Tag: online

MOOCs, online education and the rights of learners.

I’m currently in Los Angeles for three days of Open Badges-related workshops and meetings. Yesterday’s meeting was a conversation about ‘the future of badges’ with such luminaries as John Seely Brown, Cathy Davidson, Connie Yowell, and David Theo Goldberg in attendance. Also there was a representative from Udacity, a provider of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as well as a good number of my colleagues at Mozilla. The meta level of the conversation was almost too much for my jetlagged-addled brain to cope with at times!

One of the things that Cathy Davidson mentioned during the meeting was a Learner Bill of Rights that is currently available in draft form. The introduction states:

We believe that online learning represents a powerful and potentially awe-inspiring opportunity to make new forms of learning available to all students worldwide, whether young or old, learning for credit, self-improvement, employment, or just pleasure.

[…]

And we worry that this moment is fragile, that history frequently and painfully repeats itself. Think of television in the 1950s or even correspondence courses in the 1920s. As we begin to experiment with how novel technologies might change learning and teaching, powerful forces threaten to neuter or constrain technology, propping up outdated educational practices rather than unfolding transformative ones.

All too often, during such wrenching transitions, the voice of the learner gets muffled. For that reason, we feel compelled to articulate the opportunities for students in this brave electronic world, to assert their needs and–we dare say–rights.

If you click through to the Google Doc (it’s also on Github) you’ll see that I’ve made a few comments. If you care about online education – cMOOCs, xMOOCs or otherwise – then you should add your voice.


Related things to which you may want to pay attention:

Image CC BY VinothChandar

How do you define attendance? [JISC Inform article]

How do you define attendance?

I promised recently to make it easier for people to easily find out the multiple places online that I publish my research and writing. Some of those places, however, constitute one-offs: contributions to magazines or books for example.

At the JISC Conference 2011 I presented with JISC Digital Media on Using Digital Media to Improve Teaching and Learning. I made the point that we need to change what we mean by ‘attendance’ (Slideshare deck below – click through if you don’t see it)

Nicola Yeeles from JISC was in the audience that day and subsequently interviewed me in May. It’s finally made it’s way into a very nicely set-out piece in JISC Inform, the online magazine for the Further and Higher Education sectors in the UK. I especially like the way it includes some audio snippets from the interview itself.

Well worth a read (even if I do say so myself!) if you need some ammunition as to why the dynamics of the classroom need to change.

Some thoughts about online privacy.

CC BY-NC-SA Chris KWM

You may have missed it, but there’s a privacy debate going on as we enter a new decade.* I wanted to share my thoughts, as I think there’s some confused thinking going on.

Usually, when people think of ‘privacy’ they’re actually conflating three notions:

  1. Privacy – not being seen by others
  2. Anonymity – not being identified by others
  3. Ownership – the ability to control things

These are different and should be considered separately.

A lot of digital ink has been spilled recently over changes made by Facebook, the world’s most popular social networking site. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, claimed privacy is ‘no longer a social norm’ which prompted some nods of agreement, but also some vehement criticism. The ever-eloquent danah boyd pretty much sums up the backlash:

There isn’t some radical shift in norms taking place. What’s changing is the opportunity to be public and the potential gain from doing so. Reality TV anyone? People are willing to put themselves out there when they can gain from it. But this doesn’t mean that everyone suddenly wants to be always in public. And it doesn’t mean that folks who live their lives in public don’t value privacy. The best way to maintain privacy as a public figure is to give folks the impression that everything about you is in public.

It’s this control over the public/private debate that is often conflated with anonymity and ownership. And it’s not just media hacks that get this wrong, it’s people with letters after their name. Dr Kieron O’Hara, for example, believes that online life distorts privacy rights for all:

As more private lives are exported online, reasonable expectations are diminishing… When our reasonable expectations diminish, as they have, by necessity our legal protection diminishes.

This effectively takes an argument reserved for celebrities (‘you live by the sword, you die by the sword’) and applies it to everyone else. Not so.

Most of what people object to in the name of ‘privacy’ online is merely technology making something that’s always been done easier or faster.

  • Object to being ‘tagged’ in a photo on Facebook? Did you likewise object when people passed around printed photos of you at a gathering back-in-the-day?
  • Don’t like your phone number being posted online? Is it ex-directory?
  • Not a fan of Google Street View? Do you stop people walking by your house and taking pictures of the local area?

I would argue that no-one has a ‘right’ to anonymity in anything apart from legal proceedings. To attempt to do so – even in an analogue world – is unrealistic.

Recently, I received a suggestion via Skribit that I blog about how I deal with ‘having such a public web presence’ coupled with the tendency of students to ‘google their teachers’. The question seems to be about privacy: do you really want students to know everything about you?

The answer to that can be summed up in one word: control. I am my own media outlet. It doesn’t cost me anything but time to do so. Of course I have secrets, my dark side, things that I don’t want people to find out. But I can control what is said about me. Google Alerts emails me when my name is mentioned somewhere on the internet. If it’s defamatory or negative, I give my side of the story, try and work things out. It’s no different than going to the village gossip to set things straight.

I moderate comments on my YouTube videos, I keep most photos of my family away from public viewing areas on Flickr, and not all of my Delicious links are available for viewing by everyone. That’s why I like Aza Raskin’s idea of a Creative Commons for Privacy. Just as Creative Commons licenses have made it absolutely clear under what conditions you can re-use someone’s artistic work or media (see the top of this post), so a similar system for privacy would give unambiguous recourse for privacy violations. People will tend towards openness, of course they will.

But then I’m not so sure that people being open, controlling their digital identity and learning how to respect the wishes of others is such a bad thing. It’s all about being clear and unamibugous.

Further reading:

*Technically, the decade doesn’t start until 2011, but everyone’s acting like it’s already started. Who am I to spoil the party? 😉

Towards a forward-thinking Acceptable Use Policy for mobile devices

Enough is enough. I think it was Clay Burrell who (via Twitter) initially pointed me towards this quotation by Gandhi: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Unhappily, teachers in many UK schools (and further afield) are forced into a kind of cognitive dissonance as a result of official mobile phone bans being flouted by almost every student in the school. In fact, it’s more than that. Teachers are made to feel guilty when they encourage students to use the technology they have for learning.

Andrew Field and I had a brief Twitter conversation about this situation recently. As a result, Andrew started a thread on the EffectiveICT.co.uk Forum to discuss the issue. I’d like to bring more people (i.e. YOU) into the discussion, especially if you’ve got any links to good and forward-thinking Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs)! 😀

A brief search for AUPs relating to mobile devices brings up the following problematical example:

Mobile phones must not be used during the college day, including break and lunchtimes. Phones must be switched off during the day. If any student is found using a mobile phone at any time during the college day it will be confiscated until the end of the day

Of course, one can see why this particular college, like many educational institutions, has gone down this road. They’re protecting their own back; it’s the reason why networks often blacklist sites that teachers want to use for perfectly sound pedagogical reasons.

But then, there’s the rub. As Andrew Field pointed out, if the Internet connection’s already filtered, why lock pupils out of wireless networks and the like when they’re using their own devices? He cites using an iPod touch for accessing online content through the wi-fi connection in his department. There’s no reason why I couldn’t do the same – give out the password to students.

A big stumbling block is insurance, I suppose. But then, I’m only supposing. What exactly is the legal situation? Surely if a student damages their mobile phone/MP3 player in school it’s covered by their parents’ home insurance in the same way it would be on their way to and from school? Andrew quotes the following from Halifax insurance:

Personal Belongings
For those items that are normally worn or carried in everyday day life Halifax Home Insurance offer Personal Belongings cover away from the home both in the UK and abroad. This cover complements their unlimited sum insured contents insurance* and provides cover for items such as jewellery, money, credit cards and mobile phones.**

* Inner limits apply to certain areas of contents cover, including; money restrictions, single article & high risk item limits and contents left in the open. High risk items are subject to a £2000 limit per item. Details are available within the policy and schedule.
** Aggregate limits of between £2,500 and £10,000 apply. Individual limits apply to mobile phones, money, credit cards and pedal cycles.

I wonder if there’s anyone reading this who has links with those in the industry who could give a definitive answer?

Becta provide some reasonably helpful (general) advice on the subject, stating that an AUP should not stand alone, but instead be part of a ‘safe ICT learning environment’, including:

  • an infrastructure of whole-school awareness, designated responsibilities, policies and procedures
  • an effective range of technological tools
  • a comprehensive internet safety education programme for the whole school community.

I agree. Unhelpfully, they state that there “are many sample acceptable use policies available, both online and via local authorities, which schools can use as a basis for their own policies” – but then fail to link to any. 🙁

To their credit, however, they have a PDF document from 2006 on E-safety which could provide an excellent platform to spark a discussion within your school. It covers everything from the potential dangers of online access, to the responsibilities for those with various (already extant) roles within the organization. It’s focus, nevertheless, is on prevention of abuse rather than enabling and opening-up as much as possible!

Diagrams are powerful tools when trying to effect change. This one, from the PDF mentioned above, demonstrates a sound (if slightly conservative) process. As technologies change, so must AUPs and, most importantly, the whole organization’s response. ICT lessons, as many teachers of the subject have realised, cannot simply be focused on learning how to use Microsoft Office and the like. They need to prepare students for the 21st century online world.

We need to create responsible users of the Internet and mobile devices. Yes, there are risks. Yes, there might be financial and other costs to the school. But isn’t it worth it in the long run? 🙂

Update:

Liz Kolb replied to this post via Twitter providing a handy link to some AUPs:

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