Developing Digital Skills


To equip learners to use abundant content we need to help them to develop their own range of information literacy and digital scholarship skills. More than developing critical analysis skills (although this is the first step) learners need to find ways of creating their own libraries of easily accessible content. Much like an OER repository, they need to learn how to create a social bookmarking library in a tool such as Diigo or Zotero so that it is easy to return to the content they have harvested. Personally, my Diigo account is my most used web tool during study, I store readings here, highlight text, share with my colleagues, engage in some discussions around certain papers and finally, I can always go back to documents and articles I stored years ago. I also use Feedly as an RSS aggregator to bring together my favourite feeds from the internet in one place so that I can filter the information I want to look at rather than starting with a fresh search each time.

In order to support students in developing these skills we were asked to create a short course to help students studying at level 6 (final year undergraduate) attain some of the digital literacy skills required to meet the Open University Information Literacy Agenda. We were asked to create a course that uses only OER’s available through the internet as the main resource. Secondly we were asked to apply the principles from  Siemens (2005), Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age These include

Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinion

Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources

Learning may reside in non-human appliance

Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known

Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning

Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill

Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities

Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision. 

Here is the course outline.







A few years ago I was asked to create an image to represent my Personal Learning Network, now repeating the task 2 years later not much has changed in relation to Web 2.0 but APPS are the big difference!

An investigation of cMOOCs and xMOOCs

Over the past few days I have been taking a look at the MOOC DS106  So what is DS106? Well, it is a set of tutorials with assignments to help people create digital stories. This is a topic that interests me as I think it is a great way to introduce innovative assessment and althoughImage I have collected together some resources in the past about Digital Storytelling, I hadn’t come across this before. My first question is therefore, if it is a MOOC how many people have engaged with it, or more to the point, why hadn’t I heard about it before? If it isn’t ‘massive’ then is it just a collection of web-based self-study resources?

Well, I don’t know how many people have used it, so let’s assume it is a MOOC – what subdivision is it? This is a cMOOC; as I described in my previous post –  this is defined as a collaborative learning environment focused around a specific topic, often created by maverick academics. The learning space is put together using standard Web 2.0 tools such as personal blogs, with embedded videos and hyperlinks and social spaces where individuals can talk about the topics presented. The pedagogy is certainly social constructivist as ‘learners’ are encouraged to discuss and share their creations via the website; linking to their own blog posts. We can’t therefore just call it ‘just a collection of web-based self-study resources’ as the communication that surrounds the resources mean that the experience certainly isn’t a lonely one. In general, when first entering the site it seems a bit chaotic –  no start and end date, no strict navigable structure, no discernable tutor – although that becomes clearer later.  That said, it appears to be quite an active site where people have happily shared their creations, and although badges have been mentioned, these don’t seem to influence the impetus for engaging with the site. 

Next stop, how does DS106 compare to an xMOOC? I compared it with a course from FutureLearn

‘Fairness and nature: when worlds collide’. First of all, this course is held in the Futurelearn repository, making it easy to find. Secondly, this course has a clear start and end date.Image

The course itself is produced by the University of Leeds, a corporate production with a corporate feel. Before entering the course there is an introduction and video, clearly informing the audience of how the course is underpinned by the academic’s research in the subject.

On entering the course there is a guidance page with a link to a guidance video and explanation of what course materials and activities are available and how to engage with the course, as well as a FAQ page.

The units themselves have a simple activity design structure, heavily video orientated, minimal text, interspersed with activities – quizzes, peer assignments, reflection etc. This structure is clearly one of xMOOC -aligned to traditional education with content, discussions and forms of assessment. Interestingly at the end of the course it asks questions about how the author could make improvements. Although this is useful for the MOOC, it could be argued that it is more beneficial for the main pay-for course, as the author has had the opportunity to  ‘prototype’ some content and receive feedback which could enhance the programme.

Science Wonder Stories   cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by giulia.forsythe

Sci-Fi. MOOCs. Visual Artifact. Done with homework.

Based on the following images:

Science Wonder stories cover

downloaded from x-ray delta one on Flickr

A Mirror for Observers, (Nov 1958, Edgar Pangborn) Cover art by Richard Powers

CC: Attribution – Noncommercial – Share alike

Reflections on MOOCs

MOOCs are innovative trends that impact both the educational and business environments. However, MOOCs are not new and they are composed of multiple smaller scale innovations that contribute to the whole – – See Big and Little OERs. Over the past 2 years  2 main types of MOOCs have emerged cMOOC – collaborative learning environments focused around specific topics and groups, often created by maverick academics. xMOOCs are more aligned to traditional education with content, discussions and forms of assessment, but on a more scalabe model. These are the MOOCs that institutions are most interested in and they see a possible marketing opportunity.


xMOOC creation is available now from Blackboard in the form of ‘Course Sites’; Blackboard allows customers to develop 5 MOOCs as part of their contract and as a Blackboard customer this is therefore the most cost effective solution for developing our first MOOCs. Course sites contain all the features, learning analytics and communication tools of the closed VLE, including mobile and live classroom. Course Sites also provide a range of templates and is working with the Mozilla Open Badge framework to provide capabilities for badge provision and storage.

These courses would act as ‘shop windows’ for the quality of our online university courses and provide opportunities for partner engagement.

However, with limited spaces available, usage should not be at the discretion of individual academics as this risks poor research and learning design and ultimately poor implementation and dissemination of results. Instead it is recommended that an institutional project team is initiated to monitor MOOC development, composed of executive decision makes, IT implementation managers, learning designers, researchers, subject specialists and potential learners.

Big and Little OERs

Although I have known about OERs for some years, I have only recently encountered the term ‘Big OER’ and ‘Little OER’ the terms sounded intriguing, what could they mean? and When does a little OER become a big one?

A good starting point is to listen to the audio slidecast by Martin Weller (2011). In it he focuses mainly on little OERs; items such as PowerPoints, podcasts, mini videos that we have all produced at some point for our student audiences and then stuck back in the drawer (usually on a memory stick or lost on the desktop graveyard) never to be seen again. Image: What can we do that we didn't do before?


Martin’s message is to liberate your old content and share it to one of the many digital sharing sites available today. The digital benefits could be:


Digital outputs


There are drawbacks however, sometime the sharing sites disappear or become ‘pay to view’ and much of the content becomes outdated and it is of variable quality.

You also need to check with your organisation what you are able to share, often the IP of content created for work purposes is that of the organisation, but if you decide to share things under your own name you will probably need to include a disclaimer – something like this:

Please note that this is the personal space of XXX and only contains my personal views, thoughts and opinions. It is not endorsed by XXX nor does it constitute any official communication of XXX


As for Big OERs, they look more like media productions and need some form of financial backing. Although they may use small quantities of little OERs on the periphery of the learning, the main form of delivery is slick multimedia. Who benefits is yet unclear, as I have previously posted the main audiences seem to be those of the US and UK and the learners tend to be highly educated autonomous leaners who want to learn something for ‘fun’. The content is not easy to repurpose, although you will probably be able to make use of the peripheral little OERs and open access readings.

Weller (2011), Academic output as collateral damage (slidecast).


How good are OERs and can they save you time?

We were recently asked to take a look at the use of OERs as part of a course design and see whether the use of OER caused me to change what I wanted to teach, and what time saving (if any) would be gained; here is what happened.

First of all I scoped out a short 5 week scheme of work to deliver a range of information literacy skills that would be suitable for an undergraduate class (level 6). I used the Open University’s Information Literacy framework to determine what needed to be delivered, I thought this would give the scheme of work a clear focus and perhaps improve my chances of finding suitable learning materials. After reading about the purpose of OERs (or Learning Objects as they were first defined) I came to understand that according to Downes’s paper Learning Objects: Resources for distance education worldwide (2001)  the ideology was to reduce educators lesson planning time and the multiple creation of key undisputed facts. The story goes like this:

the world does not need thousands of similar descriptions   of sine wave functions available online. Rather, what the world needs is one,   or maybe a dozen at most, descriptions of sine wave functions available online…Even if only one such piece of educational content were created, it could be accessed by each of the thousands of educational institutions teaching the same material.

Downes (2001)

Heartened by the thought that this ideology has been circulated for the past 13 years and that a number of repositories exist to house such Learning Objects, combined with the fact that I had used a well-publicised Information Literacy framework I felt sure to find a range of OERs to cover the key undisputed facts.

 Next, we were asked to use a range of repositories to search for suitable OERs and rate what we discovered there; these were:

I wanted to ensure that if there were suitable resource, I would use the best one; so I searched for OERs for EACH lesson in ALL the repositories.

Here are some of the general observations I noted:

  • Often locked down or leads to a pay to view or register piece of content.
  • Resources that have been rated as good can still be poor quality, lacked metadata and had not been accessed for accessibility.
  • Many are old and no longer accessible (Flash player) or look dated.
  • Many belong to organisations and are only suitable for that organisation; these don’t have the opportunity to repurpose the resource.
  • Very Americanised.
  • Some broken links.
  • Advertise their own organisations and courses which isn’t very professional when you are promoting your own organisation.
  • Some free evaluation videos but then there is a cost to use them.

Despite these disappointing findings, I did manage to find some excellent resources; most notably  were:

Lesson 1: Searching Internet Resources

Ariadne/Jorum (excellent resource)

Lesson  2: Making use of search engines effectively

Open learn – This resource has been reproduced for multiple subject areas and basically covers all the literacy skills. However, I am not sure I would use it due to the amount of advertising wrapped around it.

Lesson 3:Using Open Access Journals

Rice Connexions Heavy textual but relevant resource, it could be reused and reduced if necessary.

Lesson 4: Social Bookmarking and Referencing tools

Ariadne – Great Common Craft videos but for ‘Evaluation use only’.

Lesson 5: Using RSS feeds effectively – Keeping up to date

Rice Connexions    Netvibes introduction – could be useful but would need to be heavily edited and feels like a sales pitch, the materials seem to come from the website but don’t seem to carry any referencing, so there would be a concern about copyright.

In comparison I did a quick Google search and YouTube search and found all  these resources on the first page of search results and a lot more!

In conclusion, did the OERs cause me to change what I wanted to teach? No, I managed to find something for each lesson. However, there was more choice using a basic Google and Youtube than the repositories. The repositories limited the choice – which would be fine if I could guarantee that the content stored there was good quality, easily searchable (metadata), accessible (HTML5 not Flash) and current; but it wasn’t. I found that I had to apply the same level of analysis (appropriateness, validity, accessibility, quality look and feel) to items in the repositories as I did in the open searches.

What time saving (if any) did I gain? In comparison to creating all the resources from scratch, I could say that searching for Learning Objects takes a lot less time, additionally,  I don’t have all the skills and resources at hand to create such a variety of Learning Objects, that would require range of media creation teams; with time and cost implications. However, if I had used a Google and YouTube search in the first place, I would have saved even more time and had more choice of current and accessible Learning Objects!

Three key issues about Open Educational Resources (OERs)

As the 3 year UKOER drew to a close  and the final evaluation of the HEFCE funded intervention in OER was published  (McGill et al, 2013), what lessons have been learnt and how do they compare with the current findings of the OER research Hub?

It was difficult to identify just 3 key issues with OERs as there are so many models and perspectives that the learning objects could be viewed from, with each model producing a different perspective on the overall impact of OERs; be this good or bad. However, the OER Research Hub is starting to produce more polarised reports focused around three main topics and it is these I shall concentrate on.


  1. Learner Performance – The OER Research Hub identifies OERs having a positive impact on learner performance and satisfaction; this being mainly composed of the views of educators and less so of their students. Whereas this does not feature within the top 3 benefits of encouraging and releasing OERs within the HEFCE review impact summary. However, there does seem to be a positive correlation between the production of OERs and  pedagogy, which in turn should favour learner performance and satisfaction.
  2. Access – Although this is a fundamental aspect of Open Educational Practice (OEP) it does not appear that OERs are having a significant impact on opening access to education for the most disadvantaged world populations.  The HEFCE review impact summary states that 55% of their respondents identified this a top benefit yet the OER Research Hub maps clearly show that most of the creation and usage activity takes place in the US and Europe, with little creation or usage taking place elsewhere.

Even with all the funding and the significant institution-wide engagement, awareness around OER and OEP outside projects is still fairly limited.

(McGill et al, 2013)

One of the hypotheses poses was – would MOOC activity be any different? So far, this doesn’t seem to be the case, the world MOOC map shows that  apart from some minor activity around China and Australia, it seems again that the predominant creators and users are the US and Europe.

ImageImage3. Finance – With the introduction of open books and open journals (Open Access) it was envisaged that institutions and students would see considerable financial savings. The HEFCE review impact summary states that 41% of their survey respondents believed that OERs would increase sharing between educators in the same discipline and the OER Research Hub reports a high number of positive reports on financial benefits. However, much of the evidence of financial savings is anecdotal. It is true to say that students have used open books and journals without detriment to their studies but institutions cannot say for certain that open access  has reduced costs.

In summary, the findings so far are disappointing, with no clear evidence (after several years of projects) of a positive impact on teaching and learning. It could be said that those stakeholders involved directly with projects have found a renewed interest in pedagogical approaches, however, the real benefits should be measured on the impact on teaching and learning.   Taking the HEFCE e-Learning Strategy document (HEFCE, 2009) indicators as benchmarks for measuring the impact of innovations on teaching and learning, it is still questionable how much of an impact OERs have had on these benchmarks:


McGill, L., Falconer, I., Dempster, J.A., Littlejohn, A. and Beetham, H. (2013) Journeys to Open Educational Practice: UKOER/SCORE Review Final Report, London, JISC. Also available online at (accessed 24 March 2014).