Ian Cognito: an infamous academic

July 13, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Posted in MOOC, waffle | Leave a comment

A piece of work I did a few months ago has finally made it to the small screen, as FutureLearn’s English as a Medium of Instruction for Academics enters its second week.  I was asked to record a truly awful lecture to illustrate a whole gamut of behaviours that tutors should avoid. I’m involved in local amateur dramatics, and this sounded like a fun bit of theatre to devise. It had to be a fairly short lecture, and I chose a resource (old – so uses Flash) I had already made about copyright as the basis.

I thought about how I would bring in the various elements of bad practice, but the whole thing was recorded in one take without any rehearsal. You may note that I nearly corpse a couple of times, but manage to keep going. I was especially pleased with the cultural references to English children’s literature from the 1950s that would bamboozle any international students unfortunate enough to be in the audience.

So without any further introduction, here is Ian Cognito showing how not to do it…

I’d just like to point out that Ian Cognito is my evil twin and in no way reflects my actual teaching style. Just as Anna Nymyti is my ‘fake Polish student’ alter-ego I use for testing software systems… and I’ve just learned of a French cousin called Sue Denìmê…


making MOOCs: Archaeology of Portus

October 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Posted in MOOC | Leave a comment
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Archaeology of Portus was the FutureLearn course that I really wanted to be involved with, as I have always been interested in Roman archaeology and have visited many sites in Britain and Europe, including the extensive ruins of the ancient port of Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber near Rome. Portus was an artifical port built about 3km up the coast to provide additional port capacity at the height of Roman Imperial power.

Almost my first task on joining the project was to push forward the completion of the promotional video trailer for the course. I saw a need for a map that showed the location of Portus and its relationship to Rome, and thought that it would be fitting if it looked like a mosaic. I started by finding a suitable map of Europe on Shutterstock and cropping it to the area, 16:9 aspect ratio and 1920×1080 resolution that we wanted:

stock-photo-old-map-of-the-world-Shutterstock 140319292

Image © Aleksandra Gigowska /Shutterstock

Image © Aleksandra Gigowska /Shutterstock

I then searched for advice about how to create a mosaic effect and found exactly what I needed on DKauffman’s blog. After some experimentation I arrived at the result I wanted, including colouring the tessarae (tiles) to show the extent of the Roman empire at in 117AD, when the Emperor Trajan constructed the fabulous hexagonal basin at Portus:

Mosiac map of Roman Mediterranean showing extent of empire in AD117

Mosiac map of Roman Mediterranean showing extent of empire in AD117© University of Southampton

Close up of mosiac image of Italy

Full resolution section of the mosiac showing effect. © University of Southampton

Of course it doesn’t really look like a Roman mosaic, which would mainly consist of roughly square tessarae – but overall I was very pleased with the effect. It forms the basis of several maps used in the course’s videos, for example showing the trade routes between Roman Mediterranean ports:

Mosaic map showing trade routes between Roman Mediterranean ports

Mosaic map showing trade routes between Roman Mediterranean ports © University of Southampton

The trade routes are speculative and there was some discussion with the academic team about whether we should show such definite routes, given their expertise from the Roman Port Network project. The Wikipedia article on Roman Commerce has a really interesting map showing the movement of goods around ‘Mare Nostrum’!

making MOOCs: Exploring Our Oceans

October 14, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Posted in MOOC | Leave a comment

The first in an occasional series reflecting on some of the work I have done to assist the creation of FutureLearn courses.

Exploring Our Oceans was Southampton’s second course, and my contribution was to create some of the images and diagrams. One example I am really pleased with was for a step in week 2 ‘How much water is there on Earth?’. Learners were presented with the data they needed to calculate the answer to these three questions:

  • If the global oceans were of uniform depth, what would that depth be?
  • What is the ratio of the average depth of the oceans to the radius of the Earth?
  • If you could take all the ocean water off the planet to form a ball of water, what would be its radius?

We knew that many learners would not have the GCSE-level maths skills required, so I produced a set of four slides (PDF) that showed the answers to these questions using visual analogies that any learner could understand. For example:

  • The calculated uniform depth is 3743m, which I compared to the 3776m height of Mt. Fuji in Japan – so as deep as a mountain!
  • The ratio of depth to radius is 1/1700, which I compared to a sheet of office paper wrapped around a football.
  • The ball of water would be just over 1/10 of the radius of Earth, so about the same size as a pea compared to an orange.

For that final question, I also used PhotoShop to process a stock illustration from Shutterstock by Anton Balazh to show that ball of water hanging above North America and the oceans empty of water:

Sattelite view of North America showing a vast ball of water hanging in space.

Image © Adam Warren, based on a Shutterstock image by Anton Balazh.

Reflections on the edcmooc

February 27, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Posted in MOOC | Leave a comment

I’ve really enjoyed the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC run by the University of Edinburgh through Coursera. Its tutors have created a really engaging alternative to the usual xMOOC formula (course = recorded lectures + readings + MCQ tests + forums) by basing the first four weeks around some fantastic short films from YouTube and Vimeo. Many of these have had an SF flavour appropriate to the course themes of utopias, dystopias, and being human in a digital age – but crucially each is accompanied by a few fairly deep questions to consider while you watch the film and discuss afterwards in the forums.For example, the short film Sight has the following text:

Sight explores how the ubiquity of data and the increasingly blurry line between the digital and the material might play out in the sphere of human relationships. The focus on the emerging social and educational use of game-based ‘badging’ is particularly interesting. What is going on here, and how do you interpret the ending? How does this vision align and contrast with the ones in the first two films?

One or two carefully selected academic papers provide some depth each week, but overall the course doesn’t have much content. I’ve appreciated the space that has created for thinking and discussion – other MOOCs I have sampled have an abundance of content to transmit. If I had a criticism of the course, it is that although it was advertised as “an invitation to view online educational practices through a particular lens – that of popular and digital culture.” it (in my opinion) views future possibilities rather than current realities. However, even if it isn’t quite what it said on the tin (or maybe I just mis-read the label) I like the flavour and texture a lot!

This final week is where we submit our assignments, and the tutors have given us the widest scope possible to exercise our imaginations and creativity within some clear assessment criteria. The peer review process starts tomorrow, and my next post will cover my own submission.

Going SOLO?

February 14, 2013 at 5:53 pm | Posted in MOOC, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Learning Dreams pilot
CC image by Twenty Questions: http://www.flickr.com/photos/twenty_questions/6696734141/

How we do love our acronyms, but who can tell which will thrive and which will wither and fade?

My university is abuzz with the m-word, as in “so what is this mooc thing?”. Southampton is one of the partners who have signed up with Futurelearn Ltd, and the task of managing the development of our MOOCs is suddenly top of my agenda. We held an open meeting in early January so that academics could find out more, and in the event over 100 of them turned up. Faced with this level of interest, I started to think about how we could recognise this enthusiasm since we are only planning to develop a handful of MOOCs this year and even they will be a challenge to our capacity to deliver in a short time frame. I didn’t want to say to most of those academics “Sorry, your proposal wasn’t chosen and you’ll just have to wait – now go away!”

There are a few other issues that concern me such as our inexperience in designing MOOCs (although we are learning fast from others), the time required to develop a MOOC and the time required to actually run one. On that last point, I can see that academics will be really keen the first time it runs, but the second, third, fourth, fifth times etc? I’m sure that the novelty will wear off soon.

The solution I proposed was initially dubbed the mini-MOOC, a term that has been used for a while but that has no clear definition. What does ‘mini-Massive’ mean anyhow? Does it mean a limited number of participants or a limited duration? Clearly a new acronym was needed (you can tell I’ve been working in CBT CBL eLearning TEL too long!) and last night I woke up with it fully formed and ready to launch onto the world. As you’ve probably already guessed from the title of this post, I proudly present:

SOLO: Short Online Learning Opportunity

The idea is that academics can get to grips with the idea of a MOOC by developing one that has a short duration (one or two weeks) and that therefore only requires a limited amount of resources and activities. I hope that we will have the capacity to work with academics to develop perhaps fifty of these this year in addition to the full-size MOOCs.

They are clearly not courses and are instead more akin to a single lecture, tutorial or practical. At the same time they are more than a Learning Object in that they will include student activity and interactivity. Perhaps most importantly they will not require any tutor involvement when running and can be taken at any time – no need to wait for a start date.

Student recruitment is at the forefront of most UK universities thinking these days, so if these SOLOs seem like an attractive extension activity for A-level students looking for evidence of enthusiasm to add to their UCAS personal statements, so much the better. Perhaps students who attend one of the University’s Open Days will be invited to take part in a SOLO which has additional input from an inspirational tutor or leading researcher. The SOLOS might also be used to complement first-year courses, thus ensuring the maximum return from the investment in effort.

The part of the acronym that I am most pleased with is Opportunity, as that really seems to encapsulate all that is best about them. As the Google definition says:

  1. A set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.
  2. A chance for employment or promotion.

And also Opportune:

  1. (of a time) Well-chosen or particularly favorable or appropriate.
  2. Done or occurring at a favorable or useful time; well-timed.

I’m hoping that learners will find these short online learning opportunities are just the right length to meet their immediate need and encourage them to perhaps take part in a longer MOOC.

Starting Coursera’s Sustainability MOOC

October 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Posted in MOOC | Leave a comment

I wrote the following back in August, but it never got past the draft stage – partly because my day job became much more demanding and partly because taking part in the Sustainability MOOC has soaked up most of my free time since then… so I’ll post this now and then immediately follow it with another reflecting on my experiences now that the course has finished. Continue Reading Starting Coursera’s Sustainability MOOC…

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