Archive for December, 2011

Reflecting on 2011

Friday, December 30th, 2011

As 2011 comes to an end I thought it would be nice to reflect back on the year. This has certainly been a year of change for me, look both personally and professionally. I have been involved in lots of fantastic projects; particularly on learning design and Open Educational Resources. The two main achievements for me this year were the submission of my book, physician ‘Designing for learning in an open world’, to Springer and starting my new job as professor of learning innovation at Leicester University.


The Design-Practice project with Cyprus and Greece came to an end in October. It was a great project, transferring the learning design methodology we developed at the OU to teachers in Cyprus and Greece. I am also continuing to be involved in the JISC OULDI project, which has been a great success and very much the foundation for much of my thinking on learning design. I have also been involved in the STELLAR network, LD Grid, and have had some excellent conversations with others passionate about learning design. Closely linked to this was a recent trip to Sydney as part of James Dalziel’s fellowship. For both networks we have lots of good ideas of how to take the area forward. With Tapio Koskinen, from Aalto University, I co-edited a special issue of e-learning papers on learning design; there are some great contributions in the issue.

In terms of OER I was involved in the Olnet initiative at the OU and contributions here include a recently published special issue of EURODL on creativity and OER, as part of Elsebeth Soreson’s Olnet fellowship. I have also been lucky enough to travel the world, literally – including Bali, Sydney and many European countries.

2011 was also the year in which social and participatory media became even more important for me, in both a professional and personal capacity. I continue to be an avid fan of Twitter, but this year has seen my use of Facebook increase dramatically. I am also connected in LinkedIn and Google+ but these tools haven’t, as of yet, really made an impact on my daily practice.

I am looking forward to working with colleagues at Leicester in the New Year and to continuing to build on the existing research work and international collaborations. Where will things be this time next year? I don’t know, but no doubt 2012 will be as busy and interesting as 2011.

Happy New Year and thanks for taking the time to read my blog and to post comments!

Designing for learning spaces

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

In September we were lucky enough to have Matthew Riddle from La Trobe university come and give us a talk. His abstract stated the following:

The role of the university campus is changing in subtle and important ways. Today, student ‘timescapes’ typically involve moving between places to work, study, sleep, eat, and play, and the boundaries between these places are now less distinct as wireless networks, laptops, smart phones, and iPads afford greater flexibility and mobility. Yet learning spaces are still being designed with traditional ‘chalk and talk’ modes in mind — arguably to the detriment of learning outcomes. This workshop uses findings and methods from the Spaces for Knowledge Generation project, funded by the Australian Teaching and Learning Council, to provide novel ways to inform learning space design with student perspectives. It will give you an opportunity to apply some of these techniques to the design of learning spaces within your own institution. Teaching staff and administrators who have involvement or interest in the design and planning of learning spaces will benefit from this workshop.

In particular, Matt described the designing for learning spaces project he was involved with, along with Mike Keppell, Kay Scouter and others. The Spaces for Knowledge Generation (SKG) project,[1] aimed to inform, guide and support sustainable development of learning and teaching spaces and practices. The final report is now available online,[2] and a book related to this work is now out (Keppell, Souter et al. 2011). The project team undertook an extensive world tour of some innovative learning places and explored what new forms of learning spaces might be needed to effectively use new technologies in a blended learning context.


The project developed seven principles for designing learning spaces:

·        Comfort – a space that creates a physical and mental sense of east and well-being.

·        Aesthetics – pleasure that includes the recognition of symmetry, harmony, simplicity and fitness for purpose.

·        Flow – the state of mind felt by a learner when totally involved in the learning experience.

·        Equity – consideration of the needs of cultural and physical differences.

·        Blending – a mixture of technological and face-to-face pedagogical resources.

·        Affordances – the ‘action possibilities’ the learning environment provides the users, including such things as kitchens, natural light, wifi, private spaces, writing surfaces, sofas, etc.

·        Repurposing – the potential for multiple uses.

Interestingly, they also drew on the Cave, Mountain Top, Campfire and watering hole metaphor I described in an earlier blog. The site has lots of good resources and tips for designing effectively learning spaces, which make good use of technologies, well worth a look.

A few other related links of interest:





The snowflake effect

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011


Image from

I like Erik Duval’s concept of the snowflake effect[1] in terms of user interactions with new technologies. He defines this as follows:

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.

He goes on to as the question: What could, a “snowflaked” learning environment look like?

I think there are a lot of synergies here with the way in which I have been using Gibson’s notion of affordances.(Gibson 1979) I argue that technologies have a set of characteristics or affordances, that will mean different things to different people, i.e. each user comes to a particular technology with a unique set of characteristics, these include their personal preferences for how they want to interact with technologies, their skills level, their context, etc.  


Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associated.




[1] See

 for more on this.

Memes and metaphors in networked technologies

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

In this blog post I want to explore how the concepts of memes and metaphors can be used to better our understanding of the patterns of user behaviour we are seeing in digital and networked technologies.

I have been thinking quite a bit recently about the affordances that social and participatory media offer in terms of fostering new forms of communication, collaboration and information exchange. The speed with which it is now possible to share and the extent of our digital networks provides opportunities for unprecedented forms of interaction. In trying to understand this new phenomena I want to explore how the notions of memes and metaphors might be useful in explaining what is happening.


The notion of memes dates back to a fundamental aspect of human nature, namely story telling. Through the ages humans have communicated and co-constructed knowledge through stories, from the camp fire through to interaction via today’s technologies. Building on this, the concept of memes refers to the notion of how a particular idea gets picked up and spread from person to person. Susan Blackmore in her book ‘the meme machine’, (Blackmore 1999) argues that what makes us different from other animals is our ability to imitate. She refers to this as a meme:

When you imitate someone else, something is passed on. This “something” can then be passed on again, and again, and so take on a life of its own. We might call this thing an idea, an instruction, a behaviour, a piece of information … but if we are going to study it we shall need to give it a name.

In more recent work she[1] defines Internet memes as:

something that spreads like wildfire on the web- seemingly for no explicable reason. A meme can be as sublime as one of the many intricate Downfall parodies or as ridiculous as a rickroll - both reached millions of people.

The speed with which memes can spread via technologies now means that ideas can be shared at a near instantaneous speed. However a downside of this, it could be argued, is that there is a convergence of thought around particular memes. For example, in an e-learning context a number of memes are currently prevalent, such as: the notion of openness, distributed and collective intelligence and connectivism, Communities of Practice, etc. Whilst there are clear benefits to having a collective shared and co-constructed understanding, is there a danger that innovation and creativity will be stifled? How do new ideas get voiced and picked up amongst the noise of prominent discourses?


A number of metaphors have evolved to explain the way in which we interact with digital technologies. The limitation of existing vocabulary around space and time restricts our understanding of the nature of interactions through digital technologies and does not fully explain what is happening. In the early days of the use of the Internet, people talked about virtual cafes and lecture theatre, directly mapping the physical space onto the online environment. However, as our interaction in these digital technologies has evolved the patterns of user behaviour arguably go beyond the simple notion of virtual presence, it is complex, distributed and fragmented. For example, at anyone moment others are connected to us in a variety of ways, reading a tweet or blog, communicating via Skype, answering emails, taking part in a synchronous audio conference, accessing our contributions through Google.  I have previously suggested that we should extend the concept of space and time to include two additional categories, namely: functional and connected.(Conole in Lee and McLoghlin 2010)

What is the nature of digital networks and our interactions with them and why are they so important? Networks and connection with others is a fundamental human characteristic and has always been important but what is different with new technologies? Well I would argue there are a number of significant characteristics of new technologies that make networking in a digital context different, these include: the size of the network, the scale, and the speed of interaction possible. Through digital networks viral near instantaneous viral spread of memes is now possible.

I want to argue that we need new metaphors to explain the interactions that are occurring in digital networks. I think we can learn a lot through application of metaphors derived from ecology. For example, the notion of evolving digital landscapes, spaces which are colonized and adapted, the harnessing of the affordances of different technologies within this digital landscape. The Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest applies. There is an adaptation of technologies to meet particular needs and conversely adapted of users as the co-evolve with the use of these technologies and adapt their practice.

To illustrate this I will now provide some examples. The first focuses on the evolution of the use of Twitter. For example the ways in which we have seen the emergence of the hashtag as a means of aggregating tweets around a particular topic and the use of @twitterID to target a particular user. There is also the ability to link to other activity streams such as Linkedin, fb and Google+.  My second example explores the ways in which academic discourse is now being articulated across different media. From Twitter through fb/Google+ etc through to academic publications. Essentially representing a shift from a stream of consciousness through peer debate, peer review and validation and finally a consolidated set of ideas.

There have been a number of theories around the notion of online interactions and communities. Anderson and Dron’s work for example on groups, networks and collectives is useful in illustrating the spectrum of connectedness from tightly defined groups through to loosely defined collectives (Dron and Anderson 2007). Each has a value and a purpose in different contexts.

There is a fragmentation of identity across the network vs. the sum is greater than the parts. Through networked technology it is now possible to have an amplification of ideas by others across different media. However there are also issue of trust, who do you trust and why and how do you come to trust them? Networked technologies enable unprecedented levels of connectiveness and different types of interaction with different people. The theory of 6 degrees of separation is now arguably down to 3 through these networked technologies.

Metaphors of learning

In terms of metaphors for learning, a simple but effective one is the notion of campfires, watering holes, mountain tops and the cave. Thornberg[2] expands on these as follows.

The campfire. For thousands of years, storytelling was a mechanism for teaching. While it was not the only mechanism, it was (and is) an important one. Through storytelling, the wisdom of elders was passed to the next generation. Good stories have always embodied a blend of the cognitive and affective domains — in fact, in story, there is no separation between the two.

The watering hole. Just as campfires resonate deeply across space and time, watering holes have an equal status in the pantheon of learning places. Virtually every hominid on the planet has, at one time in its historical existence, needed to gather at a central source for water. During these trips to the watering hole, people shared information with their neighbors — those within their own village, as well as those from neighboring villages and travelers on their way to or from a distant village. The watering hole became a place where we learned from our peers — where we shared the news of the day.

The cave. The learning community of the campfire brought us in contact with experts, and that of the watering hole brought us in contact with peers. There is another primordial learning environment of great importance: the cave — where we came in contact with ourselves.

The mountain top. This is where we present our ideas and our learning to the world.

Other theoretical perspectives

Another interesting take on metaphors which I think has potential application to understanding digital interactions is Morgan’s notions of organisational metaphors.[3] These include: organisation as machine (emphasising the structural aspects of organisations), brain (organisation as information processing systems), organism (a living ecosystem), culture (organisation as being made up of mini-cultures with different customs and values) and political (highlighting the relationship between different interests, conflicts and power dynamics). How might viewing online interactions through these different lenses be useful?

A number of other theories might be useful in terms of explaining online interactions. Activity theory and the concept of mediating artefacts is useful as it provides a lens that takes into account the context within which we interact in online spaces. Actor Network Theory (ANT) might be useful as it considers both human and non-human objects as part of a digital, extended network. I think this links nicely to George Siemens concept of Connectivism.

Finally, the concepts of knots and rhizomes might be useful. Engeström,[4] also uses a biological metaphor through considering the notion of mycorrhizae as one means of understanding complex modern working practices - nodal, interconnected, mainly unseen and distributed. He draws on Deleuze and Guattari (1987) concepts of a ‘rhizome’, which emphasizes the importance of horizontal and multidirectional connections in human lives, in contrast to the dominant vertical, tree-like images of hiearchy.


What other metaphors and analogies might we apply that have been developed in other disciplines that focus on explaining and understanding complex dynamic systems? Is it possible to combine a number of metaphors and apply them to understanding socio-cultural human dynamics through technologies?


Blackmore, S. (1999). The meme machine. Oxford and New York, Oxford University.

Dron, J. and T. Anderson (2007). Collectives, networks and groups in social software for e-Learning. Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education Quebec. Retrieved Feb. 16: 2008.           

Lee, M. J. W. and C. McLoghlin (2010). Web 2.0-based e-learning: applying social informative for tertiary teaching. Hershey, PA, IGI Global.











Scoop it!

Saturday, December 24th, 2011


I have just started using ScoopIt and I am loving it! I have set up one topic on elearning related articles and have been having fun today adding my favourite recipes to a topic on food. It is a great way of aggregating useful references and sharing these with others. I also like the fact that you can follow other people’s topics. What an amazing tool!

Three months on

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

I can’t believe that I have been at Leicester University three months already! I thought this would be a good time to put down some reflections on what has happened over the past few months. Firstly, here I want to say a huge thank you to everyone in BDRA and CDDU, tadalafil as well as people across the university, viagra order who have made me feel very welcome.

One of the key remits in my new job is to make the excellent research and development work that BDRA and CDDU have been doing more relevant across the institution and in particular to feed into institutional policy and practice. With this in mind, my first task was to get out and meet people and find out what people wanted from BDRA/CDDU and what were the issues they were facing with using technologies to support their teaching. Armed with this information I have then been working with senior managers and people in BDRA/CDDU to create a vision for the future in terms of achieving this. To this end, we are working on a vision statement and roadmap for taking things forward which we will share with people in the New Year.

We are also working with the Blackboard project team in terms of our planned move to Blackboard 9.1. This includes a university wide consultation process to find out what people are doing with Blackboard, what other tools they are using and what they would like to do in the future. This has included an online survey and we are conducting interviews and focus groups the academics and students. This should give us a rich picture of how the VLE is being used. I am also doing a keynote at the Blackboard conference in Durham in the New Year, it will be useful to find out what others are doing in other institutions. 

We are in the process of developing a new master programme in Learning Innovation, which will consist of the following modules: Technology Enhanced Learning (an overview of the field), Learning Design, Research Methods, Case Studies of Innovation and a double dissertation/project module. We hope to have this up and running by the next academic year.

I am looking forward to continued collaboration with people across Leicester in the New Year!

On a footnote, we are planning to humanely release the animals into the wild, sshh don’t tell anyone ;-) 

Google citations

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Has anyone else come across Google Citations? Thanks to Terry Anderson for pointing it out to me. You need to register and also you can choose to keep the results private or make public. Mine is here.

It is based on the H factor algorithm that originated in Physics and gives you an indication of how many times your papers have been cited by others. It strips out any self-referencing and also lists your papers in order, with the highest cited paper on the top. I think it is highly likely that tools like this will be used increasingly by employers looking at applicants and also as part of the dreaded research audit exercises. It is interesting to see which papers are cited more and to reflect on why. The paper Martin Dyke and I did on affordances is third. This was a controversial paper where we considered the notion of affordances (Gibson 1979). I am not sure I agree now with all of the things we said, but at least it stirred things up a bit! I think we need more of that in our field, there is a danger we are all singing from the same hymn sheet too much. Mark Nichols gave a nice invited talk at ASCILITE 2009 on this topic, he argued that we need more diversity in the field and need to be prepared to argue and challenge one another a little more. I totally agree!

Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associated.



Conferences: SVEA, Media and Learning

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

In November I spent a productive few days in Brussels attending the SVEA and the Media and Learning conferences.

There were three keynotes for SVEA. Lieve Van Den Brande from the commission gave an overview of EU policy perspectives on the use of technology in learning and then described their Creative Classroomsprogramme. I gave a broad overview of soial and participatory media and then Helen Keegan from Salford University (picture below) finished by describing how she is using social media with her students and in particular Twitter – innovative stuff!


In the afternoon I was part of a fishbowl session, recipe where panelists sat in an inner circle with the audience around the outside. We covered a range of interesting topics, no rx members of the audience could join in the inner circle when they wanted to say something, stomach nice format.

Media and Learning was a two-day conference with good attendence and some excellent keynotes. In particular it was nice to hear Donald Clark. Interestingly he argued that lecturing was now a good delivry mode but he gave a great lecture! I was involved in a panel session at the end of the first day, with Claudio Donde and Helen Keegan. Allen Patridge from Adobe gave a nice provocative introduction to the session on the holy cows of elearning. See his blog post about it.

The state of the art of educational technology

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

This blog post is a draft of a chapter I am writing on the emergence of research into the use of technologies to support education. It describes the nature of the field, along with some of the current  ways in which technologies are being used. Does it adequately describe the nature of the field? Is there anything missing? Are there other research questions I should include at the end? Any thoughts or comments welcome!


Educational technology has been used in earnest in education for over forty years, from the development of interactive multimedia resources through to the use of the Internet, mobile and augmented technologies in recent years (Spector 2008). This chapter provides a review of the area and reflects on the promises and challenges of trying to incorporate technologies into education. Research in the field has matured and there are now a vibrant sub-set of different research areas, such as exploring learners’ perceptions of the use of technologies, practitioners’ practices, the use of Open Educational Resource and more broadly open approaches to the design and delivery of educational offerings, as well as approaches which help guide practice such as the use of pedagogical patterns and learning design as a methodology to enable teachers to make informed decisions about using technologies.

The chapter provides an overview of the research field, its key characteristics and associated theoretical and methodological perspectives. It draws on relevant research literature and on a series of interviews with leading Technology Enhanced Learning researchers (Conole, Scanlon et al. 2010).

The emergence of the field

Educational technology as a field can be traced back to the beginning of the 19th Century, however significant investment in the field dates back to the sixties with the development and use of teaching machines and the emergence of multimedia software in the eighties. In parallel there was a shift from a focus on behaviorist approaches to learning (with a focus on the individual and stimulus and response approaches) to more constructivist (building on prior knowledge) and social situative (learning with others and in a context) approaches. New technologies appeared to offer much to support these new pedagogies, particularly through new social and participatory media that have emerged in the last five years or so.

In addition to educational technology, over the years different terms have been used with respect to researching the use of technologies for learning and teaching. These include elearning, learning technology, networked learning and Technology-Enhanced Learning; each with a subtle nuance. For example, Kehrwald (2010) citing Steeples and Jones (2002) argues that:

Networked Learning, by definition, involves the use of information and communication technologies to create connections (Jones & Steeples, 2002).  By utilising those connections, learners have opportunities for interpersonal interaction and more complex social activity.   Thus, networked learning is an active, social endeavour in which the mediating technologies provide an infrastructure for social activity.

Educational technology suggests the emphasis is on formal learning, whereas it is important that the term covers non-formal and informal learning as well. Conole and Oliver (2007) favour the term elearning and make the following distinctions:

E-learning is the term most commonly used to represent the broader domain of development and research activities on the application of technologies to education. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) refers to the broad range of technologies, which are used in education. When these are used with reference to their use in learning and teaching we tend to use the term ‘learning technologies’.

For some, the term elearning has become too closely tied in with a particular subset of technologies, namely Learning Management System and the term Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) has been favoured in many European contexts, as it is felt that TEL emphasises the support of learning by technologies. For the purpose of this chapter the term elearning will be used as I feel it most adequately encapsulates the nature of the field, i.e. researching the use of technologies (covering Internet-based technologies as well as mobile and other devices) to support learning and teaching.

Theory and methodology

Elearning as a field is inherently applied and interdisciplinary; researchers come from a wide range of disciplines and hence bring with them a rich set of theoretical perspectives and methodologies.

In a series of interviews with key researchers in the field,(Conole, Scanlon et al. 2010) a group of influential thinkers were identified. There does appear to be a common shared discourse underpinning the field. Socio-cultural approaches – in particular the work of (Vygotsky 1978), Engeström and others around  Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT)  (Engeström, Punamäki-Gitai et al. 1999), Laurillard’s ‘Rethinking university teaching and learning’ (Laurillard 2002) and Mason (Mason and Kaye 1989). Other theoretical perspectives these researchers are drawing on include:  Alan Collins (Collins 1992) (design-based research); Michael Patton (Patton 2008) (utilisation focused evaluation); Barbara Rogoff (Rogoff 2003) (cultural psychology); Maggie Boden (Boden 1989) (artificial Intelligence and psychology); Lave and Wenger (Lave and Wenger 1998) (communities of practice); Alan Blackwell (Blackwell, Wilson et al. 2009) (interdisciplinarity); Howard Gardner (Gardener 1993)  (multiple intelligences); James Wertsch (Wertsch 1991) (mediating artefacts); and Michael Cole (Cole, Engeström et al. 1997).

Looking at some of the specific texts that were cited as influences is also insightful.  These included ‘Educating the Reflective Practitioner’ (Schön 1987), ‘Academic Tribes and ‘Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Cultures of Discipline’ (Becher & Trowler 2001), ‘Distributed Cognition’ (Salomon 1997),  ‘Plans and situated actions: the problem of human-machine communication’ (Suchman 1987), ‘A dynamic medium for creative thought’, (Kay 1972), ‘‘Doing Research/Reading Research Re-interrogating Education’, (Dowling and Brown 2010) and ‘Common and Border Lands’ (Strathern 2004).

In the same interviews the following were cited as the methodologies that were most frequently used: socio-cultural research, Activity Theory, Qualitative Research Methodology, Design Research Methodology and Grounded Theory. It should be noted that these researchers were primarily European and arguably more quantitative approaches are evident in other parts of the world, such as North America.

Today’s technologies

This section will provide a review of the current spectrum of technologies that are available to support learning and will consider some of the ways in which they are being used to support different pedagogical approaches,

Conole et al. (Conole, Smith et al. 2007) provide a timeline of technologies in education from the sixties to 2000. They describe the emergence and influence of the following: mainframe computers, desktop computers, graphical interfaces, the Internet, Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs),[1] Managed Learning Environments (MLEs), and mobile and wireless devices. Use of these tools included the creation of interactive multimedia materials and e-assessment, the creation of departmental web pages to store course materials, the use of email and discussion forums to support communication between tutors and learners and the creation of holistic online learning environments using VLEs.

Since 2000 we have since the emergence of new technologies that provide a plethora of ways in which teachers and learners can interact and communicate. These include new social and participatory media, which O’Reilly referred to as Web 2.0 technologies (O’Reilly 2004; O’Reilly 2005), virtual worlds such as Second Life, game-based technologies and more recently augmented and gesture technologies. The annual horizon report (NMC 2011) lists the technologies that are most likely to have an impact within a one, three and five year timeframe. For 2011, these were: ebooks and mobile devices, augmented and gesture technologies and within five years learning analytics (Elias 2011). Siemens (2010) defines learning analytics as:

the use of intelligent data, learner-produced data, and analysis models to discover information and social connections, and to predict and advise on learning.

In a review of social and participatory media, Conole and Alevizou (2010) categorise them as follows: media sharing (such as YouTube and Flickr), media manipulation and mash ups, instant messaging, online games and virtual worlds, social networking, blogs, social bookmarking, recommender systems, wikis and collaborative editors, and syndication tools.  In addition they identified a number of important affordances (Gibson 1979) that these technologies offer to support learning. De Freitas and Conole (2010) list the following as key technological trends that have emerged in recent years:

1.      A shift towards ubiquitous and networked technologies.

2.      The emergence of context and location aware devices.

3.      The increasingly rich and diverse different forms of representation and stimulatory environments possible.

4.      The trend towards more mobile and adaptive devices.

5.      A technical infrastructure that is global, distributed and interoperable.

Conole (Forthcoming) notes the following trends:

1.      A shift from the Web as a content repository and information mechanism to a Web that enables more social mediation and user generation of content.

2.      New practices of sharing (such as the use of Flickr for images,[2] YouTube for videos,[3] and SlideShare for presentations)[4] and mechanisms for content production, communication and collaboration (through blogs, wikis and micro-blogging services such as Twitter). Social networking sites provide a mechanism for connecting people and supporting different communities of practice (such as Facebook, Elgg[5] and Ning).[6]

3.      A scale or ‘network effect’ is emerging as a result of the quantity of information available on the Web; he multiplicity of connectivity and the scale of user participation, and as a result new possibilities for sharing and harnessing these ‘network effects’ is occurring.

She goes on to argue that these trends point to new ways in which users are behaving in online spaces. They provide a range of opportunities for supporting learning and teaching practices. Through these new technologies the Web is more participatory and user centered, supporting more open practices.  A number of characteristics define social and participatory media and demonstrate the ways in which they enable these more participatory approaches. Firstly, the ability to peer critique on the work of others is now common practice in the blogosphere for example. Secondly, tools to enable users to generate their own content. Thirdly, these technologies enable collective aggregation on a global scale, which refers both to the ways in which individuals can collate and order content to suit their individual needs and personal preferences, as well as the ways individual content can be enriched. Fourthly, a rich ecology of community formations have now emerged; from tightly defined Communities of Practice (Wenger 1998) through to looser networks and collectives (Dron and Anderson 2007). Finally, new forms of digital identity are emerging; individuals need to define their digital identity and how they ‘present’ themselves across these spaces. The avatars we choose to represent ourselves, the style of language we use and the degree to which we are open (both professionally and personally) within these spaces, give a collective picture of how we are viewed by others.

In addition to social and participatory media, we have seen the emergence of smart phones, tablets and e-book devices in recent years, which provide learners with access to a rich range of learning materials. Many of these devices enable some degree of interactivity, for example the ability to annotate resources or share and discuss them with others. The affordances of mobile learning, including the ability to learn anywhere and anytime and being able to bridge between formal, informal and non-formal learning. In the MyArtSpace project, Shaples et al. explored the use of mobile devices between schools and museums (Sharples, Meek et al. 2007). The students were able to view multimedia presentations of museum exhibits, take photos, make voice recordings, write notes and see who else has viewed the exhibit. Mobile devices are particular powerful when combined with location aware functionality and can be used to promote activities such as geocaching. Clough defines geocaching as ‘a leisure activity in which participants use a global positioning system (GPS) mobile device to locate a hidden ‘cache’. The cache is usually a physical container concealed somewhere in the landscape. Participants are given a starting location (a car park or other easily identifiable spot) and then use the GPS coordinates to guide them to the cache. Geocaching involves exercise and getting about outdoors’.[7] Clough reports on a study on the use of GPS with social technologies. The study aimed to consider whether whether these technologies can provide an effective focus for community activities and, if so, whether this combination of location-awareness, mobile, and Web 2.0 technology results in the creation of novel informal learning opportunities (Clough 2010).

An active area of research is the exploratory of the use of games and virtual worlds to support learning. These can be particularly useful in fostering situative pedagogies such as authentic and role-based learning. JISC refers to these as Game-Base Learning (GBL), which range from rich immersive virtual worlds such as Second Life to simple interactive and quiz-based games (JISC 2007). The report argues that serious games services and applications have a role to play in relation to their potential to provide greater opportunities for personalising learning experiences (O’Donoghue 2010). The report goes on to cite a number of benefits of GBL, these include: motivation, integrating a range of tools and the spontaneous formation of social networks. Games such as WorldofWarCraft have a vibrant and extensive network of online gamers distributed worldwide, supporting and peer critiquing each other as they develop their gaming competences.  Gros (2010) lists the following as some of the benefits of Games-Based Learning: games as a powerful context, immersive learning, development of soft skills, and the ability to support complex learning. Virtual worlds, such as Second Life can promote authentic and role-based learning. For example, it can be used to create Art galleries and museums, to support virtual exhibitions, to simulate Medical ward or Law courtroom role plays (EDUCAUSE 2008). The power is Second Life is that it provides an authentic virtual environment acting as a proxy for the real world and allowing users to inhabit personas and situations that might otherwise be unavailable to them. The SWIFT project[8] has created a virtual Genetics laboratory that is being used with students at the University of Leicester to provide them with an authentic environment to get accustomed to working in a laboratory; from learning basic safety rules through to use of virtual equipment such as microscopes and centrifuges (Rudman, Levelle et al. 2010).

Haptic technologies are increasingly being used particularly in vocational, applied learning contexts. For example, Tse et al. describe a virtual dental training system (hapTEL), which allows dental students to learn and practice procedures such as dental drilling, caries removal and cavity prevention for tooth restoration. 

One of the key affordance of many new technologies, particularly social and participatory technologies, is the way in which they can promote more open approaches to practice. Conole considers what adopting more open practices might mean in terms of the design and delivery of educational interventions and in terms of digital scholarship and more open approaches to research (Conole Forthcoming).

In terms of open delivery, an area of interest that has emerged in recent years is the development and promotion of Open Educational Resources. The OER movement is based on the premise that educational resources should be freely available. It has been promoted by organizations such as the Hewlett Foundation and UNESCO. Early work focused on the creation and population of OER repositories and there was perhaps a naïve assumption that if these resources were made available learners and teachers would use and repurpose them. However evaluation of the use of this repositories showed that this was not the case (Petrides and Jimes 2006; McAndrew, Santos et al. 2009). As a result research effort has now shifted to identifying the practices around the design, use and repurposing of OER. The OPAL initiative[9] analysed over 60 case studies of OER initiatives and from this derived a set of OER practices, namely: strategy and policy, staff development and support, tools and tool practices, and enablers and barriers (Conole Forthcoming). These have now being incorporated into a set of guidelines for key stakeholders (learners, teachers, institutional managers and policy makers). Individuals or organizations can use the guidelines to benchmark their existing OER practices and then as a guide to the creation of a vision and implementation plan. The hope is that practical use of these guidelines will result in better uptake and use of OER.

In addition to free resources, we have also seen the emergence of free courses, often referred to as Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). For example, Siemens and Downes developed and delivered a twelve-week online course on Connectivism, called ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’.[10] Not only were the tools and resources they used in the course free, but also the expertise. An impressive 2 400 joined the first course in 2008, although ultimately the number of active participants was only about 200. The course provides a nice example of an extension of the open movement, moving beyond the OER movement to providing a totally free course. However, these free resources and courses are challenging existing educational institutions, in a context where expertise, tools and resources are free, what is the role of traditional institutions? In addition, we are seeing new business models emerging as a result, such as the Peer-to-Peer University,[11] which provides a peer-accredited ‘badging’ scheme for competences and the OER University,[12] which is an international consortium of institutions. With OER University, learners can work through any materials they want and when they are ready can choose to be accredited through one of the consortium member institutions.

Weller discusses what it might mean to adopt more open approaches to scholarship and research (Weller Forthcoming). He argues that there are three inter-related characteristics: open, digital and networked. He argues that new technologies mean we can do things differently. He cites the way in which Twitter, for example, can enable researchers to have access to immediate expertise. We have also seen how the social networking site, Cloudworks,[13] that we have developed for academics can be used as a means of promoting the sharing and discussing on learning and teaching ideas. Academics are increasingly using a range of social tools (such as Twitter, blogs, wikis, social networking sites, social bookmarking sites, etc.) to support their academic practice and to be part of a global network of peers.


The new technologies described in this chapter clearly have significant potential to transform learning and teaching. The emergence of these technologies has shifted practice on the Internet away from passive, information provision to active, user engagement. They offer learners and teachers a plethora of ways to communicate and collaborate, to connect with a distributed network of peers, and to find and manipulate information. We are beginning to see ways in which teacher and learner practice and experience is changing as a result, however, we are only beginning to understand how to utilize these effectively.

They also raise challenging questions, such as: what are the implications for traditional educational institutions in a world where content and expertise is increasingly free? What is the appropriate balance of institutional Learning Management Systems vs. cloud-based computing? How are roles and identities changing? What are the implications of the increased blurred context of formal/informal learning, and teaching/learning? 

Conole argues that a number of shifts in practice are evident (Conole Forthcoming). Firstly, that researchers are increasingly adopting more open practices in how they disseminate and communicate their research findings. Many researchers now keep blogs as a means of publishing ideas in progress, which compliment more traditional forms of publication through journals and books. In addition, many institutions now have open research repositories and require researchers to deposit their research outputs. Secondly, we are beginning to see a harnesses of the collective wisdom of the crowd (Surowiecki 2004), through use of an individual’s Twitter network to ask questions and provide answers through to harnessing the collective mass to address large-scale research questions and data collection.[14] Thirdly, digital scholarship is beginning increasingly important and is challenging traditional metrics for measuring academic impact. Fourthly, open resources and courses are challenging traditional educational offerings and we are seeing the emergence of new alliances and business models as a result. Fifthly, learners are now technologically immersed and see technologies as a core learning tool. They are adopting more just-in-time approaches to learning, and increasingly working more collaboratively (Sharpe and Beetham 2010). Finally, the plethora of tools now available is bewildering and institutions and individuals increasingly need to make informed choices of which technologies to use in which contexts, mixing institutional systems with freely available, cloud-bases services.

Conole then concludes with a series of suggested topics for future research in the field, which include:

1.     What might a coherent learning design language look like and how might it be shared?

2.     What other Mediating Artefacts do we need to develop to enable learners and teachers make more effective use of technologies to support learning? What are the different ways in which learning interventions can be represented?

3.     How can we foster a global network and Community of Practice to enable learners and teachers to share and discuss learning and teaching ideas? How can social networking and other dialogic tools be used to enable teachers to share and discuss their learning and teaching practices, ideas and designs?

4.     What tools do we need to guide design practice, visualise designs and provide a digital environment for learners and teachers to share and discuss?

5.     What are the implications and likely impact of social and participatory media for education and how can they be harnessed more effectively to support learning?

6.     What will be the impact of new emergent technologies on the stakeholders involved in education?

7.     What new pedagogies are emerging as a result of these new technologies?

8.     What are the implications for learners, teachers and institutions of new social and participatory media?

9.     How will the processes of supporting learning (design, delivery, support and assessment) change as a result of new technologies?

10. What social exclusion issues are arising with the increased use of new technologies? How can we promote more socially inclusive practices?

11. How are Open Educational Resources being design, used and repurposed?

12. What are the implications for formal institutions of the increasingly availability of free resources, tools and even total educational offerings, such as Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)?

13. What digital literacy skills do learners and teachers need to make effective use of these technologies and resources? To what extent are they evident and how can they be developed?

14. How are the ways in which learners and teachers communicate and collaborate changing with the use of these technologies?

15. How can we create effective new digital learning environments to promote the use of social and participatory media and OER?

16. How can informal learning using OER be assessed and accredited?

17. What kinds of policy directives are in place to promote social inclusion through the use of OER and how effective are they?

18. What new methodologies and theoretical perspectives will be needed to address these research questions and to interpret the findings?

This is an exciting but challenging time for education, where we operate within an increasing networked society (Castells 2000) and are having to operate within increasing financial constraints. Industrial modes of learning are no longer appropriate and do not meet the needs of an individual in today’s society.  Learning needs to be contextualized, relevant, social and just-in-time. New technologies provide an important part of the solution in terms of addressing this, but teachers and learners need support and guidance to make informed decisions on how to harness these technologies for their particular needs.


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[1] Also termed Learning Management Systems (LMSs)


























[14] See for example [14] and

Interconnectedness of design and e-pedagogy

Thursday, December 15th, 2011


Yesterday I did a presentation to faculty at CQUniversity. I was physically at the Sydney campus with about ten people and connected via BlackBoard Collaborate online to about 40 other people. The session has been recorded and is available at

In the talk I considered the current landscape of digital technologies and their associated technologies. I also looked at current teacher practice as well as the ways in which learners are using new technologies. I then suggested some ways in which we might as a community adopt more open practices in terms of design, viagra delivery, scholarship and research, concluding with a reflection on the nature of my own digital landscape and which tools I use on a daily basis.  

I enjoyed the session but do wish I had left a little more time for questions ;-) Note to self do a shorter presentation next time…..

 In case you are wondering the picture is of a bike up a tree, taken when I was in Vilnius recently. Seems to epitomise for me the topsy-turvy and complex world we now live in, well you have to admit it is a good picture if nothing else!