Tag Archives: higher

Usurpation of the University?

Transcendence – transgression – is the modality of human being in the world… The urge to transcend is the most stubbornly present … attribute of human existence (Bauman 2002, 222-23).

Last August I discussed a symposium to be held at the Australian Philosophy of Education Society with David Aldridge. That never happened but this note is what I was thinking of at the time.

Is transcendence as transgression a usurpation? We expect it is and is and is to be celebrated.

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Academic Practice in practice?

What is the model and purpose of academic practice development? Producing 21st C Cardiff graduates in your discipline? There are two pillars of Welsh Government policy: Social justice is as important as a buoyant economy. Nationality is an issue. Language is an issue. A concept of privilege pervades the process. Much is made of the Welsh context. A small nation that wants to value the individual in the nation. Eight Universities. Much HE in FE. FEs are praised as cutting edge with DL, online, part-time (note our Simon Llewellyn) came from Colleg Gwent) Is this what makes a Welsh graduate experience distinct from any other?

Participants on Cardiff’s supported individual pathway to professional accreditation with the HEA need to write 600 words under each of the seven areas of activity in the UKPSF, weaving in Core Knowledge and Values. I notice only 3 females in a room of 16. Very different from Brookes. We are advised that it is not anonymous. Something of institutional and individual reputation will stick. As teachers, we are invited to be conscious of our roles. I am reminded of Max Tegmark: Subject (observer), object (observed), context (all the rest) (Tegmark 2015 page). .



The “enhancement debate” and TEL

Beginning a critical exploration of “enhancement”.

The “enhancement debate” clearly (to me) must be addressed within the scope of technology enhanced learning (TEL) debates. TEL is largely seen as an instrumental means of making the individual person (human being) more effective and efficient in the information economy, maybe more compliant to employability and managerial norms as well as possibly resistant to collectivist and democratic or redistributive urges. TEL discussions often focus on the capacity of the technology to enhance, and the person to be enhanced largely through an individual’s own capacity to use or even master learning technology. The person is often understood as a decontextualised individual, with inadequacies to be remediated or skill levels to be increased largely through their own efforts, assisted by appropriate training and development programmes largely focused on using tools.

However set against this fairly common conception of the person and their relations to learning technology are various streams of more critical engagement (as set out by Van Den Eede 2015) from the transhumanism of Bostrom to the democratic humanism of Feenberg. Bostrom (2009) provides a definition of enhancement:

An intervention that improves the functioning of some subsystem of an organism beyond its reference state; or that creates an entirely new functioning or subsystem that the organism previously lacked. (89)

… which if the capacity to use certain tools or technologies is a “subsystem” and a human being is “an organism” and a “reference state” is a certain level of competence, then, I suggest this encapsulates “enhancement” sufficiently to both include TEL and to be included in discussions of TEL However, considering the individual “organism” or person as the object of the enhancement is only part of the landscape. Seeing TEL as an individual concern and an individual remedial (enhancement) challenge is simplistic and potentially problematic both for the individual and for groups (institutions, communities, etc).. As Feenberg (2009) suggests

… community is the primary scene of human communication and personal development. It is in this context that people judge the world around them and discuss their judgments with others. Any technology that offers new possibilities for the formation of community is thus democratically significant. (81)

Van Den Eede (2015) suggests that:

we must learn to see ourselves as hybrid blends of flesh, mind, materials, machines, information, values, institutions, relations, and processes. (152)


Bostrom, Nick. 2009. ‘Dignity and Enhancement’. Contemporary Readings in Law & Social Justice 1 (2): 84–115.


Feenberg, Andrew. 2009. ‘Critical Theory of Communication Technology: Introduction to the Special Section.’ Information Society 25 (2): 77–83.


Van Den Eede, Yoni. 2015. ‘Where Is the Human? Beyond the Enhancement Debate.’ Science, Technology & Human Values 40 (1): 149–62.


Towards a new education?

I asked Richard Murphy a question on Twitter after reading his post, “It’s not just a new politics we need: we need a new economics too.”
“And a new education?”
He replied “Almost certainly”.

This “new education” has to lie in what Murphy calls “collective” or shared narratives: “… where the individual seeks to achieve their purpose within the constraints that the planet now so very obviously imposes upon us… because achieving purpose is about substituting meaning for material consumption.” Narratives make meaning. Narrative must replace material consumption. As Max Tegmark (2014: 256) puts it, “… nature contains many types of entities that are almost begging to be named.”

I am leaning on Murphy and Tegmark here because both come from disciplines that value mathematical descriptions of the world above what Tegmark calls “baggage” or words. And both reveal the uncertainty at the base of measure, or to put it another way, they explore the measure problem. How you define constraints, if there are any?

And that I suggest is as ever: new or old education is about making meaning. Making meaning gets us very quickly into measures: pictures, categories, ranges, constraints; about how many lions are there over there? Meaning without baggage? Or is it all always baggage? Pragmatically, at what point do our useful approximations break down into mere baggage?

I spent much of Thursday and Friday last week immersed in dimensions of digital leadership in higher education, represented diagramatically. I started writing about this here. The base for this diagrammatic thinking was the range between “Visitor” and “Resident” in or to or in respect of/with reference to the digital. This model was constructed by Dave While and Alison leCornu several years ago in response to the “Native/Immigrant” model proposed by Presnky. There are other typologies, such as the “voyeur/flaneur” of dana boyd (2011) but the Jisc Co-designers find the visitor-resident one productive and useful.

To get the workshop talking and thinking together, the workshop facilitators laid another axis at 90 degrees to the visitor-resident x-axis. They labelled the upper end of the range “Personal” and the lower end “Institutional”. And this was the end of my messy thinking in my last post.

Tools as spaces as practises

Tools as spaces as practises

The next day we started again with a slightly rephrased map, where the top element was changed: “Individual” replaced “Personal” and rather than our own “digital capability” we were asked to map our institution’s.

Figure 1

Figure 1

It immediately struck my colleague, Richard Francis, that a small circle in the centre might represent the “disengaged learner” and that more “pressure” outward along any axis could be construed as a transformation of some sort.

Figure 2

Figure 2

I then observed that just maybe there were limits outward in some directions. It struck me that a person who was increasingly a visitor to one’s own individuality might lack self awareness (top left. And, in the same way travel too far lower right and a person might be in danger of becomming fully institutionalised.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Both these outer areas might break the “Identity and Wellbeing” circle suggested by the Jisc’s model of Digital Capability

6 Elements

6 Elements of Digital Capability

The last move in this opening development was to observe that the boundaries were at least elastic: that pressures towards self awareness might press inward while counterveiling pressures might push outward. And that these spaces might be characterised in various ways. Richard Francis proposed that being a visitor to one’s self from time to time might be construed as reflection rather than a tendency towards solipciism.

Figure 4

Figure 4

At this point in the morning the facilitators asked us to consider “openness” and “authenticity”. Richard Francis asked if perhaps the visitor-resident continuum might be relabelled “consumer-producer”? It struck me that an urge towards production and self-actualising transformation seemed to produce something like a wave or flow of force through the model, rupturing the membranes inward from the left to outward on the right. We realised that there was a relatively narrow band on either side of each of the main axes. We called the horozontal band the “Mean of engagement”: more or less individual and more or less institutional. We called the vertical band the “Mode of action”: more or less visitor and more or less resident. We also noticed an impact axis punching in another dimensionfrom lower left towards upper right. It appeard that the far left might be characterised by a lack of authenticity:. As one approached outer limits various pejorative warnings began to attach themselves to the image: at the outer and upper left solipcism and maybe hyper-capitalism dwelt, while at the upper right fully resident in individualism lurked the bully and the narcissist, with no self-control. There was a sweet spot for us upward and rightward from the centre where we put terms like open engagement, community, access and authority, while authoritarian by way of contrast fell out somewhere lower right.

Ruptured matrix

Ruptured matrix

We began to see institutional functions appear: assessment and the VLE seemed to occupy a backwater and the digital impact criteria of attention and presence firmly resided within the mean of engagement.

So all this was very satisfying as a means of understanding our world, but now the challenge is to turn it into action.



danah boyd. (2011). Dear Voyeur, Meet Flâneur… Sincerely, Social Media.” Surveillance and Society 8(4), 505-507

School of Education Research Conference 26 June 2015 #soeresearch

Semi-live blogging from the Oxford Brookes University School of Education Research Conference at Harcourt Hill, Glasgow Room, Friday 26 June 2015.

hash #soeresearch

Mandy Winter: Pupils conceptions and practices of composing.

Mandy Winter launches the proceedings: the Clangers travel in a boat powered by music. She reports on 3 Studies

  • Revisioning compositional pedagogy for adolescents
  • use co-creative partnerships as methodology for professional development
  • develop deeper cultural engagement
  1. Young Adults reflecting on music education: cultural disjuncts (why are we in school?)
  2. Adolescent learning: Year 9 composing in class: 2 classes smart phone voice composing, recording, observatins and reflections. The head was tolerant of kids with “small powerful computers”. Pedagogy (motivational)
  3. Teachers interviews discussion results of study 1 and 2 Life beyond formal education deeper cultural engagement

Young adults reflecting on music education. Terminology is problematic when making meaning: composing, composition or making stuff up. Routes into music. Reverse engineering. Importance of control and co-creation. Technology is time (context) dependent.

Adolescents learn social learning skills, achieve success as cultural creators, make meaning through movement and address consequences of interrupted flow: what do you get from the occasional lesson (e.g. 45 min once a fortnight). Winter calls for more extensive music lessons, especially if they are infrequent.

Teachers observe that adult modelling cultural engagement is important. The traditional conservatoire model remains dominant. Performing is more important than composing. Teaching composing is more difficult. Belief that you can’t “teach” composing.

Deb McGregor: Teaching creatively or teaching for creativity

What is creativity? There is a range of views:

  • Traditional: Einstein, Newton
  • Teachers’ view: novelty but not part of “science”; domain of the humanities, art, literature
  • Children: performance, gifted expertise in writing, art or music.

Divergent and convergent thinking; originality; cognitive processing. Generating possibilities is at the heart of creativity. Cites various contemporary writers on creativity: deBono, Facione, Swartz, Sternberg, NACCCE, Robinson, Lipman, Stylianidou  (any females?) Ken Robinson suggests we all can be creative, that we can plan for creativity and therefore it can be taught. So what do creative teachers do?

  • use imagination, develop material, capture attention
  • create dynamic active ethos, experience delight

The objective-subjective split remains a problem. Is there a spectrum of creativity little c to big Middle c?

Features of teaching creativity include make the ordinary fascinating, develop a sense of wonder, see things diferently, use metaphors, connect with experience, use unusual approaches and integrate it

Teaching creatively (TC) and teaching creativity (T4C) are different things.

Mary Wild, connecting home and educational play

drawing on Evangelou and  Wild, 2014, “Connecting Home and Educational Play: interventions that support children;s learning”, in Brookes, Blaise and Edwards, 2014, Handbook of Play and Learning in Early Childhood. Sage

Linet Arthur & Ian Summerscales, Troubling Knowledge:

In media res. Are Professional Doctorates a result of midlife crises? Doctoral journeys are redolent of mythic journeys. Background of the student is critical. Identity is distributed in multiple selves and contexts, multiple locations and interactions. We contribute as a part of a web of multiple connections. However the academy trumps the profession in the end. Linet argues that identity formation is necessarily part of the EdD journey. EdD helps some to cope with or mediate the solitary experience of traditional PhD study. I am pleased to see that the journey is not presented as a smooth trajectory. Mythic journey again: marginalisation and return.

 David Aldridge: Phenomenological description of student engagement


The phenomenon is that which allows itself to be seen. Not trying to effect an outcome. What happens beyond willing and doing.There is a rich phenomenology of experience. Gadamer recapitulated Dewey. The Phenomenological nod: statement of the bleeding obvious that wasn’t bleeding obvious until it was said. There is a tendency to instrumentalise engagement.

Engagement is transformative and transcendent… can it be? Location is engagement in-between. Links mutual understanding with learning.

George Roberts: Teaching into the third space: inclusive learning, active citizenship


Claire Fenwick Legacy of a MOOC


Wow, what a great account of an ooc in the wild.

Gillian Lake, RCT of language acquisition

Randomised Controlled Trial of an intervention involving planned pretend play and group shared storybook on language acquisition.

There was a significant effect of the intervention, but findings are interesting in some areas.

Carolyn Murphy: Physical Education

Teaches us how to do a cartwheel. Competency, autonomy, relatedness. Reports on PCTHE Learning Set project. Observes that low motivation emerges across disciplines. Uses Self Determination Theory



Reflection, criticality and transformation

I would like to know how to test a belief that I am forming.

I suggest that some people – perhaps especially mature learners returning to education – enter higher education with an unstated and often unconscious aim of becoming better at arguing for their prejudices. I do not mean to use the term “prejudice” pejoratively to suggest that these beliefs are racist, sexist or otherwise narrow-minded or exclusive but that people often have opinions based on long established beliefs that appear correct to them and wish to become better advocates for this position.

Problematically for educators, among these beliefs are some that suppose higher education will make a person more articulate and better able to argue one’s position without testing that position; and that possession of higher education qualification will lend authority to any argument for any position regardless of its quality.

I suggest that in line with Brookfield (1995) in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, these beliefs are “hegemonising” and obscures behaviours that are actually counter to the benefits that higher education might offer.

But how could I test this?

Because, of course I find myself in the position of having formed a belief but do not know how I know what I am asserting. In part this may have to do with my own journey as a mature learner, late returner to education and relatively late arrival in the Academy. I got my PhD at 55. My prejudices were (and are?) largely shaped around a critical-theoretical perspective, which I have long sought to become a better advocate for. While I might like to think that this is not simply a prejudice but an actual true representation of the world as it is, I have to admit that I can only laugh at myself when I write something like that.

In a recent conversation with an academic Psychologist friend…..

More soon!


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.





Widening Participation Working Group Away Day (Oxford Brookes University)

Semi-live notes from very interesting and data filled Oxford Brookes University Widening Participation Working Group Away Day at Marston Road. (Of 30 people in the room only one obviously black man and two Asian women. Matches our BME student profile? c. 10%)

The day was framed by demographics about where Brookes sits, and politics in light of the forthcoming election, which enabled a critical frame for the day: whose WP are we talking about? Is the “lifecourse” educational – or institutional – for everyone?

Should OCSLD have had a pitch here? Because support for staff development IS support for WP. Though we are not seen as a service for students, institutionally, the significant change that has to be made is “Academic”: academic literacy, academic content, academic writing, academic culture.  Critical analysis is HUGE. Planning and structuring assignments is HUGE. When you have many inquiries from the same course at the same time, you ask: Can we move up the river and see “who is ‘pushing the bodies into the stream'”? Is this is where OCSLD has a role working with course teams?

This post will be updated through the day (Tuesday 10 March 0930-1430)

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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


Many worlds of teaching in higher education

The intro week of #fslt13 has zipped past and things got off to a good start. Will the substance of the course hold up as well as the intro to the process? There is still a lot to do over the next five weeks but it is much better than starting with a raft of problems!

This is a brief reflection on week 0, from my perspective. What made it work. The team, the participants and the platform. And within these there are many subcategories, of course.

I put the people first: team :: participants. But, there is a continuum and that itself is one of the key features of this course. Guest speakers are participants, some “expert participants” are alumni from last year, tutors are engaging in the discussions, no one has a role that is “pure” one thing and not another.

This goes to my exploration of third space theory as an approach to understanding open online courses – and maybe many other educational phenomena.This is a theme I will return to. We are all hybrids; there is no privileged origin to which we return. As much as we may yearn for some ideal academy or celebrate transiting national or social divisions we all bring the echoes and interpretations of all our many cultures. In one sense everything is always new and in another even the newest shiny gadget has within it all the history and ancestory of its making.