Category Archives: OCSLD online

Flipping questions

These are the questions about flipped teaching that we will be discussing:

  1. Why would you reduce the time spent on “homework” and increase the time given to didactics?
    • Is the significant difference only that texts are presented as multimedia?
  2. How do you design for the periods between class?
  3. Is higher education is moving from a knowledge-based enterprise to a “higher skills and competencies” based one?
  4. Does highly didactic, knowledge-based, autonomous, single-summative-assessment point education style suit everyone? (Discuss each of the terms in bold italics?)
    • And, what if it doesn’t?
  5. Are group assessment and peer assessment now emerging as significant trends?
    • And, how did you find the answer to this question?
  6. How might you support group work in a large group?


It struck me as I was preparing a session on “flipped teaching” that there may be two related  questions in the approach for higher education (HE). Kong (2014) suggests:

The flipped classroom strategy is that work typically done as homework is better undertaken in class with the guidance of teachers. At the heart of flipped classrooms is moving teachers’ knowledge delivery outside of formal class time and using formal class time for students to actively engage in knowledge construction through extensive interactions with peers and teachers (161).

In secondary school, the amount of homework given does not often exceed the amount of time spent in the classroom. From my memory any teacher who gave more than an hour of homework was harsh. As a teacher, You have about equal chunks of in-class and out of class time to work with. In a typical 15 credit higher education (HE) module in the UK, about 30 hours is devoted to “lecturing” and 120 hours to “other stuff”: sometimes described as self-study and assessment preparation. In HE the chunks of in-class and out-of-class are different sizes compared to school. And in HE the amount of homework expected is proportionally greater than the amount of in-class time available. Why would you reduce the time spent on “homework” and increase the time given to didactics? But that is what it appears that flipped teaching does. Is the significant difference only that texts are presented as multimedia?

The second question arises from a traditional higher education practice: the large lecture. Large groups  lend themselves well to didactics and are hard to sub-divide and monitor individual progress in. Even if you had the staff.

The real question flipped teaching asks is how do you design for the periods between class or even: do you design for these periods. Even keeping quiet about “self-study and assessment preparation” time is a design decision.

Higher education is moving from a knowledge-based enterprise to a “higher skills and competencies” based one.

In the old days if you had a class of more than a hundred people, typically you gave them 12 lectures, a reading list and an exam. You probably related the lectures to the reading to the exam several times throughout the term/semester. Students shared notes between class in an ad hod fashion, And at the end of the semester they all trooped in and those who were good at that sort of thing did well on the exam.

Then you and maybe a colleague or two spent a couple weeks marking the exams. The students got jobs or partied on. Your work-load as a teacher was calculated on a similar basis as that of a student 12 x 2 or 3 hours of lectures at a 3 to 1 ratio meant  something like 100 hours and then you had a half an hour to an hour of marking per student. They did their 150 hours and you did yours. If you taught the same course year on year it got easier from time to time.

But that style, highly didactic, knowledge-based, autonomous, single-final-assessment point does not suit everyone.

As the numbers engaged in higher education increased, so did the challenges. Formative assessment and two stage assessment (mid-term exam or essay) came in. Assessed coursework and continuous assessment are all practiced to some degree.

I suggest that group assessment and peer assessment are now emerging as significant trends (Weaver & Esposito 2012).

One very effective way of getting large groups of students to work together is to make part of the assessment scheme done in small groups. Five or six is about optimum: minimum 4 maximum 8. But they will hate it and it will be hard work for everyone. However they will do the work, or far more will than would have if just left to their own devices. And those hated free-riders will have learned too, even if it is at the expense of their more diligent group members.

Questions repeated

So these are the questions about flipped teaching that we will be discussing:

  1. Why would you reduce the time spent on “homework” and increase the time given to didactics?
    • Is the significant difference only that texts are presented as multimedia?
  2. How do you design for the periods between class?
  3. Is higher education is moving from a knowledge-based enterprise to a “higher skills and competencies” based one?
  4. Does highly didactic, knowledge-based, autonomous, single-summative-assessment point education style suit everyone? (Discuss each of the terms in bold italics?)
    • And, what if it doesn’t?
  5. Are group assessment and peer assessment now emerging as significant trends?
    • And, how did you find the answer to this question?
  6. How might you support group work in a large group?


  • Siu Cheung Kong. (2014). Developing information literacy and critical thinking skills through domain knowledge learning in digital classrooms: An experience of practicing flipped classroom strategy. Computers & Education, 78, 160–173.
  • Weaver, D., & Esposto, A. (2012). Peer assessment as a method of improving student engagement. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(7), 805–816.





Teaching conference #fslt15

Reflecting mid-week in the fifth and last week of First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (FSLT). In four one-hour webinars, two on Monday and two on Tuesday, I have seen and participated in 12 Virtual Conference presentations by participants in week 5 of this open online course. And, for the first time I can remember, I let out rock-and-roll whoops. Not something often said about teaching conferences. In part this was because I can take credit for some of this course design and it didn’t totally break down; in part it was because the platform has just about stood up; in part because the level of digital capability of the participants has for many broken through the novelty barrier. But mostly because these were among the 12 best presentations I have seen and participated in. Well argued, evidenced, structured, illustrated and in scope for time (not over the “wordcount”).

Continue reading

First Steps Again

FSLT15 is off to an easy start so far. It will be interesting to see how many attend the webinar on Monday. There are about 60 participants signed up and about 26 are taking the course for University Credit (10 credits CATS level 7, M-level). The course is validated and acceptable on 3 programmes: The OCSLD Associates Programme leading to Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy; The Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE) and the MA Education: Higher Education.

Participants are mostly from the UK, with people from South Africa, Spain, Ecuador, Portugal, Zambia, St Vincent, Ireland also joining. And there are a number who have not yet indicated, suggesting about 20% may be from outside the UK.

The course is feeling like a “traditional” part of what we do, now that it is in its fourth year. It is easy to forget what a step it has been to develop this programme. The big thing is that many of the people taking the course for credit are Brookes Staff who feel that the online option may be more effective for them, even though they are based in Oxford.

So as we work through the Week 0 oddities I trust we will be fully engaged by Monday


Analytics are not relationships

Just read Niall Sclater’s literature review for JISC: Code of practice for learning analytics: A literature review of the ethical and legal issues. The report asks a lot of important questions. And it mentions, albeit in passing in the “Rationale” section, what for me is the key issue: “Greater trust and a better relationship with the people you collect information about.”

But that word “relationship” masks the hard human issue about education and learning that no amount of data will resolve. Ultimately “authentic” relationship is between embodied (or formerly embodied, in the case of dead writers) individual humans. I don’t want to get all Bakhtinian about it, but while analytics may help ask questions, they will not provide the solutions.

A problem we uncover when surveying students (either “failing” students, or students on “failing” courses) is that they do not feel that their teachers know them or care about them. I do not think these students will be impressed if the response is to fix the broken relationship with an algorithm.

At best analytics can help start a conversation. People have to be willing to take the conversation on. That is: people, not institutions. Analytics may help pinpoint areas where hard work needs to be done, but are not likely to make that work any easier.

Management wants “the” answer to achieving particular mandated targets in order to protect or augment resources (or consolidate and preserve “power”). People (learners and teachers) are not trusted to do this “consistently” (as if they ever could!). So it is hoped that algorithms will: a) discover the right answer and then b) enforce a solution in line with targets and outcomes (which shift with the political wind).

We must not let loss of trust be simply collateral damage.

Other important contributions to the discussion

Diversity in Higher Education

At a recent workshop, we were asked to reflect on how we experienced diversity through the PCTHE. This is a contribution to that discussion.

I observe that on this course for new lecturers in higher education, diversity is governed by employment, but that shouldn’t deter our engagement with equality, diversity, accessibility: values we assert. We assert that we practice equality, diversity and accesibility through inclusivity. I do not want to call out those whose physiognomy might mark them as “Other”. We are all “Other”. But despite good intentions, we appear not to be all that diverse. Gender is balanced, but “colour” is not. And I use that term, colour as possibly less problematicaly marked than race or ethnicity. We could argue that the PCTHE should be extra enabling of individual diversity but we appear to follow rather than lead. (As an aside, the University has recently signed up to implement the Race Equality Charter Mark.)

In the workshop, we were asked to write a story related to diversity: short, true and relevant.

Mine arises  from three observations of exchanges I had. One with a participant in a wheelchair. She was very engaged, a scientist, and advocate for accessibility. I am a cyclist. I like a good set of wheels. So, I remarked that she had a nice set of carbon fiber, aerodynamic wheels on the chair. “Nice wheels, ” I said. Her reaction got me thinking. “All you guys see is the wheels!” She said a lot more, as well about commenting on clothing and looks. I apologised. I had hoped I had found a space – a third space? – that we could connect on, that could expose one point of difference and get beyond it in both our particularities. But it is complicated being embodied. On another occasion, at a committee meeting I assumed a black man had a role supporting BME participation. He supports all student representation. The third, personally, has to do with my beard. I grew it last February. After 6 weeks or so, men began to comment on my appearance, Men don’t do this. (Do they?) Beards appear to license men to be kind to one another.

These incidents, cause me to reflect on my often unexamined underpinnings that are still not sufficiently touched by training and profession of values: to respect individual learners and diverse learning communities, to promote participation and equality of opportunity in HE, and to acknowledge the wider contexts within which higher education operates. I am more reticent now. Less inclined to remark on elements of diversity embraced within the law and to focus on diversity of epistemology as being the main thing of relevance to education. But we have to note that one’s embodied cultural identity cannot help but to affect one’s epistemology. We know what we know as who we are.












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

Open Learning Designs

I came late to the Teaching online open course #TOOC14 discussion on learning designs. But wanted to think about this both for tooc as well as courses I currently have a hand in designing.

There were frameworks presented. Personally I take a checklist approach evolved from a number of frameworks:

  • Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) Principles
  • Kolb’s (1984) cycle
  • Brookfield’s (1995) lenses
  • Activity theory (Engeström 2001, Vygotsky 1962)

Over the years I have distilled a set of terms from these and others, which work for me to capture something of good teaching practice. I presented these terms in #FSLT14: outcomes-led, experiential, activity-based, dialogic, participatory, community learning. I ask myself how what I am doing allows at least some outcomes to be intended in advance. Is it linked to any external benchmark reference? How does it draw on or explicitly use activity to create an experience for the participant? How is conversation enabled with co-participants or collaborators? Where do the tutors stand on the participant-observer axis? I would have them stand toward the participant side. For learning to be authentic and to engage learners, tutor engagement works. And, so does group-work. We may not build persistent communities around any one course but we will use support techniques that are based in community-building practices. Some of this will involve peer evaluation. Previous students are invited back as teaching assistants.

Now I am working on a book idea in a similar vein. The organising principles are emerging from a series of conversations with David Jaques.

  • Learning in groups, which picks up on themes of activity, community, identity, discipline, teamwork
  • Authentic learning, which picks up on learning from experience, professional work-based learning, problem-based learning, simulation
  • Technology and learning, which expands on spaces and places for learning, physical and digital
  • Criticality and reflection, which picks up on group and public evaluation, incident analysis, direct and indirect objects of learning, diversity, inclusivity, perspectives, models and theories that might explain or predict learning


  • Brookfield, Stephen D. 1995. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publlishers
  • Chickering, A., and Zelda Gamson. 1987. “The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.” American Association for HE Bulletin, no. March 1987 (and frequently reprinted): 3–7.
  • Engeström, Yrjö. 2001. “Expansive Learning at Work: Toward an Activity Theoretical Reconceptualization.” Journal of Education and Work 14 (1): 133 –156.
  • Kolb, David. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
  • 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.


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.]