28 September 2013

ModPo MOOC Avalanche!

So here I am again, a student on another MOOC - this time Coursera's "Modern American Poetry" (ModPo). First off, let me say that it is just brilliant. I was all for giving it a miss as I thought the timing was impossible (start of term) but I got completely hooked on the first week. I love the poetry, I love the discussions to watch, I love the whole world of meaning that is teased out of every line. Unfortunately real life term has indeed started with a vengeance meaning lots of teaching and weariness (not to mention family & kids etc.) and now by the end of Week 3 I am hanging on to my MOOC by the very slenderest thread.

Talking about this to my husband (who also did a MOOC a while back), we stalled on the question "who are MOOCs for?"

ModPo clearly states it is "fast paced" and that it requires 4-6 hours a week. Yet this week just gone there were 14 poems (by 4 authors) to study with at least one video discussion to watch of each (usually about 15-20 minutes) plus additional audio to listen to. There was also a wider discussion of Imagism and an additional painting discussion. You have 2 quizzes and this week there were 4 peer evaluations to complete on the work we did the week before as well as being required to participate in forum discussions. Who has the time to do all this to any kind of depth? Is it just people not working or full time students? Spending an hour per poem might be a reasonable average if you include learning the most basic facts about the poet and perhaps a few new technical terms per poem. The whole business of studying poetry - the joy of it - is the mulling and the re-reading. The way the course is run seems to prevent the kind of deeper enjoyment and reflection that should be the whole point. Never mind participation in the monster forums which buzz with ideas and conversation.

I don't really know who is the target audience when MOOCs get designed but I'd recommend a bit of flexibility and compassion - how about a reasonable-sized "core" each week with further reading and activities for those with the time? Also, keeping the focus of each week clear so you can immerse yourself in it fully, rather than trying to deal, in this case, with multiple new poets and ideas. Sure, I could just forget about completing ModPo and enjoy it at my own pace, but part of the beauty of the MOOC is feeling you're in step with all the others & meeting the deadlines. I also hate to be a quitter but this time I'm just going to have to get over that...

16 July 2013

MOOC Week 7 - made it!

I'm glad to say I am not one of the droppers-off - I made it to the end of my MOOC. We had an extra assignment of critiquing a work of art but I did enjoy reading some of those posted. Unfortunately this was also the first week I really became aware of how nasty people can be in the forums. There was a real bullying mentality going on in one thread and it left me feeling like I wanted to run a mile from it all. If the numbers of students are too big for effective moderation, then I guess it's just a free for all. The majority were lovely, kind, friendly, supportive people but it's the nastiness I remember now. On the plus side, there is a tuition group now formed on Facebook which I'm going to try to keep up with.

There was a long interesting forum thread where students were posting their opinions of the MOOC. General themes seemed to be that it wasn't quite what people thought (suggested that they rewrite the blurb) but enjoyable. Recurring criticism of the videos too but generally thanks to the tutors and Penn State for putting the course on. I'm hoping there will be some kind of review by the tutors where they say how they thought it went. If there is, I'll  post a link. 

My MOOC days are over now for a while. It's been hugely illuminating and I feel 100% more informed on the MOOC world. I saw first hand where the librarians would have come in useful (e.g. developing copyright advice, additional resources, providing support) but little evidence that our expertise was included in development. I'm also going to be signing up for a face to face art class in September so I shall approach that in the spirit of comparison - not least because it will cost real money as well as time & effort!

8 July 2013

MOOC Week 6

The final topic is Personal Collections displayed as artwork. I wasn't alone in struggling a bit with the topic and the artists involved. I found the readings and the videos a bit fatuous although I did enjoy discovering Joseph Cornell and that there was somebody called Ole Worm. A real down-side to the videos is their lack of images, one assumes for copyright reasons. This means that 4 minutes into a 10 minute video, I have had no example of the artist's work, just someone reading out a script to a photo of the artist. Then you get maybe three images of their work and some analysis of it but if you aren't familiar with the artist, that just doesn't make for helpful viewing. I imagine in a face-to-face art class, it would be image after image after image. Some students assume we are meant to be Googling as we go. I find myself turning to Pinterest to check out the artists.

Every week they tell us to "challenge ourselves" with the assignment. I'm still not sure I know what that means or how to do it. What would be useful is to have an artist explaining their work process and how they push themselves in this way. Still, I managed to do the assignment this week - albeit badly - and that should qualify me for the "studio track" completion, fingers crossed.

As the end approaches, there is a real sense of communities forming that may go on after the course: a G+ group and a Facebook group. Other courses have been suggested on art and poetry and I've signed up. My MOOC experience has been positive - definitely willing to give some more a go.

MOOC Week 5

This week was a clash of great topic on the MOOC and extreme lack of time. This week it was installation / environmental art including a great favourite of mine, Andy Goldsworthy. Lord knows, I've seen enough installation art - and enjoyed a fair bit of it - but what a great thing to have a better understanding of what it's all about and a deeper look at some of the key artists. 

On the down side, this was the week of continued illness, extreme business at work and all the usual kids & stuff. By Friday I hadn't even done the quiz let alone thought about the assignment and we had visitors arriving that night. So I managed to get through this week only by not attempting the practical assignment and by winging it on the quiz. I noticed that, as well as feeling I've missed an opportunity to try out the art, I feel left out. The forums are full of people posting their work and doing the peer reviews. It would have been fun. Determined to do better next week...    

28 June 2013

MOOC week 4

 A bout of illness meant I could tackle the materials by mid-week. For the first time, I noticed some shonkiness. Missing images referred to in the text, misspellings of key names (Stieglitz and O'Keeffe). The kind of thing that students would get hauled up for at uni... Otherwise the standard has been high but it made me think that if a concept of MOOC is publicity for a uni, you need to make damn sure you proof-read it properly.  

Still, the week's topic of portrait photography was great and there were a range of artists right up to present day Cindy Sherman. Once again, I was ready to go off at tangents and learn more...but there are no suggestions for further reading. Is Google it really the answer? It is in the sense that you can find examples of artwork and maybe a biography, but not so much to find criticism or ideas or appreciation of the artist. Surely there must be some good articles on Cindy Sherman out there? Yes, I could probably track one down if I had enough time but how encouraging to have had a link right there and then... There is an iTunesU version of the course which has more of this kind of thing. I'm not sure why they would have stripped it out for the MOOC?

Another issue that cropped up is pictures of people and getting their approval to post them online. No mention of this at all in the assignment brief, but in the forums others pointed out you can get apps now for in-the-field approval from people to use their image. Again, it would have been good to know best practice, even if it was not applicable for us as stumbling beginners. 

I managed to cobble together an assignment this week by deciding to do something a bit ropey rather than nothing at all. So I'm still hanging on in there...determined not to be in the quitter MOOC demographic!

20 June 2013

MOOC Week 3 - Return to Sender

This was the week the MOOC (temporarily) crashed and burned for me. I did the readings, videos and quiz but failed to submit an assignment. This is sort of OK - you only need to complete 2 to pass the studio track - but I had intended to do them all as doing the art is the reason I'm doing the MOOC. The cause of failure was primarily lack of time - the whole weekend was taken up with (very welcome) visitors and a music festival and the week before had been busy too.

I think it was also a slight lack of enthusiasm / direction. This week's topic was Mail Art - interesting as an idea, but not life-changing. I'd never heard of any of the artists being discussed and although I looked at their work and other people's, I didn't really come away understanding the motivation for it. Actually, I didn't read the Wikipedia article and that may have explained it better than the readings we were provided with :o/ (you don't get any further reading recommendations). Pinterest and Flickr come into their own as visual resources for this kind of topic. The assignment was also pretty vague ("Memory") and I didn't come up with an idea that grabbed me like the last one but - hey - that's my failing.

We did get our peer review feedback from the previous week's assignment. I was pretty pleased with mine although there were a couple of comments I felt I wanted to respond to but couldn't (as it's anonymous). Not to whinge, just to discuss. I enjoyed doing peer review but felt very inexpert on judging someone else's work against the rubric we were given. From the forum posts, some people were pretty insulted by some of the feedback they got. There has been a confusion as well about whether you can do digital art which didn't help.

I'm back on track this week...so far...

9 June 2013

MOOC - Week 2


This week the MOOC really kicked in with the first of our art movements to study. I started the week excited to get going. I've ended the week enlightened, informed and with full momentum to keep going. I'm very embarrassed to admit that when I heard this week was on "Fantastic Art" I thought it was all about sci fi monsters and women with unfeasibly large bosoms. In fact (of course) it's all about surrealism and Dada and early inspirational artists like Rousseau, Chagall and Di Chirico. We had some introductory reading, 9 short videos on the artists and a demo video of making a collage. Then we had to complete a quiz and, if you're on the "studio track", produce a piece of artwork inspired by the genre.

Things I like love

  • The topic. Most of it was new to me and I was fascinated. It has transformed how I view artists like Dali or Miro.
  • Bananas. Discussion has raged in the forums over the videos we watch about the artists. Re this painting by Di Chirico, the voice in the video claimed the bananas were a sexual symbol whereas the forum consensus is that they are probably, well, bananas. Perhaps he was hungry, who knows? Read into it what you like....yet the videos we watch are quite dogmatic about what the paintings mean and this cuts to the heart of how you analyse art, whether you can ever claim to know what a painting means and whether you can read sex into anything if you are so inclined.
  • I did a painting. It got me actually doing it. 
  • Great fellow students. Really enjoying the social aspect on the forums and on Twitter. There is no pressure (or requirement) to interact and I'm enjoying it all the more because of that.

Things I don't like
  • No suggestions for further reading if you're interested. Yes, you can google but I'd like to know what are the best books on a given artist, any particularly useful websites or in-depth studies of them rather than just a few works and a short biography. (Oddly, there are more recommendations in the iTunesU version of the course).
  • Someone asked about copyright when using materials for collage. I suspect this can be a bit of a minefield in the professional art world but we have not had any real guidance on it. Given that many people are posting their work online, I think we need to take it seriously. Also, raising awareness that copyright exists on all images (unless it says otherwise) is surely a wise move for art beginners. Not least so we can look after our own images.
  • Both of these things could have been sorted out by a librarian hovering around the forums or having input into the course. See "Librarians: your most valuable MOOC supporters". Oh yes.

2 June 2013

MOOC - week 1

Don't laugh - that's my assignment for week 1 of the Coursera Pennsylvania State University MOOC "Introduction to Art - Concepts and Techniques". You had to introduce yourself by way of art, preferably using the techniques covered briefly (drawing with pencils, charcoal, ink, pastels, paint). So this is me, being grumpy in a coloured pencil sketch, facing the lovely Carmarthenshire countryside, which I photographed as I ran out of time to try and paint it...

I do like art - I regularly get annoyed at failing to create art - but the main reason I signed up is to experience the MOOC effect. We have been discussing them at work for a while now so I got quite excited when my course finally kicked off last week. I'm hoping to reflect weekly on how it's going...

Things I like

  • I believe it has about 54,000 students taking part and they come from all over the world. It has an amazing global community feel to it all.
  • Finding other people from Wales - the forum threads often gravitate to local sub-groups. Virtual ex-pats? 
  • It is really well done - it must have cost a bomb to produce. The site has been very robust, the materials are slick, the forums work well once you are used to them. There was a glitch with a survey not working but that got sorted pretty quick.
  • Watching art videos - I grew up watching Tony Hart so, although I normally dislike learning via video, I can watch someone do art quite happily. 
  • Anna Divinsky seems really nice - a calm, cheerful presence at the helm.
  • The launch really felt exciting when it all exploded into life. The forums have been a constant buzz of chatter, social media less so than expected but if you search on #artmooc, there is activity. 
  • I have learnt as much from looking at other students' work and "artist statements" as I have from the course materials themselves.
Things I don't like
  • Initially the forums seemed a very fast-moving, overwhelming place. I think we could have done with a quick overview of how to use them. At first I was getting zillions of emails every time someone posted a comment so I had to work out how to unsubscribe from some posts. Only today did I realise you can click on someone's name to see what else they have posted (i.e. their artwork).
  • This is very intolerant and shows me up as a complete prig but...people who don't read or don't follow the instructions... 
  • The hard part for me is thinking how to approach an art assignment. Some guidance on this would have been really good, perhaps showing how different artists go about developing ideas. Technical videos are fine but if, as they say, they want us to challenge ourselves and push our boundaries as artists (eek!), I'd have welcomed a bit more guidance.
So, week 1 over. I'm feeling very positive, nervous about the time commitment but keen to see what comes next. We start the real assessed stuff tomorrow...

6 March 2013

Researching research

Photo Credit: futureatlas.com via Compfight cc

Although I was a research student many, many years ago (before online journals, that's how long...) I don't have much spare time for research at the moment. Part of my job is to support our researchers - how can I do that if I don't do any myself? It's not about subject knowledge, it's about understanding the process and using the systems and tools. So when little jobs come up that require a bit of digging around I'm always grateful for these.

So I have been looking at the literature on whether providing lecture notes in advance affects student attendance (short answer = it doesn't). This didn't need to be a full-on literature review but I wanted to round up the best that was out there. As it's an "Education" topic, I used ERIC plus our resource discovery system (iFind Research). I spent a little time on Scopus and Web of Knowledge. It was actually Google Scholar which really turned up the goods with least amount of effort and maximum amount of results.

1. Access to Full Text
I ended up with 12 good papers that were most relevant. Of these 12....
3 = no full text available to me
3 = full text only via our university subscriptions
4 = full text freely available on the web via Google Scholar but not via iFind Research
2 = full text freely available AND we have access via our university subscriptions
The Google Scholar PDFs seemed to come from reputable sources (institutional repositories, the HEA) yet I would not have found them if I had stuck to our official university systems. They also required me to click a link - no login hurdles. This ratio of availability may vary per subject perhaps but, for me, a combination of iFind Research and Google Scholar worked best.

2. Working with my results
I have been using Mendeley to collect my results. This works well for me because it is accessible over the web, plus has a full desktop program and a good iPad app. I can store my PDFs in Mendeley and in the full desktop version I can work really well with them - highlight text, cut and paste quotes, make notes both alongside the PDF and also general notes about each one. I found it a really effective way of reading without having to print out everything. I'm generally not one for reading things on a screen but this worked for me.

I didn't find it the easiest thing to get my references into Mendeley without a fair bit of tweaking. I used the web importer button but this was patchy. I also didn't make a note of the full text URL so had to go back and do that. You can import PDFs and it will try to work out the details but, again, I found this patchy. Google Scholar results can only be imported one-by-one (download file, upload file) so that didn't work so well for me either. I suspect our institutional tool, EndNote, may work better for this.

3. Sharing my results
I can make a set of results public on Mendeley but it's a bit more fiddly than I would like as you have a create a Group. It's also a fairly easy business to cut and paste my set of references and I can choose the style (APA 6th) but it still needs a fair bit of tweaking to get it looking presentable. To share my references I therefore put them in a Word Document / PDF and shared it via our Blackboard Content Collection. Google Docs would have been the best option perhaps.

Trying all this out has raised more questions for me on methodology and tools for the job. I get the feeling there isn't one tool that will do all the things I want. At the moment, Mendeley wins out but I wish they'd develop better sharing functionality - I'd like to embed a list of references for example.

11 February 2013

"Managing your online presence" 2013

Our library-led session for students on managing your online presence has been updated once more. It is never going to be a static topic! That's what makes it fun...but also keeps us on our toes as it needs a thorough check each time before running it. The benefit of this is it forces you to revisit the session and - hopefully! - make some improvements.

This time we were running the session as part of the University's Employability Week. It followed on nicely from a separate session on personal branding so I have a new branding slide where I discussed creating a consistent image and thinking about how you could bring out your personal brand online.

I have uploaded the latest version of the presentation onto Slideshare. Contact me if you'd like more info on what was being said but you'll get the gist.

Managing your online presence from Samantha Oakley

There is also a link to the worksheet (Word document) on the first slide which has links to additional resources. I did give out a paper version but the students worked off live links in the online version to save them typing in URLs too much. The original presentation used clicker questions but I had to omit those slides. Questions asked were dotted throughout:

1. Which social networks do you use? (FB / Twitter / LinkedIn / Other / None = multiple selections allowed)
2. What did you find [after checking FB & Google]? (Something worrying / Mostly harmless stuff / Nothing / Something you're proud of)
3. What sector are you currently aiming for? (Commercial/Business / Public sector (health, civil service, teaching etc.) / Academic / Arts/media )
4. Does an employer have the right to monitor what you do online? (Yes / No / Sometimes)

Let me know if you have suggestions or thoughts or comments!

25 January 2013

Reading Lists: Challenge or Opportunity? London, 17th Jan 2013

Early daffodils in Russell Square

I'm hugely relieved I managed to get to London and back for the most excellent CPD25 event last Thursday (17th Jan), given all the snow that's fallen since. It was a long day from Swansea but well worth it for such a comprehensive programme of everything reading-list-system related. As we are in the middle of getting one, I was keen to glean as much as possible from the other presenters as well as having a chance to say where we are with our own pilot project with the very shiny new Rebus:list.

The event was a great chance to get a feel for the different systems that are out there. Sadly I missed the opening talk - Hannah Young's session on their Refworks and Moodle connection but my train just couldn't get me there on time. There were two speakers (Anselm Nye and Richard Cross) who have Talis Aspire - no surprise as it has dominated the marketplace for some time. Alison Sharman probably made of all of us feel jealous of Huddersfield's in-house "MyReading" system! I came on at the end to say where we've got to with our Rebus:list implementation - our shiny new Blackboard widget was ready just in time for me to snap a screenshot!

I also very much appreciated two sessions that looked at the issue of encouraging academic reading beyond just a system. Gary Brewerton showed the results of Loughborough's surveys into the use of reading lists. Funnily enough, I had been looking at their Academic Reading project report (PDF) on the train and wishing we could run a similar survey. The fact that they got such a high response rate suggests that the topic strikes a chord with students. Emma Delaney and Jacqueline Chenin from UWE then outlined their strategic approach to student reading. This highlighted ways of engaging with the academics to get them to consider their reading strategy: looking at how many books a student was expected to buy across a programme (not just one module), asking them to make an explicit statement about what reading they expect. They have been using their NSS comments very effectively as ammunition when engaging academics and as a rough check to see if they are improving satisfaction with access to books.

Certain topics and themes ran through all the sessions: strategy to back up any implementation, engaging academics, improving the student experience, purchasing decision calculations... I learnt much but these were some of the finer details that I'd like to follow up on:
  • Any system or approach to reading lists must embrace the diversity of pedagogical approaches that the academic bring to list creation. There may be some weird and wonderful lists out there but we need to cope with all varieties. To this end, I really like Loughborough's suggestion to their academics that they include a statement of purpose with each list, to say how students are meant to use it. I'd like it if any reading list system made that easy to do - almost to enforce it. I also liked how Huddersfield had renamed their categories to make their meaning explicit e.g. "Essential" was "You must read this".
  • Something we haven't decided to implement is allowing students to rate or comment on lists yet Loughborough and Huddersfield were very positive about this social aspect. The issue of inappropriate comments having to be policed is a little daunting but I liked the idea of allowing a thumbs up or down on a book or letting students tag them as they wish. However, we have had tags in our library catalogue and they don't seem to have been that widely used.
  • Loughborough also had a feedback dashboard for academics where they could access stats on their lists and see how it related to borrowing activity. 
  • Richard Cross described how their library made a clear statement to the academics when the system was launched about what support they would offer: "we will do this to help you". 
  • Links to purchasing options? Amazon or a local bookshop?
  • I liked Huddersfield's main project aim: that "the provision of reading lists is a positive, managed experience for students". Says it all really!
I'm glad to say I've managed to fulfil a pledge from Thing 15 from CPD23 to get more, even if I STILL haven't managed to master Prezi...

10 January 2013

Improving reading lists

We are currently in the pilot year of a brand new reading list system. Not just new for us, new to the world - we were one of the first to sign up for PTFS' Rebus:list system. I'm going to be presenting on our experiences so far at the CPD25 Reading List event on 17th January - apart from worrying that I'm going to be the weakest link, I'm excited about this as the rest of the program looks very interesting and I hope to learn a lot.

Reading List systems are one thing - and they can be just that, a system - but the key aim for us is to improve the student experience and that means also keeping an eye on the wider picture: what sort of list is most helpful to the students? How do they use a reading list? What *is* a reading list? I have lists that vary from one book to 12 pages (reduced to 9pt font!) of references for one module. What's a student supposed to do with that? There's no clue on the list.

We have started a literature review to gather evidence for some of these questions but it became clear that this is also an issue being tackled at other universities. Here are some resources I found:
  • A project report from Loughborough University (PDF) which looked at the reading habits of students. p26 onwards is particularly useful for reading lists, with the wish for more guidance and better organization emerging as a key issue.
  • An excellent presentation from Northampton University (PDF) includes some great quotes from students. This one in particular is oh so very true! “It does make me chuckle when I get the odd reading list and I look and I think: typo, spelling mistake, error, and then we get penalised!” (Year 2 student)
  • Trinity College Dublin have some good advice on reading lists on their website but their 2008-2009 audit results are also interesting, with comments again about prioritization and annotation. I liked their emphasis on accessibility/inclusion concerns too.
  • It also sounds like there is a project going on at Edge Hill - look forward to hearing about that hopefully at some point!
Does anyone have any more examples or know of research been done at their institution?

The big question for me is how to widen this debate to academic staff and engage them in looking at how we can best help students to get hold of and read the right things. I think gathering evidence from the students could be a key persuader. I am hoping we can find a way to incorporate this into the launch of our new reading list system.