Approaches to teach STEM practice at a distance – event at the Open University

Image by Scorpions and Centaurs (CC BY) – Flickr

The eSTEem department at the Open University UK is hosting an event on the 27th June from 10-12:30 at the Library Seminar Rooms 1 and 2 (Walton Hall, Milton Keynes). All welcome.
“Approaches to teach STEM practice at a distance”.  Speakers include Dr  Ronaldo Mota, former Secretary for Science, Education and Technology in Brazil.

eLC Meeting 27th June

 Inquiry to Innovation

Approaches to teaching STEM Practice at a distance.

Within many areas of society, we are in middle of a change in the norms of professional practice – it is increasingly common for colleagues to collaborate and to practice online. They are no longer as strictly bound by the need for co-location with equipment or data. Conversations and other activities are supported electronically. This shift in normal professional practice offers opportunity to provide a richer, more authentic learning experience to our students. Scientific inquiry can be facilitated by remote facilities or data streams from central facilities. Crowd sourcing can be used in some scientific areas. Within engineering, similar arguments apply, and there is growing interest in collaborative online design and innovation. Within this eLC meeting we will argue that we are now in a position to move towards being a university of both learning and practice. The talks will include a presentation from Dr Ronaldo Mota, who is the former  Brazilian National Secretary for Science, Technology and Innovation and who is visiting the Institute of Education in London for a year.

10-00 am    Introduction

10-10 am    Steve Swithenby       ‘The Wolfson Open Science Laboratory’ will offer online access to authentic science practice.

10-30 am    Anne Adams             ‘Out There – In Here – field science inquiry carried out by separated collaborating groups.’

10-50 am    Mark Endean           ‘The engineering project module – managing student collaboration in an online environment.’

11-10 am    Derek Jones              ‘Seeding and maintaining an online design community.’

Short break

11-40 am       Ronaldo Mota      ” Independent Learning: An educational strategy to prepare STEM students for Innovation in Brazil Scenario”

12-30 Close

Recursos Educacionais Abertos: Novas Perspectivas Para a Inclusão Educacional via EAD

In the spotlight: Wikipedia @ the OU Conference 2010 – day 2

Live blogging, 3:30 pm

Openness in Education: Talk by Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia

Jimmy starts by  explaining that at Wikipedia it is not necessarily the case that anyone can edit everything – there’s a specific group of contributors that edit, monitor and make the content available to the world. He also explains that there is no relationship between Wikipedia and Wikiversity.

Jimmy discusses a little bit about the history and scale of Wikipedia. It was ‘ the great experiment’, he says, being the core idea to create a global encyclopedia supported by volunteers. The vision statement is that every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge . Wikipedia is defined by Jimmy as  “a free and high quality encyclopedia written by thousands of volunteers in many languages”. Neutrality and quality are extremely important at Wikipedia. He argues that a minimum level of reliability is necessary for the encyclopedia to be respected and popular. It is managed by a series of community processes and control. At Wikipedia the idea of neutrality has been the core : the firm rule is that there’s a neutral point of view. Wikipedia does not take a stand on any controversial issue – the reader is free to make their own judgement .

What is free access? At Wikipedia it’s first freedom of speech. The texts and the software of Wikipedia are all free. He argues that Wikipedia is not necessarily the most helpful format of information for the students to learn with- but everything there can be repurposed in many different ways. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, which means that not everything belongs to Wikipedia. IT offers a summary of the human knowledge with the depth of the material depending on the subject.

Wikipedia is a charity supported by donations, the average size for donation is about $30 (dollars), but there is obviously big funding coming from the big players, as Google etc, says Jimmy. The core of the donations however is made by small donours. Over 275 million people visit Wikipedia every month. Funding at Wikipedia happens organically, he says, not necessarily ‘top-down’.

There’s about 100,00 active contributors to Wikipedia,a ll volunteers. The site is global. There are more than 3 million entries in English, but more than 500 million entries in other languages. There are 308,000+ articles in Chinese alone, but it’s small relative to the number of Chinese speakers that are online. Wikipedia was banned in China for over 3 years. The Chinese government has losen up in many ways, and now Wikipedia is generally available in China, but certain pages are banned (e.g. some things about Tibet, the independence of Taiwan etc). It’s the 53rd most popular website in China. Jimmy says that they would like to be more popular in China, and that it’s fast growing over there. Wikipedia has caused a cultural impact in China, he argues.

Wikipedia allows for Global content comparisons. In different parts of the world, certain content can be more or less popular. Ex. ‘Sex’ is popular in every language except French and Spanish. There are certain topics that are equally popular, such as Star Trek and Star Wars…

Question: what’s next for Wikipedia? In the short term, Jimmy explains that the three priorities for them are: 1. quality (in the large languages, e.g. English, instead of adding more, improving quality), 2. Growth in the developing world (by running pilot projects ), 3. Usability (the software is not as user-friendly as they would like it to be).

Question: Many educators are asking students to create Wikipedia pages, what are your views on that? Answer: sometimes excited, sometimes not as much. It depends on how the project is structured – quality is needed, and this usually happens when the students are given appropriate background.

Question: How has been quality control over the years, and how have you dealt with that? Answer: Several phases related to quality control, the most famous quality problem beying vandalism.However, this is the problem we have lots of hands on. Issues of bias for example, related to less popular and controversial topics (e.g. Palestine, scientology etc). These articles are closely monitored and are of high quality. More obscure topics (that people do not care about much), are also problematic, because there are not  many people monitoring them. We are trying to get a system in which we can go through the less popular topics, and that’s a challenge for the future, I think – says Jimmy.

Question: how is consensus generated? Answer: there’s a pretty informal mechanism to reach consensus, but it’s mostly based on the issue of neutrality, as I mention before. We developed some techniques over the years, as for example, mentioning many different sides of the same story.

Wikipedia is a very innovative way of sharing content, and it was an insightful talk by Jimmy Wales.

HEAT program @ the OU Conference – day 2

Live blogging, 2pm – Conference Day 2

HEAT: Health Education and Training in Africa

Talk by Alison Robinson (programme coordinator)

Challenges in Africa:  high incidence of maternal and child mortality, HIV/AIDS , TB and malaria increasing, critical shortage of health workers, inadequate facilities and equipment. In Africa there’s 900 maternal deaths per 1000,000 births. Africa has 11% of the world’s population.

HEAT helps to address critical health workers shortage. The strengths of the HEAT program are that it delivers significant impact for relatively small investment, and it has the potential to train hundreds of thousands of health workers. HEAT materials can be delivered in print, online or disk.

The pilot country of HEAT is Ethiopia. One of the reasons is that all post-secondary education and training in Ethiopia is taught in English. Total population is around 81 million, of which 84% live in rural communities. Every year around 21000 Ethiopian women die due to complication of pregancy or childbirth. It is a country of contrasts.

The health extension workers in Ethiopia are paid a small salary by the Ministry of Health.  They need to be female, speak local language and basic English, amongst other things. Health Extension Workers’ initial training need to be upgraded to overcome the deficiencies in their initial training, and also because the workers are keen to have a career path. The HEAT training is provided by distance education. Restrictions on classroom capacity and availability of teachers would take more than 10 years to upgrade 31,000 health education workers.  Distance learning can be completed between 18-24 months.

HEAT will be an online knowledge bank of training materials, both in text and in multimedia form, delivered as OER . It will also include self-assessment questions, resources and toolkits with case-studies etc.

HEAT has the support of the Ministries of Health and Education in Ethiopia, funded by the Allan and Nesta Ferguson Trust. There will be 16 distance e-learning modules, each one assessed by means of a tutor-marked assignment. The first 4 out of 16 modules are being prepared and are due for completion be end of July.

Challenges: some authors are experiencing difficulties in writing in a second language. They are also leanring the methodology of distance learning.

Alison says that the work in Ethiopia has been enourmously rewarding.

HEAT beyond Ethiopia: all modules will be free to download. Conversations are taking place to localise the content to Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana and Zambia.  Modules are adaptable also outside Africa.

HEAT vision: ot create a consortium of countries and organisatiosn working together aim to tackle social inequalities in Africa.

iSpot @ the OU Conference 2010 – day 2

Live blogging, 13:30 – OU conference Day 2

Talk by Doug Clow

iSpot – Your place to share nature

Doug starts by saying that (iSpot.  helps people to identify their observations of nature. One can take a photo and upload it to the iSpot website, saying what they think it is (where they saw it etc). If someone thinks it’s something else, they can identify it too. Once the user gets the confirmation of the identification, then they can learn more about it – in depth information of other observations people made about the same thing . There is a web page for every species in iSpto, aggregating all the available content  (including Wikipedia) about the species of the whole world.

At iSpot, after making an identification, the user can see who else agrees with it. And the individual identifiers are ‘ranked’ in a reputation system at the website. Once the user makes an observation and gets feedback, they can build a portfolio of pictures (as more people agree with your observation) , it increases  their reputation in the website. Observatiosn can be of birds, plants etc.

Many people who use iSpot also take a short OU course if they wish (Neighbourhood Nature 5159). This leads to accreditation – it’s a 10-point course. iSpot has a partnership with BBC Radio 4, helping broadcasting the project and enabling access to ‘nature experts’ . iSpot is Lottery funded, and targets under-represented groups.

Users give lots of  positive feedback about iSpot – they like the community of people with knowledge and enthusiasm. People say “I can’t go outside now without ‘seeing’ things!”. 130,000 visits to the site.

A good user story is that a 6-year old girl spotted a moth – Euonymus Leaf Notcher ( a rare moth in Europe). It was its first observation in the UK. That discovery was highly publicised in newspapers etc. iSpot counts on collaborations with a number of specialist societies.

Participatory Learning: research driven by the work on iSpot (Clow, Makryannis and De Liddo). Participatory Learning is a rich way of using new online media, Doug argues, as it is in line with the OU mission of inclusive education.

TEL Away Day and SocialLearn

The TEL group (Technology Enhanced Learning) of the Institute of Educational Technology is gathered at the Accenture Conference Venue  today discussing the ways in which the use of social network technologies could be part of our communication strategy and work plan. The programme for the day is enriched by a super fresh  talk about SocialLearn by Martin Weller.

Many technologies have been discussed: NING, Wet Paint, Edupunk, OU iTunesU, YouTube, Twitter and list goes on and on.  TEL is suggesting these are used for working and teaching purposes. Essentially, in a group discussion we enquired how these tools can be useful for teaching and what advantage they bring to the students.

Then, Martin Weller gave a presentation on SocialLearn:Use whatever tool you like, bring all your learn together in one place! A market place to sell and share learning and content. Play, Learn, Share. SocialLearn: You only learn by doing it.

Some of the tools in SocialLearn are: MicroLearner, Camtasia, 2Learner, Cohere, Twittearth, Cloudworks, Facebook, OpenLearn, 43 things, Remember the milk. Other applications to write to teh API: YouTUbe, GoogleDocs, etc.

An Ecosystem of Learning!

Looking forward to it! Release date: July 2008 for Beta version