Archive for January, 2011

A open approach to book writing

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

As part of a book I am writing I am adopting an open approach, by posting draft chapters online as I go on Cloudworks[1] and then invited the broader research community (via Twitter and facebook) to comment on them. In this postscript, I want to reflect on this experience and consider the ways in which adopting such open practices might change the nature of academic discourse and scholarship.

Traditionally the process of writing research publications has been closed. An author would work on the publication and only submit it when it was in a near final state. Publication outlets were mainly of two types: i) conference presentations and ii) peer-reviewed journals and books. Conferences enabled the author to get feedback on the work, whilst a more formal form of feedback was possible through peer review. Once feedback had been received the author would incorporate comments made and produce a final version for submission. Many peer review journals unfortunately are still closed, whilst at least conference proceedings are usually available online. In recent years many researchers have taken to making their publications available in institutional open access repositories. Some journals are adopting more open approaches, for example JIME has an open peer review process, where the reviewers are known to the author and where both engage in an open, online discussion of the draft paper. Having had a paper go through this process (see for example Conole, 2005), I found it very constructive and felt that I got much more detailed feedback from the reviewers than in a normal journal and hence that the final article was much better as a result.

But the nature of publication is changing. Many researchers now keep a blog, which they use to post reflections and thoughts on their research work and often drafts of publications, which can then be commented on by the wider community. Using a blog enables a researcher to reach a far wider audience than publishing in closed journals. The blogosphere has enabled researchers to develop an alternative form of academic discourse (Conole, 2007a), a more informal, ‘of the moment ‘discourse, a stream of consciousness. In contrast, published papers tend to be narratives, weaved around a particular theme. They hide the real life, messiness of the actual research process and act as a final narrative. The blogosphere has its own federated peer-reviewing mechanisms, such as cross-referencing between blogs and indicators of esteem such as the Technorati authority. Increasingly academics are taking note of this new communication space – however one could argue that the uptake is slower than it should be, arguably in our field the majority of bloggers are located at the practical or technical end of the spectrum, there are few heavy weight researchers blogging at the moment. What are the reasons for this lack of uptake? Firstly, it may be that researchers are fearful of starting a blog, either because they are unsure of what their voice should be. Secondly, they may be fearful that by blogging ideas others can steal their ideas. Thirdly, it may be that they can’t see the benefit of blogging and don’t consider it to have the same academic kudos as peer-reviewed articles. In a response to one of my blog posts on these issues, Martin Oliver left this reply:

Please, don’t condemn me to having to wade through pages of peoples’ blogs in order to find the one or two good ideas in there! The prospect of blog entries substituting for slow publication isn’t something that thrills me. It has its place, but so does the discipline of shaping ideas in a format that can take a year or more to come to fruition. Distance brings its own perspective, and can help discern what’s of lasting value, rather than momentary excitement.

This is why, for all that they’re reviled, lectures and presentations can be so helpful. Listening to someone who’s thought about a problem for long enough and hard enough to shape a 30-45 minute argument - and argument that actually needs that sustained presentation, not just padding - is quite an indulgence. Think of all the months I won’t have to spend thinking, having had someone else do it for me!

By all means, blog away. But I think we’d be in a poorer state if we stopped books and articles. (Conole, 2007a)

This demonstrates some of the real concerns researchers have about the blogosphere. However the reality is in today’s rich technological and connected digital environment, we need to be embracing the power of these tools and using them effectively to widely distribute our research ideas and to engage with others in discussions around these ideas. My response to him was:

To my mind the different forms of communication have different merits and different purposes and certainly for me - formal papers/chapters, conference presentations and blogs are all valuable in their own right. BUT if some academics choose to only blog and some choose to only read ‘peer reviewed’ journals - where does that leave us??? Conversely as you say has the world just got a level more complicated with yet another communication medium we have to keep up with???

In a related post, I summarise some of the responses to the above post (Conole, 2007b). Romeis suggests that blogs report on ‘what’s happening now’, where peer-reviewed papers are ‘old news’ because of the lag time to publication.  McQuillan celebrates the ‘stream of consciousness’ nature of blogging, suggesting that it is a valuable route to publication and that by making thoughts publically available as they happen they are there and accessible for others to review and provide their perspective on. To conclude I reflected as follows:

I don’t think a direct comparison of journal papers and blogs is appropriate; people blog for a whole range of reasons not just for academic recognition and institutional ‘performance ticking’. I think what we are seeing is a confused transition, whilst we try and work out the co-evolution of tool use and our own working practice (both as individuals and as a society). 

But blogs are not the only mechanism for sharing and discussing research ideas. In recent years researchers are increasingly harnessing social networking sites such as facebook and micro-blogging tools like Twitter. My own practice in the use of these has changed over time. I increasingly rely on them as a mechanism for being part of a connected, distributed research community. I use Twitter in particular as a means of keep abreast of new developments, as well as posting pointers to my latest research. There is some duplication of my posts in Twitter in facebook, but I use the later probably more for casual exchanges. In addition, I use the social networking site that we have developed, Cloudworks, to live blog conferences and workshops, to post chapters and draft papers, to participate in question and answer debates about different topics and to aggregate resources and references. Chapter 12 in this book gives a more detailed account of how users are using Cloudworks.

So what has my experience of adopting an open approach to the writing of this book been? Firstly, I have found it motivating. It has been useful to post draft chapters and great to get useful and insightful feedback from people. Secondly, however I have found it nerve wrecking, it has felt like laying my soul bare to the world. I’ve been concerned that my ideas will appear half-baked. But overall I think it has been a valuable process.  I have been amazed at the number of views there have been of the individual Clouds and the overall Cloudscape. I have been able to update the chapters and incorporate the ideas and suggested people have provided, which I am sure has enhanced the quality of the writing. In some respects this has acted as a kind of peer-validated reflection on the work by the wider research community.

Although the theory of Connectivism has mainly being developed and applied in a learning context (Downes, 2007; George Siemens, 2005), arguably it can also be applied to describe what I have experienced in adopting this open approach. In a sense it is a form of professional Connectivism, both in terms of me learning from the comments made by people and in them getting insight to my work and research ideas through the draft chapters. To expand on this I refer back to the differentiation Siemens (2009) makes between Connectivism and other learning theories:[2]

1.     Learning occurs based on the recognition and interpretation of various patterns in distributed networks enhanced by technology

2.     Factors that influence learning are the diversity of networks, the strength of the nodes and context

3.     The role of memory based on adaptive pattern that is representative of a particular state

4.     The transfer of learning is generated by the addition of nodes and network expansion

5.     Learning becomes complex with a quick change at its core, based on various sources of knowledge.

In terms of the first point, clearly technology has enabled me to be part of a distributed and networked community. I have been able to learn from the comments of others, as well as get answers to queries by posting questions on Twitter. In Chapter 16 I cite Weller’s argument that Twitter can enable researchers to have access to immediate expertise (Weller, 2010) and this has certainly being my experience. I give an example of this in the conclusion to that chapter and show how I received a number of replies very quickly to a question I posed asking for examples of openness and open practices.

In terms of the second point, I am part of an extensive network of researchers across the world. I have over 2300 followers at the time of writing. This means that the chance of someone having an answer to any question I might post is high, as is the likihood of getting a near immediate response.

Participation in the global network acts as a cognitive repository, which relates the third of Siemen’s points. Essentially this network becomes a part of my distributed cognition (Salomon, 1993), enabling me to harness the collective intelligence (Lévy, 1997) distributed across my network.

As I become more proficient at working my network and as it expands to include new people to follow, my learning becomes more adaptive. I have co-evolved with the use of these tools, as I have increasingly embedded them in my everyday practice; and this relates to Siemen’s fourth point.

Finally in terms of his last point, my learning is dynamic and changing, feeding off the network of evolving ideas. A tweet might set off a host of new ideas or might lead to me engaging in a meaningful debate with the person who posted it.

Therefore overall my experience has been positive. I truly hope that more and more researchers in our field begin to harness the power of social and participatory media and that we start to see an opening up of research practice and associated academic discourse. Dialogue has always been at the heart of learning and the co-construction of knowledge. Never before have we had such a power set of tools to support peer-to-peer dialogue and the collective shaping of our knowledge and understanding of the world.


Conole, G. (2005). E-Learning: the hype and the reality. Journal of Interactive Multimedia Education, 12.

Conole, G. (2007a). The nature of academic discourse.

Conole, G. (2007b). The paper vs. blog argument

Downes, S. (2007, 25-26 June 2007). An introduction to connective knowledge. Paper presented at the Media, Knowledge & Education - Exploring new Spaces, Relations and Dynamics in Digital Media Ecologies, Vienna.

Lévy, P. (1997). Collective intelligence: Mankind’s emerging world in cyberspace: Perseus Books Cambridge, MA, USA.

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

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International journal of instructional technology and distance learning, 2(1), 3–10.

Siemens, G. (2009). What is Connectivism? Week 1: CCK09. Google Docs. from

Weller, M. (2010). Thoughts on digital scholarship.






[2] See Chapter 18 for a detailed discussion of learning theories

Chapter ten – Open Educational Resources

Friday, January 14th, 2011


There has been a growing interesting in recent years in making educational content freely available. Terms such as ‘open content’ and ‘open educational resources’ have gained currency and there is now a well-established international community of those interested in producing, using and researching OER. This chapter is not intended to provide a comprehensive review of the field, but simply to summarise some of the issues and highlight key references.

Iiyoshi and Kumar (2008; Pg. 2) take a broader perspective looking at the Open Education Movement, of which the OER movement is part, in terms of open content, open technology and open knowledge. They argue that this is beginning to change the way educators use, share and improve educational resources and knowledge by making them freely available.  They suggest that the central tenet of open education is that ‘education can be improved by making educational assets visible and accessible and by harnessing the collective wisdom of a community of practice and reflection.  Oblinger and Lombardi argue that ‘Due to changes in technology, a participatory culture is emerging with a new openness to sharing, collaboration, and learning by doing’ (Oblinger & Lombardi, 2008, p. 398).

Commission by the Hewlett foundation, Atkins et al. (2007) provide a comprehensive review of the development of the OER movement, describing many of the major initiatives in the fields and some of the key achievements. A complementary report emerged at around the same time, commissioned by OECD (Oecd, 2007). Both reports give a good overview of the field, the motivations and aspirations behind the OER movement, as well as reflection on some of the challenges associated with this area. Iiyosh, Kumar and Seely Brown (2008), through an edited collection, consider the wider notion of ‘openness’ and what it might mean in an educational context.

The term Open Educational Resources (OER) was first used by UNESCO at its ‘Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries’ in 2002. However it is worth noting that MIT had already used the term OpenCourseWare with their initiative in 2001. Alternative labels include ‘open courseware’, ‘open learning resources’, and ‘open teaching/learning resources’ (UNESCO 2002, p.24). The Hewlett foundation define OER[1] as:

teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others

whilst OECD define them as

digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self- learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research (OECD, 2007:133).

According to OECD (2007) over 300 universities worldwide are engaged in the development of OER with more than 3000 open access courses. There are numerous initiatives and consortia involved in this area; examples include the following:

·      OpenCourseWare consortium (,

·      China Open Resources for Education (CORE) consortium ( ),

·      Japanese OCW Consortium. ( ),

·      ParisTech OCW project. (,

·      Irish IREL-Open initiative ( and

·      JORUM repository (


The scale of effort and investment in the development of OER is impressive, as the following statement on the OpenCourseWare website[2] indicates:

OpenCourseWare Consortium is a collaboration of more than 200 higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared mode.

In 2002 Hewlett initiated an extensive OER programme, the chief aim was to ‘catalyze universal access to and use of high-quality academic content on a global scale’ (Atkins et al., 2007:1). More recently, the UK, the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) have initiated a large-scale call on the development of OER,[3] building on existing initiatives such as JORUM and Openlearn.

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration[4] argues that the OER movement is based on ‘the belief that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint’. It focuses on three suggested strategies to removing current barriers to the use of OER:  teacher and learner engagement with OER, a general policy to publish openly and commitment to open approaches at institutional and government levels.

The OER movement has been successful in promoting the idea that knowledge is a public good, expanding the aspirations of organizations and individuals to publish OER. However as yet the potential of OER to transform practice has not being realised, there is a need for innovative forms of support on the creation and evaluation of OER, as well as an evolving empirical evidence-base about the effectiveness of OER. However, recognition of the importance of investment and effort into promotion of the use and uptake of OER is evident is the prominence given to OER developments in a recent major report on Cyberlearning, commissioned by the National Science Foundation (Borgeman, et al., 2008). ‘Adopt programs and policies to promote Open Educational Resources’ is one of the five higher-level recommendations in the conclusion to the report.

Researching Open Educational Resources raises issues in how to address global connections, reuse, design and evaluation of world wide efforts to work with learning resources that are available for free use and alteration.

OER is not only a fascinating technological development and potentially a major educational tool. It accelerates the blurring of formal and informal learning, and of educational and broader cultural activities. It raises basic philosophical issues to do with the nature of ownership, with the validation of knowledge and with concepts such as altruism and collective goods. It reaches into issues of property and its distribution across the globe. It offers the prospect of a radically new approach to the sharing of knowledge, at a time when effective use of knowledge is seen more and more as the key to economic success, for both individuals and nations. How paradoxical this may turn out to be, and the form it will eventually take are entirely unforeseeable. The report offers some preliminary handles for understanding the issues raised. (OECD, 2007:9)

Open provision of course materials has become a more extended movement with many universities adopting the approach. There are indications of adoption of an open approach, however the diverse OER projects have not received much research attention to establish how best to move from existing provision to better structures for open operation. However the diverse OER projects have not received much research attention to establish how best to move from existing provision to better structures for open operation. UNESCO (2002) identified four elements that have to be considered when talking about Open Educational Resources:

·      The vision for the service - open access to the resource, with provision for adaptation

·      The method of provision - enabled by information/communication technologies

·      The target group - a diverse community of users

·      The purpose - to provide an educational, non-commercial resource“ (UNESCO 2002, p.24).

The main properties of OER are: free access ‘enabled by information and communication technologies’ and a ‘non-commercial purpose’ (UNESCO 2002, p.24). OER is intended to make “high-quality educational material freely available worldwide in many languages”. (Keller and Mossink, 2008).

McAndrew, Santos et al. (2009) argue that despite some terminological differences (Hylén, 2006) open educational resources are largely digital assets (music, images, words, animations) put together into a logical structure by a course developer who has attached an open license to it. In other words, the content is openly available (it can readily be found or discovered), is openly accessible (it is in a form which others can take it away) and openly re-usable (the user can easily modify it and is allowed under the license to do certain things with it without having to ask the creator’s permission first).

A review of OER initiatives

As part of the OPAL projects work to articulate dimensions associated with Open Educational Resource Practices, a review of international OER initiatives was undertaken. A number of criteria were used in choosing the case studies to be reviewed:

1.     Well established: We included a significant number of OER initiatives that were well established, which were likely to have a more mature set of associated practices and an understanding of the barriers and enablers associated with OER

2.     Coverage of key areas: examples that provided evidence along the key areas of interest (policy, quality, innovation, barriers and enablers, etc.)

3.     Geographical coverage: as much as possible a reasonable geographic spread, with a particular emphasis on examples from Europe

4.     Educational sectors: examples, which were from both the field of higher education and from the field of adult education.

A case study template was drawn up outlining the data to be collected. This included background and contextual information, as well as headings around the key areas of interest. The template was validated within the consortium. The case studies were then collated and analysed to draw out key features. An evolving set of OER dimensions was then derived (these are discussed in the next chapter). The scope of research extends to higher education (HE) and adult education (AE). Whereas HE refers to the traditional HE segments, inclusion of the AE sector widens this territory / target group considerably and refers largely to the segment of “ongoing, further education”, but also post degree and non-degree related provision. The higher education sector includes: all European (+ selected beyond) Universities and HE institutions (private and public) offering educational programmes/courses for students, corporations, and professional training, etc. The adult education sector includes: all forms of non-vocational adult learning, whether of a formal, non-formal or informal nature (taken from the glossary of terms of the Lifelong Learning programme: AE therefore refers to all European (+ selected beyond) adult-learning institutions. This goes beyond university education and includes also community colleges, adult learning centres, providers for professional training, and further education for adults. Adult education is also sponsored by corporations, labour unions, and private institutes. Sixty case studies were collected and are available online ( This section will discuss a sample of these to give an indication of the different types of OER initiatives.

The case studies reviewed during the desk-based research are listed below by country/geographic region. Appendix B lists the thirty-four case studies in more detail. Further details on each case study are available in the individual case study templates. The dimensions of OER that were extracted from the case studies are discussed in Section 3 of this document.  The case studies were chosen to give a spread in terms of covering both the HE and AE sectors, geographical local and representative of the different types of projects/initiatives possible (i.e. different types of consortium, different focus, spread of subject areas, models of Quality Assurance, etc.). The case studies are listed below in full, by country: 

United Kingdom

·      OpenLearn, OU UK

·      SCORE

·      UK - JISC funded:

o   Exeter University

o   Nottingham University  

o   Oxford University  

o   University of Westminster  

o   University College London  

o   SC Economics (Bristol)  

·      Cambridge University  

·      POCKET   

·      OTTER   

·      Open Educational Repository in Support of Computer Science, Ulster University and 5 other HE partners    

·      The Humbox project, Southampton, Royal Holloway & Warwick University and 12 other HE partners    

·      Open Educational resources pilot project, Loughborough University and 9 other HE partners    

·      Collaborative open resource Environment (CORE), Liverpool University and 21 other HE partners    

·      Skills for Science project, Hull University and 17 other HE partners    

·      C-Change project, Plymouth University and 12 other HE partners    

·      Art, Design & Media OER project, Brighton, Cumbria and University of the Creative Arts    

·      FETLAR, Nottingham Trent University and 11 other HE partners    

·      Biosciences Interactive Laboratory/Fieldwork Manual, Leeds University and 11 other HE partners    

·      OERs in Simulated learning (SIMSHARE), Warwick University and 4 other HE partners    

·      PHORUS project, Kings College London & 16 other HE partners    

·      Key Social Sciences resources for learning & teaching, Birmingham University and 16 other HE partners    

·      Organising Open Educational Resources (OOER), Newcastle University and 16 other HE partners    

·      Open Content Employability project, Coventry University    

·      Unicycle project, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK

·      BERLiN project, Nottingham University, UK

·      OpenStaffs project, Staffordshire University, UK

·      Open Source Electronics Learning Tools project, York University, UK

·      openUCF, University College Falmouth, UK

·      The Numeracy Bank (Numbat) project, Anglia Ruskin University, UK

·      EVOLUTION project, University of Central Lancashire, UK

·      Chemistry-FM project, University of Lincolnshire, UK

·      Open Educational Resources Project (OERP), Bradford University, UK

·      ICS Open Educational Resources   


·      NDLR    


·      OpenER    

·      Wikiwjs    


·      Akleon    

·      KELDAmet    

·      CampusContent    

·      Podcampus    

·      Zentrale für Unterrichtsmedien    

·      Dual Mode Technische Universität Darmstadt    

·      MatheVital    

·      Skriptenforum    


·      EducaNext    

·      eLibrary Projekt    


·      GITTA    


·      UnisulVirtual  

North America

·      CCCOER/CCOT    

·      BC campus

·      MIT OpenCourseware    


·      EDU.Fi    

·      AVO-SOMETU    

·      Le Mill    


·      Estonia National Network


·      INTERACTIC   

·      Casa das Ciências   


Case study 1:The Openlearn project

MIT was one of the first projects established to develop OER, attracting funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in 2000. The Open University in the UK successfully bid for support from the Hewlett Foundation to establish its Open Content Initiative, launched as Openlearn in 2006. Openlearn is an online repository of Open Educational Resources. The site aims to make a significant proportion of the Open University UK’s educational materials freely available on the web.

The initial site was made publicly available in October 2006 and now offers a full range of Open University subject areas from access to postgraduate level, with over 3 million visitors since it was launched. The site is divided into two sides: LearningSpace (which provides access to the quality assured OER derived from Open University courses) and LabSpace (where users can download, repurpose and upload OER).

Figure 1 shows a screen shot of the site. In April 2008 Openlearn reached its target of 5400 learning hours (based on designed time for student activity) of content in the LearningSpace and 8100 hours in the LabSpace. The site was built using the Open Source learning environment Moodle.[5] In addition to the OER, the site provides a variety of learning support and social networking tools. These include forums linked to individual OER to connect and discuss with others, an instant messaging and presence indicating tool (MSG), Compendium for visualizing and representing OER and the development of shared argumentation, Flashmeeting – for live video conferencing, and a learning journal – for users to reflect on and record their experience.


Figure 1: LearningSpace in Openlearn

Lane (2006) provides a commentary on the Openlearn experience and in particular gives an overview of many of the issues involved in initially setting up and running Openlearn. He sets out a conceptual framework for what the project was intending to achieve and then lays down the steps needed to move from the necessity of a fairly constrained re-purposing situation in the short term towards a more open and creative environment. McAndrew (McAndrew, 2006) discusses the rationale for the Open University in developing Openlearn and in particular looks at how the initiative aligns with the practices associated with web 2.0 technologies. He argues that Openlearn – with its associated tools for communication and collaboration provides a useful testbed to explore and research user behaviour in participating in new digital environments. This experimental aspect was identified as part of the rationale for Openlearn which meant that a range of research issues were picked out including:

Some of the key questions and challenges raised by work to date, include:

·        What are the most effective ways to develop OER?

·        What intellectual properties arise from OER initiatives?

·        What are the barriers and enables to the development and use of OER?

·        What models are different initiatives adopting in terms of the production of OER?

·        What are sustainable business models for OER?

·        What accessibility and inclusion issues are arising in associated with OER?

·        What new pedagogical models are needed to support the use of OER across both formal and informal learning contexts?

·        What methods are appropriate to evaluate the effectiveness of OER and how can transfer of good practice be best achieved?


These issues could not all be addressed within a single initiative and lead to the need for a collective understanding of the impact of OER, however results from a single initiative can start to inform the overall research. In the final research and evaluation report for the initiative McAndrew et al. (2009) summarise the research findings from the evaluation of Openlearn and reflect on the implications for future OER activities. An integrative approach was use for the evaluation; research activities included action research, direct and remote studies, trials and experiments, and surveys and interviews. The evaluation provided valuable insights into how users perceived the Openlearn materials and more importantly how they were being used. Three main categories of users were identified based on their level of engagement with the site: enthusiasts, registered users and visitors. 

Findings were both expected and surprising. Although the majority welcomed the concept of free educational resources, it was not always fully understood – many assumed there was an associated cost of some sort. A significant proportion said they would use the site again (there were over 100,000 unique visitors each month). Perhaps surprisingly users classified material as interactive even when it was text-based. Interest in downloading content was high, but evidence of reuse was low when measured in terms of content returned to the site. There appeared to be both technical (lack of understanding of XML) and pedagogical (lack of experience or redesigning and not wanting to alter existing perceived ‘good’ content) barriers to reuse.

A need for a more explicit understanding of the inherent design associated with OER became evident; educators appeared wary of using content without first understanding it. In fact research exploring the design of educational materials and activities was being undertaken in parallel to the Openlearn project, and although this work considered design more broadly in terms of learning and teaching, it was evident that a lot of the tools, methods and approaches being developed could be adapted and applied specifically to an OER context.

Case study 2: Wikiwijs

Wikiwijs is an open, online platform of open educational resources. Teachers and learners can find, download, adapt and re-upload resources. It subscribes to open source principles and is based on open content and standards. As suggested by the name, the project is inspired by the notion of wikis as co-constructed collaborative content. The ministry of education in Holland commissioned OUNL and Kennisnet to articulate a plan for the project around five aspects:

·      The development of an adequate technical infrastructure

·      The collection of sufficient educational resources

·      The establishment of an enthusiastic community of teachers

·      The development of proficient users with the necessary skills to develop and use OER

·      The development of a clearer understanding of the research issues.


Case study 3: LeMill

LeMill ( is a web community of teachers and other learning content creators for finding, authoring and sharing open educational resources.  It has more than 8000 reusable learning content resources, more than 4000 descriptions of teaching and learning methods, and almost 1000 descriptions of teaching and learning tools. There are also teaching and learning stories available. LeMill community has members from 61 countries and content can be found in 13 languages. LeMill was designed and developed as part of European Commission’s 6th Framework Programme project CALIBRATE. Its aims were to support the collaborative use and exchange of learning resources in schools. It brought together eight Ministries of Education including six from new member states and involved 17 partners in all. The continuation of development was supported by Tiger Leap Foundation. The dissemination of LeMill is supported by ESF AVO project. LeMill project is currently run by Media Lab at the Aalto University (Finland) together with Centre for Educational Technology at the Tallinn University (Estonia).

The most active users of LeMill are in Georgia and Estonia.


LeMill supports the idea of working in groups through LeMill community.

There are community blogs for interest groups to coordinate and discuss the group’s work. All learning resources in LeMill are either in the stage of being “draft” or “published”. The member who started the project of making the content may decide when the content will be published. The change from “draft” to “published” does not change anything in the availability of the content. The flag “published” just tells to the users of the site that the author(s) have considered it to be ready. When content is public, its authors are shown. For draft resources the authors are not shown. People can continue to modify and improve the resource after publishing it.


If the user finds some content incorrect they can join LeMill and alter it. The guidelines tell to respect other people’s points of view and possible “deeper thought and reasons” behind the content they have made. LeMill trust the community’s self-evaluation, however the maintainer of the service pretty much track all the editing made to the site. It can block vandals and even report criminal activities for authorities.


In addition to content, methods, and tools there are teaching and learning stories. A story is a description of how some content, methods, and tools have been used together in a single learning event, such as a study course. Stories loosely join the other resources together. From the stories users get valuable hints on how the resources found from LeMill have been used in real teaching and learning. Through stories they may share their own experiences or use them to plan your own teaching.

Case study 4: Podcampus

Podcampus ( is a podcasting platform for scientific and research contributions. Lectures and courses of interest are recorded and published as audio- and video-files. Some items have been produced exclusively for Podcampus. Producers are research institutions, academies and educational institutions from all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The topics range from introductory lectures for various subjects to techniques of presentation and communication, from scientific problems to a snowboard video-podcast.

As a “showcase of science”, Podcampus also offers interesting content for a more general audience outside of universities. However, Podcampus is also expanding in the area of academic teachings. Traditional learning opportunities at the academics can be complemented, improving the service for students. Every academic teacher, every faculty as well as every research and educational institution can publish their seminars or lectures on Podcampus. Content within Podcampus can be sorted thematically, geographically and by several other criteria. Naturally, producers are free to publish their content via their own respective website.


This chapter has provided an overview of the OER landscape, considering the vision behind the value of the movement, the nature of OER and describing a range of key initiatives that have emerged in recent years. OER appear to offer much in terms of helping to transform learning and teaching and more effective use of technologies. The focus to date has primarily been on the creation of digital repositories of resources. However evaluation of these indicates that teachers and learners are not using or repurposing these as much as might have been expected. As a result a number of projects are now turning their attention to explore how a global networkers of researchers and users of OER might be built and supported (for example and to articulation and use of the associated practices around OER in terms of creation, use and repurposing. The next chapter discusses Open Educational Practices and in particular the work being carried out by the OPAL project.

Appendix One: The Broader OER Landscape

This appendix provides a description of the broader OER landscape.

·      Community sites:

o    Peoples open access initiative (

o    The peer to peer university (

o    Wikieducator (

o    Connections (

o    Merlot (

·      OER Research groups:

o    Organisation for economic cooperation and development (OECD) (,3343,en_2649_35845581_35023444_1_1_1_1,00.html)

o    OER Commons (

o    Open eLearning Content Observatory OLCOS (

o    Open Learning network (OLNET) (

·      International agencies:


o    The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) (

o    UNESCO: open training platform (

·      Translation organisations:

o    Opensource opencoursware prototype system ( )

o    China open resource for education (CORE) (

o    Creative commons (

o (

·      Emerging institutions:

o    Technologica de Monterrey (

o    University of the western cape (

o    Universiade do sul de santa catarina: unisul (

Established OER projects

A number of funders (such as the Hewlett Foundation, Shuttleworth, and UNESCO) have had, and continue to have, a significant influence on the nature of OER initiatives, in terms of the funding they provide but also through other forms of promotion and support. Examples of different types of initiatives include; EADTU/MORIL, EU-funded FP7 programmes e.g. ICOPER, ASPECT, ROLE, STELLAR, and the OpenScout initiative, investigating various aspects of OER movements. The nature of these different initiatives is a combination of a number of factors:

·      The nature of the type of funding which supports them

·      The vision and motivation behind them

·      The nature of the organisation or organisations involved (face-to-face/distance, subject-based, institutionally or nationally focussed, single or multi-partnered)


The following alphabetical listing outlines a selection of these varied projects sourced:[6]

·      Anadolu University, Yunusemre Lifelong Open Learning Portal, Turkey (

o     Anadolu University offers149 content rich courses free through its Yunusemre education portal. The courses include the following components; e-books, e-courses, e-TV, e-audio books and e-practice.

·      Athabasca University - Open University, Canada (

o    The University aims to remove the barriers of time, space, past educational experience, and, to a great degree, level of income. Individualized study courses allow a student to learn at their own pace. Flexible instruction frees students from the demands of specified class times and rigid institutional schedules. For undergraduate individualized study courses, there are no admissions deadlines’ students may enrol year-round.

·      Budapest Open Access Initiative, Hungary (

·      The Budapest Open Access Initiative aims to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the internet.  

·      Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, Global (

·      The Berlin Declaration promotes the Internet as a functional instrument for a global scientific knowledge base and human reflection and to specify measures which research policy makers, research institutions, funding agencies, libraries, archives and museums need to consider. The Berlin Declaration states that, ‘Establishing open access as a worthwhile procedure ideally requires the active commitment of each and every individual producer of scientific knowledge and holder of cultural heritage’.

·      Broadband Enabled Lifelong Learning Environment – BELLE, Canada ( BELLE)

o    BELLE was a $3.4 million shared-cost project (2002) funded under the CANARIE Learning Program. BELLE’s objective was to develop a prototype educational object repository. It is a partnership led by the Netera Alliance.

·      Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative (OLI) (

o    Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI) is a collection of “cognitively informed,” openly available and free online courses and course materials that enact instruction for an entire course in an online format. Ideally, the courses developed and delivered through the OLI project will be used by instructors and students in Colleges and Universities throughout the world as well as individuals seeking education who are not affiliated with an institution.

·      Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Global (

o    The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is an intergovernmental organisation created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. Two online databases of learning content that provides support to Commonwealth countries free of charge. Institutions or governments can use these repositories to access a range of free learning content.

·      Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research (DRIVER) (

o    DRIVER aims to establish a cohesive, pan-European infrastructure of Digital Repositories, for both researchers and the general public. It sets out to build an advanced infrastructure for the future knowledge of the European Research Area.

·      European Schoolnet (EUN), Europe (;jsessionid=9126F04FD9B46DEA6697FB41FC8F9643)

o    European Schoolnet (EUN) is a consortium of 28 ministries of education in Europe. EUN provides major European education portals for teaching, learning and collaboration and leads the way in bringing about change in schooling through the use of new technology..

·      Japanese OpenCourseWare Alliance (JOCW), Japan (

o    The JOCW is the consortium of Japanese Universities that have been providing OCW in Japan.

·      Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Digital Repositories, United Kingdom (

o   JISC has funded a range of initiatives around the creation and use of digital resources. This has included significant work on digital repositories.

·      Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and Higher Education Academy (HEA) Open Educational Resources programme, United Kingdom (

o  Between April 2009-April 2010 the JISC and the HEA funded a series of pilots and activities to promote the open release of learning resources. Projects were required to make a significant amount of existing learning resources freely available online, licensed in such away to enable them to be used and repurposed worldwide. 29 projects were funded in total, around three themes (individual researcher, institutionally based and subject-based).

·      JORUM, United Kingdom (

o    JORUM is funded by JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee), JORUM is a collaborative venture in UK Higher and Further Education to collect and share learning and teaching materials, allowing their reuse and repurposing, and standing as a national statement of the importance of creating interoperable, sustainable materials. Users can access the learning and teaching materials (which cover a range of subject areas) to enhance their students learning experience. Materials range from single assets (documents, images, diagrams) to more comprehensive learning objects (interactive units and content packages). JORUM accepts learning and teaching resources across all subject areas for both Higher and Further education in the UK .

·      IIEP-UNESCO Wiki of OER repositories, Global (

o    IIEP-UNESCO hosts a Wiki that offers a list of several portals, gateways and repositories. It offers a list of links to OER initiatives, resources and tools. It offers access to a selection of approximately thirty repositories of open learning objects, mostly at the university level.

·      ide@s, North America (

o    This is an initiative by the University of Wisconsin to identify, evaluate, catalogue, and align to the Wisconsin education standards resources that are already on the Internet, such as lesson plans and reference materials. These resources are then made available from the ide@s search engine for pre-kindergarten to higher education and adult education.

·      Maricopa learning exchange (MLX), North America (

o    The Maricopa Learning eXchange (MLX) is an electronic warehouse of ideas, examples, and resources that support student learning for the state of Arizona Maricopa Community Colleges. These resources might include a particular lesson, technique, method, activity, or assignment developed and/or taught.

·      Monterey Institute for Technology and Education National Repository of Online Courses (NROC), North America (

o    NROC is a library of high-quality online courses for students and faculty in higher education, high school and Advanced Placement. Courses in the NROC library are contributed by developers from leading online-learning programs across the US.

·      National Learning Network Materials (NLN), United Kingdom (

o    Working in partnership with subject experts and commercial developers, BECTA’s (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) the NLN Materials Team has commissioned and managed the development of Further Education e-learning materials for use in Virtual Learning Environments. The materials span the UK post-16 Further Education curriculum and are designed to be fitted easily into existing teaching.

·      Open Archives Initiative (OAI) (

o    The Open Archives Initiative develops and promotes interoperability standards that aim to facilitate the efficient dissemination of content. OAI has its roots in the open access and institutional repository movements.

·      OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCW), Global (

o    The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a collaboration of more than 100 higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model.

·      ParisTech, France (

o    ParisTech is a collective entity that includes twelve of the most prestigious French institutes of education and research

·      Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) (MERLOT), North America (

o    MERLOT provides free and open resources designed primarily for faculty and students of higher education. MERLOT is a catalogue of online learning materials, peer reviews, learning assignments, and user comments, organized by discipline into specific discipline communities and created to help faculty enhance their instruction, and that anyone can use for free.

·      OER Commons, North America (

o    OER Commons is a teaching and learning network offering a broad selection of high-quality Open Educational Resources that are freely available online to use and, in many cases, to adapt, to support individualized teaching and learning practices.

·      Open Courseware Directory (OCD) (

o    The Open Courseware Directory is an annotated listing of publicly available courseware (lecture notes, handouts, slides, tutorial material, exam questions, quizzes, videos, demonstrations, etc) from the world’s universities, colleges and other educational institutions.

·      OpenCourseWare Finder, North America (

o    The OCW Finder currently shows results from several collections; MIT OCW , Utah State University, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health OCW, Tufts University OCW, Foothill De-Anza SOFIA, and Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative.

·      SchoolNet, Canada (

o    In English and French, SchoolNet is a partnership with the provincial and territorial governments, the education community and the private sector in Canada, which promotes the effective use of information and communications technologies (ICT) in learning.

·      Textbook Revolution, Globa,l (

o    Textbook Revolution is a student-run site dedicated to increasing the use of free educational materials by teachers and professors. The approach is to bring all of the free textbooks together in one place, review them, and let the best rise to the top and find their way into the hands of students in classrooms around the world.

·      The Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Reusable Learning Objects (CETL), United Kingdom (

o    The Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) in Reusable Learning Objects develops, shares and evaluates learning objects and leads on innovation in pedagogical design and tries to achieve the widespread use and reuse of high quality learning objects.

·      United Nations University (UNU) Open Course Ware, Global (

o    The United Nations University is a member of the OpenCourseWare (OCW) Consortium and is committed to the development of an OCW website that showcases the training and educational programmes implemented by the University in a wide range of areas relevant to the work of the United Nations.

·      World Lecture Hall (WLH), North America (

o    The World Lecture Hall publishes links to pages created by faculty worldwide who are using the web to deliver course materials in any language. Some courses can be accessed as full text. Materials include syllabi, course notes, assignments, and audio and video streaming. The WLH contains links to course materials for university-level courses.

·      Wisconsin Online Resource Center, North America (

o    The Wisconsin Online Resource Center is a digital library of Web-based learning resources.


Atkins, D. E., Seely Brown, J., & Hammond, A. L. (2007). A review of the Open Educational Resource movement: acheivements, challenges and new opportunities, report to the William and Hewlett Foundation.

Borgeman, C., Abelson, H., Dirks, L., Johnson, R., Koedinger, K., Linn, M., et al. (2008). Fostering learning in the networked world: the cyberlearning opportunity and challenge, Report of the NSF task force on cyberlearning.

Iiyoshi, T., & Kumar, M. S. V. (2008). Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge: The MIT Press %@ 0262033712.

McAndrew, P. (2006). Motivations for Openlearn: the Open University’s Open Content Initiative, Openlearning workshop paper. Paper presented at the THe OECD experts meeting on Open Educatinal Resouces. Retrieved from

McAndrew, P., Santos, A., Lane, A., Godwin, S., Okada, A., Wilson, T., et al. (2009). OpenLearn Research Report 2006-2008.

Oblinger, D., & Lombardi, M. M. (2008). Common knowledge: opennes in higher education. In T. Iiyoshi & M. S. V. Kumar (Eds.), Opening up education: The collective advancement of education through open technology, open content and open knowledge (pp. 289-400). Cambridge, MA.: The MIT press.

Oecd. (2007). Giving knowledge for free - the emergece of Open Educational Resourcs: OECD.




[1] Definition on the Hewlett website,




[3] See for details of the call and associated documentation






[6] From


Chapter nine – pedagogical planners

Friday, January 14th, 2011

IntroductionThis chapter will review and discuss the range of pedagogical planners that have been developed in recent years, to guide and support practitioners in making informed learning design decision. It will begin by discussing the rationale and perceived benefit behind the development of these planners and then focus in on a number of specific planners; namely DialogPlus, Phoebe, the London Pedagogical Planner, the Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE) and LAMS. It will compare and contrast these and conclude by considering where this area of research is likely to go in the future.The need for pedagogical planners 

As discussed elsewhere in this book, there is a gap between the potential of using technologies for learning and their actual use in practice. Practitioners are confused by the plethora of tools that are now available to them and have difficulty creating pedagogically effective learning interventions that make effective use of new technologies. As a result there has been considerable interest in recent years in the creation of pedagogical planners that provide guidance and support to practitioners as they create learning interventions. The aspiration behind these planners is that they provide structured guidance and resources to help practitioners create learning interventions. They differ from some of the other learning design tools discussed elsewhere in this book (such as visualisation tools, pedagogical patterns and social networking sites) in that the focus is primarily on content about the design process. As will be evident from the examples discussed in this chapter each tool differs in its design and functionality. 

Masterman defined pedagogical planners as being ‘purpose-built to guide teachers through the construction of plans for learning sessions that make appropriate, and effective, use of technology’ (Masterman, 2008a, p. 210). She argues that pedagogic planners are the direct equivalent of lessons plans, characterised as:

[descriptions of] how learners can achieve a set of learning objectives… how a series of lessons or a single lesson should take place… which activities learners and teachers must carry out, the order in which the activities should be carried out, the circumstances under which the activities will be carried out, how learners will be grouped and what materials or technology may be used (Van Es and Koper, 2006, quoted in Earp and Pozzi, 2006, p. 35).

Conole et al. state that the purpose of a pedagogy planner is to offer a way of enabling teachers to exploit technology while creating pedagogically sound activities (G. Conole, Littlejohn, Falconer, & Jeffrey, 2005).

San Diego et al. argue that the main functions of a pedagogy planner are to support: planning, decision-making, progressive innovation, analysis, collaboration and administration (San Diego, et al., 2008).

Cameron (2011) argues that such tools should emphasise the core elements that need to be considered if a learning design is to be a success and that they should help users adopt a clear, definable structure to their design process. Details include the characteristics of the students, pedagogical approaches, types of technologies and activities, the learning environment, roles and learning outcomes. She lists a number of uses of these tools:

1.      As a step-by-step guidance to help make theoretically informed decisions about the development of learning activities and the choice of appropriate tools and resources.

2.      To inspire users to adopt new teaching strategies.

3.      To provide design ideas in a structure way, so that the relations between design components are easy to understand.

4.      To combine a clear description of the learning design and offer a rationale which bridges pedagogical philosophy, research-based evidence and experiential knowledge.

5.      As a database of existing learning activities and examples of good practice that can then be adapted and reused for different purposes.

6.      As a mechanism for abstracting good practice and metamodels for learning.

7.      To produce runnable learning designs intended for direct use by students.

8.      To encode the design in such a way that it supports an iterative, fluid process of design. 

The DialogPlus toolkit

The DialogPlus toolkit was based on an underpinning taxonomy containing the components associated with a learning activity. Each component had an associated set of resources and advice to help inform practitioners in its use. The learning activity taxonomy is discussed in more detail elsewhere (G. Conole, 2008). It was developed through an extensive requirements specification through a series of sessions with practitioners as they articulated their design process. A range of practitioners were followed over a number of months and included an expert researcher creating an advance level module on census data, a novice taking over a course and an established teacher repurposing an existing module based on evaluation and feedback from students. We followed these individuals through a series of decision-making processes over a period of months in terms of designing a new course, component of a course or individual learning activity. The focus was to elicit information on each practitioner’s thought processes as part of the decision-making, and identify trigger points, support mechanisms and barriers to design. The intended outcome was to understand better the process of design and the types of presentations individuals used to facilitate their design process.

The sessions consisted of a mixture of the ‘think aloud’ protocol, supported by a series of prompting questions. Questions covered issues such as: What were the key aspirations inherent in the proposed design of the course? What did they want the students to be able to achieve? How did they find information to support their design process? Where did they find resources? How were resources incorporated into the design process? Were there any explicit or implicit pedagogical models being used? What difficulties or issues were they encountering at that point? There is a synergy here with the empirical evidence we gathered on design practices as part of the OU Learning Design Initiative discussed in Chapter 8.

The data collected us enabled us to gain an understanding of the way in which practitioners thought through the design process. As was also evident from the OULDI interviews, it was clear that the design process is ‘messy’, creative and iterative; practitioners think about design at a number of levels and oscillating between the different factors involved in their decision-making. From these sessions the factors involved in design began to emerge and were used to develop an initial specification for the toolkit, as well as an underpinning taxonomy, which described the components involved in creating a learning activity.

At the heart of the toolkit is the notion of a learning activity (LA) (Figure 1), which is defined as consisting of three elements:

1.      The context within which the activity occurs, this includes the subject, level of difficulty, the intended learning outcomes and the environment within which the activity takes place.

2.      The learning and teaching approaches adopted, including the theories and models

3.      The tasks undertaken, which specifies the type of task, the techniques used, associated tools and resources, the interaction and roles of those involved and the assessments associated with the learning activity.


Figure 1: The top-level components of the Learning Activity Taxonomy

The essence of a learning activity is that it must have one or more intended ‘learning outcomes’ associated with it. Learning outcomes are what the learners should know, or be able to do, after completing the LA; e.g. understand, demonstrate, design, produce, appraise. In order to achieve the intended learning outcomes there is a ‘sequence of tasks’ that must be completed. Examples of tasks are reading paper(s), discussing ideas, accessing database(s), extracting or manipulating data, answering questions, making decisions. The task ‘type’ taxonomy is shown in Figure 2, with one of the elements expanded to show the full tree. Task techniques include:  brainstorming, exercise, fieldwork, role-play, reflection and syndicates. We have identified almost thirty techniques to be stored in the toolkit such that advice can be offered to practitioners. Interactions required are likely to be individual, one to many, student to student, student to tutor, group or class based. When undertaking tasks participants in the learning activity (both teachers and students) are assigned appropriate ‘roles’, such as individual learner, group participant, or presenter. Assessment can include diagnostic, formative or summative assessment or no assessment at all.


Figure 2: Breakdown of the task component

Resources’ include: web pages, databases, video streams or interactive maps, may be included. Tools’ include: search engines, discussion boards, spreadsheets, media players, blogs, portfolios, wikis and social networking sites. The tasks and associated roles undertaken to achieve the prescribed learning outcomes occur within a particular context with characteristics which include a description of the subject domain (e.g. Physical Geography), the level (e.g. introductory), the perceived skills which will be used or acquired (e.g. numeracy, critical analysis), the time anticipated for completion of the activity (e.g. 2 hours), and any associated prerequisites (e.g. first year course completion, database skills). 

A central premise of this approach is that learning is centred on the set of tasks undertaken by the learner, that constitute the learning experiences that the students will engage in, either independently or collaboratively, in order for them to achieve the intended learning outcomes associated with the learning activity.  In designing a learning activity a teacher usually has a linear sequence of tasks in mind but, especially in an online learning environment, learners will not necessarily follow that sequence.  Indeed an early project experience flagged up the need to enable learners to move easily around the resources and tasks.

In addition to context and tasks, the toolkit includes taxonomies and models for learning and teaching approaches based on a review by Mayes and De Frietas (2004) which groups learning theories according to whether they are associative (learning as activity), cognitive (learning through understanding) or situative (learning as social practice) (Figure 3).


Figure 3: The pedagogy component

The toolkit is available at Individual learning activities within the tool are called ‘nuggets’. Figure 4 shows part of a learning design created using the DialogPlus toolkit.


Figure 4: A Learning Design in the DialogPlus toolkit

Teachers can work through the toolkit in a linear fashion or choose their own path through it (Figure 5).


Figure 5: Working through the toolkit


Figure 6 shows the tabs associated with a particular task. For each there is further information, mapping to the learning activity taxonomy components described above, as well as in many cases links to additional information and support.


Figure 6: The task panel and associated tabs

The toolkit was evaluated with Geographers involved in the JISC/NSF-funded DialogPlus project[1] and also through a series of workshops with broader practitioners at conferences. In general evaluation of the toolkit was positive. Practitioners find the structure and guidance of the toolkit valuable and found it easy to use. The toolkit is still being used and many of the designs are publically viewable. A potential drawback of the toolkit is that despite the fact that practitioners can choose which component to complete when, it still feels like a relatively linear approach to design, which doesn’t resonate with actual design practice which is messy, creative and iterative. In addition, the format is primarily text-based, and hence doesn’t harness the power that visualising designs offer in contrast to tools like CompendiumLD discussed elsewhere. More details on the development and evaluation of the toolkit are available elsewhere (Bailey, Zalfan, Davis, Fill, & Conole, 2006; Grainne Conole & Fill, 2005; Fill, Conole, & Bailey, 2008). 


Phoebe adopts a similar approach to DialogPlus by attempting to provide a comprehensive online resource of tips and hints to support decision-making. It is wiki-based and provides a valuable set of guidance’s on the different components of a learning activity. The following text available from the JISC website provides a summary of the tool:[2]

Intended for practitioners working in FE, HE and ACL, the Phoebe tool brings together the key components of a learning design (or lesson plan), prompts teachers’ thinking, allows them to record ideas and requirements, and makes it easy to cross-reference components as they design the activities that make up a learning experience. It offers both flexible and guided paths through the planning process, and provides access to a wide range of models, case studies and examples of innovative learning designs.

There are four possible activities in Phoebe: create/modify your learning designs, view shared learning designs, browse guidance or manage design templates. Figure 7 shows part of the screen for a newly created design. The page is split with a template for completion on the right hand side and associated guidance for each of the boxes on the left hand side.


Figure 7: Screenshot of a learning design being created in Phoebe

One of the strengths of Phoebe is the considerable amount of information that is available to guide the user through completing the various steps of the design. The guidance includes information on: contextual information associated with the design, learning outcomes, assessment, students, learning activity sequence, contingencies, reflection. There is also extensive information on teaching approaches and techniques. Of particular use are the sections on ‘What technologies can I use for a particular activity?’ (Figure 8) and ‘What can I do with a particular tool?’.


Figure 8: Part of a screenshot of the ‘What technologies can I use a particular activity?’ section

In addition, as with DialogPlus, users can choose to make their learning designs available so that others can use them for inspiration or repurpose for use in another context (Figure 9).


Figure 9: Examples of design for collaborative learning

The creation and revision of individual learning sessions appeared to be the most frequent level of granularity of learning design. There was relative consistency in the core components of the task, but a wide variation in the actual approaches adopted. This suggested that a pedagogy planning tool should be capable of supporting a variety of routes through the design, as well as supporting teachers’ underlying pedagogic approach, whether derived from a formal theory of learning (e.g., associative, cognitive or situative) or from personal experience and actual practice.

However, Phoebe suffers from similar drawbacks to Dialogplus, in terms of a non-intuitive user interface and a linear, sequential navigational route for the design process. Evaluation of the tool (Masterman, 2008b) indicated that use of such tools are not enough to bring about changes in practice, it is too easy for practitioners to use them to simply map existing practice. Nonetheless many felt that it was a useful tool for reference and reflection and that it might be particularly valuable for novice teachers to guide them through the process of design. The evaluation also found that Phoebe would be best suited for practitioners who adopt a systematic approach to their design practice, rather than those who prefer to map out ideas visually.

The London Pedagogical Planner (LPP) 

The pedagogic planner is closely linked to Laurillard’s Conversational Framework (Diana Laurillard, 2002). It adopts a modelling perspective through mapping tasks to resources and attempting to align the design with specific pedagogical approaches. It is attempting to adopt a user-orientated approach and plans to integrate the tool with LAMS[3] a tool for managing and delivering learning activities:

This development of the pedagogy planner begins, therefore, with lecturer’s needs, in order to bridge the current gap between the technical origins of the ‘learning design specification’ and the reality of the teaching context. This means it must make use of an existing learning activity design environment, populated with existing support tools, so that collaborating lecturers have the opportunity to test it against their current practice, and engage in further specification of their requirements. Engaging lecturers at the start should help to secure their longer-term involvement and a sustainable product. This iterative approach to user-oriented design should then produce a working model, as well as clear requirements for further development of the learning design specification and its implementation in support tools for lecturers.

The modelling approach restricts to some extent how the tool can be used and the results that are returned. In initial versions of the tool many of the parameters were ‘pre-configured’. The planner also focuses more on helping to plan formal, ‘traditional’ learning activities – with an emphasis on timetabled and sequential work. The aims of the tool are: i) To give educational practitioners support for innovating with interactive, adaptive, reflective, discursive and collaborative learning designs, ii) To support lecturers and educational practitioners in building learning technologies into courses with tight budgets (D. Laurillard & San Diego, 2007).

The LLP tool is available to download. The first screen invites the user to complete general information about the learning intervention. It is also possible to ensure that the topics covered, assessment and learning outcomes are mapped, i.e. constructively aligned.


Figure 10: General module information

The next section calculates resources, in terms of student and staff time involved. The user enters the amount of time to be spent by the students on the different types of activities (lecture, tutorial, etc.) and hours are automatically calculated against Laurillard’s types of activity (attending, investigating, discussing, practising and articulating).


Figure 11: Module resources for students and staff

The topics are then mapped to a calendar and the user can allocate the number of hours across the types of activities and the topics.


Figure 12: The LLP calendar

The final section enables the user to search the HEA case studies database ( for existing examples of good practice on their topic of interest that they can draw on.

Laurillard and Masterman (2010b) describe how LPP was based on a model of the critical relationships among the components of learning design and aimed to support lecturers from the initial curriculum requirements, learner needs and resource constraints, through to the TEL activities in which their students would engage (citing San Diego et al., 2008). The planner takes the user through a series of design decisions, displaying their consequences in multiple dynamic numerical and graphical representations of their learning design. The LPP then gives feedback in terms of the likely amount of time for which each method will elicit the different kinds of cognitive activity on the part of the learner (attention, inquiry, etc.).

LLP very much starts from existing practitioner experience, in that it focuses on topics and allocation of time across a calendar. One of the drawbacks of this approach is that it is likely to lead to teachers replicating existing practice, rather than changing their practice. A more activity-based approach might be better and it would be useful if the tool contained more explicit examples of different types of learning activities and how these can be mapped to different pedagogical approaches, with examples of how technologies can be used to support these.

The Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE) 

The lessons learnt from the development of Phoebe and LPP are now being taken forward in a new TLRP TEL-funded research project – LDSE (Learning Design Support Environment).[4]

The project is based on four key assumptions: i) teachers will be required to use progressively more TEL; ii) the teaching community should be at the forefront of TEL innovation, and not cede responsibility to other professionals; iii) the development of new knowledge, in this case about professional practice, should be carried out in the spirit of reflective collaborative design; and iv) the same technologies that are changing the way students learn can also support teachers’ own learning in new ways. Computer-supported collaborative learning has long been established as an important form of TEL for students; we believe it is equally applicable to teachers’ professional development…. We are working with practising teachers to research, and co-construct, an interactive Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE) to scaffold teachers’ decision-making from basic planning to creative TEL design.

LDSE is based on the following principles: social constructivism, collaboration, constructionist learning and knowledge building (D. Laurillard & Masterman, 2010a). It is possible to create a module, session or activity with the tool. Figure 13 shows the main session editing view. Users input general information about the module here, including: the name, start and end dates, elapsed time, learning time, number of students, topics and aims. It is possible for users to input their own aims or choose from an existing palette.


Figure 13: The main session editing view

Designs can be evaluated in terms of the amount of different types of activities they contain (acquisition, production, practice, inquiry and discussion) and the balance of personalised and social learning involved (Figure 14).


Figure 14: Evaluating Learning Designs

Figure 15 shows the session timeline where different types of activities are mapped across the module calendar. A palette of different types of learning activities is available that users can choose from and additional information for each can be included, such as activity notes and any associated resources for the activity.


Figure 15: The design timeline

The project has also produced a library of existing patterns that users can download and adapt.[5] Figure 16 shows one example of a pattern ‘Teach to learn’ where students work in small groups to teach each other about activity theory.


Figure 16: The teach to learn pattern 

Learning Activity Management System (LAMS)

LAMS [6] differs from the other tools discussed in this chapter in that it is both a graphically based tool and provides a runnable environment for the design produced. However it is included here as it does provide a structure mechanism for producing designs and because it has an associated Activity Planner tool. Dalziel provides an overview of the development of LAMS (Dalziel, 2003). It aimed to provide practitioners with an easy to use authoring environment to create structured content and collaborative tasks (called sequences) (Dalziel, 2007). The tool consists of a series of activities, such as small group debate, grouping activities and reflective group response. User drag activities onto the main design space and then connect them to create a learning activity sequence.  Once a sequence has been created it can be run with a group of students, as they progress through the teacher can monitor both group and individual activities. Sequences can be saved and exported and saved with others. The Activity Planner provides a set of templates based on good e-teaching practices. Templates include advice on using and repurposing these templates for different learning contexts.


Figure 17: Screenshot of LAMS

LAMS has two distinct advantages. Firstly it is an easy to use, graphically based tool. Secondly, it provides a runnable learning environment as an output from the design process. However the tool does not include structured guidance for the design process and because it is a runnable tool the focus is on a set of tools. It does not include details on other aspect of design such as learning outcomes, etc. and hence there is a danger that the design will be technologically driven. 


Cameron in her review of pedagogical planners (Cameron, 2011) concludes that:

The complex task of learning design for the higher education environment might be improved with good guidance, inspiring examples, and supportive tools. The current range of pedagogical planners acknowledge these factors in their design, along with the potential to streamline the planning process with direct input from the university’s databases (such as learner records, timetabling) and learning management system. The planners also provide an opportunity to share examples of good design practice, which can be tailored to meet the lecture’s particular requirments.

Both the Phoebe and LLP tools were produced as part of the JISC e-learning pedagogy programme. JISC define ‘designing for learning’ as:

Designing for Learning with a practitioner planning focus on e-Learning explores the process of designing, planning, sequencing or orchestrating learning tasks which may include the use of e-Learning tools.

The programme included a review of existing pedagogical theories used in e-learning and the funding of the development of the two pedagogical planners. These were designed to provide practitioners with the practical assistance they need in understanding how best to design activities for their learners. Beetham provides a detailed review of the Design for Learning programme and the lessons learnt (Beetham, 2008).  

The first four pedagogic planners consist of a combination of examples and supporting text to guide practice, whilst LAMS provides a graphical interface. However, they differ not only in the specific content and examples but also in their underpinning approach. Fill, Conole and Bailey (2008) argue that

A key challenge in today’s technology-enhanced educational environment is providing course designers with appropriate support and guidance on creating learning activities which are pedagogically informed and which make effective use of technologies. ‘Learning design’, where the use of the term is in its broadest sense, is seen by many as a key means of trying to address this issue.

However it is important not to underestimate the complexity and subtlety of the design process. As described in this chapter and articulated in the learning activity taxonomy which underpinned the DialogPlus toolkit, pedagogy is contingent on many different factors, which means that assuming that a relatively linear and simple decision making design tool will be suffice to scaffold design may be over optimistic. On the other hand it is evident that these pedagogical planners do provide valuable support for reflection and exploration, and help scaffold the design of learning activities.

A key issue identified across the use of all these tools is the problem of practitioners simply replicating existing practice. Individual beliefs about practice are deeply seated and not always articulated or even realised. Donald and Blake describe the HEART system, which aims to support teacher’s learning design practice by eliciting and depicting the pedagogical beliefs underpinning a learning design (Donald & Blake, 2009; Donald, Blake, Girault, Datt, & Ramsay, 2009).  The system is based on 13 belief/practice dimensions developed by Bain and McNaught (2006). These dimensions are used as the basis for a questionnaire where teachers respond to a five-point Likert scale representing a continuum of teacher-centred beliefs to student-centred beliefs and technology-supported teaching practices. The results are displayed using a visualisation tool, Many Eyes (IBM, n.d.). The visualisation illustrates the pedagogical dimensions of the course or learning design. Teachers are then encouraged to reflect on these, in order to better understand their inherent pedagogical beliefs.

San Diego et al. (2008)list a number of issues which need to be addressed when designing; pedagogical issues, contextual and cultural issues, representation and visualisation issues, balance of control over data, flexible database design and ownership. They argue that all of these need to be addressed in the development of requirements for a pedagogy planner. 

A lot has been learnt about the design process through the use and evaluation of these tools. In particular it is evident that whilst guidance and support needs to start from existing practice, it is also important to provide a mechanism for changing practice and for getting practitioners to focus more on the nature of the learning activities being created rather than subject content. All of the tools have an associated library of existing designs, the aspiration being that these can be used for inspiration and as a starting point to repurpose designs for new contexts of use.  However, in reality there is little evidence of these designs being repurposed.


Bailey, C., Zalfan, M. T., Davis, H. C., Fill, K., & Conole, G. (2006). Panning for gold: designing pedagogically-inspired learning nuggets.

Bain, J., & McNaught, C. (2006). How academics use technology in teaching and learning: understanding the relationship betwen beliefs and practice. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(2), 99-113.

Beetham, H. (2008). Review of the Design for Learning programme phase 2, JISC Design for Learning programme report.

Cameron, L. (2011). Could pedagogical planners be a useful learning desing tool for university lecturers? Paper presented at the Internatinal conference on information communications technologies in education, Rhodes, Greece.

Conole, G. (2008). Capturing practice, the role of mediating artefacts in learning design In L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinhi and B. Harper Handbook of learning designs and learning objects: IGI Global.

Conole, G., & Fill, K. (2005). A learning design toolkit to create pedagogically effective learning activities.

Conole, G., Littlejohn, A., Falconer, I., & Jeffrey, A. (2005). Pedagogical review of learning activiites and use cases, LADIE project report, JISC e-learning programme. Southampton: University of Southampton.

Dalziel, J. (2003). Implementing learning design: the Learning Activity Management System (LAMS). Paper presented at the ASCILITE 2003, Adelaide.

Dalziel, J. (2007). Building communities of designers. In H. Beetham & R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: designing and delivering e-learning (pp. 193-206). London: Routledge.

Donald, C., & Blake, A. (2009). Reviewing learning designs with HEART: a learning design support strategy. Paper presented at the ASCILITE 2009, Auckland.

Donald, C., Blake, A., Girault, I., Datt, A., & Ramsay, E. (2009). Approaches to learning design: past the head and the hands to the HEART - of the matter. Distance Education, 30(2), 179 %U

Fill, K., Conole, G., & Bailey, C. (2008). A toolkit to guide the design of effective learning activities.

IBM. (n.d.). Many Eyes. from

Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking university teaching: Routledge %@ 0415256798, 9780415256797.

Laurillard, D., & Masterman, L. (2010a). Implementing a constructionist approach to collaboration through a learning design support environment: Balancing users’ requirements with researchers’ theory-informed aspirations. Paper presented at the European LAMS and Learning Design Conference, Wolfson College, Oxford University.

Laurillard, D., & Masterman, L. (2010b). Online collaborative TPD for learning design. In J. O. Lindberg & A. D. Olofsson (Eds.), Online Learning Communities and Teacher Professional Development: Methods for Improved Educational Delivery (pp. 230-246). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Laurillard, D., & San Diego, J. P. (2007). Development and testing of a ‘Pedagogic Planner’. Paper presented at the Center for Distance Education (CDE) Fellows Conference, Institute of Education, University of London.

Masterman, L. (2008a). Activity theory and the design of pedagogic planning tools. In L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinho & B. Harper (Eds.), Handbook of research on learning design and learning obkects: issues, applications and technologies (Vol. 1, pp. 209 - 227). Hershey, New York: Information Science Reference.

Masterman, L. (2008b). Phoebe Pedagogy Planner Project: Evaluation Report, JISC E-Learning and Pedagogy Programme: Oxford University.

San Diego, J. P., Laurillard, D., Boyle, T., Bradley, C., Llubojevic, D., Nuemann, T., et al. (2008). Toward a user-oriented analytical approach to learning design. ALT-J, 16(1), 15-29.















Chapter 8 Case study on representation: Making designs explicit through visualisation

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011


This chapter presents a case study on the development, use and evaluation of tools for representing learning designs, CompendiumLD.  A rationale for the development of the tool will be provided, along with a description of the tool, its functionality and use. A comparison will be provided of related visualisation tools. The chapter will conclude with a discussion of the benefits of such tools, along with the challenges they present.

Application of the empirical findings to the development of design tools

The extensive range of data collected in the OULDI described elsewhere in this book provides a rich body of empirical evidence to inform our thinking and the development of appropriate tools for design. In summary we have conducted a series of interviews, workshops and focus groups with practitioners to elicit their approach to design and any associated challenges. In terms of guiding and representing learning designs, which have adapted an argumentation and visualisation tool (Compendium) to create a visualising tool for design, CompendiumLD. This section provides a summary of some of the key findings from the empirical data, in terms of how it has informed and developed our thinking in the development of the CompendiumLD tool, a more detailed discussion of some of the findings from the interviews with teachers/designers in provided elsewhere Cross et al. (2008)) and Clarke and Cross (2010).

The empirical data provided a rich picture of the way in which teachers design. It was evident from the data that there was no one perfect tool for design and that individuals had different preferences for how they went about the design process - some sketching ideas out and linking them, others working systematically from learning outcomes, others using the subject content as a baseline for development. The interviews and case studies provided valuable insights into the design process that cluster into five overarching themes (Figure 1).


Figure 1: The five overarching themes on design approaches and methods

The most prominent finding from the interviews was that design is a messy, creative and interactive process, and that even when working in teams there is a large element of individuality in the design process. Teachers design at different levels of granularity and focus on different aspects of design over the curriculum design lifecycle. Both the interviews and the workshops gave us a clearer understanding of the design strategies that teachers adopt. Foci for design include: looking at learning outcomes and mapping these to assessment strategies, integrating the use of externally resources with locally authored materials, designing activities to test understanding, integrating a range of tools and approaches, addressing different learner preferences and levels of competence, mapping to externally prescribed professional requirements.

It’s not in one direction. Not sure if I always start with aims, sometimes I do! Broad aims, then thinking about the mix, go to the palette and look at existing resources, what will the budget allow us to do (chairs hat on), what additional resources do we need, which would be most effective to teach certain things. For example, we need this software to help teach linguistic analysis. We might want some video analysis, so think about how to bring in video sequences, what videoing needs to be done. Then start writing. It’s chicken and egg. Sometimes start with study guide and then think about activities, and then think I need this bit of video. But you don’t always have luxury of working in this direction or budget to do filming so start looking for other sequences and build activities around those. [Interview 160607]

The following quote gives an example of how a teacher iteratively develops their concept of the course over a period of time and how they kept an evolving record of relevant resources and materials for the course.

I was building a sense of what the new course might be … we must remember to do x, or a url of relevance [Interview 160607]

It was also evident that design for a new course is very different to design when redeveloping a course based on interpretation of student feedback and evaluation.  The interviews revealed that there was no simple route to teachers accessing support and guidance on the design process; little use appeared to be made of online resources and networks - most adopted a serendipitous approach, relying on peer practitioners and close colleagues for ideas. One interviewee from the case studies conducted by Wilson said:

This says more about me than it does about the stuff really but I preferred the corridor conversations. It was a way of … I had invested quite a lot of money in coffee and so there were a whole set of people across the university who I took to coffee and pumped them for what I could really. [Case study Interview, 210107]

Those interviewed recognised the value of sharing and reuse, but little evidence emerged of a significant amount of sharing and reuse. Different forms of representation of learning activities (textual, visual, etc.) all had different pros and cons and there was evidently a distinction between the process of producing a design and design as an artefact. When shown visual presentations of learning activities for example, many of those interviewed found it difficult to interpret them, to apply/adapt them to their own context. However, on further probing they could see a genuine benefit in using visual tools as a means of mapping their own practice, as is evident in the following quote from one of the interviews.

[On the value of a visual representation] It always needs to be brought to life, to have some form of enactment… Would I want to see what someone else has done, yes I suppose so. [Interview, 141107]

The conflict between the process of dynamic creation of an activity and the associated sense of ownership the designer has in the process, contrasts with design as a product, a static artefact. For example one interviewee struggled to see the benefit of a visual representation of someone else’s design, even though it was an activity in her subject area. She continued later in the interview to argue for the need for a mediation role to help interpret designs and as she says ‘make them come alive’:

[One being shown a visual representation of a learning activity] It’s such a different context and level. This is language teaching rather than linguistic teaching. And there isn’t the contextual information, even with you having just explained a little, which helped, without you there I’d be looking at this and thinking… I think there’d be too much work to look in to this plus the recontextualisation. I wouldn’t spend the time to be honest.

I really think you need someone who goes to the course team, although not necessarily staying with them. And sits down, not right at the start but a little way in, and asks what are you teaching and what resources are you going to use alone or in combination and that person would go away do some work and come back - have some insight into bringing together their knowledge of the technologies available and which would best fit your intention and provide you with a map - that’s when a map would work, they’d be bringing it alive. [Interview, 141107]

The interactive and holistic nature of the design process came out strongly across the data:

One of the difficulties is mapping the whole process I have tried to approach course design using a holistic approach [Interview, 121107]

Teachers differed in the extent to which they worked visually or textually, although evidently the institutional quality audit and validation processes require textual representations of some description for courses. Some used software, others sketched or wrote ideas, one teacher had a scrapbook which he used as he was developing his design ideas:

It’s in words, not diagrams a dumping ground for thoughts - [to] capture thoughts [Interview, 121107]

Others used visualisation as a means of mapping different elements of the design process:

List of words clustered into blocks, arrows…can you have clusters link to TMAs [Assignments] [Interview, 141107]

Start from assessment strategies and learning outcomes and get an alignment [Interview, 151007]


I tend to sit and doodle a map  - will draw the logic and flow of the course on paper and then go to Compendium. Then the problem is sharing it [Interview, 291107]

The interviews also highlighted a number of contradictions about the process of design, forms of representation for design and the nature/type of support, which teachers wanted:

·        A tension between design as process and design as artefact

·        The difficulty of capturing what is inherently an implicit process

·        The demand for subject-specific case studies and examples, which are then not used and adapted

·        The variety of influences on the different forms of representation and individuals interpretations of them

·        The desire for specific, just-in-time help and support and the difficulty of capturing support in an online tool

·        How to map the evolving, dynamic and changing nature of design.

Repurposing OER through making inherent designs explicit 

In related work, we explored teachers conceptions of design in terms of how they might repurpose stand-alone Open Educational Resources (OER) for collaborative learning activities (G. Conole, McAndrew, & Dimitriadis, 2010). The findings from this work were similar to the examples provided above. Analysis of the data revealed a number of themes that are discussed here. Part of our approach is predicated on the notion that OER have inherent designs and that if we can make those designs more explicit this will aid repurposing. A number of themes emerged with respect to this, which are discussed in this section. In the following sections participants are represented as P1, P2, etc. while the workshop facilitators are indicated as F1, F2, etc. In the following section references to CSCL patterns are indicated in italics.

It was evident that there were a number of ways in which textual representations could emphasise different aspects of the design  – some may be description, others more metaphorical and others still more operational – for example a bullet list articulating steps in a learning sequence. A common approach adopted by the participants was to have a temporal sequence.  Another strategy was to focus mainly on the content and associated resources. Participants started from different perspectives; some began by considering the learning objectives, whilst others started with the content or activities.

P2: “My resource is a design by itself. So, it is the design of an activity, it is the representation of that, a few bullet points and then a graphical representation. …. So the resource basically represents arrows pointing into a sequence of the activities.”

It was interesting to see the extent to which each of the representations was easily sharable with others. More often than not a dialogic engagement was necessary to help make meaning of the design and to clarify misunderstandings. The exercise and subsequent discussion enabled us to tease out both the main facets of design and participants’ different perspectives and approaches. In addition to articulating objectives, content and tasks, some of the participants evidenced a subtler level of design – associated with the inherent principles of the design.

P3: “My resource is task-driven, so that is the principle and also it integrates many pedagogies into the content, so, and also it is question based.”

In terms of principles we explored a little whether or not they had articulated a principle around individuality/collaboration. A range of characteristics was identified as being associated with the design – the objectives, generic characteristics, sequence of tasks undertaken, an individual or collaborative focus. Participants recognised that it was important to focus in terms of clarifying what information was essential to communicate so that the activity could be subsequently taken up and adapted by others.

F1: “Just try to think again of what elements you wrote down and what elements you used when you tried to explain it to your neighbour and try to think whether they were mainly based on objectives, mainly based on the characteristics of the activities, of a temporal sequence or …”

One of the participants suggested that it would be valuable to have multiple views of the same design each view representing a different aspect.


P7: “So probably having different layers of visualization of the same structure could help filter the relevant information if you are looking at the learning objectives, or if you are looking at interactions, something like that, so, other thing that we were thinking about it probably what is missing is a legend of the different items, because we understood that there is a mixing of 2 layers, one is devoted to the designer, for example, all the questions in blue are annotations for the designers while for example it is very clear that the sequence for students is talking to the student verbally, it is talking to him, so probably having the legends saying ok, question mark annotation for the designer and the red bits are feedbacks we had from one evaluation and then filtering visually this information according to the task you are following.”

This participant also argued that visualisation potentially has additional power, if a semantic dimension is included.

P7: “A semantic of visualizations, really we understood that some of the connection are more related to cognitive activities of the design where as others are tactical activities of the use (missing comment) and cause and some other connection are like database connections with the resources and what they are looking, so probably having different semantic of the connections and representations.”

Another aspect of importance that participants mentioned was identifying the quality and provenance of the resource; i.e. designs need to do more that display the sequence of activities, users need some indication of how effective and fit for purpose it is.  There are two ways in which this can be included. Firstly, in the design representation itself, however the more detail that is included in the design the more complex it is. Secondly, an alternative is to have a wrap-around dialogue about the resource and its design, in a tool such as Cloudworks.

The data revealed that deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction of OER is complex, indeed it is possible to identify four layers that need to be considered to make most effective repurposing of an OER:

1.     Visual representation of the design – how can the implicit OER design be made more explicit and hence shareable?

2.     Opinion of goodness – how appropriate is the OER for different contexts?

3.     Transferability through pedagogical pattern – how can generic patterns be applied to specific contexts?

4.     Layer of discussion, critique and contextualisation – how can sites like Cloudworks act as a supporting structure to foster debate between those using the same OER?

In conclusion describing design was seen as a difficult and unfamiliar task:

·      having multiple solutions;

·      many options for what to include;

·      being hard to interpret in a consistent way;

·      only able to capture partial details in the example representations; and,

·      needing additional information for clarification.

Development of CompendiumLD

CompendiumLD has been developed out of our interpretation of the empirical data we have collected and a realisation that visualisation is underutilised as an approach to adopting a creative approach to the design process. Brasher et al. (2008) and Conole et al. (2008) provide more detailed information on the tool and associated technical development; only the salient features are described here.

We wanted to use a flexible tool as the basis for our initial prototype. We considered various drawing packages, as well as more specialised mind mapping tools (such as Inspiration and MindManager). In the end we choose to use Compendium (, a visual representation tool, originally developed for enabling group argumentation, which was produced by researchers at our own institution. We selected Compendium for a number of reasons. Firstly because it was produced at the Open University, we felt there was more opportunity for further tool development specifically in terms of learning design requirements. Secondly, Compendium supports the creation of a range of visual mapping techniques, including mind maps, concept maps, web maps and argumentation maps (2008), which we felt offered the potential for a range of flexible approaches to the design process. Compendium comes with a predefined set of icons (question, answer, map, list, pros, cons, reference, notes, decision, and argument). The creation of a map is simple; users drag icons across and drop them onto the main window thus creating a node.  Relationships between the nodes are built up by dragging between nodes thus creating a connecting arrow. Each node can have an associated name attached and displayed; if a more detailed textual description is associated with the node an asterisk appears next to the node. If the user hovers their mouse over this the content inside the node is revealed. Other types of electronic files can also be easily incorporated into the map such as images, Word files or PowerPoint presentations. The reference node enables you to link directly to external websites. Icons can also be meta-tagged using either a pre-defined set of key words or through user generated terms. Maps can be exported in a variety of ways from simple diagrammatic jpeg files through to inter-linked websites.

Compendium provides a utility by which users can create and share new sets of icons, for use as nodes. These sets, know as ’stencils’, contain ‘items’ where an item defines certain properties of a potential node such as its image icon and label. In the standard version of Compendium, each item inherits the behaviour of one of the standard node types. These standard node types are node which has an icon, text label and other descriptive textual information, link node which links from a node to another node, and view which is a collection of nodes and can be displayed either as a map or a list. There are several different mechanisms by which a user can interact with nodes. These include drag and drop (e.g. to instantiate a node as described in the preceding paragraph), double-clicking (e.g. to display and edit details of a node including its text), right clicking (to display a menu offering actions and operations to apply to the node), left-click (to select a node, or allow other menu driven operations to be executed on the node). We adapted Compendium to make it more explicit in terms of its use for learning design and this version of the tool is referred to as CompendiumLD – it includes additional functionality such as tailored LD stencil sets and in situ help. In CompendiumLD, behaviour specific to learning design has been implemented for these modes of interaction as explained in the next few paragraphs. Figure 2 is a screenshot of CompendiumLD, showing the LD-OU stencil towards the left hand side, and a map describing each item in the main window.


Figure 2: A screenshot of CompendiumLD

In addition to the standard icon set available in Compendium, we have created a series of stencils specifically for learning design:

·        Approaches to learning design

·        LD-Conditional stencil

·        LD-OU

·        Learning Design icons

·        Learning Design templates

·        Sequence mapping – a stencil to help with laying ut learning activities

CompendiumLD enables its users to visually represent learning activities in a flexible way. They can map connections between tutors and learners, tasks, resources and tools, and a variety of notes and links to external websites or documents. The process of mapping a learning activity in this way involves the user in a cognitive process of externalising their understanding of the learning activity. This facilitates and drives development of their own understanding of the nature of the activity, and the map facilitates communication of this understanding with colleagues. We contend that the process of mapping using CompendiumLD can improve the quality of activities that will be realised.

In addition to providing a visual representation of the design process, we also wanted the tool to provide some form of in-built scaffolding and support to guide decisions at various points in the process. This we have achieved in a number of ways - by providing suggestions for each of the different types of nodes, additional resources and examples, and access to a restricted searchable set of additional help features. As an example of the first kind, when a user drags and drops a “role” node onto the main design area, they are presented with a menu to select the type of role as shown in figure 3(a). Therefore this simple prompt reminds them of typical kinds of roles which they might want to include in their design sequence. The users are not restricted to these roles however and can choose to type in an alternative role of their specification. This sensitive balance between guided scaffolding and user flexibility/creativity is an important design principle for our development of CompendiumLD. A similar form of scaffolding is available for the “tool’ mode. When a user drags and drops a tool node onto the main design area, they will be presented with a menu to select the type of tool as shown in figure 3(b). Note that the options for tools include ‘Other’, which enables users to specify a tool of their own choosing. The other tool types available for selection are those currently available with the Open University’s VLE. The “Other” type allows the designer to specify a tool for face-to-face interactions, or a tool not currently supported by the VLE.  The tool type selected is stored in CompendiumLD’s data model, and tools to query the contents of this data model could be used to examine tool usage.



Figure 3: Prompts presented for role and tool nodes

In terms of provided additional help, users of the system have the option of letting CompendiumLD offer context-sensitive help. For example, as the designer types into a task description label, the words typed are scanned and help related to selected verbs (e.g. collaborate, consider. discuss, reflect etc.) pops up. An example of such a help window is shown in Figure 4. In this example, the designer has typed ‘Discuss’ into the task label: this prompts the application to pop up a window showing tools to support discussing and existing activities that include tasks which include the word ‘discuss’. The set of tools shown in this help window are selected using a verb-to-tool look-up table based on verbs within a task taxonomy similar to that described by Falconer et al. (2006); the set of activities is generated by searching the database maintained by CompendiumLD for activities including tasks with ‘discuss’ in their label. Further help is provided by the ‘About..’ buttons. These buttons initiate a customised Google search of selected web sites (  The web sites were chosen because of the quantity and quality of the information they provide about use of tools in learning and include sites such as and We adopted this pragmatic approach for a number of reasons. To create our own hand crafted text would not only be time consuming but would suffer from quickly becoming dated. However the alternative of a free Google search arguably produced a daunting and untargeted set of resources. The middle approach we have adopted enables us to focus in on a small set of quality assured sites, which we have checked for relevance and which are likely to be sustained and updated in the near future. Using a customised search allows means that potentially other institutions installing versions of CompendiumLD could choose to select and include their own tailor made set of resources, which might include institution-specific examples. In our own case we have a set of tailored resources on tools and their uses within the OU context - ‘the learn about guides’, as well as a set of institutional cases studies on specific uses of VLE tools. 


Figure 4: Help relevant to a particular activity

Help related to tools that the designer drags and drops onto the window may also be shown. Figure 5 shows an example of help presented when the designer selects ‘Wiki’ for the tool type.



Figure 5: Help relevant to a particular tool

Figure 6 represents a screen shot of part of the learning activity associated with a third-level environmental course (i.e. equivalent to the final year of a full-time, three year degree course). Two roles are shown (student and tutor) along with their respective tasks.  Tools, resources and outputs (i.e. assets) associated with each task are shown alongside, with arrows indicating connections.



Figure 6: Visual representation of part of a collaborative role play activity

Our ultimate goal is to provide adaptive and contextualised information on different aspects of the design process, tailored to individual needs and delivered on a just-in-time basis. We have now undertaken an extensive number of workshops enabling practitioners to explore CompenidumLD. These have included workshops within the OU,  as well as externally (including the University of Porto, the University of Cyprus, for the EdTech community in Canada, and at numerous conferences). Evaluation of feedback on the use of the tool has enabled us to improve it. We were surprised at how far the participants got in representing their designs and it did seem during the sessions that CompendiumLD acted as a useful tool to help them articulate and share their thought processes. A few participants however commented that they did not find representing their designs visually helpful, stating that, for them, pencil and paper/discussion would be preferable. It is likely that such a focus on the visual aspects of the design process will not suit everyone, but overall most participants were positive both during the session and in their evaluation feedback.


Feedback was also positive about our approach to helping teachers/designer consider in more detail the general issues and use of visualisation and its value in improving the practice of design. There were some disadvantages noted regarding visualisation but these were ones we anticipated and provide further valuable food for thought (i.e. someone said ’some designs may be difficult to describe using this visualisation’). Much of the focus of our use of CompendiumLD during the workshops has been designing at the level of an individual learning activity, whereas a number of attendees also saw the value in stressing course-level design techniques and process as much as for individual activities and felt that this would have a lot of appeal to teachers. However, whilst the principles were appreciated those new to CompendiumLD did encounter some usability issues and asked for more guidance and support. In view of this, it is planned that further support will be provided within the application. For example, a movie with a commentary describing the basics of creating a learning activity will be provided with the next release.


The empirical evidence we gathered on practitioners’ design practice has informed our development of the CompendiumLD tool.  We believe that there is no one perfect ‘tool’ for design and instead prefer to adopt a pick and mix approach to the design process. Our initial findings are positive; however it is clear that there is a need for further research - practitioners are crying out for examples of good practice and guidance in design. However previous research shows that representing learning design practice and providing appropriate support for learning designers is both difficult and contested. By bringing together both narrative accounts of learning designs with notational maps showing the design visually, we hope to address and find practical ways of approaching the key issues in this area. CompendiumLD seems to provide an easy to use visual tool to help represent different learning designs.


However, it is also evident that there are a number of drawbacks with a tool like CompendiumLD. It is available to download to PC, Mac and Linux platforms. However the tool is relative difficult to learn and it not always intuitive to use. We have had considerable success in recent workshops using paper-based print outs of the icons, rather than the software per se. Another issue is that CompendiumLD is not able to represent the full range of design representations, which were discussed in Chapter 5. A better solution would be to have a web-based tool, which enables users to oscillate easily between the different design views. In addition, despite our best efforts to include scaffolded guidance and support, the help facility at the moment is limited and is not as comprehensive as that available in pedagogical planner tools such as DialogPlus, Phoebe and the LDSE discussed elsewhere in this book. Using Cloudworks as a form of pedagogical wrapper around CompendiumLD is one way of addressing this shortcoming and has been used successful in a number of our workshops. For example in a workshop at Brunel University on 9th November 2009, participants shared and discussed the designs they created using CompendiumLD (


Brasher, A., Conole, G., Cross, S., Weller, M., Clark, P., & White, J. (2008). CompendiumLD – a tool for effective, efficient and creative learning design.

Clark, P., & Cross, S. (2010). Findings from a series of staff interviews about learning design, representations of design, design process, evaluation and barriers, Appendix 2, The OU Learning Design Initiative Project Phase Two Report, Embedding learning design and establishing a reversioning culture. Mltion Keynes: The Open University.

Conole, G., Brasher, A., Cross, S., Weller, M., Clark, P. and White, J. (2008). Visualising learning design to foster and support good practice and creativity. Educational Media International.

Conole, G., McAndrew, P., & Dimitriadis, Y. (2010). The role of CSCL pedagogical patterns as mediating artefacts for repurposing Open Educational Resources’ in F. Pozzi and D. Persico (Eds), Techniques for Fostering Collaboration in Online Learning Communities: Theoretical and Practical.

Cross, S., Conole, G., Clark, P., Brasher, A., & Weller, M. (2008). Mapping a landscape of Learning Design: Identifying key trends in current practice at the Open University.

Falconer, I., Conole, G., Jeffrey, A., & Douglas, P. (2006). Learning Actiivty Reference Model pedagogy, report for the JISC LADIE project. Southampton: Southampton University.

Okada, A., Shum, S. B., & Sherborne, T. (2008). Knowledge Cartography: Software Tools and Mapping Techniques: Springer %@ 1848001487 %7 1.



Chapter seven - Design Languages

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

This chapter summarises the research on design languages and considers how this relates to the notion of a learning design language. It provides a useful contextual background to the discussions in later chapters on the visual representations we have developed as part of our work and a tool for visualising designs that we have developed, CompendiumLD. It draws in particular on Botturi and Stubbs (2008) who provide an authoritative account of design language research. Botturi & Stubbs demonstrate that there is a plethora of languages available to choose from; ranging from sketch-oriented languages that facilitate the creation and representation of the grand view of a design to more formal languages that enable detailed representations of specification and/or implementation details of a design. Botturi et al. (2006) define a design language as ‘a set of concepts that support structuring a design ask and conceiving solutions’. They go on to define a design language as a mental tool that can be expressed and hence communicated through a notation system (i.e. a set of signs and icons that allow representing a design problem or solution so that it is perceivable by our senses).

Gibbons et al. (2008) argue that design languages are an important aspect of instructional design. They define a design language as a ‘set of abstractions used to give structure, properties, and texture to solutions of design problems. Hohanson, Miller and Hooper (2008, p. 19) suggest that a design language is what designers use to communicate designs, plans and intentions to each other and to the produces of their artifacts, citing Gibbons and Brewer (2005, p. 113). Rose (2001) argues that understanding visual representations is a learned skill. Hence visual languages serve several purposes: i) to communicate a message through a visual or functional language, ii) to provide a synthetic idea, image or metaphor of complex ideas and iii) to create a grammar or produce meaning for its use.  Gibbons et al. (2008) argue that design languages: i) encourage disciplined design practice, ii) give organisation to the growth of design fields, iii) helps give historical context to evolving design fields and v) connect practices of a design field to theoretical concepts.

Botturi e al. (2006) argue that educational modelling languages have emerged as conceptual tools to help designers deal with the increasing complexity of designing for learning making effective use of new technologies and pedagogies.  They argue that they allow the development of reflective practice and potentially enhance a more thorough understanding and reuse of elearning. Derntl et al. (2010) suggest that a shared design language is one mechanism for dealing with design complexity and the requirements of communication in interdisciplinary design teams. They argue that designing for learning needs both beauty and precision; and show how different design languages can be used to present these. They state that ‘We are in no way suggesting that beauty and precision are in opposition to one another, nor even that they are mutually exclusive concerns. We make the distinction merely to further stress the competing demands on instructional designers for maintaining a grand view of the learning experience while also addressing the myriad details of an effective end product.’

Stubbs and Gibbons (2008, p. 35) suggests that visual representations serve two purposes in design: 1) they can be used during design as part of the design process to represent some aspect of instruction before it had to be produced or represented, this may be in the form of storyboards or flow charts and 2) they can be part of the content that is being produced. They also argue that design drawing can aid the designer by reducing cognitive load during the design process and because design sketched are an external representation, they augment memory and support informational processing.  They also suggest that another view of drawing is similar to Vygotsky’s description of the relationship of language to thought. Substituting drawing for words, Vygotky says: ‘Thought is not merely expressed in (drawings), it comes into existence through them.’ Languages in general provide advantages that are particularly useful in design. Firstly, they allow thought to be communicated so that good ideas don’t get lost. Secondly, they provide a focus of attention that permits higher-power processing and anchoring of thought. Thirdly, they provide the ability to question and judge the value of the thought – to construct thoughts about thought. Jackendoff (1996) suggests that there are two stages to the design process: i) sketches to try ideas out and ii) as design progresses the drawings become more formal, more governed by rules and conventions.

Massironi  (2002) has produced a taxonomy of graphic productions, which categorises design drawings by their form and purpose. He distinguishes between representational (physical reality) and non-representational (abstract concepts) drawings. Botturi (2008, p. 112) identifies two types of languages: i) finalist communicative languages, which serve the purpose of representing a complete instructional design for communicating it to others for implementation, reuse or simply archival and ii) representative, which help designers think about the instruction they are designing and support its creation. The ability to express an idea, allows people to better analyse and understand it and to make better design decisions. In contrast, McKim categorises abstract graphic languages into seven types: Venn diagrams, organisation charts, flow charts, link-node diagrams, bar charts and graphs, schematic diagrams and pattern languages, (McKim, 1980)whereas Laseau (1986) categorises them into four main types: bubble diagrams, area diagrams, matrices and networks.

Design languages exist along a range of continua. Gibbons and Brewer (cited in Gibbons et al., 2008) describe several dimensions of design language variation: i) complexity-simplicity, ii) precision-nonprecision, iii) formality-informality, iv) personalisation-sharedness, v) implicitness-explicitness, vi) standardisation-non-strandardisation, and vii) computability-non-computability.

Botturi et al. (2006) described a number of commonly used design languages. A design language of particular importance is IMS Learning Design (IMS/LD), which is based on the Educational Modelling Language developed by OUNL. IMS/LD represents a learning design, referred to as a ‘unit of learning’, which is a sequence of activities described in the form of acts in a play. It describes the roles and activity sequences within an environment of learning objects and services. Properties, conditions and notifications can also be defined to further fine tune and specify the design.  UML has also been adapted for use in elearning contexts. Botturi et al. describe E2ML, which is based on UML, as a simple design language coupled with a visual notation system consisting of multiple interrelated diagrams. Agostinho (2008) lists three types of E2ML documents: goal definition, action diagram and overview diagram. At the other end of the spectrum, the AUTC project has developed a design language that is much more practitioner orientated. It is based on work by Oliver and Herrington (2001) who identified three elements associated with a learning design:

1.      The tasks or activities learners are required to undertake

2.      The content resources provided to help learners complete the tasks

3.      The support mechanisms provided to assist learners to engage with the tasks and resources.

These three elements are used to describe a learning design, as a temporal sequence, with the tasks or activities being undertaken in the centre and the associated resources and support mechanism for each tasks or activity represented either side. Agostinho et al. (2008) argue that the AUTC visual learning design representation can be used to facilitate dissemination and reuse of innovative pedagogical strategies in university teaching. Boling and Smith (2008) describe the range of mediating artefacts that are used to support design both as process and product. They highlight the importance of sketching and consider the interplay between the two modes of metal representation required for sketching – propositional (largely symbolic) and analogue (quasi-pictorial, spatially depictive). They reference Goldschimidt (1991) who argues that there is an oscillation between propositional thinking and descriptive thinking during the process of design.


Boling, E., & Smith, K. M. (2008). Artifacts as tools in the design process. In D. Merrill & M. Spector (Eds.), Handbook of research in educational communications and technologies (3rd Ed ed.). New York: NY: Tailor and Francis.

Botturi, L. (2008). E2ML: a tool for sketching instructional design. In L. Botturi & S. T. Stubbs (Eds.), Handbook of visual languages for instructional design: theories and practices (pp. 112-132). hershey, New York: Information Science Reference.

Botturi, L., Derntl, M., Boot, E., & Figl, K. (2006, 5-7th July 2006). A classification framework for educational modelling languages in instructional design. Paper presented at the ICALT 2006, Kerkrade, The Netherlands.

Botturi, L., & Stubbs, T. (2008). Handbook of Visual Languages for Instructional Design: Theories and Practices: Information Science Reference %@ 1599047292.

Derntl, M., Parish, P., & Botturi, L. (2010). Beauty and precision in instructional design. Journal on e-learning, 9(2), 185-202.

Gibbons, A. S., Botturi, L., Boot, E., & Nelson, J. (2008). Design languages. In M.Discoll, M.D.Merill, J. v. Merrienboer & J. M. Spector (Eds.), Handbook of research for educational communications and technologies. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erbaum Associates.

Gibbons, A. S., & Brewer, E. K. (2005). Elementary principles of design languages and design notation systems for instructional design. In J. M. Spector, C. Ohrazda, A. V. Schaack & D. A. Wiley (Eds.), Innovations in instructional technology. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hohanson, B., Miller, C., & Hooper, S. (2008). Commodity, firmness, and delight: four modes of instructional design practice. In L. Botturi & T. Stubbs (Eds.), Handbook of visual languages for instructional design: Theories and practices (pp. 1-17). Hershey, New York: Information Science Reference.

Jackendoff, R. (1996). The architecture of the language facility. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Laseau, P. (1986). Graphic problem solving for architects and designers (2nd ed.). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Massironi, M. (2002). The pyschology of graphic image: seeing, drawing, communicating. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erbaum Associate.

McKim, R. H. (1980). Thinking visually: a strategy manual for problem solving. Belmont, CA: Lifetime learning publications.

Oliver, R., & Herrington, J. (2001). Teaching and learning online: a beginners guide to e-learning and e-teaching in Higher Education. Perth: Edith Cowan University.

Rose, G. (2001). Visual methodologies: an introduction to the intrepretion of visual materials. Thousand Oaks: CA: SAGE publication.

Stubbs, T., & Gibbons, A. S. (2008). The power of design drawing in other design fields In L. Botturi & T. Stubbs (Eds.), Handbook of visual languages for instruction design: theories and practices (pp. 33-51). Hershey, New York: Information Science Reference.



Chapter four - Design-Based Research

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Origins of the OU Learning Design Initiative

The OU Learning Design Initiative emerged from previous work on the development of a learning design toolkit, DialogPlus (Fill and Conole, 2008). Like the Phoebe and the LPP tools, DialogPlus was intended to act as a step-by-step guide to enable teachers to create learning designs. The tool was based on an underlying taxonomy which defined the components of a learning activity (Conole, 2008), which was derived through a series of interviews with teachers about their design practices. However, evaluation of the actual use of such design planner tools indicated that they did not match actual design practice closely enough. Their relatively linear and prescriptive structure did not match the creative, iterative and messy nature of actual teacher design practice.


The OU Learning Design Initiative was initiated in 2007, supported through strategic funding from the OU. The intention was to derive a more practice-focussed approach to learning design, identified from empirical evidence of actual practice. This included gathering 43 case studies of the ways in which the then new Learning Management System (LMS) (Moodle) was being used (Wilson, 2007) and a series of interviews with teachers to articulate their actual teaching practice (Clark and Cross, 2010). The key focus of the teacher interviews was to better understand existing practice. The authors note in their introduction that ‘Even experienced academics who have participated in a range of course production tasks find it difficult to articulate how they go about developing a “learning design” that will be transformed into effective learning materials’ (Clark and Cross, 2010). The interviews focussed on five main questions: i) process: how do teachers go about designing a course?, ii) support: how do they generate ideas?, iii) representation: how do they represent their designs?, iv) barriers: what barriers do they encounter?, v) evaluation: how do they evaluate the effectiveness of the design?


A range of approaches to design were evident, including gathering of resources, brainstorming, listing concepts and skills, creating week-by-week plans, etc. On the whole these were paper-based and primarily text-based. There was little evidence of use of alternative, more visual representations or visual software tools. Interviewees wanted help with understanding how to integrate ICT-based activities into courses. Face-to-face workshops and meetings were favoured over online support as they were felt to be the most effective way of thinking about, and absorbing, new ideas and ways of working. Case studies interestingly were considered to be too demanding in time and effort, interviewees wanted just-in-time support to specific queries. The most effective form of support was considered to be sharing of experience with peers. A variety of representations were mentioned from simple textual representations or lists through to more complex and connected mindmaps. The interviewees listed a variety of purposes for the representations, including communicating personal vision, capturing or sharing ideas, comparing with others, viewing the course at different levels and mapping content to learning outcomes. Barriers included concerns about a lack of experience of creating online activities and a lack of successful examples and an OU-specific issue in terms of the difficulty of melding together the innovative (and often idiosyncratic) ideas of course creators with the needs of a production system delivering the OU’s size and range of learning materials and services. A range of mechanisms were cited in terms of evaluation approaches. These included feedback from students and tutors, comments from critical readers, peer course team critiques and comments from external examiners.

This empirical work provided a sound basis for the development of our approach. Our initial focus centered on the following questions:


·      How can we gather and represent practice (and in particular innovative practice) (capture and represent practice)?

·      How can we provide ‘scaffolds’ or support for staff in creating learning activities that draws on good practice, making effective use of tools and pedagogies (support learning design)? (Conole, 2009).


We have identified six reasons why adopting a learning design approach might be beneficial:

1.     It can act as a means of eliciting designs from academics in a format that can be tested and reviewed with developers, i.e. a common vocabulary and understanding of learning activities.

2.     It provides a means by which designs can be reused, as opposed to just sharing content.

3.     It can guide individuals through the process of creating learning interventions.

4.     It creates an audit trail of academic design decisions.

5.     It can highlight policy implications for staff development, resource allocation, quality, etc.

6.     It aids learners in complex activities by guiding them through the activity sequence.


These map closely with the benefits of adopting a design-based approach outlined by Gibbons and Brewer (2005). They argue that the benefits include: improving the rate of progress (in the creation of designs), influencing the designer conceptions through making the design process explicit, helping to improve design processes, improvements in design and development tools, and bringing design and production closed together. Fundamentally, I would agree with their assertion that it opens up new ways of thinking about designs and designing.


We were interested in a number of research questions in particular. Can we develop a range of tools and support mechanisms to help teachers design learning activities more effectively? Can we agree a shared language/vocabulary for learning design, which is consistent and rigorous, but not too time consuming to use? How can we provide support and guidance on the creation of learning interventions? What is the right balance of providing detailed, real, case studies, which specify the detail of the design, compared with more abstract design representations that simply highlight the main features of the design? How can we develop a sustainable, community of reflective practitioners who share and discuss their learning and teaching ideas and designs?

An overview of Design-Based research

This section draws in particular on Barab (2006) and Kelly et al. (2008). Barab provides a useful overview of Design-Based Research (Barab, 2006, p. 155). He argues that the value of Design-Based Research (DBR) is that it offers a methodology for dealing with the complexity of real learning contexts by ‘iteratively changing the learning environment over time – collecting evidence of the effect of these variations and feeling it recursively into future designs’ (citing Brown, 1992; Collins, 1992). He argues that cognition, ‘rather than being a disembodied process occurring in the confines of the mind, is a distributed process spread out across the knower, the environment, and even then meaning of the activity’ (citing Salomon, 1993). Barab suggest that DBR can yield rich insights into the complex dynamics whereby theories become contextualised. He lists the following as mechanisms for making DBR effective:

1.     Make assumptions and theoretical bases that underlie the work explicit

2.     Collect multiple types of theoretically relevant data

3.     Conduct ongoing data analysis in relation to theory

4.     Invite multiple voices to critique theory and design

5.     Have multiple accountability structures

6.     Engage in dialectic among theory, design and extant literature.

He argues that DBR has the following characteristics: design, theory, and problem in the context of a naturalistic setting, involving multiple iterations or progressive refinement (Figure 1).


Figure 1: The interactive nature of Design-Based Research


Kelly et al. (2008, p. 5) suggests that DBR foregrounds ‘the fluid, empathetic, dynamic, environment-responsive, future-orientated and solution-focused nature of design’.

The OULDI learning design methodology

We are adopting a design-based research (DBR) approach; starting with a stated problem we were trying to address, a proposed solution and then an iterative cycle of developments and evaluation. Design-based research has emerged in recent years as an approach for studying learning in context through systematic design and study of instructional strategies and tools (Brown, 1992; Collins, 1992 cited in Design-Based Research Collective, 2003). Wang and Hannafin (2005:5-6) define it as ‘a systematic, but flexible methodology aimed to improve educational practice through iterative analysis design, development and implementation, based on collaboration between researchers and practitioners in real-world settings, and leading to contextually-sensitive design principles and theories’. Reigeluth and An (2009:378-379) articulate the following set of characteristics of DBR:

1.      It is driven by theory and prior research. In our work, as described above we are building on the substantive body of prior research on instructional design, learning sciences, learning objects/Open Educational Resources and more recently learning design. The approach we adopt is socio-cultural in nature, with a focus on the design and use of a range of mediating artefacts involved in teaching-learning processes (See Conole, 2008 for a more detail account of this).

2.      It is pragmatic. Our aim is to develop tools and resources which are useful in actual practice, by practitioners to address real educational challenges. Our intention is to be theory-driven, but pragmatic, recognising the complex, messy and often craft-based nature of teaching practice.

3.      It is collaborative. We see working in close connection with end users as a vital part of our approach. Our initial interviews with teachers confirmed our view that teaching practice is complex and situated. Changing practice will only occur through close working with and understanding of practitioners’ needs.

4.      It is contextual. Our vision is to change actual practice, to achieve this it is important that the development activities occur in real, authentic contexts.

5.      It is integrative. Wang and Hannifin (2005: 10) state that ‘DBR uses a variety of research methods that vary as new needs and issues emerge and the focus of the research evolves’. We have adopted a mixed-method approach to evaluating our developments, matching the methods we use to the specific sub-research questions and the context that we are focusing on.

6.      It is iterative. Our approach consists of an interactive cycle of identification of problems to be addressed, suggestion of proposed solutions, development, use, evaluation and refinement.

7.      It is adaptive and flexible. Because our work is closely tied to actual practice, we need to ensure that the approach we are adopting is agile in nature, so that we can adapt based on evidence from changing practice.

8.      It seeks generalisation. In addition to the practical, pragmatic nature of our work, we are also attempting to develop a coherent underlying learning design framework of concepts and approaches.


The main components of the OU Learning Design methodology

In essence we are focusing on three aspects of design: i) the development of a range of conceptual tools to guide the design process and provide a means of representing (and hence sharing) designs, ii) the development of visual tools to render some of the conceptual tools and enable practitioners to manipulate their designs and share them digitally with others, iii) the development of collaborative tools – both in terms of structures for face-to-face events such as workshops and use of digital tools to foster communication and sharing. For each aspect we have now developed a set of tools, resources and activities and over the last two years we have been trialling these in a range of settings, both with the OU and also externally with a number of partner institutions and through demonstrations and workshops at conferences. It would be impossible in the scope of this paper to describe all the tools, resources and activities in detail; hence a selection will be described to give an overall view of the work to date. An evolving online learning design toolkit is being developed which includes our current set of tools, resources and activities ( In addition a learning activity taxonomy has been developed (Conole, 2008) and more recently a Learning Design taxonomy which provides a map of the domain, the key concepts and where individual tools, resources and activities fit (Conole, 2010a).


OULDI aims to bridge the gap between the potential and actual use of technologies outlined in the introduction, through the development of a set of tools, methods and approaches to learning design, which enables teachers to making better use of technologies that are pedagogically informed. Conole (2009) provides a reflection on the origins of OULDI and the benefits of adopting this approach. The aim is to provide a design-based approach to the creation and support of learning and teaching, and to encourage a shift away from the traditional implicit, belief-based approaches to design-based, explicit approaches. This will encourage sharing and reflection. The tools and resources are designed to help guide decision-making. The work is underpinned by an ongoing programme of empirical evidence which aims to gain a better understanding of the design process and associated barriers and enablers, as well as an ongoing evaluation of the tools, methods and approaches we are developing and using and in particular to what extent they are effective. There are three main aspects to the work we are doing:

1.      Conceptualisation – the development of a range of conceptual tools to help guide the design decision-making process and to provide a shared language to enable comparisons to be made between different designs.

2.      Representation – identification of different types of design representation and use of a range of tools to help visualise and represent designs.

3.      Collaboration – mechanisms to encourage the sharing and discussing of learning and teaching ideas.


Barab, S. (2006). Design-Based Research - A methodological toolkit for the Learning Scientist. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 153-169). Cambridge Cambridge University Press.

Brown, A. L. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings. The journal of the learning sciences, 2(2), 141-178.

Collins, A. (1992). Towards a design science of education. In E. Scanlon & T. O’Shea (Eds.), New directions in educational technology (pp. 15-22). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Kelly, A. E., Baek, J. Y., Lesh, R. A., & Banna-Ritland, B. (2008). Enabling innovations in education and systematizing their impact. In A. E. Kelly, R. A. Lesh & J. Y. Baek (Eds.), Handbook of design research methods in education: innovations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning and teaching (pp. 3-18). New York and London: Routledge.

Kelly, A. E., Lesh, R. A., & Baek, J. Y. (2008). Handbook of design research methods in education: innovations in science, technology, engineerin and mathematics learning and teaching. New York and London: Routledge.

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



Adopting a Design-Based Research approach to harnessing the power of social and participatory media

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

 Here is a draft of a peper we are writing: Gráinne Conole, Rebecca Galley and Juliette Culver, The Open University, UK


This paper describes a new social networking site, Cloudworks, which has been designed to support the sharing and discussion of learning and teaching ideas and designs. A new framework on community indicators for describing and evaluating user behaviour will be introduced. The paper will describe the development of the site and outline the new emergence patterns of behaviour we are observing on the site and associated discourses.


The affordances of new technologies appear to offer much to support learning, however there is a gap between this potential and their actual use in practice. Jenkins et al. (2009) argue that there are twelve skills needed for full engagement in today’s participatory culture: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, negotiation, and visualization - the ability to interpret and create data representations for the purposes of expressing ideas, finding patterns, and identifying.

To make full use of the potential of new technologies both teachers and learners need to reskill to embrace these new literacies. This paper contends that learning design can be used as a methodology to help teachers and learners to develop these new skills. It will outline some of the research in this area being undertaken by the OU Learning Design Initiative ( It will focus on one aspect of this work – the development and evaluation of a new social networking site (Cloudworks) for discussing and sharing learning and teaching ideas and designs.  It will describe how Cloudworks is attempting to harness the power of new technologies and in particular web 2.0 practices for an educational context; specifically as a means of facilitating greater discussion and sharing of learning and teaching ideas. The site is attempting to address three inter-related issues:

·        The lack of uptake of technologies for learning and teaching (despite the fact as outline above that they have immense potential).

·        The new skills needed for engaging in a participatory digital landscape.

·        When asked the question ‘what do you need in order to make better use of new technologies in your teaching?’ teachers invariably say they want examples and they want to be able to share and discuss their ideas with others.

We have developed a social networking site (Cloudworks) to enable teachers and learners to discuss and share learning and teaching ideas and designs to address these issues. An overview of Cloudworks will be provided, along with a definition of key concepts associated with the site. We will focus is on the new patterns of user behaviour that are emerging through use of the site, along with mapping these to a number of theoretical perspectives. We have adopted a Design-Based Research approach, which is closely aligned to agile development described by Cockburn (2001) to development of the site. The initial phases of development and evaluation of the site are described elsewhere (Conole & Culver 2009; Conole and Culver, 2010).  The initial underpinning theoretical basis builds on Engeström’s (2005, 2007) notion of social objects and Bauman et al.’s (2007) framework for sociality the site. We have recent begun exploring other theoretical perspectives to consider how they might help us explain the patterns of user behaviour we are seeing in the site (Alevizou et al., 2010). We argue that Cloudworks represents a new direction for designing for learning; by providing a space for both learners and teachers to make learning designs more explicit and sharable, and as a web 2.0-based dialogic space for critiquing learning and teaching ideas.

The OU Learning Design Initiative

Despite the fact that there are numerous repositories of good practice, case studies, learning objects and Open Educational Resources (OER), their impact on practice has been limited (McAndrew et al., 2009). The vision behind the development of Cloudworks was to harness web 2.0 practices specifically to foster dialogic exchange between educational practitioners. In order to get a better understanding of the extent to which technologies were being used across the university, a set of 45 case studies were captured (Wilson, 2007). In addition a series of semi-structure interviews were carried out with 12 teachers across the university to get a more in-depth understanding of they design practices (Clark and Cross, 2010). The interviews focused around a number of themes: i) how teachers went about the design process, ii) where they got ideas or inspiration from, iii) how they represented their designs, iv) how and with whom they shared their design with, v) where they got additional help or support, and vi) what kinds of evaluations activities did they undertake to access success.  From the case studies and the interviews it was evident that teachers design practices were creative, messy and iterative; and primarily based on prior experiences and inherent believes, rather than any formal, set of design principles. Resources and more information on the OU Learning Design Initiative are available at and Conole (2010) provides a detailed description of the theoretical underpinnings of the initiative and describes the various tools and resources we have developed.

Part of the aspiration of the OU Learning Design work was to help make the design process more explicit and hence sharable. We have developed three types of tools/resources with this in mind. The first is a set of conceptual design tools – to help teachers think beyond content when designing learning activities. We have developed a series of ‘views’ which foreground different levels of design and aspects of the design (See Conole, 2010 for a more detailed discussion and also The second, CompendiumLD, is a visualisation tool for guiding teachers through the design process (See Conole, Brasher, et al., 2009). It includes templates of the conceptual tools, as well as in-built help and guidance. The third, Cloudworks, is a collaborative tool, aimed at helping teachers to share and discuss learning and teaching ideas and designs. This paper concentrates on Cloudworks and in particular some of the dialogic discourses and practices, which are now emerging on the site.

An overview of Cloudworks

Cloudworks is a specialised social networking site for sharing, debating and co-creating ideas as well as designs and resources for teaching, learning and scholarship in education. Conole and Culver (2009) provide a description of the original vision behind the development of Cloudworks and the associated theoretical underpinnings. The site is essentially object- rather than ego-centered in nature (Dron and Anderson, 2007). Figure 1 provides a screenshot of the homepage. The core object in the site is a ‘Cloud’, which can be anything to do with learning and teaching (a description of a learning and teaching practice, an outline about a particular tool or resource, a discussion point).


Figure 1: Screenshot of the Cloudworks homepage

Clouds combine a number of features of other Web 2.0 technologies. Firstly, they are like collective blogs, i.e. additional material can be added to the cloud, which appear as sequential entries under the first contribution. Secondly, they are like discussion forums, there is a column under the main cloud where users can post comments, i.e. they are ‘social’. This aligns with Engestrom (2005) notion of the importance of social objects as the key focus of social networks. Thirdly, they are like social bookmarking sites, i.e. links and academic references can be added. Finally they have a range of other functionalities common on Web 2.0 sites, such as ‘tagging’, ‘favouriting’, RSS feeds, the concept of following, and activity streams (See Conole and Alevizou for a review of Web 2.0 practices). Collectively these features provide a range of routes through the site and enable users to collectively improve clouds in a number of ways. Clouds can be grouped together into aggregations, termed Cloudscapes. The homepage of the site, in addition to providing standard navigation routes (such as browsing of Clouds, Cloudscapes and People and searching), lists currently active Clouds and five featured Cloudscapes. All recent activities on the site (newly created Clouds and Cloudscapes, comments, additions, etc) are listing in a site Cloudstream.

The Community Indicators Framework

A key issue in the evaluation of social and participatory sites, such as Cloudworks, is understanding what types of user behaviour are emerging. In order to understand this we have reviewed the literature on different frameworks for describing ‘communities’ in online spaces (Galley, 2010a; Galley et. al., 2010). Galley et al. (2010) suggest that the notion of ‘communities’ in social and participatory spaces is different and argue that:

participatory web processes and practices have more recently opened up new spaces for, and styles of, interaction - social spaces which enable transient, collaborative, knowledge building communities, and the development of shared assets such as interests, goals, content and ideas.

They looked at various frameworks for describing communities such as: Communities of Practice (Wenger, 1998), ‘Networks of Practice’ Brown and Duguid (2001), ‘Network Sociality’ Wittel (2001), ‘Communities of Inquiry’ (Garrison et al., 2000), and ‘Communities of Interest’ (Fischer, 2002). From these a new Community Indicators framework has been developed, which consists of four broad aspects (or indicators) associated with: behaviours and attributes of participants (e.g. turn taking, tolerance, and playfulness), situational factors (e.g. clarity of purpose, cross-boundary participation, culture) and how participants feel (e.g. sense of ownership, trust, enjoyment or engagement). Each of these aspects is interrelated and the whole reflects the multifaceted complexity of what we experience as community.


Figure 2: The Community Indicators Framework

Figure 2 illustrates the framework. The indicators are: participation, cohesion, identity and creative capability. Users participate in different ways in social and participatory spaces; it is often important to have someone adopting a leadership role, whilst others might comment or post links and some choose to simply read and not post. The cohesion indicator is concerned with the types of social interactions that occur and highlights the importance of emotional and peer support in such spaces. Identity relates to the groups evolving self-awareness. Galley et al. (2010) draw on Bouman et al’s (2007) notion of sociality, which argues that that: online environments, like Cloudworks, need to accommodate both the evolution of practices and the inclusion of newcomers, both individual identity and group formation are important and people are more inclined to use software systems that resemble their daily routines, language and practices than to adopt whole new concepts. Finally, creative capability relates to how far the community is motivated and able to engage in participatory activity, and is of particular importance to us in our work in terms of helping teachers think differently and enabling them to be more creative in their practice. This theme relates to participants’ skills, qualities and experience (including those relating to digital literacy and inter-and intra-personal skills - such as conflict management), community and individual motivations, and the capacity of the emerging community to mediate between these aspects, and exploit the cultural, ethnic, social, and personal differences between participants within the community.

Evaluation of Cloudworks

Use and development of the site is being monitored in a number of ways. We have adopted a Design-Based Research (DBR) approach to the development of the site, through a series of design phases, where each phase has consisted of a series of design decisions and subsequent evaluation (Conole and Culver, 2010). Data collection has included web stats and Google analytics, analysis of site activities and discussions, collation of references to Cloudworks elsewhere (such as in the blogosphere and Twitter), and use and evaluation of the site at workshops and conferences. A Cloudworks questionnaire is also available online. This multi-faceted evaluation strategy has gathered data that has then been used to inform the next design phase, thus ensuring an alignment between technical developments and user needs. The data, and particularly the user feedback, has given us a rich understanding of how the site has evolved and how it is being used. At key points we have commission an expert review of the site and have to date undergone three site redesigns, commissioning an expert external designer.

A range of standard statistics is gathered routinely (Figure 3), along with an administrative Cloudstream, which in addition to listing activities on the site chronologically (in the way that the main site Cloudstream does), it also documents when new users register with the site (the site is open, but users need to register if they wish to post anything or create Clouds or Cloudscapes) and when users choose to ‘follow’ others. We will also be capturing on a 6 monthly basis: the number of users who have posted clouds, the number of users who have posted comments, and the number of unique users posting a cloud or comment in last 60 days. To measure sustainability and longevity of contribution, we are also capturing: the number of registered users who have posted a cloud or comment at least one month after registration (this way we don’t count the initial use of the site for say a conference or workshop) and the number of registered users who have posted a cloud or comment at least a year after registration.


Figure 3: Statistics for the site – 01052010

The site is also linked to Google analytics (Figure 3), which shows the growth of the site since its launch in July 2009. As is evident with other Web 2.0 sites, the number of active contributors to the site (currently 2, 275 registered) is less than the number of unique visitors (59, 171 visits from 163 countries). The top five countries are UK, United States, Canada, Australia and Italy). We have also undertaken a number of qualitative studies of the use of the site; including explorations around how the site is being used by a particular community or theme and through a series of interviews with users. 


Figure 4: Google analytics July 2009-April 2010

Users of Cloudworks have been encouraged to complete an online survey after workshops and conferences, and in April 2010, 299 people registered on the site were randomly chosen to participate in a survey. In total, approximately 100 surveys have been completed during phase-one and two. All data used from the surveys is anonymous. A series of interviews have been conducted, these include some short unstructured three-minute interviews asking for perceptions of the site (where permission was given these are publically available here: Other more in-depth, semi-structured interviews have also been conducted particularly with established users, with a focus on exploring how Cloudworks is used, and the perceived advantages of using the site. Two usability tests of the site have also been conducted. We have kept reflective logs, documenting the process of development and use of the site. These reflections are available in public blogs and links to the full postings have been included where extracts have been used in reports and evaluations. Occasionally users will also discuss their perceptions of Cloudworks in their own publicly available blogs or on the site itself, where these have been referred to direct links have not been made in our reports or papers as we recognise that our use of the postings in this way could not have been anticipated when the posting was made. In these cases we have also removed names and any identifying information. User activity data has been collected from the site relating to: content: number of Clouds in the Cloudscape, items of extra content, embeds, comments and links, people: number of followers, distinct people contributing, number people marked as attending and views: number of views of the Cloudscape page, number of distinct people logged in and viewing Cloudscape Clouds, number of distinct guests (i.e. distinct IP addresses) viewing Cloudscape Clouds. Types of interactions have been collected and analysed, with a focus on those that may indicate increases of knowledge and understanding, and sense of community. Interactions will be categorised into the following types:

·        informational (sharing of resources, links, annotations of presentations, live blogging, etc)

·        practical (sharing of practice or experience)

·        social (information modes of address, personal narratives, suggestions to recommendations), that lead or relate to:

o    discursive (affirmations, welcome notes, supportive interchanges, humour and word plays, etc)

o    deliberative (instigating debates, asking probing questions etc)

The Design-Based Research Approach

We are adopting a Design-Based Research (DBR) approach; starting with a stated problem we were trying to address, a proposed solution and then an iterative cycle of developments and evaluation. Design-Based Research has emerged in recent years as an approach for studying learning in context through systematic design and study of instructional strategies and tools (Brown, 1992; Collins, 1992 cited in Design-Based Research Collective, 2003). Wang and Hannafin (2005:5-6) define it as ‘a systematic, but flexible methodology aimed to improve educational practice through iterative analysis design, development and implementation, based on collaboration between researchers and practitioners in real-world settings, and leading to contextually-sensitive design principles and theories’. Reigeluth and An (2009:378-379) articulate the following set of characteristics of DBR. We map the ways in which we are addressing these principles for the design of Cloudworks.

1.       It is driven by theory and prior research. In our work, we are building on the substantive body of prior research on instructional design, learning sciences, learning objects/Open Educational Resources and more recently learning design. The approach we adopt is socio-cultural in nature, with a focus on the design and use of a range of mediating artefacts involved in teaching-learning processes (See Conole, 2008 for a more detail account of this). Cloudworks is an example of a mediating artefact that can be used to facilitate the discussion and sharing of learning and teaching ideas.

2.       It is pragmatic. Our aim is to develop tools and resources that are useful in actual practice by practitioners to address real educational challenges. Our intention is to be theory-driven, but pragmatic, recognising the complex, messy and often craft-based nature of teaching practice. Cloudworks has been designed based on a number of theoretical frameworks, including Englestrom’s (2005) notion of social objects and Bouman et al.’s (2007) concept of sociality.  

3.       It is collaborative. We see working in close connection with end users as a vital part of our approach. Our initial interviews with teachers confirmed our view that teaching practice is complex and situated. Changing practice will only occur through close working with and understanding of practitioners’ needs. Cloudworks provides a space for practitioners to communicate (through the discussion spaces) and share/collaborate (through the notion of adding resources and references).

4.       It is contextual. Our vision is to change actual practice, to achieve this it is important that the development activities occur in real, authentic contexts. In analysis of user behaviour in Cloudworks we are seeing examples of this; users are supporting each other in the development of knowledge co-construction; through building on the discussion of others and providing back up evidence to support arguments through the sharing of resources and links.

5.       It is integrative. Wang and Hannifin (2005: 10) state that ‘DBR uses a variety of research methods that vary as new needs and issues emerge and the focus of the research evolves’. We have adopted a mixed-method approach (see below for more details) to evaluating our developments, matching the methods we use to the specific sub-research questions and the context that we are focusing on.

6.       It is iterative. Our approach consists of an interactive cycle of identification of problems to be addressed, suggestion of proposed solutions, development, use, evaluation and refinement. Because user behaviour co-evolves in social and participatory media like Cloudworks, it is important that we adopt an iterative approach, with evaluation of emergent patterns of user behaviour informing future social and technical interventions developed for the site.

7.       It is adaptive and flexible. Because our work is closely tied to actual practice, we need to ensure that the approach we are adopting is agile in nature, so that we can adapt based on evidence from changing practice. As above we need to be responsive to the ways in which users are using the space.

8.       It seeks generalisation. In addition to the practical, pragmatic nature of our work, we are also attempting to develop a coherent underlying learning design framework of concepts and approaches. We believe the Community Indicators framework we have developed to inform the design and evaluation of the site has relevance for other social and participatory media. In addition, the underlying architecture could be applied for other topics around sharing and discussing ideas and to this end we now have an open source version of the site (available to download from

Emergent patterns of behaviourAs a result of the new functionality and redesign we have seen a significant increase in use of the site, new patterns of user behaviour emerging and evidence of the site acting in distinct ways. It has been possible to identify eight types of Cloudscape emerging, although it is worth noting that some Cloudscapes fall into more that one category:

·        Event Cloudscapes. The site provides an excellent mediation space pre-, during and post events. These can include both face-to-face and virtual events, such as one-day seminars, workshops and conferences. Conferences have also been a highly effective way of securing new community engagement. We know that using Cloudworks to support events is a highly effective way of introducing new users to the site and showcasing functionality. Clouds can focus around presentations; to enable live blogging about the talk, a shared discussion space, or a mechanism for aggregating related links or references. Clouds can also be set up to support workshop activities or to act as discussion spaces for particular topics. A recently added feature of the site is the list of ‘events’ ( At the time of writing thirty-eight events are listed between May –December 2010, and fifty-two Cloudscapes have been labelled as past events.  Cloudworks has been used to support more than 25 conferences this year. These Cloudscapes tended to grow organically as participants added Clouds and related materials, as they needed to, and consisted, primarily, of informational postings and archival content – for example live-blogs and links to papers.

·        Debate Cloudscapes. A number of Cloudscapes have now been established acting as discussion spaces. ‘Flash debates’ are sparked from questions that aim to provoke and began to appear on the site in September 2009. Most typically a range of comments and activities will erupt almost immediately after initial postings, and will cross a variety of different communication platforms (e.g. Twitter, email lists, blogs, Facebook). The Flash Debate Cloudscape ( includes a range of topical issues such as ‘Citizendium versus Wikipedia’, ‘Has Twitter already peaked?’, or ‘What will the University of Tomorrow look like?’ The first example of this use was a cloud entitled ‘Is Twitter killing blogging?’ ( This was set up following a Twitter posting on this topic and had 719 unique views at the time of writing. Quickly the Cloud became a shared space for people to discuss the topic and to aggregate resources. Many of them then went to their own personal websites such as blogs to write more individual reflective pieces, posting links back in the Cloud:


Twitter is increasing the connections between us and in effect bringing more people into the conversation which can only be a good thing.  The recent VLE-PLE debate is a great example of this.  XX kicked off the latest round on his blog but it was his (& others) use of Twitter that brought people into the conversation, some of whom went on to blog, including myself, with that blog post I’d saving up since April (see above)!


The blog-twitter discussion was an appetiser for the Great VLE-PLE Debate™ at ALT-C 2009.  Having eaten too much of the appetiser I opted out of that session but what has been great is the way I have been able to re-visit it thanks to Cloudworks”.


·        Design Cloudscapes. Part of the original aspiration around the development of the site was to act as a channel for fostering more debate around design practices. A number of Cloudscapes have now been established that are focusing on learning and teaching issues around a particular course. These include spaces for those involved in designing courses (see for example as well as those who have a tutoring role in delivering courses ( There are also some good examples of design collaboration (for example see, however these examples have all been stimulated by a face-to-face learning design event, and are not yet happening spontaneously. To date, although there has been a great deal of very productive sharing of ‘snippets’ of practice on Cloudworks (discussing and sharing a new teaching tool, or a teaching and learning experience, or asking a tricky and interesting pedagogical question) there has been little sharing of what might be described as ‘worked designs’.

·        Learning and teaching Cloudscapes. The site is also being used to some extent to support learners. For example students on the Masters in Open and Distance Education course at the OU have been exploring the site by taking part in a Cloudquest challenge (, contributing H800 flash debates ( and using the site to find relevant resources for particular teaching contexts ( In addition to these, there are a number of Clouds aggregating resources for informal professional development/ teacher education courses both across the HE and FE sectors. We recognise that use of the site in such courses will be important in supporting sustainability and use. We see Cloudworks as a space which offers excellent opportunities to engage learners in the learning design/ re-design process through sharing visualised designs and pedagogical discussion, checking assumptions and collaborative, co-creative development.

·        Reading Cloudscapes. A relatively new type of Cloudscape to appear on the site is reading Cloudscapes. For example the 800-strong community of researchers interested in exploring students use of technologies have set up a space to aggregate and discuss relevant readings from the field ( Users post references to papers as Clouds and then use the Cloud to discuss the paper and add relevant links and references, essentially acting as a form of virtual reading circle.

·        Resource or topic Cloudscapes. Cloudscapes have also been established that act as aggregators around particular topics or resources. Examples include the Horizon report Cloudscape (, the online research tools Cloudscape ( and the Learning Design toolbox (

·        Open reviews. The site has been used successfully a number of types to support ‘open reviews’, whereby a Cloudscape is set up to support a standard literature review process. The core questions being explored are posted, along with a space to aggregate resources and references. Examples include a review of the use of Web 2.0 tools in HE ( and a review of pedagogical models ( At the time of writing, the Web 2.0 Cloudscape has generated 465 views, and 9 comments. This includes descriptive content, an embedded video showcase and a link to a video that provided the inspiration for repurposing. Six months later, the same lecturer repurposed this Cloud as an entry for a virtual conference on teaching and learning that was organised by the Open University, and which was supported by Cloudworks. The new Cloud: ‘Experimenting with the pedagogy of creativity and openness’ has generated 256 views, and contains 9 comments, 3 embedded videos, and 6 references and links. This use of Cloudworks is similar to use observed on other social sites. Twitter for example enables ‘just-in-time’ learning moments where a query can be posted and several suggestions or explanations posted in response within minutes. This kind of interaction replicates the important and informal ‘coffee conversation’ that is such a core part of teacher practice. Sharing ideas and short snippets of practice is a very valuable way that teachers get new ideas, develop their practice and inform their learning designs (Conole, 2009).

·        Expert elicitation and consultation. Finally Cloudworks works well as a space to elicit expert views around a topic or as a space to valid and discuss research outputs. One example was a literature review and expert elicitation around the role of educational technologists ( Another example was a major consultation process around Open Educational Resources and their associated practices (, following the gathering and analysis of a set of international OER case studies ( and articulation of a set of associated Open Educational Practice dimensions (

Galley (2010b) maps these types of activities in terms of examples of evolving trajectories of use/activity in the site (Table 1). As can be seen from the table each type of activity has its own particular pattern of behaviour.


Table 1: Evolving trajectories in use/activity

Levels of activity

We are beginning to see evidence of the site being self-sustaining, with the emergence of Cloudworks champions both from within the university and outside who are actively using the site within their community. Use of the site has increased significantly; by the end of July 2010) there were ca. 3000 registered users, on average 4000 unique visitors per month from up to 165 countries each month. There has been steady increase in interest in Cloudworks with numbers of registered users moving from 1005 to 2997 between the launch of the Beta version in July 2009 to the end of phase-two in July 2010 (up more than 198%). The Cloudworks team have gradually reduced their facilitation and moderation of the site over the year, and as can be seen below activity levels have been maintained (not withstanding the seasonal fluctuations over the winter and summer breaks), with non-team members increasingly taking on ‘champion’ roles.

Cloudworks team intervention has been reduced over time and activity has not been significantly impacted but it is evident that Cloudworks team activity continues to impact on non-team activity - for example, when the team is active in creating Cloudscapes and comments in one month, non-team activity can be seen to rise in the following month.  During phase-two of development the site was visited just over 90,000 times from 167 different countries with just over half of all visitors (54.26%) coming from the UK. Take-up in the Open University itself has been slow to be established but can be seen to be increasing as the site is used by more university groups, and for events such as the ‘Learn About Fair’ ( a university staff development event which received 3164 distinct guests (i.e. distinct IP addresses), 179 distinct people logged in and viewing Clouds, and 22 active participants, and the ‘Open University annual Learning and Technology conference’ ( which received 4417 unique guests, 474 distinct people logged in and viewing Clouds, and 54 active participants. During phase-two, the numbers of registered users who told us on registering that their institution was the Open University rose from 208 to 651 (up 213%). However, a number of Open University communities can be seen to be using the site. Some examples include:

·        Mobile technologies special interest group, 26 distinct people commenting, 1922 distinct IP addresses viewing.

·        Olnet, 60 distinct people commenting, 2489 distinct IP addresses viewing.

·        eLearning Community, 3 distinct people commenting, 164 distinct IP addresses viewing.

·        Associate Lecturers, 6 distinct people commenting, 446 distinct IP addresses viewing.

·        Classical Reception Studies Network (CRSN) Learning & Teaching Group, 8 distinct people commenting, 183 distinct IP addresses viewing.

·        K802 Students and staff 8 distinct people commenting, 1009 distinct IP addresses viewing 7 distinct people commenting, 294 distinct IP addresses viewing.

·        Teaching and Learning Librarians 22 distinct people commenting, 2353 distinct IP addresses viewing

Alevizou et al., (2010) looks in more detail at the use of the site by one Open University led group (OLnet) for sharing and the discussion of issues relating to the use and uptake of Open Educational Resources (OERs). They conclude that there is substantial evidence to indicate that Cloudworks is being used by this as a means of sharing and discussing and adopting more scholarly and evidence based approaches to practice.

Applying the Community Indicators Framework

In this section we will show how the Community Indicators framework described above can be applied to the evaluation of the Cloudworks site across the different types of Cloudscapes described in the previous section. Table 1 provides examples of evidence of the four Community Indicators and demonstrates examples evident from our evaluation of Cloudworks.


Table 2: Community Indicators in Cloudworks


The previous section gives some indication of the breadth and richness of the types of activities we are seeing on the site. New practices are emerging as users begin to colonise and appropriate sections of the site for their own interests. We are beginning to apply additional theoretical framework to gaining an understanding of this new patterns of behaviour, such as Goffman’s notion of ritual performance (Goffman, 1974), the concept of collective intelligence (see for example Lévy, 1997) and expansive learning (Engestrom, 1987); see Alevizou et al. (2010) for more on how we are using these frameworks.

Early evidence suggests, that Cloudworks is one of the sites blurring formal and informal cultural and networked learning about being an educationalist, scholar, practitioner or indeed a learner (in limited examples) with online interactions and experiences allowing roles to be learned, experiences to be shared, values to be exchanged and – to an extent – identities to be performed and (re)shaped, and communities to gather (Alevizou et al., forthcoming). It is too early in our research to demonstrate empirically more than glimpses of emerging patterns but we have now developed clear ideas about research questions that will inform Cloudworks position within this landscape of practice, as well as guide implications for further systematic research. 

We continue to recognise the complexity and challenges inherent in supporting and promoting a collaborative and open approach to design and reflection in learning and teaching practices, but also would argue that mechanisms to facilitate these are essential if learners and teachers are going to develop the necessary new literacy skills they will need in order to harness the potential of new technologies. We have argued in this paper that Cloudworks is a platform where we are starting to see evidence of expressive interactions, crowdsourcing and archiving of issues relating to learning designs and the process of design. We are also staring to see new connections and interactions emerging within Cloudworks (on a given time, for a given purpose, or randomly and serendipitously), which we believe are key in supporting the dialogic and creative process of design. The idea of Cloudworks functioning as a hub between several virtual and physical learning design spaces is both powerful and visible: we have pointed to evidence whereby designs can be seen to be both negotiated and improved. We do however recognise that we have significant work to do in encouraging and supporting designers in sharing, discussing and archiving worked designs, and promoting the shifts in culture and practice necessary for many educational practitioners in order to achieve this, and benefit from it.

This paper has attempted to consider the challenges associated with rapidly evolving social and participatory media and has argued that the design and evaluation of such sites needs new approaches. We have chosen to adopt a Design-Based Research approach to designing Cloudworks and have introduced the Community Indicators framework as a mechanism for evaluating user behaviour in the site. We have also strengthened our understanding of interactions on the site through the development and use of the Community Indicators framework described in this paper. We think the Community Indicators framework has a number of benefits. Firstly, it is built on relevant research literature on the development and sustainability of online communities, drawing on related frameworks, but extending beyond these in order to support communities in new social and participatory media. Secondly, it provides a framework for designing social and participatory sites. Thirdly, the framework can be used to map emergent and evolving patterns of user behaviour on the site. We think the framework could be useful in terms of designing and evaluating other social and participatory sites.


The OU Learning Design Initiative was funded through strategic funding from the OU and also the JISC as part of the Curriculum Design programme.


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Towards Open Educational Practices

Friday, January 7th, 2011

In recent years there has been a lot of interest in the creation and use of Open Educational Resources (OER), with the underpinning principle that educational resources should be free for all. The term OER was coined in 2002 at a UNESCO-hosted forum as:

The open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes. (D’Antoni, 2008, p. 7)

The rhetoric behind the notion of free educational resources and a vibrant community of sharing and scholarly practices is exciting and visionary. Despite this however, the actual impact on practice has been limited. Yes OER’s are being viewed and used by some teachers and some learners but they are not being used extensively. And evidence of actual reuse is even more scant. Such learning material is freely available and will often be based on well-tested and effective learning material. Organisations like UNESCO and the Hewlett Foundation have supported this movement and have provided considerable support both in terms of networking and funding.  There are now a plethora of OER repositories and many organisations have signed up to be part of the OpenCourseWare consortium (

The focus to date has been on the development of OER repositories. The naïve view was that if these were created and promoted that learners would use them and that teachers would repurpose them. However evaluation of the use of such repositories indicates that uptake is relatively poor (McAndrew, et al., 2009). Why is this? Well actually taken someone else’s OER, understanding it, deconstructing it and then recontexualising it is a complex cognitive process. Add to this potential technical and organisational barriers and perhaps the lack of uptake is not so surprising. In some research as part of the Olnet initiative ( we investigated why this was the case and looked in particular at how OER could be redesigned and used for collaborative learning purposes (Conole, McAndrew, & Dimitriadis, 2010; Dimitriadis, McAndrew, Conole, & Makriyannis, 2009). We found that practitioners found it difficult to understand the implicit design inherent in OER and found making choices about how to repurpose the OER for their own context was hard.

Would shifting away from a focus on the resources to the associated surrounding practices help? I.e. if we can better understand how teachers and learners are creating and using OER perhaps we can get a better idea of what the associated barriers and issues might be and hence put in place mechanisms to address these. This is at the heart of the OPAL initiative ( The overall aim of OPAL is to support Open Educational Practice. The belief is that if we can better understand the practices around the creation, use and repurposing of OER, we are likely to see better uptake and use. Further, the vision is that this will lead to improvement of the effectiveness of teaching and learning by enhancing the quantity and quality of Open Educational Resources that can be incorporated into higher education and further education provision.

To achieve this we began by gathered over 60 case studies of OER initiatives ( and from these abstracted a set of dimensions of what we are terming ‘Open Educational Practices’, which are defined as:

Open educational practices (OEP) is defined as use of OER to raise the quality of education and training and innovate educational practices on institutional, professional and individual level.

A database or repository of open educational resources is not open educational practice. The pure usage of these open educational resources in a traditional closed and top-down, instructive, exam focussed learning environment is not open educational practice. However, if OER are used to create resources which are more learner-centred than the ones existing before, if learners are involved into the creation of content which is taken seriously by the teachers/facilitators, if teachers are moving away from a content centred teaching to “human resource” based teaching, if learning processes are seen as productive processes and learning outcomes are seen as artefacts which are worth sharing and debating, improving and reusing, then OER might improve the learning process and then we talk about open educational practices.

Open Educational practices are having a “lifecycle” which is influenced by the entire open educational practice governance community:

·      Be it the national policy makers who are promoting the use of open educational resources,

·      The rector of a higher education institution who is initiating an institution wide open education initiatives in which teachers are asked to create, find, adapt and share OER in an institution wide OER repository, and in which educational strategies and models are collected and shared amongst teachers

·      The teachers who are encouraging learners to produce, share and validate content

·      The learners who are using open available content to create knowledge landscapes on study topics which better fit their needs than the available text book “one size fits all” style

Stakeholders of open educational practice are the so called open educational practice governance community. These are those actors who are involved into open educational practices from all perspectives, be it the policy making component in the field of education in which national, regional or local (communal) policies are shaped and implemented to stimulate the use of open educational practices, production and distribution of learning materials, the management or administration of educational organisations, teaching or providing learning environments, or learning in learning environments in which open educational resources are used to improve quality and access of learning.  We are focussing on higher education institutions and on educational organisations in the field of adult learning.

On refinement four OEP dimensions were identified: strategies and policies, tools and tool practices, barriers and success factors, and skills development and support. We used these as the basis to enable individuals and organisations to assess where they were in terms of level of OEP maturity (Figure 1).

Cube model

Figure 1: The OEP Cube Maturity Model

The cube model provides a system that helps in classifying the OER Practices. Innovation and quality that OPAL has set out to study resides within the blocks or between them – how the blocks relate to each other. To illustrate the use of the cube a couple of examples will be given. For example an organisation might be considered to be mature in terms of the dimension of strategy and policy if it has clear and effective strategies and policies in place about OER and this might be an example of an innovative business model for generating OER and making them widely available. Another organisation might be classed as mature in terms of tools and tool practices if there is evidence of  it having an online Web 2.0 environment to enable users to share and discuss the use of the OER. This might be considered innovative in terms of the use of Web 2.0 tools to support scholarly dialogue and good practice in terms of quality through peer reflection. We see the cube as having a number of uses: for benchmarking purposes, for guidance in terms of how to improve OEP and for reflection and comparison with others. The benefits of the use of the cube include: it enables and guides users in understanding how to think about the key issues, and it is flexible enough to cover the different stakeholders involved (including learners, teachers, managers and policy makters).

We have validated the cube through a number of workshops and expert panels. Overview feedback on its value is good. We hope to map the existing case studies to this and then encourage others to build on this over time.


Conole, G., McAndrew, P., & Dimitriadis, Y. (2010). The role of CSCL pedagogical patterns as mediating artefacts for repurposing Open Educational Resources’ in F. Pozzi and D. Persico (Eds), Techniques for Fostering Collaboration in Online Learning Communities: Theoretical and Practical.

D’Antoni, S. (2008). Open Educational Resources. The way forward. Deliberations of an international community of interest. Paris: UNESCO International Institutie of Educational Planning.

Dimitriadis, Y., McAndrew, P., Conole, G., & Makriyannis, E. (2009). New design approaches to repurposing Open Educational Resources for collaborative learning using mediating artefacts. Auckland: ASCILITE.

McAndrew, P., Santos, A., Lane, A., Godwin, S., Okada, A., Wilson, T., et al. (2009). OpenLearn Research Report 2006-2008.



Professor John O’Donoghue – RIP

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

I was very sad to get an email yesterday from Professor John O’Donoghue’s wife Carole saying that John lost his fight with cancer yesterday 5th January 2011. John was a lovely guy well respected in the elearning community. His contributions to the field were many and varied; he was a very active and enthusiastic member of the Association for Learning Technologies, he was a member of the JISC Learning and Teaching committee, he published and presented at conferences widely and was involved with an interesting range of research and development projects. I met John a few times over the last years as he struggled to beat the cancer. He was always up beat and cheerful, the same old John. He will be sadly missed, my thoughts (as I am sure are the thoughts of many in the elearning community) are with Carole and John’s family at this time.