• 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!

  • Coursera, Pedagogy, and the Two Faces of MOOCs

    I recently successfully finished my first massive open online course (MOOC). It was the 6-week Gamification course on the new Coursera platform, presented by Kevin Werbach of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. It wasn’t the first MOOC I’d ever started but it was different in its underlying approach than the others. This post contextualizes the Coursera MOOC platform prior to discussing whether it succeeds or not in a later post.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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.