Category Archives: Educational Development

FutureLearn Pedagogy Platform: does big matter

Went to a webinar yesterday: OWLET – Open Webinars for Learning and Enhancing Teaching from University Campus Ipswitch. First time using Hangouts. (does not afford “proper” chat).

There were according to the G+ post 9 people who “watched” Mike Sharples, Professor of Education Technology speak on “Innovating Pedagogy”.

Very much a “presentation” with some interaction at the end. Mike spoke much about the big numbers on FutureLearn courses and MOOCs generally. The focus shifted. Was that Future Learn, the Open University, or everyone studying everywhere on things called MOOCs (or similar) or even just DL? There were, or I took, implications that big really was better.

There was much mention of social constructivist pedagogy framed in a wide millennial disruptive discourse of “drivers” for change. The avalanche rumbles on. A long list of literature-was reviewed on change and innovation. Woah! They spotted MOOCS. In twenty twelve! They are now noticing badges and analytics.

The talk was quite focussed on the massive (OpenU DL is massive) and analytics. Badges will be next year’s big boom? You read it here first ;-)

The Future Learn platform attempts to facilitate relationship between people. Peer evaluation and feedback is not anonymous. Real names used throughout. But, tutors did not appear to be engaged in a participatory way. I asked about the role of the Associate Lecturer in Future Learn. FutureLearn is relying on the “power of the crowd.” Junior academics and PhD students are “monitoring” discussion. If you want added tutorial support you can get it but you have to pay for it.

Much Britishness is promoted and is distinguished by an underlying pedagogy. (Is it?)  Connectivist and instructivist approaches were contrasted. Individualised teaching was also put aside. Could not compete on technology.  So they took a deliberate approach to design based on social constructivist and experiential learning: (see John Hattie). Design principles are or aspire to be realised through:

  • visible learning pathway
  • goal directed
  • social
  • conversational
  • rewarded
  • reputation management
  • contribution to social capital (following, liking)
  • review and feedback including automated acquisition of “sentiment” content
  • peer review
  • MCQs
  • Branching pathways and breadcrumbs.

And to do all the above in internet clock (tight time) cycles.

Interesting in all the talk of massiveness there were only 9 people in the hangout. Take out the presenter and facilitator is 7 and 3 of those were from Oxford Brookes. A tight circle of people thinking about Open Online Learning practice. I briefly feared it might be me one-on-one with Mike Sharples. Thankfully Richard Francis joined the room. We got a lot out of it. Thank you. But, the conversational tools in the webinar/Hangout were difficult. Maybe I just didn’t find the chat interface. Richard and I used the “Question” facility to chat. But that confused us and the presenters. Another viewer suggested using the G+ stream of posts. But, both interfaces loaded each post with so much relational context, that ironically the conversation decohered.  There did not appear to be a possibility for the audience to take the audio mic and actually ask a question.

[Makes me feel the Adobe connect decision we have taken is the right one at the moment.]



Renewing our PG Cert in Teaching in Higher Education

After an 18 month period of analysis and reflection involving the course team, student representatives, feedback documents, coursework, outcomes, and external and internal examiners and advisers, we are putting Oxford Brookes University’s Postgraduate certificate in teaching in higher education (PCTHE) forward for periodic review and revalidation.

Why? We wish to:

  • Enable contextualised workplace-based professional learning and other aspects of academic practice from outside the course to be recognised within the course, especially where there is development of pedagogic scholarship and community (group) working practices.
  • Widen provision for academics and others in positions of direct support and facilitation of student learning processes from other institutions and contexts.
  • Widen provision, globally, to the best introduction to teaching in higher education that we can provide.
  • Enable participants to focus on specialisations in particular disciplinary locations, or modes of practice.
  • Provide a fully online mode to the course increasing the flexibility with which staff at any  institution of higher education, globally, might participate in the programme.
  • Strengthen peer and community evaluation and assessment.
  • Enable closer articulation with supported individual routes to professional recognition by the Higher Education Academy (HEA).
  • Continue working at the leading edge of academic literacies and technology enhanced learning.

Designing FSLT14 week 3 – a reflection

Week three is a fulcrum point in the #fslt14 open online course: First steps into learning and teaching in higher education. I have decided not to introduce a new tool, wiki or Google Doc at this point. I had briefly considered a doc-based exercise developing Kolb and Activity Theory.

In addition to two short (4 min) video talks (with transcriptI – you do not have to listen to or watch!), I do intend to do a “cycles” (Kolb) v. “frameworks” (Activity Theory) summary (4 min) video and invite participants to continue the discussion, but that would be a lot to get through in a week of this course!

I decided to keep week 3 activity based in discussions. I thought it should build on what went before so I have linked it to the Collaborative bibliography. It is reflective in that it asks participants to ask themselves why students learned on their course.
It uses this course as a model. Tries to explain why we think people learn in this way. Makes our course underpinnings clear.

My explanation (theory) is that learning takes place here (not everywhere, necessarily) because it is:

  • Outcomes led (Laurillard 2002), there is a curriculum and aims. The programme is validated by Oxford Brookes University and contributes towards Higher Education Academy professional recognition as an Associate Fellow (HEA 2011).
  • Experiential, self-evaluative, practitioner-centred, pragmatics – what works – drawing on your own experience (Dewey 1916; Dewey 1997; Kolb 1984).
  • Activity-based, social constructivism; we do or make things in groups – maybe communities, using tools, with acceptable practices (criteria) and different roles. (Vygotsky & Luria 1934; Leont’ev 1978; Engeström 2001).
  • Dialogic (Bakhtin 1981) we talk synchronously and asynchronously, even back into deep time (Henderson 2013).
  • Reflective (Brookfield 1995), bringinging experience into scholarly evidence through four professional “lenses”: self, students, colleagues, the literature.
  • Participatory (Warhurst 2006; Whitchurch 2008), tutors engage as and with participants.
  • Community-located (R. Scollon & S. W. Scollon 2001, Wenger 1998) disciplines, institutions, others, work, the world and society.

It links forward to the assessed Virtual Conference presentation. It asks participants (probably as a teacher or tutor of some description) in respect of a course, with which they are familiar,  to explain why and how the learners learned.

In terms of Kolb, participants who engage in the discussions in week 3 will have gone round the cycle once and one more time around will largely crack the conference.

College of Higher Education: a third space or a thousand miles?

Colleges of (or including) higher education teach – among other courses at other levels – courses leading to degrees of higher education: Foundation Degrees (UK QCF levels 4 and 5), Bachelors Degrees (sometimes just called higher education degree, UK QCF levels 4, 5, 6) and Post Graduate Certificates, Diplomas and Masters Degrees (UK QCF level 7). Staff who teach on these programmes may have doctorates or be undertaking doctoral level study, but the institution probably is not, itself, teaching doctoral level courses.

Personal disclaimer: I attended a College of Higher Education in the USA for my first degree. There were about 2,800 students (600 in each of four undergraduate years and about 400 Post Grads). There were niche pockets of research (Super Glue “Locktite” was developed by a Prof there). I worked for 3 years about 20 hours a week in kitchens: initially the College Kitchens where “student-aid” work was a source of cheap labour (Buildings and Grounds was also a big employer of student-aid “leaf sweepers”). I would have failed the university league tables for graduate-level employment. I have since taught briefly in UK FE: I taught IT to brickies, sparks and chippies. I taught community and adult education courses for many years in rooms in schools, FE colleges, adult colleges, polytechnics and universities mostly in Oxford, Reading and Newbury.

Colleges have a particular resonances in the UK: Eton is a college. Oxbridge has colleges. There is Sheffield College, Coleg Gwent and Oxford and Cherwell Valley colleges. There is Ruskin College and Coleg Harlech and Lews Castle College. Lews Castle, for example, has research centres of excellence in a few niche areas: renewable energy research, health, and rural development and Education/pedagogical research. How does that coffee smell?

It is probably not right to describe Colleges of HE as places “between” FE and HE, though the institutional (political, cultural and economic) structures in the UK at present encourage this “between-ness”. As long as “we” feel “we” are between “them”; or “we” feel “they” are between “us” there are power or “face” differentials applied that can be converted to some kind of symbolic (often employment: principal or labour) capital.

But, this categorical thinking is also problematic. Should HE Colleges have a new and identifiable status against FE and HE and on a par with both? OK. Which ones? Those in country parkland or special output areas? Those with 14-18 provision included in the mix? How much HE does there have to be? My plumber is grounded in German Literature. The builder who knocked our brick terrace ground floor into one studied politics.

Are HE colleges hybrid (Simmons and Lea 2013, 4) “third spaces” where institutional identity is negotiated against two originary cultures (HE and FE)? Or are HE colleges a thousand miles apart? And if so apart from which originary culture?

Simmons, Jonathan, and John Lea. 2013. “Capturing an HE Ethos in College Higher Education Practice”. QAA 576 1 2 / 13. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.



Philosophy and science

A question was put to me yesterday in a session on Philosophy and Policy of Higher Education about the universality of Popperian positivism (a position I think I was unconsciously and unintentionally promoting). The discussion subsequently led me to read Paul Feyerabend. So far I have only dipped my toe in through this very accessible (and online) extract from Against Method, one of his seminal works (Feyerabend 1975).

I find much in this refreshing, particularly the idea of an anarchist epistemology of “anything goes”. I think this aligns comfortably with Barthes’ bricolage. But, there is also much that I want to think more carefully about, as there seems to be a sort of absolute relativism of belief implied, which might accord equal validity to all perspectives. That might be a radical postmodernism in action but it makes me question whether I would be happy for my children to be taught creationism as a theory of equal validity to say, Stephen Jay Gould’s or even Dawkins’ Darwinism.

I do not find in this extract any essential rejection of the test of falsifiability. Quite the opposite, it seems a glorious revelling in the essentially falsifiable nature of all good theories.

The fact that science is I would suggest, frequently appropriated by bullies, suggests that there is power in the method and is a manifestation of the persistent assertion of ideology over theory to serve various elite interests. But many scientists are not bullies, do not buy into the complicity of the common-sense/state/industry/science nexus, and some actively resist it (see for example Scientists for Global Responsibility, Mike the Mad Biologist, and Carl Hart).

What you get? Tea Lab

What you test. You get what you inspect not what you expect. That said, tonight I tested my webcam and the podium computer in Brookes Boardroom 1 where we are hosting Tea Lab tomorrow. I was fully expecting it not to work on at least three fronts: the composite USB webcam/microphone, the room audio output to speakers, and the Java version. But, today it worked! So what can I do but hope that the same fates attend tomorrow. Now just to think about how to let it happen.

Musing on simultaneous remote presence for T-Lab

We (OK, I) made a bold (OK, foolish) assertion that T-Lab meetings would be live broadcast for those who wanted to participate remotely.

This could be achieved with various solutions:

  • a Wimba Classroom in a Moodle site as long as the kit in Boardroom 1 can handle it. AND as long as people could get into the Moodle without too much hassle.
    • Is there a web cam in BR1 or can one be installed easily?
    • Can Wimba work outside Moodle?
  • a Google Hangout live streamed to YouTube (which I have seen work once and fail spectacularly once)
    • But can we do this with our Google Apps for Education?
  • a Bb Collaborate session on Sylvia Currie’s SCOPE community
  • LiveStream through my LiveStream account (flakey with the personal free version)

Ideally I would like the G+ Hangout solution. But can we do this in our G Apps for Education set-up?

New Lecturers 2013-14 Introduction Day

Fifty or sixty people attended the introduction to the New Lecturers Programme today. Biggest intake in my experience. There was a good buzz throughout the day.

This year we quite significantly revised the way the session is run. Less talk from us. More activity for the participants. And a shorter day, as well. Scanning the one-minute essay with which we finished the day suggests participants “got it”.

From a personal perspective, Reducing the number of presenters definitely helped. No greetings from the great. The team got down to it.

The room was crowded but we were able to break people into groups using a card sort activity. The themes on the card related to the topics of the day’s sessions and to the overall thematic constitution of the course:

  • reflective practice (Brookfield)
  • experiential learning cycles (Kolb)
  • good practice principles (Chickering and Gamson)

From a personal perspective I was pleased that the card-sort activity worked as it did. It provided an example of a category of activity that people could adapt to their purposes as well as doing what it needed to do in our context: generate meaningful discussion among practitioners about what it means to teach in higher education.

I was conscious also of using speaker techniques to manage time and attention. Raising my hand to wait for quiet. Not always simply shouting.

Debbie’s session was perfectly judged. She opened by denigrating theory. I always try to keep off of theory, she said. This got everyone relaxed and non-threatened. She then talked about paradigm shifts in higher education, massification and commodification of learning; i.e. critical theory of education. This was laced with personal experience and anecdotes going back to her mum and dad who were teachers.

I feel I should have given Greg and Frances more explicit roles. Neil and Debbie had slots. Rather, I should have been clearer about how the tutors’ facilitating role could have worked, particularly around the elicitation of feedback from the Card-sort activity. Things to learn for next time.

Learning design for open online courses – part 1

Further to my previous post, Learning design principles: educational pragmatists, which was an abstraction of our beliefs about teaching, this post is an attempt to set out some practical implications for designing open online courses, following from our key assertion:

Change is brought about through critical, experiential, social learning activity in connected communities where people collaborate to achieve outcomes.

What appears most relevant to us is a “transformation conception” of quality. That is, “enhancing the student in some way” (Gibbs 2010, 11). ”

Gibbs (2010, 5) asserts that as predictors of educational gain, the following are valid process indicators::

Class size, the level of student effort and engagement, who undertakes the teaching, and the quantity and quality of feedback to students on their work…

These process indicators are linked by Gibbs (2010, 18-22) to Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) seven principles. Good practice encourages:

  1. Student-tutor contact
  2. Student student contact
  3. Active learning
  4. Time on task
  5. Prompt feedback
  6. High expectations
  7. Respect for diverse learning approaches.

Teaching contact has to be understood as human to human interaction,  Contact, however contact is achieved, should be focused on:

  • Achieving clarity about what students should be studying,
  • Providing a conceptual framework within which subsequent study can be framed,
  • Engagement with the subject,
  • Giving oral feedback on  understanding (Gibbs 2010, 22).

According to Gibbs (2010, 32):

students tend to adopt a deep approach,for example, when they experience good feedback on assignments, and when they have a clear sense of the goals of the course and the standards that are intended to be achieved.

The Beyond Distance 7C model elaborates on much of this.

  1. Conceptualise
  2. Capture
  3. Communicate
  4. Collaborate
  5. Consider
  6. Combine
  7. Consolidate (Conole 2013)

And, Stephen Downes and George Siemens propose a similar approach in their connectivist pedagogy: aggregate, remix, repurpose and feed forward.

It starts to become clear what needs to be done (and not done) in a course, regardless of the mode of delivery: distance or face-to-face, online or off and — crucially — however “massive” it may be.

A uni-directional, didactic, content delivery approach, regardless of the “quality” of the content is of limited utility in securing transformational learning in the student or educational gain more widely. This is not to say there is no place for good content or didactic approaches appropriately deployed. But on their own, content and didactics are insufficient.


Beyond Distance Research Alliance. (undated). The 7Cs of Learning Design Toolkit. University of Leicester. OER Repository. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from

Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987). The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. American Association for HE Bulletin, (March 1987 (and frequently reprinted)), 3–7.

Conole, G. (2013). The 7 Cs of Learning Dsign. SlideShare. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from

Gibbs, G. (2010). Dimensions of quality. York: Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from

Learning design principles: educational pragmatists

I am trying to write a proper academic paper about the principles we used when developing FSLT12&13. But, as I do I find myself getting bogged down. So in the spirit of Digital scholarship (Weller 2011) I am going to exercise some of the ideas here.

We are educational pragmatists. Change is brought about through critical, experiential, social learning activity in connected communities where people collaborate to achieve outcomes. All actors and contexts are hybrids and knowledge is distributed through the network of connections between people, places and things (and ideas are things).

Our principles flow initially from a particular epistemological orientation and a belief that teachers (in all sectors) can use an awareness of their orientation to knowledge as one among several means with which to approach developing and improving practice. We further believe that it can help learners if teachers act with reflective self awareness of their orientations to knowledge, making those orientations as explicit as may be appropriate to the level and topic being addressed. This is to say that, whatever other underpinnings, we are pragmatists, grounded in experience (Dewey 1910/1997) and we are engaged (sometimes participatory) scholars with a purpose to bring about change through activity as much as understanding (Dyrness, 2008)

Our perspective is broadly sociocultural and critical-theoretical. Socioculturalism “…focuses on the link between language and learning, both of which are viewed as fundamentally social phenomena…” (Lillis 2003, p.xv). Neither language, nor learning, exist outside communities of use. Beliefs, dominant and oppositional, shape orientations to action (Herman & Chomsky 1988). Further, all language is suffused with cultural assumptions that makes learning highly context-dependent. (Galison 2007a; Galison 2007b; Kuhn 1962). As Popper would have it, “All observation is theory laden” (Popper 1996 page).

Our epistemology takes a middle road between relativism and realism. There is a reality “out there” but knowledge of that reality is a quality of the knower: one reality; many interpretations. In essence we are critical realists (Collier, 1994). Knowledge is not simply a quality of the individual. Knowledge is distributed and inheres also in the artefacts and abstractions of culture (Pea, 1993; Moll, Tapia, & Whitmore, 1993). We might say that knowledge is in the network (Downes 2009), or simply that knowledge, like language is sociocultural. With respect to learning we would recognise ourselves as social constructivists (Vygotsky, 1962). The learner builds knowledge and understanding of the world through language and activity engaged in with others, some of whom are more knowledgeable and practiced, and others who may be less so. Learning can be expressed as a journey through a zone of proximal development with more experienced and practiced individuals providing “scaffolding” (Wood, Bruner & Ross 1976, Anghileri, 2006; Rourke & Coleman, 2010) to aid that journey.


Anghileri, J. (2006). Scaffolding practices that enhance mathematics learning. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 9 (1), 33–52.

Collier, A. (1994). Critical Realism: An Introduction to Roy Bhaskar’s Philosophy. London: Verso.

Dewey, J. (1910/1997). How we think (unabridged republication of the 1910 edition). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

Downes, S. (2009). What Connectivism Is.  Retrieved 17 July 2013 from:

Dyrness, A. (2008). Research for Change versus Research as Change: Lessons from a Mujerista Participatory Research Team. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 39 (1), 23–44.

Galison, P. (2007a). Using Linguistic Anthropology to See How Scientific Disciplines Talk | Berkman Center. Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, Harvard University. Retrieved 22 July 2013, from

Galison, P. (2007b, July 10). De-localized Production of Scientific Knowledge. Presented at the Berkman seminar series, Berkman Centre, Harvard University. Retrieved 22 July 2013 from

Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lillis. (2003). Introduction: mapping the traditions of a social perspective on language and literacy. In S. Goodman, T. Lillis, J. Maybin, & N. Mercer (Eds.), Language, literacy and education: a reader (pp. xiii–xxii). Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.

Moll, L. C., Tapia, J., & Whitmore, K. F. (1993). Living knowledge: the social distribution of cultural resources for thinking. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (pp. 139–163). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pea, R. (1993). Practices of distributed intelligence and designs for education. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: psychological and educational considerations (pp. 47–87). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Popper, K. (1996). The myth of the framework: In defence of Science and Rationality. London: Routledge.

Rourke, A. J., & Coleman, K. S. (2010). A Learner Support System: Scaffolding to Enhance Digital Learning. International Journal of Technology, Knowledge & Society, 6(1), 55–70.

Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thinking and Speaking (first published as Thought and Language). (E. Hanfmann & G. Vakar, Eds.) (Lev Vygotsky Archive transcribed by Andy Blunden.). Cambridge MA: MIT Press. Retrieved 17 July 2013 from

Weller, M. (2011). The digital scholar: how technology is transforming scholarly practice (Kindle.). London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Wood, D., Bruner, J. & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, 89–100