Storyboarding OOC Week 2: tools and processes for storyboarding learning design

It’s the end of Week 2 of the Storyboarding OOC, so it’s time for another update.

New participants

We now have 137 participants registered (23 more than this time last week). New participants include a handful of students on an Instructional Design course at the University of Mauritius and their teacher, who have said they are participating in the OOC as part of an international “benchmarking” process. We’re happy to have them on the course and will try to get some feedback from them about how the OOC has contributed to their learning when the OOC is over.

Question of the week: “When do you do storyboarding?”

One participant posted in the discussion forum:

One thing I found tricky to understand from the video was that the small flip chart/post-its prevented too much information and deliberation about the substance of the course – it seemed to me like you’d have to have done a lot of pre-planning and preparation to make the storyboarding effective. So one question – when is the best time to do the storyboarding in the course design process? After you got a really clear idea of learning outcomes, aligned activities/assessment, technologies etc. So the storyboard is really just to visualise and sort of organise all the prior work? Or can it be used as part of this deeper thinking about the course?

In my answer, I said that I think the demo videos (by Gilly Salmon and team and also the ones I’ve created about using Linoit and Popplet) are a bit misleading in terms of when to use storyboarding, because we have tried to encapsulate a process that is usually spread out over many days or weeks in a 10-minute video. Storyboarding is useful right from the start of the process, and ideally the storyboard should be built up in layers, with the course team adding more detail in a fairly structured way over time. You need to make sure you can keep adding more layers of detail, so if you’re using a flipchart, this may mean you end up with a series of sticky notes stuck on top of one another in parts of the storyboard. Storyboards often spill over onto several flipchart sheets as they develop and become more detailed.

The video I created on using Popplet for storyboarding shows a fairly early stage in the process. I had probably spent about 2 hours developing the storyboard for the coures on ‘Online Academic Identity’ before making the video, so you can see my ideas were still at a very formative stage. I did all my thinking on Popplet and did not make any handwritten or other notes. On the other hand, my Linoit demo is really a summary of a process that Brenda and I have been going through since October 2014. The storyboard on Google Docs reflects this longer-term process the best. You’ll see there is a ‘Brief version’ and a ‘Detailed version’. We worked on the brief version first. The detailed version is still changing as we finalise preparations for activities and resources for the remaining weeks of the course – and you might see this version changing before your eyes if you happen to go in while we are working on it.

Tips for brainstorming when creating a storyboard collaboratively: 

There were many great tips given by participants who had experience in creating storyboards, mainly using flipcharts and coloured sticky notes or similar paper and pen tools. Here are some of them:

  • visibility: not only size of the chart and liability of the writing; but mobility  and access to the chart; people can get turned if they can’t really see or follow the build up;  (as an alternative, “bricks” on a wall with sheets of A4 and blu-tak worked really well once with a group of 15 designing a large departmental programme)
  • trying to get (at least some) sticky notes on display before they go up on the chart  can sometimes be helpful:  it will get people engaged and get the sharing started more quickly
  • try to be open, and encourage everyone else to be open to ideas that come up; but at the same time ask people to clarify, check with people are saying the same things in different ways ;
  • see it as an organic process of review and re-shaping on the go, ,  let it flow
  • as a group look for places where ideas merge and overlap and come to a common agreement about re-shaping if its needed;
  • ensure you get some sticky notes up on display before the group activity starts, to encourage sharing.
  • try and model what you need on the flip notes – it might be better to have “Students practise w BP cuff”‘ than “Blood pressure” (i.e. being clear and descriptive)
  • make sure everyone’s voice is heard; take time to consider each contribution and see how it fits with the whole plan
  • we begin from learning objectives rather than from topics and units of time – although we get there eventually
  • use large post-its and, if you can, have one or two people with neat printing who actually write down what each person wants to contribute
  • start with loose groupings as you don’t want to shut down new ideas – I always have a “sidepen” for ideas that don’t really fit but may fit later
  • take pictures of the wall or whiteboard at significant points in the development of your course

Storyboarding tools

While many people had used flipcharts and sticky notes, most felt it was time to try online brainstorming tools for greater ease of use with distributed teams, and for greater ease of storage and version control. About six people said they liked Linoit, and we had the same number of positive comments on Popplet. Two people said they planned to use Google Sheets for their storyboard. A few are experimenting with Gliffy. There was some interest in Scrumblr, but this seems to have less functionality than the others. There was some frustration from someone who struggled to get access to Linoit (password not recognised and no immediate solution offered by Linoit), and several who noted that Popplet was erratic, often not functioning on a particular browser or being unavailable at a particular time.

There were also some questions about the terms and conditions of the various online tools for storyboarding, as well as whether these tools would work on mobile devices. These are obviously important issues, and I’ll report more on them in a later post.

What’s next

In Week 3 (starting tomorrow) we will focus on developing the learning outcomes and assessment for the courses being storyboarded. Watch this space for further updates 🙂

Posted in learning design | 1 Comment

Storyboarding OOC progress report: week 1

We’ve just started Week 2 of the Storyboarding OOC, so it’s time for the first progress report.

What we did in Week 1

Around 114 people signed up as registered participants, of whom over 30 have been participating actively. The discussion forums for Week 1 included conversation around many very real and challenging problems to be avoided in the activity called ‘Ruining a course’; some in-depth reflection on the concepts of ‘learning design’ vs ‘instructional design’, Salmon’s five-stage model and Anderson’s interaction equivalency theorem; and some very interesting descriptions of the courses that participants are planning to storyboard.

A diverse group

People on the OOC are participating from six continents (just missing that elusive participant from Antarctica to complete the map!) Many participants have a long history of designing courses in higher education or professional development contexts, while some are taking on this role for the first time. Some are old hands at online learning and teaching, while for others this is their first experience of an online course of any description. This wide range of backgrounds, skills and experiences is to be expected on an open course. I’m aware that it could make the experience of the course difficult for some participants, but I have been heartened to see the way participants are reaching out to one another across all the different kinds of boundaries that might create barriers, asking questions to better understand each other’s contexts and challenges, and providing encouraging feedback on each other’s posts.

The decision to create ‘groups’ for discussion forum activities

At the start of the OOC I mentioned that we were planning to divide participants into two groups for the discussion forum activities – learners were asked to join either the A-M group or the N-Z group, according to their user names. All forums were open to all participants, and anyone was free to switch groups or to participate in both if they wanted to. The rationale for this approach was to avoid having overwhelming discussion forums, while also giving participants choice and flexibility in how they participated. As it turned out, the approach worked very well, but the A-M forums had about twice to three times as many participants as the N-Z forums. This seemed a bit unfair on the people in the smaller group, and so we have decided to merge the discussion forum groups into one for Week 2. Watch this space for an update on how this new strategy goes…

What’s on the menu for Week 2

This week we are experimenting with storyboarding tools/platforms:

  • Traditional flipcharts, sticky notes and marker pens
  • Linoit.com
  • Popplet.com
  • Google Sheets
  • Other tools selected by participants (e.g. Prezi, Gliffy, Freemind etc.)

By the end of the week the aim is that everyone should have selected their preferred tool, and shared the rationale for that choice with others on the OOC – or on the Web for those participants who blog and/or tweet. (Watch out for #sldooc on Twitter.)

New resources available

For Week 2 we have created a few new resources (all available as OERs):

If you’re interested in joining in, it’s not too late – you can still enrol or view the course on CourseSites!

Posted in learning design, mooc, open education | Tagged | 2 Comments

Storyboarding for learning design OOC is launched!

Today is the start of the Storyboarding for Learning Design open online course (OOC). Brenda Padilla, Jeff Stanford and I will be co-facilitating it.

I promised in an earlier post that I would talk about how we are grouping participants on the OOC. Based on my experience on the Carpe Diem MOOC, I think it helps to group the learners in a highly interactive open course, with the proviso that learners can also see what is happening in other groups and can switch groups if they want to, without having to ask an administrator. Of course it all depends on the numbers enrolled – and the numbers that participate actively. As of now, we have 96 participants signed up. We have experimentally set up two groups in the discussion forums (divided into user names starting A-M, and N-Z). Participants in both groups can view the discussions in the other group, and can join in if they want to. We’ll see how this goes in Week 1 and I’ll report back here for anyone who is interested.

The course materials for the first week are now available under a CC-BY-SA licence in a Google Doc – Week 1: Introduction.

To log in or browse the course on CourseSites, click here. (You can also enrol from this link.)

Twitter hashtag #sldooc.

Posted in Storyboarding OOC | Tagged , | 3 Comments

2014 in review – a summary of activity on my blog by WordPress

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people…

The busiest day of the year was November 20th with 247 views. The most popular post that day was Good-bye Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

Click here to see the complete report.

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Running a-MOC with false MOOC pollution – a reply to Stephen Downes

Just when I thought I could take a break for Christmas, Stephen Downes threw me a curved ball, saying that he doesn’t think the Storyboarding OOC that Brenda Padilla and I are planning to run in the new year is actually open. Here is my reply to Stephen.

Hi Stephen. It seems I gave you the idea that the Storyboarding OOC is closed. It’s not – or at least it’s not intended to be. There are three aspects of my blog post that could have created this wrong impression: firstly I noted that the OOC will be offered via the CourseSites platform, which requires participants to sign in with a password and enrol on the course. I agree with you that the fact that the course activities take place in a logged-in environment limits openness for the duration of this iteration of the course; however, as I explained to Wayne in a different post, we are going to great lengths to ensure that *all* the content of the OOC, plus as much content generated by participants as they want to share, will be available openly in all senses of the word. In fact, the content is currently being developed in the open via a series of Google Docs, which can be accessed via the storyboard for the OOC itself. (Warning – in the spirit of what Wayne calls radical transparency, the storyboard and related resources are work in progress and are changing/evolving daily.) I think this point probably deals with the heart of your criticism, and hopefully you are reassured now that at least the course content and the navigational pathway through the OOC are totally open.

Secondly, I said that the OOC is not intended to be massive. The reason for this is not because it is not open, but because as two academics acting in our individual capacities without institutional backing and without certificate-awarding powers, we don’t expect to attract masses of participants (although we would not mind if we did). We are doing this on an experimental basis, and we hope that after the first iteration, all the course resources, including the design of the course in the form of the OOC storyboard, will be reused by other open educators – including those with real MOOC-capacity. One way of looking at the OOC would be to see it as a pilot for future MOOCs. Of course there is a contradiction in trying to run a small pilot for a massive course, since a great many challenges arise when one has thousands of participants that would not arise in a smaller cohort, but by leaving that ‘M’ off the front of the OOC we are attempting to be honest about that.

Thirdly, the question about whether setting up groups is compatible with the spirit of open courses is an interesting one. Gilly Salmon and the Swinburne team experimented with the idea in the Carpe Diem MOOC. As a participant on that MOOC earlier this year, I can say that the structured group experience was helpful and motivating for me, although I was aware that there were issues for some people whose allocated groups did not work out, for a range of reasons. Brenda and I have had some lengthy discussions in the last few weeks about how to create groups that are clearly enough defined that participants to know that they have a “home base” to go to, but also flexible enough for participants to move between groups if they want to, or completely opt out of if they prefer. As it’s quite a big topic, I’ll make it the subject of my next blog post. For now, I’d just like to say that in the Carpe Diem experience, I did not feel that the course was in any way less of a MOOC because of being asked to join a group. This is an aspect of the OOC that we will be asking participants about as part of our research, and we’ll report back on our findings at a later date.

In conclusion, I very much appreciate the feedback and I do accept that there are degrees of openness. However, I hope for now that I have gone some way towards persuading you that by using the term OOC we are not “polluting” the concept of MOOCs. By using the term OOC we were simply trying to say that we are aiming for openness, and equally that we’re not aiming for massiveness. The first of these aims is an absolute principle, but the second is more of a prediction. If by some fluke we get thousands of participants on the OOC, we will be happy to rename it a MOOC, but I don’t believe it would be appropriate to rename it an OC or a MOC (without the ‘O’ for open) as you’ve suggested!

Posted in Storyboarding OOC | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Increasing reusability of open courses through transparent design

In my last blog post, I replied to Wayne Mackintosh’s question about how to design open courses for reuse. I focused on the technical aspects of designing open courses using closed (in the sense of password-protected) platforms. Wayne’s comment on that post has really got me thinking, and this post is a continuation of the conversation with him. In a nutshell, Wayne is asking whether there are ways of overcoming the technical limitations of transferring open courses from platform to platform, by ‘smart design’. This is a great question, and goes to the heart of the purpose of storyboarding, which is to create a visual representation of the course design so that all members of the design team can see, more or less at a glance, how the course is intended to unfold, and how each element of the course (learning outcomes, assessment tasks, learning activities, and resources for learning) will support the others. A further purpose of storyboards, which has been little discussed in the debates about learning design as far as I’m aware, is to enable a completely different teacher or course team to take an existing open course, and reuse it for a completely different audience. So the short answer to your latest question, Wayne, is that the storyboard itself is an ideal tool for the uptake of open education on a massive scale, in that it enables reuse of courses without the necessity for the original course designer(s) to sit down with potential new course design teams and explain what they had in mind.

We know from research into course design at the Open University that course design is a very messy process, and any attempts by administrators to impose template-driven structures on academics to try to speed up the process or make it more efficient tend to be met with either disinterest or disdain.  There is something very personal about designing a course, and something very exciting about being part of a team that develops a course (as I can attest from my experience of working with Brenda on developing the Storyboarding OOC), and asking course leaders to simply take a pre-packaged course designed and developed by someone else and reuse it has never been part of the culture of teaching in higher education. However, a range of tried-and-tested visual representation tools (not just storyboards, but also course maps and activity profile sheets, to name some other examples from the OU) exist for course design. It is my hypothesis that sharing these representations as OERs, alongside the openly licensed resources for course content, will enable other course designers to understand the spirit and context of the original design and quickly make decisions about which elements they want to retain ‘as-is’, and which elements they want to change. The ownership of the new version of the course would remain clearly in the hands of the new course team, but they would have enough guidance to redesign the course quite quickly and efficiently.

I would be very interested to hear of any experiences that other course designers have had in this regard, and whether anyone can either validate or discount my hypothesis. Wayne, perhaps when you remix the materials from the Storyboarding OOC for the OERu mOOC on Digital Skills for Collaborative Development, it will be possible to test the idea? Also, if the OERu is already using a visual representation for their course design then maybe it would be worth comparing the usefulness of different visual formats in facilitating reuse. I would be very interested in following any discussions around this topic.

Posted in Storyboarding OOC | Tagged | 2 Comments

The conundrum of creating an open course in a closed site – Storyboard OOC update

This is an update on the preparations for the Storyboarding for Learning Design OOC (open online course) that I will be running with Brenda Padilla from 12 Jan to 20 Feb 2015. Following on from my last post about storyboarding the storyboarding OOC, I want to share some of our latest thinking about the logistics of offering an open course. The post is mainly in response to a question from Wayne Mackintosh, leader of the OERu, a global consortium of higher education institutions aiming to enable millions of non-formal, open learners to achieve full qualifications by studying online.  Wayne’s question was as follows:

What are the design implications for developing MOOCs for reuse and delivery across multiple platforms?

In response, I would like to say that this course might not be the best test case for such a research question. We have deliberately used the label ‘OOC’ as opposed to ‘MOOC’, in order to dispel any expectations of massiveness from the start. We are just two individuals who want to share our experience of learning design with others. We are also very keen for the OOC to be a catalyst for the sharing of some real storyboards, produced for real courses, under open licences on the Web, for reuse and modification by other course designers around the world. We hope that the OOC will help bring together a community of practitioners who want to learn about storyboarding and are interested in collaborating with others in the process, and that the resources produced for – and as a result of – the OOC will be of value to the open education sector.

With that in mind, the infrastructure we are setting up for the OOC will be rather simple, but we hope, also replicable by other providers after the first iteration. Actually we would be delighted if the OOC (in part or whole) were to be reused in future open courses run by institutions with accrediting powers. We would also like the resources we create for the OOC (which will all be published as Free Cultural Works) to be made available to the wider public, so that even people who are not enrolled on the OOC can access them, and they remain available after the end of the OOC itself. We are therefore developing all the course materials in Google Docs – starting with the storyboard itself for the OOC (version in-progress available here – warning: this is changing on a daily basis at the moment!) All the activities and supporting resources will be made available as Google Docs and linked to from this Storyboard page, which will be evolving over the next few weeks.

The course itself will be offered via the Blackboard CourseSites platform. The reasons for this are that (a) it’s free, (b) the platform allows individuals (not just institutions) to create courses there, and (c) Brenda and I are familiar with it. We chose to use a platform that requires people to have accounts and sign in, in order to be able to set up and manage the groups effectively. (The question of groups in a MOOC/OOC is a separate topic – I’ll blog about it in another post.) The actual storyboards that participants produce will probably be created using other online tools, such as Prezi, Google Spreadsheets, Popplet, etc., and will be hosted on the servers of those providers. We will be encouraging participants to blog, tweet and otherwise publish the URLs to their emerging storyboards, and their reflections on the process, but we also wanted to provide them with a safe environment to develop their ideas in collaboration with peers on the course. We will also be encouraging participants to share the URLs to their storyboards via the Wikieducator wiki as a way of disseminating them within an existing open education community.

So, back to Wayne’s question: Wayne, if you were thinking of interoperability between MOOC platforms, we have not engaged with that question. The resources for the OOC will all be made freely available via the Storyboard itself, and this will contain a clear sequence and pathway through the activities and resources that it provides links to. Anyone who wanted to replicate the OOC (or offer it as part of a MOOC), would therefore need to manually set up the course on the platform of their choice. I know this isn’t the ideal solution, but to borrow a cliche that I think was originally said about politics, ‘OOC design is the art of the possible’!

In closing, as Brenda and I are both researchers, we would love to get suggestions for any research questions that we could focus on during the planning and delivery of the course. You can comment here or find us on Twitter (@twitthaus and @BrendaPadilla) – hashtag #sldooc. Looking forward to those questions…

Posted in Storyboarding OOC | Tagged | 7 Comments

Storyboarding the Storyboarding OOC

Brenda Padilla and I are in the process of designing the Storyboarding OOC (open online course) which we will be running in the New Year, and since the starting point for designing a course is to create a storyboard, we have been working on just that, and we would like to share our work-in-progress with OOC participants and other interested readers. We plan to produce a few sample storyboards for the OOC using different online tools, in order to both illustrate a few of the tools that can be used for this purpose, and also to experience the ways in which a particular tool might influence the course design – for better or for worse.

The basic idea of a storyboard was developed by Walt Disney in the 1930s (see this Wikipedia page). According to Gilly Salmon, from whom I learnt about storyboarding for learning design, the spirit of storyboarding is big, bold, colourful and fun – and is best captured when working on a large sheet of paper (e.g. a flipchart) with coloured sticky notes and markers, as seen in the image below from Gilly’s Carpe Diem workshop in Berlin last week.

'Searching Faster Using Google' storyboard

Storyboard developed during Gilly Salmon’s Carpe Diem workshop at Online Educa Berlin 2014

Transferring the storyboard into an electronic format is ideally only done after one has done the flipchart version. However, as Brenda and I are in two different locations (Mexico and the UK), we have settled for going straight into an online format. Hopefully the OOC will not suffer too much for this – we will never know!

At the moment we are working on two versions of the storyboard – one in Google Spreadsheets and one in Popplet. (Warning – if you go into these links now you will see incomplete storyboards, or you may even see live changes taking place before your eyes!) The idea is to have the same information in each storyboard, with the only difference being in the format. These two formats lend themselves to quite different thinking processes – with Google Spreadsheets being rather rigid, forcing one into columns and rows, and the mindmapping tool Popplet being much freer, allowing one to add or delete ‘nodes’ anywhere on the page. I think Popplet captures the ‘Disney’ spirit of storyboarding better, and is more fun to work with, although it might be useful to eventually transfer the info into a spreadsheet format for ease of reference when you come to developing the course.

Other tools that could be used for storyboarding include LinoitPreziGliffy and Freemind. (Click here for an example of a storyboard on Linoit that was created for a course on Learning Design in the University of Leicester’s SPEED project in 2012-2013.) FreeMind and Google Spreadsheets are free, and the others have both free and paid versions. We’re hoping that participants in the OOC will try many different tools, and will share their experiences of using them. We are hoping to build up a bank of CC-licensed storyboards created for real courses, for reference and reuse by educators globally, so if anyone has any online storyboards that they would like to share already, please let us know – we’re watching this space!

In case anyone is wondering how I’m collaborating with Brenda in the preparation phase, it is through a combination of Google Hangouts for live voice chats (with a bit of video every now and then to show each other the various cats/dogs and family members that are in the background/ on our laps while we’re working), and Google Docs, where we develop our plans and will be developing and storing the e-tivities. Brenda is usually eating breakfast, and I’m usually preparing dinner while having our meet-ups, and we invariably end our real-time meet-ups when I become aware of the faint smell of burning from my kitchen, having become so absorbed in our conversation that I forgot to turn the oven off…

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Transferring that f2f magic to the online environment at OEB14

Yesterday I ran a workshop with Jeff Stanford at Online Educa Berlin. Participants came along with an existing course that they wanted to convert from face-to-face delivery mode into either blended or fully online learning. The course topics in the room ranged from business through family mediation to, intriguingly, swing dancing… (Oliver, the swing dance teacher, will be at the OEB anniversary celebration dinner tonight, leading us all in the face-to-face version of his course!)

Our aim was to transfer the ‘magic’ that exists in face-to-face teaching into the online or blended learning environment. There was great participation from the group, as can be seen from the photos – with thanks to the participants for giving their permission.

In the morning participants looked at the highlights of the courses in their current face-to-face form, and brainstormed ways in which they could transfer those highlights into the online version of their courses, and possibly even improve on the classroom experience – especially in terms of enabling deep interaction between learners. We discussed the possibilities of various tools both within the LMS/VLE, and on the open Web, and considered when it might be appropriate to use them.

A lot of hard work was done on storyboarding the designs for the new, online versions of the courses  in the afternoon. (If you’re at the conference and are interested in the concept of storyboarding for learning design, storyboarding supremo Gilly Salmon will be running a hands-on session with Janet Gregory on Friday morning.) Participants chose whether to use the big, bold, colourful technology of a flipchart sheet with coloured sticky notes, or a colour-coded spreadsheet template for storyboarding. (Template available in Google Spreadsheets here. Also see example of a storyboard, which is work-in-progress for the OOC on Storyboarding. More examples to come in different formats soon, including Lino.it and Popplet – I’ll blog on those in the coming weeks.)

A few more links from the workshop:

  • Workshop handouts available here as OERs.
  • The Google Doc with participants’ ‘burning questions‘, which also includes a list of LMSs and web-conferencing tools used by participants, and some URLs added by participants during the day. We found it really useful having a running Google Doc live throughout the session, so that as questions or answers arose, people could add them there, and as suggestions were made of useful tools/ technologies, they could all be captured. It’s a great record for everyone to take away.
  • Jacob Christensen’s blog – he blogged about the workshop and promised he would be live-blogging all the sessions he attends at OEB.

Post script: I was interested to hear from Joanne Roxburgh of Kaplan that in her instructional design context, the term storyboarding is used to refer to the creation of a script for the content that is to be authored – quite a different meaning from the idea of a storyboard as a plan for the whole course, showing the alignment between learning outcomes, assessment, learning activities and content. This was a good reminder to always clarify terminology at the start of a session!

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Good-bye Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

On 31 December 2014 the Institute of Learning Innovation (previously Beyond Distance Research Alliance) will close down. This is the end of a significant chapter for me and several colleagues, and I would venture to say, also for the global distance/online learning community of which we have been a part since BDRA’s inception in 2004. Gilly Salmon brought me in to join the team in February 2009 and I had the privilege to be absorbed into a vibrant, multinational cast of characters (Ale from Uruguay, Palitha from Sri Lanka, Sahm from Ghana, Ming from China, Sandra from Bulgaria, Terese from the USA, Simon from England to mention a few) who were working on a range of exciting research projects around online and distance learning, innovation in learning technologies and pedagogies, open education, and learning design for higher education.

Gilly’s original concept for BDRA was a captivating one, wrapped up in a quirky metaphor: the Alliance’s remit was to collaborate with other researchers and practitioners on a range of studies, pushing the boundaries of research in the field and carrying out pilots to spearhead the use of new technologies in education – and the projects were all to be articulated within the overarching framework of the ‘Media Zoo’. The Zoo was explained in terms of a four-quadrant model with the axes of ‘New and Existing Technologies and Pedagogies’ and ‘New and Existing Markets and Missions’ . The four quadrants were Pets’ Corner, a Breeding Area, a Safari Park and an Exotics House, each with its own technological wildlife in the form of pedagogies and learning technologies. (Thanks to Matt Wheeler for the description.)

I was recruited to work on the JISC-funded DUCKLING project, being embedded as a teaching fellow in the School of Education’s Online MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL course team to investigate the use of new technologies in this programme. (I am still an e-moderator on that programme and thus will retain my association with Leicester University after my ILI contract ends.) Subsequent projects for me focused on open education (OTTER, OSTRICH, and my SCORE fellowship TOUCANS), and also learning design, in the form of the Carpe Diem process – I had the opportunity, for which I’m very grateful, to develop and run various versions of the Carpe Diem workshop for teams of academics at several institutions around the UK, and also for SAIDE in South Africa.

In late 2010, Gilly got an offer she couldn’t refuse in Australia, made all the more irresistible for her by the continent’s rich history in distance and online learning and its cornucopia of exotic wildlife. Leicester simply couldn’t compete. We welcomed Grainne Conole from the Open University as our new director in September 2011. Our name changed to Institute of Learning Innovation, and the Carpe Diem process evolved into The 7Cs of Learning Design. The nature of our work shifted towards EU-funded projects, including POERUP which I worked on in 2012, and the OpenCred study, which will be my last project at Leicester.

Back to the closure of the Institute, the obvious question is: why? We have been told by administration that it is for ‘cost-cutting’ purposes. In an email from the Registrar to staff and students of the Institute, the following explanation was given:

This has not been an easy decision for the University and as I have stressed to Grainne and Pal directly it should, in no way, be seen as a reflection on the good work of the Institute and the commitment of the staff who have been involved with it since it evolved from BDRA. The decision has been driven entirely by financial considerations.

Perhaps this reflects, in a very small way, the general upheaval in higher education in the UK since the implementation of the dramatic fee increase for students in 2012. The sad truth is that in a time where the survival of universities is measured in financial terms, a research institute like ILI is unable to justify its existence. We do not have undergraduate students, whose fees can amass to look impressive on an income sheet. We do have PhD students, but the high staff-student ratio for post-grads cancels out any financial value they may add. We do receive consultancy fees for services provided to outside agencies, but we are first and foremost a research institute, and our research projects often run at a loss because of the usual funders’ requirement for matched funding from the institution. If the Institute’s value were to be measured in terms of contribution of new knowledge to the field of open and distance learning, I think its future would look very different.

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