Category Archives: Educational Development

The “enhancement debate” and TEL

Beginning a critical exploration of “enhancement”.

The “enhancement debate” clearly (to me) must be addressed within the scope of technology enhanced learning (TEL) debates. TEL is largely seen as an instrumental means of making the individual person (human being) more effective and efficient in the information economy, maybe more compliant to employability and managerial norms as well as possibly resistant to collectivist and democratic or redistributive urges. TEL discussions often focus on the capacity of the technology to enhance, and the person to be enhanced largely through an individual’s own capacity to use or even master learning technology. The person is often understood as a decontextualised individual, with inadequacies to be remediated or skill levels to be increased largely through their own efforts, assisted by appropriate training and development programmes largely focused on using tools.

However set against this fairly common conception of the person and their relations to learning technology are various streams of more critical engagement (as set out by Van Den Eede 2015) from the transhumanism of Bostrom to the democratic humanism of Feenberg. Bostrom (2009) provides a definition of enhancement:

An intervention that improves the functioning of some subsystem of an organism beyond its reference state; or that creates an entirely new functioning or subsystem that the organism previously lacked. (89)

… which if the capacity to use certain tools or technologies is a “subsystem” and a human being is “an organism” and a “reference state” is a certain level of competence, then, I suggest this encapsulates “enhancement” sufficiently to both include TEL and to be included in discussions of TEL However, considering the individual “organism” or person as the object of the enhancement is only part of the landscape. Seeing TEL as an individual concern and an individual remedial (enhancement) challenge is simplistic and potentially problematic both for the individual and for groups (institutions, communities, etc).. As Feenberg (2009) suggests

… community is the primary scene of human communication and personal development. It is in this context that people judge the world around them and discuss their judgments with others. Any technology that offers new possibilities for the formation of community is thus democratically significant. (81)

Van Den Eede (2015) suggests that:

we must learn to see ourselves as hybrid blends of flesh, mind, materials, machines, information, values, institutions, relations, and processes. (152)


Bostrom, Nick. 2009. ‘Dignity and Enhancement’. Contemporary Readings in Law & Social Justice 1 (2): 84–115.


Feenberg, Andrew. 2009. ‘Critical Theory of Communication Technology: Introduction to the Special Section.’ Information Society 25 (2): 77–83.


Van Den Eede, Yoni. 2015. ‘Where Is the Human? Beyond the Enhancement Debate.’ Science, Technology & Human Values 40 (1): 149–62.


Towards a new education?

I asked Richard Murphy a question on Twitter after reading his post, “It’s not just a new politics we need: we need a new economics too.”
“And a new education?”
He replied “Almost certainly”.

This “new education” has to lie in what Murphy calls “collective” or shared narratives: “… where the individual seeks to achieve their purpose within the constraints that the planet now so very obviously imposes upon us… because achieving purpose is about substituting meaning for material consumption.” Narratives make meaning. Narrative must replace material consumption. As Max Tegmark (2014: 256) puts it, “… nature contains many types of entities that are almost begging to be named.”

I am leaning on Murphy and Tegmark here because both come from disciplines that value mathematical descriptions of the world above what Tegmark calls “baggage” or words. And both reveal the uncertainty at the base of measure, or to put it another way, they explore the measure problem. How you define constraints, if there are any?

And that I suggest is as ever: new or old education is about making meaning. Making meaning gets us very quickly into measures: pictures, categories, ranges, constraints; about how many lions are there over there? Meaning without baggage? Or is it all always baggage? Pragmatically, at what point do our useful approximations break down into mere baggage?

I spent much of Thursday and Friday last week immersed in dimensions of digital leadership in higher education, represented diagramatically. I started writing about this here. The base for this diagrammatic thinking was the range between “Visitor” and “Resident” in or to or in respect of/with reference to the digital. This model was constructed by Dave While and Alison leCornu several years ago in response to the “Native/Immigrant” model proposed by Presnky. There are other typologies, such as the “voyeur/flaneur” of dana boyd (2011) but the Jisc Co-designers find the visitor-resident one productive and useful.

To get the workshop talking and thinking together, the workshop facilitators laid another axis at 90 degrees to the visitor-resident x-axis. They labelled the upper end of the range “Personal” and the lower end “Institutional”. And this was the end of my messy thinking in my last post.

Tools as spaces as practises

Tools as spaces as practises

The next day we started again with a slightly rephrased map, where the top element was changed: “Individual” replaced “Personal” and rather than our own “digital capability” we were asked to map our institution’s.

Figure 1

Figure 1

It immediately struck my colleague, Richard Francis, that a small circle in the centre might represent the “disengaged learner” and that more “pressure” outward along any axis could be construed as a transformation of some sort.

Figure 2

Figure 2

I then observed that just maybe there were limits outward in some directions. It struck me that a person who was increasingly a visitor to one’s own individuality might lack self awareness (top left. And, in the same way travel too far lower right and a person might be in danger of becomming fully institutionalised.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Both these outer areas might break the “Identity and Wellbeing” circle suggested by the Jisc’s model of Digital Capability

6 Elements

6 Elements of Digital Capability

The last move in this opening development was to observe that the boundaries were at least elastic: that pressures towards self awareness might press inward while counterveiling pressures might push outward. And that these spaces might be characterised in various ways. Richard Francis proposed that being a visitor to one’s self from time to time might be construed as reflection rather than a tendency towards solipciism.

Figure 4

Figure 4

At this point in the morning the facilitators asked us to consider “openness” and “authenticity”. Richard Francis asked if perhaps the visitor-resident continuum might be relabelled “consumer-producer”? It struck me that an urge towards production and self-actualising transformation seemed to produce something like a wave or flow of force through the model, rupturing the membranes inward from the left to outward on the right. We realised that there was a relatively narrow band on either side of each of the main axes. We called the horozontal band the “Mean of engagement”: more or less individual and more or less institutional. We called the vertical band the “Mode of action”: more or less visitor and more or less resident. We also noticed an impact axis punching in another dimensionfrom lower left towards upper right. It appeard that the far left might be characterised by a lack of authenticity:. As one approached outer limits various pejorative warnings began to attach themselves to the image: at the outer and upper left solipcism and maybe hyper-capitalism dwelt, while at the upper right fully resident in individualism lurked the bully and the narcissist, with no self-control. There was a sweet spot for us upward and rightward from the centre where we put terms like open engagement, community, access and authority, while authoritarian by way of contrast fell out somewhere lower right.

Ruptured matrix

Ruptured matrix

We began to see institutional functions appear: assessment and the VLE seemed to occupy a backwater and the digital impact criteria of attention and presence firmly resided within the mean of engagement.

So all this was very satisfying as a means of understanding our world, but now the challenge is to turn it into action.



danah boyd. (2011). Dear Voyeur, Meet Flâneur… Sincerely, Social Media.” Surveillance and Society 8(4), 505-507

Tealab? TEL me about it

Reviving Tealab: Tealab is explicitly a Teaching Laboratory and discussion “space”. There are a number of excellent initiatives across the university that lap over the territory. When Tealab was set up it was intended to replace the Learning and Teaching  Forum (LTF),  with a focus on people (possibly “younger” whatever that might mean) interested in new or innovative teaching practices. These practices did not need to make use of learning technologies, but given the zeitgeist and interests of the proponents of Tealab there was a strong learning technology focus.

The institutional learning and teaching focus is currently on the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Framework with its participatory underpinning. The aim of the framework is expressed in four domains: Learning, Identity, Community and Place and is intended to enable the creative appropriation of tools, transformative academic practice, inclusive communities and safe spaces for learning.

Now, the Technology Experimentation Group (TEG), has a clear learning technologies focus and the Minerva Seminar Series is focused on teaching excellence.

Tealab can do two things.

One is serve as a clearing house and notice board of all the extra and co-curricular learning opportunities for teachers at Brookes, pulling from many sources: OBIS training, Library training courses, Digital Services training and various Guides, and OCSLD teaching courses.

And second Tealab can serve as a forum for collaborative discussion and development of the aspirations of the TEL framework. With this in mind, I am planning a series of Lunch-time sessions (and I know that time is troublesome so forgive me if these sessions are not accessible for you; we will simulcast and record for later review). I am proposing three this semester:

  • Monday 19 October 1200-1330 – Participation in learning, aspirations for teaching: introducing the TEL Framework
  • Monday 09 November 1200-1330 – Creative appropriation and appropriate technology for teaching
  • Monday 30 November 1200-1330 – Academic Identity today

And three next semester (dates to be announced)

  • Learning Communities
  • Holding space
  • Frameworks for learning and teaching



Education for all: a public good?

This is still the question to be addressed as the consequences of less and less certain funding are felt in actual institutions with payrolls and contracts and food service and students. While the recharged Labour Party debate suggests there is political risk, there will be at least four more years of opposition and for institutions maybe five or six years of more or less living within this regime.

We can’t pretend that there has never been a problem of allocation. The system has been expanding since its inception, maybe most rapidly in the past fifty years.

Elitist and egalitarian forces have vied for entry and driven expansion and regrouping. The change in universities has reflected the great social changes of human history. In our tradition, Renaissance, Enlightenment and Socialist Revolution have all been mirrored in the institutions that have more, on balance, sustained dominant orders than challenged them.

Many feel the “end of history” an intrusion, a usurpation by a particular style of business that appears to find little wrong with making money out of the misery of others.

Are there any institutions that would stand up for Corbyn? Should they? Or not? I do not know. What would be the circumstances and conditions of a greatly revised “contract” with the nation? Should someone be planning for that change? Or helping to shape it?

The opposition need to sound credible as an opposition not cut and paste replacements. Their job is to oppose. Corbyn might be very good at leading an opposition. There are three years to get good at opposition. Then ask who might lead into government. That is the next game.

Is there a VC anywhere who would say: “… nay! We indeed need and deserve to drink deeply of public resources because we do far more good than ill”? Where in universities are those who might help provide alternative policies for universities. Acknowledge the conflict in interest up front, but hey, conflict of interest doesn’t bother the powers that be. Let them go on about it while focusing on being good providers of learning.

School of Education Research Conference 26 June 2015 #soeresearch

Semi-live blogging from the Oxford Brookes University School of Education Research Conference at Harcourt Hill, Glasgow Room, Friday 26 June 2015.

hash #soeresearch

Mandy Winter: Pupils conceptions and practices of composing.

Mandy Winter launches the proceedings: the Clangers travel in a boat powered by music. She reports on 3 Studies

  • Revisioning compositional pedagogy for adolescents
  • use co-creative partnerships as methodology for professional development
  • develop deeper cultural engagement
  1. Young Adults reflecting on music education: cultural disjuncts (why are we in school?)
  2. Adolescent learning: Year 9 composing in class: 2 classes smart phone voice composing, recording, observatins and reflections. The head was tolerant of kids with “small powerful computers”. Pedagogy (motivational)
  3. Teachers interviews discussion results of study 1 and 2 Life beyond formal education deeper cultural engagement

Young adults reflecting on music education. Terminology is problematic when making meaning: composing, composition or making stuff up. Routes into music. Reverse engineering. Importance of control and co-creation. Technology is time (context) dependent.

Adolescents learn social learning skills, achieve success as cultural creators, make meaning through movement and address consequences of interrupted flow: what do you get from the occasional lesson (e.g. 45 min once a fortnight). Winter calls for more extensive music lessons, especially if they are infrequent.

Teachers observe that adult modelling cultural engagement is important. The traditional conservatoire model remains dominant. Performing is more important than composing. Teaching composing is more difficult. Belief that you can’t “teach” composing.

Deb McGregor: Teaching creatively or teaching for creativity

What is creativity? There is a range of views:

  • Traditional: Einstein, Newton
  • Teachers’ view: novelty but not part of “science”; domain of the humanities, art, literature
  • Children: performance, gifted expertise in writing, art or music.

Divergent and convergent thinking; originality; cognitive processing. Generating possibilities is at the heart of creativity. Cites various contemporary writers on creativity: deBono, Facione, Swartz, Sternberg, NACCCE, Robinson, Lipman, Stylianidou  (any females?) Ken Robinson suggests we all can be creative, that we can plan for creativity and therefore it can be taught. So what do creative teachers do?

  • use imagination, develop material, capture attention
  • create dynamic active ethos, experience delight

The objective-subjective split remains a problem. Is there a spectrum of creativity little c to big Middle c?

Features of teaching creativity include make the ordinary fascinating, develop a sense of wonder, see things diferently, use metaphors, connect with experience, use unusual approaches and integrate it

Teaching creatively (TC) and teaching creativity (T4C) are different things.

Mary Wild, connecting home and educational play

drawing on Evangelou and  Wild, 2014, “Connecting Home and Educational Play: interventions that support children;s learning”, in Brookes, Blaise and Edwards, 2014, Handbook of Play and Learning in Early Childhood. Sage

Linet Arthur & Ian Summerscales, Troubling Knowledge:

In media res. Are Professional Doctorates a result of midlife crises? Doctoral journeys are redolent of mythic journeys. Background of the student is critical. Identity is distributed in multiple selves and contexts, multiple locations and interactions. We contribute as a part of a web of multiple connections. However the academy trumps the profession in the end. Linet argues that identity formation is necessarily part of the EdD journey. EdD helps some to cope with or mediate the solitary experience of traditional PhD study. I am pleased to see that the journey is not presented as a smooth trajectory. Mythic journey again: marginalisation and return.

 David Aldridge: Phenomenological description of student engagement

The phenomenon is that which allows itself to be seen. Not trying to effect an outcome. What happens beyond willing and doing.There is a rich phenomenology of experience. Gadamer recapitulated Dewey. The Phenomenological nod: statement of the bleeding obvious that wasn’t bleeding obvious until it was said. There is a tendency to instrumentalise engagement.

Engagement is transformative and transcendent… can it be? Location is engagement in-between. Links mutual understanding with learning.

George Roberts: Teaching into the third space: inclusive learning, active citizenship

Claire Fenwick Legacy of a MOOC

Wow, what a great account of an ooc in the wild.

Gillian Lake, RCT of language acquisition

Randomised Controlled Trial of an intervention involving planned pretend play and group shared storybook on language acquisition.

There was a significant effect of the intervention, but findings are interesting in some areas.

Carolyn Murphy: Physical Education

Teaches us how to do a cartwheel. Competency, autonomy, relatedness. Reports on PCTHE Learning Set project. Observes that low motivation emerges across disciplines. Uses Self Determination Theory



Reflection, criticality and transformation

I would like to know how to test a belief that I am forming.

I suggest that some people – perhaps especially mature learners returning to education – enter higher education with an unstated and often unconscious aim of becoming better at arguing for their prejudices. I do not mean to use the term “prejudice” pejoratively to suggest that these beliefs are racist, sexist or otherwise narrow-minded or exclusive but that people often have opinions based on long established beliefs that appear correct to them and wish to become better advocates for this position.

Problematically for educators, among these beliefs are some that suppose higher education will make a person more articulate and better able to argue one’s position without testing that position; and that possession of higher education qualification will lend authority to any argument for any position regardless of its quality.

I suggest that in line with Brookfield (1995) in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, these beliefs are “hegemonising” and obscures behaviours that are actually counter to the benefits that higher education might offer.

But how could I test this?

Because, of course I find myself in the position of having formed a belief but do not know how I know what I am asserting. In part this may have to do with my own journey as a mature learner, late returner to education and relatively late arrival in the Academy. I got my PhD at 55. My prejudices were (and are?) largely shaped around a critical-theoretical perspective, which I have long sought to become a better advocate for. While I might like to think that this is not simply a prejudice but an actual true representation of the world as it is, I have to admit that I can only laugh at myself when I write something like that.

In a recent conversation with an academic Psychologist friend…..

More soon!


Humanities and Social Sciences Research at Brookes

Semi-live blogging from the Faculty research conference.

Yet more 1000-mile questions.

In general, academics need to learn that not keeping to time is unprofessional and disrespectful of colleagues and audience.

Roger Griffin on Nomic modernity. Cites Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, as well as old and new academic writers in a compelling whirl of suggestions about the paradoxes of modernity. He suggests that human beings have an excess of consciouness (called reflexivity) which makes us aware of our impending death. Nomos creates a “totalising magic reality”, a world view and serves as a psychic duvet. Given the human condition, the absence of depression is a mystery. Should we have a belief system that celebrates rather than emiserates?. Becker, Berger, Eliade, Jung, Nietzche are his touchstones. Modernity, Griffin argues, is a nexus of forces that undermines nomos.  One loses a sense of space: all that is solid melts into air (Marx); modernity is nomocidal (Weber, Bauman) achieving permanent liminality without closure: liquefaction. This leads to a permanent crisis of identity: “liminoidality” changes the quality of time: empty homogeneous time (W Benjamin). Unstable syntheses of different moral codes (hedonism/family/religions). Modernity incubates addictive behaviours (what is the evidence, asks Juliet Henderson?). Addiction deals with time: temporal anesthesia. Beleaguered cultures protect themselves through violence. How does modernity stand outside the nomos? (Martin Groves). Barrie Axford asks, “What is the theory”.

Chris Lloyd, Department of Law (see Critical Legal Thinking), reads a paper “old school): Retort to Norrie: Derrida, Law and the socio political. Distinguishes between politics (la politique) and “the political” (le politie). Asserts that Derrida’s legal theory neglects the material structures that gives rise to a melencholy. Deconstruction simply happens. Criticises Norrie’s critique of Derrida. See Dick and Kofman “Derrida”). The “trace”: the space between the sign and the symbol, gives you everything: the present being of all things, the origin of sense in general. What gives us entities also undoes them.  The nature of being is called into question, So someone finally asks what is the pragmatic implication? This has to be a thpousand-mile question.

Gary Browning now moves to Rousseau and Derrida. Rousseau is a critic of modernity. Crisis, conflict and meaning. Modernity is a crisis. Rousseau sets up many dualisims. Most salient to this talk is Nature :: Society. Discourse on the Origins of Inequality. Series of paradoxes: we should be forced to be free. For Derrida there can be no absolute “truth” “out there”. There is a paradox of modern politics. You cannot critique or change from within. Are there multiple modernities? Gary Browning claims a particular reading of modernity in reading Rousseau’s understanding of modernity. Modernity is the sum of ways of thinking about modernity. Derrida takes a hermeneutic reading and then deconstructs this.

But are we not left with a totalising assertion of anti-totalisation which can only produce anomie?

Doerthe Rosenow on the Politics of “crisis speak”: towards a new understanding of radicalism in environmental activism. Emerges from anti GMO activism. Is it all about the politics of catastrophe? Does this position not lead to passivity. Is there a Foucauldian consensus in critiquing the politics of catastrophe. We cannot talk about knowledge outside power. (As an aside I ask, Is a non-interventionist small state necessarily a right-wing position?). She asks us to move to a new understanding of radicalism that avoids either millennialism or co-operation with dominant power. So I ask again, “No? is it not about resistance to co-option and colonialism. Everything is corruptable…? (see Mark Duffield and William Connolly).

Jason Danely, “When crisis is the norm: imagining Japanese eldercare”. We are in an age of mass care-giving to the elderly. What about robotic care givers? Lack of community and identity leading to increased prison population of elderly offenders – not aging lifers.

Carina Bartleet, Drama. “Mythologising violence: a crisis of feminist representation onstage in 21st century”. Based in the work of Sarah Daniels … (writer and script editor on Grange Hill). Talk focuses on Morning Glory (2001) and Dust (2002). In your face theatre from late ’90s early ’00s. Daniels is not an in-your-face writer but shares much with those who are. Morning Glory subverts stereotypes. Draws on myth of Osiris and Isis.

Alex Finnen, Russia’s use of ambiguous and unrestricted warfare. Unambiguous concern with “real” power. This paper challenges – implicitly – Rosenow’s paper and to some extent provides support for Griffin’s and in a different way, Bartleet’s position. Theorising perspectives that invoke power as an abstraction is one thing. Revealing the depth of real power is another.

Susannah Wright, Creating world citizens in British Schools 1919-1939. League of Nations Societies.

Rico Isaacs, Exit, voice, loyality and sanctions in Kazakhstan. interested in authoritarianism and the persistence of authoritarianism. What is the agency of ruling elites and their mechanisms for control; and what are the choices for opposition elites. Hirschman’s model of “exit, voice and loyality”. The choices around concepts of exit and voice act as feedback mechanisms for authoritarian regimes.


Brookes Learning & Teaching Conference (#bltc15)

Before the conference Richard Francis, David Aldridge and I led two “Walk and Talk” sessions on “a framework for inclusive learning?” (pdf). I have been exercising this framework in several contexts, most fully, perhaps, at the SEDA conference (Roberts & Francis 2014). However, I have to say that although the discussions were superb, the framework was not really tried. My aim was to critique and problematise “inclusivity”. Both sessions had a linguistic focus (unintended but perhaps unsurprising given Richard and I were shaping the conversations), asking, implicitly whether the language of inclusivity in higher education masks a deeper exclusivity, inherited from both ancient traditions of higher education and the current dominant late corporate capitalist, neoliberal, workforce attachment (higher skills and employment) paradigm.

The walk and talks more generally aim to break out of the architecturally and technologically mediated spaces of education and quite simply walk and talk, with a thematic “map” but no notes or slides.

Isis Brooks gave the conference Keynote based on her autobiography: a life in education. Isis spoke without notes or slides and incorporated many discussions into her “talk”, in a way also a perambulation, although confined in a lecture theatre.

She started with developing an academic identity as a mature learner: from school dropout to an access course at the Open University. She spoke about learning to calibrate one’s self against peers and introduced the small group discussion by asking us to reflect on our school experience.

From the OU, Isis went to Lancaster University. There were year 1 distribution requirements. She did her degree in independent studies (IS) in Religion and Philosophy. Most students in IS were mature students. If you were interested, she said, you would go to extreme lengths: stay up all night. Eventually she did her PhD in IS. Excellent for critical thinking. Her PhD started off looking at Science Teaching in Islamic schools, but transmuted into Goetheian Observation of Nature.

Her supervisor, Prof John Wakefield, gave people “more responsibility than they would have thought possible”. Again she asked us to reflect on what experience we might have had  like this.

The perambulation continued across a career in educational development and educational philosophy applied in land-based colleges, concluding with a vision of “purposeful freedom” as the lractice of lifelong learning.

I asked how we might discover that purposeful freedom within performative restraints?

For the remainder of the conference I practiced that freedom.


Roberts, G., & Francis, R. (2014). Transformational Learning Design for Open and Blended Learning. In Opportunities and challenges for academic development in a post-digital age. NCTL Learning and Conference Centre, Nottingham: Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA). Retrieved from

Richard Waller: Cultural Capital – getting in, getting on, getting out

Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee (AESC) – Away Day, Oxford Brookes University, Tuesday, 17 March 2015, 1400 – 1500. Views and interpretations are my own. Post updated through the day.

Richard Waller Associate Professor of the Sociology of Education, University of the West of England (UWE). draws on research from the Paired Peers project. Mobilising capitals through internships.

  • Bathmaker, A.-M., Ingram, N., & Waller, R. (2013). Higher education, social class and the mobilisation of capitals: recognising and playing the game. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 34(5/6), 723–743.

Seeks to know:

  • What factors determine the type of career our graduates enter?
  • What they can do?
  • What we can do?

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Gwen van der Velden: Student Engagement in Learning and Teaching Quality Management

Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee (AESC) – Away Day, Oxford Brookes University, Tuesday, 17 March 2015, 1130 – 1300. Views and interpretations are my own. Post updated through the day.

Gwen van der Velden is Director of Learning and Teaching at Bath University. Heads, QA/QE, eLearning, Educational Development and English Language Teaching.

Gwen and her team conducted research on how embedded “Student Engagement” is in UK Higher Education. Method: desk research, survey, interviews on what is embedded and what isn’t. 75 of 220 institutions responded (including 28 Students Unions).

Issues highlighted:

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