ELearning excellence awards at ECEL 2017

The 16th European Conference on e-Learning (ECEL 2017) which is being held at ISCAP, Portugal, 26-27 October.


There is an extended submission deadline for competition entries to the 3rd e-Learning Excellence Awards until the 6th June.  Details about the competition and to submit an entry can be found here: http://www.academic-conferences.org/conferences/ecel/ecel-excellence-awards/

Keep up with the latest ECEL 2017 news at LinkedIn Facebook and Twitter

PS on lectures

In the last post we talked about the good, the bad and the ugly of lectures. Today there’s a useful Sussex blog post on that subject with an overview of ideas to deal better with large group teaching – most will be familiar but worth reminding ourselves- find it at http://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/tel/2017/02/14/active-learning-and-teaching-for-large-groups-with-technology/ 

And if you’re Brighton based, the growing BBS blog on Learning and Teaching hosted by Julie Fowlie and Pete McCullen at  http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/bbsqlt/ is core reading.

Talking about teaching – a staff discussion at BBS

Talking about teaching


Where do you start? A big topic but the discussion in this staff seminar (8th Feb 17) proved there is nothing so good as making explicit to other teachers how you teach. Asher and Sue ran through some key issues we wanted to share and discuss, especially as institutionally the cascade is starting to lay down some patterns and priorities such as increasing contact with students in early levels and setting up skills for more independent learning at higher levels. Asher pointed out that it is only in the last hundred years that research has become a part of what we expect university students to do. Now it has become the norm at least at level 6.


We got very practical – can we problematise what happens between the production and offering of learning materials, activities and references from the perspective of the teacher and the output of a version of that material into assessment by the student? We know that interactive sessions are much more useful for learning than boring lectures. But this begs a question – what is it that we expect the students to do in the session, and when they are reading material outside the session? Sue wondered whether students were increasingly “outsourcing” memory, by accumulating information in devices rather than trying to attend, rehearse and remember within their own brains (more ideas on this at https://goo.gl/P2DWUP ).


Sue’s expectations had grown from her experience of learning and teaching and involve some form of note-taking. Lately she has become worried that note-taking is no longer cool or acceptable for students, no matter how much they are encouraged to use familiar digital devices and software in class. Asher pointed out that he continues to give much handout material in printed form to students, but students neither owned nor brought pens and therefore were unlikely to write notes, and phones tended to replace laptops in class, but were used for images, not words and notes. At best we were able to encourage students to take images of discussions on a smart board.


We had quite a discussion about lectures and their value started by George who considered them sub-optimal. While there was a strong feeling that they were not the best way of sharing information at uni, there were advocates for a shared time and space in which ideas could become a focus – whether for interaction, problem-based learning, diagnostics, inspiration – all of which were likely to be facilitated by flat room spaces rather than tiered ones. Jenny from PABS also raised the issue of pace – too slow for interest if a suitable pace for note-taking?


We agreed on the huge value of interaction in learning, and Sushil was concerned that some over zealous students wrote down too much, missing out on meaning and focussing on words at a superficial level. When they interact, how do they retain information which might be useful later for their assessments? Without taking at least basic notes, or voice recording and then taking summaries, how does the student take the learning to a level which allows reflection, review, further reading and analysis?


We discussed brain-compatible learning (van Niekerk & Webb 2016 at https://goo.gl/FCLQrU)), which is showing increasing evidence of the basics we believe to involve good practice: finding out where the student’s knowledge level and experience is and building on that, rather than starting from the lecturer’s standpoint, promoting attention, rehearsal to get stuff moved from short-term to longer term memory (especially episodic memory which emphasises the other sensory inputs around the content learned). Jela noted that physically writing can help rehearsal – some have great keyboard skills but writing by hand was powerful. Julie and others agreed this could be encouraged by simple means such as handouts with space for notes, short learning summaries on blogs, learning journals as part of the learning design.


We also shared ideas on more structured approaches to enable, particularly level 4, students to learn how to read for academic purposes. Wallace and Wray’s five critical synopsis questions (see https://goo.gl/gW1pII ) and Shon’s use of reading codes for annotation when reading articles were some examples. Shon’s work can be found here: https://goo.gl/279VsL and Sue’s review of the book can be found here: https://goo.gl/s3vk5E .


Asher stressed the need to physically demonstrate and role model the use of note-taking, and devices. This including thinking seriously about the note-form which is encouraged by PowerPoint, meaning that students rarely get directly introduced by teachers to well-formed sentences and logical argument except verbally in class –making it unsurprising if they were unable to produce arguments in assessment. Designing their own assessment questions and arguing what was being assessed in them was another option.


We discussed using Evernote (note-taking with cloud backup and multi-platform ubiquity), Zotero (research collecting, citing, organising), mind-mapping etc to enable expectations of recording and retrieving information as the norm. We finally shared ideas based on work by Tom Bourner and Phil Race (How to Win as a Part-Time Student 2nd ed. 1995) originally produced for mature part-time learners which focussed on the activities learners were expected to do – all involved activity, and much involved note-taking. One of the well-favoured ideas for note-taking during and after sessions was to encourage blogging by students or as Alison pointed out – simply asking for notes to be handed in from time to time. This could be done privately or shared where needed with tutors or students.


We shared the same issues, and there is no reason to believe we can’t solve them. The seminar excited discussion – let’s have more of this.

Management Learning Book Review Award 2016

The above took me completely by surprise, a lovely start to 2017.

I didn’t even know there were sumanagement-learning-book-award-2016ch things as awards for book reviews in this journal. Reviewing a useful text is one of the more pleasurable academic activities, heartily to be recommended. We all have to read or skim new books as they appear, and make decisions about whether to recommend or not to our students or colleagues. Why not do the job properly and write a serious review?

This particular book was interesting because it tried to tackle a big gap in current degree study, trying to encourage students to read journal articles. The author’s approach is detailed and highly justified, though not always feasible. Read the review in Management Learning to find out more. Better still, read the book for yourself.

The book in question is:

How to read journal articles in the social sciences: A very practical guide for students (2nd Edition) by Phillip Chong Ho Shon – University of Ontario Institute of Technology

published by SAGE in the SAGE Study Skills Series.

Mostly online business learning?

We need some better words to describe the diversity of blended learning.

This brand new course BSc Professional Development in Business – which is the degree underpinning University of Brighton’s Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA) – will be “mostly” online with just six days of face to face workshops. Intended for employed staff who wish to study for a business degree alongside their paid work, the course materials are primarily licensed from the Open University and are thus of excellent quality. The assessment is done by UoB academic staff and meets the needs of employers as well as students by offering a work-based element to most assessment.

Unlike our full time undergraduates, these students will have short breaks at Easter, Summer and Christmas, following a more work-oriented schedule.

But to compare this method of study with the typical blended uni course would be comparing apples and buckets – most “blended” uni courses favour face to face sessions with some online backup and further activities or reading, ie just an extensive use of a virtual learning environment.

MOOCs are spawning new acronyms all the time so what about MOBs and SOBs (mostly online blends and slightly online blends)??


ECEL 2016 Prague

While the Czech Republic celebrated the 98th anniversary of the birth of the old Czechoslovakia, just off Wenceslas Square in the Faculty of Pedagogy, a large international group of delegates met to debate the state of e-learning. ecel-6

As always, the conference organisation was smooth and professional from Sue Nugus and her team at ACPI. We were treated to three keynote speakers, a wide range of presentations, a doctoral symposium and a larger than usual array of conference posters, as well as the traditional conference dinner, held on the Vltava River, around which Prague was built. (It was on a boat).


Prof van Niekerk on Brain Compatible Learning





All three keynotes were of value and stimulated ideas through the conference sessions. Prof. Johan van Niekerk was perhaps the most visually stimulating – offering a great prezi link here:
on Brain compatible learning in an E-learning environment. Beginning with lots of myths about brain function, van Niekerk showed us a video of memory formation through synaptic connection, reassuring us of the plasticity I love to discuss where personal learning environments mirror the flexibility of the brain. He reminded us that it was easier to forget than to remember, discussing ways to make the brain remember – one of which has to be note-taking or some other kind of rehearsal. I looked around. Who was taking notes? Not many of the delegates seemed to take this on board. Whereas without Evernote on my sound-deadened tablet, I would surely lose so much excitement from research papers as connections and notions go the way of most of my passwords. Building bridges, another of my favourite soapboxes concerning teaching, was also advocated – clearly said, learning grows on what is already there, cannot grow in a vacuum; hence the need for not just scaffolding but a sense of what the foundations are made of – diagnostics before trying to teach.

Here is a link to van Niekerk’s recently published paper on his experimental study – worth a read.

Also stimulating, but in a more psychological way, was the keynote from Stanislaus Stech, a psychologist from Charles University (our conference venue). He spoke about affordances of ICT, again a really useful way of discussing technological properties rather than listing benefits. Affordances are those properties which can be derived from the tools (Stech cited Gibson 1977 for this concept – also Gaver 1991 and Norman 1988). He used the idea to discuss the change in teachers’ conception of teaching from “transmissible” to a constructivist approach. However, he pointed out the downsides of the latter based on provision of information online. Like van Niekerk he emphasised the need for active note-taking and, following Vygotsky, emphasised the role of the teacher as mediator, helping people to learn with the new technologies at their fingertips. Promoting evidence-based, cognitively appropriate teaching he seemed to be demanding the kind of good teaching which recognises where the student is, understanding the cognitive load increased by vast access to information, and building stepping stones for students which allowed them to climb towards learning. Stech acknowledged a debt to Sherry Turkle’s work Alone Together (2010) when discussing the potential shallows of instant interpersonal connectedness and the false feeling of omnipotence which can be derived from user-friendly/facile technology.

The third keynote was given by an honoured mathematician: Dr Michele Artigue, who spoke about Mathematics education in the digital age.  Again her presentation moved from the specifics of maths education and digital tools (SCRATCH programming, Geogebra and the Edumatics project for example) to a focus on how teachers’ roles had changed. I found particularly intriguing her discussion of the cognitive and mediative components of the professional teacher’s role. She outlined how digital technology had taken both components of teaching to a new and demanding level. Using Ruthven’s article (2009), Dr Artigue looked at classroom practice in terms of working environment, resource system, activity format, curriculum script and time economy which all affected the use of digital tools in teaching.

Stuart Francis, Rachael Carden, Andrea Benn, Julie Fowlie and Craig Wakefield from Brighton Business School

Stuart Francis, Rachael Carden, Andrea Benn, Julie Fowlie and Craig Wakefield from Brighton Business School

Of the many sessions I attended, I have to focus on the Brighton Business School contingent – we had seven members of the School at this conference, a record for us. Five of my colleagues in a team led by Andrea Benn presented at conference aspects of their project on managing the transition from college to university in the UK entitled A new approach to an old challenge. What was distinctive about this project (also shortlisted in the Elearning Excellence Awards at the conference and published here) was the collaborative cross-disciplinary nature of their teamwork and the facing of a range of challenges, not least of which was to develop an online taster course available to potential students outside the university firewall. Much learning had clearly resulted and each member of the multi-disciplinary team was able to reflect on changes to the way they had approached technology enhanced learning as a result of the project, quite apart from the project’s adoption by Widening Participation and its potential to be used as a model for further online tasters. More on this project at Craig Wakefield’s blog here.



Ibrahim Zalah, presenting in the symposium

One of my research students also presented at the Doctoral Symposium – Ibrahim Zalah – whose focus is on the acceptance and use of e-learning technologies by Saudi Secondary Schools. This is a great milestone offering both presentation and publication experience, and feedback from external readers. The Doctoral symposium at these conferences is also often the most interesting place to be, as people share their research journeys at different stages asking new questions and reminding one of old debates.





Cyril Brom, Charles University

I chaired a session on Social Learning which echoed some of the ideas from ECSM 2016 looking at social networks and digital inclusion among the elderly – a vital research area tackled by researchers from Brazil, a social media typology – Refuseniks, Uninitiated, Agnostics, Separatists and Integrationists – based on a four year study at Hertfordshire from Guy Saward and Amanda Jeffries, and a quasi-experimental study of anthropomorphic faces and funny graphics concluding so far that such emotional design may help with surface but not so much with deep learning for 16-30 year olds from Cyril Brom, from Charles University.



So in summary, what did I get from this conference? another lovely experience of the Czech Republic and an increased knowledge of the centre of Prague with its painted facades and arcades, and excellent dark beer. A new contact in Malaysia – the delightful PhD student Lillian Wang Yee Kiaw and her husband Michael with whom I shared dinner on the boat, talked UTAUT and hope to meet again.

Little in the way of novel tools, though many useful references. Research methods largely based on grounded and structuration theory using quasi-experimental studies, focus groups, surveys, content analysis of texting, webpages, eportfolios and online discussions as well as student use of YouTube. A focus on cognitive load, teacher roles in the use of digital tools and their affordances and some interesting though not especially novel insights into neuroscience. What we are seeing in e-learning research is a widespread acknowledgement of the potential and possibilities for learning by increasingly common digital tools but a stronger than ever realisation that teaching and learning design has to change – not really because learning has changed, but because methods, tools and activities are changing behaviours. The psychological and social impact of digital technologies for learning still offers a fertile ground for research as we seek to understand better the impact of the digital revolution and where that leaves us in every level of education.




Research Methods for Postgraduates 3rd Edition 2016

It’s finally here!!!

Research Methods for Postgraduates 3rd ed.

New research methods book available from October 2016


Tony Greenfield’s excellent edited collection of advice for students and researchers is available from October 2016. This is a testament to a dedicated man who was determined to see his third edition see the light of day at great personal cost. His mission is to make statistics, in particular, accessible to non-statisticians.

Many colleagues from UoB*, as well as a range of other knowledgeable experts from universities around the UK, have contributed chapters – well worth recommending.

Book to be launched at ENBIS 2016 in Sheffield in September, in honour of Tony, a founder member of ENBIS.


*Tom Bourner, Viv Martin, Juliet Millican, Mark Hughes, Andrea Benn, Linda Heath and myself