Archive for February, 2008

Evil blackboard indeed

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

I was shocked to hear about the outcome of the Blackboard vs. Desire2Learn case via Terry Anderson’s blog. To be honest I can’t believe Blackboard won. I remember at the time that the section on e-learning in wikipedia expanded rapidly as the community rushed to document the ‘true’ origins and history of the area. It was a great example of web 2.0 philosophy in action. The worry with this outcome is what are the implications for the future???? It seems the battle of corporate vs. collective ownerships rages on…

What’s in a name…

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

I am sometimes bought to task about using the phrase ‘Learning Design’ to describe some of the research we are doing. Some argue ‘Designing for learning’ is more appropriate, others say its really about ‘teacher design’, others still argue there is no distinction with the well established area of ‘Instructional Design’. So I was interested to see this post reflecting on a paper by David Merrill et al. from 1996 entitled ‘Reclaiming instructional design’. Now you could argue that the distinction between these things is pretty much splitting hairs semantically, however alternatively you could argue that underneath this belies fundamentally different epistemological positions…

links for 2008-02-22

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Harnessing web 2.0 for learners

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Great summary of ideas from George Siemens on using social networking to improve the learner experience. The first is 

 Create a class blog…have students blog   

We have got students blogging as part of our new H809 course and it’s great to see their posts and comments on each others’ blogs. I have set up a folder of RSS feed alerts with the blogs and we have a summary of the blogs in the course wiki, but it would be interesting to hear from the students how they are finding using the blogs on the course and how they are managing to keep alert (or not!) to postings.  

Learning in the near future

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

What will learning look like in a few years time? How will new technologies transform learning? These are questions which have probably always been around to some extent in education, but have become more prevalent in recent years since the Internet began to have a significant impact and with the recent changes due to the increasing role of web 2.0 technologies. I really liked John Seely Brown’s recent keynote at the Openlearn conference and note an interesting recent Educause article by John and Richard Adler on Learning 2.0. In the article they talk about the shift from a cartesian view of learning to one based more on social learning, as well as shifting from ‘learning about’ to ‘learning to be’. I particularly like some of the concluding remarks:

We need to construct shared, distributed, reflective practicums in which experiences are collected, vetted, clustered, commented on, and tried out in new contexts. One might call this “learning about learning,” a bootstrapping operation in which educators, along with students, are learning among and between themselves. This can become a living or dynamic infrastructure—itself a reflective practicum.   

And also the follow diagram which resonates with many of the philosophies inherent in the work we are doing at the OU on OpenLearn, a new project SocialLearn and so dear to my own heart the stuff we are doing on Learning Design.




What’s the point of conferences?

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Now there is a question for you to mull over!! We have set up a conference blog for Edmedia 2008 (there is still time to submit something! its in Vienna, got great keynotes, good line up of topics and papers…. not that i am trying to do a selling job or anything!!!) and I’ve posed this question  so answers welcome on that site!

View from the programme level

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

york minster

I spent two days last week at an all programme meeting for the HE Academy pathfinders programme in York- can’t resist including a view of York Minster which I took from my window!  All 28 pathfinder projects we present, along with the critical friends (as I’ve mentioned before I am the critical friend for cluster c) and some representatives from the initial benchmarking projects.


It’s difficult to describe in a short post the rich variety of approaches the projects are adopting, but I am including some images of the different frameworks the projects are using here to give a flavour.  

It was a very interesting meeting and great to get an overview of the different projects. What struck me was the diversity of the different ways in which the projects are tackling the issue of embedding e-learning in their institutions. 


However it was also evident that there were some interesting overarching themes. The projects finish in May and so are now beginning to look at ways in which the lessons learnt can be disseminated. Here are some highlights I picked up from the meeting. 



Derek Morrison open with seven reflection points (;-) associated with the programme:

pathfinder2Strategy, Security, Synthesis, Support, Synergies, Sharing, Student and Sustainability. Then each of the 7 clusters gave quick overviews of the approaches they had adopted – at an individual project level and at the cluster level. The clusters, critical friends and projects are:

Cluster A – (Paul Bacsich) Bradford, Brighton, Greenwich, Thames Valley University

Cluster B – (Cliff Wragg) Bournemouth, Gloucestershire, Keele, Uni College Plymouth

Cluster C – (Gráinne Conole), Brunel, Cambridge, London South Bank, Reading

cluster f

Cluster D – (Terry Mayes) De Montfort, Edge Hill, Manchester Metropolitan, University of Central Lancashire

Cluster E (Peter Chatterton) Derby, East London, Sunderland, Teeside

Cluster F (Betty Collis) Canterbury Christ Church, Exeter, Kingston, Wolverhampton

Cluster G (Andrew Comrie) Bradford College, Buckingham, Cumbria Institute of the Arts, Northampton.

Below is a very crude summary, picking out some of the key themes mentioned, which gives a flavour of what each cluster was focusing on – should have really done a tag cloud for this! No major surprises here I guess (although I think we were all quite taken by the digital storytelling approach adopted by Gloustershire), but the devil is in the detail – it’s interesting to see the very different approaches each of the projects have taken to addressing the issues.

  • Assessment,
  • change – cultural and other,
  • developing e-activities,
  • digital storytelling,
  • e-learning champions and broker roles
  • eResources,
  • evaluation
  • evidence-based practice
  • ICT skills set
  • institutional elearning strategy
  • linking the VLE with other systems,
  • practice vs. strategy
  • staff support and development,
  • student experience,
  • Sustainability and dissemination,
  • sustainability,
  • transitions,
  • teaching and learning
  • quality assurance and enhancement.

The pilot projects have already produced a series of interesting briefing papers summarising their experiences. A similar set of papers is planned for these projects too. Further information is available from the HE Academy pathfinder blog and associated wiki. The briefing papers are listed in the right hand column of the blog.


Revisiting CMC research 20 years on

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

In the first week of our course, H809, we asked students to read quite an old paper from 1989 by Hiltz and Meinke ‘Teaching Sociology in a Virtual Classroom’ (Hiltz, S.R. and Meinke, R. (1989) ‘Teaching sociology in a virtual classroom’, Teaching Sociology, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 431–46.). We then asked them to reflect on a series of questions about the paper:

  • Questions: What research questions are being addressed?
  • Setting: What is the sector and setting? (e.g. school, higher education, training, informal learning)
  • Concepts: What theories, concepts and key terms are being used?
  • Methods: What methods of data collection and analysis are used? (e.g. the number of participants; the type of technologies; the use of interviews, surveys, observation, etc.)
  • Findings: What did this research find out?
  • Limitations: What are the limitations of the methods used?
  • Ethics: Are there any ethical issues associated with the research?
  • Implications: What are the implications (if any) for practice, policy or further research

It’s been fascinating reading the students’ blogs and seeing their different interpretations of the paper - some like it, some don’t and also their reflections on the questions. They have come up with a really rich set of views and perspectives. A number have also reflected on how the paper compares with current research, parallels with work on implementing VLEs for example; others have related the paper to their own practice or research that they are currently doing. It’s so great to see such a vibrant community developing already on the course! I’m going to learn lots reading these blogs over the next 20 weeks!!!

Good advice

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Sarah Stewart is undertaking an interesting month of daily challenges for her blog - lots of interesting posts about this, but I particularly like her advice picked up from Michele Martin on reasons for blogging:

  • blog to add value to yourself
  • think about the process, not the finished product
  • do not fixate on getting huge audience, but rather concentrate on developing quality relationships with readers [sounds like ‘quality parent time this one…]
  • don’t be afraid to make mistakes

On our new course which has just started - H809 - it’s great to see people beginning to set up and use their blogs. There has already been some interesting discussion about the worth (or not) of blogging in a learning context and its relationship to other dialogic mechanisms. I will be really interested to see how the debate develops around the course, for the students individually as a reflective tool, between the student and also more widely - with the tutors, course team and the blogosphere more  generally. Is the use of blogs for learner purposes any different from its use in other circumstances - such as part of a research community??

Creative cluster thinking

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

reading 1I’ve just come back from a really good day with the four HE Academy pathfinder projects I am involved with. See previous post for some of the background to this work and previous activities. The day was hosted by one of the projects, cure Reading University, viagra in their ‘Innovations lab’. What an interesting space! Now that is a real example of creative and novel use of space, search would that we could do something similar with our new building ;-) The idea of the space is to provide a varied, relaxed and flexible space, which encourages alternative ways of thinking and so it’s an ideal place for an away day. You can even write on the walls!! This was the third joint cluster away day that we have had and we all felt that it was really productive. We spent the morning doing a round of updates on what the projects have been doing, it was great to see the progress made, the different approaches adopted but also the commonalities and shared themes. reading 2The four institutions are very different – contextually and culturally, but surprisingly (and encouragingly) a number of cross-cluster themes have emerged. These include

  • A focus on change management (changing academics mindsets) and managing institutional change
  • Adoption of an evidence-based approach
  • Utilisation of sound approaches to e-learning – building in good pedagogical principles
  • Very clear dissemination and engagement strategies throughout the projects, not just at the end
  • Building on current good practice, starting from where people are now
  • An explicit drive to embed the project activities into institutional policies and processes
  • A very broad engagement across the institution, not just focusing on isolated areas or individuals
  • Developing strategies to embed e-learning
  • Listening to the student voice and bringing this together with the academic voice
  • Adopting a participatory approach
  • A focus on continuous quality improvement
  • Evidence of capacity building through the projects and cluster activities - both institutionally and at a meta-level via the cluster activities.  

We have a programme level event in York next week with the full complement of all 28 pathfinder projects which have been funded in this phase of the work and so we used the afternoon to jointly develop our presentation for the event. We identified the key essence of each of the projects and then drew out commonalities, challenges and overarching themes. What emerged was a pretty impressive list, which I think is a credit to the work that the projects have done. It’s interesting to reflect on this notion of having clusters of projects and an associated critical friend. I think we all feel that our cluster has worked well and achieved things above and beyond what the individual projects have done. Not sure what the key ingredients for success are but my guess is that the following factors have been important: 1. A shared set of interests and challenges, 2. Specific activities/goals to jointly work on, with tangible outputs, for example, during our cluster away days we have always included some sort of joint activity, these have included: production of a cluster-based poster, brainstorming and writing workshop outlines, identifying and articulating cluster-level issues, challenges and themes, presentation and sharing of methods and tools. But perhaps the most important ingredient for success has been having a good mix of people, prepared to work collectively, with a liberal dose of fun mixed in ;-).