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Home group 3: The Icelandic Cloud

Summary of discussions on the keynotes at the Cambridge Int. Conf. on Open and Distance Learning

Cloud created by:

Gráinne Conole
23 September 2009

This cloud summarises the discussions of the “home group” called “the icelandic cloud” at the Cambridge International Conference of Open and Distance Learning. The full cloudscape for the conference is available here. The aim of the home groups is to enable participants to discuss in more depth issues that arise out of the keynote presentations.

Discussions after Sugata Mitra’s keynote

One of the central discussion points of the group was around the issue of what is the role of face-to-face teaching versus online. Sugata’s three characteristics particularly struck a cord with the group, in terms of factors to foster/support learning:

  • Providing a safe place/environment for learning
  • Associate with play
  • Ensure that it is a non-structured environment

We wondered how these factors could be applied in an adult learning context? One of the participants told us he had been an online tutor for 12 years and that he felt he know much more about his online students than face-to-face ones because of the level of interaction and dialogue.

The quality of the construction of the learning process online was raised as an issue – how should such spaces be constructed and supported?

There were different views in the group however in terms of the degree to which student actually want to collaborate and work with others. In particular, students who are in a work-based context often just want to focus on what it is that they need to do to get through and pass and they actively don’t want to work with others. [Interesting this tied in nicely with Morton’s statistics from his university where only 36% of students choose to take up the option of having a learning partner.

The group also discussed what were the different factors, which make an online learning context successful – such as the size of the group, the degree of moderation, the amount of structuring. Gender issues were also raised as an issue.

Discussions after Morton Paulsen’s keynote

If students are all self-paced, how does the assessment actually work? What is the ratio of students to tutors? Maybe the solution is to have individualised, unique assignments. The partnership model and the flexible pacing are key features and will influence the design of the courses, activities and assignments. Partnership mode will foster better learning, through dialogue with another. Interesting that most of the students opted to work individually rather than with others. What was really striking was the amount of student control.

Many students learn very well in a structured, group project.  Sometimes we have to realise that group learning is good for students even if they don’t want to do it! Enables divergent rather than convergent learning and understanding. It’s a challenge and there is an issue in terms of the balance.

In the Open University, New Zealand a lot of students get their own learning partners via the workplace. It was interesting in Paulen’s statistic to see that only 36% of students wanted a learning partner. Is there a difference if you are at the beginning of your study or the opposite ie once you have more confidence you are willing to work with others. Likewise there are likely to be discipline differences, for example are Arts-based students more likely to want to work together and discuss than Science-based students? Also is there a gender difference?

We wondered what kind of tools the students studying with NKI have to support the learning partnerships?

The more freedom you give to the students, the more important the planning and structuring needs to be. Needs a complex, well balanced system to support this.

Asby’s law – the more complex the situation, the more complex the structure needs to be. The law of requisite variety

Motivation – how are the students motivated when they are working on their own.

Importance of continual encouragement via letters and emails – has a direct impact on retention.

One of the issues for institutions with a large number of modules is how do you coordinate it – for example ensuring you don’t have all the assignment deadlines at the same time.


Extra content

From Craig Tunwall
Session 1: Group 3
Chaired by Solveig Jakobsdottir
I. Introduction Exercise
     A special welcome to our distinguished colleagues from the Open University of China
II. Reactions to the 1st Keynote Address, delivered by Dr. Sugata Mitra, Newcastle
  1. Several participants pointed to Dr. Mitra's work as suggesting a core change to the role of the teacher, at least at the elementary level
  2. This moved to a discussion of whether face-to-face instruction is still necessary or relevant
  3. Dr. Mitra pointed to three conditions necessary for success in his learning environment.  We focused on two of them - creating a "safe" environment, and emphasizing the importance of play in the learning process.
  4. The aspect of "learning through play" was discussed at length, especially with regard to its relevance at other levels/ages.
  5. The discussion then turned to strengthes and weaknesses of face to face modes in comparison to on-line learning.  Issues included demographics, type of material, timeframes, etc..
  6. In conclusion, we then briefly touched on the relation of gender to Dr. Mitra's work.
III. Solveig brought the meeting to an end by suggesting that we think of suggestions for a
      "group name".

Gráinne Conole
08:47 on 25 September 2009 (Edited 07:14 on 3 October 2009)

From Craig Turnball:

Session 2: Group 3 - "Icelandic Cloud"
I. Introduction of New Member
II. Selection of Group name - "Icelandic Cloud"
III. Issues from the Keynote Address, delivered by Professor Morten Flate Paulsen, NKI
       Distance Education, Norway
  1. How exactly does assessment of student work occur within the "learning partners" concept?
  2. How do we view group work versus individual work?
  3. Is this a phenomena that works in Norway because of some aspect of Norwegian culture, or would it transfer to other situations?
  4. Does this approach work in the situation where it is desired to see students progress as cohorts?
  5. Are there demographic characteristics that relate to students seeking "learning partners"?
  6. In particular, do we see a difference based on gender?
  7. How exactly does the "learning partners" process actually work?  Are they given learning tools to work together?  Any specialized training or guidance?
  8. One issue that tends to surface when talking about on-line courses is that of student "visibility".  Is it more or less of an issue here?
  9. Has any research been done as to student motivations for using or not using a "learning partner"?  Are they related to students' motivations to learn in general?
  10. What impact is there for part-time students versus full-time students?
  11. How does this set-up, with no scheduled timeframes, and the use of "learning partners", affect faculty workload?  Faculty productivity?

Gráinne Conole
08:48 on 25 September 2009

From Craig Tunwall:

Session 3

  1. Introductory remarks by the chair, focusing on her attempts to get the group to change the group name
  2. Discussion of Keynote, as delivered by our own Professor Grainne Conole, The Open University, UK
  • “Clouds” and new ways to look at learning
  • Learning Spaces
  • How do we get faculty to adopt new technologies/approaches?
  • Does evaluation matter in an approach such as this?
  • What is the overall impact of the students here?  Individually?  As a group?
  • To what extent is this just an exercise in “academic management”
  • The overriding need for examples/applications.
  • How is this type of technology influenced by bureaucracy?
  • What about training for faculty and students?
  • The interplay between time and technology
  • How do you insure the proper match between appropriate technology and individual circumstance?

Session 4

  1. Exercise Break
  2. Discussion of Final Keynote, as delivered by Susan D’Antoni, UNESCO
  • Ownership issues – Intellectual property rights
  • How would the existence of copyright law affect open educational resources?
  • Where would funding come from to make this possible – discussion of MIT effort
  • This brings up the issue of compensation for the creators (faculty?) of such content/expertise.
  • Closed tied to this are the publishers and others who control/influence commercialization
  • How does this fit with open source issues?

Final Report

Focus on role of teacher, institution, society

Conclusions drawn from each of the Keynotes

  1. Learning happens when students are given access to knowledge – they are empowered by using the computer to gain knowledge
  2. It is important that we focus on the community of learning that exists, and its impact on motivation to learn for the individual
  3. “Technologies” in all senses of the word open doors we may not even know exist
  4. Learning takes place to its fullest when sources of knowledge are unlimited

Bottom line – Meaningful access is crucial to learning

Gráinne Conole
07:13 on 3 October 2009

Embedded Content


Gráinne Conole
9:07am 25 September 2009

Discussions this last morning have been focussing on Susan D'Antoni's keynote on Open Educational Resources (OER). 

What is being done in terms of OER in different countries?

In SUNY haven’t posted a lot of course materials to date on line, but have put a lot of resources online. There has been a significant debate about ownership of courses.

Copyright can be a real issue and is different in different institutions.

Another university is recording all their lectures and want to make these freely available as podcasts.

In knowledge management these issues have been discussed for 10-15 years – we must share and will all benefit, but has failed over and over again. We need an incentive system to encourage sharing – what’s in it for me?

Mixed feelings about OER – any resources you might want for a course are probably already there and probably better than those you could create.

One of the issues you have to come back to is are we talking about polished finished materials or things that are more draft in format, that can be adapted. Should we be posting things as we go along?

Openlearn found that the high quality of the resources they produced negated against people taking these and repurposing them.

Publishers now have canned online materials to go alongside their courses.

Gráinne Conole
9:34am 25 September 2009

Key issues

What is the role of the teacher and the idea of pedagogic design. Also what is the role of the institution? Teacher more as a facilitator

As a student its like you are on a shop, going from harbour to harbour, getting support from the institution, but have to process the whole thing and make some value out of it – to make sense of all the things your are receiving. For the process the teacher and other peer learners are important. Also need to frame your learning to begin with. What are you learning for? Also perhaps the teacher should be the attractor – the ability to frame a question, that inspires/motivates. Our galaxy – the centre of a black hole, is nothing… Perhaps its more about how to model a process, to teach others for how they can frame a question, its about process, modelling discourse, things that are less tangible than content.

We are talking about ways to make learning better, but in a sense what we are talking about is how the borders of education are disappearing. Also what is the purpose of education – for life? To get a job? What is an education? It’s also about the view of knowledge. How do we view knowledge is it just given to you or do you internalise/co-construct? Comes back to the issue 2 kinds of education, one for something and the other not for anything specifically. Education defined by the needs of society and who controls that society defines what is needed. How do we develop more caring attitudes around education? There is a danger of being split across different communities, in reality how much time can you devote to each. Is there a danger that we stray too much into the virtual, at the neglect of the real.

Binging on the Internet!

What are we getting out of the conference, being here face to face? It creates more caring, taken the time out to come here. A gathering like this is multi-sensory, whereas the Internet isn’t. Is it in part about creating common memories out of a meeting like this.  Sharing common problems and challenges and finding out new ideas. Also different ways of doing things. Also inspiration. What is the difference between doing this on the web and live? Get more sense of emotions and caring. But actually the two can be complementary – can build on the face to face work enhanced through use of the internet.

Sólveig Jakobsdóttir
9:45am 26 September 2009

Dear members of the Icelandic cloud home group and visitors to the group/cloud. Just want to thank all of you for your participation and special thanks to the reporters Craig and to you Gráinne for setting us up on this special cloud. If you visit Iceland one of the things you have to try is grounding yourself on the soft moss in our rough lavas and take a good look at the skies to comtemplate on all the clouds and cloudworks that we can see or dream of.  Hope to meet you all again in person and/or online.

Bless, bless = Bye, Icelandic short for be blessed


Gráinne Conole
9:57am 26 September 2009

Thanks for adding the reference Sólveig looks really interesting! The boundaries between "traditional" and "distance' education really are disappearing!

Gráinne Conole
10:39am 26 September 2009

Wow sounds fantastic Sólveig! It was great to meet you and thanks so much for looking after our group.

Marianne Taylor
10:54am 26 September 2009

Hi everyone

not sure if this is right place to post - don't all first time users say that?

Lots of you may have seen this but thought worth posting for non UK people as well

Got home last night and husband insists I carrry on conference at home by showing me  article in latest Times Higher Ed (The THE 

'Open Your mind and other resources'

which seems to say that OERs are very widely used by all kinds of  learners and that they are a useful marketing tool for unis etc ..not quite the angle our group looked at - more how teachers/course providers might use them

but also see Leader - 'downloads no substitute'

Great conference - thank you

Marianne (Aber Uni Wales)







Dominic Newbould
2:06pm 27 September 2009

Thanks for the THES link, Marianne. Glad you got home safely.

Please get into the debate for our group (The Namibian Nucleus) and I hope you get some quality time to look at OpenLearn with your Welsh students!

pamela ryan
5:04pm 27 September 2009

Very interesting conversation here. Of course we cannot do without the human  need to make contact, real, with people, real.  We need both/and, not either/or, I feel.

Loved the conference and meeting people who had just been names, some quite famous names, previously.

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