Archive for April, 2015

Characteristics of digital technologies

Thursday, April 30th, 2015


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I am doing a talk here at Bath Spa University to the librarians tomorrow morning and have been working on my slides. I plan to give an overview of digital technologies before describing my research around three phases of the evolution of technologies over the last thirty years or so: multimedia and the Internet, no rx social media and Learning Design. It got me thinking about the characteristics of digital technologies. I brainstormed some ideas, put them together as a diagram and posted on fb and Twitter and invited others to add to. I was surprised by the amount of responses.

The positive characteristics of digital technologies include:

  • Across devices – now it is possible to access content across multiple devices, particularly through cloud services
  • Mobile – the emergence of mobile devices in recent years means it is now possible to be online anywhere, anytime
  • Dynamic – we constantly co-evolve with technologies, as we start to incorporate particular tools into our daily practices, a recent example for me was the use of the curation tool, pearltrees, which I am finding invaluable
  • Personalised – each of us has a different set of tools we use on a regular basis, making up our own personalised digital environment, for me this includes email (of course), fb, Twitter, Skype, etc.
  • Connected – we are now part of a global community of peers, through social networking sites such as fb, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Ubiquitous  - now more than ever almost everywhere has wifi, so we can be constantly online, even the number 38 bus to Bristol has wifi!
  • Global – there are no longer national boundaries, it is possible to easily connect with people around the globe
  • Robust – most devices are pretty robust and reliable these days, it is rare for them to go wrong
  • Interactive – a key characteristic of social media in particular is that they are interactive, the web is no longer a passive consumption space, but an interactive two-way space
  • Intuitive – it is rare for a site to be badly design, most sites and Apps these days are pretty intuitive, if they are not then people will not use them
  • Free – there are now many free resources and Apps online, such as Open Educational Resources and Massive Open Online Courses, although it is worth pointing out that nothing is entirely free, they may for example have irritating adverts associated with them, or you may need to pay for a premium version of the service
  • Open – a key characteristic of social and participatory media is that they are open, making interactions more visible and promoting digital scholarship.

The negative aspects or challenges of digital technologies include:

  • Battery life – whilst iPads tend to have a good battery life, some smart phones, such as the iPhone 5 have dreadful batteries, meaning that you are constantly searching for a plug socket
  • Insecure – many sites and Apps are not secure and may even sell on your data
  • Privacy – adopting more open practice comes with a price and raises significant privacy issues
  • Accessibility – many sites are not well designed and take no account of the needs of those users with accessibility issues, for example by making alternative text available for images or videos
  • Quantity – the Internet now has a vast amount of information, however the sheer size means it can be difficult to find things
  • Intrusive – communication via the variety of channels available online, means that we are connected 24/7, many are calling for the concept of ‘slow learning’ the equivalent of the ‘slow cooking’ movement
  • Quality – the quality of resources varies enormously, learners and teachers need appropriate digital literacy skills to assess the validity and relevance of different resources
  • Time consuming – participating in social media has many benefits, but is also very time consuming
  • Trivial – whilst there is a lot of valuable information on the Internet there is also a lot of trivia and noise, filtering these out to get to relevant information is a challenge
  • Training – navigating digital technologies and harnessing their affordances is a skill, learners and teachers need training and support on how to use them most effectively
  • Cost – whilst many resources and tools appear ‘free’ there is usually a cost, whether that is in advertising or via the device used to access them
  • Unreliable – sometimes Apps or websites crash or get hacked
  • Transitory – sites are constantly developing and adapting, you just get used to a site or interface and suddenly it changes
  • Connectivity – whilst it is true that we have near ubiquitous access, this means that when we are not connected there are problems. I was in India a few years ago and the wifi wasn’t very good, a colleague texted me and said ‘Are you dead? You haven’t been online for three days!’

So there you have it, an interesting list, no doubt there are more things I could add. As always there are two sides to everything, digital technologies offer us access to rich multimedia and provide us with a variety of channels to communicate and collaborate with others, they have many advantages, but also have associated risks and challenges.







The OER15 conference

Thursday, April 16th, 2015


Chilling with Catherine Cronin, David Kernohan and Laura Ritchie 

This week I attended the OER15 conference in Cardiff. It was held in the Welsh College of Music and Drama a fabulous venue. The conference was excellent, lots of things to take away. As you might expect the online presence was really good, an excellent website, including an interactive programme and lots of people twitting. Here are some of the key highlights for me.

The overarching theme of the conference was taking OER mainstream, with the point being that now we have around 15 years of OER, it is time to scale things up and look at how we can better integrate OER.

Cable Green, director of global learning, was the opening keynote. He structured his talk into the following themes.

  • First, he discussed what kind of OER infrastructure we need. He referred back to the Hewlett definition of OER and in particular the emphasis on the need for resources to reside in the public domain for free and also referred to David Wileys 5 Rs of OER (reuse revise remix redistribute retain). However, he warned against open washing, i.e. resources having the appearance of being open source, while continuing to have proprietary practices.  
  • Second, he argued for the need for an OER value proposition, i.e. open as a tactic rather than a goal, and the move towards more open pedagogies. He suggested the following things were needed:
    • Reduce barriers to education including access cost language and format
    • Transforming teaching and learning and enable open practice and pedagogy
    • Enabling free access
    • Enhancing educational opportunities to foster development and more productive free societies
    • Re professional teaching
    • Connecting communities of educators
    • Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of public funds spend on education
    • Introducing Internet and digital technologies into education
  •  Third, he discuss OER research and in particularly referencing the Open Universitys  OER research hub. He highlighted the following findings from OER research:
    • 37.6 % of educators and 55.7 % of leaders say using OER improves student satisfaction
    • New learning experience
    • Motivational
    • Saving money
    • Try university content before signing up
    • Knowing where to find OER is difficult
    • Only 12 % use CC
  • Fourth, he discussed the OER momentum, pointing to a number of key initiatives, such as: Opening up Slovenia, the European open edu policy project, Z degree in the States, and Josie Frasers work with schools in Leicester.
  •  Fifth, he argued for the need for an OER vision, which would include  all publicly funded research to be open as default and textbooks etc. should bel free and in editable formats and available in different languages. He pointed to the work being done as part of the  open policy network and institute for national leadership. He argued that we need to shift to a position where OER are continuously updated by teachers and learners, and where constructivist, connectivist, open practice pedagogies dominate. He reminded us of the Cape Town and Paris OER declarations which set out a vision for the future of OER.
  • Finally, he suggested it was time for an OER implementation strategy, and in particular a focus on what is needed to achieve change and mainstream OER? He invited us to look at and comment on a consultation document on OER Key highlights from this included:
    • Market penetration
    • Top strategic priorities
    • Discovery and reuse
    • Better communication about the value of OER
    • OER challenges - linear rate of growth, absence of standards, insufficient awareness, difficulty of discovery and use, inconsistent breadth and doth, lack of evidence, questions about sustainability, unfulfilled promise of reuse, poor branding, perfect as an enemy of the Good, lack of OER heroes
    • Demand - build the evidence base, improve communications, engage key constituencies, empower the grassroots, coordinate demand with supply, embed OER in the teaching profession
    • Productisation of continent
    • Tools for discoverability and reuse
    • Build supply to meet demand
    • Accessibility
    • Open up existing platforms and resources
    • International growth
    • National mainstreaming
    • Open as an aspect of digital in education
    • Government funding

Gabi Witthaus gave a presentation on our OpenCred project, commissioned by IPTS, The project developed a typology of institutional practices for the recognition of open learning in Europe. The research included desk research, six interviews with key stakeholders and analysis.  Key findings were:

  • That there was no monolithic recognition of informal learning spectrum from no recognition to continuing professional development credits (5 levels)
  • Three factors were identified as having the greatest impact: robustness, affordability of access, and leaners eligibility for assessment (no assessment to insist exam or RPL)
  • Four dimensions of recognition were identified, leading to several different diamond-shaped models across different OER initiatives.  

Chrissi Nerantzi described the work they were doing in her institution on open cross-institutional Continuing Professional Development. She described how they were using Wengers concept of a patchwork strategy (Wenger 2009) and a link to a presentation she had done on this.

Josie Fraser was the second keynote, entitled OER on Main Street. She referred to the disruptive business models that have emerged as a result of OER and MOOCs. She empahsised the importance of digital literacy social inclusion and social engagement. Her role at Leicester City Council is head of technical strand of the building schools initiative. She described how she was working with 2000 staff in 23 schools across Leicester as part of the project.

She outlined two main themes that have emerged from this work:


  • In terms of mainstreaming, she questioned how we could do this, referring Martin Wellers book The battle for open. She suggested that we think of mainstreaming as inclusive, valuing difference; and that the Internet is now part of everyday life.
  • She argued that there was an ‘eternal September’ since 1993. It will never end. New people, new services and sites, overwhelming existing practises.

She argued that basic digital literacy skills need to be developed. She describe how Identify gaps and strengths across the city, city level, school level and individual level. She emphasised the following aspects of OER:

  • Finding evaluating and organising
  • Sharing and creating

She said that they had found a lot of gaps around understanding ofcopyright. Most teachers hadn’t heard of open licensing, OER or Creative Commons and many were not aware of IP issues.

The positives that emerged were that there is a massive culture of informal sharing by teachers, and high quality excellent resources are being produced and built on. She suggested that there is a need to produce accessible guidance for school staff, which supports staff in understanding and making use of open licensing and creating and sharing OER. She described a set of guideline that they have produced, which consist of the following aspects:

  • What are OER? What is the relationship between OER: legal freedom, education and participation, technical freedom?
  • What is an open licence?
  • How can teachers find and remix OER?
  • How can OER be open licensed and what is the best way of sharing resources?

Her definition of OER included the following:

  • Open education community
  • Accessibility of text
  • Licence recommendation
  • Legal position of staff 

She said that they had found that schools were concerned with what is an open licence and how does it work?, IP and employment, and utility, control, and management.

The following things emerged as important:

  • Licence types
  • Key questions for schools around open licensing and OER. How can we support staff in adopting more open practices.
  • Issues: awareness and licensing agreement
  • Students: modelling practice, curriculum opportunity, and IP rights management,

The remaining two keynotes were Sheila MacNeill and Martin Weller, both excellent talks as well, but by this point I stopped taking notes and just listened. All the keynote were recorded and are available online. As usual, in addition to the formal sessions, there were lots of good discussions in the coffee breaks and at lunchtime. Next years conference will be held in Edinburgh. So to conclude, a great conference, lots of good papers and talks, and a lovely community.








Reflecting on today’s mobile learning

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015



Image from


I recently got an iPad Air, which I absolutely love! It’s great for surfing the net, posting on social media and answering emails. First thing in the morning will find me snuggled on my sofa with a cup of tea, iPad Air in hand. Tables and smart phones mean that mobile learning anywhere, anytime is now a reality. I was very dubious about the first generation of mobile devices and sceptical of those who raved about their potential for learning. Remember palm tablets? Nasty gritty small screen and not a very intuitive interface.  


It sometimes takes awhile for you to assimilate a new technology. I got an iPad a few years ago, but never really took to it; the main reason was that it was just too heavy. I then won an iPad mini at a conference. Again at first I didn’t really use it, but then I had to go abroad for work and needed to read two theses. I downloaded them onto my iPad mini and that was it, I was hooked! Reading from the screen was easy, the battery life was good and I could annotate the documents.


The field of mobile learning research has matured since its nascent beginnings, and now there are numerous sub-fields: seamless learning, cross-contextual learning, BYOD in the classroom, field-trip learning, ubiquitous learning, wearable learning, evaluation of learning on the move, and mobile devices for data capture to name just a few!


The first generation of mobile devices emerged in the mid-nineties, with the promise of enabling learning anywhere, anytime (Sharples, Corlett et al. 2002). Mobile devices have advanced significantly since this time, nonetheless it is worth referring back to Kukulska-Hulme and Traxler’s (2005) statement of the nature of the initial generation of mobile devices:

What is new in ‘mobile learning’ comes from the possibilities opened up by portable, lightweight devices that are sometimes small enough to fit in a pocket or in the palm of one’s hand. Typical examples are mobile phones (also called cellphones or handphones), smartphones, palmtops and handheld computers (Personal Digital Assistant or PDAs), Tablet PCs, laptop computers and personal media players can also fall within its scope.


Sharples and Pea (2014) provide a useful summary of the key developments in mobile learning; starting with the vision for the creation of Dynabooks in the early seventies. They described a number of key mobile learning projects, which explored learning across different learning contexts (informal and formal), different devices, and different locations. They list Wong and Looi’s (2011) ten characteristics of mobile-assisted seamless learning:


  • Encompassing formal and informal learning
  • Encompassing personalised and social learning
  • Across time
  • Across locations
  • Ubiquitous access to learning resources
  • Encompassing physical and digital objects
  • Combined use of multiple device types
  • Seamless switching between multiple learning tasks
  • Knowledge synthesis
  • Encompassing multiple pedagogical or learning activity models.

Sharples and Pea argue that the teacher’s role is still crucial, but that they are more of a learning facilitator, rather than content provider. The projects they describe indicate that with mobile devices it is possible:

To connect learning in and out of the classroom using mobile devices to orchestrate the learning, deliver contextually-relevant resources and exploit mobile devices as inquiry toolkits.


They conclude by stating:

Mobile learning takes for granted that learners are continually on the move. We learn across space, taking ideas and learning resources gained in one location and applying them in another, with multiple purposes, multiple facets of identity. We learn across time, by revisiting knowledge that was gained from earlier in a different learning context. We move from topic to topic, managing a range of personal learning projects, rather than following a single curriculum. We also move in and out of engagement with technology, for example as we enter and leave phone coverage.

Bird[1] undertook an evaluation of the use of iPads by Medical students at Leicester University. Overall the students were very positive about the use of their iPads, stating they were convenient, efficient, useful and easy to use. Bird lists the follow as examples of how the students were using the mobile devices for learning:


  • To annotate and organised notes
  • For group work and development
  • Memorising key concepts, through student generated flashcards and quizzes
  • For handwriting and drawing

With the increase in access to information and production of knowledge, mobile learning is challenging traditional educational institutions and associated authorities. It provides the opportunity to shift away from teacher-centred pedagogies to an increased focus on learning and the learner, through concepts like the flipped classroom. Because mobile devices enable learning anywhere, anytime and because they can be personalised they are ideally suited to informal and contextual learning. Learning across formal and informal contexts means that there is a blurring of the boundaries between learning and work.


An EDUCAUSE report argues that microlearning encourages learners to focus on discrete chunks of content and learning activities.[2] Fastcodesign[3] argues that there are ten ways in which mobile learning will revolutionise education:

  • Continuous learning: learning is increasingly getting interspersed with our daily lives through the use of mobile devices and near ubiquitous access to the Internet.
  • Educational leapfrogging: low cost mobile devices are particularly important in developing countries.
  • A new crop of older, lifelong learners: often referred to as the silver surfers, are increasingly getting into using mobile devices, often motivated by a desire to keep in touch with their children and grandchildren via social media.
  • Breaking gender barriers: in parts of the world where woman are not allowed access to formal education, mobile devices provide them with a means to access high quality resources and to communicate with peers.
  • A new literacy is emerging: there are now numerous companies (such as Codeacademy) that teach people via interactive lessons to write software programmes.
  • Education’s long tail: The vast array of resources to support many different subjects means that mobile devices enable learners to study niche subjects.
  • Teachers and pupils trade roles: Learning and teaching becomes a two way process, where teachers can learn from the learners and vice versa.
  • Synergies with mobile banking and mobile health: A lot can be learnt from the way in which mobile banking and health have developed, such as using text messaging to deliver short lessons, and give teacher feedback and grades.
  • New opportunities for traditional educational institutions: Mobile learning can potentially complement and extend traditional educational offerings. We are seeing a disaggregation of formal education. Increasingly rather than signing up for a full course, learners may instead choose to pay for components, such as access to high quality resources, pedagogically informed learning pathways, support from tutors or peers, and accreditation.
  • A revolution leading to customised education: Mobile learning is not just about digitising existing content, it is about harnessing the power of social media and embracing open practices.


Te@chthought[4] lists the following 12 principles of mobile learning:

  • Access: in terms of access to content, peers, experts, and resources.
  • Metrics: increasing there are metrics associated with how we are using mobile devices, which can be used to inform and improve the way we learn.
  • Cloud computing: means that we can access information anywhere, via any device.
  • Transparent: transparency is a byproduct of connectivity, mobility and collaboration.
  • Play: is a key characteristic of authentic, progressive learning. In a mobile learning environment, learners encounter a dynamic and often unplanned set of data, domains and collaborations.
  • Asynchronous: enabling a learning experience that is personalised, just in time and reflective.
  • Self-actuated: where learners plan how and what they learn, facilitated by teachers, who are the experts in terms of the resources and assessment.
  • Diverse: learning environments are constantly changing, enabling learners to encounter a stream of new ideas, unexpected challenges, and constant opportunities for revision and application of thinking.
  • Curation: there are now a wealth of Apps to support curation so that individual learners can group and share useful resources.
  • Blending: Across the physical and digital space and across different devices, supporting both formal and informal learning.
  • Always-on: Always-on learning is self-actuated, spontaneous, iterative and recursive.
  • Authentic: enabling situative and personalised learning.

So it would appear that mobile learning has finally come of age, it will be interesting to see how the use of mobile devices learning and teaching develops in the coming years.


Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Mike Sharples, Agnes KuKulska-Hulme, John Traxler and Terese Birds for links to a number of useful references.



Kukulska-Hulme, A. and J. Traxler (2005). Mobile learning - a handbook for educators and trainers. Abingdon, Routledge.

Sharples, M., D. Corlett and O. Westmancott (2002). “The design and implementation of a mobile learning resource.” Personal and ubiquitous computing 6: 220-234.

Sharples, M. and R. Pea (2014). Mobile Learning. The Cambridge Handbook of Learning Sciences. R. K. Sawyer. New York, NY, Cambridge University Press.

Wong, L. H. and C. K. Looi (2011). “What seams do we remove in mobile-assisted seamless learning? A critical review of the literature.” Computers and Education 57(4): 2364 - 2381.










The affordances of digital technologies and user behaviour

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015



So as part of my new job at Bath Spa University I got a Mac Book Pro and an iPad Air. I leave the former in the office (after a disaster two weeks into the job when I spilt liquid on the first Mac Book Pro). The latter I take everywhere with me. I have noticed that using the iPad Air is changing my behaviour. For example, I have got into the habit of using it first thing, surfing the web, fb and Twitter; to find, share and comment on useful resources and links. I realised that I needed a curation tool to keep track of the things I was finding. I asked on fb and a number of suggestions came back:, Diigo, evernote, pocket, livebinders, pinterest, sight & screenshots, and pearltrees.


I decided to give pearltrees a go and set up an account this morning. I have already created a number of collections: Digital Technologies, Digital Literacy, Online and Distance Education, Learning Design, Social Media, Educational Videos, and Mobile Learning. It was quick and easy to set up, and has a nice interface. For some reason I don’t use curation tools on my laptop, but there is something about the affordances (Gibson 1979, Conole and Dyke 2004) of the iPad Air interface and the peartrees App that makes curation easier. So for me there is definitely a correlation between the affordances of digital technologies and user behaviour.



Conole, G. and M. Dyke (2004). “What are the affordances of information and communication technologies?” ALT-J 12(2): 113-124 %U

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