• The Great OU Dropbox Space Race. Join In!

    Shuttle blasting off into space from a Dropbox launchpad
    Credit: Image copyrighted/owned by Dropbox

    Most people have probably heard of the handy cross-platform Dropbox shared folder service. It allows you to designate a folder on your Mac or PC and access the contents of that folder from other devices using the web or dedicated client software. Clients exist for iPhones/iPads, Android devices, and many major operating systems. Many applications have Dropbox support baked right in, too. All in all, it’s quite handy and simple to use. I know many students and academics already use it frequently.

    The reason I mention it now is because Dropbox, a freemium service, is currently running a promotion by which existing or new users can associate their academic e-mail address with their Dropbox account and they’ll get 3 GB of extra space to use for 2 years, plus additional space based on how many users from their university participate. Full details are available in the Dropbox blog entry.

    The space race is open to staff and students, so everyone can participate if they have any kind of Open University e-mail address. The OU has tens of thousands of students, 7000+ associate lecturers, plus faculty and support staff. We have the possibility of really kicking butt on this but at the moment we’re in 11th place with only 744 participants to Oxford’s 2788. Surely we can do better than that!

    1. Go to  https://www.dropbox.com/spacerace .
    2. Either  create an account  or  sign in with your existing account . Note: You don’t have to use your OU address to create an account if you don’t want to; you’ll be asked for it later.
    3. You’ll be asked next to verify your school e-mail address to join the Space Race.  Type in your OU e-mail addresss . That address should either be something@open.ac.uk or the new style OU Google Mail address. This will send an e-mail to your account, so make sure you can actually access your e-mail account!
    4. Find the verification mail and  click on the verification link  in it.
    5. See the confirmation!

    Dropbox spacerace status graphic showing we have 8 GB

    Disclosure: The link in step 1 is an affiliate tracking link for Eingang on Dropbox. By using it, you get her an additional 500 MB of space (which she can always use!). If you’re not comfortable with that, here’s an unaffiliated plain link.

    Let other people know by pointing them at this blog post or at the Dropbox space race page. Let’s see how much space we can get for ourselves!

  • The Ecstasy and Agony of Primitive Learning Analytics

    I’m awake and trying to be productive (for me) early in the day. I’m technically on a medical leave of absence but I’m not very good at doing nothing. I therefore promised to coordinate and edit the efforts of four moderators to produce a cohesive TT284 moderators’ report and I have some work ahead contributing my share to one for T320 too. This led to some musing about the primitive learning analytics I like to collect based on forum participation and the difficulties in obtaining them.

    Forum Statistics for OU Courses

    One thing I like to do is track forum usage statistics, a primitive form of learning analytics. Since we changed to Moodle from FirstClass, I don’t find this very easy. In FirstClass, not only could you do standard types of search on message data, but the read history of each message was also searchable. Combine that with a built-in way to restrict the search to specific conferences, sort the output by conference, user, or date, and group by conference or user, and you could determine all kinds of things. Some of my favourites were:

    • Total # of messages posted.
    • Total # of unique posters.
    • Total # of unique readers contrasted with enrolled students.
    • Percentage of posts that were moderators/course news versus students.
    • Top ten student posters and % of overall posts they contributed.
    • A breakdown of posting activity by logical parts and subparts, e.g. “Block 1″ overall but also “Block 1: Software Support” and “Block 1: Discussion”.

    The last one was useful to examine between different presentations when combined with knowledge of total number of students enrolled. It permitted me to see where students had the most problems and collect evidence if, when changes had been made for the following presentation, changes were having a positive effect. You could also see the trends in posting behaviour across cohorts.

    Getting at the Data

    In theory, some of this information is available in the Moodle logs. I just downloaded the log for one of my past courses I chaired and was surprised to note I could see “add reply” buried amongst the many “view forumng” entries. It’s downloadable as a CSV, so you’d have to roll your own data analysis tools to pull out the relevant bits. There are built-in statistics analysis facilities but they always seemed to be disabled on my courses, making download logs the only real option.

    The problem is access to those logs isn’t always available. As a course chair on Moodle 1.x, if the course was “editable”, then the admin tools were visible and the logs could be accessed. My last presentation (2012B, ending May 2012) somehow got into LTS’s update loop and the status/workflow changed back to needing to request access, so the admin links aren’t visible. I was able to hack the URL based on access to another course and get at it but that’s a bit of a pain.

    On my Moodle 2.x version course, I can see “Reports” but not a link to logs anywhere. I could edit the course site and back up the content, but perhaps I don’t have the permissions to access the logs. Certainly a typical moderator likely wouldn’t.

    What I Do in Moodle

    My approach generally in Moodle, regardless of the version, has therefore been very simplistic. I discovered that if I used Safari (but not Firefox) and copied the table listing the threads in a given forum and then pasted that into a spreadsheet, the HTML table’s columns were preserved. I could then have it sum the total number of messages per forum as one of the columns was number of thread posts. This isn’t very automated. I have to do it per forum and copy the totals into an appropriate place and most forums have multiple pages, each of which has to be handled separately.

    To Automate Or Not

    This is ripe for automation because certain actions are predictable, repeatable, and tedious. It’s the classic story though: do I spend the time trying to write something to automate it or just do it? Which will take less time? In the long run, if you do this yearly and across many courses, then automating it will save you time but there’s that up-front cost.

    A tool would also need to have a settings file, probably listing the module’s base URL and containing a list of the forum ID numbers/URLs and names. These are required because every presentation has a different ID and every forum has its own unique ID used to access it. Most modules don’t maintain a page that solely lists only the forums and the number/structure of those forums would vary between different modules. I suggested including names—or at least names I’d like to use to refer to them in reports—because otherwise you have to scrape that off the forum pages too and I’d find shorter ones more useful than the full, formal names.

    Another issue to contend with is authentication. I don’t already have code that can sign into the OU and maintain authentication for the session, although I know some people must. Before we had the “Dashboard”, one T320 AL wrote a tool to scrape metadata from the VLE and stored it in a local MySQL database. He then had an interface producing a dashboard for him that was something more than just a list of forums per course with an unread message indicator. I’ve recently heard, however, he gave up on his tool because VLE changes kept breaking it.


    Here I am writing about what I should be doing rather than doing it, but the process of thinking about it is always useful. Perhaps someone’s already done some of or all of this? My bet would be on Tony Hirst, but LTS colleagues may have some tools and I just don’t know about them.

  • The OU as the Grandmother of P2P Learning Communities?

    Photo of people interacting together
    Credit: Photo by Thomas Hawk under an Attribution NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license
    Image: People interacting together.

    The other day Howard Rheingold asked me a question that made me stop and think:

    @eingang Would you say Open University UK is the grandmother of today’s emerging p2p learning communities?
    April 11, 2011 @17:20, Howard Rheingold.

    The Open University (OU) started off in distance education, providing accredited university level courses in the United Kingdom starting in 19711. I didn’t join the OU until 2000 when they launched their first online course: T171, You, Your Computer, and The Net. Unlike earlier OU courses, this course required substantial online interaction between students and tutors. Even the assignments were submitted electronically. The whole course, however, was not completely online. It was more of a blended learning approach, as it featured high production quality printed booklets of the study materials, commercial books, and some face-to-face tutorials across the 9-month course, in addition to the forums and course website.

    One thing it did attempt to do, and that is evident still in the design of many of today’s OU courses, is encourage students to form a peer learning community. At the time, it did this through FirstClass forums, not just by providing the previously isolated distance education students with forums they could use for communication, but by setting assignments that required students to engage in dialogue with one another. This is a beautiful example of Brown & Adler’s social view of learning (2008), where understanding is socially constructed by members of the group interacting with one another, to share and build upon their existing knowledge. Vygotsky and Dewey would have approved, as this fits in with a constructivist approach to learning, something that is also often very evident in OU courses.

    Is a peer learning community the same as a peer-to-peer learning community? I am not so sure about that. However, an example of such a community that occurs to me is Livemocha, a language learning website. Livemocha capitalizes on social knowing by bringing together potential teachers (native speakers) with interested learners to facilitate learning practical, conversational language skills (Livemocha 2011). This also leverages social capital, an important component in maintaining social networks. I would say Livemocha is both a peer-to-peer learning community and a peer learning community, because it specifically seeks to make relationships between people as well as providing an overall, larger community sphere where legitimate peripheral participation (c.f. Lave & Wenger 1991) can occur.

    Is the OU a peer-to-peer learning community? I think their “traditional” courses—whether online or offline—probably are not. While we are attempting to form communities, we’re not trying specifically to make them peer-to-peer, although that can occur as a result of people being brought together in a community around a course or a tutor group. To be honest, even after doing this bit of thinking, I’m not sure, so I thought I’d ask for input from other members of the OU community. What do you think? Is the OU the grandmother of peer-to-peer learning communities?

    1: Although the OU was established in 1969, the first students weren’t enrolled until 1971 (The Open University n.d.).


    Brown, J.S. & Adler, R.P. (2008). ‘Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0’ EDUCAUSE Review, 43 (1), [Online] Available from: http://connect.educause.edu/Library/EDUCAUSE+Review/MindsonFireOpenEducationt/45823 (Accessed April 18, 2011).

    Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. New York, NY, United States, Cambridge University Press.

    Livemocha (2011). Livemocha Language Learning Method, [online]. Available from: http://www.livemocha.com/language-learning-method (Accessed April 18, 2011).

    The Open University (n.d.). History of the OU, [online]. Available from: http://www8.open.ac.uk/about/main/the-ou-explained/history-the-ou (Accessed April 18, 2011).

  • Wanted: TT381 Café Moderator. Pay Peanuts. Prestige Priceless.

    Open Source Initiative's Open Source 'O' logo with the chunk taken out of it to make it open
    Credit: Open Source Initiative

    Image: The Open Source Initiative’s Open Source logo.

    One of my jobs at The Open University is chairing TT381, the course on Open Source philosophies and PHP development.  T381 is the fifth of the Web Apps Development (WAD) courses.  I’ve been involved with the presentation and development of the course since its launch.

    Although TT381 doesn’t start again until February, I’m forced to remember that the brilliant Keith Evetts has resigned as the Student Café moderator.  I need to make some recommendations for a replacement.  I’m therefore soliciting expressions of interest from former students for the paid position of Café moderator.  In theory, the Café moderator is responsible for overseeing the social forum, which means making the atmosphere fun and inviting.  He or she should also work together with the course team to deal with any issues that are raised in the Café.   Keith Evetts, of course, went far beyond this.  He also actively participated in all of the course forums and ran a series of optional coding exercises where you can never have too many parrots.  He’s set the bar high!

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Games, Research, and The OU. Notes on a Meeting

    These are some notes I made while at a meeting of Open University people interested in gaming, research, and learning on October 21, 2010.  It was organized by Jo Iacovides (The Institute for Educational Technology) and Marian Petre (Computing).  I received an invitation to attend early last month.

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  • Open University Meet for Games Researchers

    Screenshot of a recent typical One guild meeting
    Credit: Michelle A. Hoyle Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 License

    Image: A recent guild meeting where Irana (left) was initiated into The One. As always, there was dancing, but things got a little “hot.”

    Colleagues from the Institute of Educational Technology (IET) and Maths, Computing and Technology at The Open University (OU) are inviting other OU staff interested in gaming research to a meeting next week in Milton Keynes. Here’s part of the blurb from the DigiLab post describing the event:

    On Thursday, 21st October, Jo Iacovides (IET) and Marian Petre (Computing) are hosting an informal discussion on gaming research, with the aim of getting people from the OU who are interested in the area to meet up. Whether it’s using games for learning, considering game design, using gaming as a medium for understanding strategy or interaction, or anything else game-related, it would be great to hear from you.

    As I’m interested in motivation, learning, and communities of practice formation within World of Warcraft, this is right up my alley. I know Jo Iacovides, one of the organizers, is also interested in some similar topics, as we’ve corresponded previously, but I’m eager to make some other connections.  I doubt it will get as “heated” as some of my guild meetings, but it should be interesting.

    PS: If anyone knows of cheap ways to get from Milton Keynes Central to The Open University, please let me know! I currently use the Raffles taxi service and it’s about £5.00 each way; the taxi fare is almost as much as my rail fare from London. Thanks.

  • Learning in World of Warcraft: The WoW Learning Project

    Interesting facts:

    1. 60% of MMORPGs players are in the 20-35 year-old demographic (Nick Yee in Escoriaza 2009).
    2. In World of Warcraft specifically, 47% of players in 2005 were 26 years or older. (Yee 2008).
    3. About 75% of new students to The Open University are 26 years or older (Jha 2010, p. 20).

    When you consider that World of Warcraft had more than 11.5 million active subscribers by the end of 2008 (Blandeburgo 2009), that’s more than 5.4 million people in an age group very interesting for my work in higher education via distance education. In particular, remember that these 5.4 million people are often very compelled (sometimes even addicted) to play. What is it that motivates these people and what real-life tangible learning benefits are derived?

    Those are questions that I intend to answer in the WoW Learning project, a study of learning in World of Warcraft. Quietly built earlier this month and located at the memorable WoWLearning.org, it will be a repository for data, posts, and papers about my Ph.D. research into the learning, motivation, and communities of practice formation demonstrated by World of Warcraft players, both in the game and on forums.

    As the project will include ethnographic work in World of Warcraft as well as surveys, in the interests of transparency and to help foster credibility, postings are made using my World of Warcraft character name “Elsheindra (Michelle)” instead of my full real name or commonly used Internet nickname of “Eingang.”


  • OU in the Cloud: The Q&D Results


    I know people are very curious about the results of my recent E-Mail in the Cloud: An Open University Survey. Time is a bit short for me, so I decided to write up this quick and dirty post outlining the key result. An analysis of the comments people left about why they made the choice they did will be covered in a later posting, as those comments proved to be extremely interesting.

    In a more formal report, the order of detail presented would be different. I’ve started with the results first, as that’s likely to be of interest to most people, and then discussed the methodology, survey deployment, and motivation.

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