Big data? Learning analytics? Do you know enough about your learners’ data and what you do with it?

…”With policy and commercial developments firmly focused on ‘big data’ and all that entails, I was interested to come across quite a few sessions and speakers talking about how we use data in learning, particularly formal education at ALT’s Annual Conference earlier this month.

Earlier in the year, as part of ALT’s work for ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, we had invited contributions from a range of individuals and organisations and received what I think is a really helpful contribution from Simon Buckingham Shum & Simon Knight, from the Knowledge Media Institute, Open University, UK (you can read their submission in full in this blog post from 5 June 2014). Personally, I found the way in which some of the terminology is explained helpful, for example, the way in which the concept of learning analytics was visualised”…

You can read my full article in FE News here. Published 24 September 2014.

Conferences in September and October #altc, #fote14, #civicon14, #ALN14

With September nearly here I am getting ready for conferences starting with ALT’s annual conference from 1-3 September at the University of Warwick. If you are curious to find out more you can read my preview of the conference in FE News or visit the online conference platform. While I don’t lead any sessions, I am really looking forward to the programme, including many member-led events, which is great to see. You can watch keynotes and other sessions live on YouTube and follow what’s happening #altc on Twitter.

Coming up next will be FOTE 2014, the Future of Technology in Education conference, 3 October 2014 in London. With a new start up competition and other exciting sessions planned, you can find out more by readying the conference preview.

Later in September, 25-26th, in London I am going to be attending this year’s CiviCon. This conference is all about CiviCRM, a CMS that ALT uses to manage a large part of its online services and an Open Source software that I have been using for a number of years now. I am going to be looking out for new developments and anything that can make life easier for users and administrators.

Then, a month later, I am going to be attending and speaking at the annual conference of the Online Learning Consortium, formerly the Sloan Consortium, in the U.S. . This is the 20th conference of the consortium and I am going to be talking about Building a global ed tech future brick by brick on the day before Halloween. There is a really interesting programme of all kinds of sessions planned for the event and I am interested to see what I can learn from this event which expects 2,000 delegates to attend in person and many more to join in online.

If you are going to any of these events and are keen to get in touch, tweet me @marendeepwell.

Curiosity, badges, new stuff… running and participating in ALT’s open course, ocTEL

ocTEL week 1 badge
ocTEL badge

For the past week I have been involved in running ocTEL, the open course in Technology Enhanced Learning – version 2.0. As well as helping with running the course, I have also done my bit to participate and now that the first few days are behind me, I want to reflect on my expectations of the course as a participant/organiser hybrid… .

So, first up, what am I hoping to achieve by participating? Like everyone else, this has to fit around all the other things I am doing and there are certainly limits to how much time I can spend on it. Still, participating is important to me and in an ideal scenario I would like to:

  • explore how the open badges impact on my approach to the course and interacting with it;
  • read a few posts each day to gain insight into what other participants are doing and thinking about;
  • reflect on how this kind of course and its activities can share my own learning habits.

Thus far, and week 1 has only just started, I have some thoughts on each of these three areas:

First, in regards to the badges, I am finding that I want them! I like looking at who else has earned the same badge and I like the way in which getting a badge or trying to at least makes me more concious about what I am achieving. From a personal point of view then, they work for me – for what I want from the course thus far.

Secondly, reading through the posts of what others have contributed gives me a whole new perspective on what others are up to in regards to using technology for learning, teaching or assessment. It’s inspirational to see how many resources there are that are being shared openly and in particular I enjoy reading contributions from outside the UK and getting a glimpse of the global learning landscape.

Last, but not least, even during this first, at times slightly chaotic week, participating in the course has given me a renewed sense of enthusiasm for learning new things. Exploring random links via Twitter #ocTEL or finding something interesting in a post gives me a sense of shared curiosity. I am enjoying seeing how questions come up and get answered.

So, that’s my thoughts after a week of ocTEL 2.0. For this week, week 1 of the course, I am taking on a tutor role alongside Phil Tubman and others, but I shall still try and get a bit of the participant experience. After that – let the badge quest begin.

Adventures in screen-casting

Time for a new tool, a new way of sharing “how to” knowledge. This time, I am hoping to use screencasting to make a series of short videos for the purpose of contributing helpful resources for staff development. My subject to start with is financial management. Doesn’t sound too exciting, so that’s why I am hoping video will help. This way, colleagues will be able to refresh their knowledge of processes which may only happen every few months or every year, without having to read a lengthy procedure.

To get some advice, I looked for tips and ideas and came across the Screencasting Handbook, which is an open course resource, published under a Creative Commons licence. Many other sites and blogs seem to provide really helpful ideas, too. If it goes well, I might be able to make a screencast for the blog. For now, I am going to get started.

Thinking about technology, learning and the immortality of artificial intelligence

Recently there has been an upsurge in articles about artificial intelligence and how, according to Google’s Ray Kurzweil at least, by 2029 machines will supersede us, become better at doing the things we do every day. The idea, as I understand it, is that machines will be able to develop their own kind of consciousness, a sense of humour – in short be able to communicate with us as a fellow human being would. On the basis of the data they could have access to,  they would learn from what we do and learn from what they themselves would do.

This is an interesting prediction in the context of learning, and education, as technology has a large role in shaping not only how we learn and make sense of the world, but also the way in which we live and work.

Some might consider this kind of thinking as Science Fiction or irrelevant to them. A future that looks like the Star Trek universe, in which the omnipresent computer which looks after operations is as far removed from reality as the largely peaceful vision of human kind living in harmony.

Yet why not imagine what things would be like, in 2029 or 2049, if these predictions were to come true alongside all the other technological advances one could reasonable expect by then. Things that come to mind are holographic displays, wearable or internal devices, instant connectivity, intelligent data analytics, automated every day processes – and a presumably sustainable source of energy and raw materials.

Work as we know it from manufacturing and food production, to expert professions and services, would presumably be changed substantially. Using the Stark Trek example as a starting point our expertise in engineering or medicine would be supported by sophisticated technology. Our every activity shaped and guided by intelligent machines. Our understanding of what it means to be a human being broadened by the data collected and analysed with the help of computers and networks which would make our current data infrastructure look insignificant. We would learn and teach others how to do the things we couldn’t use machines for or how to support the machines in their work. Maintenance, programming and operation of machines would become more important.

In the Stark Trek universe the absence of a capitalist economic system is replaced by a number of shared aims, such as exploring galaxies, advancing art and science, going where no one has gone before. But even in this imaginary future the human race, and indeed most races, remains mortal. Death remains a constant for all but very few. In most Science Fiction only beings that transcend the corporal plan of existence stop being concerned with mortality, replacing the need to learn and progress and make sense of linear time with a sense of being that is largely incomprehensible to us.

We endeavour to survive, improve, create and learn because we have a limited lifespan, for our children, to secure our place in history. Mortality is the great motivational force in human existence. But machines which develop their own sense of being would presumably not be limited by such corporal barriers.

If one of the devices I own were to develop its own consciousness, its own intelligence, then what would it want? To serve me as a typewriter, map or telephone? To support my activities, travels and relationships? Would my tablet want to make friends with other devices? Would it want to sleep and dream? Would it stop me from using it if it was busy? Would it want a pet?

These questions are not new of course. In Microserfs (Douglas Coupland, 1995), the lead character Daniel writes about this in his diary, reflecting the thoughts of many who work and live immersed in technology. If my machines could speak, what would they say?

So, if our devices had their own consciousness, network with each other, collecting, sharing and analysing data, then what would their aim in life be? I am not thinking about a hostile machine v man takeover scenario here, but simply the perspective of a mind quite different from our own. A machine not bound by the limits of their physical body or natural lifespan. Would they be bored like the fictional immortal characters we have created? Would they, like their counterparts in Science Fiction, play games with each other across time and space to which mortal beings would be incidental? What sort of future would they wish to create and for whom?

Learning, in my view, is all about change. We change, our world changes, and we learn to survive and succeed. We live our lives along linear narratives, making sense of our existence according to our own beliefs and experiences in the face of mortality. We have a sense of urgency, of time passing, of acting before our time is up.

So, in the future, might we see new subjects crop up not only for human learners, but also for the artificial intelligences living with us on this planet?  Would there be a renewed interest in exploration of the universe? Would my tablet and I have a common hobby?

Clearly, we don’t have any answers. We cannot yet imagine what a consciousness outside our own human perspective would really be like. Similar to trying to imagine what four dimensional space looks like or how it works, our best approach is through mathematics and (computer) science. What is clear however, is that understanding the machines we create and how they work is becoming more important day by day.

Learning Technology in FE

Throughout January you can participate in the online conversation about Learning Technology in FE either on Twitter using the hastag #FELTAG or by visiting the online conversation.

You can also still read my article in FE News on how institutions are taking on learning on a massive scale, or browse any of my other recent columns on technology and basic maths, building new cultures of learning and celebrating suceess.


Rounding up 2013, ready for 2014

At the end of 2013 I participated in the Online Educa Berlin conference, amongst other things contribution to a session on Open Educational Resources with a presentation about Professional Development in the Open: Collaborative MOOC on Technology Enhanced Learning (ocTEL).

With the new year now underway, I am looking forward to getting back to work, including

  • the FELTAG online conversation, consulting the community about Learning Technology in FE #FELTAG;
  • attending this year’s Bett Show and seeing what’s new;
  • preparing for the next running of the ocTEL course in Technology Enhanced Learning.