SPOCS

Some interesting responses to the last post coming to me by email (not through the blog) including a new initiatiative at Harvard to provide personalised learning within an open-access environment but in a more structured (and less mass-enrolment mode) See the news piece at

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24166247

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The open wave

The open wave

I have been working on pulling together a module that I am calling “Digital literacy and open education”. It is based on the principle that an educator needs to be able to identify, navigate, and make sense of the wide diversity of digital resources in order to communicate their ideas – and where better to start than through these digital resources themselves? I am trying to select appropriate resources from the web, and only to create new learning resources when I can’t find anything exactly suitable. So far it is going really well. I am basing the main texts on a couple of online books on e-learning and digital scholarship – one my myself, and the other by Martin Weller (see the Ed Techie blog in the bottom left-hand corner). When I have completed the module design and set it all out in Blackboard, I will have it peer-reviewed by my colleagues, and then I want to open a “mirror” version on the open web. I’ll let you know of my progress! 🙂

Christmas Lecture

Christmas Lecture

Although I didn’t manage to get to the Christmas lecture by the outgoing UHI Principal, James Fraser, I read through the text of his talk. As a whole, I liked the general thrust of his talk (the future of universities in the 21st century) and I agreed with his call to embrace institutional change. I found lots to challenge in the detail, however, such as his upbeat comments on MOOCS while lumping as “blended learning” all of the other different pedagogic styles that the UHI employs. It would have been good to have followed this up with a debate, or at least a question and answer session – hopefully those of us who are not retiring this year will be able to roll up our sleeves and address the contested details during the remainder of the academic year. We don’t have enough ‘discussion papers’ like this, and those that we do see seem to fizzle out before they see the light of implementation. I’m not a great believer in ‘New Year Resolutions’ but perhaps this year is the time to seek come clarity, some consistency, and action some of those good ideas which float up occasionally – before they are lost again.

Stereotypes and cliches

Stereotypes and cliches

Over the last couple of days I read “The Lewis Man” by Peter May. If you haven’t read it yet, don’t bother. It is marginally better than his first book in the trilogy, but so full of minor errors, one-dimensional characters, and annoying cliches that it is distracting! It got me thinking (again) about how the Highlands and Islands are portrayed in popular (?) fiction. It appears to be acceptable, fashionable even, to denigrate rural places and rural cultures as brooding, wind-swept, backwards (add your own favourite prejudice) while cities are, by default, sparkling, exciting, etc etc. It seems to me that the UHI is well-placed to lead a counter-position that lays an emphasis on the positive sides of our communities – the beauties, the freshness, the contemplative, the innovative, and the delight in the community of good people. I finished work for the year today, and 2014 promises to be roller-coaster ride of wonderful new challenges, including how we make this distributed, high-tech university step up to make its mark.

UC Dublin

UC Dublin

Just back from a couple of days at University College Dublin where I was an external on an interview panel for a new member of senior academic staff. Two things struck me as I compared UCD with the UHI. Firstly, that UHI is currently so far ahead of UCD in e-learning terms, both conceptually and in practice, although they are doing some interesting things and are keen to embrace new practices. Secondly, how well co-ordinated they seem to be across the university, in comparison with the UHI. We have sites of duplication that don’t even speak to each other; several academic partners that claim to be the ‘lead centre for X’ although there is no attempt to link up similar work across the UHI and attain a critical mass. Surely the time has come when we can set aside inter-college rivalries and establish something bigger and better than the sum of the parts? There are some great examples of collaboration and innovation at the UHI and some real blind spots…. Let’s hope that 2014 sees us getting to grips with some of the latter!

Supervising

Supervising

Most of today was spent reading through various chapters of several PhD students – checking the arguments and suggesting changes to writing styles. I *really* like working with the UHI PhD students, they are so enthusiastic and the standard of their work is as good or better than any other university that I have visited. I like to get to grips with the details of their projects, and to encourage them to go that little bit further with their ideas! I think the distributed nature of the UHI offer makes supervision that bit more interesting, and I would like to see a bit more inter-college supervision panels in the next year or two as we gear up to Research Degree Awarding Powers (rDAP).

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