Category Archives: MOOC

Something of a synthesis

I attended and wrote about four professional development events this week.

And I gave a keynote at the Solstice Conference at Edge Hill University on 5 June 2014. Slides are here.

In this post I begin to instrumentalise my synthesis of critical educational development points, which I suggest are underpinned by and support the themes (possibly threshold concepts)  that emerged from the events above. [You might like to watch this video by Doug ward on Synthesis as a threshold concept.]

There is strong empirical evidence for the benefits of dialogic: epistemic and suggestive feedback. Deliberative reflection arises from and is a skill for distributed collaboration. Peer writing, co-authoring towards shared understanding, is participatory, dialogic, epistemic and may be suggestive. Through interior dialogue and the essentially dialogic nature of literacies  we have dialogue with the past: teachers, writers, memories, culture. Curricula, too, are participatory, evaluative, dialogic, social and self-determined. The convener, participants and curriculum are in tension in an environment of ambiguity, concern, community, power and politics. Methodologically, critical ethnographies provide the essential richer picture and learning needs stewardship.

The framework looks like this:


Dialogue is at the heart. There are three axes running through dialogue:

  1. experience and activity
  2. participation and outcomes
  3. reflection and community.

And there are 12 further triads, each with dialogue at their apex:

  1. experience and reflection
  2. reflection and outcomes
  3. outcomes and activity
  4. activity and community
  5. community and participation
  6. participation and experience
  7. experience and outcomes
  8. reflection and activity
  9. outcomes and community
  10. activity and participation
  11. community and experience
  12. participation and reflection.

In each section that follows, I state the principle and then pose the questions, mostly in a “How do you …” style; “Have you considered …?”

Learning is active

Learning is active, an aggregation of multiple individual and unique actions and interactions of people with knowledge, tools and contexts. How do you:

  • incorporate activity into any learning design?
  • decide what activity is useful?
  • engage “micro” activity patterns (e.g. 20 minute cycles) with wider (session, course, life-course) activity patterns?
  • select appropriate tools?
  • use frameworks (approaches, templates, learning plans, etc.) to support activity design and implementation?

Learning is dialogic

Learning is dialogic: individuals share, negotiate, discuss and contend with texts (multimedia), self and others (peers, hierarchies). How do you:

  • facilitate conversation and collaboration with and between students (student-tutor and student-student contact) face-to-face or at distance; one-to-one and in groups?
  • develop academic discourse (multimedia/multimodal, writing/producing) and give feedback for learning in all modes?
  • encourage interior dialogue?

People are different

People are different (diverse identities) in many ways: demographically (age, sex, national origin, etc), as well as culturally and epistemologically (education tradition, world view, doer/reflector, multiple intelligence, multiliteracy, learning preferences, etc). How do you accommodate learner and learning diversity?

  • Demographic (legal, language, social, accessible)?
  • Epistemological (orientation to knowledge and learning)?
  • Identity and community?
  • Goal orientation?

Learning is experiential

Learning is experiential, it draws on everyone’s experience. How do you incorporate:

  • Work-based learning?
  • Life-wide learning?
  • Transitions?

Learning is reflective

Learning is reflective. Reflection happens in cycles (dialogue with self and others): student life-cycles, action learning cycles, assessment and feedback cycles. How do you:

  • Incorporate reflection, individually and in groups (professional, academic, ad hoc)?
  • Help students have a voice for their experience and outcomes?
  • Acquire peer and colleague contribution and feedback?
  • Include practice and theory?

Learning takes place in communities

Learning takes place in communities or groups of people (institutions, disciplines), settings (classrooms, work-places, online, etc) have community development aspects where there are roles (teacher, student, admin), and rules (tacit and explicit). How do you:

  • involve prior learners, disciplinary colleagues and trans-disciplinarity in programmes of study?
  • Incorporate wider notions of identity and citizenship, and shared (or examined) values?
  • Include core texts and narratives of the community of inquiry?
  • Develop role-based competencies?

Learning is participatory

Learning is participatory: Everyone is learning. How do you:

  • Encourage differential participation: peripheral, core, guest, “lurker”?
  • Acknowledge your own and your students’ memory, feelings and opinions?
  • Ensure authenticity to learners points of origin, disciplinary knowledge base, and practice as it is in the field?

Learning is outcomes-led

Learning is outcomes-led. There are curricula (No curriculum is a curriculum.) Many curricula are underpinned by wider professional and regulatory frameworks codified in law and customary practice. Outcomes are assessed and evaluated, often by other agencies. There may, of course be many “unintended outcomes”, many of which may well be beneficial, though not necessarily expressed in the curriculum. How do you:

  • Refer to benchmarks and standards; codes of practice?
  • Assess your learners?
  • Engage learners with criteria?
  • Develop communities of assessment practice?


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.

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.


Reflecting on reflections

I have just spent a rewarding hour reading initial reflections on teaching by participants on First Steps into Teaching in Higher Eduction. The people on this course are, for the most part, new to teaching in higher education and are entering into the identity of a teaching academic in their many ways. There are many ways of being a teacher. It is not like there is one way that we can teach. But, I suppose there are some broad areas of practice, which might be considered widely useful. And – no surprises – reflection is one of these.

But it is hard. It is especially hard to take a critical perspective on yourself! So we put some structures in place. Brookfield’s lenses and Kolb’s cycle are the two opening moves made on this course. Patience and kindness come out of these writings as virtues for new teachers. I am tempted to add mindfulness and compassion, but that might be for a later stage! Patience and kindness have to be applied to one’s self as well as to students, of course.

History – ones own history – is crucial but sometimes the fact that we have done something for a long time can stand in the way of growth and development. How can we turn our history into critical learning? Self questioning is important. It is not always easy to ask why we did things in a certain way, but if we can’t answer that question, maybe we need to try again. Self-criticism of the negative sort can be unhelpful. Scaffolding helps, and that’s what frameworks like Brookfield and Kolb offer. FSLT is, itself a framework, breaking things up and arranging them propped in a way that they won’t easily fall down, even if we are unsure of our footing.





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.]



Outcomes-led learning in an open online course, #FSLT14

“Outcomes-led” is still very contentious for many (e.g. Hussey and Smith 2003; Scott 2011). On the one hand, there will be outcomes. Taking any of the reflective cycle models (Kolb in particular) allows one to anticipate some outcomes through an intentional design process. These may be expressed as “intended” outcomes or “expected outcomes”. There may, of course be many “unintended outcomes”, many of which may well be beneficial, though not necessarily expressed in the curriculum.

The contentious point for me is when anticipated outcomes (predictive) become intended outcomes (prescripticve). That said, is there something inherently inappropriate in expecting practitioners in a community to have shared practices?

So, I feel it is OK to have courses with intended outcomes. And, I think outcomes may be correlated with some measures of learning gain. [Need to check this.] On the other hand, having intended outcomes means you can measure their attainment (SMART objectives, anyway). And the fact that you can measure means you do measure and consequently you would expect there to be a correlation (because it is all just circular, really). If you give a target to a group of people with a reasonable skill set in a domain, the chances are that some (many?) will hit it.

Hussey, Trevor, and Patrick Smith. 2003. “The Uses of Learning Outcomes.” Teaching in Higher Education 8 (3): 357 – 368

Scott, Ian. 2011. “The Learning Outcome in Higher Education: Time to Think Again?” Worcester Journal of Learning and Teaching (5).

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.

A note on content, courses/curricula, and credentials

This note recounts a potted recent history of developments to do with online content and courses and speculates about the future of credentials in respect of the purpose of a university.

When learning management systems (LMS) or virtual learning environments (VLEs) were in their infancy around the turn of the century, faculty opposition to their introduction was sometimes expressed. Two reasons were often given (among others): if I put my lecture notes on the web no one will come to my class; and variations on a personal IPR theme: the students, the university or third party institutions will steal my content. Content was considered “king” and as long as universities and academics “owned” the content, their position was secure

MIT, with the Open Courseware initiative shattered the content-is-king myth. All the content from a leading university was made freely available: curricula, syllabus, reading lists, slide sets and exam papers.

The defensive focus shifted to courses. It wasn’t the content per se that was important. What the faculty and the institution did was select, organise, interpret, analyse and re-present content through curricula presented in courses (or modules, blocks, units, etc): sequenced events of limited duration (often a semester) presented in various modes (face to face and at distance)..

In 2007 groups of academics started to offer open online courses, hosted at universities but not requiring enrolment or a fee. This open online course movement became truly massive (MOOC) in 2011 when Stanford and MIT began to offer open online courses. From these beginnings spin out ventures (Coursera, Udacity, EdX, FutureLearn and others) started offering open online courses to the higher education “market”.

Now academic defensiveness has shifted. It is not the content and it is not the course or the curriculum that are offered uniquely by the university and faculty. It is the credential. Universities can award degrees and the degree, backed up by quality assurance processes is the guarantor of learning quality and the unique proposition which protects the value of the university.

Is it?

There is a movement towards micro-credentialling, or “badges” which I suggest is more important that many faculty and academics allow. I wrote briefly about badges here. I suggest this movement will continue the trend of opening up the university proposition and further challenge the role of the university in society.