Tag Archives: reflection

Academic multimedia is where TEL becomes real

Plates by condesign (cc0) https://pixabay.com/en/plate-stack-tableware-plate-stack-629970/

Plates by condesign (cc0) https://pixabay.com/en/plate-stack-tableware-plate-stack-629970/

Learning technologies and technology enhanced learning are not quite the same thing. The position and semantic force of the words is different. Learning as adjective and learning as noun; technology as nominal object and technology as agent of change: learning enhanced by technology.

There is a greater degree of abstraction in TEL, somewhat more particularity in learning technology, especially when pluralised as learning technologies.

Learning technologies are things: tools, software, applications like Moodle and GradeMark or in older days Authorware.

Technology is all these things and more. Continue reading

Sharks and TELephants


Caribbean Reef Sharks

The challenge for technology enhanced learning (TEL) is that it not be used to impoverish people. Let me begin to explain.

I can help you teach. I may be deluded, of course, but it is none the less something I believe and something that I can act on with an established and evolving repertoire. I have led a teacher education programme for lecturers in higher education for the past seven years. I can design programmes to help you teach, I can put on courses, stand in front of a class, work one-to-one and strive to help teachers elicit their own inner teacher. So why am I giving up an established role teaching teachers in order to enter the waters of “technology enhanced learning” (TEL)?

I thought I wanted a challenge! For myself, for the team and the department I felt it was important that I move on from the job I have done since about 2008. And of course, I have been splashing in those waters for I long time. In 1983 I arrived at Oxford with an electric typewriter. In 1986 I left with an MPhil and a Apricot “portable” computer. Arguably one of the most important things I learned over those three years was how to use a word processor and a printer. But technology enhanced learning? What does that mean? Arguably everything and nothing. And this is my first challenge. Wikipedia conflates “Elearning” and “Educational Technology” with “Technology Enhanced Learning“. It is worth while reading the first 200 or so words of this article.

TEL is a term that stimulates the production of complexity. It also, as a consequence, stimulates in many people the opposite desire: forBlind_men_and_elephant2 simplicity. Like the blind men and the elephant,  there are many parts.
and many people, who want to declare TEL to be one or another of the many things it could be: from pencils to iPads, to QR codes and smart cards. New! New! Shiny! Shiny! Or so far out in front that the string and baling wire are hanging off. Or simply the human condition. But, what ever it is, it has to be better (enhanced) than something else. But, better than what?

Can we posit technology-free learning? What would that look like? Among the parts of the TELephant is that which threatens established practices and identities: that which makes some people feel they can no longer teach well, that which makes some people feel diminished not enhanced, that which makes some people feel they would rather be rid of all this “technology” (whatever it is). To enter into this debate in this way brands me as a Luddite. But this is a badge that I have to be proud, now, to wear. Remember, Luddites were not against technology. They were against technology being used to impoverish people. Which brings me back to sharks and the main challenge: money and power.




Coaching – before the session

I have been offered and have taken up coaching as a method of professional development. I have had 2 sessions with my coach and am about to have my third. What do I want? Magic. What do I get? Well like magic, you get out what you put in.

I expressed my original aim as “helping me to achieve professorship.” Though “professor” is probably a cover term for “respect”, “satisfaction” and “influence” with minimum compromise to my core beliefs and values. And each of those cover other terms, among which must be professional things like “authority” and other things like “domestic security”: a “living”, a “house-bond”. Big stuff.

So that is the big picture. What are the challenges? Well, the big picture, itself. Focus. Attention, maybe? My challenge is that I see complexity and contradiction in most human things. Sometimes this is a source of conflict: warring beliefs or usurpation of livings. But often complexity is only in nuance.

What is this really about? What do I need to focus on for this session? Professionally it is the Technology Enhanced Learning(TEL) Framework. This is complex. All three terms are contested. “Pencils are technology!” some people shout. Others insist everyone MUST have an iPad. As a “teacher educafor” I had a platform and institutional place and a term with which to work that I understood; “teaching” is something I grasp, I can “profess”. But TEL?


Usurpation: the condition of the university?

Usurpation might better be seen as the condition of the university than as a problem for any particular aspect of that complex phenomenon: higher education today.

Taking Subramaniam, Perrucci, & Whitlock’s (2014) theoretical framework of social and intellectual closure we might see usurpation as – in parts and in places – an ameliorating response to both micro and macro-political movements that lead to closure. I suggest that we might take this further into a space which can only be opened and kept open (rejecting closure) by the usurper who by choice lays him/her self open to being ursurped and indeed facilitates the process of ongoing transformation, which is the driving energy of the academy.

In making this argument I draw on Popper’s (1996) positivism, Kuhn’s (1962) understanding of development in disciplines and Bhabha’s (2004) third space theory.

The pattern of usurpation described by Subramaniam, Perrucci, & Whitlock’s (2014) applies to any attempt to enter a power structure –  a university is a power structure – by agents desiring that power, whether to address wrongs done to them by that power structure and its relatives, or simply to seize more of whatever is going. When the usurpation is successful the usurper assumes the mantle of the power structure and then defends it against subsequent usurpation.

So we see entryism into disciplines of minoritarian or post-colonial themes: Women’s Studies, for example. We see traditional promotion routes to professorship usurped by teaching pathways (an interesting one Subramian et al spotted, which casts me as usurper!). We see the student experience usurping scholarship.

But as Kuhn should remind us: this is the way it works! The English curriculum which is so exercised by usurpation by Media Studies, itself was an entryist program usurping the Classics. And as Popper should remind us, this is to be celebrated. The problem is not usurpation but closure, which might be seen as resistance to being usurped.


  • Bhabha, H. (2004). The Location of Culture. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Popper, K. (1996). The Myth of the Framework: In defence of Science and Rationality. London: Routledge.
  • Subramaniam, M., Perrucci, R., & Whitlock, D. (2014). Intellectual Closure: A Theoretical Framework Linking Knowledge, Power, and the Corporate University. Critical Sociology (Sage Publications, Ltd.), 40(3), 411–430.

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!


Learning design principles: educational pragmatists

I am trying to write a proper academic paper about the principles we used when developing FSLT12&13. But, as I do I find myself getting bogged down. So in the spirit of Digital scholarship (Weller 2011) I am going to exercise some of the ideas here.

We are educational pragmatists. Change is brought about through critical, experiential, social learning activity in connected communities where people collaborate to achieve outcomes. All actors and contexts are hybrids and knowledge is distributed through the network of connections between people, places and things (and ideas are things).

Our principles flow initially from a particular epistemological orientation and a belief that teachers (in all sectors) can use an awareness of their orientation to knowledge as one among several means with which to approach developing and improving practice. We further believe that it can help learners if teachers act with reflective self awareness of their orientations to knowledge, making those orientations as explicit as may be appropriate to the level and topic being addressed. This is to say that, whatever other underpinnings, we are pragmatists, grounded in experience (Dewey 1910/1997) and we are engaged (sometimes participatory) scholars with a purpose to bring about change through activity as much as understanding (Dyrness, 2008)

Our perspective is broadly sociocultural and critical-theoretical. Socioculturalism “…focuses on the link between language and learning, both of which are viewed as fundamentally social phenomena…” (Lillis 2003, p.xv). Neither language, nor learning, exist outside communities of use. Beliefs, dominant and oppositional, shape orientations to action (Herman & Chomsky 1988). Further, all language is suffused with cultural assumptions that makes learning highly context-dependent. (Galison 2007a; Galison 2007b; Kuhn 1962). As Popper would have it, “All observation is theory laden” (Popper 1996 page).

Our epistemology takes a middle road between relativism and realism. There is a reality “out there” but knowledge of that reality is a quality of the knower: one reality; many interpretations. In essence we are critical realists (Collier, 1994). Knowledge is not simply a quality of the individual. Knowledge is distributed and inheres also in the artefacts and abstractions of culture (Pea, 1993; Moll, Tapia, & Whitmore, 1993). We might say that knowledge is in the network (Downes 2009), or simply that knowledge, like language is sociocultural. With respect to learning we would recognise ourselves as social constructivists (Vygotsky, 1962). The learner builds knowledge and understanding of the world through language and activity engaged in with others, some of whom are more knowledgeable and practiced, and others who may be less so. Learning can be expressed as a journey through a zone of proximal development with more experienced and practiced individuals providing “scaffolding” (Wood, Bruner & Ross 1976, Anghileri, 2006; Rourke & Coleman, 2010) to aid that journey.


Anghileri, J. (2006). Scaffolding practices that enhance mathematics learning. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 9 (1), 33–52.

Collier, A. (1994). Critical Realism: An Introduction to Roy Bhaskar’s Philosophy. London: Verso.

Dewey, J. (1910/1997). How we think (unabridged republication of the 1910 edition). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

Downes, S. (2009). What Connectivism Is.  Retrieved 17 July 2013 from: http://halfanhour.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Dyrness, A. (2008). Research for Change versus Research as Change: Lessons from a Mujerista Participatory Research Team. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 39 (1), 23–44.

Galison, P. (2007a). Using Linguistic Anthropology to See How Scientific Disciplines Talk | Berkman Center. Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, Harvard University. Retrieved 22 July 2013, from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/events/luncheon/2007/09/galison

Galison, P. (2007b, July 10). De-localized Production of Scientific Knowledge. Presented at the Berkman seminar series, Berkman Centre, Harvard University. Retrieved 22 July 2013 from http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mediaberkman/2007/09/21/de-localized-production-of-scientific-knowledge-2/

Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lillis. (2003). Introduction: mapping the traditions of a social perspective on language and literacy. In S. Goodman, T. Lillis, J. Maybin, & N. Mercer (Eds.), Language, literacy and education: a reader (pp. xiii–xxii). Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.

Moll, L. C., Tapia, J., & Whitmore, K. F. (1993). Living knowledge: the social distribution of cultural resources for thinking. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (pp. 139–163). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pea, R. (1993). Practices of distributed intelligence and designs for education. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: psychological and educational considerations (pp. 47–87). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Popper, K. (1996). The myth of the framework: In defence of Science and Rationality. London: Routledge.

Rourke, A. J., & Coleman, K. S. (2010). A Learner Support System: Scaffolding to Enhance Digital Learning. International Journal of Technology, Knowledge & Society, 6(1), 55–70.

Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thinking and Speaking (first published as Thought and Language). (E. Hanfmann & G. Vakar, Eds.) (Lev Vygotsky Archive transcribed by Andy Blunden.). Cambridge MA: MIT Press. Retrieved 17 July 2013 from http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/words/index.htm

Weller, M. (2011). The digital scholar: how technology is transforming scholarly practice (Kindle.). London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Wood, D., Bruner, J. & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, 89–100

First thoughts on the final (?) draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience

Oxford Brookes Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee has made its final (?) modifications to the draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience (SESE). The two objectives of this strategy are to:

  • [implement] approaches centred on critical reflection, impact evaluation and continuous enhancement of the student experience.
  • [maximise] student involvement in the development of policies and practices for teaching and learning and in extra-curricular, student led initiatives.

The strategy has principles and guidelines and (eventually) will have maps. Overall the tone is a bit directive: there is a lot of insistance and requirement, but the intentions are (I believe) worthy ones.

From a PCTHE perspective some of the key messages of this document are:

  • All staff who support learning will participate annually in high quality professional development (3.5.2)
  • All academic staff who support learning will engage with processes of evaluation, reflection and research into pedagogic practice (3.5.4)
  • The fundamental purpose of assessment will be to help students learn by providing formative feedback. (3.6.2) (so obvious but so often ignored in practice)
  • Students will be expected to take responsibility for their own learning, to actively engage with feedback and assessment (3.3.1) (this is perhaps one of the key messages of the Assessment Compact)
  • Students [will have the opportunity] to provide input and play a role from the outset in the development of new programmes. (4.3.4)

From a wider educational development perspective:

  • [With our] internationally recognised in-house expertise in educational development, we commit to routinely carrying out impact assessment, review and revision of all significant academic development initiatives and of measures taken forward in the SESE and the consequent strategy maps. (

Learning technology messages

  • [People will be] able to use technology to shape their own learning environment and interactions. (3.2.2)
  • [The] curriculum will be enriched by technologies that empower students’ development as self-regulating, digitally literate learners, able to shape their own learning interactions and author their own digital artefacts. (3.4.5)
  • The physical environment will be augmented by digital environments and technologies in ways which support a distinctive Brookes learning experience (3.7.2)
  • The functional access, skills and practices necessary to become a confident, agile adopter of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use. To be able to use appropriate technology to search for high-quality information; critically to evaluate and engage with the information obtained; reflect on and record learning, and professional and personal development; and engage productively in relevant online communities. (4.1. d)

The first day of the PCTHE

We must have been given the worst teaching room in the University (Gibbs 2.15). It was on the edge of a building site with fork lifts reversing all morning. The room was the only unrefurbished one on this floor of the building. The seating was really poor quality: ripped seats, gum on the floor. There was no wireless coverage or 3G in the room (some might consider this a positive feature?). Roy is looking into finding a different room for Wednesday.

But that was not the whole story. The participants were a buzzy group: very little evidence of reluctant participation and a real willingness to talk with each other.

Frances showed Mike Wesch’s excellent video, A vision of students today. This stimulated discussion: what are we preparing learners for? This opened up a discussion of transferable outcomes or “graduate competencies”: team working, communication, academic literacy and so on. Frances also referred to John Biggs, one of the theorists that we draw on. Biggs characterised the “academic” and the “non-academic” learner (deep and surface) and advocated constructive alignment as a means of creating or inducing the behaviours of the more academic student in the less academically inclined. Our challenge is as much how to involve less academic learners as it is to stimulate and challenge the more academically inclined. This reminds me of a discussion I recently had with a participant on a previous cohort whose background was from an ancient university in another country. Her observation was that Brookes students, compared to those she was used to, were less well motivated. I am cautious of such generalisations, but I do expect that we experience much greater diversity in all dimensions of learner difference here than in some other places; but, I also expect there are places where the diversity is even greater. This is a factor of British Higher education policy over the past 15 years or so. The great benefits of widening participation are matched with new challenges for teachers.

The VLE introduction session took place in a brand new pooled computer room. The room was locked when I arrived 15 minutes early to get set up. There was no projector. It appeared as if the computers had never been turned on. All took 15 minutes to boot while building the registry, updating applications and so on. at least five computers would not run at all. At least five others would not launch applications from the desktop – though they did run from the “Start menu”. These are the things sent to try us. But again, the participants this year are a very tolerant group. They coped probably better than me!

I wonder, indeed, if this is the last time we need to run this session in this way? Each year I observe that the participants are more and more computer literate. At least half the problems, if not more, were due to the Brookes LAN and the pooled room: the computers not booting correctly and logging into the Brookes network caused more difficulty than interacting with the applications. Even people who had never used the VLE were able to find their way around and use the forums. Categorically, only the use of the Wiki was problematic, and some of those problems were only down to the fact that not only our group of 30 people were accessing. Greg observed that at the same time across the university over 500 people were engaged in similar  sessions. The load will be balanced by next week. Though the Wiki was a challenge for some to use, we probably picked the worst time and the worst place and the worst way to address the challenges.

Reflections on the eve of a new academic year

There is still a hard day’s work ahead before the introduction to the PCTHE for 2010-11. For some reason the VLE and wiki are not developing themselves. Packs for the day do not seem to be reproducing like the little bunnies I wish they were. The to-do list of best intentions is shrinking to only those that absolutely have to be done to ensure neither humiliation nor the sack hits me.

But that is not the whole picture. We have a remarkably good team and a robust programme. This is the fifth time we have run this version of the course. The design is dialogic and largely peer tutored. We all have to dig into ourselves to find both our well established coping strategies and something new for this year.

And, we have. It might be a bit close to the QA wind – nearly a minor change – but we have introduced two important variations to the programme: a base group position paper on how our assessment practice is an example of good teaching, and base group seminars. We are quite keen to see the seminars at work. We have conceived of these as a means by which our learners can influence the curriculum. This is really an anticipatory manoeuvre in advance of launching the revised course in 2011-12.

Implicit in all that we do is that there is something of value in higher education; it is not just higher skills training. Even if precarity increases and unrepentant financially-driven managerialism presses on all sides there remains something worth doing in the academy. We may end up gipsy scholars chewing off our own legs for the chance to bite the hand that feeds us, but there are principles – or “course values” to be upheld: an instrumental focus on the learning of others, experiential rather than didactic learning, reflective practice, critical thinking (and theory), delight in diversity, and learning communities.

So, here we go again.

Posted via email from George’s posterous

Writing a Course Review

I recently met with a student who had been unsuccessful in achieving the criteria for one of the assignments on the PCTHE. Most of my comments are of a general nature regarding the writing of a course review, so I thought I would post them.

  1. Back up your assertions with evidence. As teachers and students in higher education we must be familiar with the many forms that evidence can take. Avoid unsubstantiated statements and in every case where an assertion is made, think of how it might be evidenced.
  2. In general we are interested in your experience, ideas and theories, not your ability to reproduce the theories of others. Theory is simply an answer to the question “why”? That is, one of the principal purposes of theory is explanatory. It does help to recognise the theories of others that came before and have also experienced similar questions and come up with their own explanations. One of the principal theories that underlies this course is Constructive Alignment. Frequently problems in course reviews arise at least in part due to a lack of such alignment. And, a solution might, in part, lie in taking an aligned approach to course and assessment design and implementation. Remember there should be alignment between objectives – or “intended learning outcomes” (what the learners should be able to DO), learning activities in the classroom (or wider teaching environment), which allow the students to practice the objectives, and assessments which allow the students to demonstrate that they can do what ever the objectives suggest. Assessments should be backed up with criteria by which that doing can be evaluated.
  3. Tell the story. Start at the begining:
  • In the first paragraph state the key point of the paper (write this after you have written the rest)
  • I first taught this course …
  • It attracts such and such kind of students. Be as precise as you can with the observable demographics: age range, gender mix, full-time/part-time, in employment or not, etc. Avoid simplistic psychometrics (learning styles, etc) unless you have a particular reason to use them.
  • The course as inherited had these characteristics:stage, CATS points, programme context; external professional bodies (referees); aims (what you and the referees want to achieve); learning objectives (what the students must DO); teaching activities; assessments
  • The course as inherited had these problems (whatever they were). Provide evidence for how you know these were problems: i.e. attendance, participation, engagement, outcome (exam) results, informal feedback, your own observation, discussion with students, discussion with colleagues, etc. Draw on the writings and theories of others to show that these problems are not unique to your situation. That is to say, use outside authorities to show that your problems may be generalisable to a wider context.
  • In light of the students and the problems observed, you have made the following changes: changes implemented during operation in the first year (i.e. through reflection IN practice); changes implemented in a revision (i.e. through reflection ON practice)
  • Evaluation: how will you know the changes have been effective?
  • Next steps