Archive for May, 2015

Designing effective MOOCs

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015


Image source: 

Next week I am taking part in a symposium entitled ‘Design issues and participation in MOOCs’ along with Pambos Vrasidas and George Veletsianos, at the ‘Internationalization, Cross-Border Education and E-Learning Conference‘, which is taking place in Nicosia, Cyprus on 4 - 5th June. The symposium will explore three main questions:

  1.  What are the key design elements of successful MOOCs?
  2. What is it like to learn in Massive Open Online Courses?
  3. What are the challenges and possibilities offered by MOOCs?

As part of this I have prepared a positional paper on ‘Designing effective MOOCs’. This is available on slideshare, comments welcome!

Digital technologies… two sides of a coin

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015



I did a keynote at the LINQ conference in Brussels last week, buy I focused in particular on the positive and negative aspects of digital technologies, order i.e. that there are always two sides to a coin. I began by showing one of the Pearson videos on the future of education. The videos are great as they really give a glimpse of what learning might look like in the near future; personalised, contextual, interactive, and visual.


In general digital technologies are beneficial because they can: enhance, augment, supplement, replace, enrich, expand and empower. They can be negative in that they can: detract, lessen, confuse, overwhelm, infringe and be time consuming or addictive. I then looked at this theme from five perspectives: openness, mobile learning, social media, digital identity and distributed cognition.


In terms of openness digital technologies enable more open practices and in the last ten years or so we have seen the massive increase in the number of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). We have also seen an increase in free resources, tools and expertise being available via online webinars, blogs, open repositories and journals, and social media. Much has been written about the pros and cons of these; positive in terms of opening up access and enabling social inclusion, negative in terms of being primarily elitist and more about ‘learning income than learning outcomes’. The positive aspects of more open practices are that they enable better transparency, afford a greater reach, facilitate equity and social inclusion, challenge existing business models, and result in a disaggregation of formal educational offerings. In terms of negative aspects, adopting an open approach has the danger of ‘laying yourself bare’, gives rise to issues about surveillance and privacy issues, can result in a misuse or misinterpretation of data, raises issues about quality and accreditation, and can raise issues around ownership. I referenced a number of projects that I have been involved with about openness; the 7Cs of Learning Design framework, the VMPass project on accreditation of non-formal and informal learning, a report for IPTS, OpenCred, on recognition of non-formal and informal learning and a current project, MOOCS4ALL which is developing a MOOC to help people design MOOCs.


Smart phones and tablets are now practically ubiquitous, and we have practically near ubiquitous wifi connectivity. They are now much more affordance, robust, light and with a good battery life. There is a range of excellent Apps available to support communication, productivity, curation and learning. The positive aspects of these mobile devices are that they mean learning anywhere, anytime is now a reality, more and more websites are mobile ready, learning is possible across contexts and devices. The negative aspects are that being online all the time means that there is no ‘down time’; people are expected to be online 24/7. We are increasingly dependent on these devices and more and more of our data is stored in the cloud. Finally many learners and teachers lack the necessary digital literacy skills to make effective use of these devices for learning purposes.


The third perspective I focused on was social media. I argued that we have seen a shift from a passive web to a participatory, interactive and social web, which is distributed, networked, dynamic, participatory, complex and open. There are now many many tools to support communication and collaboration and we are now part of a global, distributed networked of peers. The positive aspects of social media are that they provide us with a rich variety of ways to communicate and collaborate, enable us to be part of a global community of peers, provide us with access to a vast amount of information, facilitate rapid dissemination of information, and benefits of adopting crowd sourcing approaches. The negative aspects are that there is a lack of privacy, we leave digital traces, which can be negative, there is a danger of misuse of data, being openly online can result in cyberbulling and trolling, and there are issues around privacy and security. Finally they can be time consuming and addictive. I then showed a clip from a film I saw recently, ‘unfriended’, which is a horror move about social media. The film is shot entirely via a computer interface, through Skype and chat.


The fourth perspective was on digital identity. I raised the issue of how each of use presents ourselves online and how we interact with others. I argued that there were five facets associated with digital identity: reputation, impact, influence, productivity, and openness. And also that there was a relationship between identity, interaction and presence. Focusing a little more on presence, I referenced Mark Childs definition in terms of mediated presence (being there, immersion), social presence (projection of oneself, and perception of others, copresence (being somewhere with others), and self presence (or embodiment). The positive aspects of digital identity are that it can act as an extensive of your ‘real self – which can either be the same or different, to enables us to have an extended reach, and offers us the opportunity to explore the medium. The negative aspects are that it can lay ourselves bare, can result in a misinterpretation of identity, can lead to cyber-stalking or identity theft. I recounted my own negative experience of online dating, which I have blogged about before. I am looking forward to talking more about this when I take part in some research Bonnie Stewart and George Veletsianos are doing.


Finally I talked about distributed cognition, referencing Solomon’s use of the term.  In terms of positive aspects I referenced Perkin’s concept of ‘Person Plus’, i.e. our cognition is distributed between our brain and our online digital environment. Today’s digital environment provides us with access to vast amounts of information, and there are more and more sophisticated tools for finding, curating, managing and filtering information. In terms of the negative aspects, many lack the necessary digital literacy skills to harness digital technologies and it is easy to get lost or confused. Technologies are constantly changing and hence there is a lack of permanency. Some would argue that we are becoming over dependent on technologies and there is a growing moving for a call to ‘slow learning’ equivalent to the ‘slow cooking’ movement. Some, such as Stephen Hawkins, warn that with the increasingly sophistication of Artificial Intelligence, there is a danger that machines will take over… 


So clearly digital technologies have many advantages and disadvantages, perhaps most chilling though are the words of Paul Virilio in his book the information bomb. He argues that technologies cannot exist without accidents, and that they separate us from real time and space…. Therefore, when not if technologies fail, that is it! Our lives are so utterly dependent and perhaps controlled by technologies. We can’t stop the march of technologies, and whilst we should celebrate the ways in which they can enhance our lives, we should also be aware of the potential downsides.




Tips and hints for getting the most out of conferences

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015



Last week I gave a keynote at the LINQ conference in Brussels. It got me thinking about the value of conferences and how to make the most of them. So I have put together this list. Is there anything I have missed?


  • Good way to present research findings and get feedback.
  • Good to disseminate research work and promote the university and the school.
  • Useful in terms of networking and finding potential people to collaborate with and potential work on bids with.
  • An easy and effective way of keeping up to date with current research
  • A means of working towards a research publication. Even if the conference only requires an abstract it is a good idea to work up a paper to take to the conference, store which can then be submitted to a journal. Many conferences have an associated journal or print selected conference papers in a special issue.
  • It is useful to go through the delegate list and target people you want to meet.
  • Take notes during the session and in particular useful links and references, cialis buy and then write a blog post summarising the main points. Twitter and facebook the link.
  • Use a curation tool, such as pearltrees to note useful links associated with the conference presentations.
  • Attend interactive workshop sessions to learn new skills.
  • Be active in using the conference hashtag and connect with others who are also using it and have shared interests.
  • Encourage newer researchers to write abstracts/papers with more established colleagues.
  • Ensure that the abstract/paper aligns to the conference themes; make this explicit if possible.
  • Offer to be a reviewer to get experience at how to write good conference papers.
  •  Take leaflets to distribute about research projects, teaching programmes and PhD opportunities.
  • Use the breaks and social events to network.

Good e-learning conferences (primarily tertiary focus):


  • Networked Learning (Europe) – every two years, excellent high quality conference, selected papers are published as a Springer book.
  • EDEN (Europe) – annual conference in June, good papers and a nice community, has an associated journal EURODL.
  • EDEN (Europe) research workshop in the Autumn.
  • ICEM (worldwide) – long established conference over 60 years, very international.
  • ICDE (worldwide)– large conference very international.
  • ASCILITE – good high quality papers, both practical and theoretically grounded, usually in Australia.
  • Online Educa, December in Berlin, expensive but a good place to be seen in terms of EU projects, commission people usually attend.
  • AECT (USA) – large well-established conference.
  • Edmedia (alternates between Europe and North America – large well-established conference.
  • Sloane (USA) – well-established conference.

How do you promote e-learning?

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015


Image from a blog post 

Part of my role at Bath Spa University is to promote the use of technology for learning, ed teaching and research. I am just about to take over chairing the school of Education’s e-learning group; one of our first tasks will be to articulate a vision for e-learning and a clear implementation plan. We’ve started an initial brainstorm of activities that might be set up to take this forward. I believe that variety is the key, stuff different things will appeal to different people, but as always what is challenging is finding ways to get beyond the usual suspects and enthusiasts to the mainstream. Much has been written about the challenges and opportunities of Technology-Enhanced Learning, see for example an article by Adrian Kirkwood and Linda Price.

I think effective use of technologies is for everyone across the university, not just the academics; so this includes: support staff, administrators, librarians, educational developers, IT support staff, learning technologies, etc. I am impressed with the way that Bath Spa is using Google tools effectively and routinely, not something I have experienced elsewhere.

Here is my initial starter for ten, not very imaginative I suspect, but tried and tested methods. Any suggestions for other things would be welcome!




Preschool meeting share and tell sessions

To enable staff to share how they are using technologies, initial focus on the use of iPads

Not enough staff are willing to share

E-learning induction programme for new staff

To provide an overview of e-learning in the school and indicate where they can get support and training

New staff are not willing to engage or the session isn’t implemented

Series of external speakers – both face to face and via webinars

To bring in external expertise

Not able to recruit enough external speakers, poor attendance

E-learning festival – a two-hour session with lunch in the Commons, series of posters and stalls of exemplars of good practice

To recognise innovation, to showcase good practice, effective use of time

Not enough people willing to offer sessions, poor attendance

Development projects – competition for a learning innovation development with funding, working with learning technologist to design and implement, showcase at the end of the year

Provides a team-based approach, provides support and time out to undertake innovation, rewards innovation through showcase

Funding may be an issue, staff may not have time to invest

Hands-on workshops, examples might include: Learning Design, Mobile Learning, use of iPads, e-pedagogies, social media

Half-day or one-day sessions with lunch, practical hands-on focus, given by experts internally or externally

Not enough people volunteer to offer sessions, poor attendance

Participation in e-learning sessions advertise via social media, via organisations such as EDEN, ICEM and ICDE

Access to the broader e-learning community

People may not be used social media, will advertise sessions via education mailing list

Encourage presentation and participation in relevant e-learning conferences

Access to the broader e-learning community

People may need support in working up presentations and need help in targeting the right conferences

E-learning audit of existing practice

To gain a clear picture of current practice, to highlight good practice and identify areas for development

People may not be willing to share what they are doing


My personal digital network

Friday, May 1st, 2015



As part of my talk this morning to the librarians I shared with them my personal digital network. I use social media on a daily basis, treatment both for work activities and in my personal life. I use Facebook and Twitter extensively; Twitter is mainly for professional purposes, advice such as: tweeting useful resources, disseminating research, pointing to blog posts, etc. In contrast Facebook is a mixture of personal and professional stuff; you will find an electric mix of pictures of cats and food (#foodporn), interspersed with links to interesting research articles or conferences. I use Slideshare to post presentations, but also sometimes articles I have written. It’s very motivating to see how many people have viewed a presentation! I am in LinkedIn, but don’t really find it very useful. Blogging has changed the way I work as an academic, I have had my professional blog since 2007; I blog about ideas I am developing, interesting notes from conferences I have attended or articles I have read, summaries of talks I have given. I also have a personal blog about cooking and travel, two of my favourite pastimes ;-)


Endnote is invaluable as a tool for curating references; it has made writing papers so much easier! I tried other tools such as Mendeley and Zotero, but didn’t really get on with them and found myself reverting to Endnote. Dropbox is great for sharing documents with others, but Google Drive is also useful. Skype is great for video conferencing, either with individuals or for group meetings. I have also used it to give webinars. Other video conferencing tools include Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect and Flashmeeting.  I have recently discovered a great App for my iPad Air; peartrees and I am finding it great for curating useful resources around different tools. 


Interesting… when I first put this list together I forgot to include email, Freudian slip? Would be interested to here examples of other people’s digital networks and the reasons why you use particular tools.