Backpacks, badges and epistemology: an interesting conversation that leads to happily ever after

Grant (2014) asks in the title to her book about digital badges, “What Counts as Learning?” This succinctly expresses the question of higher education and explains the continuing interest in badges, and in learning technologies in general. The fact this is less explored, gives me an opportunity to explore both learning technology and epistemology.

I have developed a new MA Education course module, “Philosophy and policy of higher education”. In this 20 credit level 7 module the question: “What counts as learning?” will be explored. That is the seductive game higher education plays: a chance at determining or being among the determiners of meaning – what counts as learning – for a generation or so. To extend the “play” metaphor to a stage on which higher education acts, higher education as an institution and its practitioners as individuals seek to occupy the limen, the space on the edge between consensual suspension of belief in order to “live the dream”, and the world as it is, explained. More critically for those in the game it poses the question about one’s own underpinnings, one own “will to power”, or academic identity or even life.

Badges are something like brand propositions and to some extent depend on other similar propositions. Like many brand propositions their link to truth is explicitly unattested. The badge can only serve as a conversation starter. Like travel badges on a backpack seen on an overnight Eurail while sleeping in the vestibule: “So when did you go to Sweden?” Most universities have a t-shirt and sports kit with a name and often a crest or logo. Some might serve the question: “Were you at Malmo?” To which an answer might be “No, it is a good hoodie.” But could also be, “Yes, for ice-hockey in 2009.”

Possibly the internet will work like the cold vestibule of a Eurail under an ex army coat, and when we see badges on a site we may start that interesting conversation that leads to happily ever after: life, love, career, changing the world? Or same as it ever was. That conversation about changing the world? Because as it is now, the foundations of meaning sometimes appear both unsound and cruel, not just one or the other.


Grant, Sheryl. 2014. What Counts as Learning: Open Badges for New Opportunities. Kindle. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.

Dialogic multimedia

Biblioteca Angelica

Biblioteca Angelica (cc sa) Seth Schoen

What kicked me off on this audio exploration of academic multimedia? Two things.

First and proximal cause: when I reported that my colleagues and I had been asked if we could give workshops on technology enhanced learning (TEL) the suggestion was scoffed. Why give workshops when you could do a series of three minute talking heads?

But the deeper underlying cause has been my interest in academic multimedia and dialogue – even dialogism – in learning. Continue reading

Academic multimedia is where TEL becomes real

Plates by condesign (cc0)

Plates by condesign (cc0)

Learning technologies and technology enhanced learning are not quite the same thing. The position and semantic force of the words is different. Learning as adjective and learning as noun; technology as nominal object and technology as agent of change: learning enhanced by technology.

There is a greater degree of abstraction in TEL, somewhat more particularity in learning technology, especially when pluralised as learning technologies.

Learning technologies are things: tools, software, applications like Moodle and GradeMark or in older days Authorware.

Technology is all these things and more. Continue reading

Academic Multimedia

Nurse's somg

William Blake, Nurse’s Song. (public domain)

Academic multimedia. Something other than marks on paper or that virtual page.  Academic multimedia covers a range of practices across a spectrum of technologies, which may include:

  1. automatic recording (audio and sometimes video) of an event primarily designed for a face-to-face audience (e.g. a “normal” lecture, visiting or guest lecture).
  2. Desk based podcasts, screen casts, vodcast, lectures, talks, webinars, learning objects, blogs and other social media for immediate learning, teaching, feedback and research purposes (That is what this is).
  3. Live event recording for purposeful post-production of high-quality (TED style) learning and other inspirational objects.
  4. Light-touch or incidental post production (editing and transcoding) of recordings from many sources.

Continue reading

TEL you no lies

Ruptured matrix

Ruptured matrix

The text. The traces of thought. Marks somewhere. Ambiguous. Always. Deal with it. Immediacy is elusive: an illusion. Shards of meaning splinter. Reform. Reflect and interpret.

Technology and learning? Certainly.. Technology enhanced learning? I’ll tell you no lies. What’s sauce for the goose only might sauce the gander.

All communication is mediated. This is not a hostile move. From mind to mouth to ear to mind; from eye to eye, from finger to keyboard to waves and wires there is interference. There are filters.

Don’t give me problems! Give me solutions!

Here is one. Stop trying to measure; measure everything. Continue reading

FSLT16 Week 1

Week one has flown by like a simile. There are 58 participants on the course of whom 22 are doing the module for academic credit (10 credits, level 7) towards a PG Cert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE). Sixteen (16) of the assessed participants are from Brookes and six are from other places. So far 20 people have claimed the “Scholar” badge for contributing to the collaborative annotated bibliography. The most distant participant is in Central America, but this year the participants are largely based in the UK.

I am not sure what these numbers tell us. In many ways FSLT is now quite an “ordinary” online course. That doesn’t mean it isn’t engaging. It might mean the mooc buzz, such as it was five years ago has vanished into the maw of Coursera and Future Learn.  FSLT justifies itself because of the internal members of staff who take it as part of their mandatory PCTHE. We used to run our introductory module twice a year, once in each semester. No we run “Learning and Teaching in Higher Education” (P70405) face to face in the first semester and offer people the opportunity of taking 20 credits online in the second semester. Opening the course up to the world for free allows us to widen our audience and expose ourselves to a wider community of teachers in the expanding tertiary education sector. That is, as well as being good for what it teaches, it should be beneficial to our teachers because of the wider community they might meet. And for those from beyond Brookes, we trust it isn’t too bound up with local jargon.

FSLT16 Kicking off

It has been a lot of work this year getting FSLT ready to go. Partly this is because as ever, I start too late. We also pulled the starting date forward from last year by two weeks so not only am I late the course is early. There were several reasons to do this, but mainly we hoped to be able to engage with teachers before (most of) their own teaching started.

But the main reason for the load of work was because the course had become over complicated and a lot of the internal links had broken or degraded. It needed a lot of patching up and this led me to do a root and branch overhaul. We have simplified the assessment scheme, tidied up the activities and are rebuilding the resources. We hope to stay at least a week ahead of the timetable! It is still not perfect, but it is a lot better than it was (in my eyes).

I hope you who are participating agree.