Category Archives: Educational Development

University learning? A thousand-mile question (for discussion Tuesday, 09/12/2014, 1700)

Here is an advanced draft of the paper I was to have been giving today (9 December 2014) at Oxford Brookes University School of Education.


As well as providing locations of learning and teaching, higher education is an important focus of much political debate. This paper sets out through an open epistemological narrative inquiry to problematise an underpinning framework for good educational development practice and offers places where evidence might challenge these underpinnings.  I suggest it may be a human universal that we come with ‘frameworks’ (Popper 1996): call them contexts or identities and communities as you will; we come with a need to be useful, even if only to ourselves. To be useful requires having some power as a builder: physical, virtual or social. We co-construct our frameworks, our contexts, our “learning environments” in both physical and abstract spaces with other people. These constructions are acts of enclosure. And all acts of enclosure require force, power or violence. The conclusions I reach are that means and ends cannot be uncoupled; that the coupling of means and ends must be in part through narratives that reveal the question of purpose; and that purpose is value laden. Therefore the values argument must remain in the light and proxy arguments, illuminated. Narrative epistemology is an epistemology of openness, and is an epistemology of self-respect.

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#Design 4 Learning 2014

Semi live , late blogging from the Design for Learning Conference, 27 November 2014, The Open University, Milton Keynes.

Dr Tessa Eysink, University of Twente, Keynote “Learner performance in inquiry learning environments”

Work in progress comparing Inquiry learning with expository instruction. The research was focused on the design and use of small Learning Objects in Psychology: 60 of them. The topic “Classical conditioning”, “used world-wide” was chosen for the trial. The underlying issue to be addressed was that learners find it hard to generate hypotheses interpret data, collect data, and so on. Therefore, learning must be supported.

What other processes are there? Tessa outlined four approaches all of which were purported to improve learning. (Some do. Some don’t.) All appeared very cognitivist in their underlying epistemology.

  • Inquiry Learning
  • Hypermedia Learning
  • Observational Learning
  • Exploratory Learning

The trial models were all implemented in the same VLE and “Only the instructional method differed.” This, to me is questionable. The implementations all looked the same at arm’s length, though each was described as a separate environment. Learners were described as of high, middle and low ability. This categorisation was presented as unproblematic. The “High ability” learner was the norm. The other two differed in degree to which they resiled from the norm.

“Inquiry Learning” was “Problem-based Learning” “Hypermedia Learning” was expository or didactic, content-led learning: read all about it, where “reading” may be replaced by consume hypermedia. “Observational learning” was, in essence, apprenticeship or knowledge engineering. Learning comes from observing (or watching a video of…) an expert and emulating or decoding the practice. “Exploratory learning” appeared little different from Inquiry learning. PBL without the problem; self-directed hypermedia learning (?).

A few lessons were presented.

  • In the trials Inquiry learning was the most effective and efficient. No surprises, there. While I agree with the lesson, nevertheless it was annoying to see the exposition of a foregone conclusion.
  • Generating the subject matter by the students (Learner-led curriculum) leads to learning gain. This was interesting, but if supported by evidence, I did not notice it.
  • It appeared that the trials were focussed on providing tailored instruction for high ability learners: opens the way to complex, abstract assignments. But questions inclusivity?
  • Modelling practice is a helpful adjunct to PBL. But this session modelled expository practice, not inquiry learning.

At the end of the conference, key contributors were asked for three things: a hunch, a wish, and a prediction. My hunch, wish and prediction:

  • Hunch: what is needed to design instruction is not so much research (leading to the formulation of a grand narrative)  but sensitive observation in the the learning context (petits receipts): in the classroom, action learning, etc
  • Wish: educators would learn that everyone is equally remarkable, wonderful and wise to the ways  of their world.
  • Prediction: Performance monitoring dashboards will not improve learning.

Reading Emma Mulqueeny: epistemology narrative and truth

I have been reading Emma Mulqueeny, known to me through Twitter as @hubmum, who does fabulous things with young people and computers and politics. I have not always felt I agreed with Hubmum’s politics, but heck, the state is her big client so you probably wouldn’t bite down on the feeding hand and what do I care, if kids are doing something cool and clever? Besides we all know that one is not entirely safe from anonymity on this here interweb.

So it has been a delight to stumble on a series of posts about the demographic Emma calls the 97ers, and which she has helpfully pulled together here. And before I go off on my usual paroxysms of spluttering that there is no such thing as a digital native I should say that the  quality of the writing had me suspending disbelief and quickly eating out of her hand. That, and the fact that she exposed her underpinnings. People who read me know that I am into frameworks for interpretation and understanding. People who know me better, know me better. I like to assert that each and every element of my framework is derived from solid research. But sometimes it might be possible that the elements of the framework are really only validated through frequent repetition. Chickering and Gamson? Oh I have HEARD that was based on a whole LOAD of actual RESEARCH  once upon a time. And, Vygotsky. All you have to do is mention the name. Everyone is anxious about running into someone who might actually have read something he wrote that we nod sagely and pass over the citable fact that whatever we might attribute to Vygotsky actually comes from Engestrom and we trust he might actually have read Vygotsky and Vygotsky might have kept a lab notebook somewhere, who the hell knows?

My point is that it does not appear to matter. Or does it? You can adopt a framework and apply it without knowing exactly why it makes sense to use it. Activity theory is very useful to a consultant in this regard. Very quickly you can talk about individuals acting in communities in accordance with explicit and implicit rules and norms to achieve socially and politically and economically sanctioned ends. Activity theory supplies a number (about seven) of headings that might as well be the headings of the next report you have to write. Bring in Giddins, mention structure and that demands post structuralism and any framework will do. If you want to spin off from that, each of the headings has its own activity network (Engeström 2001) behind it: Community (Lave & Wenger 1990 and Wenger 1998), Roles, Rules (Foucault 1977), Tools. You can elaborate Activity Theory into an epistemology (Salomon 1993). I like Activity Theory. I found it useful. But, calling myself to account, how is this in any way different from Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) or Landmark Seminars or Learning Styles Theory or Digital Natives? Things that bring me out in splutterings again. Ultimately it is an act of faith. I put faith in Activity Theory and from that in Frameworks themselves. Even this one that I am yet again building, here. So I forgive the use of frameworks.

So what’s that got to do with Emma, then? Her framework is built on the writings of Ivan Illich and echoes strongly the writings of two other seminal female thinkers about the Internet: dana boyd and Josie Fraser. I could list others maybe back to Haraway (1991) or even Ada Lovelace. I feel this growing into an Ada’s Day post, though that was not my intention.

Learners are connected and the knowledge is largely in the connections. Peer learning: dialogic, authentic participatory learning informed by a complex understanding of literacy, community and identity is effective (and may be all there really is, anyway). Emma’s framework is woven against a background of biographical narrative, of storytelling, of her story, where storytelling quality is an important part of any truth test. Storytelling is both epistmological (having to do with the nature of how we know stuff) and ontological (having to do with the existence and qualities of stuff itself). Storytelling describes stuff, teaches others about stuff, and even brings stuff into existence. Storytelling is a big part of any measure of the elusive authenticity. And, Emma has data to back up her assertions. Yes, that data is in narrative form, but it is no less empirical for that. I like a writer who walks her own talk. She concludes with the important question: “Can you verify your story”. Or at least can one verify as much as they have told, and can I/we sort out the parts we have filled in?

I should admit at this point that my children were born in 2007 and 2010. So my “digital natives” are 10 years younger than her digital natives. At the moment the seven year old is hugely into books (boastful parent alert!) and likes his bicycle, scooter and walking off piste in wild areas. Mummy and Daddy set bad examples with their laptops, phones and tablets when we are hanging in family time before bed. But I am beginning to wonder if all that digital stuff is just boring grown-up stuff to my kids and real life in their eyes is for proper, f&*k-the-parents, I am going to climb a dangerous tree over a fence and into no-man’s-land kind of kids? My goodness all this reverse psychology that parenting gets you into. But never doubt for an instant that they, the children, the next generation, are not hip to the game even when as 2 year olds they are complying – or not. They know the “real story” from a very early age. Narrative epistemology is an epistemology of openness, and is an epistemology of self-respect. This hit me last week and I tweeted it here. We must trust ourselves to like ourselves and like ourselves to trust ourselves.

Does it go wrong? Yes, of course. The undercover policing story or Pleb-gate is all the far you have to know to know that not every credible story is true and not every incredible one is false.

Emma gets you thinking like that.





Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive Learning at Work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1), 133 –156.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. (A. Sheridan, Trans.). London: Allen Lane, Penguin.

Haraway, D. (1991). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. In Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (pp. 149–181). New York: Routledge. Retrieved from

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1990). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Salomon, G. (Ed.). (1993). Distributed cognitions: psychological and educational considerations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


EdD Colloquium: National and International Perspectives on Education

More semi live blogging

Oxford Brookes University EdD colloquium. Saturday 28 June 2014. Mary Wild welcomes us and we introduce ourselves to people we do not know well. I met three first year EdD students and one third year, from Hawaii

Mary praises research colleagues who foster learning based on peer support, inquiry, learning from looking, explaining, leadership.

Linet introduces Prof Emeritus Marlene Morrison (Oxford Brookes), who gives a radical barnstorming keynote challenge: “Educational administration, ethnography and education research: countering methodological stagnation. Provocative tales from an ethnographer.”

Big title. I am reminded of Richard Francis’ observation that ethnography might be an antidote to “big data.” Morrison believes that research has become banal, constrained by orthodoxies based in power. Neglecting power impoverishes and emaciates research and leadership itself. Much research but much of it is emaciated. She is challenging to the students who are engaged in methodologically reductionist studies of leadership, neglecting power and context. These have a cumulative approach to evidence: 20 small-scale studies does not necessarily equal large-scale research). The main tool of this research is interview. In such studies, often discourse is homogenised. The dark side of leadership is avoided. Critical policy analysis sits alongside and is not embedded in the studies. This can be illustrated through the discourse of “internationalisation”. She suggests that an ethnographic approach might provide some triangulation, which could meliorate the proliferation of short-run small-scale research. Can ethnography be compressed? Maybe it always has been. Ethnography allows you to get to parts of the reality that interviewing alone will not reach. Negotiation is part of the process, because often leadership research is aimed at subtle, politicised and power-based aspects of contexts. Outputs are based in continuous change and hence may threaten or problematise status quo. Exemplifies this with a case of widespread homophobic prejudice in Ireland. Ethnographic research offers resistance to the view that there is “no problem” here: epistemological and methodological challenges. We need a new “wicked” research agenda against pressure upon leaders and those whose needs are supposed to be met (but often are not) by that leadership.

Juliet Bostwick (MSC, BSC, RGN, 2nd year EdD, Oxford Brookes University) “Graduateness”.

Graduate entry to nursing is still quite new. Sharing findings from lit review. HEC (1992) defines graduateness. Barrie (2006) and Bowden (2000): Skills, attributes and values. Jones (2009) insists on retaining disciplinary context linked to critical thinking and meta epistemologies. Juliet seeks the view of the room on: “what it means to be a graduate”; and gets: Critical, changing, independent, qualified, knowledgeable, reflective, acknowledged. Literature emphasises Employability. Holmes (2013) takes a realist approach. Challenges reductionist taxonomies. Advocates for a relational approach to graduate “identity”. Uses four-quadrant, two axis (Boston consulting) matrix. Very much like Neimeyer and Rareshide (1991). Steur et al (2012) have a model placing reflective thinking above scholarship, moral citizenship, and lifelong learning. Suggests transformation as a graduate attribute. Kreber (2014) Barnett and Rosen, too: Authenticity set within existential (strangeness) , critical (emancipatory) and communitarian (purposeful action) perspectives. The conversation focuses on vocational (calling) aspects of a career.

Spoke to Juliet and Marlene at the break. It struck me that you could take the term “graduateness” and slot it into Marlene’s talk, in place of “Leadership” and run the same argument to the same end. We need ethnographies of graduateness.

Maxine introduces Alyson Kaneshiro (SEN teacher; University of Hawaii): “A developmental evaluation of response to intervention implementation.”

Cites Stephen Covey, “Involve people to solve problems together.” Michael Quinpatten coined “developmental evaluation”. Summative or formative: are you a restaurant critic or a mentor chef? Developmental approach asks “should we make something new? Challenges the “Wait to fail” model of intervention into SEN. Uses universal screening assessments and provides continuous progress monitoring empowering educators to make timely decisions based on high quality data. Effective intervention must respond promptly when students do not learn. Takes on the role of a developmental evaluator, gathering data in real time in the context of ongoing development. She notes a fear of “data icky data”. But, is this just a narrow view of what data is (or what counts as data)? Questions get to this issue.

Vanessa Cottle (University of Derby): “An exploration into the influence an MA in Education has on identity” . Personal and professional interests (identity: third space).

She recounts her vocational background as a short-hand typist who went to work teaching typing at an FE college and found herself surrounded by people with degrees. Eventually became responsible for teacher education in FE and then university lecturer. Nonetheless, a sense of Impostorship  remains. Became interested in self esteem and what it means to develop an academic identity. Students are diverse in MA in Education programmes. Typically they are teachers but not exclusively. Even in the category “teacher” there is a lot of diversity: FE, HE, School, NHS, University, Police, Local Government, etc. There are also dimensions such as time in practice; status in practice; undergraduate education; or “equivalent” (direct entry to MA without level 6 qual);  full time/part time, flexible study. Starts by defining MA level from QAA documentation: academic and professional characteristics and expands: dynamic, caring, evidence informed; knowledge, communication, ethics, behaviour management, adherence to British values; focus on learners’ achievements and own behaviours. There is transferability between professional and academic identity. Uses Illeris (2003) model of identity (see also Newell Jones 2006).  And used Jones (?) self-esteem inventory

Adrian Twissell, Ross Thompson (Oxford Brookes University), “Exploring goal orientation and philosophical identity: two doctoral students reflect upon their learning journeys and emerging research intentions.”

How has goal orientation changed as identities changed? Traveled from a positivist perspective at the start of the journey. Later, engaged in the social nature of teaching an interpretive perspective emerged. (See Scott and Morrisson and Wisker). Professional doctorates are different from conventional PhDs, and therefore the nature of knowledge discovered/created through the EdD is different. School inculcated a positivist (fixed reality) perspective. MA study started to challenge this. Post modernism emerged in doctoral study. Draw on Schön and Flannigan and Bruner. Moved from positivism to a more interpretivist/pragmatic perspective involving social mediation and negotiation leading to goal modification. (See Berger and Luckmann, 1984). Tangible evidence will manifest in final interpretive inquiry.



Illeris, K. (2003), The Three Dimensions of Learning. Fredericksberg, DK: Roskilde University Press

Neimeyer, Greg J., and Margaret B. Rareshide. 1991. “Personal Memories and Personal Identity: The Impact of Ego Identity Development on Autobiographical Memory Recall.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 60 (4): p562–569.

Newell Jones, Katy. 2006. “Small Beginnings of a Community of Practice with a Global Focus.” The Brookes eJournal of Learning and Teaching 1 (4).


Open online courses: ALT MOOC SIG

Semi-live blog

I am attending the ALT MOOC SIG.

There is a question to be answered by everyone, who receives an income from an institution, and who asks that institution to do something for no remuneration. Why should that activity be subsidised? Who should subsidise it?

In the past it has largely been the state through government and taxation, and third sector (charities, friendly societies) NGOs, who have subsidised activity for the general good.

This concept of the general good is vexingly problematic. We still cling to the National Health Service and K-12 education as prima facie examples of activity, which should be provided by all for all. Museums still largely enjoy this indulgence in the UK. Universities did for the past maybe 50-100 years; longer if charity, church and guild-funding can be counted among the general good.

Between the gipsy scholar and the institutional baron there is a wide swathe of “me”: people who believe in the general good of what they do, nervously charitable and accepting of many others of similar disposition. Yet, nonetheless admitting uncertainty of the general good of all the nuances exposed by such a liberal consensus: of course my activity should be supported; but, that person’s field is of very questionable worth.

Are MOOCs for marketing asks Diana Laurillard. Cites a MOOC: ICT in Primary Education (using Coursera and social citation software outside Coursera: Padlet, Diigo) run jointly with UNESCO. Has “wider good” aspiration values. Data is equated with more: “I have become a total data junkie. I wake up every morning [shaking], how many more? How many more?” So a problem is not providing free education to highly qualified professionals; or is it? Not retaining undergraduates. Is achieving reach into emerging markets the same as achieving educational goals? Diana asserts her skepticism about MOOCs. Says we have to be critical, well, “because we have to.” And to be critical you have to be on the inside. Reminded of many years ago at the Cabinet Office, when she firmly said that, “It is better to be inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in”. Is having an 8,000 to one student to staff ratio a good thing? Leveraging community support but what about the living wage? Can MOOC money be better deployed in professionalising 1.6 million new teachers?

Fred Garnett starts his talk in government, asserting that the present government is not at all interested in social inclusion. He asks about criteria for evaluating education because “learning doesn’t scale.” His criteria are: Is education (which may scale) enabling or transforming? Is TEL a subset of learning, a superset of learning or something else? I suggest it is a limen to, from, between and contexts and is a context itself. As “content is [said to be] king”, Fred says, “Context is Queen.” No content can solve the digital divide. Interest drives learning. Authentic learning has community based/responsive curricula. Such curricula are participatory, evaluative, dialogic, social and self-determined. He suggests some approaches (CGFL, NGFL, Ambient Learning City, Fred levels a charge at the big xMOOCs. Are they attracting and appropriating the intellectual wealth of emerging nations and using this to maintain current power structures. He leaves the question open as to solutions, but on invitation, he suggests that a Freirian, problem-posing pedagogy is part of the “solution”. Learning spaces are also part of the solution. Botanical gardens are valuable learning spaces. So, too, national trust properties, woodlands (see Pagell, Mark, Wired for Culture).

… and Geocaching?

Alexander Griffiths (Huddersfield) talks about geocaching as a “mooc”, Or is it a platform? Does it matter. You can learn through  trails literally and metaphorically. I am reminded of Fathom, which used “trails” to link up pieces of learning.

Patrick Haughton (QUB) goes beyond the selfie. Future Learn. Has a nice visual representation of the course created in in Prezi. Layered formality and informality. Learner centred, inclusive, facilitative, accessible (on a phone) and open (international). “What is identity” addressed through self-reflective learning tasks: learners create digital artefact of their choice. engaged with recommended tools. Peer review and self-assessment tests. Very nice use of Padlet and internet repositories, Flickr, YouTube. Padlet, Storify. Questions float around the assessment of and through academic multimedia.

Now, MOOCs need stewardship (Shirley Williams, University of Reading). Built open courses on Future Learn. Is stewardship a need? Technology stewards are part of it. MOOC stewarding is facilitatingh a supportive environment while a course is running: weaving the community, recognising problems. May include technology stewardship, or not (but someone has to do it). Using three levels: the educator team, student mentors and participants. But participation by the educators is essential. How do you get Professor Big Star to be there? They are busy, travel a lot, have limited availability. Solutions: weekly summary video (possibly ghost written), tweet stream, “captain’s log”. Uses student mentors. They pay them. Train them. They can count this towards the RED (employability skills development) award. Pay UG and PG “demonstrating rates” £9.xx/hour up to something more for the PGs for 5-7 student helpers for 10 hours a week. Seed people from previous runs?

Now Aidan Johnson (Strathclyde) Storytelling through a MOOC. “There has been a murder.” Investigation, evidence, mystery. Entirely un-influenced (not!) by forensic science television dramas. But large potential audience. If a murder mystery is “fun” can it be authentic? Another Future Learn Course. Biggest ever on the platform (26,000+ participants). Again used social media, Twitter, Facebook (x2). Nice map of the activity. Discussions were not moderated. Used Google Hangouts for tutorial sessions. Ran as accredited internal 10 credit course.

Jenny Mackness and Frances Bell. Rhizome as a metaphor for different kinds of learning. Six weeks seems to be becoming paradigmatic for a MOOC.  The metaphor of the rhizome has good and bad aspects (mint and ground elder); subversive or pernicious? Non-heirarchical or army of clones?

Characteristics of rhizomatic learning include: connection, heterogeneity, multiplicity, (doesn’t recognise a prior unity), contextualised, the map not the territory, a-signifying rupture (resisting definition; deterritorialising and reterritorialising). The convener and the curriculum are in some tension in an environment of ambiguity, concern, community, power and politics. Communitarian emergence may be problematic. And, of course, human networks are discontinuous because we walk, asserts Fred Garnett.

Over lunch spoke more to Aidan about MOOCs for credit at Strathclyde.

Pat Lockley plays bingo with us. He starts massive and stays massive. Seriously large numbers at U of London International MOOC on English Common Law. Everything is open. 5,000 have visited the post MOOC open MOOC. Used 8 platforms 4x WordPress, YouTube, SoundCloud, SlideShare, Amazon S3 cloud server. Use Livestream not YouTube? Use of the ask the professor feature was larger in the MOOC, though the numbers on the MOOC and the UoL courses are similar. MOOC learners are more active.

Helena Gillespie (UEA) MOOCs and Metrics: success and evaluation data. How is it going? What is the most successful MOOC? most people? Best demographic? Most completion? Most countries? Love for STEM subjects? Best corporate employer collaboration? How many did you get is not the right question.

So what are the right ones?

  • Extend reach and access
  • Build brand
  • Improve revenue
  • Improve outcomes
  • Innovation
  • Research-led teaching

Bye from a great day…!


Feedback online

There is an active conversation about teaching online, teaching teachers online and teaching about giving feedback online to people who teach online and face to face.

I am attending an online conference: Giving Feedback to Writers Online. International and Virtual Conference 26th June 2014- 9.30am-2pm BST (now!). Content now available here.

Teresa Guache of the Open University of Catalunya is giving the keynote on giving feedback on academic writing online. “Loads of things for thought,” says Marion Waite. Teresa suggests a multi-modal approach using synchronous and asynchronous academic multimedia. Teresa provides excellent empirical evidence for the benefits of dialogic: epistemic and suggestive feedback.

I also attended the Solstice conference, where there was a session on online feedback in all dimensions. They had an excellent feedback instrument (discourse instrument: form) to collect pre-feedback, framing information, in session discourse analysis, and post-session semi-structured discussion. (this is in paper only on ALG02 table).

Clara O’Shea and Tim Fawns from Edinburgh wants us to experience what their students do. Move is into writing guidance we might give one another. Living the experience. Part time students who are doing a programme over 2 to 5 years. Online assessment module: classwide PBworks wiki-based assessment. Self selected groups of five. Group has to produce 5,000 word multi-modal ; co-authoring and critical friending other groups produces a class-wide grade. Is any of this peer marked? Peer writing: co-authoring towards shared understanding is participatory, dialogic, epistemic and may be suggestive. The polls are interesting, but the mode of the instrument is being pushed to its limit.

Ros Stuart-Buttle speaks about church-school leaders online course (3,000 people over ten yeard!). Encourages online collaboration as well as interior dialogue. This is an important dialogue to emphasise in professional reflection. Ros distinguishes between individual private writing (journal shared only with the teacher) and public (blogging) to promote interior dialogue. “The students need to be advised to have a private and a public reflective space…” summarises sue schutz in the chat. It is through the interior dialogue that we have dialogue with the past: writers, memories, culture. Through interior dialogue the essentially dialogic nature of Language can be subject of understanding (Bakhtin, Bhabha). Deliberative reflection must be a part of distributed collaboration. Ros takes a critical ethnographic approach. Has analysed over 500 documents. The prompts she gave at the start of the project were closed and directive. Soon realised that this made for a good forum discussion but not what she wanted from a reflective journal. Moved away from explicit and concrete task to throw the topic back on the learner to interrogate in their own context, with reference to the study materials, wider reading (the literature), peers (colleagues and students), as well as own experience (Brookfield’s lenses again).

John Hillsdon explores more philosophical and existential aspects of writing. Acknowledges his own impostership. Mixes synchronous and asynchronous discussion in online writing retreat. “On the crest of a wave… a threshold moment.” Existence and presence are linked. Brings in Habermas. Ideally humans can achieve communication and this is emancipatory (improvement). Uses Activity Theory as instrumentalisation of social constructivism as a means of developing emancipatory learning. Are emancipation and improvement equivalent? For distributed cognition see Gavriel Salomon.

Salomon, Gavriel, ed. 1993. Distributed Cognitions: Psychological and Educational Considerations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Had to return to my own online feedback task!

Great conference.

Creating active open online courses (OOCs)

My second stab at disseminating our thoughts about open online courses and the pedagogical implications of open courses is in this abstract submitted to the ALT-MOOC-SIG.

The workshop addresses SIG themes:

  • Growing your own Mooc
  • Designing & planning for ‘massive’

In the workshops participants will

  • Identify & share examples from experience of new learning designs & spaces
  • Synthesise or adopt an explanatory framework (model) for dialogic (M)OOCs
  • Apply their framework to designing, delivering and supporting open online courses.

The wider aim of the workshop is to promote open academic practice through OOCs.

Oxford Brookes University is developing and offering open online courses in a range of subjects. These short courses of four to six weeks duration are founded on group & individual activity. Participants engage in sustained discussion with ideas & people for about 2 to 3 hours a day, for 2 or 3 days a week (about 10 hours a week). Like all our courses, our OOCs are:

  • Activity-based: we do & make things in groups, using online tools
  • Experiential: tutors & participants draw on their experience
  • Dialogic: we talk together both synchronously (real time, e,g, in webinars) & asynchronously (e.g. discussion boards & social networks)
  • Participatory: tutors are present & engaged as participants
  • Community-based: linked to disciplines & relevant communities in work & society.
  • Peer evaluated
  • Outcomes-led: structured around curricula & aims, mapped, & in some cases accredited, to UK Higher Education frameworks.

Activities & Timings

  1. A troublesome threshold between the utopian & the real: open OOCs as heterotopia
  2. Examples of heterotopia in your teaching & your institution (Small group, facilitated discussion & feedback from 4 or 5 perspectives)
  3. Creative appropriation: blended learning as third space. Learners create their own learning environments outside, inside & in-despite of institutional intentions.
  4. What works: tools, roles, norms & community: applying discipline to creativity, responsibly, in OOCs
  5. Synthesis & final questions.

Implementing the new blended learning

Having written, “Where is the new blended learning? Whispering corners of the forum” with Richard Francis (Francis & Roberts 2014), I and colleagues are starting to develop underpinning frameworks for communication and dissemination and to suggest programme developments and tools for teaching. The following abstract for a 45 minute workshop session, submitted to a conference but not yet accepted, is my first stab at moving from underpinnings to action. Re-reading it now, I think Good Luck! It made sense at the time.

By the end of this session, delegates will be able to:

  • identify and explain the underpinnings of the new blended learning through metaphors of space
  • apply frameworks for explaining, communicating, disseminating and implementing the new blended learning
  • imagine, together learning designs that are responsible and authentic to learners points of origin, disciplinary epistemologies, and practice as it is.

Physical and virtual spaces of learning appear ever more fluid and polyvalent for all participants, who are co-constructors of the space itself and of the learning that occurs within it: heterotopias (Foucault 1984) of institution, teacher and student. Such blended space of both community and identity is where activity occurs, and reflection on – and dialogue about – authentic experience happens.

Through this fluid polyvalence, all spaces are revealed as spaces between (Meyer and Land 2003, Bhabha 2004): between the ideal and the real, between now and then in both directions; between the physical and the digital, paper and the screen. New teaching spaces, learning environments, apps and the cloud can be seen as bridges between an older the vision of blended learning (Raftery and Francis 2005, Sharpe et al 2006) and a future that is continuously emergent. They mark the end of one era and the beginning of another.

The key issues to be addressed arise from applying models of good practice derived from older face-to-face AND online distance learning to the new blended learning. Participants will explore the implications of distributed collaboration for learning that is:

  • Activity-based
  • Experiential
  • Dialogic
  • Participatory
  • Community-supported, and
  • Outcomes-led. (Vygotsky 1934, 1962, Mezirow 1990, 1997, Engeström 2001)

Session Activities

  • Between the utopian and the real, the troublesome threshold: blended learning as heterotopia (framing the discussion)
  • Examples of heterotopia in your teaching and your institution (Small group, cabaret tables, facilitated discussion and feedback from four or five perspectives)
  • Blended learning as third space: Learners create their own learning environment outside, inside and in-despite of the intentions of the institution or its architects.
  • What works? Responsible application of discipline to creativity in the newf blended learning space (Small group, cabaret tables, facilitated discussion from four or five perspectives)
  • Synthesis and final questions


Bhabha, Homi. 2004. The Location of Culture. Routledge Classics. Abingdon: Routledge.
Engeström, Yrjö. 2001. “Expansive Learning at Work: Toward an Activity Theoretical Reconceptualization.” Journal of Education and Work 14 (1): 133 –156
Foucault, Michel. 1984. “Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias.” accessed 13/04/2014
Francis, Richard, and John Raftery. 2005. “Blended Learning Landscapes.”Brookes Electronic Journal of Learning and Teaching (BeJLT) 1 (3). accessed 13/04/2014
Francis, Richard, and George Roberts. 2014. “Where Is the New Blended Learning? Whispering Corners of the Forum.” Brookes Electronic Journal of Learning and Teaching (BeJLT) 6 (1).
Meyer, Jan, and Ray Land. 2003. “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising within the Disciplines”. Edinburgh: Universities of Edinburgh, Coventry and Durham. ETLreport4.pdf accessed from accessed 13/04/2014
Mezirow, Jack, ed. 1990. Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood: A Guide to Transformative and Emancipatory Learning. Jossey-Bass Higher Education Series. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
———. 1997. “Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice.” New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education, no. 74: 5. a9h
Sharpe, Rhona, Greg Benfield, George Roberts, and Richard Francis. 2006. “The Undergraduate Experience of Blended E-Learning: A Review of UK Literature and Practice”. Higher Education Academy. accessed 13/04/2014
Vygotsky, Lev. 1962. Thinking and Speaking (first Published as Thought and Language). Edited by Eugenia Hanfmann and Gertrude Vakar. Lev Vygotsky Archive transcribed by Andy Blunden. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. accessed 13/04/2014

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.