Category Archives: R&D Projects

Badges: Learning Gain or Just a Game, and what’s wrong with that?

Badges are Digital image files with text metadata stating criteria for which the badge has been earned. Badges are (presently) self-certified by Learner or Earner and  Self-certified by Provider or Issuer. Below are resources for a short session I ran for the Technology Experimentation Group (TEG). Continue reading

#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.

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.

Blogging the iPad Study

Just read Andy Saul’s excellent post on blogging the iPad project.

Using blogs for peer mentoring is a very good idea. It is the way the “blogosphere” works. Bloggers carry on conversations on their blogs. I am slightly less certain about the need to make the readership a closed group. Maybe I am just being conservative, but I have established blogging patterns and platforms and do not really want yet another.

If the readership is open, then through the mechanisms of trackbacks, pingbacks, categories, tags and blog rolls we can have the conversation using the native language of the Web and not be confined to a single platform.

I guess if the blogs are being used for commenting on academic work there is some case for privacy. But for private one-to-ones doesn’t e-mail do the trick?

x v c: falsifiability or hybrid learning in, through and about MOOCs

[This is my abstract for OER13]

Two thousand and twelve was the year of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) (Creelman 2012). The MOOC has become a complex phenomenon leaving aspiring designers and conveners with many questions and decisions to make. Speaking loosely, observers notice two broad categories of MOOC. cMOOCs are the earlier form, based on connectivist learning principles (Siemens 2005). xMOOCs are the more recent phenomenon described by some as monstrous (Siemens 2012) and attracting upwards of 150,000 participants. As Peter Sloep (2012) has commented, the key difference between the different types of MOOC is one of underlying beliefs, which will inevitably affect the learning experience and learning itself.

Here, we explore the beliefs underlying one of the UK’s early MOOCs: First Steps in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (FSLT).

We do this not to assert predominance but because one of these beliefs is that teachers should make their perspectives explicit. Theoretical underpinnings must be able to be tested: to be falsifiable (Popper 1996). Continue reading

The limits of navigation: how far does the online go?


Lechlade by Bhopix

Reflections on New Lecturers Courses at Oxford Brookes

Among the practices, which have emerged through the New Lecturers Programme in 2011-12, there are three that challenge the limits to online learning: massive open on-line courses (moocs), virtual conferences as a means of assessment, and distributed collaboration as a means of working in learning sets. While each of these topics deserves a full paper, together they allow us to examine, briefly, the role of the university and to re-imagine a place for institutions in a world where openness, access and community have come to underpin academic knowledge. Massive open online courses work for some, not all. A feeling of being lost can affect participants. The development of autonomy benefits from scaffolding. The literal and metaphorical walled garden of the university, where openness is limited and access is controlled, even if only with the lightest of touches, provides a sense of security. Virtual conferences challenge our understandings of academic literacy: we do not yet know how to “write the internet” in a way that makes us comfortable in the security of our knowledge. Text and citation in text reasserts itself vigorously through all the fissures opened up by multimedia discourse. And, learning sets are powerful motivators. They might well be supported through distributed collaborative approaches (FXPAL 2012). But unless the extrinsic drivers are very powerful, the centripetal force of physical presence and trust engendered through face to face meetings overcomes the benefits of distributed collaboration. All three practices, massive openness, multimedia academic discourse and distributed collaboration will and should, I suggest, be part of academic practice. But, if implemented uncritically in pursuit of openness, access and community, these practices may undermine very laudible aims.

Blog conversation on FSLT12

Lakhovsky, Conversation (public domain)

The feeds are starting to come in to the FSLT12 blog aggregator. And it is already a rich source of information and potential conversation. Questions are being asked about what makes a good teacher, and what makes a bad one! Jenny Mackness addresses the issue of blog aggregation generally in a MOOC. We are struggling with this and will be making changes to the template so that syndicated feeds only show the first 100 words or so.

But my question is more about the nature of conversation in this context. I will need to locate references, or ask if anyone has any to support my assertion, here. I wonder if this new epistolary form may be going a bit Baroque or even Rococo.

Continue reading

MOOCs and chaos

Dave Cormier has written a thoughtful critique from a cynefin perspective of massive open online courses (moocs) as an approach to learning the “basics”. I reduce his argument almost to absurdity, but it is extremely relevant to a massive open online course that I, Jenny Mackness and Marion Waite are developing. Our mooc is called “First steps into learning and teaching in higher education” (First Steps 12 or #fslt12). And, it is very much about “the basics”.

I suspect that what is at work are some unexpressed assumptions. Dave, who has a lot more experience of moocs than I, is coming from an informed and mature perspective, which emerges from and is aligned with the Connectivist principles promoted by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. I take the view, however, that a mooc  is by itself a “non-defined pedagogical format to organize learning/teaching/training on a specific topic in a more informal collaborative way” (MOOC Guide). The principles of a MOOC are: Aggregation, Remixing, Re-purposing, Feeding forward.

Recent courses that can be described as massive, open and online, but might not self-identify with connectivist principles, include the recent much-discussed Introduction to Artificial Intelligence from Stanford University, which has stimulated new learning provision through Udacity and Coursera. MITx, soon to launch is also making massive open online provision, but may not be explicitly connectivist in conception.

Like Dave, I do not want First steps 12 to “descend into anarchy”. But then I have never equated anarchy with chaos. However, I do not regard fslt12 as anarchic in conception. I would like to think that my leadership style is consultative, open, facilitative, collaborative and collegial (others might disagree!). But I do accept that First Steps 12 will be led by the course team and they will be led – to some extent – by me. If it all comes crashing down, I know who my boss will talk to! So I take some responsibiity.

I also expect that the course team will provide a core set of Open Educational Resources (OERs) that can be used by new lecturers and educational developers.

Dave asserts:

If you are looking for ‘best practices’ in a given domain, the MOOC is a fantastically inefficient way of acquiring them.

I am not sure this necessarily follows. The course team can provide scaffolding and direction, even if complicated, complex and sometimes chaotic practice is allowed to spin off.  Dave even acknowledges this.

We tend to pull together materials, and have expert centred discussions that are fairly restrictive.

In the end, his conclusion is that

The complex domain is where the MOOC really shines.

This is where I hope First Steps 12 takes us.

Open is as open does – what do you want in an #fslt #oer #mooc

As planning gets underway to run a mooc based in the first instance on OCSLD’s First steps into learning and teaching (#fslt) in higher education I have been struck by a couple of questions. First is when does a mooc start? Second is how open should the mooc planning process be? The questions are related. We have been committed to openness from the start (with a caveat). As soon as it was written the bid was posted to a public blog. The caveat is that unlike Joss Winn, we didn’t write the bid in public. Five years ago I and others in the Emerge project tried to get the community to shape one big bid to the JISC. So, openness is still imperfect. But, now, there will be an event running the last 2 weeks of May and first 3 weeks of June. This event will be an intro to learning and teaching in higher education (note to Steve Wheeler referenced here not a mooc about moocs). But for some of us: Jenny, Marion and me, the thing has started. In a separate and unrelated – may the zeitgeist be with you – development I have been following, at a distance, the development of #mededmooc, a mooc for health care professionals [see here and here and here]. There it appears that it is all in a wide open planning phase. Everything is up for discussion and negotiation. I like this, but with some more caveats. The openness has to be bounded. It is not about everything. There are themes for the mooc we are planning: learning and teaching in HE, OER, the HEA UK PSF; there is a base curriculum. But, within these parameters, I would like to widen the discussion as much as possible. Call it a needs analysis. What do you want to see in a short 50 hour/5 week open online course about learning and teaching in higher edication?

Posted via email from George’s posterous

Extending your online course

Last month I and some colleagues developed, ran and participated in an online course called extending your online course. The course site is here: My reflective blog for this course is here:

It was one of the best learning experiences I have participated in in recent years. I mention this now by way of returning to this blog after what could appear as a gap in my activity.

I feel the need to reflect but all I can say is that I feel tired and ready for a break from the academy.

I finished off the working year writing a bid for a grant to go beyond even Extending your online course, helping to lead us into open academic practice in a big way. Fingers crossed.

These are the things that keep it worth working.