At the heart of my teaching practice is the desire to foster an engaging learning experience through effective and innovative use of pedagogies and technologies. My e-learning research constantly informs my teaching and I am an avid promoter of supporting others in improving their teaching practice. I have developed a suite of resources to help teachers make more effective and informed design decisions. I want to help them critically reflect on the use of technologies and whether they are appropriate to support different pedagogical approaches. These have been deployed and evaluated worldwide. Participants have said that my approach is inspiring and innovative, giving them lots of ideas on how to create more engaging learning interventions.
I try to practice what I preach by adopting open practices – sharing my experiences and research findings widely, through activities in the university, nationally and internationally at conferences and other institutions, and through active use of social media. I have always been at the forefront of innovative use of technologies, seeing and harnessing the potential of each new phase of technology as it emerges. I will evidence this by structuring my claim around four major areas of technological development: the use of multimedia, the emergence of the Internet, new approaches to promoting the use of technology, and Open Educational Resources (OER), social and participatory media.
I will demonstrate how I foster and promote excellence in teaching through my research: to enhance the learning experience, to cascade innovation and enable practitioners to created pedagogically informed learning activities that make effective use of technologies, and to improve my own professional practice and the development of my research.
Individual excellence: enhancing and transforming the student experience
From the beginning of my career, enhancing the student experience has been at the heart of my practice. Technologies offer an exciting range of ways to promote different pedagogical approaches and to enhance the learner experience. I have extensive experience of IT, both through teaching and research, which I believe is important in terms of understanding both the pedagogical and technical aspects of e-learning.
My teaching experience includes Computing, Chemistry, Education, Library and Information Management, Mathematics, Physics and the use and application of Learning Technologies. I have a commitment to the use of technology based on personal use and experience, underpinned by active participation in relevant research. In addition, I have produced positional papers on the use and integration of technology. These have included responses to the DfES and HEFCE e-learning strategies, reviews of the Dearing enquiry and the National Grid for Learning. I have produced many staff development materials, as well as online courses, staff development workshops and seminars.
I have been involved in the design and delivery of four masters in e-learning, PhD supervision and external examining. My role as a critical friend has been valued in this respect as this comment from Chris Jones (Reader, Open University) evidences:
Gráinne is an extremely well connected and knowledgeable colleague in the field of e-learning who has an immense amount of energy and is generous with her ideas and assistance. I have worked with Gráinne previously when she proved to be a very supportive external examiner and research colleague. Her expertise in e-learning is well known and her international links invaluable.
A key aspect of these masters courses has been to foreground innovation and demonstrate the power of harnessing new technologies through the students using them and applying them to their own practice. These programmes provide an important mechanism for supporting professional development and many of the students are professionals in FE/HE. The uniqueness of these masters is that they are underpinned by the latest e-learning research and the adoption of open practices to address the key challenges of 21st Century learning, harnessing the potential of new technologies. Completion of the programmes equips students with mechanisms to enable changes in their own practices and those of their colleagues. They enable them to explore how they can act as change agents, as well as supporting radical innovation in the design and the delivery of programmes. Hence this is a valuable mechanism for cascading innovation to others and enhancing the student experience.
Alice Shepherd, via Twitter, March 9 2012
Phase One: Multimedia
The start of my interest in using technologies to support learning was through the development of a series of interactive tutorials (developed using Authorware Professional). I integrated these into the curriculum, along with materials produced by the then Chemistry subject centre. Many of the teaching innovations and techniques I have developed have subsequently been adopted as standard teaching methods. During the Enterprise in Higher Education (EHE) initiative, I developed an e-portfolio, which was converted to a web-based university-wide system. It enabled learners to reflect on their learning and to evidence the development of their competences.
Phase two – The emergence of the Internet
When the web emerged, I created one of the first HE Chemistry websites in the UK, which was used for course announcements, distribution of course materials and links to the interactive tutorials. Evaluation of these materials with students was positive, showing the way they enhanced learning. These, in 1994, were some of the first examples of web pages developed for the university sector in the UK. Other early examples of my web innovations included developing a virtual school, online subject resources and a web-based module evaluation questionnaire. This work resulted in the pages receiving a top rating from Chemdex (a major online Chemistry resource body).
I have an extensive knowledge of the Internet and, most importantly, a solid pedagogical understanding of the ways in which it can be used to support teaching and learning. I was also one of the early pioneers in online teaching using integrated VLEs. I was instrumental in UNL acquiring WebCT as a VLE and produced the first online module in the University. At Bristol I was engaged in equivalent developments, looking beyond VLEs to the development of a comprehensive Managed Learning Environment. In subsequent posts I continued to use technologies to support my teaching, as well as external staff development and research activities, such as contributing to online conferences, seminars, chat, and use of video, telephone and audio conferencing.
Phase three – New approaches to promoting the use of technologies
Throughout my career I have been interested in the development and evaluation of new approaches to promoting the use of technologies. I have actively applied this within my own teaching practices, ensuring that students gained rich insights into the potential and challenges around the use of technologies. I have always ensured that my research work is integrated into my teaching practice, so that students are provided with state of the art research in e-learning.
Phase four – OER, social and participatory media
I use technologies extensively in my teaching. As part of the masters at the OU, I promoted the use of social and participatory media. I am currently involved in the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC). This is an innovative course, which is offered free and is taken by thousands of people worldwide, delivered by international experts in the field, through innovative use of technologies, including social media.
Over the years, I have been involved with a number of innovations to enhance the learning experience and to gain insights into practitioners’ practice. One particular area where these issues have already had a significant impact is the emergence of technologies to support all aspects of learning. The perceived benefits include the opportunity to learn anytime and anywhere and to communicate and collaborate virtually across national boundaries, thereby reaching new student markets, offering flexible learning environments and facilitating student tracking. Inevitably, a lot of time and effort is needed to create and run online courses. My work has focussed on researching the affordances of technologies and then translating these into practical guidelines to help teachers use them in their teaching.
Raising the profile of excellence
I will now demonstrate how my focus has been on creating practical tools and resources to help teachers create more effective learning experiences, which make innovative use of technologies.
Internationally, e-learning is an increasingly important area, as evidenced by the number of bidding opportunities which now include a technological component, the growth of e-learning organisations and the emergence of global alliances with a specific remit for exploring and exploiting the potential of technologies in education. My work as, outlined below, has therefore necessitated building up a range of national and international links. I feel that this outwardly focused aspect is vital for the future integration, growth and success of learning innovation.
Such a long personal collaboration with Prof. Conole enables me to assure that she is an outstanding researcher, with a high international reputation and impact. I should stress her capacity to get involved in new ideas and projects, providing a thorough insight on each research issue. Also, she has a special ability in understanding the new affordances of technology and integrating them easily in innovative pedagogical projects. I can confirm her ability for effective communication of the research ideas and the reputation and impact of her blog. Finally, I can assure, as reviewer, that her book on Learning Design (in press by Springer Verlag) has significant chances to become a reference book in the field. Professor Yannis Demitriadis, Vallodalid University, February 10 2012
I see technologies as a catalyst for enabling colleagues to rethink their teaching practice and improve the learner experience. I have always been an early adopter, first exploring how technologies can be used in my own practice and then promoting and cascading good practice to colleagues.
Grainne’s work on learning design has been a very important input into staff development and pedagogic thinking in the Open University Business School as we grapple with the challenge of generating engaging and productive approaches to technology supported learning.
Prof. Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, National Teaching Fellow and Senior Fellow of the HEA, March 9 2012
I am considered a leader in the field and have an extensive network of international collaborators. For example, I am currently on the advisory panel for an Australian fellowship focusing on learning design. I am also a core member of the EU-funded STELLAR Learning Design Grid. I am on the Executive Board of ICEM. I also have strong links with key European professional bodies, such as: ICDE, EDEN, UNESCO and EFQUEL. I have published extensively in the field, with over 1000 academic outputs to date. The ‘Contemporary perspectives in e-learning’ book (Conole and Oliver, 2007) provides a comprehensive overview of the field and has become a standard text on many masters programmes.
I see collaborating with and inspiring colleagues as an importance aspect of the way I work.
Grainne acted as both mentor and line manager facilitating conference attendance and production of bids and research papers that provided a springboard for my research career. Grainne’s influence at the University of Southampton extended beyond elearning towards more generic teaching and learning innovation. Grainne also championed elearning across the University at a strategic level, the colleagues she brought together still meet and shape policy and elearning development within the University which now has elearning groups working at the strategic and operational levels.
Dr Martin Dyke, Southampton University, 9th March 2012
I have an international reputation in the field, as is evident from the numerous invited keynotes and workshop I give at conferences around the world.
Gráinne is an expert in e-learning and a good public speaker.
Recent keynotes include: the e-learning summit (Sydney), Edmedia (Toronto), ASCILTE (Auckland), ICDE (Bali) and IADIS (Rome). These provide a valuable means of reaching the wider teaching community, helping them to think about the implications of new technologies and how they can be used in their teaching. The workshops provide more in-depth opportunities for participants to explore the resources I have developed. I have also been invited to be on the advisory panel for the Spanish speaking Horizon report on emergent technologies. I try to ensure my research work translates into practical outputs, in the form of workshop and guidelines on effective use of technologies to support learning and policy briefs on technologies and their implications for learning and teaching.
My role had always been to work on policy and strategy developments in e-learning; such as leading on the development of policy on the use and integration of learning technologies and coordinating response to external policy and strategy debates My role has been one of technology leadership and integration of innovations. I have acted as a catalyst for change in the use of learning technologies, leading to a significant and tangible shift in the perception of the use of learning technologies. I have always adopted a very ‘hands-on’ approach and believe I demonstrated an ability to translate vision and ideas into practical, measurable outcomes. I have an institutional brief in terms of promoting and supporting e-learning research and innovation, through involvement in relevant committees and contribution to university events. I feel the most valuable aspect of this is collaboration with colleagues on e-learning projects. This ensures that the research feeds into practice, and enables me to establish good working relationships, helping to contribute to enhancing research capacity in pedagogical and e-learning research. Once again, as the focus of e-learning has developed, my work has fallen into four phases.
Phase One – Multimedia
Over the years I have developed a range of staff development materials and workshops, as well as structured toolkits to help guide practice and enable practitioners to adopt more innovative practices. These have included the Media Advisor toolkit, which enabled practitioners to make informed use of technologies and an evaluation toolkit, to enable them to evaluate the impact of new learning innovations.
National strategy and policy for HE sit within a context of rapid technological change that provides immense opportunities. Technologies have now become integrated into the core business of institutions. I led on a JISC-funded project, LADIE, which developed a reference model for learning design. I was part of a team which evaluated the lessons learnt from the JISC MLE programme and authored the organisational culture sector of an associated Infonet kit. More broadly, I have worked at a policy level, providing advice at a strategic level on technology developments. I believe that to achieve change there is a need to adopt both a top-down and bottom-up approach, the former by working with senior management and through appropriate committees and strategy developments, the later through working directly with practitioners.
Practitioners are interested in exploring the impact of new technologies on their teaching, whilst funding bodies have become increasingly aware of the importance of formative evaluation to distil lessons learnt from innovative e-learning projects. With funding from BP and JISC, I developed a toolkit, which supported the development of an evaluation plan - from the initial scoping of evaluation questions and selection of research methods through to presentation of findings. In the EU-funded project X-Delia, we have developed a Design and Evaluation framework. This work overall has enabled me to develop pragmatic evaluation tools to help practitioners better understand their own teaching practice and to evaluate the impact of new learning interventions they design.
Phase two – The emergence of the Internet
I have actively promoted the use of technologies through the use of the Internet. These have included numerous online seminars and events exploring different aspects of the use of technology and critiquing the role of e-learning with practitioners. Last year for example I participated in the 48-hour ‘Follow the sun conference’ where I gave an overview of current e-learning research. Recently, I presented online on the notion of open practices and their implications for learning, teaching and research.
VLEs are now core applications within institutions, however arguably they are mainly used as content repositories and are not promoting more innovative pedagogies. At Leicester we have just completed an audit of the use of our VLE, through surveys and interviews with staff and students. This is giving us rich insights into teacher practice and the learner experience, which we will use to develop support materials to promote the use of the VLE and dissemination of good practice to help colleagues improve the learner experience. I was a critical friend for four institutions under the HEA e-learning pathfinders programme and provided them with advice on promoting the uptake and use of technologies.
Phase three – New approaches to promoting the use of technologies
At Bristol and Southampton, I developed a range of research interests including the creation of a new learning design methodology. These were very much practically focused and aimed at helping teachers make more effective use of technologies. Through national and internationally-funded projects, I explored how technologies could be used to support learning.
Practitioners now have a multitude of learning theories that they can use to guide the development of learning activities. In addition there is now a rich variety of technologies than can be used in innovative ways to support the implementation of these learning activities. Despite this, the actual range of learning activities that demonstrate both a variety of pedagogical approaches and innovative use of technologies is limited. Practitioners lack the necessary skills to make informed choices about using these theories and tools, and are confused by the plethora of choices. I am interested in aiding the better understanding of the process of design, to make more informed judgements in designing learning activities.
At Southampton, I was involved with the JISC/NSF-funded project DialogPlus involved Education, Electronics and Computer Science, and Geography. It developed e-learning materials in Geography and a learning design tool, which was one of the first tools to be created to help teachers rethink their design practice. This is a good example of a cross-disciplinary initiative where educational and technical expertise was applied to implementation and embedding within a subject discipline. I led a JISC-funded learner experience project, which gave me rich insights into students’ use and perception of technologies.
At the OU, I was part the Institute of Educational Technology, which has a dual function in terms of research and institutional service. I worked with colleagues across the university to promote the use of technologies. An important strand of my work was the development of a new methodology in learning design, aimed at helping practitioners make more effective use of technologies that are pedagogically informed. I led the OU Learning Design Initiative, which created a range of learning design tools, resources and activities. The initiative has been extremely successful and has produced a range of learning design tools, resources and activities. It has been evaluated extensively, within the OU, nationally and internationally and has attracted funding from JISC through the Curriculum Design programme and through the EU Leonardo programme. As part of this I have recently submitted a book to Springer, entitled, ‘Designing for learning in an open world’ (Conole, Forthcoming).
I developed an innovative social networking site, Cloudworks, which is designed to promote sharing and discussing of learning and teaching ideas. The site is now used extensively worldwide. I have also developed a set of conceptual design tools, which help practitioners rethink their design practice and shift from a focus on content to activities. I believe learning design provides an effective mechanism to guide practitioners’ design practice and to enable them to create pedagogically sound learning interventions, which make effective use of technologies. I have run hundreds of workshops worldwide using these resources. Evaluation of these is very positive; participants describe them as inspirational, thought provoking, engaging, and creative and above all practical and pedagogically focussed. The sessions are highly participative, supported through online spaces using the Cloudworks site, which provides them with a rich set of resources and a space to share and discuss their learning and teaching ideas.
In my current role, my brief is to ensure that e-learning research has more impact on policy and practice at Leicester. This is being achieved through collaborations with the University’s colleges. My centre has a dual function of doing e-learning research and providing support and advice on the use of technologies. To guide this I have developed a technology intervention framework, which will ensure that research informs policy and practice.
Phase four – OER, social and participatory media
I am an active user of social and participatory media. I have a blog and use tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ extensively. I see use of these tools as two-way: both to promote and disseminate e-learning research and to provide guidance and support to others.
I undertook a review of the use of social and participatory media as part of an HE Academy commissioned study, which provides an important benchmark on new media and their implications for learning. I am interested in exploring how these technologies can and are being used by teachers and learners, as well as their implications for formal institutions. I am exploring how these technologies can be used to promote more open practices, in design, delivery, scholarship and research.
Promotion of the use of OER is another approach I have used to change practice. At the OU I was involved in the establishment of the OpenLearn repository and was part of the core team on the follow-on project (funded by Hewlett) called Olnet, linking OER researchers with practitioners, so that research findings can inform practice. I also lead at the OU on the EU-funded project, OPAL, which reviewed over 60 OER initiatives worldwide, and from these developed a set of OER practices which were then translated into guidelines for OER stakeholders (learners, teachers, institutional managers and policy makers). These are been used as the benchmark for existing practice and to create a vision and implementation plan. OPAL work has had and will continue to have influence in EU Government circles
Part of my role in all of my posts has been to act as a ‘change agent’ and to translate research findings into policy and practice. This has included lobbying at senior management level and has resulted in a significant shift in the Universities’ perspectives on learning technologies. As a complement to this I have been involved in the formulation of learning technology policy and internal strategy (including presentation to senior management and the board of Governors) and externally through involvement with ALT, JISC and ESRC. In 2010, I presented on behalf of the OU’s Vice Chancellor a review of e-learning pedagogies to the HEFCE task force on e-learning.
It has been exciting to be in at the early stages of the emergence of a field and to see it develop and mature; and indeed to be one of the people who is helping to shape the field. I have watch as the Internet moved from being a peripheral innovation to an integrated part of all aspects of society. I have seen how mobiles have developed to a stage where they can now provide innovative learning platforms. I have seen how new social and participatory media can now provide learners and teachers with a plethora of ways to communicate and collaborate.
I see myself as a reflective practitioner and strive to constantly improve my practice. My interests have developed from a subject-based passion in teaching and learning innovation and, in particular, evaluation of the impact of technology on education. My approach is pragmatic and driven by a desire to improve teacher practice and enhance the learner experience. My theoretical perspective is socio-cultural in nature drawing on the work of Vygotsky, Engeström and others. I am interested in understanding what Mediating Artefacts are being used in learning and teaching, and have applied this concept to their use in learning design. I use a Design-Based Research methodology, as I believe this is the best approach to tackle the complex and evolving field of study I am engaged with.
I use my blog as a means of reflecting on my research and its impact on my professional practice. I post emergent ideas, draft publications, workshop outlines and thoughts on emergent research in the field. I use social media extensively to disseminate my ideas and research and to participate in a global community of those interested in learning and teaching. For example, I have made the chapters of my forthcoming book available via dropbox and have received numerous insightful comments from the research community, which has significantly improved the quality of the final product. I hope that I provide valuable support and inspiration to colleagues through interactions online and face-to-face.
Gráinne is an outstanding individual who manages to combine criticality with creativity, while at the same time being a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging person to work with.
Patrick FullickApril 24 2009
I have built my experience over the years by active participation in many national and international bodies. I have been a member of many national and international bodies associated with e-learning and have served on the programming committees for international conferences. I was extensively involved with the Association for Learning Technology and was the editor of the research journal, ALT-J (now Research in Learning Technology) for nine years. I have been a chair or a member of numerous advisory boards, steering committees and consultative forums at national level. I have run workshops for national organisations such as ALT, CTI, ESRC, JISC, RSC, BECTA and the HE Academy.
Part of my evolving development as a researcher has been around reflecting on the nature of the field. E-learning is applied and interdisciplinary involving researchers from a wide range of backgrounds, as well as teaching subject experts who engage with it as ‘end users’. This collaboration is a strength, but it is important that we develop a clearer articulation of the domain and a shared language. These will help to develop a better theoretical underpinning for understanding and describing research findings. Too much of the focus to date has been on anecdotal small-scale studies, which lack methodological rigour or a sound theoretical basis. I have been actively involved in methodological debates in the field. For example, through a ‘hotseat’ debate associated with the 2010 Networked Learning conference and through the production of a research briefing on TEL research for the TEL TLRP programme.
Collaborating with colleagues is an important and inspiring aspect of my practice. I have been lucky enough to work with some of the leading international researchers in the field and find co-constructing new ideas exciting and motivating:
Professor Conole is a talented researcher with an outstanding International profile. She has a strong publication record and a particular flair for analysing and representing the processes involved in technology enhanced learning. She has led a large number of externally funded research projects, is an acknowledged leader of the field of learning design, and an inspiring and productive co-researcher.
Professor Eileen Scanlon, Open University, February 2 2012
I believe that e-learning research findings should be of practical and tangible benefit. I have been actively involved in researching methodological issues associated with e-learning research and in promoting a more rigorous approach to research in this area. This included my involvement: as a co-director of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods, Southampton promoting innovations in methodology and research capacity building, my editorship of a leading journal in this area, ALT-J, contributions to national debates on e-learning research and a series of positional papers on research methodological issues. This work gave me valuable insights into which theories and methodologies are shaping the field.
My experiences of the establishment of the research centres I have been involved with have shaped my development as a researcher and practitioner. Learning technologies are constantly changing. As such it is imperative that there is a close link between e-learning research findings, strategy and staff development. Research can forge a better understanding of technologies, by providing evidence of their educational benefits and cost-effective impact. Staff development can then build on this to provide appropriate support and guidance and exemplars of good practice.
Finally, I believe that anyone wanting to explore the use of technologies to support learning should experience being an online learner. I found taking two online courses in Spanish at the OU invaluable and they have been core to shaping my evolving ideas for future research activities.
The pace of change in Education is extraordinary: we are moving towards a future where access to technology is the norm, where smart technologies infiltrate all aspects of our lives, and where high-quality information and expert knowledge are marketable commodities. We can expect further, and perhaps more rapid, change in organisational structures and working patterns. It will be a major challenge to examine and predict the extent to which these opportunities might divide or bring together aspects of our society. I believe the work I have done has helped individuals and institutions to grapple with these issues and to make more effective use of technologies.
To conclude, the importance of e-learning is undisputed. It offers tantalising benefits, but also poses daunting challenges. To address these we need to have methodologically rigorous research. My approach has been to collaborate with staff demonstrating the benefits and potential of e-learning. I believe that the approach I have adopted– open access, encouragement and support, external collaboration and a rigorous approach to research which informs strategy and staff development – represents the way forward for the development and successful integration of learning technologies within the university sector as a whole. Many people have told me that my work is innovative and inspirational and that they have drawn on it to transform practice. I hope that my application demonstrates the impact my work has had, both at a policy and practice level.
Conole, G. (Forthcoming). Designing for learning in an open world. New York: Springer.
Conole, G. and Oliver, M. (2007). Contemporary perspectives in e-learning research: themes, methods and impact on practice. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Web links: http://e4innovation.com and http://cloudworks.ac.uk