Archive for the ‘General’ Category

ICDE World Conference on Online Learning

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019


I am delighted to be on the local organising committee for the ICDE’s World Conference on Online Learning which DCU are hosting 3rd -7th November 2019. The conference will be located in the renowned Conference Centre Dublin in the heart of the city. We have been actively promoting the conference in a variety of ways: through Twitter (@WCOL2019), on facebook, LinkedIn and through various blogs.

The overarching conference theme is transforming lives and societies. The sub themes are:

  • Transformative Online Pedagogies
  • Reimaging Online Education for Better Futures
  • Expanding Access, Openness, and Flexibility
  • Promoting Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Innovative Learning Designs for Student Success
  • Open Pathways and New Credentials for Lifelong Learning
  • New Business and Delivery Models for Changing Times
  • Education for Healthy Lives and Communities
  • New Skills for Living and Working in New Times
  • Global Challenges and Global Solutions

Associated with this are a number of key questions:

  • What is the future of online education?
  • How can online education contribute to better futures?
  • What is required to harness the potential of online education?
  • What are the implications of online learning for educational leaders?
  • How should governments and policy-makers respond to online education?

We have a range of innovative presentation types, including: digital posters, lightening talks, concise papers and full papers. In addition we will have 12 spotlight keynotes from international experts in the field. The call for papers is now out.

We will start each day with a ‘Taste of Ireland’ and participants will be exposed to rich Irish history and culture throughout. Finally we have a conference postcard which if you complete and return gives the opportunity to be entered into a prize fund.

Mark Brown and Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl did a video promoting the conference at the end of last year. Today we went to the conference centre to record a second video.

So go on put a paper in and come and enjoy one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in Europe!

Free photos

Friday, January 11th, 2019


Image source 

Pictures in presentations, articles or blog posts are useful in a number of respects: they can compliment the text, they can convey emotion or they can be motivational. Furthermore, they are great for grabbing attention and getting a massage across. The age old statement, a picture is worth a 1,000 words is very true.

I have been using flickr and clipart for a long time and usually filter on images that have been CC licensed. It’s also good practice to include a link attributing the source of the image. 

I have recently come across two other sites with free images. The first is unsplash. You can select images by category or by using the search option. It’s also possible to submit photos. The second is dreamtime which also includes audio and video. There are some free photos but you need to pay to access the full set.

This site lists other examples.

Innovating Pedagogy Report 2019

Friday, January 11th, 2019


The Open University UK produce an annual Innovating Pedagogy Report, which explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment. It considers ten innovations which are likely to have a significant impact on education.

The report quotes Downes:

The core of learning is found not in what is defined in the curriculum, but in how teachers help students discover new possibilities from familiar things, and then from new things.

Linked to this quote the report states:

Technology can help us to do new things, rooted in our understanding of how teaching and learning take place. Learning can be playful, wonderful, and a way of understanding and making sense of the world. Pedagogies change and develop in response to changes in society. They open up new possibilities rather than reproducing what happened in the past.

The ten innovations are:

  1. Playful learning: The benefits of play in learning are well known and include the fact that play evokes creativity, imagination and happiness. The focus is more on the process than the outcomes and allows for exploration of different issues from different perspectives.
  2. Learning with robots: These can replicate the important dialogic engagement teachers have with their students. They can help learners understand something through conversation or they can provide answers to queries.
  3. Decolonising learning: This prompts teachers to think about what we are teaching from new perspectives, extending beyond the focus on male, white and European. It helps teachers to recognise, understand and challenge the ways in which the world is shaped by colonisation.
  4. Drone-based learning: Drones are typically used to take photos or make videos. They can be used by learners to access inaccessible places or to collect data from places that are difficult to access or dangerous.
  5. Learning through wonder: Wonderous encounters motivate learners to see a phenomenon from multiple perspectives. Teachers can include wonder in a variety of ways, such as: magic shows, cabinets of curiosities, nature tables or outdoor quests.
  6. Action learning: This is a team-based approach to professional development that addresses real or immediate problems. The aim is to improve existing skills and to solve problems of significance.
  7. Virtual studios: These are not just an online version of physical spaces, they have their own educational value and offer new possibilities.
  8. Place-based learning: This considers location to be a trigger for learning and an active part of how people learn. Of particular note is the fact that mobile devices are opening up new opportunities for place-based learning.
  9. Making thinking visible: Learning can be more effective when students can visualise their thinking. This can include: setting goals, writing down the steps when solving a problem, and making annotations. Teachers can also see and assess the students’ progress.
  10. Roots of empathy: This is designed to teach students empathy. The central tenet is that if students understand how they feel and how others feel, they will find it easier to cope in social situations.

As always this is a really interest and important report, each innovation is described and links provided to useful resources.

An augmented 7Cs of Learning Design framework

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018


 Image source

I have recently been looking at Learning Design frameworks to see if they can be combined to form a holistic Learning Design framework. This builds on UNESCO’s four pillars of education: (learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be). As well as Chickering and Gamson’s 7 principles of good teaching:

  • Encourage contact between students and faculty
  • Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
  • Encourage active learning
  • Give prompt feedback
  • Emphasize time on task
  • Communicate high expectations
  • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning

The below is a collation of the various Learning Design frameworks, essentially this is an augmented 7Cs of Learning Design.



  • Resource audit

Communicate and collaborate




The plan is to trial the use of this augmented 7Cs of Learning Design framework in the retro-design of existing courses or the design of new courses.

Teaching and Learning Away Day

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018


Last week we had a very productive teaching and learning away day. The aim was to reflect on the current ways in which we design and support our DCU Connected students. A background document was circulated prior to the meeting, which collated various Learning Design frameworks. We identified two overarching themes to improving our teaching and learning:

  • New and more systematic design of online, open distance teaching and learning. In terms of thoughtful and explicit design, we need to 
    • Ensure the workload across modules in consistent
    • Set up either a week by week or month by month schedule
    • Indicate the indicative time needed to complete activities and content and assignments
    • Split content into core and additional (extension)
  • Supporting, and working with, online, open distance learners and teachers (learning students)

In addition, we identified 10 principles for online teaching and learning:

  1. Flexible learning: An accessible learning experience to transform lives and societies and enable widening access
  2. Teacher presence: Expert academic teaching, guidance and facilitation from specialist, passionate educators
  3. Foster belonging: Fostering a sense of belonging
  4. Meaningful interaction: Commitment to a deep level of meaningful interaction, where self-regulated learning is active, collaborative and participatory
  5. Students as partners: Surfacing the student voice and involving them to design decisions
  6. Rich learning resources: Universal design (accessibility standards); any device;
  7. Authentic and reflective assessment: Use a variety of assessment (and feedback) mechanisms to ensure that learning is: active, authentic and meaningful
  8. Personalised support: Student support personalised to the online distance learner: academic, pastoral, technical, and administrative
  9. Research informed teaching and learning: Commitment to cutting-edge, research-led approaches to Learning Design
  10. Open education practices: Practices, philosophy and co-creation

We then brainstormed how each of these principles might be realised.

Flexible learning

  • We have flexibility in terms of assessment submission and attendance
  • Consider moving away from synchronous contact (exams and tutorials), as this limits flexibility or mirror face-to-face with online
  • Encourage students to have regional, informal meet ups

Teacher presence 

  • Teacher presence is evident in the following ways
  • Tutorials (both face-to-face and online)
  • Having photos of the programme team, subject experts and tutors on all modules on Loop
  • Learning materials (as these are created by authors and hence embody their ‘presence’, and indicate explicitly how we teach)
  • Create short video introductions welcoming the students to the course and giving an overview of the module, these could be from the programme team and the tutors
  • Provide skills for using Loop and in particular Loop forums to encourage discussion
  • Encouraging students to attend the welcome day and live stream the event
  • Participation in forums
  • Create tutor bios indicating their background and expertise
  • Provide audio/video for assignment feedback and/or feed forward, or to explain an assignment
  • Provide audio/video on content students typically find difficult

Foster a sense of belonging 

  • Provide opportunities for students to socialise with each other
  • Include group work in the first assignment
  • Have second-year student acting as mentors to the first-year students
  • Create videos of current students, testimonials about the modules
  • Early opening of courses
  • Link to useful university services, including study skills

Meaningful interaction

  • List of useful tools (both Loop based and external ones) and indication of how they can be used
  • Ensure authentic and reflective assessment
  • Encourage students talk to each other, include an icebreaker activity where students introduce themselves and indicate what they hope to get out of the course
  • Encourage students to set up study groups
  • Articulate elements of learning: communicate, reflect, articulate, practice and apply to real-world contexts, and evaluate
  • Provide training for new tutors on how to support online learning
  • Provide skills for moderating forums
  • Provide a scaffolded learning approach, where a tight structure is provided to begin with and as students become more confident remove scaffolding and move towards more of a learning-centred approach

Students as partners

  • Enable students to indicate errors in text
  • Involvement students in programme boards and in the design of courses
  • Include student-led presentations
  • Create testimonials from past students
  • Enable students to find, share and discuss relevant resources
  • Set up opportunities for peer mentoring
  • Clarify the types of activities students can engage with
  • Include graduates as tutors

Rich learning resources

  • This links to meaningful interactions and Learning Design
  • Training for all staff to facilitate the Learning Design process
  • Clarify technologies and how they can be used
  • Create interactive resources
  • Use a variety of media (audio, video, text) and indicate the purpose of each
  • Create Moodle templates
  • Ensure courses are designed for any device
  • Ensure there is cohesion across modules
  • Include a variety of activities and interactions

Authentic assessment 

  • Programme-focussed assessment
  • List different types of assessment and indicate the value/purpose of each
  • Develop a bank of rubrics to share
  • Personalised support
  • Ensure learning adopts UDL principles/processes
  • Provide assignment and module choice
  • Provide pastoral care (student mentors, Alumni mentors, links to central support services)
  • Provide personnel support via tutors, admin staff, programme team
  • Monitor retention rates and be proactive in follow up

Research-informed teaching 

  • Ensure that research informs teaching and vice versa
  • Present at relevant teaching and learning conferences
  • Publish our research findings
  • Do research on our own practice and feed this back into our teaching
  • Staying current through reading, CPD, sipping point events and use of social media

Open education practices: Practices, philosophy and co-creation

  • Adopt an open pedagogy approach
  • Ensure that all resources are openly licensed

What really helped was that the away day was held in the Lego Lab on St. Patrick’s campus, a really fantastic space! It was a very creative and productive day, the challenge is now to translate this info practice.

EENEE presentation

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

Mark Brown and I have been working on an EENEE report on the impact of digital technologies on educational outcomes. Last week I presented at the NESET II and EENEE conference in Brussels on 22nd November. The presentation was entitled “Education Outcomes Enhanced by the use of Digital Technologies”. The research questions underpinning the report are:

  • How does digital technology enhance teaching and learning?
  • What are the enablers for successful digital technology use in school education? 
  • What are the implications for education policy, in terms of harnessing the potential of digital technology in schools?


The report builds on the 2015 seminal OECD report, which helps to frame the significance of recent changes and the impact of digital technologies on school education. It largely supports the OECD’s (2015) assertion that connections among students, computers and learning are neither simple nor hard-wired; and the real contributions digital technology can make to teaching and learning have yet to be fully realised. However, there are many examples of innovative practice and given the complexity of educational change we need to be realistic about what we can expect from schools as there is no single off-the-shelf solution to harnessing the potential of digital technologies. 


Six strands when woven together help explain the conceptual underpinnings adopted in exploring the questions outlined in the introduction, which are the primary focus of the report (see Figure 1). To summarise these six strands, technologies have the potential to enhance pedagogical approaches but good teaching remains fundamental. New technologies are arising all the time, offering new opportunities for teaching, learning and assessment. Generalisations and finding direct causal effects from the implementation of digital technology remains problematic as learning takes place in a complex ecology. Although technology offers educational institutions a variety of mechanisms to support a myriad of learners, context is crucial to understanding the conditions whereby the affordances of new digital technologies enhance educational outcomes. In a similar vein, institutional and discipline cultures have an impact and need to be taken into account in efforts to understand the conditions for the successful use of digital technology in schools. 




The report then describes the nature of today’s digital society, arguing that it is complex and dynamic. In this wider societal context, it discusses and critiques the trustworthiness of many taken-for-granted claims around a number of themes: the changing nature of work, the concept of the ‘millennial generation’, the wide spectrum of learning activities, resources and educational offerings, the changing role of teachers and learners, and the potential impact of new and emergent technologies. It argues that there are a number of competing and co-existing mindsets or perspectives influencing the pressure on schools to use new digital technologies. 


The report argues that the affordances of digital technologies differ according to the technology and the educational contexts in which they are used for teaching and learning. It argues that the use of digital technologies in schools is not a single entity and that today’s educational context is complex and dynamic and digital technologies add to this complexity; i.e. there is a complex ecology of digital technologies in schools.

A number of frameworks for effective and innovative pedagogy are described and the report argues there is no single pedagogical or theoretical model in terms of guiding or underlying the successful use of digital technologies in schools. More to the point, the adoption of learning-driven approaches to school education which seek to embed digital technologies at the heart of the curriculum require an intentional combination of pedagogies that respond to a complex inter-play between the particular context, nature of the learners, learning intentions, discipline cultures, and so on. 


In looking to the future of learning, the report describes a number of new and emergent developments in digital technologies which might be able to help reimagine the curriculum. It argues that, in the future, students will be likely to learn across a range of formal, non-formal and informal contexts, with increasing digital leakage across different places and spaces of learning. Examples of the ways in which digital technologies might provide engaging learning environments are provided, along with some scenarios for the future. Alongside of these examples and scenarios, the perceived advantages and disadvantages of digital technologies in school education are described. The report demonstrates the potential opportunities digital technologies can offer, especially when fully embedded in the classroom, but argues that the field is still dominated by hype, hope and disappointment.


A key message throughout the report is that teachers matter most and that the teacher’s role is central in the design, delivery and support of learning interventions. With respect to this, the report argues that key to harnessing the educational potential of digital technologies is the need for, and importance of, Teacher Professional Learning (TPL). Some of the principles of effective TPL are introduced along with the importance of addressing teachers’ mindsets or deep-seated pedagogical beliefs if the goal is to go beyond merely taming new digital technologies based on traditional practices.


The main barriers and enablers to the effective use of digital technologies in schools are discussed, in terms of first and second order factors that influence enhanced educational outcomes. The discussion of barriers and enablers illustrates that there is no simple answer to overcoming the reasons why schools and teachers do not fully embrace the educational opportunities made possible by new digital technologies. Arguably, one important lesson is that policy-makers and educational leaders would benefit from more explicitly framing discussions about the potential of digital technology for real problems faced by teachers , rather than falling into the trap of promoting digital solutions in search of problems. Slides for the presentation are available on Speakerdeck.

Good practice in PhD writing

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018


Image source

I have been reading and examining a lot of PhDs recently (4 in as many weeks!) and this has got me to reflect on some principles of good practice. Doing a PhD is a significant undertaking and dominates the person’s life for a number of years, so it is important that this adventure isn’t taken lightly. Chosen a good supervisor is vital, their role is to guide you and keep you on track, it’s all too easy to go down blind alleys, it is important to remain focused on your core research questions.

I always advise my students to keep an ongoing bibliography of references and for each reference to summarise the main points and indicate how the reference might be used in the thesis. It is a good idea to keep references in referencing software, such as Endnote, Zotero or Mendeley. Write as you go along and stick to a standard structure such as: introduction (setting the scene, explaining why the focus is important, an indication of the contribution to the field and research questions), literature review and explanation of key terms, methodology (data collection and analysis), findings, discussion, conclusions and suggestions for further research. The THES provides a useful set of tips for writing a PhD. 

At times you will be daunted by the scale of the mountain ahead of you but don’t give up! People are productive at different times of the day, some like working in the morning, others at night, reflect on what your preference is.  Therefore at points in the day you will be more productive, use this time to focus on your data analysis or writing of chapters, at other times you will be less productive, focus on routine tasks such as ensuring references are in the correct format.

A PhD is a major achievement, I always ask candidates at the end of the viva, did they enjoy the viva? And usually they say yes. I also point out that it is the only time in your research career when two people will have thoroughly read your research ;-)

The ABC Learning Design Workshop

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018


Mark Glynn (who heads up our Teaching Enhancement Unit) and colleagues are involved in an Eramis+ project, ABC Learning Design. Last Thursday I attended one of the project’s workshops. I was aware of the ABC work and have recently written something about it for a chapter in Helen Beetham and Rhona Sharpes 3rd Edition of Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age, along with a number of other Learning Design frameworks. The workshop was run by Clive Young and Natasa Perovic from University College London. ABC is designed to be a ‘light touch’ approach to design. The workshop was two hours, consisting of a half hour introduction followed by 90 minutes of activities. The aim was to create a visual storyboard, made of a sequence of learning activities. The learning activities are based on the taxonomy developed by Diana Laurillard as part of her well known Conversational Framework.

The first task was, focusing on a module or programme, to agree a ‘tweet-size’ description of the course. We then drew a rough shape of the project against Laurillard’s learning activities:

  • Acquisition: Learning through acquisition is what learners are doing when they are listening to a lecture or podcast, reading from books or websites or watching demos or videos.
  • Collaboration: Learning through collaboration embraces mainly discussion, practice and production. Building on investigations and acquisition it is about taking part in the process of knowledge building.
  • Discussion: Learning through discussion requires the learner to articulate their ideas and questions, and to challenge and respond to the ideas and questions from the teacher, and/or their peers.
  • Investigation: Learning through investigation guides the learner to explore, compare and critique the texts, documents and resources that reflect the concepts and ideas being taught.
  • Practice: Learning through practice enables the learner to adapt their actions to the task goal and use the feedback to improve their next action. Feedback may come from self-reflection, from peers, from the teacher, or from the activity itself, if it shows them how to improve the result of their action in relation to the goal.
  • Production: Learning through production is the way the teacher motivates the learner to consolidate what they have learned by articulating their current conceptual understanding and how they used it in practice.

Then we indicated to what extent the course was face-to-face or online.


Next we added the various learning activity postcards to the timeline of the course. On the back of each of the six types of learning activities are examples of how these can be realized either through conventional activities or online activities. We ticked which of these we thought were appropriate. Then we used silver and gold stars to indicate which activities were formative or summative. Finally we returned to the graph drawn at the beginning and re-drew in relation to our chosen activities.

I was amazed at how much we managed to achieve in 90 minutes. As a team we had an excellent discussion and it was interesting to hear the other team’s thoughts on their design process. I particularly liked the ‘tweet’ of the module as it really gets you to think about what the essence of the course is.

An excellent set of resources associated with the project are available online, well worth a look.

The future of education: design, literacies and digital technologies

Friday, October 26th, 2018


Today I am doing a keynote at University College North, Aalborg, Denmark. This is timely as along with Mark Brown and Miroslav Beblavy (from CEPS) I am involved in an EU-commissioned report on best practices in the use of digital technologies and the future of education in Europe. It’s been a long time in the making and is particularly challenging as we are focusing on literature post 2016, but the end is now in sight!

The report focuses on the following questions:

  • How does digital technology enhance teaching and learning?
  • What are the enablers for successful digital technology use in school education?
  • What are the implications for policy and transformative curriculum reforms in terms of harnessing the potential of digital technology in schools?

To answer these questions, we developed a theoretical lens which consisted of six aspects:

  • Mismatch between rhetoric and reality
  • Good teachers matter most
  • Technology is not a static or single entity
  • Traditional modes of instruction and assessment dominate
  • Competing and co-existing drivers
  • Many factors mediate success

Clearly digital technologies enable teachers and learners to interact with rich multimedia resources and a variety of ways to communicate and collaborate. They have the potential to support innovative pedagogical approaches and to offer learners an engaging and motivational learning environment. Free resources and courses are challenging traditional educational offerings. However, there is a gap between the promise of technology and the reality of how it is being used. Institutions and practitioners are reluctant to change, and traditional teaching and assessment practices prevail. No matter how good the design and the match of pedagogy to technologies, the teachers’ role is still central, teachers matter most. Today’s educational landscape is complicated and dynamic, and we have a kaleidoscope of evolution technologies with a myriad of affordances. Traditional modes of instruction and assessment still dominate; institutions and practitioners are reluctant to change. The reasons for limited progress are complex and there are many competing and co-existing drivers for the adoption of digital technologies in schools ranging from serving narrow vocational ends, preparing children for a different future and to more broadly promote better educational outcomes for students. it is difficult to establish direct causal relationships between pedagogy and technology interventions, many situational factors mediating success and the risks of drawing causal inferences.

Today’s digital society is complex and dynamic. A key facet is that we are preparing learners for an uncertain future, to do jobs that don’t even exist today. Some argue that 65% of jobs of the future don’t exist now. Therefore, it is important that we enable learners to develop higher order competencies (such as critical thinking and problem solving) rather than focusing on knowledge recall. There is much hype around the concept of the ‘Millennial generation’; such as the fact that this generation have grown up in a digital world and have different needs and expectations. A recent Open Universities Australia report I was involved in coined the phrase IWWIWWIWI (I Want What I Want When I Want IT) to encapsulate the nature of todays’ learners. Although this generation are digital savvy, they don’t necessarily know how to use digital technologies for academic purposes.

The presentation concludes by cautioning against the hype discourse around the use of digital technologies in education. The following examples are provided.

  • 65% of future jobs don’t exists – debunked. There are too many overly positivist accounts of the potential of technologies, which do not take account of the nuances and complexities of the educational landscape. Much ‘research’ lacks credibility and is not build on empirical evidence.
  • The much hyped ‘Millennial generation’ discourse has recently been discredited
  • There is an uncritical adoption of popular teaching and learning ‘catchisms’, and Selwyn provides a nice paper on the claims and counterclaims.

The slides for the keynote are on sendspace, comments welcome!

A new start

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018


So as of yesterday I am officially Professor/Head of Open Education in
the National Institute for Digital Learning at Dublin City University.
There has been a lot to organise in advance. Getting my PPS number
(which was very stressful), securing a flat (perfect location, tiny
but nice) and of course bringing all the stuff I will need over from
the UK. My initial two days have involved finding my feet and meeting
people, as well as an outline from the Director, Mark Brown, of the
kinds of things I will lead on or be involved with over the next few
months. It was particularly nice to meet with members of the Open
Education Unit yesterday and I plan one to one meetings with each of
them over the coming months. Technology wise I am almost set up. I
have a DCU email account, a new laptop and an Irish phone. This is one
of the busiest times of the year as the university gears up for the
arrival of the new students. An important event associated with this
is the Welcome day for our Open Education/DCU Connect students on
Saturday 29th September. I’m really looking forward to meeting the new

Ar aghaidh agus os a chionn!