Rubbing the MOOC sore spot or How to Crowdsource a Strategic Plan for Ed Tech

As part of our evergreen strategic planning process, we consult widely with others in the field of educational technology. We’ve reached out to our international partners to get their take on the challenges and opportunities facing ed tech. The following is recent correspondence between BCcampus’ David Porter, David Kerhohan and Sheila MacNeil (both from JISC, a UK ed tech organization). We thought the conversation was so insightful and relevant, we wanted to share it with everyone. David and Sheila have given their permission for this exchange to be made public.

17 Jan 2013

Hi David and Sheila.

Greetings for 2013.

We’re ramping up our BCcampus strategic plan “refresher version” for 2013-2016, and are in the environmental scan, data collection stage.

Wanted to ask you for some guidance re. your 2013+ outlook and key signposts for higher education in educational technology space.

What’s captivating or worrying you and your colleagues in the UK as you look ahead? I know DavidK has been critical of the MOOC hysteria, but in the same vein as Tony Bates has written recently, I’m not sure it’s going far down into the trough of disillusionment any time soon. What say you?

If you have a moment, please ping me back with one or two thoughts going forward. All contributions will be cited as “personal communications with,” …

Best wishes.


22 Jan 2013 (reply from Sheila MacNeill)

Hi David

I’ve had a quick chat with some of my CETIS colleagues and the things below are the common ones between us.

MOOCs – 2013/14 very interesting times for MOOCs as they become more mainstream. In the UK we await to see what FutureLearn will bring to the party. Will it simply be the UK equivalent to Coursera etc offering their pretty standard distance learning delivery model, or will it actually try and be more diverse? How will it survive commercially? How long will institutions be willing to finance it without getting some payback – and indeed what will that pay back be? Cash or increased student numbers? (I’ve just written a slightly lighthearted view of taking part in a mooc
I’m also reflecting on my mooc-ing experiences this year on my blog so do check in it to see my take on things – particularly from the learner point of view.

OER/Open education will become increasingly more mainstream, however this implies that at the institutional level more serious consideration of licensing of teaching material and use of open licences such as CC [Creative Commons] is needed.

Ebooks/etextbooks are moving up the agenda again. The emphasis in the UK (and the rest of Europe) is not as much on cost as in North America, but that is a factor. The main issues seem to be around the “age old” questions of how to best incorporate features personalisation, dynamic content, formative assessments, adaptive pathways, learning (analytics) and learner (paradata) data. Interoperability and standards all come into focus. We’ve been grappling with these issues in elearning (and learning in general) for a long time. It seems though now the standards agenda is being driven by the learning agenda. (Good post on recent EU ebooks meeting by my colleague Phil Barker.

In the research domain, but research management and research data management seems ready for disruption – on the one hand, clunky old-school metadata standards (CERIF), esoteric systems and homebrew code; on the other, policies mandating institutions to open up research data are on the horizon. Key challenges here are legacy systems, lack of interoperability and standards, and a history of research depts doing things their “own way”.

The use of analytics (including but not confined to learning analytics) will become more common place. More examples of good practice will start to emerge, particularly around assessment. And at the institutional level, smart senior management will be ensuring that they “get the best” out of the time involved in collecting statutory data by enhancing it with their own data sets to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Issues around data collection, management, legal rights and ethics will come to the fore. Questions of data ownership will need serious consideration at personal, institutional and national levels. CETIS has produced a series of papers on analytics in education which might be of interest to you. The overview paper “Analytics, what is changing and why does it matter?” gives an overview to the series.

“The cloud” and outsourcing will be increasingly on peoples’ mind. CIOs/IS Managers will be increasingly concerned with deciding which areas of technology should be seen as commodities and those which should be considered as strategic investments. While the rush to put everything “in the cloud” is notable, what’s more notable is what doesn’t migrate – what do institutions see as technologies over which they want to retain control or develop in-house competence?

3-D printing is really making in roads and again we could see it hitting education in the next 2years. There’s already lots of examples of how it is being used in collaboration with industry e.g. ceramic researchers working with Wedgewood to create rapid prototypes of new designs. As the costs of printers come down the educational possibilities are endless.

Hope this helps, and if possible would love to see a copy of your plan when it’s done.

I should add these views came from me, Scott Wilson, Phil Barker and Lorna Campbell.

Best wishes


22 Jan 2013 (reply from David Kernohan)

Hi David – I started off writing you a blog post but it went in completely the wrong direction… you might enjoy it anyway.

I agree with all of Sheila’s suggestions …

For me I imagine 2013 would be primarily concerned with a MOOC backlash – I’m still concerned that there are no viable business models and for all the talk of disruption they are reliant on the continued existence of the existing structures. The backlash might well toxify online and open learning more generally – I’ve noted that a couple of the more innovative open courses (ds106 in the US, phonar in the UK) are distancing themselves from MOOC language already. I could see more people going for “it’s not a MOOC…” as a justification. Not good news for the concept.

Sheila mentions big data – I’m concerned about the comparative lack of attention paid to using big data to make good decisions. As usual, CETIS are miles ahead here and I’d recommend the links that Sheila suggests too.

Pedagogy-wise, clearly the student as active participant is becoming a conference standard, despite (or possibly because of) the fact it plays against the dominant student as consumer narrative. The work on “student as producer” that Mike Neary and Joss Winn have been doing at Lincoln University is very interesting here, I’m hearing “student as creator/co-creator” language a lot too so I’d been wondering if we’d see a greater emphasis in creativity in assessment strategies.

Linked to this – someone is going to notice that AI in assessment is pretty much entirely hype and misdirection. That’s going to cause trouble.

And I want to highlight open academic practice too – by intelligent use of traditional and social media we will see a lot more academics that are “bigger” brands than their host organisations. How will the organisations manage and benefit from this phenomenon?

Again I’d love a copy of the paper when you get it together.


David K

22 January, 2013 (reply from Sheila McNeill)

And of course, there is always a “one last thing” -everything is underpinned by the growing recognition of the need to develop digital literacy not just in the sector but beyond.  For us to make any sense  of “all this stuff” we need to ensure our staff and students are continually developing both the technical and meta-cognitive capabilities needed.S

What about you? What’s captivating or worrying you and your colleagues in higher education in educational technology space?

Update Feb 5, 2013: this post has been changed from the original. The following line was added to Sheila McNeill’s first message at her request: “I should add these views came from me, Scott Wilson, Phil Barker and Lorna Campbell.”