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,subjectCd-SO90.html

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

ECSM 2016 EM Normandie, Caen

IMG_0518 FullSizeRender-5The third European Conference on Social Media ran this week in Caen, France at a business school: Ecole de Management (EM) Normandie. Small but lively conference with delegates from a big range of countries – certainly not just mainland Europe.

As always I am an event tweeter, using Twitter to meet like-minded researchers, connect, share links and remember points that can so easily flash fleetingly through the mind at presentations and soon be gone for ever – faster than Snapchat. A few hours or days afterwards I get to think about my and others’ tweets and reflect on them in this blog.

There were two major themes for me at the conference: social media marketing and social media (SM) in learning – schools, vocational learning and Higher Education. The marketing focus was strong from the outset with challenges set by Ali Ouni of Spectrum Groupe, a consulting company in Normandy and questions raised which reverberated through the sessions on how to measure the impact of social media marketing (SMM). An insistence on ROI provoked hot debate as people sought to find other ways to justify SMM. My guess is that when companies learn how to justify spend on PR and brand awareness and CRM, they will find the way to justify spend on SMM. At least with social media you can measure click-throughs and stimulate discussion and rapid customer feedback, whereas the old-fashioned column-centimetres metric for PR really does not get us far.


James Fox with an image of Darth Vader impressing students with the dark side of social media profiles

Many of the presentations I attended (mostly SM and learning) touched on how to help students understand privacy settings and potential future impact of unwise profile-building online. Some excellent work by Michael Fox and team at Bristol set out student folders containing all they could learn (subject to ethical research approval) on their students and offered them advice once the reality hit home.


Britt and Hannelore from Ghent Uni discussing Twitter tasks

The over-riding apps were Facebook & Twitter in research studies at the conference – even though many agreed Facebook was being consigned to a parental generation and beyond while younger or more connected and cautious students look for end to end encryption (WhatsApp for example) or time-limited exposure (Snapchat etc). A paper from Hannelore and Britt at Ghent Uni found students really didn’t much care for using open social networking on Twitter for academic work, and wanted closed, teacher-led online communities. So much for student-centred autonomy in Higher Education! But of course the devil is in the detail – more study needed here.

There was a great PhD colloquium which I attended and found some very professional presentations from the students.

Athena Choi shows in depth study of the fashion blog in HK

Athena Choi shows in depth study of the fashion blog in HK

Great to see visual affordances of social media being researched from different perspectives. Also to hear that HR professionals consider internal communications entirely their own affair (marketing would be unhappy to hear that) when it comes to internal social media, though none of them had heard of the keywords used in academic research to describe what they were doing – thanks here to Mark Verheyden in Brussels who presented this research. Intriguing presentations too from Britt Adams relating to advertising literacy among young people (given the ubiquitous inserted ads in social media chat forums), Karin Hoegberg’s extensive and wide-ranging interviews in the hotel industry concerning social media adoption and usage, drawing attention to the idea that people’s personal use of SM was likely to affect the advice and direction they gave to their organisations, Zuzana Homanova tackled the tricky topic of social network use in elementary schools and Poornima Srikant gave a quantitative evaluation of the relationship between SMM and brand trust as she reviewed the Facebook pages of four quite different organisations.

selfie at the PhD colooquium led by Conference Chair Christine Bernadas

selfie at the PhD colloquium led by Conference Chair Christine Bernadas

There were some great posters on display at the conference – my favourites where Dr Alison Iredale’s account of her blended programme at Leeds Beckett uni, and Ted Clark’s poster on sociomateriality of social software:


Ted Clark’s poster on sociomateriality of social software – does the media become an extension as well as an expression of the writer?

I had been invited to give the keynote presentation on the second conference day – choosing the topic of Unlearning learning with social media. This was a chance to do some creative theory linking for me as I read widely around not just social media use but also the concept of unlearning – having been first alerted to this by Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970) (sad to hear of his death just a couple of weeks ago on 27th June 16). There’s a link to my slideset on the ECSM website here. According to the tweets, the presentation went down well, causing much discussion – my argument was based around the “deep unlearning” identified by Rushmer and Davies produced by an internal cognitive dissonance rather than the “wiping” associated with external imposition of change. For me, social media has affordances of intimacy, speed and serendipity which can trigger personal cognitive and affective responses, just the sort of thing that could occasion deep unlearning. And without unlearning, we face a steady aggregation of filtered responses based on unquestioned attitude foundations – a bad way to think and behave. In view of the positive response, I need to take these ideas further.

Slide01    FullSizeRender-6

As always at ACPI conferences, Sue Nugus organised the event, our logistics, the parallel sessions, the conference dinner and the publications superbly. Thank you Sue.

Student Social Media Showcase (SSMS) 2016 at Big Bang South East

Slide09ssms 2014 banner

Taking the Showcase to the Big Bang event at Ardingly showground this year was a great chance to talk to young people (ages roughly 9-13). Just being at a small display stand and talking to hundreds of the 8000 schoolchildren and their teachers who attended was a stimulating experience.

University of Brighton students of Digital Marketing had shared video presentations with us on the SSMS site and we were able to show them, talk about them, and generally chat face to face with people for whom social media is a given, not a possible.

The top apps were Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube from those we spoke with, but there were quite a few media which were new to us – I Heart You, Steam etc. Most surprising in a way was the proliferation of social media students knew and used. Many could list up to 8 different social media without trying and insisted they used them all. We didn’t do a scientific study here, just a vox pop, but it felt as if these young people collected social media like stickers – badges of social acceptability and status.

There was a clear sense from many that Facebook was less popular in this age group – this has been reported for some time now. Facebook for young people is generally a place to keep in touch with, or avoid, parents and family. The big platforms where stuff stays around for ever are concerning people, so they are moving to WhatsApp or similar where privacy of group chat is possible with end to end encryption, and Snapchat where stuff simply doesn’t stay around. The fashionable churn of social media over the last two decades is not surprising. But of course, social media are not just accessories, they are shaping the way we communicate and learn, and unlearn. More on that one in a later post.

What is publication about?

Spending time poring over proofs, correcting punctuation, reading and reshaping what you write for publication – all these are par for the course. There was a time when I really believed I would never publish anything, especially when my thesis came back covered with corrections to be made (and I had thought I was good at grammar). It took a long time before I had anything in print, even online – blogging seemed more sensible – at least I was solely responsible for my own errors.

But an encouraging Head of School and the belief of colleagues helped me get into conferences, then ebooks, then journals and book chapters and edited books. I’m never going to change the world through my writing, I have a mildly better chance at that in the classroom and the pulpit, but it has always seemed worthwhile, trying to get published.

So they began to pile up, these little publications, until I began editing a journal and now am supposed to know what I am writing about. One thing I do know more securely now than ever before is just how important are the style and the purpose of writing.

Let’s take style. Every teacher will be familiar with the need for balance between correcting errors which change meaning and trying to hold back from fully sub-editing a learner’s work. Grammatical and stylistic horrors in student work don’t even make me cry out now. I have had to discipline that part of me in order to better help the student. However, they do make me wince when submitted to the journal. Many authors are writing in a second language for publication and perhaps they pride themselves on their grammatical powers, just as I once did. Perhaps they ask their friends and colleagues to do the proof-reading. The result is that perhaps a third of the articles we see submitted must be returned to authors for professional proof-reading – and those are just the ones which are worth sending for peer review.

And the purpose of writing? It feels as if the race to publish in today’s HE environment is leading to more and more verbiage which means less and less. If the purpose of publication is to gain promotion, to stay in your academic job or to extol your every new idea, then the Web is fattening with too much unwanted stuff which pretends to offer original contributions to knowledge. If we wish to publish because we have original things to say and want them to be discussed and challenged by others, then publication is a good goal, but first we have to determine for whom we write and why we write.Then we need to present the evidence. Then we need to do the proof-reading! 

Inspiring meeting of the BeL research group today

The Business eLearning research group is part of CIMER research centre in Brighton Business School and today we had an update meeting, as always producing stimulating conversation over cake.

The group was established 12 years ago with a dual mission – to research areas of elearning in relation to business and management, and to support colleagues in the Business School with the use of technology in learning and teaching. We now have five academic members of staff involved and supervise 3 postgraduate research students in related fields.

Activities with which we are currently involved:

  • BSc Professional Development in Business – a part-time blended learning undergraduate degree for people in work, which is based on Open University course material and is assessed and supported by Brighton Business School tutors. This is a pioneering course combining the best online materials from OU and extra tuition and support from our staff plus assessments which are newly designed to relate to students in work. The course is due for validation next month and we are hoping to build it into a Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, open for admission in 2017.
  • Online taster programme for students considering coming to university to study business – Andrea Benn and a team from BBS successfully won funding from Widening Participation to develop an hour long online taster programme which has now been designed and handed over to WP. The process and learning from it have been written up as a paper which is to be delivered at the European Conference on ELearning 2016 in Prague by the team, and has also been accepted as an entry for the elearning Excellence Awards this year. The programme is based on Edublogs and can be accessed via any platform on any device.
  • One of our research students – Ibrahim Zalah – has had a paper accepted for the Doctoral Workshop at the ECEL 2016 conference on  The Acceptance and use of E-learning Technologies by Saudi Secondary Teachers.
  • Business School teaching and learning event – every summer, staff get together to review what they do, and this year we are proposing a number of innovations which have been pioneered either by or with the support of BeL group members, ranging from mobile applications which engage students in large lecture sessions, to the online taster session mentioned above, plus problem-based learning experiences, to using online business game simulations.
  • Student Social Media Showcase (SSMS 2016) – runs again for the third time this year. Originally established at the European Conference on Social Media hosted by BeL research group in Brighton in 2014, the SSMS was an event which offered an online showcase of videos in which students presented their research on or with social media, and which was shared with schoolchildren in 2014. Last year, the SSMS went purely online with new student entries and prizes for the best videos. In 2016, we are taking the SSMS entries and video showreels to the Big Bang event, focussing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, on 29th June at Ardingly Showground where thousands of schoolchildren will get a chance to see what kind of social media impacts students at uni are interested in.
  • Trevor Nesbit, a new member of the BeL group on the academic staff at BBS, is close to submitting his PhD which discusses interactive collaboration and questioning through mobile devices in the classroom.
  • We also have two other FT research students working hard on their respective research studies – one relating to the personal learning networks and environments of female university students in Saudi Arabia and another looking into SMEs and how they support the learning of key workers with dyslexia when so much learning is screen-based.
  • Members of the group also edit the Journal Interactive Learning Environments for Routledge, a journal for which the impact factor is increasing and submissions are so strong, we have doubled issues in size this year.

A bumper package of activity – well done the BeL group!