Reflecting on digital learning as a research field

April 12th, 2017


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

The next generation…

November 3rd, 2016


Catching up with Catherine Cronin 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wordcloud of the evaluation of the workshop 

Get involved in the LiDA course!

May 5th, 2016


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

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

Don’t be missed by your absence!


Crowdsourcing a curriculum

May 4th, 2016


Image source 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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








OERu Learning in a digital age course

May 4th, 2016


Image source

I have just started doing some consultancy with the OERu foundation and in particular Wayne Mackintosh. The focus is to design a course on ‘Learning in a Digital Age’ (LiDA). The target audience is first-year undergraduates and the aim is to help them develop their academic digital literacies so that they can use digital technologies more effectively for their learning. Today’s learners have grown up in a world of computers and the Internet, however they do not necessarily have the digital literacy skills to use technologies for their learning. The course will enable them to develop these skills; such as how to evaluate whether resource they find are relevant for their learning and how to manage their online presence. Most importantly the course will help learners to manage their self-learning. 

I had a good online meeting with Wayne last week via zoom, where he outlined the nature of the course and walked me through the various tools we will be using. I think there will be a lot of interest in the course and that it will have international appeal.

We are currently in the process of defining the curriculum. We are drawing on two existing courses: one from Thomas Edison State University (TESU) and one from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) The course will be designed for maximum re-use by OERu partners and others.

The course will consist of four ‘micro courses’, which will be structured as ‘learning pathways’. Learning pathways are routes learners can take through the content. Each micro course consists of 40 hours of learning; 20 hours of learner participation over two weeks and then 20 hours of focusing on the summative assessment. The pedagogical approach for the courses is one of discovery, self-directed learning and peer-to-peer learning. Learners will be encouraged to interact with others on the course using social media. As much as possible learners will be directed to free existing resources. The structure of each learning pathway consists of: an overview and aims, a signposting video, content, and e-activities/learning challenges (start, tasks and outputs – which learners are encourage to share on their personal blog).

Wayne directed me to an existing course ‘Digital skills for collaborative OER development’.  The course had four tabs: Start up, Course Guide, Interactions and Learning Pathways. The start up tab describes the focus of the course and lists the things the learners need to do to get started. It also provides study tips, including using the course hashtag and the course feed. It indicates the suggested study time (40 – 50 hours), namely 9 sessions over three weeks, with a suggestion of two hours study a day. The assessment element is 10 hours and it is possible for the learners to get formal credit for the course. The course guide consists of the following: 

  • Overview
  • Course aims and learning outcomes
  • Syllabus
  • Learning challenges
  • Course assignment
  • Recommended resources

The interactions tab consists of:

  • Course announcements - which are emailed to participants and also posted on the site
  • Course feed - which harvests all #ds4oer posts from registered course blogs, Twitter, Google+, and WEnotes on Wikieducator.
  • Webinar – the course is asynchronous, but each week there is an online webinar. These are scheduled twice to accommodate different time zones, and sessions are recorded. 

The learning pathways tab describes the content of the course as follows:

  • Orientation
  • Developing wiki skills
  • Designing a blueprint
  • Developing a storyboard
  • Outline a course
  • Improving digital skills for OER
  • Completing the digital skills challenges
  • Creating a learning pathway
  • Publishing a course site.

One of the tools for designing the course that we are using is a variant on Kanban, a planning tool. As the website states:

The kanban board is a visual representation of the work stream, where each work item is represented by a card. Each stage of your workflow is represented by a column, determined by the team. As work progresses, the project member assigned to the item in question can simply drag and drop his/her card between the columns.

Kanban is a methodology developed from (Japanese) lean manufacturing. The OERf has started using Wekan which is a particular Open Source implementation of the technique. It looks really good and simple to use and seems a good way to manage a multi-team project. We currently have two boards: ‘Learning in a digital age’ and ‘LiDA curriculum storyboard’. These are hosted on Here is a screenshot of one of the boards.


The first provides an overview of activities and the second is a mapping of the curriculum drawing on existing courses and identifying areas for development. Each board has four columns: To Do, Doing, Almost Done and Done. Any team member can add cards to the columns, these can be tagged to enable filtering once the boards get more complex, and others can add comments to the cards. The cards can be moved about as the project progresses. The ‘LiDA curriculum storyboard’ has four columns: Possible learning pathways from existing courses, suggested pathways (what’s missing), and then columns from each of the four micro courses. In the first column cards indicated existing content from courses that might be included, each card is tagged to indicate which course the content comes from, namely: TESU, USQ or OERu.

We also have a WikiEducator page, which indicates that the aim of the page is to facilitate discussion on the configuration of the four micro-courses. It gives an overview of the proposed course. It summarises the content from TESU’s ‘Using open resources for self-directed learning’ (PLA-300) course and USQ’s e-literacy for contemporary society course, along with an initial indication of the focus of the four micro-courses.

Courses also have an associated forum, as a space for learners to reflect on the course and ask and answer questions. The forums are designed to be learner focus, encouraging peer interaction. The concept is similar to stackoverflow, based on mutual trust and recognition, learners can earn badges and as an individual’s trust level increased they can gain access to more functionality. Each micro-course will have an associated general forum.

For general communication within the team we will be using and we are using #OERu on Twitter. I am really looking forward to being involved in this work and it’s great that the whole process is so open and using open source tools, liberating!

Erik Duval

March 14th, 2016


It was with great sadness that I heard this weekend that Erik Duval lost his battle with cancer. Erik blogged about his experience over the past few years and his posts were raw and honest, cheap touched with a hint of his humour. I think I first heard Erik give a keynote, decease possibly at an Edmedia conference, treatment and his talk blew me aware, I left with so many ideas. A few years later I did a keynote at Edmedia. When I came out, Erik was sitting on the floor with a laptop. As I passed he looked up and said ‘nice one’, I was so thrilled and was on cloud nine for the rest of the day! 

Erik was a superb researcher, full of great ideas, and was one of the leads in the Learning Analytics community. It was also clear that he was a great teacher. I once attended a session at a conference where he had his students presenting learning analytics apps they had developed. It was a great session. Despite being highly in demand as an international speaker at heart Erik was a family man. He once told me that he tried very hard to also get home for the weekends, despite his heavy travel schedule. I had the honour of meeting his wife, Griet and his two daughters Hannah and Eli. Erik came all the way to Leuven, where I was staying, to pick me up. We went back to his hometown of Antwerp. I met his girls and dogs and then Griet, Erik and I went out for a lovely meal. There are many many contributions that he made to the field, but one of the key ones for me was the snowflake concept:

In the same way that all snowflakes in a snowstorm are unique, each user has her specific characteristics, restrictions and interests. That is why we speak of a “snowflake effect”, to indicate that, more and more, the aforementioned facilities will be relied upon to realize far-reaching forms of personalization and “mass customization”. This effect will be realized through a hybrid approach with push and pull techniques, in which information is actively requested or searched by the user, but also more and more subtly integrated in his work and learning environment. In this way, a learning environment can be created that is geared to the individual needs of the teacher or student.

Another memory I have of Erik is when he and George Siemens came to my house for dinner (picture above). My daughter, Tabby, was there. When there was a lull in the conversation, Tabby suddenly said ‘Mum is always having men around’. I looked at George and Erik, both prolific on social media and thought ‘my career is dead’…. But to be fair to them they just grinned at me.

I know many many people will miss Erik, his colleagues, his students, but most of all Griet and the girls. My thoughts are with them. Erik is gone, but will not be forgotten. 

Using social media for learning, teaching and research

March 9th, 2016

Conole social media_final from Grainne Conole


I ran the second session of the Innovating Pedagogy seminar series today at Bath Spa. The focus was on using social media for learning, teaching and research. The session was broken down as follows:

  • The characteristics of new media
  • An activity on what participants’ digital network consisted of
  • Using social media for learning, teaching and research
  • The benefits and risks of social media
  • Types of social media tools
  • Case studies of how different institutions are using social media
  • The ways in which blogs, Twitter and facebook can be used.

We first discussed what the key characteristics of new technologies are and what are the implications for learning, teaching and research. We agreed that there was a lot out there and as such it could be somewhat daunting. Participants felt that there was a lot of trivia and superficial use of social media, and also that they could be time consuming and distracting.

I mentioned some of the research that has been done on learner experiences of using technologies. This suggests that learners are technologically immersed, however this does not mean that they have the necessary skills to make effective use of technologies for academic purposes. Today’s learners tend to be task-oriented, experiential, just in time, cumulative and social. They create their own personal learning environment, mixing institutional systems with cloud-based tools and services, and augmenting course materials with relevant free resources. With this respect Sharpe et al.’s book is worth reading (Sharpe and Beetham 2010) and also the outputs from the JISC’s learner experience programme.

Despite being quite old the ‘Educating the net generation’ by Oblinger and Oblinger is worth reading. I also mentioned the Educause surveys on learners’ use of technologiesAlso from Educause is the book on Game Changers, which looks at ways in which to harness the power of new media, how can we reach more learners, more effectively, and what is the impact of the increasing availability of free resources, tools and expertise? It argues that we need to rethink education as a result of digital technologies.

We then explored our digital networks and what tools we use on a regular basis, email, Skype, Powerpoint etc. were obviously mentioned. I said that facebook, Twitter, Slideshare and my blog were an important part of my network. We then discussed the ways in which we were using technologies for learning, teaching and research.




     Don’t use Minerva enough


     Google to find relevant resources

     Fb and Twitter


     Multi-tasking across tools

     Phone at the centre of their learning

     YouTube and free resources


     Google, YouTube



     Guest speakers

     Skype for tutorials

     Students like videos, but keep under 10 minutes


         Google, Google Scholar


         Dragon voice activated software



UCISA report defines social media as ‘the range of internet-based tools that allow people to create, co-create, share and interact with information’. The report lists the following as some of the benefits of social media:


  1. Students can communicate with their peers
  2. Researchers can be part of a global community
  3. Students can use to demonstrate their competences
  4. Universities can use to interact with a variety of audiences

And these as some of the risks:


  • Ethical, privacy and security issues
  • Time consuming
  • Inappropriate use
  • Ownership
  • Constantly changing

The report characterises social media into the following:


  • Social networking tools – e.g. facebook
  • Reflective tools – e.g. blogs and Twitter
  • Gaming tools and virtual worlds – e.g. SecondLife
  • Communication tools – e.g. WhatsApp
  • Consumer tools – e.g. price comparison sites

It then describes a range of case studies of how different institutions are using social media in the following ways:

Recruitment and transition to HE

  • Social searching for recruitment
  • Support prior to enrolment
  • Peer mentoring



  • Part of a scholarly community
  • Development of a professional profile
  • Disseminating research
  • Resource discovery
  • Undertaking research



  • Social Media Knowledge Exchange
  • Development of a professional network

Public engagement


  • Dissemination to general public

Enhancing learning and teaching


  • Extending beyond the classroom
  • Peer review
  • Twitter as a back channel
  • Keeping in touch when on placement
  • Wikis to co-create knowledge


  • Keeping in touch with Alumni

I suggested that blogs were useful in the following ways:


  • Of the moment reflections
  • A digital archive
  • The power of peer review
  • Record of events, reviews and resources
  • Wider audience reach and hence profile
  • Link into facebook and Twitter
  • Complements traditional publication routes

It was an interesting session and we had a good discussion. I think the next session I will offer will focus on creating blogs and thinking about the different types of blog posts people can write. 


Sharpe, R. and H. Beetham (2010). Rethinking learning for the digital age: how learnes shape their own experiences. London, Routledge.


Innovating Pedagogy

February 15th, 2016


We have recently launched a new seminar series at Bath Spa University, cheap called Innovating Pedagogy. The idea is that each seminar will critique a particular aspect of digital technologies and consider how they can be used to support learning, mind teaching and research. The sessions will consist of two parts; an overview presentation of the topic being considered and an interactive discussion to enable colleagues to think about the implications for their practice and for the institute as a whole. The first seminar in the series was on the latest report from the OU’s Innovating Pedagogy series, prostate which explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment to guide educators and policy makers. In particular the report describes ten innovations that are having an increasing impact on education. The 2015 edition lists the following innovations: 

  • Crossover learning focuses on learning in informal settings such as museums and after-school clubs. The report argues that formal learning can be enriched by experiences from everyday life and also that informal learning can be deepened by adding questions and knowledge from the classroom.
  • Learning through argumentation, where students can advance their understanding of Science and Mathematics by arguing in ways similar to professional Scientists and Mathematicians. Argumentation helps students attend to contrasting ideas, which can deepen their learning.
  • Incidental learning, which is unplanned or unintentional learning. Mobile devices, in particular, provide many opportunities for technology-supported incidental learning.
  • Context-based learning focuses on interpreting new information in the context of where and when it occurs and relating it to what we already know. In this way students come to understand its relevance and meaning.
  • Computation thinking is a powerful approach to thinking and problem solving. It involves breaking down large problems into smaller ones, recognising how these relate to the problems that have to be solved, setting aside unimportant details, identifying and developing the steps that will be needed to reach a solution, and refining these steps.
  • Learning by doing Science with remote labs, which engages students with authentic Scientific tools and practices such as controlling remote laboratory experiments of telescopes. This can help build Science inquiry skills, improve conceptual understanding and increase motivation.
  • Embodied learning involves self-awareness of the body interacting with a real or a simulated world to support the learning process.
  • Adaptive teaching uses data about a learner’s previous and current learning to create a personalised pathway through educational content.
  • Analytics of emotions through use of eye tracking and facial recognition tools, which can analyse who students learn.
  • Stealth assessment, which can measure hard to measure aspects of learning, such as perseverance, creativity and strategic thinking. It can also collect information about students’ learning states and processes without asking them to stop and take an examination. Stealth assessment techniques can provide teachers with continual data on how each learner is progressing.

The Innovating Pedagogy report series complements the annual New Media Consortium reports, which articulate the technologies that are likely to have most impact in education in one, three and five year timeframes. Both reports are useful as an indication of how education is changing as a result of new digital technologies. In the seminar we had a really interesting discussion on the implications of such practices for our own practices, as well as the implications for the institution as a whole. 

Issues in education studies

February 1st, 2016


Image source: 

I’ve just marked the second assignment for the Issues in Education Studies course  (ED5001) that I am a tutor on and I thought that whilst it is fresh in my mind I would write a blog post, summarising some of the key themes that have been developed in the course, along with tips and hints for the students to improve their assignments in the future. In order to do this I went back over the material to date to draw out the key themes. The course builds on a previous module, ED4001, which was underpinned by the following key questions:

  • How does education change people?
  • How ought education change?
  • How do we change education?
  • What is learning?
  • Do all pupils have equal chances of success or otherwise in school?
  • What is the problem with ‘inequality’?
  • Why is gender, ethnicity and social class of interest to educationalists?
  • What international/ global issues are important?

In relation to these the students have been encouraged to draw on the following sources: their own experiences, the media, personal accounts by teachers/students, Government publications, the grey literature and peer reviewed journal articles.

Education in England - particularly since the 1980s - has been heavily influenced by neoliberal ideology - this is reflected in both education policy and the largely meritocratic schooling system that has emerged from it. In the course we have explored some of the consequences of neoliberalism in terms of educational inequalities e.g. brought about by parental choice policies, social stratification and the stratification of schooling. Finally we have looked at some of the government (policy) responses to these inequalities in particular policy around inclusion e.g. pupil premium, post-16 education and training.

Near the beginning of the course the students were provided with an overview of schooling in the UK and in particular that there are currently the following main types of schools:

  •      Maintained schools -they are overseen, or ‘maintained’, by the Local Authority. These schools must follow the national curriculum and national teacher pay and conditions. These include: Community schools (typically secondary), Foundation / trust schools (typically secondary non-faith schools), VA – Voluntary aided (Primary Faith schools), and VC – Voluntary controlled (Primary controlled by the Local authority.
  •     Academies - Academies are publically funded, independent schools, held accountable through a legally binding ‘funding agreement’. These schools have more freedom and control over curriculum design, school hours and term dates, and staff pay and conditions. These include: ‘traditional’ – schools that  were underperforming, and ‘new converts’.
  •       Free schools - New state schools (which includes independent schools becoming state schools for the first time). These are set up by teachers, parents, existing schools, educational charities, universities, and/or community groups. 
  •       Grammar schools (selective) - State funded schools,which select their pupils on the basis of academic ability. Grammar schools can also be maintained schools. 
  • Independent schools (not government funded) - Schools that charge fees to attend, rather than being funded by the government, and can make a profit. They are governed and operated by the school itself. They are lightly regulated by government and inspected by a range of bodies.

Key milestones in Education were covered, including: the 1944 Education or Butler Act, the more permissive society in the 1960s, 1976 Act requiring LEAs to reorganise school systems on comprehensive lines. Comprehensive schools provide an entitlement curriculum to all children without selection (academic or financial), the marketization of Education under Thatcher around Neo-liberalist principles such as economic liberalization, privatization, free trade, deregulation, reductions in government spending and the enhanced role of the private sector and the 1988 Education Reform Act which included the introduction of the National Curriculum, new rules on religious education and collective worship and the establishment of curriculum and assessment councils. This was augmented during the Blair years in terms of encouraging competition between schools (through league tables, postcode lotteries and selection by house prices), resulting in a diverse and unequal secondary school system. Finally the 2002 Education Act gave schools more freedom to manage their own affairs, with 85 per cent of a school’s budget directly controlled by the head teacher, and a lesser role for LEAs. Also more involvement of the private sector in state provision, greater diversity in secondary education, with more specialist schools and city academies attracting private sponsorship and the development of a more diverse 14-19 curriculum with more early entries for GCSE and much greater choice of vocational and work-based courses.

The table below compares Keynesian economics with Neoliberalism:

Keynesian Economics


       The market should be regulated

       Government should ‘manage’ economies by influencing aggregate demand(total amount of demand) e.g. through fiscal policy: taxation and government spending

       Unemployment solved by government intervention


       Economy works best when left alone (Laissez-faire economics)

       Belief that there was a market solution to economic problems such as unemployment

       Produces efficiency, growth and widespread prosperity

       ‘dead hand’ of the state saps initiative and discourages enterprise

       State bad – market good


The course also considered the implications of operating in an increasingly globalised educational context. It also considered particular instances of inequality, in particular: class, gender, race and religion and how more inclusive policies can be put in place to address inequality.

The students had a choice of essays:

  •  Education is a public service and should not be treated as a marketable commodity. Discuss.
  • The purpose of education is to enhance equality of opportunity. To what extent should all education policy be critically judged in terms of how it meets this aim?
  •  Inclusion is an assault on the schooling system as we know it. In discussing this statement identify some of the key principles and assumptions underpinning inclusion and consider what inclusive schools of the future would look like.
  • Schools should be engines of social mobility (Gove 2010). Discuss with relation to recent government policy.

The following is a summary of some of the generic feedback given to the students:

  • It is important to structure the essay and to have a clear introduction outlining the focus of the essay and a clear conclusion.
  • Key concepts and terms should be articulated, and backed up with relevant references. Wherever possible a number of different perspectives on the key concepts and terms should be provided.
  • It is important to adopt a critical stance in relation to the literature, as education studies is a contested area.
  • Where possible it is important to draw on the key themes of the course (neoliberalism, marketization, globalisation, inclusion etc.) in relation to the topic being discussed.
  • Arguments made should be backed up with relevant references and examples. 
  • References should be in the appropriate format.
  • The style of writing should be clear and concise and academic. It is important to avoid using a chatty style.

I really enjoyed reading the essays, the student worked hard to relate the topics to the key themes of the course, such as marketization, globalisation, neoliberalism and inclusion. They backed their arguments up with relevant references and examples. Key terms and concepts for the essays were defined and references, often with more that one example, to demonstrate the nuances and contested nature of these terms.

 I would like to thank Alan Howe and Catherine Simon for their comments on a draft version of this blog.  

New Learning Design book is out!

January 26th, 2016


I got my copy of ‘Learning Design: conceptualising a framework for teaching and learning online’ through the post recently. It’s always nice to see your work in print! This book is the product of a group I have been part of over the past few years. The group was headed by James Dalziel; who had a national fellowship, nurse which enabled him to bring us together a number of times, cialis to articulate what we mean by Learning Design and how it is distinct from but complementary to the more established field of Instructional Design. We had a series of excellent meetings and the result was the Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design. In addition we agreed to write this book to flesh out our various research interests.

The first chapter is co-authored and describes the Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design. In the second chapter I describe the theoretical underpinnings of Learning Design, order and how in particular it draws on socio-cultural perspectives and the concepts of mediating artefacts and the affordances of digital technology. James Dalziel and Eva Doboozy reflect on the role of metaphors for Learning Design in chapter three. In chapter four Simon Walker and Mark Kerrigan argue that Learning Design has the potential to offer ways of representing, communicating and critiquing learning ideas, patterns and experiences across different subjects and from multiple perspectives. In chapter five Eva Dobozy and Chris Campbell explores Learning Design from the much cited Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPAK) framework. They present a conceptual framework that helps to analyse Learning Design and TPACK research. I describe the 7Cs of Learning Design framework in chapter six and the associated resources and activities and how this can be used to help teachers rethink their design practice to make pedagogical informed design decisions that make appropriate use of technologies. Sue Bennett, Shirlet Agostinho and Lori Lockyer describe their research on investigating University educators’ design thinking and in particular the implications for design support tools in chapter seven. In chapter eight Sandra Wills and Chris Pegler argue for the need for a deeper understanding of reuse. Eva Dobozy and James Dalziel, in chapter nine, consider the use and usefulness of transdisciplinary pedagogical templates. Emil Badilescu-Buga discusses the social adoption of Learning Design in chapter ten. Matt Bower presents a framework for adaptive Learning Design in a web-conference environment in chapter eleven. The final chapter looks to the future, ‘Learning Design: where do we go from here?’. In addition to the book, a special issue of JIME was published with selected chapters from the book. And a special interest group on Learning Design has been set up by Simon Walker, the first meeting is later this month.

This is a must read for anyone interested in Learning Design, its origins and uses. I really enjoyed being part of the group and feel proud of the Larnaca Declaration and the book. I want to thank James for enabling this to happen and I look forward to seeing how the area develops in the coming years.

I am interested in running a series of Learning Design workshops at Bath Spa University using the 7Cs of Learning Design framework described in the book. In particular I want to help colleagues rethink their design practice, to make more pedagogically informed design decision that make appropriate use of digital technologies.