Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

Ascilite presentation

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Ascilite presentation plus audio now available from slideshare.

Conference live blogging

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

As I blogged about before we have drastically changed the structure of cloudworks and in particular introduced the notion of ‘cloudscapes’, which are aggregates of clouds associated with a particular event or community. One of the potential uses we saw for this was as a means of providing a space for capturing and discussing activities at conferences. Both Juliette Culver and I have now had a chance to try this out for real.

Here is the Ascilite cloudscape. I was really surprised how useful it was using this as a mechanism for live blogging. It seemed to form a compliment to more detailed, reflective blog posts (such as the one I did on the Ascilite keynotes) and one-line tweets. Also having the ability to have others commenting on the clouds and/or adding clouds was really useful.

It was interesting to see how the Dial-e cloud I put in was then picked up by Simon Atkinson and add also to the Dial-e framework cloudscape he has now created - very much Weinberger’s ‘Everything is miscellaneous’ in practice!

Keynotes at Ascilite

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

michelle1.jpgMichelle Selinger from Cisco opened the Ascilite conference in Melbourne this year. Her talk provided a nice introduction to the conference with a broad brush of current and future perspectives on technology. She began by defining 4 phases of globalisation:

  1. 100 years or so ago - with the first wave of world trade
  2. 1980s - with a focus on global manufactory
  3. 1990s - in terms of global R and D and
  4. 2006 and beyond – i.e. the current phase with distributed, global technological infrastructures.

michelle2.jpgA strong theme of her talk was around changing paradigms and practice. She referenced much of the ‘net generation’ literature in terms of the changing patterns of student behaviour. She argued that technological developments are challenging traditional paradigms – such as current models of authorship and ownership. She referenced J. Hilton’s 2006 Educause report – ‘The future of HE – sunrise or perfect storm?’, C.K. Prahalad’ book ‘The new age of innovation’ (see related blog), Wienberger’s (2008) ‘Everything is miscellaneous’ and D. Tapscott’s recent work (2008) ‘Grown up digital’. In particular she quoted Tapcott’s list about modern learners:
Love to customise

  • Are the new scrutinisers
  • Want freedom
  • Look for corporate integrity and openness in deciding what to buy and where to work and where to study
  • Want entertainment and play in their work, education and social life
  • Need speed
  • Are innovators

Technology trends for her included:

  • Cloud computing
  • Virtualisation
  • End of delivery
  • Personalised course pages
  • e-portfolios and results of conversation
  • Universities as provides of learning resources not learning objects
  • Recommender systems

It’s interesting to compare this with the recent US and Australian Horizon reports (See for example this cloud which summarises them and links to the reports). She concluded by posing a set of questions, in terms of the implications of these trends for education:

  • What does academic expertise mean in a web 2.0 world?
  • How will it be judged?
  • What will differentiate universities from new forms of knowledge providers?
  • What will count as authoritative?

A very nice touch of Michelle’s talk was that she put up her mobile number at the beginning and invited the audience to text her questions. Then at various points in the talk she stopped and answered them.

piet.jpgThe second keynote was Piet Kommers from the University of Twente in the Netherlands. The focus of his talk was on mobile and virtual presence in the learning community, referencing work that he and colleagues have been engaged with such as trying to combine curriculum to make it affordable in terms of time and cognitive load. Current projects include a 6th framework Network of excellent on virtual reality and virtual environment applications for future workspaces and RGames - VR and Mobile Devices for negotiating on radiation phenomena.

I was particularly interested in Piet’s various takes on representation as this is something I am very interested in as part of our learning design research. He illustrated the power of representation with a number of nice examples and in particular the importance of matching the right representation to the intended learning goal, pointing out for example that if you are trying to get across the architecture of the heart – a simple 2D diagram is more powerful that an animated 3D model which obscures the functional features of the heart.

He touched on issues of persona and changing identities in the digital environment, reminding us that the term ‘persona’ comes from the Greek ‘persona’ meaning mask – i.e. ‘per’ ‘sona’ means through sound or by the voice. I have argued in a recent chapter that we need to find new vocabularies and metaphors to make sense of the digital environment and our interaction with it. The notion of ‘digital space’ is inadequate as in reality we each have a range of different digital traces (across the blogosphere, email, twitter, facebook, secondlife, corporate websites, the papers we write and the courses we teach on) Where are you now whilst reading this blog? As I write this I am sitting in a café in Melbourne airport on 4th Dec., but you might be reading this on Sunday in the States or on Monday in the UK. Likewise you might read a tweet I sent immediately or a few hours later. I know there is nothing particularly new in what I am saying here, but I do think the complexity and multi-facetedness of the modern digital environment is beginning to really challenge the way we describe it.

Piet posited that there was a tension between the culture of the media and the culture of education where the media is constantly changing, and argued that we need to make schools richer in terms of the social surroundings available for students. This linked nicely to Gary Poole’s keynote on learning spaces – more on this below. He referred to the award winning Stagestruck software (a multi-media rich CD about Sydney opera – which encourages student exploration and adopts a strong experiential learning approach) and also the ‘Woven stories’ project from Finland – where students and teachers co-create stories.

The final keynote was Gary Poole from British Columbia entitled ‘A place to call a learning home’. He started with a nice audience participation exercise. He asked us to draw what we thought was a ‘learning home’. It was really interesting to see what people came up with – there were a lot of people who drew a computer – including me. My mac is probably the most important thing in my life (apart from the people I love of course!). It is my distributed cognition, my office, my thinking space, my connectivity to others. A lot of people also drew comfy sofas and chairs - which seemed a bit bizarre to me! Certainly there were no representations of traditional classrooms or schools… The point being that technologies free us from traditional structures and we have the potential to apply the best of what is known about social psychology and how humans communicate and learn to create a perfect blend of virtual and real space to foster learning.

Ainslie Ellis referenced some earlier research she had done in a paper at Ascilite 2006, in terms of a similar exercise. In her study she mapped individual’s representations to their personality types, she argued that physical comfort and connectivity were closely aligned with extravert personality types.

Gary argued that there was a distinction between universalist and relativist portrayals of learners. He has reviewed international studies on the creation of new learning spaces and argued there are a number of similarities in the approaches being adopted: starting with how people learn, looking at the unique attributes of the current demographic, identifying pedagogical innovations, linking to programme objectives and finally taking account of design consideration

He referred us to what looks like an interesting e-book by Bransford ‘How people learn book brain, mind, experience and school’, in which Bransford has distilled out some key principles of learning.

  • Learning is facilitated by the connections between the new and the familiar
  • Learning is facilitated by deliberate practice – salient feedback that draws learner focus
  • Deep learning (understanding) facilitates transfer
  • Deep learning is time consuming
  • Motivation matters

He also referred to Chris Dede’s Educause report (2005) about planning for neomillenial learning and how today’s learners are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. Again there were strong resonances here with similar points made by Michelle and Piet and indeed across the conference there were a lot of papers on net generation research – including the work of Gregor Kennedy and Matthew Riddle. They are both interestingly also involved in new research on learning spaces.

Gary referred to a similar list to Michelle’s re: student characteristics from a chapter in Oblinger and Oblinger’s Netgeneration book (2005) where the characteristics are mapped to what this might mean in terms of the nature of the physical space to support this form of learning.

Learning characteristic –> Physical space

  • Group activity orientated –> Small group work space
  • Goal and achievement orientated –> Access to tutors etc in the learning space
  • Multi-taskers –> Table space for a variety of tools
  • Experimental trail and error learners –> Integrated lab facilities
  • Heavily reliant on network access –> IT highly integrated into all aspects of learning space
  • Pragmatic and inductive –> Availability of labs etc to primary resources
  • Ethnically diverse –> Accessible facilities
  • Visual –> Shared screens
  • Interactive –>Workshop facilitation and access to experts

He then talked in detail about the work he is doing at his own institution in terms of experimenting with the physical environment. He stressed the importance of adopting an ethnographic approach – watching student behaviour within the environment and learning from their patterns of behaviour.

He finished with three key messages:

  1. The importance of focusing on student-centred learning spaces
  2. The need to educate teachers in terms of spatial literacy
  3. The value of putting effort into better design of environments and the importance of ‘post occupancy evaluation’ of the environments – i.e. see how the students behave in the space - they will move stuff and if they want to let them!!!

Dinner at Da Noi
I thought all three keynotes were excellent and very complimentary – providing a nice framework for the other papers and discussions at the conference. As always I come away from Ascilite buzzing with ideas. I spend the last evening in Melbourne with members of the Ascilite committee and Piet Kommers – lovely restaurant, if a tad expensive! It’s a great conference, I can thoroughly recommend it and of course the location is pretty good too!!!

Conference cloudscapes

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

We have drastically revised the cloudworks site and now have the concept of ‘cloudscape’s which are spaces that can be set up for specific communities or purposes. I am testing the notion out at the Ascilite 2008 conference. I have set up an Ascilite Conference Cloudscape and am adding options to it. It’s really interesting because the mixture of cloudworks as a kind of web 2.0 repository, shared discussion space, micro blog and blog is making alot of sense to me and I am finding it provides something distinct and different to blogging or twitter. I have been live creating clouds during this morning’s keynotes - would welcome thoughts and comments!

Fostering interdisciplinarity

Saturday, November 15th, 2008




I am part of the Personal Inquiry project, which is one of eight projects funded under the ESRC/EPSRC Technology-enhanced learning programme. This is an ambitious (ca. $22 M over five years), funded by the EPSRC/ESRC, which at its core is about tackling these challenges of educational significance from an interdisciplinary perspective: 

Technology enhanced learning (TEL) requires interdisciplinary collaboration across the disciplines of learning, cognition, information and communication technologies (ICT) and education, and broader social sciences… To achieve the highest ambitions for education and lifelong learning we need to exploit fully what new technology offers – for personalising learning and improving outcomes… for creating more flexible learning opportunities and for improving the productivity of learning and knowledge building processes. But to do this, we need a more explicit understanding of the nature of learning itself, both formal and informal, and the way it is responding to changes in society and the opportunities created by new technologies… This… will support innovation from both research areas, each challenging the other, to rethink ways of making learning more effective and to develop the new technology solutions to make that possible. Such interdisciplinary research is intended to help build new understandings of how technology can enhance learning.

Three of the projects have been going now for just over a year, including ours. Five new projects have just started. Eileen Scanlon and I presented at the first in what is planned to be a series of workshops associated with the programme. The theme was ‘The challenges of interdisciplinary research’. The tagclowd of my notes was courtesy of Shaaron Ainsworth who was also at the event – here’s a slightly more readable version.

Alan Blackwell  of Cambridge University kicked off the day with a really interesting talk on tacking interdisciplinarity and some of the approaches he has adopted and the projects he has been involved with.  He is co-director of Crucible – a centre for research in interdisciplinary research. Here’s a summary of some of the points of advice he made on ingredients for successfully fostering interdisciplinarity:

  • Leaders and founders of interdisciplines should resist convention and maintain vision, while being mentors and coaches
  • Freedom requires resource
  • Collaborations grow in years not months
  • Goals must offer serendipity not constraint
  • Maintain and reward curiosity
  • Understand work with and subvert structures – organisational, disciple, career

And here are his suggestions for making it happen:

  • Start small and move fast
  • Bring creative and design practices to technology
  • Facilitate encounters between communities
  • Cheerfully transgress academic borders
  • Engage with reflective social science
  • Directly address public policy

I really liked his approach and style – working across boundaries, questioning the established and being a bit of a maverick basically! It’s just what’s needed. He also gave a plug for HCI2009 conference  1-5th Sept, not a conference I have been to be before but it looks interesting.

Eileen and I kicked off a debate session. Eileen gave an overview of some work in the literature on interdisciplinarity and then we gave a case study of how we have approached it in the PI project and what has worked and what hasn’t. The slides are available on slideshare.  In particular we talked about how we used various ‘mediating artefacts’ in the project as trigger points to discus ideas around and also our variant of adopting a participatory design approach and involving different stakeholders in the design process. Interestingly design was a key concept that was also central to Alan’s approach and was returned to again and again during the day’s discussion. We also drew on Roy Pea’s diagram about the co-evolving relationship between technologies and practice and discussed how this might impact on fostering interdisciplinary dialogue. We then got delegates to add to flip charts around the following five themes:

  1. What were their ‘birth’ disciplines?
  2. How methodologies do they use?
  3. What theoretical frameworks did they use?
  4. What research questions are they interested?
  5. What approaches did they suggest to foster interdisciplinarity?

Of course it’s not a large sample and people were doing this around lunch when their mind was more on food than intellectual debate, but nonetheless the results are interesting. The National Central for Research Methods did a much more extensive study when it was established. One of the outputs was a Typology of Research Methods.  The report is well worth a read.  Below are some of the notes from our exercise:

Birth disciplines: Computer science, Plant science, Botany, Veterinary science, Ethnology cultural studies, Psychology, HCI, Philosophy, Fine art, Moral philosophy, Electronic engineering, Chemistry, History of art, AI, Geology, HPS, International development education, Linguistics and AI, Philosophy, Sociology, Maths and Physics. Is it my imagination or are there a lot of people from a predominantly Scientific background. One person wrote why worry about disciplines - aren’t many of these just fields?

There wasn’t much written on methodologies – just a few notes. One person argued for the need to have robust methods and suggested looking for evidence from methodologies which work for other disciplines. Persistent collaboration methodology and normal scientific method were also mentioned. 

Theoretical perspectives: Social constructivism, Actor Network Theory, Constructivism, Critical theory, Action research, Communities of practice – researchers and practitioners, STS, Scientific enquiry, Conversational framework, Philosophy of technology, Anthropological views on tools artefacts and technology, Activity theory.

One person also suggested that we need to both build on relevant theories in education science, but also consider that new interdisciplinary theories might emerge from TEL work.

Research focus/interest: Cognitive education, Creating research communities, Epistemology, Case-based learning, Human computer interaction, Fieldwork across disciplines, Artificial intelligence, People/communities, Educational research, Fluid learning objects, Personal development, Fostering self-sustaining communities, Human learning and judgment, Creative development, Field work across disciplines, Making a sustainable permanent difference change. 

Approaches to fostering interdisciplinarity. Some questioned whether most Interdisciplinary teams were really multi-disciplinary. Another person suggested it was important to break down the space barrier – to create time and space for sharing and imaging. Another argued for the need to create theoretical space. Other quotes: Grounding relationships and developing shared language, Triangle of elation – frustration and desperation, inter-actional vs. contributory expertise, ensure good publications within disciplines only, worry less – explore what ID does rather than worry about meaning – bring back Derrida!, Project members going together to the pub or cultural equivalents, exposure to, appreciation of and respect for the paradigms methods of others disciplines having them influence ones own practice, Rich intermediating representations eg design patterns, A team member who bridges the disciplines and makes the connections that hold people together, Be concrete work on specific examples – I get lost in the general interdisciplinary which disciplines etc? Its good to talk…, Shared tasks. So in essence time and space to foster debate and develop ideas seems to be the overarching message from this list.

In the afternoon we split into groups and asked them to foster around three key themes that we had posed as part of a seminar we will be presenting at AERA 2009. The symposium is structured around five of the projects in the TEL programme and will consist of thematically linked presentations. It will explore how the projects are tackling the challenges set by the programme and more generally on how to instantiate the rhetoric of radical transformation of educational practice through the use of technologies. In particular the objectives of the session will be to consider the following questions:

·      Issues of design: How can we design for innovation and adopt a more participatory, inclusive approach to design? What is the relationship between design and instantiation of practice?

·      Transformation of practice: How might innovative technologies lead to real transformation of practice? What are the barriers and enablers? What new forms of pedagogy are possible?

·      Methodological development and interdisciplinary inquiry: What are the methodological challenges and what are methodological innovations? What are the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary research? 

Here’s a summary of the feedback from the groups.

Group 1

  • Communication Use of a Virtual Research Environment (VRE). VRE’s can be really useful for Geographical distributed projects but also bring out a lot of the interdisciplinary issues - the way in which you use wikis, email lists, announcement tools is something else you still need to get shared consensus with. The extent to which the debate around ID is very productive, are we actually as bounded as we think we are, can we reframe the debates about how knowledge generation takes place?
  • Engagement The fact that there are different levels of engagement of those involved in the project and different technological expertise.
  • Methods To what extent do the methods reflect the learning impact that technologies might bring?? How do things change when you move from a paper measure to one that’s based on the screen?

Group 2

  • Design – What is the nature of participatory design.  How do you begin, how do you take account of user views? The tension between this and the need for a starting point around theoretical perspectives and goals. Also when do you know when to end/stop? Design is always a compromise – we should all make our design decisions more explicit and write these up in our design history. Shells for design and creativity. ‘User’ design – who is the user? Do you use them same ones over the life span or do they become experts in the system, introduce new novices? Tangible and attractive, simple about reaching out to a set of complex designs that might represent behind the metaphor – mobile phone as a metaphor has a lot of hidden meaning.
  • Research vs. development Tension between research and development – research aims, but also a design element but that is not what we are funded to do, but these are intimately linked. Are there important lessons for the funders here? Process and product – a research process we reflect on but also a product. Tension between creativity vs. productivity - how much can/do you deviate from the original project aims?
  • Transformation of practice – what and whose??  Researchers, users, changing design as practice – new metaphors and new ideas. New forms of pedagogy. Establishment and sustainability of learning communities – mobile and at a distance

Group 3

  • Methodological challenges and working together.  Building on known success stories, which have involved a large interdisciplinary team and also learn from those that didn’t work. 
  • Issue of project management – these projects involve large and disparate groups, do we new approaches needed to managing such projects? How much arising from ID as opposed to the size of the project team? The impact of the birth discipline of the Principal Invest Igor on managing the project.  The need to manage different expectations – understanding from each other’s disciplines what might be achievable. Danger of splitting off into parallel tracks of research with some cross talking but no real coming together. To overcome challenges need to allocate enough time for the team as a whole to come together to develop a commonality of purpose.
  • What is emerging – transformation of knowledge as well as transformation of practice. The presence of technologies may be changing the nature of what we are tackling

Group 4

  • Users Working with users and PD and what it means. Working with users who are experts but they might not be the best people to work with if you want to design for novices.
  • Communication. Importance of communication – getting the terminology right as soon as you can. 
  • Nature of innovation – technology, practice, activities,
  • Success criteria and evaluation How much should we be driven by the original proposal?
  • Shared understanding – what do we understand by a shared understanding?

On reflection it was a really interesting day. It was great to meet up with the other projects. I look forward to future events in this series.

Learning in a networked world

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Roy Pea at BectaI was lucky enough to hear Roy Pea from Stanford University speak twice last week; first at the Becta research conference and then at the launch of the LSRI at Notthingham University. Here’s a summary of some of the things he was talking about. He peppered his talks with highlights from the report of the nsf task force on cyberlearning – a 21st century agenda for the national science foundation, which he and others were involved with.  He began by highlighting where in his view technologies are going in the next decade and hence how this is likely to impact on education. His list included:

  • Always on smart mobiles
  • Location aware services
  • Ubiquitous sensing of content
  • Open platform technologies
  • Elastic cloud computing resources
  • Immersive worlds and games
  • Open Educational Resources
  • Participatory media culture

What struck me about this list was, here, as elsewhere, elastic cloud computing services seem to be given more and more prominence. It was also noticeable how much value and importance he put into the development of Open Educational Resources. In essence he painted a picture of an exciting future, with wide spread access to technologies, He argued that these were exciting times given the wide spread access to technology, coupled with an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the nature of learning.

He provided a definition of ‘cyberlearning’ as ‘learning that is mediated by networked computing and communication technologies’, relating to the term ‘cyberinfrastructure’ which is used in NSF circles in the states. [i.e. ‘cyber’ from Wieners, 1948 ‘cybernetics’ from the Greek  meaning to steer as a way to signal the intertwined tapestry of concepts relating the goal directed actions, predictions, feedback and responses in the system (physical, social, engineering) for which cybernetics was to be an explanatory framework.]

He referred to Henry Jenkin’s report ‘Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: media education for the 21st century’. It’s an excellent report - here are some of the highlights I picked out from it.

According to a recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life project (Lenhardt & Madden, 2005), more than one-half of all teens have created media content, and roughly one third of teens who use the Internet have shared content they produced. In many cases, these teens are actively involved in what we are calling participatory cultures.

A growing body of scholarship suggests potential benefits of these forms of participatory culture, including opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, a changed attitude toward intellectual property, the diversification of cultural expression, the development of skills valued in the modern workplace, and a more empowered conception of citizenship

A central goal of this report is to shift the focus of the conversation about the digital divide from questions of technological access to those of opportunities to participate and to develop the cultural competencies and social skills needed for full involvement.

The new skills for this according to Jenkins include: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognitions, collective intelligence, judgment, trans-media navigation, networking, and negotiation. The list makes a lot of sense to me and does seem to encapsulate a lot of the potential of what new technologies and in particular web 2.0 approaches can offer in an educational context. However, fostering these new skills suggests a need for radical transformation of the educational curriculum. Pea argued that: in principle therefore we have exceptional resources for human learning and activities, but do we know enough about learning to guide design of learning support? He then turned to some of the work he and colleagues are doing as part of the LIFE centre in terms of rethinking learning in a modern technological context. 

THE PURPOSE OF THE LIFE CENTER IS to develop and test principles about the social foundations of human learning in informal and formal environments, including how people learn to innovate in contemporary society, with the goal of enhancing human learning from infancy to adulthood.



He gave a scenario of a learner of the near future; a learner where education transcended formal educational barriers, facilitated by technology: a learner with a portable lifelong digital portfolio, with seamless access to materials using inexpensive mobile technologies, interacting with peers in a variety of formal and informal context, using the power of new technologies for the visualisation of real time data from remote sensors. And that this individual’s learning goals could be facilitated by formal curriculum, through individual teachers or via peer groups as appropriate. The vision seemed very close to the kinds of things we are trying to do in our sociallearn project.  

Referring back to the ‘cyber’/steer for this learner the forms of steering of learning could arise from a hybrid manner from a variety of personal educational or collective sources and designs and therefore the ‘cyberinfrastructure’ needs to be designed to enable this to happen. He argued that this is really becoming possible now with new technologies and what can be achieved though them. He argued for the centrality of mediation in cyberlearning, referring back to Vygotsky’s work on mediation, i.e. that ‘subject’ and ‘object’ are connected directly, but also indirectly through the mediation of cultural artefacts as with written language and maths.



He showed a nice diagram illustrated how a series of waves of technology have changed the ‘ether’ of mediation. 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 thought this was a useful classification and in particular liked the way it highlighted the changing nature of the technologically-enhanced medium, but also the suggested that there was a co-evolution of tools and users – something I have argued about as well.  He also argued that as a result of these changes, people’s learning have evolved substantially as well – which echoes some of the discussions in the netgeneration literature.  

He argued that the time was ripe to take advantage of modern technologies (their communicative potential, the ability to render and visualise information in different ways, etc). And that this therefore extends the capacity of educational institutions into lifelong learning opportunities and how to blend formal and informal learning. He showed a nice slide which illustrated that only a tiny fraction of an individuals lifetime is spend in formal learning context and that the majority of learning in fact occurs informally and hence we should capitalise on this and harness the potential of modern technologies to support this. This is a core aspect of the work that he and others are doing as part of the LIFE Centre, which is focusing on trying to better understand the broader nature of learning, i.e. learning beyond formal contexts.

He also referred to the work of Brigid Barron on her ‘Learning ecology framework’ for understanding individual differences in the development of technological fluency.

A learning ecology is defined as the set of contexts, comprised of configurations of activities, material resources, and relationships found in physical or virtual spaces that provide opportunities for learning (Barron, 2004). A learning ecologies perspective foregrounds that 1) adolescents are simultaneously involved in many settings; 2) they are active in creating activity contexts for themselves within and across settings, and 3) that interest driven activities tend to be self-sustaining given adequate resources. Text taken from

Barron’s learning ecology framework diagram shows the multifaceted environment in which modern learners learn – with distributed resources, in conjunction with peers, via communities, school and home. It highlights the multi-directionality of digital fluency and illustrates that the dynamic nature of a learning ecology. Barron argued that the home is a central access point for learning and she showed that the home environment is pivotal.

Pea drew on this work and argued for the need for an experiential focus for learning research, i.e. the need to get inside the experiences of the learner in more fundamental ways – their interests, values, identities, commitments, engagements, challenges, appraisals, and persistence. This resonates very closely with the central philosophy of much of the current research interest in eliciting the learner voice (see for example the Pea drew out three key distinctions:

  • The power of social….how are they using social networks?
  • The power of the setting…how do they navigate the boundaries?
  • The power of imagination… what course of action do they consider?

He then highlighted some of the recommendations the NSF task force on cyberlearning made to NSF. This included the need to promote the growth of a cyberlearning infrastructure, to develop new ways of looking at and understanding content preparing students for computational thinking, to teach students and teachers how to harness large amounts of data (he reference Galaxy zoo – a mash up of astronomy data), leveraging the data produced by cyberlearning systems, and encouraging shared systems that allow large-scale deployment, feedback and improvement.

At the end of the Becta conference Pea left us with the following thoughts:

  • How does learning technology influence learning?
  • ICT changes the representational infrastructure and also the environment within which education occurs - the roles, the divisions of labour, etc
  • ICT is not an amplifier of learning; it’s actually a reorganiser of the learning systems

It’s rare to get the pleasure of hearing one of today’s truly great thinkers, his talks were truly inspiring. 

JISC online summary

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Marion Manton did us proud again on day two of the JISC online Innovating e-learning conference, as facilitator for the strand on ‘Supporting staff - transforming culture’, that Alan Masson and I were ‘co-presenting’. There was another lively day of debates and it was great to be able to share and develop ideas with others in this format. There is lots from the conferences that we can chew over and reflect on as a team in our OULDI work. Again blatant cut and past, but here is Marion’s excellent summary of the discussion on day two. 

Change is due the virtual space too! This strand revisited the issues around the VLE as an artifact which shapes design. Michael Vallance raised suggested “We do not limit ourselves to one solution but look at what a number of tools can do, and do well” I raised the ideas that sometimes “we forget how many students (not just academics) value an easy to use integrated environment that lets them focus on the learning not the technology.” The conclusion from Michael was to u”se the best technology available to do the task required … and not seek that all embracing single solution”


Change is due to the institutional processes too! Today this thread talk moved onto ways we have managed to get the learning technologist perspective into the sign off process for course development, especially in terms of negotiating shared course visions. There was also a brief discussion the differences between working with enthusiasts and the mainstream.


Visualization Designs This theme kicked off the day with Grainne introducing the idea of visual v. textual representations generated from tools such as Compendium LD. Grainne linked to as a step by step guide to creating a learning activity in Compendium LD. Adam Bayliss raised the possibility of Compendium LD for the Mac and Andrew replied he was aiming to have this available by Christmas. EA Draffon introduced a selection of other generic tools. Accessibility was discussed with Andrew Brasher mentioning There was a discussion about text v visual being better for different parts of the design process and Nigel Ecclesfield talked about generic tools that could cope with both modes. I talked about this in relation to the idea of a Phoebe/compendium link up, and also about how the LD tools report had looked at generic tools as well We also talked about visual design being better for activities and textual for course level design – although Andrew Brasher had examples of when this may not be the case. Lastly Alan share 3 representations of a design from Ulster and we discussed ways of taking the same data and showing it in different ways, especially in light of how the Mod4L project identified that most users did not have time to create multiple representations.


Starting day 2 - innovations that really work I started this thread by asking people to share innovations that had really worked. Richard Everett mentioned eMentors (where students teach the teachers to use technology appropriately) eInnovations - a £50K fund that staff (and students) bid into to do something innovative of relevance to the new building, but need culture to allow risk and failure. Grainne mentioned the OU ‘Design challenge’ to get people to design a short course in a day with support various stalls that represented stakeholders such as librarians etc, which raised as a key factor in success. Helen Beetham also mentioned other institutions’ ‘design intensives’ e.g. Brookes, Herts, Leicester. Alan Clarke suggested how Adult and Community Learning has used digital cameras, which led to a discussion of the Molenet project which James Clay was involved in and expanded on. Sarah Knight mentioned the ILT Champions programme for the FE which was reiterated by many, as something that had and was having a long lasting effect on their practice – this years conference is being hosted by James Clay, who shared some podcasts it had created

Cloudworks Juliette Culver introduced the cloudworks tool and the latest thinking here and Paul Baily suggested tag clouds (of this discussion) as a possible feature. 

Day 1: JISC online conference

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Marion Manton from Oxford University, ampoule has done an excellent summary of some of the manic discussions which went on today in the session that Alan Masson and I were running in the JISC online coference.

Here is a blatant cut and past of her summary…

Hello and WelcomeMalcolm Ryan introduced us to the work on defining the skills, viagra knowledge and attitudes required by the e-competent tutor Alan provided a link to the HLM cards which are described in his presentation, along with an indicative recording grid at . 

Gilly’s keynote and design There was a consensus that everyone agreed with Gilly’s vision, but that ther real the question was “how” to achieve this. Alan suggested, “not only do we need to provide support, guidance and facilitation, we need to address quite distinct challenges - reflection, planning, design” Grainne added “getting the balance right of getting people to think differently/out of their comfort zone, whilst also not frightening or overwhelming them” Sheena Banks brought up how methods of production can effect design which led to a general discussion on the need for practitioners to see examples from others – both in terms of outputs but also practice. Grainne mentioned how Cloudworks was designed to support this. 

Supporting culture change Richard Everett introduced us to the work they have done at Oaklands College (see S1 for more on this) where the aspect of students contributing to the design process was picked up. Academics, while reluctant at first grew more interested as students showed they had valuable contributions to make. Sarah Knight suggested that the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes ( and would be interested in knopwing more about this work. Richard uploaded the report written by the lead eMentor at Oaklands!enclosure=.eebec11 .

Helen also drew attention to the conclusions from the D4L programme here Helen Beetham, “Resource sharing area” #4, 4 Nov 2008 2:13 pm which concluded there was a difference “between skilled self-directed learning (how learners direct aspects of their own learning as they engage with an already-designed curriculum) and skilled educational design (how learning is designed for a particular curriculum or cohort)”. Alan stated he was making a mind map of the discussion which would try and share before the end of the conference. 

Changing culture is due to the physical space as well This thread looked at how physical space can shape curriculum design Richard Everett and Grainne reflecting on their experience , including how very practical constraints can affect things. This discussion also started to consider how virtual spaces and especially VLEs also can shape things, and the need for virtual spaces which are not always about learning (Alan). 

Tools to support design This thread discussed the tension between visual and text representations with a consensus that these are useful for different people at different times. Other issues raised were Alan “representations are outputs from a process” which it is also important to capture. Sheena raised the issue of over simplification, with Grainne in response “the minute you represent anything by its very nature you are being reductionist because you cant capture everything about a design in one go” Sheena “how far do you think that learning designs can be reusable/shared?” Helen Beetham mentioned the work from the Source project (see figure C1) which also identified the tensions around mediating artifacts around design. Change is due the virtual space too! This strand revisited the issues around the VLE as an artifact which shapes design, and also considered the tensions between a VLE being pedagogically restrictive and it providing “simple, clear guidance which is useful…So again as always we need to adopt a mixed approached tailored to different needs” – Grainne. The Exe tool was mentioned here by Adam Bayliss. Sharing learning and teaching ideas Grainne introduced Cloudworks “which applies the best of web 2.0 tools and approaches to enabling teachers and designers to share learning and teaching ideas and designs” and Richard Everett mentioned the pack of cards technique they had used at Oaklands Change is due to the institutional processes too! Alan Stanley raised this important point, and how accreditation proceses tend to look at the subject but rarely at “what do students actually do on this course” which led to comments on this at the micro level from me and Alan reflecting on how they were looking at this in Ulster. It was noted that the JISC funded Curriculum design projects would be exploring this. 

“Elluminating” design

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

I recent did a presentation via Elluminate to a very interesting online course (well worth at look by the way) that Stephen Downes and George Siemens are facilitating. It’s interesting how different it is presenting in an empty space as opposed to a live audience. We had technical difficulties so the slides weren’t loaded into Elluminate and we had to semi-syn with my slides on slideshare, very interesting experience taking part in these kinds of sessions! In the presentation I gave an overview of some of our recent working in our OULDI work.  Someone in a blog posting mentioned that i sounded unbelievably like Ms. Marple - please please tell me this is not true…. Here’s a link to the video stream.

‘Forecasting’ the future

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

I am currently ‘at’ the JISC online conference. I’ve cleared as much space in my diary as I reasonably can over the next three days, so that I can properly take part in the conference.  I have taken part in this conference for the last three years and have always found it excellent with some really lively debate online, but previously I’ve have made the classic mistake of thinking being online meant I could do other things at the same time; in reality of course you still need to have time and space to really make the most of the conference. [Memories of rushing through London in snow with the moderator frantically ringing me on my mobile, or rushing to and fro from a learner experience workshop to try and use one computer to post replies come to mind…]

This year’s conference has lots of interesting strands. I listened to Gill Salmon’s keynote this morning on Elluminate (as an aside Elluminate seems to have really taken off I have been involved in lots of online sessions recently, both as a participant and presenter). Gilly contextualised her talk by looking to the past to forecast (she argued we can never predict) the future. She reflected on trends in pedagogy, changing technologies and key policy initiatives. She argued that we need to use a mixture of creative visioning, coupled with empirical evidence to move forward and make sense of the future. I very much agree with this and was struck by closely it aligned with the approach we are talking with our OU Learning Design Initiative – constantly gathering empirical evidence about the design process which feeds iteratively into other aspects of the work we are doing – i.e. tool development, events and resources and new schema for innovation.

Gill supported her talk with some nice references from thinkers from a range of disciplinary perspectives. Here are some of the key ones for me:

1.      The Hawaii centre for futures studies 

2.      The Creating Academic Learning Futures centre at Leicester University

3.      Stille, A. (2003) The Future of the Past, Picador, London.

4.      Laszlo, E. (2006) The Chaos Point: the world at a crossroads, Hampton, London

5.      Dregni, E. & Dregni, J. Follies of Science, 20th Century visions of our Fantastic Future SpeckPress, Denver Colorado.

6.      UCISA technology trends suveys 2001-2008

7.      Johnson, Laurence F., Levine, Alan, and Smith, Rachel S. 2008 Horizon Report. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium, 2008. 

8.      Hype cycles 

9.      Richard Gott, (2002), Time travel in Einstein’s Universe: The physical possibility of travel through time, Houghton Mifflin Company

10.   Hank Laderer of the Minnesota Futurists

I liked this quote she used from Laszlo:

Future is not to be forecast but created what we do today will decide the shape of things tomorrow

And also this one from Joseph Glanvill a philosopher in the 17th century which could easily be a quote predicting the Internet:

To them that come after us, it may be as ordinary to buy a pair of wings to fly to the remotest regions, as now a pair of boots to ride a journey, and to confer at the distance of the Indies by sympathetic conveyances, may be as usual in the future as literary conveyances.

Whilst I totally agree with most of what Gilly was saying, my question to her was how do we do this? How do we change practice, help teachers think outside the box, really innovate – what kinds of tools, guidance, support, schema do we need to do this? There are some of the key questions we will be considering in the session Alan Mason and I are doing at the conference. We are sharing the approaches we have both being using and look forward to discussing with delegates some of these issues. I think there is some really exciting work going on at the moment around learning and curriculum design BUT I think we have a long way to go!!!