Outside with eyes looking in.

Eyes

I’ve not blogged for a while. I think my feelings are cyclical and run in long waves fuelled by intense spells of work activity that either lead to phases of excitement when I actually achieve something, or depression when I do not. I’ve always had very acute ‘gut instincts’, and this might be because  I am a gut physiologist and understand the beauty and power of the intestinal enteric nervous system being far more sophisticated than that knot of fibres in our heads that we call our brains. (Our ‘little brains’ are far more interesting than that great big lump we carry around on our shoulders). Animals are totally powered by their instincts and their sensory systems, and if anyone has ever thrown a ball for a springer spaniel, they will watch the animal run and find the toy not by using their eyes at all, but entirely by the power of smell. We humans are useless at that.

The enteric nervous system is entirely ill-understood, and that is mainly because it is so well hidden. People don’t really understand the full structure of it, or how it works. What we do know is the gut is one of the few parts of the body that completely has its own control unit and can fully work when severed from the brain. There are no electrophysiological, imaging or scanning techniques that can look at gut electrical waves / functions or activities as there is in the brain. Science always studies the bits of the body it can most easily test or retrieve, and certainly will always study those that attract the funding. Unfortunately the gut, apart from stomach ulcers, has never been very trendy. And very, very unfortunately, this means that probably the most common ailments to mankind, and certainly still one of the biggest killers of children as it was when I wrote my PhD thesis 20 years ago, that is diarrhoeal disease, still go reasonably unexplored.

So yes, it worries me when I have a hugely positive day surrounded by national teaching fellows in the afternoon who personify dedication to young people, passion and creativity in learning and teaching, and yet I arrive home totally depressed. As usual, my brain is several hours behind what my gut has already felt. Come on. Hurry up and decipher. This is wrong. But what?

What IS wrong?

I work with amazing people – my third university now in around ten years. I met more amazing people today. I think my realisation today is that in universities, anyone achieving the cool stuff, the innovative stuff, they do it in their own time? It has culturally acceptable for many years to dedicate time to research interests outside of work, ‘oh, I don’t do that at work’, ‘oh, I’m a kitchen table researcher’. I think what struck me today more than ever, is that academics are now dedicating time to their TEACHING OUTSIDE OF WORK!

TEACHING OUTSIDE OF WORK. Not just in terms of their time commitment and their willingness to give up their spare time, but in terms of the technology they are using and the support they are getting from global communities. OK I know I still feel like a newbie to the sector because I spent a fair chunk of time in industry. I always feel like I don’t entirely belong, and I am standing on the outside looking in, but WHAAAT? WHAAAAAT?

I am not just mildly annoyed by colleagues for years saying, ‘oh we daren’t involve the XXXX department in this’, or ‘oh we are doing it anyway’. I am getting absolutely sick to the stomach about it. Do parents and prospective students fully understand the fact that universities spend vast amounts of money on the administration and infrastructure to support the organisation, but not on what goes on in terms of delivering the education within it?

Crimson Permanent Assurance

 

The Crimson Corporate University of Snerterton-Upon-Snerterton

I can’t help but be reminded of Monty Python’s Crimson Permanent Assurance – ‘people are not wearing enough hats’ – and a dead organisation that started to regain its own mind and set sail in a different direction. In my experience,  if not careful, a poorly run organisation becomes an organism that takes on its own slime-like life form – the processes and systems become its lifeline, nourished by the bureaucracy and energised by the acronym-filled emails. (Yes I really did have an email yesterday containing 19 of the buggers). The organisation starts to evolve no purpose other than to support itself. I think this for me, with the easy eyes of an outsider new to academia, is what I have observed over the last decade. Academics and administrative teams become increasingly busy with the ‘business’ of making the organisation work. Staff are now completely bamboozled with targets, surveys and key performance indicators. But I’m not sure all is lost, because the amazing thing is that when ‘enrolment’ week began last week, the buzz of excitement within the university was immense. Staff were absolutely thrilled to be meeting new students once more. Yes, well yes, because that is what we WANT an SHOULD be doing.

The future?

Futurelols

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can never find a futurologist when you need one, although the last time I met a futurologist he had entirely read the first paragraph on Wikipedia on the subject. Well, my crystal ball tells me that I can now see the sector fragmenting. I see the private sector jumping ahead of the game providing online content and accrediting learning. I see a university elitist group separating off from the main who attract the research funding and the high-end applicants. I see polytechnics returning to provide ‘real-life’ training for those wanting a vocational option.

National Student Survey Q22

UK National Student Survey Data Question 22 – Student Satisfaction. (HEFCE, benchmarked, registered data, available: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/whatwedo/lt/publicinfo/nss/data/2010/ – onward).

Many people are therefore going to be very busy. But I see everyone else contributing to OPEN ONLINE LEARNING for the purpose of simply imparting their passion about various subjects to students, and for free.

So those are my gut instincts and my brain’s interpretation of the day. Although reading this now, I don’t think this IS the future. THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING NOW.

How to flash safely?

Twitter discussion

The other day, the topic of gifs and photosensitive epilepsy came up on DS106 Twitter, so I thought I’d find out more. I went straight to the medical journals and asked a friend of mine who works at Jisc TechDis.

Types of light sensitivity?

There are a range of ill-defined sensitivities to light, from facial twitching in response to bright light, actual induced changes in brain electrical activity, and changes dramatic enough to induce a seizure. The latter is referred to as photosensitive epilepsy.

What objects or aspects of light can evoke a seizure?

Many of the medical papers report the most common stimulus is a FLASHING LIGHT, and can also be PATTERNS OF LINES, GRATINGS or CHECKERBOARDS. I think we all recognise sometimes we can watch stripes or squares on the TV or PC screen that make our eyes feel funny.

How many people does this affect?

The figures are a little unclear because the data relies on individual’s own reporting, and tests actually done in the lab measuring brain activity (electroencephalograms EEGs) are usually on selected individuals and not necessarily those at risk so are likely to be lower. Nethertheless, the figures range from 5 to 9 % of the population. SO IT IS STILL A RISK FOR A NUMBER OF INDIVIDUALS. (Fisher 2005). Studies suggest it is more common in young people than in adults.

Notable cases?

There have been cases of TV programmes and video games inducing seizures. Wilkins and colleagues (2005) described a case relating to a TV advertisement (Golden Wonder Pot Noodles) where seizures were reported in three viewers in the UK. In Japan in 1997 a children’s program “Pokemon” reportedly led to 685 admissions to hospital, with 560 identified as epilepsy. The cartoon displayed alternating red and blue backgrounds. What was startling was most of these people had never had an episode before. I’m not sure of the follow-up, meaning, whether this was just a one off event or actually primed the people into being sensitive, I do not know.

So what colours and patterns are thought to be worst?

Wilkins 2005 paper led to guidelines being introduced in the UK and Japan, and now also internationally. Although they are devised for TV and not PC screens where proximity, resolution and environmental conditions may be different, they are a useful guide for our understanding.

1. Frequency. Flashes with frequency >3 Hz are prohibited.

2. Opposing changes in luminance. Flashes ≥20 cd/m2 are prohibited.

3. Area of flashes. Flashes greater in area than one fourth of the screen are prohibited.

4. Color. Flicker from saturated red light is prohibited.

Where:

Frequency – in Hertz (Hz), the number of cycles of the pattern per second. Fisher (2005) reported that the majority of people in their study responded at a peak of 12–30 flashes per second, but Wilkins’s 2005 paper reported this lower at 3Hz or above.

Luminance – relates to the contrast between light and dark. The bigger the contrast, the bigger the risk.

Areas – stationary patterns seem worse than ones that move slowly. Stripes, gratings and  patterns are implicated more than spots for example. The paper explains this relates to area covering the screen. On a PC we can assume the pattern might occupy the entire screen.

Colour – red is thought to be more provoking, although the effect of colour is not really well known. The importance of luminosity and contrast is much greater as a consideration.

So they recommend as a correction for you to look at the screen and ask these questions:

Are there more than five stripes?
If so, do they last longer than 0.5 s?
If so, does the brightness exceed the stated limit? If so, categorize the motion of the pattern
Are the guidelines contravened?
If so, reduce brightness.

 

———————–4life——————————————————————–

So what can we do?

  • TV broadcasts are now monitored, but computers and video games are a bigger risk.
  • People with known epilepsy will safeguard themselves using screen protectors and maybe coloured glasses, but many people just won’t know.
  • Whilst the guidelines are written for TV, the effect of digital screens is less well known.

How to practice safe gifs?

Well not just our beloved animated gifs, but video and animations. I would use the criteria above as a guide – avoid flashing geometric patterns of contrasting colours.

But as my friend at TechDis commented:

Just don’t do it. Its not good for accessibility or usability.

As reported in a specialist workshop in 2004, flashing images on websites and roll-over-images are not good for usability. (NGfL Accessibility workshop 2004). I guess if we are making “art” we might want to think about it a bit more carefully.

And some additional notes on accessibility from Terry at TechDis regarding visual formats:

The accessibility of an image depends on technical factors (colourless, contrast, sharpness) as well as pedagogical factors (how effectively it is labelled, how well it is described, how it is integrated into a text / audio narrative).

For moving images, video and gifs:

However visual formats can create barriers to people with poor sight and they tend to be far less searchable and navigable than text.

 

So, we should certainly think about the art we are creating, and maybe we should be more careful about accessible alternatives to go alongside it?

 

Or maybe we should consider having a clear warning if we are unsure?

WARNING. CLICK ON THESE LINK ONLY TO GET EXAMPLES OF WHAT MIGHT BE RISKY.

http://www.b3tards.com/u/06fcfde66d4d6d6f8f8a/2001_spack_odyssey.gif

http://www.b3tards.com/u/9df6a3719a6251962e93/spack.gif

 

 

ARE YOU AFFECTED BY THE WEB IN THIS WAY? I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU? I AM A MEDICAL SCIENTIST AT THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF ENGLAND IN BRISTOL. I ALSO LOVE MAKING COMPUTER ART!

 

References

Fisher RS et al (2005). Photic- and Pattern-induced Seizures: A Review for the Epilepsy Foundation of America Working Group. Epilepsia, 46(9). Available: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1528-1167.2005.31405.x/full

Jisc TechDis (2014). Technology matters – visual. Available: http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/techdis/technologymatters/visual

NGfL National Grid for Learning Accessibility Workshop (2004). Flashing, flickering and blinking. Available: http://www.websemantics.co.uk/tutorials/accessibility_workshop/sessions/session2/05.colour_usage/06.flashing/

Wilkins A et al (2005). Characterizing the Patterned Images That Precipitate Seizures and Optimizing Guidelines To Prevent Them. Epilepsia, 46(8):1212–1218. Available: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12504202

Roll up. Roll up. Get your free study skills OERs here.

Happy Open Education Week!

Open education philosophies and approaches – resources, courses, practices – are well embedded into educational thinking around the globe. Here is just one example of how awesome open education can be, and how completely awesome the global community indeed is! Amber asked a simple question about open educational resources (OERs).

Open Education

Amber asked:

Hi! Could you please point me to any openly licensed materials that support students preparing for undergraduate degrees? Study skills but also independent learning for those students away from home for possibly the first time.

These were the responses:

OER1Digital Scholarship Website (Creative Commons – range of licenses for downloading, repurposing and reusing) – Becoming a Digital Scholar – resources for research students and anyone wishing to use digital tools for study. Learning online, WordPress, academic and digital literacies and skills.

 

OER3Ready to Research Website (Creative Commons – range of licenses for downloading, repurposing and reusing) – Getting started as a researcher, accessing and reading papers, data management, ethics and intellectual property.

 

OER2Prepare for Success ( (C) Southampton but free access to website) – a website for international students who are getting ready to come to the UK for study in further or higher education. Adapting to a new life, getting ready for university study, academic skills and studying independently.

OER4Learning Skills Portal University of Surrey (Creative Commons – range of licenses for downloading, repurposing and reusing) – produced by Viv Sieber, a compliation of a vast number of open educational resources to support student study skills, researcher training, employability and lots more!

OER5OpenLearn Study Skills (Mix of (C) and Creative Commons licenses) – a number of short online Open University courses orienting students toward all the basic skills.

 

OER6Learnhigher (Creative Commons – range of licenses for downloading, repurposing and reusing) – a “must” for all lecturers. Free to use, download and repurpose, a large number of resources from time mangement, to literacy, statistics, research and employability. Aimed at university staff.

 

OER7Careers Service OERs University of Leicester (Creative Commons – range of licenses for downloading, repurposing and reusing) – a whole range of academic skills and employment skills covered here including applying for jobs and CV writing. Aimed at students.

 

OER8Being Digital – Skills for Life Online Open University ( (C) OU ) – a great online course covering a number of important topics such as digitial identify, using social media, and use of online tools to support learning. Aimed at students. Not openly licensed to download or reuse.

 

OER9Time Management Oxford Podcasts ( (C) Oxford University, but many other podcasts are Creative Commons). A podcast on time management – useful for students and staff!

 

 

OER10Engage in Research University of Reading CETL ( (C) University of Reading) – free to use website getting students started in research. A step by step guide from ideas to dissemination.

 

 

 

 

Enhancing Projects and Practicals in Biosciences

Here are some really nice reports from the HEA Bioscience Centre on enhancing undergraduate science dissertations and laboratory practicals. In recent years, academic departments have seen growth in student numbers, and the cutting back of resources and access to laboratories. Yet, we are still supposed to maintain a high quality education! The documents below compile ideas from universities across the UK on how to cater for undergraduate science dissertations and laboratory practical classes.

Undergraduate research projects

Student Research Projects: Guidance on Practice in the Biosciences. By Martin Luck. Available:ftp://www.bioscience.heacademy.ac.uk/TeachingGuides/studentresearch/studentresearch_web.pdf

Interesting information on the wide range of projects available from laboratory, to fieldwork, data analysis and literature reviews. We need to be mindful of the IBMS requirements for projects that must contain an element of data and statistical analysis. For fieldwork-type projects I have had students design questionnaires, and for data analysis students can carry out a “mini-systematic review” and meta-analysis of pooled clinical research data. Literature reviews are a challenge to do well and meet IBMS criteria I think. (Feel free to comment below!).

Universities run both individual and group projects. Some universities separate project choices based on year 2 performance. Projects are allocated in different ways:

1) Staff provide list of titles.
2) Students develop projects based on their own ideas.

In my experience, it is nice to allow students to develop their own ideas in line of what their career aspirations might be, but it is hugely time consuming to supervise them on an individual basis.

Useful resource for students

All my project students use this as a basis for their work. It takes them through every step of their project.

http://www.engageinresearch.ac.uk

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Improving Laboratory Practicals

The Bioscience Centre held a workshop on practical work back in 2008 and there are many good ideas in their report, and in the labwork notes for new staff.

Workshop on 1st year practicals. Available:

http://www.bioscience.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/themes/1styrpracticals.aspx

Labwork notes for new staff. Available:

http://www.bioscience.heacademy.ac.uk/ftp/resources/newlect/labwork.pdf

  • Move away from recipe-led practicals.
  • Move away from practicals with no further analysis / discussion.
  • Flip-practicals: students watch videos / materials prior to coming into the lab.

For example at De Montfort, students used to work through our Virtual Analytical Laboratory for 4 weeks in their first year before coming into the lab. It enhanced their confidence no end, and staff reported it saved time going over common things.

In histology we would have a 4 hour wet practical and a 2 hour dry microscopy / observation class where students would peer-mark each other’s observations. They would grade their slides according to NEQAS standards. At level 3 students would design their own practicals and work in self-designated groups.

—————————————————————————————

Linking research and teaching

Linking Teaching and Research in the Biosciences. By Heather J. Sears and Edward J. Wood (2005). Available: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/subjects/bioscience/bioscience-education-5-4.pdf

This was raised as an item to explore in one of our staff meetings. We assume that our research and teaching is linked, but as the report says, “the link could be exploited more effectively for the benefit of staff and students”. Raising the profile of our research would give Biomedical Science a distinct identity and move it away from Healthcare Science.

Introduction to ethics for university undergraduate students

An introduction to ethics

Series of open educational resources openly licensed for your use (CC BY SA unless otherwise stated). This page includes:

  • Screencast part 1
  • Screencast part 2
  • PDF of slides
  • MOCK paperwork (participant information sheet, consent form and ethics checklist).

Part 1

Part 2 


Access to PDF of the slides
Introduction to research ethics SLIDES compressed Oct2013

Supplementary material

MOCK Consent Form October2013

MOCK Ethical Reviewer Form October2013

MOCK Participant Info Sheet October2013

Monday 14th October Exercise Physiology Results

RESULTS OF EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGY PRACTICAL USING A SIMPLE STEP TEST TO CALCULATE VO2 MAX.

Lovely to meet you today. Here are most of your class exercise physiology results. You can download the Excel spreadsheet and play around with the data yourself. Here also is a short Screencast talking you through the spreadsheet and showing you the nomogram which is used clinically to predict someone’s VO2 max. The paper by Noone and Dean (2000) talks about how this and similar exercise tests are validated, and how they are used clinically. The validity and reliability of these tests are important, as is inter observer variability. (Go look up!).

Exercise Physiology Results (click this link / right mouse click to download).

Below – screen grab talking you through the spreadsheet and nomogram. (http://www.screenr.com/r0uH)

 

FEEL FREE TO ADD ANY THOUGHTS OR COMMENTS BELOW!

 

Seek and ye shall find.

BLOG POST FOR:

  • Any student completing coursework essays
  • Students completing research dissertations

Anybody completing more professional research, in depth studies, systematic reviews should seek the help of library services to develop their search strategy. The resources on this page are the types of things I’d teach to new students when tackling an essay for the first time at university, just to give a leg up from looking for stuff on Google.

AIM:
By watching these tutorials you should be able to:

  • Understand what a search strategy is
  • Compile lists of search keywords
  • Conduct searches using Boolean terms
  • Use PUBMED for conducting your searches

Introducing the search strategy
(Go to >> http://www.screenr.com/b6Zs)

Conducting the search
(Go to >>http://www.screenr.com/w6Zs)

Note – this search looked within “all fields” which is useful to do when researching new or small scale areas. This looks at the title, MeSH term, abstract and full paper for those matching keywords.

Conducting the search using the MeSH terms
(Go to >>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dncRQ1cobdc&feature=relmfu)

This video from NCBI (the PUBMED people) shows how to specifically use the MeSH terms. These are “medical subject headings” and when author’s submit papers to journals, they will provide a list of keywords. As noted in the video above, this introduces some variability. The PUBMED cataloguers will look at every publication and the author keywords, and allocate the paper to the medical subject heading or subheading. You will see how exhaustive these lists are by looking at the MeSH page. Using the MeSH as the search field will be a more precise way of searching and essential for large scale subject areas. If you are not finding many results, I’d switch to “all fields”.

NOTES:
Boolean terms used for searching include these below and also a far more exhaustive list as you become more competent.

OR or +
AND
NOT

Web of Knowledge will search PUBMED and a number of other databases (WEB OF SCIENCE, BIOSIS, JOURNAL CITATION REPORTS). The use of keywords and Boolean terms applies in exactly the same way.

1 Introduction to your research project

Hello from me!

Summary of project ideas

1) Literature and data analytical review of the link between gut dysfunction and manifestation of neurodegenerative disorders. Emerging clinical and laboratory research suggests that for example gut inflammation (cytokines, oxidate stress factors) drive degeneration and accelerate disease progression.
Devos D et al (2013). Colonic inflammation in Parkinson’s disease. Neurobiol Dis (50), 42-48. Available: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S096999611200321X

2) “Mini”-systematic review and meta analysis of a subject of your choice. Learn more about evidence-based medicine. E.g. is vitamin C really helpful in colds (you will be surprised). Can artichoke leaves reduce cholesterol levels (maybe!). Do antioxidants really do anything clinically? (Hmmm).
Bjelakovic  G et al (2012). Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews  2012 (3). Available: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD007176.pub2/abstract

3) If you are considering teaching as a career you will probably wish to consider a more relevant and education-based project. This will give you an opportunity to develop qualitative and quantitative research skills (hugely useful in every walk of life actually). I’d be happy to discuss and tailor something to your interests.

4) Physiology-laboratory projects – depending on numbers and the availability of the room. This would be of interest to me – looking at the effects of music on physiological parameters, exercise performance and perceptions of exercise.
Jarraya M et al (2012). The effects of music on high-intensity short-term exercise in well trained athletes. Asian J Sports Med 3(4): 233–238. Available: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3525819/

OR – consider validating or using some of the medical APPS on the iPAD. There is a great one that measures snoring and is used to diagnose sleep apnoea.

5) Your own choice! You may have done a placement and have data already. GREAT

What to do next?

Book an appointment to come and see me! Use the Engage in Research website to understand how to get started and read all about the research process (which is the same regardless of what type of project you are doing. A literature review is not a cop out – it is a serious piece of work with strict methodologies and ways of analysing data too 🙂 )
As the video says, try and think of an idea and come up with a RESEARCH QUESTION as the first step.

Heaps of free student study skills resources!


WOW! 

I was just pulling some resources together for project students to help them get started, and when I searched the web I found this fantastic webpage by Viv Sieber at the University of Surrey. It knocked me dead when I first saw it a few years back at a conference, and it has just knocked me dead again.

Link to Study Skills OER University of Surrey OPEN student skills portal built by Viv Sieber. (CLICK on the image to go and use! Or here is the URL http://libweb.surrey.ac.uk/library/skills/Learningskills.html )

This is a prime example of why universities and colleges SHOULD be using open educational resources (OER) – that is, openly licensed learning materials created by experts that we can all share. Imagine, there are over 100 universities in the UK, and each one this time of year, will be brushing up their learning materials to provide THE SAME introductory information to their new students, and in my case THE SAME “getting started with research” – type information for their project students. That has to be a waste of time and somebody’s money!

About the portal

As you click through the various areas you’ll be connected through to a number of UK universities or a number of open education collaborations that have arisen over the years. This means:

1) The materials (pictures, photographs, animations, video) will all have been copyright checked and openly licensed for your use.

2) All the materials are developed by experts within the UK higher education setting so will be of top quality and you can confidently use it. Remember students, if you ARE just finding information on the internet, you need to appraise the source to ensure it is good quality.

3) As a member of staff (academic, librarian, student support officer), this resource will save you time in preparing identical materials, or at least provide you with an open license so you may be able to repurpose some of it. Do look for the terms of the Creative Commons licenses being used.

But will it be relevant to me, at my university?

On the whole YES! Whenever I use this resource I struggle to find something that I think won’t work for my students. For example, definitions of academic offences and use of referencing systems will be identical between universities, although the REGULATIONS behind them might be different. The IT skills resources all seem to be for the most up-to-date software versions. Things like CV tips and interview skills are all pretty generic.

A big round of applause for the  University of Surrey for compiling and sharing this excellent resource.

BIS – haven’t you missed something?


Anyone reading the BIS report “International education: global growth and prosperity” (July 2013) may welcome some of the proposals within to support international students  including mentions of – introducing an effective loan repayment scheme, clarifying the visa system, and having better quality frameworks for them. Then, as with any education document these days , the report cannot take its first gasp of breath after hatching without mentioning MOOCs (massive open online courses), and they have 15 mentions in the document:

“and their (MOOC) global reach has opened up a new door to education. We need to make sure it is a door to our universities and colleges”.

The report goes on to talk about building the UK brand reputation around the world and seizing opportunities, and….hey, slow down, wait a minute? Haven’t most UK universities and many colleges been opening their doors for some years now through open education initiatives? How come these don’t get a single mention?

The world is embracing open education – MIT started sharing lectures on OpenCourseware over 10 years ago, and 81 governments and states have policies agreed or underway supporting open education for their people, so it shouldn’t be a hard sell as a means of promoting UK education? There is a common language there already and a common goal already toward global growth and prosperity built around open education.

OER

 

So I’m quite surprised that the document – talking about opening doors – strengthening the use of technology in education – fails to mention the open education activity in the UK and how open educational resources (OERs) are impacting on learners and educators globally. I think they aren’t sexy because 1) they aren’t MOOCs and part of the current hype, 2) they don’t gather fancy education analytics and 3) really, if anyone is honest, the report and MOOCs are about commerce and not auturism.

The problem with OER is they are not closed behind a software platform like so they do not gather any education analytics to support them.  Because OER are open, and sit there on the web, they don’t collect and grow user email lists, which is enough to make any markeeter lick his own eyelids in excitement. Just because you can’t directly measure their economic impact, it doesn’t mean OER have no potential or indeed have not had any indirect financial impact downstream. What you measure is not important, what you can’t measure is, blah de bla.

International links from UK OER programme 

So I just thought I’d mention some innovations from the UK OER programme (Jisc HEA 2009 – 2012) that spring to my mind that have had international impact. This will absolutely not be an exhaustive list! Some of the examples below have had demonstrable financial impact (increased number of student enrolments to university; generation of research income). [For a comprehensive analysis of the UK OER activity read the following report by McGill, Falconer, Dempster, Littlejohn and Beetham (2013)].

Enhancing the UK reputation in English language teaching and learning?

The report talks about enhancing the UK’s reputation in English language teaching and learning? Two UK initiatives spring to mind share their language expertise and educational materials openly that could provide a springboard to enhancing our international reputation? The Language Box has OER in around 50 languages, including 300 or so resources to support English teaching. The resource is led by the Universities of Southampton and Portsmouth, and have had contributions from all over the UK. LORO, from the Open University contains around 50 English teaching OER, in addition to several other languages.

UK OER reaching global audiences on iTunes

The report refers to how technology can change educational delivery, and if we want to talk about massive, open and online there are plenty of OER examples. Several UK universities (Warwick, Open University and Oxford) share podcasts on iTuneU. Oxford iTunesU, notably, has had a huge impact – massive in fact, open – truly open and not locked behind passwords and podcasts are downloadable and might help with dodgy internet connections. Just a few points:

  • The podcasts have had over 20 million downloads from iTunes U.
  • There are well over 3000 academic speakers and expert contributors.
  • The global reach is across 185 countries including US and China.

Reaching global audiences on YouTube

Many universities have open education channels on YouTube. One that springs to mind is from University of Leicester YouTube Channel housing science resources and with a focus on genetics as part of their GENIE CETL (genetics education – Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning) project. One video on bone marrow aspiration has had over 144,000 views! Is that viral? (Pun intended).

Global visitors to university websites

Talking about how technology can transform education, look no further than the University of Nottingham. They have a huge number of open education activities within their Open Nottingham programme. These include open source software (Xerte course builder; ROGO assessment and feedback platform). The School of Nursing have openly shared over 200 educational resources (reusable learning objects or RLOs –  not just simply filmed videos but carefully constructed and peer-reviewed narrated animations). These reach global healthcare audiences.

Translations of UK OER into Nigerian and Brazilian

OK so I’m promoting our own project here – SCOOTER – involving Professor Simon Dyson at De Montfort University. SCOOTER is growing and still shares educational resources to promote and support sickle cell and thalassaemia education. Professor Dyson’s “Guide to Schools” supports young people with sickle cell in education, and has been translated into four Nigerian languages, and other resources into Brazilian, Spanish and Portuguese.

What about the analytics? Well I can tell you from the Google Analytics embedded onto the SCOOTER webpages, his “Guide for Schools” has had around 1000 views, and SCOOTER receives visitors and comments from around the globe, notably Brazil as the third largest visitor after the UK and the US.

Boosting research collaborations?

Everyone involved in creating OER, and particularly when talking to public and private sector collaborators, will testify how developing mutually beneficial teaching/training materials is always a very fruitful conversation to have. OER is an excuse to talk and a vehicle for establishing collaborations, which is one of the goals of the BIS report. We had a research fellow from the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship scheme work on a sickle cell health promotion game; it has been evaluated in the UK and is currently being developed further for Nigerian audiences.

Also at De Montfort, the Midwifery Open Resources for Education, led by Jacqui Williams, has held discussions with Irish and Afghan educationalists to develop and share learning materials. Incidently, many of the 30 or so midwifery resources on the YouTube MOREOER Channel were created by students themselves as part of their university internships and the midwifery programme.

How to keep up with the global market?

“As the new global market takes shape, the UK needs to move quickly to secure a world leading position”.

The global education market is changing, but markets always change. Companies such as 3M fire products out into the market, and then run with the most successful. MOOCs are the latest innovation, and as new technology emerges, new generations of learners will want to use the next greatest thing. The essential thing here is to base opportunities around good pedagogy (our knowledge of education delivery and design), and to base direction around existing evidence and not just user data. (Do MOOCs help people learn better – who knows. Do lab skills OER help students learn and build confidence, yes!).

To grow our position we are well placed to build on our expertise in open education to support learning and teaching and build global collaborations, rather than just hitching a ride on a passing MOOCwagon.

MoocWagon“Cow Power” – Johnny & Angus Blog
(but I think it is a MOOCwagon really).

Final words (phew, you say).

“By using education to strengthen our relationships with partner countries and build a platform for many other activities to our mutual benefit”.

Those involved in open education already know this! A final example is a set of teaching materials “Fast Track Analyser” developed for undergraduate biomedical science students that double as training for scientists in the NHS. The benefits are mutual, and wide ranging.