The Moodle Dailies and Coffeecourses: A retrospective

Having been contacted again recently by people who are implementing the Moodle Dailies concept and the Coffeecourses concept at their own institutions, I’ve been reflecting on both the excellence of the internet and the depressing ironies of institutional politics, as well as the concept of ‘impact’. Since both projects are at least 5 years old now and not currently active in my neck of the woods I thought I’d tack the word ‘retrospective’ on this post and waffle self-indulgently for a bit.

The Internet – 5/5 would use again

These two projects I think were good examples of how organic online networks can really get shit done and make things become things. For both I ruminated on my design processes out loud on here and input from peers, primarily Twitter peeps, helped me refine the design into their eventual final forms. Then it was Twitter (probably also Google+ a bit, back in the day, anyone remember that? Good times) who started disseminating my work, putting me in touch with a bunch of interested people who wanted to take what I’d done and run with it. Yay for the internet. Boo for institutional policies that try to shut that down because branding and control issues.

Impact – She Tweeted A Thing And You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!

So there’s impact and there’s impact. One is a factor and measured via citations, and the other is people actually visibly benefitting directly from your work. I care about the wrong one of these to ever get much of anywhere in academia. I’ve never published a thing on the Moodle Dailies and I’ve only ever written one conference paper on Coffeecourses. Doesn’t count for a damn thing in the real world except one lousy E1. But here’s what actually happened:

The Moodle Dailies – at least 5 institutions that I’m aware of, not all higher ed, definitely not all in Australia (my recent chats have been with a university in Belgium), implemented courses based on or conceptually similar to the Dailies. I consulted with the DET (or whatever it’s called these days) on developing PD for teachers based on the concept.

Coffeecourses – At least 4 different institutions in Aus/NZ (Deakin, Waikato, ANU, USQ) implemented their own Coffeecourses. Two that I’m aware of are currently active, and ANU’s seems to have been going successfully for quite a while now. And while mine were running, I had all sorts of people from around the world participate and people in other sectors (primarily K12 but also VET and industry) took the courses and seemed to get something out of it.

Plus I did a bunch of masterclasses and presentations and blog posts and things so quite a few other people heard or read me bang on about them. Several other people contacted me independently to chat about the concepts. All of which was far more visible and meaningful to me than locking stuff up in a journal somewhere just to get the institutionally quantifiable kudos.

Institutional Politics – 0/5 would not recommend

The great irony of all of this, of course, is that both projects got barely any traction or recognition in my own institution. Exactly zero people ever did the Moodle Dailies here. Zero. People did sign up for Coffeecourses internally, because for a little while it was part of a requirement for new teaching staff on probation, but I have my suspicions that they mostly just signed up and never actually looked at the content, let alone participated. Then when I got workplace changed out of my former role, all my projects were dropped and no longer run.

I’ve never really decided if this meant the projects were a failure or not. Coffeecourses at least did achieve its aim here for a while, but the Dailies were The Greatest Project That Never Was. Failed utterly at its goal. But does the influence it had on people’s pedagogical thinking mean they were successes? How much resentment should I bother harbouring that they basically had no value within my own institution?

Here endeth the retrospective rumination. In terms of future stuff it would probably be interesting one day to curate all the different iterations of things into one place and map the progression of an idea, and I keep promising my PhD supervisors I’ll eventually write something on the Moodle Dailies. Also I never know how to end these things so here’s a cat:

Outside time

We didn’t let Hannah go outside before she was 2. Now we only let her go outside into a small area for 30 minutes a day. You really have to be careful with outside time. I know several people whose kids have fallen over and hurt themselves outside, sometimes even breaking bones. I even heard about a child who was abducted while they were outside. And bullying is a real concern, so much bullying happens when kids are outside. So really it’s for her own safety that we restrict and monitor her outside time. Not to mention the impact on literacy – kids just turn into zombies outside, playing on the same equipment in the same way over and over again. Parents really just use playgrounds as babysitters anyway. Plus kids get tired and irritable after being outside. When she’s older we’ll probably let her go outside a bit more but not without careful monitoring of everything she does.


If it sounds absurd, it’s because it is. And yet substitute the word ‘outside’ with the word ‘screen’ and everyone thinks it’s not only reasonable, but laudable. I suppose the policies of schools I taught in should have been a tip-off, but I didn’t realise before I had a child how pervasive the screen time demonisation narrative was, and how left-field, how utterly divergent, it was to not only allow screen time but afford absolute autonomy with it. I’ve written about it before, a couple of years ago, and not much has changed. Hannah is nearly four now and still has her own unrestricted iPad to which she has unrestricted access (although she does have a few “kid” apps on there now, as it turns out there are some excellent ones like Toca Lab). And in that time I have come across almost nobody, in parenting circles at least, who approaches technology the way that I do. I am a cowboy amongst parents.

Obviously my thinking in this regard is framed largely from an educational perspective (and partially from a ‘idk maybe treat kids as autonomous capable humans’ perspective), but this morning I came across an argument I hadn’t considered – a feminist perspective.

http://www.vox.com/2016/5/11/11607544/screen-time-kids-parents-feminism

It’s an imperfect article, in that it still operates on the underlying assumption that technology/screen time is probably a little bit bad, but it at least presents arguments outside of the narrative perpetuated everywhere else. Importantly, it also makes the point that there are key arguments missing from the current discussion, including that kids who have their online access severely restricted run into more trouble online. I mean, learning by doing is a basic educational principle but it’s still useful to see it articulated to a specific audience in this way.

I really think there’s room for some big and challenging conversations to start happening around technology in parenting spaces. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem at this point like many people are willing to have them.

The boy who lived and other stories

I’ve been ruminating lately on the progression of a career, particularly in the management of identity and purpose over time. Social media has the habit of affording certain identities to people that aren’t as fluid as one might like. Sometimes when you do a thing, you become known as the person who did a thing, and then you become the person who did a thing. The Boy Who Lived etc etc. The problem is, I did a thing or two, but I’m not really that person any more.

I’ve only tweeted twice in two months. Blogged even less. I hesitate now before I hit post and more often than not, I don’t, in the end. If anyone asked you what I’d done lately, or even what my job title was now, you probably wouldn’t be able to answer. I seem to have hung up the cowboy hat; I don’t think I can trade any more on the strength of being an innovator or provocateur.

You could say it was because I’d had a child. You could say it was because I’d been dragged through a misconduct case for my use of social media. You could say it was because I’d been forced to change jobs. You could say it was because I’ve got older and (more?) cynical and jaded. But at the end of the day I don’t think it’s particularly any one of those things, or perhaps it’s all of them.

I was going to say something sage here about how one can sustain a fluid identity over time via ‘identity curation’ but The Shovel, in all its scathing glory, has ruined the term for me forever. But since ‘identity choosing’ is fairly awkward I’ll just go with the fact that sometimes it’s time to put the old in a box somewhere and start something new. I don’t want to be that guy who rides on the coattails of old news. I haven’t yet found my niche to carve out in my new gig, but it’s about time I started.

Innovation *quack*

Sarah and Duck

I came across this today, in an oddly fortuitous set of circumstances – Sarah & Duck is one of Hannah’s (ok fine, and mine) favourite shows and I was looking up pictures for her. One happened to come from this article:

http://www.awesomedepartment.com/blog/innovation-with-sarah-and-duck/

Say what you like about children’s TV allegories, the guy makes some excellent points. And given higher education is often rather like an empty packet of sweets and a ball that won’t bounce, fairly relevant.

If you don’t have kids and/or a penchant for cartoons and have never seen it, hit up iView for some Friday afternoon viewing.

http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/sarah-and-duck/

It’s just a jump to the left

So. Workplace change. Super fun happy time. I shouldn’t complain too much, because I’m in the fortunate position of having a continuing appointment so I will more than likely come out the other end still having a job. And yet. The new org chart removes all but one academic positions, so it’s essentially guaranteed that I will lose my academic position and be reassigned as professional staff.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ve been an academic for five and a half years now. I never planned to be an academic, just kind of fell into it. Despite this, I seemed to be rather suited to it. I made a fairly decent name for myself as an unconventional scholar. And without really meaning to it’s become fairly tied to me as an identity. When people ask what I do I say I’m an academic. It’s no secret that I’ve been ragingly cynical about many aspects of academia and have criticised the sector heavily along the way, but despite that it was still my niche. A far better fit for me than the classroom ever was. And I’m not sure how I feel about leaving that behind not by choice.

Ostensibly, it’s not a huge shift to step into learning design on a professional classification. I’ll get paid more, for one (I still think someone should do a ‘Things that pay more than Academic A” tumblr). The work will probably be similar, given how far my role has morphed away from academic development in the last year or so. I’ll have the same colleagues. I’ll lose the dead end career path associated with academics in central non-teaching roles. And yet. And yet.

I got an email from Academia Obscura the other day, noting that I was on some list or another as a ‘favourite academic tweeter’. This site still gets hits daily from being listed on The Thesis Whisperer as “more like us”. I have half a PhD done (albeit once again on suspension through not winning at work/life balance). The academia category on my blog is fairly extensive. It’s a lot of stuff to turn around and mark as no longer relevant. I think more than anything the thought of no longer having an institution to poke from the inside bothers me. Cowboy learning designer seems like a different genre. Not that I’ve done all that much poking of late but the principle is still there.

So, I don’t know. While no new positions have been allocated yet it’s certain I won’t have an academic one so I suppose this counts as my obligatory ‘leaving academia’ post, without the catharsis that would have come with doing it of my own accord and saying ‘sayonara suckers’. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of things I won’t miss. But, being the rogue academic isn’t one of them. I’ll miss that title. Onwards, though, I suppose, and I will see you all in another dimension, with voyeuristic intention (do I get bonus points for both beginning and ending with a painful musical reference?).

 

Re: elephants

In my post yesterday I referred to a myriad of elephants in the room regarding the teaching of academic integrity, which I thought I’d unpack here a bit. Many of them are symptoms of sector-wide problems and tie in with other significant issues like casualisation. I’m certainly not saying anything new but I still think it’s worth discussing.

1. Expectation vs reality

When teaching academic integrity people expect you to refer to the policy and the consequences of transgressions. If you do plagiarism, disciplinary action will happen. It sounds good in theory, but realities are very different. Let’s talk about the casual lecturer who isn’t paid for administrivia and red tape. Let’s talk about the lecturer who’s so time poor it’s more trouble than it’s worth to follow up investigations. Let’s talk about the lecturer who is pressured to pass full-fee paying students and turn a blind eye to plagiarism. Let’s talk about all the systematic issues that mean the likelihood of consequences eventuating for plagiarism and cheating is not nearly so high as everyone would like to believe.

2. Assessment

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Essays are the #1 easiest type of assessment to plagiarise and cheat on. Ghostwriters are everywhere and ridiculously easy to engage. Quizzes and exams are similarly easy to cheat (if you’re not convinced, search youtube for ‘how to cheat on an exam or quiz’). Until we have a system that supports the use of more authentic assessment types, this is still going to be an issue. And using more sophisticated and restrictive technologies to try and catch them or lock them down is not the solution, students who have access to a massive online hive mind will always be one step ahead.

3. Do as I say, not as I do

All academics adhere to the principles of academic integrity without question, right? Sure, we might know how to cite. But how many of us are attributing images we use in our online courses, or seeking permission for those bound by copyright? If it’s on Google it’s free to use, right? There are some significant holes in our understanding of things, particularly regarding the use of digital media.

4. Biting the hand that feeds you

It’s a hard reality that many universities are extremely reliant on full-fee-paying international students. And any significant disciplinary action runs the risk of jeopardising that. In some instances the customer really is always right.

5. Representation vs stereotyping

A particularly fraught issue when using actors is – do you cast characters that international students can identify with, or do you shy away from that lest you be seen as typecasting?

6. Siloing

Finally, the complex issue of life management. It’s easy to think academic integrity exists in a silo, just learn this and don’t do the naughty things and it will all be fine. But the reality is that many students are managing complex issues, some of which take priority over studies and over behaving with integrity. For some the shame of failing pulls far stronger than any potential risk of being caught.

 

So there you have it. None of these elephants can be addressed, all of them will impact the ability for any kind of strategy around academic integrity to have the level of impact we’d like. But until we see significant changes in the system, all we can do is fix the things we can. Godspeed, Brenda and Damo, godspeed.

On screen

My toddler has her own iPad.

Quelle horreur.

I don’t normally write about parenting on here (although I have certainly been tempted; lack of critical thinking is just as pervasive in parenting as it is in education) but this one is somewhat relevant. You can be in the edtech community or be a parent or really anyone at all and constantly see ridiculous articles like this one doing the rounds. Technology for children, especially young children, is bad, screen time is bad, even when technology is good it’s bad if it’s used below a certain age. And parents who allow their children to use technology just use it as a babysitter to compensate for their poor parenting skills. Right?

That sound you hear is absolutely no one ever being surprised that I beg to differ.

Hannah is 20 months old and has had her own iPad for maybe 6 months now. It’s an old iPad 2 of ours, but it is hers alone and nobody else uses it. This was a very conscious decision. But forget the ‘kid using fisher price app on mum’s iPhone in public to shut them up’ trope, that’s not how we roll. Two fairly contentious points:

1. We do not restrict her access to it. She chooses how and when and how often to use it. Some days it’s a lot. We don’t limit it. It’s not a reward for anything else, it’s not a bribe, it’s not something to be taken away as punishment. It is hers to use as she sees fit, and to self-regulate her own use of it. And yes, before you ask, a 20-month-old is fully capable of making such decisions, even if they don’t look like we think they should.

2. There are no “kid” apps on her iPad. Ok I lied, there is one Hairy Maclary ebook thing, and iView has the child filter set*. But other than that, she uses ‘big people apps’. When she draws, it’s not in an insipid colouring in app, it’s in Paper by 53. When she wants to make noise it’s in Bloom or Pianist Pro or Garageband, not Giggle Gang. She “plays” Angry Birds. There is no reason to ‘dumb down’ the intellectual scope of what children engage with (obviously within appropriate parameters).

So what does this mean? Articles such as the one I linked above would have you believe that I have a violent, developmentally delayed obese child. Instead I have an intelligent, creative, empathetic and gentle normal weight child with fairly complex problem solving skills and an astonishing vocabulary. I realise that a sample size of one is statistically invalid, but so few people (if any) actually approach technology use this way there are not many opportunities to extrapolate more widely. I watch my toddler teaching herself how to navigate and use features, solving problems,  making active choices on what show and for how long she wants to watch, making some pretty awesome art and music, and I question strongly a culture that demonises this yet endorses the passive consumption of children’s television (most of which is either ridiculously patronising or clearly the result of an acid trip – seriously, In the Night Garden, wtf even is that??).

I don’t do it to be contentious, or because I like technology, or to “prepare her for [school/real world/zombie apocalypse]”. I do it because I’m not content to raise a passive consumer. I do it because critical thinking, exploration, problem-solving and self-directed learning are conspicuously absent from most of society. I do it because it’s only fair to let her engage in behaviours I model. And I do it because she loves it**. To forgo all of this on the basis of impassioned misinformation is incomprehensible to me, but until mainstream thinking changes it will be a long haul in the cowboy corner.

*Everyone thinks this is so she doesn’t see inappropriate content. It’s actually so she doesn’t get prematurely disillusioned at the state of the world by watching too much Q&A.

**Ok fine, maybe I like watching Charlie and Lola, a little bit.