Some recent thoughts about interactive learning

Here is a selection of recent editorials I have written for Interactive Learning Environments – all available online in recent issues (Volume 26 to date).

Methodological choices for research into interactive learning in Issue 2

Stop daydreaming, pay attention in Issue 3

Reframing innovative teaching in Issue 4

Research limitations: the need for honesty and common sense in Issue 5

and in Issue 6 Student disengagement: is technology the problem or the solution?

If the links don’t work, go to the journal page for Interactive Learning Environments.

These are all editorials, my own thoughts and arguments based on my reading of a huge number of submitted papers and linked to the papers in each issue. This is one of the most focussed e-learning journals where papers must be related to interactive learning and must have a technology contribution. If you have something to say in this field, aim for a rigorous literature review and/or a longitudinal study or one which takes account of a broad range of learning situations or learners. We regularly reject single case studies of tutor’s successful personal innovations if they applied in just one case and do not add to the readers’ sense of what contributes to debate in this field.

Oh, and….try reading the author guidelines for the journal – I would love it if everyone did before submitting!!


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)??


CAL 09 Brighton March 2009

Great conference in the Hilton Metropole, Brighton, ably hosted by Chairman Avril Loveless in Education and Sport. is conference website.

Wonderful to hear Diana Laurillard, Josie Taylor, Roger Saljo, Dave Cliffe, Grainne Conole and so many more VIPs in the elearning world.

A few byte-size bits of info from the conference:

Dave Cliffe talked of cloud computing or massive data utility centres (warehouses packed with many thousands of blade servers) which will become the next utility, with computing being paid for by time use at minimal marginal cost. Also ubiquitous amorphous computation based on networks of minute memory spots externalising “brain” linkages between them.

Dave also suggested that if a person could wear a video cam to record everything they saw from birth to 70 years, the total video storage required for a “lifetime” of images would be 27.5 terabytes, which in ten years time could cost approx. £1000. What’s extraordinary to me is that we can calculate this, make it measurable. Not of course that anyone would particularly fancy recording everything they saw! Imagine the retrieval system to find the right image….though it might help partners to get the details of where they first met right.

His tour de force keynote also mentioned some amazing intelligent prosthetics, cognitively enhancing drugs, quantum computing and plastic electronics – conjuring up a 3D copier which can produce physical objects rather than paper images – dramatic impact on manufacturing.

only a little reassuring that there are some processes which it is cheaper to employ people rather than computers to do – are we the new slave labour for the web?

Dave’s final message was about systems learning – we are getting to the stage where computers can deal with meta-systems or systems of systems – which is getting beyond our ability to understand. He believed the inability of so many to think numerately and to understand systems thinking was a potential major risk for humanity. Yet another advocate of systems thinking and numeracy – HEAR, HEAR!

Laura Czernewicz and her colleague Cheryl from University of Cape Town clarified the trend in S Africa to get elearning via mobiles rather than laptops, with some students spending on the highest range mobiles as this infrastructure cheaper and more reliable than investing in laptops.

Many symposia from CETLs around the UK on subjects such as Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs) – it may be just possible that some of this work could enable real teachers to generate useful learning objects with very limited technical knowledge – right up my street.

Other key debates around the conference included the range of definitions (and understanding?) of the term pedagogy – for some this is learning theory and for others just beliefs of teachers about what works in teaching – a distinction I have written about elsewhere. Also varying perspectives of personalised learning and the extent to which Web 2.0 should or shouldn’t be adopted by HE/FE/schools as part of formal education. This is a hot issue as many feel that Web 2.0 should remain the preserve of people’s social lives rather than their formal educational lives, even though social networking clearly encompasses much personal learning. Glamorgan project exemplified this by a headline “Get out of MySpace!”.

I won’t give a further rundown here of my 27 pages of notes on the conference!! Suffice to say it was a great opportunity for Asher and I from BeL research group in BBS to talk to many colleagues about staff adoption of technology-enhanced learning around our poster site and questionnaires – much to sift through and analyse now.

ECEL08 Cyprus

Well attended conference in Agia Nappa – glorious surroundings with direct access to beach. Despite the sun and sand, the conference provided quite enough stimulus to keep me away from the distractions. Delivered paper on “identify crisis: who is teaching whom online?” which was well supported and led to lively discussion. My research proposes a transition from teacher to learner using online environments for teaching, which can be seen as empowering or upsetting, depending on your point of view.

As learners begin to get to grips with the huge possibiities of accessing information and differing perspectives over the web, there is more reason to justify challenge to what teachers say in the classroom, more ways in which they can develop confidence in online identities and metamorphose from the quiet person at the back of the class, to the pro-active challenger online. Good stuff. Unless, that is, you define yourself as a teacher by seeing yourself in charge in the classroom. Then there are stressful encounters ahead. Where now does your authority come from? To set the curriculum, to design the online course area, to ask the questions, to pace the interaction and appearance of learning artefacts. Do you have that authority any more?

Of course teachers do still have authority online – especially upfront when they are designing interactions and activities and content. But they are no longer the sole architects of their students “course”. Web integration allows students to use other HEIs for notes and ideas, monitor currency of content and find others to ask questions – possibly talking directly to far distant experts. Challenging when we work out what teachers are meant to be doing. But still plenty of opportunities for “good” ie inspiring, questioning, problem-based teaching.