Archive for August, 2012

To cloud or not to cloud

Friday, August 10th, 2012


A couple of things recently have got me thinking about the pros and cons of moving to the cloud.

Firstly, generic my professional website ( has been hosted on siteground, sick for which I pay an annual subscription. Trouble is I have lost my password to access it and it is still registered with my old OU email account. I have contacted them to update to my Leicester email, buy so that I can access it. Also I seem to remember changing themes etc. is a bit fiddly. My personal blog ( is hosted by wordpress and I have found it much easier to use and I like the themes available. So I am thinking of transferring my professional blog too, as I can’t see the advantage of having to pay an annual subscription. OK I admit there is a comprise won’t be as nice a name as but it seems a small price to pay.

Secondly, I am thinking of transferring my pictures to the cloud as one of the (few) disadvantages of the mac book air is the storage capacity. I am not sure what to use, but plan to look at iCloud and Dropbox as options.

So this got me thinking. What are the pros and cons of this? How safe and secure are these cloud services? To lose all my blog posts or pictures would be devastating!  But I guess these services are pretty secure, as they have to be right? What are your thoughts on this? Have others got similar dilemmas?

Open access Distance Education

Saturday, August 4th, 2012


I’m delighted that the special issue of Distance Education I was guest editor for is now out and even more delighted that it is open access! Enjoy! Comments welcome! The focus of the issue was on Open Educational Resources (OER) and social inclusion. There are some great contributions in there well worth a read!

A template for designing Problem-Based Learning

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

We have recently upgraded to BlackBoard 9.1 and we have taken the opportunity to develop some pedagogical templates to help teachers create courses based around different pedagogical models. We have developed four to date:

  • A calendar-based approach
  • A topic-based approach
  • A project/case study based approach
  • A problem-based learning approach

I was tasked with developing a template for the problem-based learning approach.

What is it?

This structure is useful for inquiry-based modules, where students find or explore materials/activities to investigate/solve the problems or cases. It is particularly useful for Science courses, where the students focus on a problem that needs investigating. It is a good example of a constructivist approach to learning. The structure is based around starting with the problem to be solved, which is usually in the form of a question. Students are provided with advice on how to tackle the problem and given suggestions of resources to investigate. The problem can be tackled individually or in groups. The jigsaw pedagogical pattern is a good way of structuring a group-based activity. In this a group of 4 students are given different aspects of the problem to investigate. All the students looking at one aspect of the problem then get together with other students in other groups to share their findings. Then they return to their home team and share their collective understanding.

What does it look like?

The interdisciplinary iScience BSc at the University of Leicester is based on Problem-Based Learning. Each module begins with a key Science problem, such as comparing whether humans can run as fast as machines or issues around ecology and climate change. The students are presented with the problem and provided with advice on how to tackle it. Each topic addresses at least two discipline perspectives, including Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Ecology. In addition, they are provided with support on any competences they need to develop such as Mathematical or computing skills. Below are a few screenshots from the iScience course.  The course is organised into folders around a series of substantive interdisciplinary topics; each topic folder then contains links to relevant resources, expert sessions, group allocation (much of the work on the course is group based), brainstorming documents and any quizzes. Finally, there are a series of sub-folders articulating the key problem that the students are expected to investigate. For example, for the ‘Near Space’ module there is a link to a pdf, which begins with the question: ‘What information regarding glaciation on Mars  (and other planets) can we gain from study of glaciers on Earth?’ The document then goes on to articulate relevant information and provides the students with suggestions for how to go about their research.


Figure 1: A screenshot of the first level of folders for the course


Figure 2: Screenshot of the folders in the Science of the Invisible topic


Figure 3: Screenshot of the documentation associatted with the frozen worlds topic

Further information



Design thinking, learning design and creativity

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

I am honoured to have been invited to do a keynote at the ICEM conference in September. Here is the abstract for my talk.

Design is arguably the key challenge facing practitioners today. Social and participatory media offer a plethora of ways in which teachers and learners can communicate and collaborate. Smart phones and tablets mean that mobile learning is now a reality; learners can learn anywhere, anytime. Virtual worlds and serious games offer authentic, immersive environments that can be used to foster role-play and problem-based learning. However, teachers and learners lack the necessary digital literacy skills (Jenkins 2009)to make effective use of these technologies.

Learning Design has emerged in the last ten years or so as a means of addressing this (See Beetham and Sharpe 2007; Lockyer, Bennett et al. 2008). The talk will consider these issues and present a new Learning Design methodology that aims to provide practitioners with guidance and support, to enable them to make pedagogically informed design decisions that make innovative use of new technologies. The methodology was originally developed in the Open University UK ( and also incorporates work carried out at Leicester University on a series of Carpe Diem Learning Design workshops ( Conole provides a detailed account of the methodology (Conole Forthcoming). The methodology consists of three aspects: visual design representations, mechanisms to foster sharing and discussion of learning and teaching ideas, and a series of tailored workshops. The talk will situate this Learning Design work within the broader context of design thinking and will draw analogies with related research such as instructional design, pedagogical patterns and Open Educational Resources (OER).

Our recent work, as part of the JISC-funded project SPEED (, will be presented. The project has collated a wealth of Learning Design resources and packaged them into an online offering, which will be trialled in the autumn with four partner institutions. This will also be used in a forthcoming Learning Design Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and will form the basis of a module on Learning Design as part of a new Masters in Learning Innovation at Leicester University.

Finally, the talk will conclude by considering how the Learning Design methodology presented can foster creativity and enable practitioners to think beyond content to learning activities and the ultimate learner experience. It will present the concept of a Learning Design ecology that illustrates a vision of design building on prior resources and designs, which harnesses the power of social and participatory media.


Beetham, H. and R. Sharpe (2007). Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital age: Designing and Delivering E-Learning, Routledge %@ 0415408741 %7 New edition.

Conole, G. (Forthcoming). Designing for learning in an open world. New York, Springer.

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century, Mit Pr.           

Lockyer, L., S. Bennett, et al. (2008). Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects: Issues, Applications and Technologies, IGI Global %@ 1599048612 %7 illustrated edition.




Designing a Learning Design MOOC

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Ld mooc workshop from Grainne Conole

I am very excited to be part of a team developing a Learning Design Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), order which will be delivered in October 2012. As part of our preparation for this I attended a workshop at the OU last week. This blog post describes the outputs produced in the team I was part of which consists of myself, stuff Ale Armellini and Anna Page.

The first activity was to articulate the main personas involved in the MOOC; from those involved in designing and delivering it, find to those who are expected to participate. For each person a persona profile was created, articulating who the person was, how they were involved and what they expected to get out of being involved. In addition, we clarified where the course would take place, the nature of the interactions with others (i.e. the how) and the perceived benefits of being involved. The output from this is shown in the first slide. Personas include ‘Anna’ a 34-year old lecturer, Alice, a 24-year old PhD student, who is one of the course facilitators and Jack a 48-year old teacher who is part of the course design team.

The next slide shows the Course View map for the course. It articulates the following aspects: i) what type of guidance and support is provided, ii) what kinds of activities and content will the learners use, iii) what kinds of communication and collaborative activities will they be involved with, and iv) what kinds of reflection and demonstration are the learners expected to complete.

The final slide shows the storyboard for the course. Learning outcomes are listed at the top left hand side. Along the centre are the e-tivities included. For each e-tivity associated resources and tools are listed, along with any outputs created by the learners. So for example, in e-tivity 1 the learners are required to view a ppt screencast on learning design, watch a view, and read a pdf. They then post a blog post reflecting on these materials and what they have learnt, as well as commenting on two other blog posts produced by co-learners. In e-tivity 2 they google the phrase ‘Learning Design theory’, read a chapter and then work collaboratively to synthesise what they have found on a wiki. In e-tivity 3 they contribute to a Discussion Forum, which is facilitated by a tutor. Finally, in e-tivity 4 they synthesise all the resources they have collated and the discussions they have taken part in, to produce a final, assessed 1, 000 word essay or equivalent. The stages of learning they engage with are also listed (i.e. reflection, collation, collaborative aggregation, discussion and application). Finally, the criteria associated with the summative assignment are listed.