Archive for the ‘General’ Category

More on openness

Thursday, July 20th, 2017



After being on a panel on open learning at the Future of EdTech conference in London last month, I wrote a blog post working up my ideas and contributions on the day. Cristina Preston from mirandanet who was also on the panel did the same. The MirandaNet Fellowship is a professional education community. The website states that


It has forged a unique approach to professional development for teachers. Working in partnership with school practitioners, academic researchers and funding agencies (governmental and non-governmental) and educational product developers the MirandaNet Fellowship has developed an active, participatory and research-oriented CPD framework it has named iCatalyst.

Handbook of learning analytics

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017


Image source


Learning analytics has emerged as an important new field of Technology Enhanced Learning and has grown quickly since the first Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) conference held in Banff, Canada in 2011. The Society for Learning Analytics Research (SOLAR) website provides a useful overview of the field. It also hosts a learning analytics journal and runs various conferences and events. A new edited collection ‘A Handbook of Learning Analytics’  has just been published, with chapter contributions from key researchers in the field. It is divided into four sections:

  • Foundational concepts
  • Techniques and approaches
  • Applications
  • Institutional strategies and systems approaches

The tools and techniques associated with learning analytics can help identify students at risk, as well as help improve learning and teaching processes.  Together the chapters represent a rich overview of the state of the art in learning analytics research. Chapters explore different facets of learning analytics, such as: a focus on predictive as opposed to explanatory modeling to measure learning and teaching. content analytics, discourse analytics and emotional analytics. There is an interesting chapter on learning analytics dashboards that can help visualise learning traces to give users insights into the learning process. These dashboards can:

  • provide feedback on learning activities,
  • support reflection and decision making,
  • increase engagement and motivation,
  • reduce dropout.

Of particular note is the chapter that focussed on the use of learning analytics for professional development to make both formal and informal learning processes traceable and visible to support professionals with their learning. The final section looks at institutional strategies. The first chapter in this section looks at the challenges of institutional adoption. One of the chapters in this section begins with the following powerful statement which is at the heart of the vision associated with this exciting new research field:


Learning analytics holds the potential to transform the way we learn, work, and live our lives. To achieve its potential, learning analytics must be clearly defined, embedded in institutional processes and practices, and incorporated into institutional student success strategies



Towards personal learning

Saturday, July 15th, 2017


I came across this downloadable book by Stephen Downes via Paul Prinsloo. The title is great ‘’Towards personal learning - Reclaiming a role for humanity in a world of commercialism and automation’. Stephen is well know for being an advocate of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and personal learning, and is a regular keynote on these and related topics. Stephen did a nice video explaining the difference between PLES and VLES as part of the PLE conference in 2012. The first paragraph sets the scene:


In the five years after Connectivism and Connective Knowledge was posted we saw the phenomenon of MOOCs appropriated and commercialized, the rise of artificial intelligence, analytics and personalization, and the ubiquity of mobile devices. It’s all pretty much what was predicted, and yet the reality feels so different. We’re not in an age of breathlessness and hope, as we were even in 2012, we’re in an age of anger and cynicism.


He lists a number of reasons for why he focused on personal learning:

  • The first is the idea of autonomy in a connected world.
  • A second is the idea that we need to reorganize knowledge in such a way as to better prepare people for a complex and changing world.
  • A third is the tension between commercial good and social good, especially with respect to open learning and open content, but also with respect to society and values generally.

I haven’t had the chance to read the book yet, it’s over 750 pages! However skimming the content list it looks like a really rich and interesting read. 


TEF results… some shake ups…

Friday, June 23rd, 2017


The results of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) are now out and there are some interesting shake ups. A guardian article has the heading ‘Top UK universities miss out on gold award in controversial TEF test”. The London School of Economics, Southampton, and Liverpool universities only achieved a bronze award. The article quoted the Russell group as saying that the TEF was not a measure of “absolute quality”. The group has raised concerns about the process used to arrive at the decision to award institutions gold, silver or bronze. Oxford and Cambridge were both awarded gold but so too were a significant number of new universities, such as Coventry, Northampton and Nottingham Trent.

The TEF was introduced by the Government because it was felt that institutions were focusing too much on research and because there had been complaints from students that their degrees were poor value for money. The aim of the TEF is to provide a picture of teaching quality and learning outcomes in Higher Education to help prospective students make better-informed choices about which university to attend. The results are expected to have a significant impact on student recruitment, particularly international recruitment. Of the 134 universities and specialist higher education institutions that were given ratings, 32% (43) scored gold, 50% (67) silver and 18% (24) got bronze. The rankings for the TEF are based on statistics including: dropout rates, student satisfaction survey results and graduate employment rates.

Proponents of the TEF argue that it provides students with more transparency to inform their choice of institutions. They also state that it recognises excellence in teaching and rewards innovation.  Finally, given that students invest significant time and money in their Higher Education, proponents argue that they have a right to a high-quality academic experience.

There is significant controversy around the TEF. Concerns about the TEF include: its subjective assessment, its lack of transparency and with different benchmarks for each institution, removing any sense of equity and equality of assessment.

TEF chair Husbands argues that universities shouldn’t rest on their laurels and should use the TEF to improve what they are doing. He argues:

The teaching excellence framework (Tef) results give us a unique insight into teaching quality and student outcomes across what is now an extraordinarily diverse higher education system… No higher education system in the world has hitherto released such a fabulous resource for understanding teaching. Universities should use the results creatively to help them ask tough questions about what they do.

It is too early to assess what the impact of TEF will be, but it is likely to have a significant impact on institutions strategic priorities and the ways in which they support learning and teaching, in the way that the sister Research Excellence Framework (REF) has for research. Criticisms are likely to continue for a long time and no doubt many of them are true, any league table has fundamental flaws. However if TEF helps to make institutional offerings more transparent, and if it forces them to really think about what the student experience will be that their institution, surely that is a good thing…

The future of open learning

Friday, June 23rd, 2017


On 14th June I attended the future of edtech conference in London. I was on a panel looking at open learning. The focus was on How will open learning develop in the next 5 years? With sub-themes of:

  • Leveraging free-to-access information and content to enhance student experience and university reputation
  • Key growth through distance learning
  • Developing a sustainable business model to evolve digital strategies

The other panelists were Christina Preston, Professor of Education Innovation, DeMontfort University and Ajit Chuahan, Vice Chairman, Amity University in India. Our chair asked us to focus on the following area:

  • General comments about open learning
  • Challenges
  • How to embed Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) into practice
  • How to get student involvement
  • Would open learning ultimately replace traditional learning and institutions
  • Concluding remarks and reflections

Open learning

Open Educational Resources (OER) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer fantastic opportunities for opening up education and to potentially supporting social inclusion and widening participation. UNSECO argue that education is a fundamental human right and therefore should be freely available. Despite the rhetoric and the hype around OER and MOOCs in reality OER are not being used extensively by students or teachers and MOOCs are predominantly taken by those who are already educated. New digital literacies, see Jenkins and JISC, are needed to harness the potential of OER and MOOCs. OER and MOOCs are examples of disruptive innovations as they are challenging existing educational provision, which is good, in that institutions need to think hard about and make clear what a student will get by attending that institution, and what their will their student experience will be.



As mentioned above a key challenge is that students and teachers lack the necessary digital literacy skills to harness the potential of digital technologies. However there is also inertia in existing educational structures and a hesitance to engage in new practices. For research intensive institutions teaching is the poor sister, with research being privileged and rewarded. Furthermore there is a lack of understanding and clarity of how to recognise learning through OER and MOOCs. Models are emerging, such as: digital badges, certificates of participation/completion, and recognition through organisations like the OERu, but these are still in their infancy. An IPTS commissioned report, OpenCred, looked at models for recognition of non-formal learning through MOOCs. Another barrier is around pedagogies. Firstly most OER and MOOCs do not make the underlying pedagogy explicit. Secondly, it is not clear what pedagogies are most appropriate to support open learning.  For OER work that I did with colleague found the following barriers to uptake: i) the pedagogies of OER were not clear, ii) the difficulty of repurposing, iii) the lack of clarity of perceived benefits, and iv) a culture of academics wanting the create their own resources. For MOOCs two extremes have been cited: xMOOCs – which are essentially linear, individually focused and didactic and cMOOCs – which are about learning in a networked, social context; promoting connectivist learning. I have previously that this dichotomy is too simplistic and have put forward a 12 dimensional scale to describe MOOCs. Finally academics are skeptical of the benefits of engaging with OER and MOOCs and more is needed in terms of convincing them of the benefits.


Embedding TEL into practice

A number of strategies can help embed TEL into practice. Firstly incentives and rewards can be put in place to celebrate the development of learning innovations and TEL enhanced learning interventions. Secondly, appropriate Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities and support. This can include workshops, learning and teaching conferences, show and tell sessions, informal brown bag lunchtime sessions to share practice, learn about fairs, and learn about guides on using different digital technologies. Thirdly, given the increasing importance of digital technologies in education, it is important to have senior management who have a good understanding of TEL and the implications for their institutions, so that they can put in place relevant TEL related strategy and policy. The recent Teaching Excellence Framework (TEL) despite being criticized is clearly an important driver for promoting and rewarding teaching, as is evident in the reaction to the just published results, as a recent Guardian article testifies. So fourthly, TEL should be an integral part of the metrics associated with TEF. Fifthly a pragmatic approach to use of TEL should be adopted. Starting with helping academics make better use of the core features and tools of the institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Evaluation of VLEs consistently show that they are primarily used as content repositories, little use is made of the tools to promote communication and collaboration, or more innovative assessment approaches. For campus-based institutions more needs to be done to ensure physical spaces are technology enhanced. The Spaces for Knowledge Generation  project has developed a set of seven principles for designing technology enhanced learning spaces. Institutions also need to have in place policies on students bringing their own devices and should recognize the increasing importance of mobile devices for supporting learning anywhere and anytime. This also means approaches such as the flipped classroom can be adopted, where students watch content in advance, freeing up the classroom sessions for more student centres and active learning. Bradley Lightbody has a useful guide on this Finally there is the increasing importance of social media to enable students to interact with their peers, their tutors and the wider community. The OPAL initiative developed a useful instrument for helping institutions benchmark their OER activities and to create a vision and roadmap for their development.


Student involvement

One of the key benefits of involving students is that they can provide a fresh perspectives. Furthermore as they are actively engaged with learning they can often provide novel insights into what is needed. Two examples demonstrate this. The first is the SKG project which involved students throughout. One interesting focus was on getting the students to generate novel technology enhanced learning spaces both inside the classroom and externally. Professor Eric Duval involved his third-year students to creating learning analytics Apps for the second-year students. Students can be given access to learning analytics so that they can better manage their learning. For example, the App might tell as student ‘you appear to be doing all your learning on a Sunday, whereas research shows that it is better to spread it out over the week and do it in bite-sized chunks’, or ‘ you have spent 6 hours learning this week, whereas your class mates have spent at average of 10 hours’. The solar website  is a useful source of information and resources on learning analytics.

Will open learning replace traditional approaches?

No, more likely is that there will be a spectrum of offerings from free OER and MOOCs right through to the Oxbridge one-to-one tutorial set up. This means that students are offered a rich range of educational experiences and thy can make their choices based on the ways in which they prefer to learn. Blended learning and approaches which harness the affordances of technologies such as the flipped classroom will become increasingly evident and important. We are seeing a blurring of boundaries: learners/teachers, real/virtual and formal/informal. In addition we are seeing an unbundling of educationSome ask the question as to whether unbundling is the next disruptive innovation. In the futures students may not choose to do a full three-year degree; instead they may pay for: high quality resources, a guided learning pathway, support or accreditation.


OER/MOOCs are as they get us to think more about the learner experience and they challenge traditional educational offerings. However, more needs to be done to increase the uptake and use of OER and MOOCs. We need to better understand what new digital literacies are needed to harness digital technologies. There is a distinct lack of discourse on OER and MOOCs at policy and strategy level and this urgently needs to be addressed. We also need to focus more on the development of senior management who have an understanding of digital technologies and a vision for open learning. There are also financial implications; institutions need to understand why they are investing in OER and MOOCs. Importantly we are teaching students for an uncertain future, to do jobs that don’t even exist today. Therefore there is a need to go beyond knowledge recall to development of the skills and competencies they need to be adaptive and lifelong learners. John Daniels has stated that we would need to build a new brick and motor institution every week if we want to meet the demands of future learners, this is clearly unrealistic and therefore digital technologies and OER and MOOCs in particular are an important alternative.

Supercomplexity and Technology-Enhanced Learning

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017


I am currently in sunny Sligo staying in the beautiful Glasshouse hotel. I am here to give a keynote at the EdTech conference tomorrow. The theme of the conference is ‘TEL in the age of supercomplexity’ building on Barnett’s (2000) use of the concept. The conference website states:


This concept is particular apt when describing today’s Irish technology-enhanced learning community as it grapples with: increasing demands with limited resources; new models of teaching, learning, assessment and accreditation; emerging strategies, policies and frameworks; and where traditional concepts of the professional, professionalism, and professional life are being reconstituted in an increasingly digital age. Barnett contends that it is impossible for individuals to resolve this overwhelming agenda in traditional terms.


Epochs of learning

Barnett contends there are four ‘epochs’ of learning. He states that initially learning was a matter of departing from this world and moving into a different world. This learning is metaphysical, giving access to a meta-reality. Drawing on Plato’s imagery he states that a learner is able to escape the cave of illusions and see the world anew. Learning is seen as efficacious in epoch 2. Through learning an individual is able to put themselves in a better position in the world. In this epoch, there is a real and definite world and learning enables one to know it better.  In addition to knowing more about the world, an individual is able to do things they weren’t able to do before. However, the world is changing and in part as a result of the changes in the world made possible by epoch 2 learning. Importantly, what we learn today won’t necessarily equip us to live effectively in the world tomorrow. Consequently learning becomes a matter of moving with the times. There are no fixed or universal rules for learning. Learning is in situ, and takes place in discrete contexts. This ‘learning on the hoof in an unstable world’ constitutes epoch 3 learning. It is learning brought about as a result of learning about learning. Epoch 4 learning is a result of realizing that not only is the world changing but it holds with it proliferating and competing frameworks by which we understand the world. This is, he argues, a supercomplex world, a world characterised by confusion as to what is to count as learning. What counts as learning for one group may not be the same for another group. 


Defining supercomplexity

Supercomplexity can be defined as structures that are comprised of multiple complex systems, which interact and operate at various scales Barnett (2014) defines supercomplexity as that form of complexity when our very frameworks for understanding and engaging in the world are in dispute. Such that we, personally and in our institutions, no longer have a clear sense of identity or our responsibilities. It is a state of challengeability and contestation.  Barnett (2001) argues:


We live among proliferating and incompatible frameworks, each of which at best can yield only a partial insight into our world. … It is not just a matter of coping with uncertainty, for that formulation is overly passive and reactive. An age of supercomplexity requires the will to go on in a milieu in which there is no security and calls for the courage to make purposive interventions even in the understanding of that lack of security. … The humanities have been in the business of spawning frameworks anew for our self-understanding. Their insights, their concepts, their methodologies are inherently reflexive: … these reflexive properties furnish us with a new wherewithal to be, to act and to communicate … In short, the humanities can assist our accommodation to a world of supercomplexity by promoting forms of being appropriate to supercomplexity. A new and wider educational project awaits them, if only they would seize it. (Barnett 2001, 36–7).


Facets of supercomplexity

The following are some of the key aspects of the concept of supercomplexity and its implications.


We are preparing students for an unknown, uncertain changing future, to do jobs that don’t even exist yet. Therefore we need to move beyond knowledge recall to teaching them the competencies and skills they need to be lifelong learners, to be flexible, agile and adaptable, to harness the power of digital technologies and their social networks to support their continued learning.


We are living in a word in which we are conceptually challenged. The way in which we understand our interactions in digital spaces has changed and become more complex. The boundaries between real and virtual have blurred. We have fragmented identities across real and virtual spaces, different people ‘see’ us through different channels: twitter, facebook, linkedin, email, blogs, webinars, etc…. We need new concepts and metaphors to understand how we perceive and behave in these digital spaces, concepts and metaphors beyond the idea of place and time, and more associated with the notion of networks and interactivity.


Digital technologies offer a plethora of ways in which we can interact with content, and ways to communicate and collaborate. This leads to complex interactions online and exacerbates the concept of supercomplexity. Furthermore technologies are constantly changing and the ways individuals interact with and use them changes over time.


Learners are increasingly using smart phones and mobile devices to support their learning, meaning that learning anywhere and anytime is now a reality. However this means that institutions need to redesign physical spaces to be technology enhanced. The Spaces for Knowledge Generation project did a worldwide study tour of innovative learning spaces and identified seven principles of designing digitally enhanced learning spaces: aesthetics, affordances, blending, comfort, equity, flow, and repurposing.


Rhizomatic learning

Cormier’s concept of rhizomatic learning is useful as a means of describing how we learn, adapt and develop through our use of digital technologies and our interactions with others online. He states that  


Rhizomatic learning is a way of thinking about learning based on ideas described by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in a thousand plateaus. A rhizome, sometimes called a creeping rootstalk, is a stem of a plant that sends out roots and shoots as it spreads. It is an image used by D&G to describe the way that ideas are multiple, interconnected and self-replicating. A rhizome has no beginning or end… like the learning process.



We are operating in a constantly changing techno-ecosystem with which we interact and co-evolve.  Pea described a series of phases of technology interaction. The first phase being essentially ‘cultural mediated’ (face to face), the second being ‘symbol mediated’ (letters and numbers), the third being ‘communication mediated’ (TV, radio phone), the fourth being ‘network mediated’ (wireless database internets) and the fifth being ‘cyber infrastructure mediated’ (cloud computing, intelligence of crowds, constant contact, sensors networks).



I think the concept of affordances (Gibson, 1977) is particularly useful in terms of describing how we perceive and interact with technologies:


All “action possibilities” latent in the environment, objectively measurable and independent of the individual’s ability to recognize them, but always in relation to the actor and therefore dependent on their capabilities (Gibson, 1977, pg. 67-82).


For example, a tall tree has the affordance of food for a giraffe because it has a long neck, but not for a sheep, or a set of stairs has an affordance of climbing for a walking adult, but not for a crawling infant. Therefore affordances are always in relation to individuals and their capabilities; this includes the individual’s past experience, values, beliefs, skills and perceptions. Therefore a button may not have the affordance of pushing if an individual has no cultural context or understanding of the notion of buttons or related objects and what they are for. Gibson also argued that:


The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill (Gibson, 1979, p. 127).


Conole and Dyke (2004) propose the following types of ICT affordances: accessibility, speed of change, diversity, communication and collaboration, reflection, multi-model and non-linear, risk, fragility and uncertainty, immediacy, monopolisation and surveillance. They argue that the taxonomy has a number of uses. Firstly, that establishing a clearer understanding of the affordances should help to inform practitioners in their use of technologies to achieve particular goals. Secondly, that it can also help to identify potential limitations and inappropriate uses of the technologies. Thirdly, by making the inherent affordances of technologies explicit, the taxonomy can act as a discussion point for critique and further refinement. Fourthly, it can be used as a checklist to help practitioners understand the advantages and disadvantages of different technologies. Fifthly, it can be used as a mechanism for staff development and improving practice – for example, by providing a checklist of potential benefits and drawbacks of different technologies, which can be used to inform choice and the ways that practitioners might choose to use them.


Distributed cognition

Another useful concept with respect to our interactions with technologies is Salomon’s concept of distributed cognition (Salomon, 1993). it emphasizes the ways that cognition is off-loaded into the environment through social and technological means. Salomon developed the concept before the emergence of the web but it is particularly insightful in today’s technological world, where our cognition and identity is distributed across a range of interfaces.


How we interact through digital technologies gives rise to our digital identity and how we are perceived by others. The figure below shows the relationship between identity, presence and interaction. Our identity builds on our beliefs and our approach to the world, this influences how we interact which in turn relates to our presence.




Digital literacies

Interacting in today’s technological landscape is not simple and requries a particular set of digital literacies. The term digital literacy is contested and has evolved over time. Gilster (1997) introduced the concept as ‘the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers’. He identified four key competencies: (a) assembling knowledge, (b) evaluating information, (c) searching, and (d) navigating in non- linear modes. Martin (2006) extends Gilster’s definition as follows: digital literacies are “the awareness attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyse and synthesise digital resources, construct new knowledge create media expressions and communicate with others, in the context of specific life situations, in order to enable constructive social action and to reflect on this process”.


Digital literacies can be used to bring together knowledge, attitudes and skills, and so encompasses the basic ability to use digital devices and applications as well as allowing for the development of a level of critical, reflective and strategic capability in various areas of application and practice.[1]


Jenkins (2009)  lists the following digital literacies, which he argues are needed to be part of what he calls today’s participatory environment: play, performance, simulation, appropriateion, multi-tasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, negotiation and visualisation.


Digital literacy is conceived as an attribute of the person in a socio-cultural context; it is an element of that person’s identity. In considering the pedagogy of e-learning, Mayes and Fowler (2006) argue that, “Just as in the field of educational technology has matured from a ‘delivery of content’ model to one that emphasizes the crucial role of dialogue, so the field of digital literacy, we suggest, should shift its emphasis from skill to identity.”


Returning to Barnett’s notion of supercomplexity, it is not just that our interactions in today’s technical landscape are complex, dynamic and changing, but we live in a complex and changing world. There is the increasing impact of globalisation, an increasingly sinister political climate, the impact of cultural issues and religious beliefs on actions, and the unknown impact of climate change. In particular within this context, universities are subjected to a number of demands: accountability, massification, internationalization, quality assurance, etc. Universities are now operating in a climate of increased competition from other players, such as publishing houses like Pearsons and free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).


Other concepts related to supercomplexity

A number of other concepts are related to Barnett’s notion of supercomplexity. Giddens (1999) and Castells (2000) describe the networked and globalized nature of modern society and the impact of the changing nature of societal values (including the defragmentation of the family unit, polarized perspectives on secular versus religious beliefs, and the changing roles of individuals and organisatiions.


Beck’s notion of the risk society is concerned with how a society deals with risk and arguably given the above we live in a world with an increasing number of risks (Beck, 1992). He defines it as defines it as ‘a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernisation itself’. The implications of these new technologies for learning and teaching are profound. Unintended consequences (Beck, 1992) of use will arise, misuse and abuses of the system will happen, the digital divide is still present; those not engaging with technologies are getting left further and further behind ((Warschauer, 2004). Warschauer critiques the relationship between access to information and communication technologies and social inclusion. He argues that: “the ability to access, adapt and create new knowledge using new information and communication technologies is critical to social inclusion in today’s era” (Warschauer, 2004, pg. 9).  


Virilio (1998) goes further and suggests that we are utterly dependent on technologies and when (not if) technologies fail it will have a catastrophic effect. Indeed the recent complete IT failure of BA resulting in chaos at the airports in a case in point.   Furthermore, key academic figures are warning about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Stephen Hawking  for example, has warned that AI could spell the end of mankind.  He stated that:


I believe there is no deep difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer. It therefore follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence — and exceed it.


Bauman (2000) describes liquid modernity as a characteristic of today’s highly developed global society.  He argued that its characteristics are about the individual, namely increasing feelings of uncertainty and the privatization of ambivalence. It is a kind of chaotic state where an individual can move from one social state to another in a fluid manner. Giddens (1991) states that: social practices are constantly examined and reformed in the light of incoming information about those very practices, thus constitutively altering their character’.


Stehr (2001) argues that knowledge is now central to the modern economy and its productive processes. It is also essential for social relations, social cohesion and conflict resolution. We have moved from a society based around heavy commodities to symbolic goods, from situated markets to non-place-specific locations, from machines to software and from things to ideas. These changes produce new forms of social interaction and new perspectives on identity, practice and association. Furthermore, we increasingly arrange and produce the reality within which we exist on the basis of our knowledge.



Barnett  (2000) argues that the university has lost its way and that the world needs the university more than ever. He contends that we need to find a new vocabulary and senses of purpose. The university is faced with supercomplexity, in which our very frames of understanding, action and self-identity are all continually challenged. In such a world, the university has explicitly to take on a dual role: firstly, of compounding supercomplexity, so making the world ever more challenging; and secondly, of enabling us to live effectively in this chaotic world. Internally, too, the university has to become a new kind of organization, adept at fulfilling this dual role. The university has to live by the uncertainty principle: it has to generate uncertainty, to help us live with uncertainty, and even to revel in our uncertainty.




Barnett, R. (2000), Realizing the university in an age of supercomplexity, Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.


Barnett, R. (2001), Crises of the humanities: Challenges and opportunities. In Fuzzy boundaries? Reflections on modern languages and the humanities, ed. R.di Napoli, L. Polezzi, and A. King, 148–73. London: CILT.


Barnett, R. (2014), The university in an age of supercomplexity: challenges and possibilities, Guest lecture, UNESP, Sao Paulo State University, available online.


Bauman, Z. (2000), Liquid modernity, Cambridge: Polity.


Becks, U. (1992) Risk society: towards a new modernity, London: Sage.


Castells, M. (2000, The rise of the networked society in the information age: economy, society, and culture, (2nd Ed, Vol 1), Camrbidge, M.A.: Wiley-Blackwell.


Conole, G. and Dyke, M., (2004a). What are the inherent affordances of Information and Communication Technologies?, ALT-J, 12.2, 113-124.


Gibson, J.J. (1977). The Theory of Affordances. In Perceiving, Acting, and Knowing, R. Shaw and J. Bransford (Eds),  pg. 67-82, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.


Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associated.


Giddens, A. 1991. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford University Press.


Giddens, A. (1999), Runaway world: how globalisation is reshaping our lives: London: Profile.


Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century, Mit Pr.


Gilster, P. (1997), Digital literacy, Canada: John Wiley and Sons.


Martin, A. (2006). Literacies for the Digital Age. In A. Martin & D. Madigan (Eds.),

Digital Literacies for Learning (pp. 3-25). London: Facet Publications.


Mayes, T. and Fowler, C. (2006) “Learners, Learning Literacy and the Pedagogy of e-Learning” in Martin & Madigan, 2006: 26–33


Salomon, G. (Ed.). (1993). Distributed cognitions - pyschological and educational considerations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Stehr, N. (2001), The fragility of modern societies,  Knowledge and risk in the information age, London: Sage.


Virilio, P., (1998), The information bomb, London: Verso. 


Warschauer, M. (2004). Technology and social inclusion: Rethinking the digital divide. Cambridge, 540 MA: MIT Press. 








Reflecting on digital learning as a research field

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017


On the 1st November 2016 Dublin City University hosted ‘The next generation digital learning research symposium.’ I gave the keynote as part of the symposium. The title I was given ‘Research through the generations: reflecting on the past, present and future, was an interesting and challenging focus. In particular looking back at the emergence of a field is useful and can give an indication of where the field is going in the near future. This paper fleshes out the points made in the talk. Comments welcome!

The next generation…

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016


Catching up with Catherine Cronin 

I’ve just spent an excellent couple of days in Dublin at Dublin City University where I am a visiting professor with the National Institute for Digital Learning headed up by Mark Brown. On the 1st November I did a keynote for ‘The next generation: digital learning research symposium.’ The other keynotes were Sian Bayne from Edinburgh University and Paul Conway from Limerick University. All three keynotes were live streamed so if you are interested you can watch them online. The symposium was well structured with lots of different types of sessions. After Sian’s keynote there was a panel reflecting on her talk. After my keynote there was an interactive session exploring what we have learnt from research in our field around three questions:

  • What are the three lessons or take aways, advice which have emerged from the research literature?
  • What are the three most pressing challenges we currently face that require further research?
  • Looking to the future, help what are the most important questions that we still need to address?

In addition to the discussions in the room, people could populate padlet. One of the sessions I particularly liked was the ‘rapid fire research’ session, where doctoral students had three minutes to present their research! The quality of the papers at the symposium was very good, as were the discussions during the day. The hashtag for the symposium was #NextGenDL and was very active, frequently trending on Irish Twitter! I wanted to pick out a few highlights for me from the conference.

Sian Bayne’s opening keynote as always was excellent. Her title was ‘Manifesto: making a teaching philosophy from research in digital education.’ She shared highlights from a manifesto developed at Edinburgh University. In particular she focussed on the ways in which teaching online is challenging us to think differently about some fundamental issues, such as the notions of place and space, new modes of assessment and academic writing, and new models of what it means to teach. She focussed on two aspects of the manifesto: teacher automation and the re-thinking of physical space.

Mark Brown described the work he and others have been involved with in terms of the Irish Horizon report on emergence technologies, which he compared with the NMC Horizon report and the Australian report. He gave a caveat at the beginning in terms of the Horizon reports, stating that they were not without critique, naming in particular Stephen Downes and Audrey Walters. In terms of the Irish context he cited the increased importance of blended/hybrid learning, but argued that in Ireland there is still an under resources technical infrastructure.

Catherine Cronin described the focus of her doctorate research, which is on openness and praxis. Her findings are drawn from 19 interviews with key practitioners around their perceptions of open educational practices and the benefits/barriers to openness.  She argued that openness is not neutral and should be seen as a socio-cultural phenomenon. She articulated four dimensions of using OEP for teaching:

  • Balancing privacy and openness
  • Developing digital literacies
  • Valuing social learning
  • Challenging traditional teaching role expectations

In his closing keynote, Paul Conway looks at the changes in writing and publishing as a result of digital technologies. He focused on the ways in which academic publishing has changed in terms of authorial practices, dissemination ‘publics’ and the political economy of publishing.

On the 2nd November, with Mark Brown, I facilitated a workshop on doctoral studies, participants ranged from those thinking about doing a doctorate to those currently doing one and a few people who have just finished. There was an excellent discussion, with people sharing their experiences and aspirations, along with tips and hints for ensuring a doctorate is successful. These included, ensuring you had a good supervisory team, managing the relationship with your supervisors, ensuring you choose a ‘doable’ topic that you are passionate about and participating in a network of peers, through conferences, professional bodies and social media.

In the afternoon I ran a Learning Design workshop, around 50 people had signed up for it, so running it was a bit of a challenge. Nonetheless it seemed to go well and the feedback was very positive. I focussed the evaluation around four questions:

  • What I liked about the workshop
  • Room for improvement
  • Three words to describe the workshop
  • Action plan.

So overall an excellent few days, stimulating and thought provoking!


Wordcloud of the evaluation of the workshop 

Get involved in the LiDA course!

Thursday, May 5th, 2016


As I mentioned in my last two posts I am working on an OERu course, which we are crowdsourcing content for. Below is an announcement about it from Wayne Mackintosh and details of how to get involved.

Learning in a Digital Age (LiDA) has been confirmed by the OERu Management Committee as a course for inclusion in our 1st year of study.
Otago Polytechnic will provide assessment services for transcript credit and we extend an open invitation to all OERu partners who have an interest in providing assessment services for transcript credit or credit transfer options for the LiDA course to contribute to the determination of the learning outcomes for the course.
The course structure and outcomes will be derived from similar courses at TESU and USQ because we are aiming to achieve maximum reuse potential of the LiDA course in the OERu network. See:
We are also crowdsourcing ideas for inclusion in the LiDA course from the open community. If your institution would like to submit ideas to help shape the learning outcomes for this course, please ensure that we receive these inputs by 12 May 2016. (Please forward this message to colleagues in your institution who may be interested).
For more information on submitting ideas, please visit:
Within the next three weeks, we will convene an online workshop to identify four micro courses and corresponding outcomes for the LiDA course.

Don’t be missed by your absence!


Crowdsourcing a curriculum

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016


Image source 

Today’s social media enable you to interact with people around the globe, to pose and answer questions, to seek advice. I have nearly 1,500 friends on facebook and nearly 9, 000 followers on Twitter. I an eternally grateful for how generous people are with their time, providing support and answering queries. I noticed that Alec Couros & Katia Hildebrandt at the University of Regina posted on facebook the other day that they are using crowdsourcing to develop a course they are working on ‘Contemporary Issues in Educational Technology’.  They included a link to a google docThey stated:

How you can help: We would love if you could add your thoughts below on what are essential questions or topics in the area of educational technology and digital learning. Thank you for any suggestions you can provide!

And then posed a series of challenging questions on Educational Technology, such as:

  • Does technology improve learning, and if so, how (and when, and under what circumstances)? How do we know?
  • How do/can innovation and technology work together? Against each other? IOW, when is it smarter to stop?
  • What are the key digital skills that K-12 students need to acquire before they graduate?

They included a list of the Twitter IDs of those who have contributed. I think this is a great way to develop a course and the questions they pose are in themselves very interesting!

Crowdsourcing is the process of getting work or funding, usually online, from a crowd of people. The word is a combination of the words ‘crowd’ and ‘outsourcing’. The idea is to take work and outsource it to a crowd of workers. The most famous example is Wikipedia, an online encyclopaedia, where anyone can contribute to the development of pages. The idea behind crowdsourcing is that more heads are better than one. By canvassing a large crowd of people for ideas, skills, or participation, the quality of content and idea generation will be superior. There are different types of crowdsourcing:

  • Crowdsourcing design – for example to get a logo designed
  • Crowdfunding – where people are asked to contribute money to a project
  • Microtasks - which involves breaking work into smaller task and sending the work to a crowd of people
  • Open innovation – where different stakeholders collaborate on a business proposal.

The benefits of crowdsourcing are that it enables different people to contribute ideas and provide support. The contributions can then be filtered to get the best results. However it is important to carefully manage the crowdsourcing process and provide clear instructions on contributions.

In the OERu course, Learning in a Digital Age, we are developing we are using crowdsourcing to gather ideas for the curriculum. We have set up a wikieducator page which provides the context for the course development and a series of key questions for consideration:

  • Ethics: How does my digital footprint, online identity, etc. provide evidence of what I know (Unit I), what I can do (Unit II), and most importantly, the values that underpin my contributions towards making the world a better place (Unit III)?
  • ICT: How can the same information and communication technology (ICT) be ideal in one particular context yet be a bad choice in another, quite different context?
  • PLN: How does your personal learning network (PLN) reflect how, when, and where you learn? How does your PLN compare to those of your classmates or colleagues?
  • PLN: What is the relationship between human interaction, technologies (or materials more broadly), and ideas when it comes to cultivating your own PLN?
  • Learning: How much of what you learn should be open or transparent (i.e. public) and how much should be kept private? Why?
  • Ethics: How might the written word be misinterpreted or offensive to an interlocutor who has no access to verbal and non-verbal communication? How might writing this way be avoided?
  • Philosophical: What is learning and how has it changed over the years, and how has it not changed?
  • Philosophical: How do definitions of digital literacy differ and what single aspect sticks out the most as being the most relevant to who you are and how you learn?
  • PLN: How might my PLN help me be less dependent on my instructor, allowing me to be a more independent and subsequently a more interdependent critical thinker?

People can add contributions via google docs these will then be copied to the wikieducator page. I am looking forward to seeing the contributions come in and to developing the course! Social media rocks!