A statistical approach to e-learning

What happens across the pond can give us food for thought. The American Society for Training & Development(ASTD) surveys annually the state of the learning and development industry in that country.

According to a summary of ASTD’s 2010 report , the industry continued to grow in 2009 compared with 2008. The sum spent on training by companies per employee was still rising, even in the recession. More than a third of all learning was delivered or facilitated electronically. Nearly a third was delivered online. Each hour of learning content was re-used about 60 times, compared with about 45 times in 2007. It sounds positive, from an e-learning point of view.

In the UK, Towards Maturity, a group that promotes learning technologies at work, conducts similar surveys. In its 2010 report  is an analysis of what 400 organisations (including a third from the public sector) were doing to ‘deliver business results’ with learning technology. In the top quartile, three-quarters of their staff used e-learning. Compared with traditional methods, e-learning saved 21% in costs, 27% in study time and moved from idea/need to delivery 32% faster. Positive again.

Brian Chapman, who runs his own e-learning company in Utah, surveyed 249 organisations (including a few universities), asking how long it took them to develop e-learning . A simple 1-hour unit (content and questions) took on average 79 hours to design, develop and test, at a cost of about £10K. It cost more to include greater interactivity and multi-media.

Surveys like these seem to provide great hope for learning technologists looking for jobs in difficult times! But all three were published by parties with a vested interest in promoting e-learning. Is there a bias in their statistics?

The Beyond Distance Research Alliance (BDRA) is modest in its approach to using statistics. With its collaborators in projects like TIGER and OSTRICH that focus on quality in online open educational resources, Beyond Distance aims to develop mutually beneficial procedures and OERs, rather than headline-grabbing statistics. At last week’s TIGER Steering Group meeting at the University of Northampton, I was impressed by the dedication and professionalism of staff at De Montfort, Leicester and Northampton, and by their attention to detail.

David Hawkridge

OERs now firmly embedded in our minds

Reading my colleagues’ recent posts, both here and on project sites such as SPIDER and OSTRICH, it struck me just how embedded open educational resources (OERs) have become in the department.

Whenever we outline possible projects and bids, or undertake any other work, openness is now a central part of what we do. In fact, ‘Will it be OER-able?’ is always the first question asked. (The provenance of this term is almost certainly Gabi, once an OTTER and now an OSTRICH.)

I was fortunate enough to start in Beyond Distance as a learning technologist on OTTER, so I learned much of what I know about OERs in the first four months of that project. And it was the members of the OTTER team – Gabi, Sahm, Tania, Ale, Gilly – that were largely responsible for inculcating this notion of openness.  

Anecdotally, evidence is emerging that OERs are being used by students, especially those from overseas, to assess HEIs as potential places for postgraduate studies. And Dave White’s work at Oxford should throw more light on the use and reuse of OERs.

But probably what’s so impressive about the notion of openness is that it now permeates all levels of education. Our sector is HE, so this is where we tend to focus our attention. But shared notes, guides and lesson plans for schoolteachers have been available for some time.

And Adult Education is no different. For example, on 15 February I will be part of a panel called OERs in Action at a day-long seminar put on by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), who have done excellent work in the field of adult digital literacy. They’re also our neighbours here in Leicester.

As Dave White and others point out, OERs have until now been driven by supply: plenty of HEIs are producing them with little evidence of their use. But I am confident this missing evidence will emerge over the coming years.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

OER Programme Meeting, 19 January 2011

Yesterday 19 January was the Programme Meeting for the OER Phase 2 projects in Birmingham. At Beyond Distance, we are participating in TIGER (new release project) and OSTRICH (cascade project).

We started with a few generic sessions relevant to all strands, including those led by:

  • Terry McAndrew (TechDis) on accessibility, and
  • David White (Oxford) on how OERs are being used – an interesting diagram available from his project blog, not too different from a 2×2 matrix currently being developed by OSTRICH.

Vic Jenkins (University of Bath, OSTRICH project partner) and I then joined the cascade strand discussions, where topics included working with partners, institutional embedding of OER in learning and teaching strategies and shared repositories. Highlights from these discussions included:

  • ‘Evaluation’. At BDRA, over the years, we have taken the view that in order to generate robust evidence that academics and others in the Higher Education sector can relate to, you need research. ‘Evaluation’ is useful and sometimes appropriate, but to foster meaningful and evidence-based change, you need more than that. The collection, analysis and presentation of research evidence (beyond sets of interesting quotations) may help to provide answers to the many questions we discussed (e.g. practice change, development and release, organisational and cultural issues, impact). Some of the questions overlap with TIGER’s research questions. It is no coincidence that the TIGER project has a full-time researcher in the team – this is precisely to generate robust and reliable evidence.
  • Innovative platforms for OERs, which perform highly visible marketing and a T&L functions, such as iTunesU. 30 million downloads of the Open University’s iTunesU resources, 2.5 million of Coventry’s in 2010 alone. We discussed how some HE Marketing Departments do not seem to realise the power of these platforms and the OERs on them. Even a relatively small presence, consisting of some frankly tedious resources, are of significant value to many prospective students, at a marginal cost to the university.
  • Single project repositories for OERs, as opposed to institutional, branded repositories. Are we saving or wasting our time by having ‘sanitised’, project repositories? Will institutions use these repositories after the end of the projects or will they generate their own fully branded ones?

A lot of ideas to think about as our projects develop.

Alejandro Armellini
PI, OSTRICH Project
20 January 2011

Welcoming 2011

This new year sees a number of changes in Beyond Distance, the most significant being the departure of Gilly to take up her new post as Professor of Learning Futures and Executive Director of the Australian Digital Futures Institute at University of Southern Queensland.

(As an aside, Gilly is now living in flood-hit Towoomba, but has reported in safely, as has her new team.)

While we are sorry to see Gilly go, one silver lining to this particular cloud is the collaboration now underway between our two  institutions on the Learning Futures Festival Online 2011, Follow the Sun. With its non-stop, 48-hour, global format, I’m certain this conference will further cement the institutions’ reputations as technology innovators.

Beyond Distance also continues its main work of researching new technologies and pedagogies. Just yesterday, a research pilot project called PELICANS was placed in the Breeding Area of the Media Zoo, and existing projects CALF, SPIDERSWIFTOSTRICH and TIGER progress well.

The Media Zoo continues to disseminate colleagues’ research and, importantly for University of Leicester colleagues, offer hands-on technical advice. The Friday Workshop, a new series of learning technology workshops held every Friday morning 10-12, has just been launched.

Our own Media Zoo will also be collaborating more with the Graduate School Media Zoo (based in the library on the main campus). With its focus on postgraduate students, the GSMZ offers us a chance to bring academics and PhD students together in a single environment  to learn as much from each other as from the Zookeepers.

I’m always amazed by the achievements and knowledge of my colleagues, so I remain certain that 2011 will see everyone build upon Gilly’s hard work to keep Beyond Distance at the forefront of e-learning research in higher education.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

2 billion internet users, 4.5 billion mobile phone users

These numbers were mentioned by Clive Shepherd in an online seminar for ALT earlier this month. The implications for those of us working in the field of OERs (open educational resources) are surely enormous.

My colleague Julian, from the Bath team on the OSTRICH project, had this to say after attending the OpenEd2010 conference in Barcelona:

Design OER for mobile first, desktop PCs second. According to Rory McGreal there are 3.4 billion mobile devices in use, and the majority of people accessing the internet do so via mobile devices. Yet much OER content, from simple Word documents to complex Flash-authored learning objects, are either inaccessible or poorly optimised for mobile devices. And with the vast array of Android and iOS mobile devices appearing, this may be a real issue for many people who choose to learn untethered from their desktop PC.

I assume that there is a higher number of mobile phone users than actual devices, which would explain the difference between Clive Shepherd’s figures and Rory McGreal’s.

One very simple thing that OER creators could do to make their resources more user-friendly for people accessing them on mobile devices is to publish printed materials in e-Pub format as well as in the more usual more computer-friendly formats such as PDF, RTF and Microsoft Word. If you want help in doing this, you might find this OER produced by the OTTER team useful.

Gabi Witthaus, 17 Dec 2010

What do a TIGER and an OSTRICH have in common?

As mentioned by Ale last week, the Beyond Distance Research Alliance at the University of Leicester has received further funding from JISC and the HEA to continue spearheading the creation and release of learning materials as open educational resources (OERs) via the OSTRICH (OER Sustainability through Teaching & Research Innovation: Cascading across HEIs) project. There is also the TIGER (Transforming Interprofessional Groups through Educational Resources) project – more about that below.

Beyond Distance established a reputation for its work in OERs through the OTTER (Open, Transferable, Technology-enhanced Educational Resources) project from May 2009 to April 2010, in which over 430 credits’ worth of learning materials were published as OERs, in 13 subject areas ranging from Politics through Law to Genetics. (See www.le.ac.uk/oer.) A major outcome of the OTTER project was a workflow and quality framework called CORRE, which includes step-by-step procedures for ensuring that there is no breach of third-party copyright, and transforming and formatting materials to make them reusable and customisable by other academics and students in different contexts. Beyond Distance is now leading the way for other institutions to apply the knowledge gained from piloting CORRE at the University of Leicester during the OTTER project.

In the OSTRICH project, the University of Leicester is supporting the Universities of Bath and Derby in creating and publishing at least 100 credits’ worth of OERs each, in a range of subject areas, following procedures based on the CORRE framework from OTTER. The OSTRICH project is also developing and testing a model for cascading knowledge about OERs and OER processes, enabling other higher education institutions to gain from the knowledge learnt during OTTER. Apart from the OERs themselves, all workflow templates and draft policy guidelines produced in the project will be made available for other institutions to customise to their contexts.

TIGER is a collaborative project between the University of Northampton, De Montfort University (DMU) and the University of Leicester, and will release teaching resources amounting to at least 360 credits into Jorum Open, the main repository for UK Higher Education, and TIGER’s own repository. The three institutions will collect, develop and share OERs designed for Interprofessional Education (IPE) in Health and Social Care. IPE is an emerging field within Health and Social Care curricula, in which students learn about each others’ professional practice to enable more effective collaboration and improve health outcomes. The TIGER project aims to dramatically benefit IPE in Health and Social Care and to solve ongoing challenges in cross-professional collaboration. TIGER OERs will address topic areas for which there is a great and ongoing need, and will be easily accessible to clinical teams in their workplaces via the Web. The OERs will ultimately benefit patients, because they focus on improving the quality of care delivery.

Beyond Distance is proud to be one of the institutions at the forefront of the OER movement in the UK, raising the profile of not only the University of Leicester but also of UK Higher Education in general, in the international Higher Education market.

Gabi Witthaus and Ming Nie, 25 Oct 2010

OTTERs, DUCKLINGs and other creatures at ALT-C 2010

Between 7 and 9 September 2010, colleagues from all projects at Beyond Distance attended the ALT-C annual conference in Nottingham. DUCKLING was represented via 3 well attended and very well received papers – one presented by Gabi Witthaus on the use of Second Life in the School of Education, one by Ming Nie on e-books and e-book readers and one by myself on podcasting in curriculum delivery.

I also presented a paper on the lessons learned and deliverables from the OTTER project, with a focus on the CORRE framework for transforming teaching materials into open educational resources (OERs). This paper also attracted a very good audience. I took that opportunity to fly the flag of our Phase 2 OER projects, OSTRICH (under the ‘cascade’ strand) and TIGER (‘new release’ strand). Other Beyond Distance colleagues contributed excellent papers on SWIFT and CALF, two of our other research projects.

ALT-C was again a highly successful conference – where once more, the Media Zoo wildlife was prominent.

Dr A Armellini
Beyond Distance Research Alliance
University of Leicester

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