The story of the Open University

March 5th, 2019

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Webinar: Creating engaging conference abstracts

February 14th, 2019


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Yesterday I ran a workshop on ‘Creating engaging conference abstracts’. There was good participation (about 15 people) and lots of interaction. Here is a summary of some of the key discussion points. I asked participants what their experience was of attending conferences, what was good and what was not so good. Here are some of the comments.


Getting an outside view of your work

Conferences are a great way of getting to meet others working in a similar space – opportunities to find out interesting and relevant stuff others are working on

Networking, sharing ideas and gathering feedback

Participation varies depending on the size. Smaller conference I am more at ease to network, mingle. Larger conferences I find a bit challenging

Always lovely to meet people in real-life who are part of my online network

At a large conference you really have to plan ahead and be strategic about which sessions you attend and perhaps debrief with colleagues at the end of each day who may have attended other sessions

Use the conference app and follow the Twitter hashtag. For our conference follow #WCOL2019 to keep up to date


It was a really enjoyable session and I hope participants found it useful. The session was recorded.

The online educator: people and pedagogy

February 13th, 2019


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I am currently participating in the FutureLearn MOOC ‘The online educator: people and pedagogy’. The MOOC is spread over 4 weeks, with 4 hours of learning per week. It explores four myths associated with e-learnings: that learning design is about technology and content; that innovation and accessibility are incompatible; that researching online learning is an ethics-free zone, and that educators’ online identities are irrelevant.


Week 1 covers disruption and design with the following topics: current developments in online teaching, navigating the hype about disruptive innovation, the relationship between content, technology, people and pedagogy in learning design, the challenges of meeting diverse students’ needs and he use of personas in creating relevant online courses. Week 2 focuses on innovation and accessibility, with the following topics: myths about accessibility and digital innovation, types of digital exclusion, finding and evaluating accessibility guidelines, and applying accessibility guidelines to your teaching. Week 3 focuses on ethical evaluation of online teaching, with the following topics: myths about researching and evaluating online teaching, evidence and ethics, navigating the hype around educational technology innovation, evaluating research reports, evaluating your own teaching innovations and ethical considerations when researching online teaching.  Finally, week 4 asks the question: who am I online, with the following topics, myths about online identity, the value to educators of a carefully constructed online identity, evaluating your own online identity and using Twitter to build an identity online.


The MOOC has a very clean look and feel, with content broken up into small chunks, content is complemented by short videos, quizzes, polls and links to relevant research papers.

Engaging conference titles

February 7th, 2019


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With my colleague Orna Farrell I am running a workshop on Wednesday 13th February on writing good conference abstracts. The slides are available on SlideShare. This is in part to help participants prepare their submissions for the ICDE WCOL conference we are hosting in November.


One of the most important things is to have a really good title that will grab people’s attention. Below is a list of some suggestions for how you can achieve this. I’m very much looking forward to the workshop, which will be repeated in two webinars later this month.


  1. Based around a metaphor of some kind
    1. Cuban’s concept of the flight of the butterfly or the path of the bullet
    2. A kaleidoscope of digital technologies
    3. The entangled web: post-critical perspectives
    4. Moody MOOCS: An Exploration of Emotion in an LMOOC
    5. The story of MOOCs through loops: From disruptive to sustaining innovation models of higher education
    6. Helicopter view of current state of open education around the world
    7. Mind the gap: A critical guide to digital literacies
    8. The scary monster of Ed Tech: Future proof or future shock?
    9. A world of opportunities: digital technologies and literacies
    10. Snake oil - the hidden perils of digital technologies
    11. Can you Give me Sanctuary? Exploring the Transition Experiences of Refugees and Asylum Seekers to Online Distance Learning
  2. Comparisons:
    1. The rhetoric or reality of the promise of digital technologies
    2. Thunderbolt or Lightfoot? Doing Digital in the 21st Century
    3. Tales of open education from two islands: thrills, tensions and transformations
  3. Something controversial, which will get people’s attention
    1. The millennial generation: fact or fiction
    2. The affordances of digital technologies
    3. The good, the bad and the ugly about learning styles
    4. New media literacies
    5. The misleading power of metaphors for digital technologies
    6. Reframing digital literacies: Beyond flashy, flimsy and faddish models
  4. Provoke curiosity
    1. Hand written lecture notes are better than typing notes
    2. The common myths associated with using digital technologies for learning
    3. The future of digital technologies and learning: dystopia or utopia?
    4. If micro-credentialing is the answer, what is the question?
  5. A review of the state of the art on a topical issue
    1. Opening up Education: Open Educational Resources and Open Educational Practices
    2. Frameworks for Learning Design
    3. Best practice in Continuing Professional Development
    4. Traversing the digital landscape of Higher Education
  6. A variant on a well-known song or movie
    1. We don’t need no education: the changing nature of formal and informal learning  
    2. Jaws: snagging digital technologies from the jaws of a shark
    3. Are we living in the matrix: what is the reality of our engagement with digital technologies?
    4. Sliding doors: the ebb and flow of digital technologies
    5. The brave new world of opening up education
    6. The good, the bad and the ugly about learning styles
    7. La la land: is the promise of digital technologies fiction?
    8. Leave no trace: digital privacy and surveillance
  7. Alignment with the conference themes
    1. Transforming lives and societies through digital technologies
    2. What is the future of online education?
    3. Transformative online pedagogies: a review of the landscape
    4. Reimaging open pathways and new credentials for lifelong learning

The online educator: people and pedagogy

February 7th, 2019



I have just signed up for this FutureLearn course, “The online educator: people and pedagogy”, offered by the Open University UK. The overview of the course states the following “As e-learning becomes ever-more widespread, online educators are being required to design learning experiences that engage and meet the needs of very diverse learners. The course explores four myths: that learning design is about technology and content; that innovation and accessibility are incompatible; that researching online learning is an ethics-free zone, and that educators’ online identities are irrelevant.” It looks really interesting and is very relevant to our #OpenTeach project on facilitating online learning which starts in April.

Professor Ros Sutherland

February 7th, 2019


I was very sad to hear the news that Professor Ros Sutherland had passed away. She was a significant scholar and an influential head of the School of Education. Ros was a key inspiration for me when I worked at Bristol University in the late nineties. I have Ros to thank for getting me into socio-cultural perspectives and in particular activity theory. Ros was a very vibrant and bubbly person, with a passion for both her teaching and research. I had the pleasure of developing a master programme with her, which was jointly run by the School of Education and my department, the Institute for Learning and Research Technology. A brief tribute to her is available from the School of Education website. SS Britain also wrote a tribute to her. She will be sadly missed but her contribution to education will not be forgotten

Using student data to inform design and pedagogy: some pointers

January 24th, 2019


I am delighted to announce that Professor Paul Prinsloo from the University of South Africa (UNISA) has agreed to give us a talk on the 8th April. Paul is a Research Professor in Open and Distance Learning (ODL) in the College of Economic and Management Sciences, University of South Africa (Unisa). His academic background includes fields as diverse as theology, art history, business management, online learning, and religious studies. Paul is an internationally recognised speaker, scholar and researcher and has published numerous articles in the fields of teaching and learning, student success in distance education contexts, learning analytics, and curriculum development. His current research focuses on the collection, analysis and use of student data in learning analytics, graduate supervision and digital identity.

Higher education has always collected, analysed and used student data for a variety of purposes e.g., reporting, strategic planning and operational resource allocation. Due to the increasing digitisation and institutionalisation of online learning, as well as advances in technology, analytics tools and software, higher education institutions now have access to more (volume) student data than ever before. We also have access to more nuanced data (granularity and variety) as well as the increasing possibility to collect real-time behavioural data and provide feedback and intervene in real-time. The year 2011 saw the emergence of learning analytics “the measurement, collection, analysis and use of student data for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs.” Since 2011, learning analytics as research focus but also as field of practice matured and continue to provoke discussions and research pertaining to its impact not only on student success and retention, but increasingly also in shaping resource allocation, learning design and pedagogy.


While evidence of the impact of learning analytics on improving student success is varied and often context-specific, there is increasing interest how student data can be used to inform learning design and pedagogy. In this presentation I would like to provoke some discussion surrounding some of our assumptions pertaining to student data before mapping evidence of how student data can inform learning design and pedagogy. I hope to conclude by locating the collection, analysis and use of student data to inform learning design and pedagogy in the nexus of ethics, responsibility and care.







OER awareness growing

January 23rd, 2019



A recent report indicated that awareness of OER amongst academics was on the increase. The survey also stated that the costs of textbooks was a big concern. While most academics expressed satisfaction with their choice of textbook, the majority also said they like to make changes to their textbooks. These include: presenting content in a different order, skipping sections, replacing content with their own, replacing content with materials from others, correcting errors or revising textbook material.


Happy five years NIDL!

January 23rd, 2019



Yesterday we celebrated the fact that NIDL is five years old, hard to belief! The room was packed with around 70 attendees, along with the biggest cake I have ever seen! Mark Brown opened the proceedings, then the president gave a great speech praising the work of NIDL and highlighting some key achievements. Then each of us who head up the three units, Open Education (myself), Teaching Enhancement (Mark Glynn) and the Ideas Lab (Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl) gave our reflections on the work we and our team had been involved with along with a little future thinking. I said the following:


I remember hearing the president’s vision for creating a centre for digital learning. This vision then translated in the establishment of NIDL and I attended the launch of DCU Connected (our online environment) in August 2014. I have had the privilege of being a visiting professor with NIDL and have seen it blossom and grow since then. I joined DCU as Head of Open Education in September 2018. Open Education provides support for our DCU Connected students. At the Welcome Day in September we welcomed over 450 new students, many are funded through Springboard and we are also delighted to have University of Sanctuary students. A range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses are available. To complement the teaching support, we engage in a range of practically focused research activities. I want to take this opportunity to thank Open Education for their enthusiasm, dedication and expertise. I feel privileged to be part of this vibrant exciting institute.


Mark showed an infographic highlighting the key achievements over the past five years. This includes our strategic partnership with FutureLearn, the launch of the Irish 101 MOOC, publication of the Irish Horizons report, the establishment of DCU Connected, Loop (our Virtual Learning Environment) and Loop reflect, securing significant funding from Springboard+, over 600 research outputs and over 4M Euro in externally funding. He also highlighted some of the exciting future initiatives, including the hosting of the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning in November 2019. The president added to this by announcing some exciting new initiatives starting in the near future, including a number of significant research funded projects.  




All in all it was a great way to celebrate five years and to reflect on achievements, and it is very much a reflection of the key leadership by Mark Brown and the ongoing support of the president. Looking forward to continuing to work with colleagues in the Open Education Unit and across NIDL. Btw there is a lot of cake left so if you happen to be near Santry…

The evolution of open learning

January 22nd, 2019


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I have just read an interesting paper on open learning. The author argues that there are  five stages associated with open learning, covering the period from correspondence learning in the 19th century to the present era of interactive online learning. 



The first stage is correspondence learning before the 1960s. The learning content was sent by mail and students sent their feedback and assignments back by mail. Over time printed content was supplemented by radio, audio and broadcasts.



The second stage was distance learning through multiple technologies, television was of particular note, as well as audio and video cassettes. The Open University UK was established in 1969, followed by other open universities around the world.



The third stage was distance learning with increasing use of computers and networks, due to the emergence of the Internet. This allowed for more communication between students and tutors. Computer-mediated communication enabled students to collaborate and facilitated more active learning.



The fourth stage was online learning through high-bandwidth computer technologies and the introduction of synchronous communication, via video conferences.  In addition Learning Management Systems emerged to store course materials, provide a range of mechanisms for students to communicate and collaborate, and facilities to upload assignments.


The final stage is interactive online learning Web 2.0, mobile and synchronous technologies. Of particular note here was the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses in 2008. In addition, light-weight mobile devices with big screens became available at an affordable price.  Also social media served as additional tools to enrich the learning experience and facilitate social learning.


There are a variety of definitions of open learning. Seven semantic components are associated with the concept of open learning:

  • Open entry/access (to learning opportunities)
  • Being free from/minimising barriers (to learning)
  • Flexible study methods, pace and assessment
  • Wide range of teaching and learning strategies/technologies
  • Learner-centredness
  • Recognition of prior learning
  • Online learning/courses

Open learning is not only an alternative means of education but also an economic approach to delivering education to a large number of targeted learners for economic development or educational enhancement of the underprivileged.