectiveness of new higher education and work-to-university-to-work models
- developing models of employment and higher education interaction (triple helix model)
- evaluation of the economic impact of higher education on regional economies as employees return to universities to re-skill/upgrade
- presenting at the main conferences in the knowledge domains relevant to this position
- publishing in the major journals in the field;
- interacting with some stakeholder (internal and external to the university) groups/partners;
- institutional collaboration and knowledge transfer/translation to Texas and national university systems
- analysis of international labour and education trends
- translation of research findings to practice

Position stipend: $50,000 USD annually

The candidate will report directly to the LINK Research Lab Executive Director (Dr. George Siemens) and with input and collaboration with Professor Dragan Gasevic (Research Scientist, UT Arlington and Chair in Learning Analytics, University of Edinburgh, Scotland) and Shane Dawson (Research Scientist, UT Arlington and Associate Professor at the Centre for Teaching Innovation and Digital Learning, University of South Australia, Australia) and will have the option of remote research at collaborating institutions up to 60% external to the University of Texas at Arlington post approval from the Link Research Lab Executive Director).

Applications materials should be submitted digitally to:

Laurel Mayo, Director, LINK Research Lab
email address: lsmayo@uta.edu

I now have a Canadian Father

Over two years ago, I complained about the cruel and frustrating rejection of my dad’s Canadian citizenship. It has been a long process. It is deeply discouraging to see your parent frightened and stressed that he will be sent back to a country that hasn’t been his home for over 40 years, leaving behind children and grandchildren. The recent immigration discussion in the USA takes on a new meaning in the light of this experience. In our case, my dad was a Canadian citizen. Had been one since 1978. Voted in municipal, provincial, and federal elections for decades. Was employed his entire time in Canada. And then suddenly he received a letter telling him that his citizenship was cancelled. He had to turn in his passport. He couldn’t enter the US as part of his work – a bit of a challenge as he is a truck driver and most of his routes were south.

Still, Canada is a wonderful country. My dad calls it home. He loves it. He feels blessed. And today, he officially became a Canadian citizen. Version 2.0.

Digital Learning Research Network (dLRN)

Higher education is digitizing. All aspects of it, including administration, teaching/learning, and research. The process of becoming digital has important implications for how learning occurs and how research happens and how it is shared. I’m happy to announce the formation of the digital Learning Research Network (dLRN), funded by a $1.6m grant from the Gates Foundation – more info here.

From a broad overview, the goal of the grant is to improve the depth and quality of research in digital learning. I’m defining digital learning as anything that has a technology component: online, blended, and in classroom with use of technology. Additionally, this learning may be formal, self-regulated, structured/unstructured, and “lifelong”. Much of this research is already ongoing – a quick skim of conferences such as LAK, ICLS, IEDMS and others confirms this. An important challenge exists, however, in that existing research stays in journals and conference proceedings and often doesn’t make it into practice as quickly or with as much impact as is needed. With dLRN, our goals are to:

  1. Increase the impact of existing research in solving complex organizational and systems-level learning challenges
  2. Work in cross-disciplinary and multi-lens research teams to ensure nuanced solutions are generated for real, intractable problems
  3. Connect and amplify existing research
  4. Promote research as practice and practice as research mindsets in college and university systems engaged in researching digital learning and teaching
  5. Model openness in research activity and data
  6. Increase the speed of the research cycle and adoption of effective practices with a particular emphasis on under-represented students
  7. Build on existing research in learning sciences, online, blended, and distance learning, as well as data mining and learning analytics
  8. Evaluate the broader organizational influences of digital learning, teaching, and research

More specifically, dLRN will do the following:

Foster Innovation, specifically in increasing the capacity of member universities to transition to the digital environment. The past several years of activity in MOOCs and online learning have pushed thinking about teaching and learning (and also hype and nonsense!). An important opportunity now exists to evaluate how existing universities are rethinking on-campus and in classroom learning based on MOOCs. Specifically, what are the lessons that campuses are learning based on MOOC experimentation? Additionally, how are universities position online and blended learning in relation to on-campus learning?

A second aspect of innovation for this grant will result in the development of a network of partner universities who are focused on increasing participation from sectors of society that currently are not entering higher education. These sectors include first-in-family degree completers, learners who have some university experience but discontinued, and individuals who are returning to education to re-skill to prepare for a new job market.

Internationalize the research network to include global partners to advance exploration of research topics and pursue research funding internationally. This work will not be funded by this grant as international universities will be responsible for developing resources required for their participation. However, the inclusion of international research systems will ensure that the work being conducted as part of this proposal reflects the diversity of international audiences. We expect these partners will amplify the value of this research and increase application and impact both nationally and internationally.

Develop Personal Knowledge Graphs. I’ve been whining about this for a while. The focus on higher education has to date been centered on course content and curriculum. Moving forward, in order to develop personalized and adaptive learning, universities will need to develop personal knowledge graphs (PKG) and profiles. PKG would involve collecting and mapping what an individual knows – based on formal learning, workplace learning, and informal learning – and using that graph as a base for providing focused learning materials to address knowledge gaps in order to achieve a qualification or degree. In a workforce defined by rapid changes, PKG will enable learners to more rapidly reskill and upgrade in order to participate in the knowledge economy.

Universities/organizations and people involved:

Carnegie Mellon University (Carolyn Rose)
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Stephanie Teasley)
Stanford University (Candace Thille)
SRI (Barbara Means)
Teachers College, Columbia University (Ryan Baker)
University of Arkansas System (Michael Moore)
California Community Colleges (Pat James)
University System of Georgia (Myk Garn)
Smithsonian Institution (Chris Liedel/Jacquie Moen)

Getting involved:

An important aspect of this is involving international universities. I’ve had several conversations with universities in UK, Australia, and Canada. While we don’t have funds to support these systems, if your institution is interested and able to self-fund involvement, please let me know: gsiemens at gmail. At minimum, I expect that international partners will be able to translate their work into regional and national grants in their own jurisdiction.

We will also be looking to work with doctoral students who are interested in digital learning. For this, I’m looking more at students that are interested in this research area and are willing to devote time to participating in research and connecting with other researchers. (We will be announcing three post-doc positions at LINK Lab soon for those that want to get more deeply involved in research).

Finally, we expect to have a full slate of open online events including research discussions and case studies starting early 2015. As much as possible, we will be sharing research openly.