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!!


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

Triumph and Twitter at ECSM2014 and SSMS2014

Really successful Student Social Media Showcase and inaugural European Conference on Social Media hosted by Business E-Learning research group at University of Brighton in last three days. What’s the evidence of success?

Success counted on the basis of online footprint: so far we have some 1378 tweets sharing the #ECSM2014 hashtag, 656 outgoing links and 198 photos shared from the three days. Success also counted from some 170 participants from 35 countries – which for a first new conference was very strong. Success also judged by the positive and engaged conversations throughout a conference which mixed a diverse focus of research on data analytics, business and marketing perspectives of social media, e-participation and democracy and impacts of social media on learning at all levels of education.

Although the range of paper topics was far too wide to summarise, Asher Rospigliosi, conference chair, and I summarised five challenges arising from the research across the conference:

1.ubiquity – clearly social media is omnipresent, yet many academic researchers are not using many social media platforms – to what extent can we hypothesize without personal engagement and experience? to what extent do we use social media to share research? debate questions? just using it for checking flights or trains is not really enough.

2.Twitter focus – one of the easier social media platforms to use for research, but what kind of data are we getting? Farida Vis, keynote on Day One, alerted us to the immensity of the FIREHOSE and the strong chances that sampling was not what we might expect in standard datasets.

3.clash of worlds – as exemplified by the breadth of conference papers, social media influences and fuels political, economic, commercial, social and personal worlds as well as those of the academic and the learner – there is potential here for unintended consequences in research.

4.pace of change – social media platforms come and go with unpredictable speed, while institutional and research funding timelines continue to move at snail pace – the dangers of focussing on a suddenly extinguished platform are obvious

5.language – all our keynote speakers: Ben Shneiderman, Farida Vis, David Gurteen and John Traxler touched on issues of language in this fast expanding research domain. Shneiderman pointed out we don’t have much language to describe the shapes in visualised data yet, Vis pointed out the absence of language to compare and contrast visual images which are the increasing focus of social media – especially on instagram, pinterest, snapchat etc, Gurteen showed us we needed shared language to make meaningful conversation and Traxler highlighted the potential dominance of Western language through technology affecting and perhaps extinguishing local languages across the world.

There are lots of ways we can go back and reflect on the content and challenges of the conference – particularly through epilogger
and storify, found through the blogsite as well as twitter and flickr streams. Nicola Osborne of EDINA also contributed an excellent very detailed blog of all three days, for which many thanks Nicola.

When all have returned home to ponder on the events of the last three days, what will we remember? For me it was the dazzling diversity of thinking about social media and the sense of being on the brink of an exploding research domain. Look out for Special Issues and papers selected from the conference in related journals – details on the conference website:

learning and teaching conference at University of Brighton

Strong attendance at today’s L and T conference, an annual event at Brighton. A chance to renew conversations about learning, or as one colleague said – at this time of year we need a shot in the arm to remind us why we love teaching.

First keynote: Professor David Boud from Sydney University of Technology proposed that we reconceptualise assessment for longer term learning. Meaning we consider reducing feedback with final assessment as, at that stage, students need summary assessment based on grades and no amount of feedback will help their learning after graduation. Feedback at this stage is more about communicating our thinking and academic health to other staff – internal and external. This could have a real impact on how we feed back at this stage. This year on final assessments of project reports and dissertations we have made greater efforts to make explicit the rationale behind blind marking negotiation and resolution – good for academic health and checking consistency. But many of us are still putting a lot of effort into detailed feedback which is rarely seen or cared about by the student at this stage.

On the other hand, Boud was keen to increase and improve formative feedback ie that which students get when they are more responsive and can take it on board before summative marking. This is where audio feedback and detailed in text feedback really score – both valued for richness and specific guidance by students in our current small research study.

Boud was focussing on building students capacity for judgement as a skill ( or attitude?) relevant to lifetime choices and careers. More interested in process of learning than outcomes of learning ( content). Which fits of course with our work on new vocationalism which stresses willingness and ability to learn as key graduate markers rated highly by employers.

The other key point raised here for me was a focus on course level learning outcomes over module level LOs. Seems to me obvious that our current overly tight focus on detailed module learning outcomes allows the student little if any freedom to learn unexpected things – things which may ultimately prove more valuable than the content we impose. Unplanned learning needs a higher profile – this is what makes the difference between a competent learner and a transformational learner. Someone who is able to reflect on and evaluate unplanned learning as well as planned learning is going to do better once they have left the guidelines of the university.

The second keynote at the end of conference was Professor Bryson from Newcastle Uni. He introduced a comprehensive discussion of perspectives of student engagement. Basing the antecedents on my favourite Chickering and Gamson 1987, he proceeded through the NSSE used in States and its various versions in Australia and China etc, measuring how often students did certain things associated with active learning ( such as questioning etc) to propose that student engagement had more to do with student expectations and perceptions – a point which needs to involve relating student learning to their personal project or experience and interest in the subject – appropriate balance between challenge and workload, trust, degree of autonomy and opportunities for growth and enjoyment, dialogue and a sense of belonging or being part of a learning community.

The idea of bringing student experience into learning still contrasts sharply with my recent validation experience in which there was very clear evidence that some colleagues still believe in the empty vessel theory of student learning. I cannot believe that we still have teachers who cannot recognise the life experience of our students and who fail to see that dismissing that experience ( however “wrong” it may be according to the textbooks) wastes an opportunity for connection with the student, bridging the sometimes huge gap between our expertise and theirs and encouraging them to share and take risks with learning.

But let me dismount a favourite hobbyhorse and conclude with a comment that the sheer fun of using twitter and Evernote today through a recently acquired iPad was brilliant! I even got a twitter badge ( thanks to Katie Piatt) for tweeting through the day with the conference hashtag #uoblt12 . But the technology allowed me to chair three sessions, tweet constantly thus connecting with comments and ideas from sessions I did not attend, make notes of phrases and ideas I found useful on my own twitterstream, have conversations across the globe with research conference friends who picked up tweets today, check programme timings without always fishing for the document, import abstracts into my Evernote record of the conference avoiding extra typing, include photos of key slides in that account, and know that even if my device was mislaid, it was all safely recorded in the cloud. This did not at any point stop me making new friends and renewing older friendships, thinking about what I was hearing and contributing wherever I could.

I think I call that blended learning….

Rhodes sunshine and genuine community learning at ICICTE

This year’s ICICTE conference, my second visit but it’s been a while, was a good learning experience.

learning experience at Greek Night, Aresh not listening!

The link here to the conference website shows the visual evidence, photos from every day of the conference and a great way to remember the names of new friends.

icicte 2011 first eveninghere are Antonis and Olga from Greece, Andrea and myself from Brighton, Aresh from London, Liam and Stephen from New Zealand

As always with conferences, you can choose to have the best conference ever, or you can be passive. The difference is made by being proactive, being open to questions and asking them frequently, being prepared to find common ground and really attending to speakers. All offer some great learning – particularly if good time-keeping means you can really choose ones which interest you.

view from hotel room to Turkey

I enjoyed sessions on digital identity – good paper by Carolyn Woodley, assessment – good paper by Bostock from Keele – and Facebook – our final session which included a lovely example of interesting students in maths by putting up a Facebook page for a revered ancient mathematician and attracting friends. The latter session was where I delivered my paper right at the end of conference on Facebook: perceptions of purpose, learning from the experience of retailers which, like the others, can be found in the ICICTE website where the proceedings are downloadable. Can also be found on the public prezi site.

Andrea Benn delivered her paper at the start of conference so between us we bookended the event, talking about our new Business with Enterprise course based on PBL – lots of differing definitions of this among the audience and some useful experience shared.

A highlight was the keynote from Michael Grahame Moore and his presence throughout the conference – here at the Philospher’s Cafe:

Michael Moore at ICICTE 2011

Michael Moore at ICICTE 2011

His ideas about the vertical disaggregation of HE learning struck a chord, a world of aggregated learners and disaggregated (by merit across the world) resources for learning. And an absolute belief in the power of online interaction and affective communication.

Although the work didn’t end with the conference (have netbook, will work), a few days afterwards in the warm blanket of Rhodes sunshine was an exceptional treat.

what kind of research do I do?

Online learning
1. What are you researching?
When I began to research, about 11 years ago, the problem which intrigued me was how to use the online learning capabilities we suddenly had at our disposal in university. We were beginning at that time to use intranets with student and staff access and this made me rethink my teaching. I was deluged by questions – could we work online with large groups as well as small groups?, could we run discussions online which were as effective as classroom discussions?, were there things we could do online which were actually better than learning and teaching in the classroom? If we did this, how should we do it? At that time there was very little guidance about.
2. Why is it important?
For me, these questions were important to my role as a university teacher. I needed to find answers and I needed to find people who were as enthusiastic as I was about online learning so we could share ideas and learn ourselves. That took me into a doctorate study of students’ readiness for online learning – it seemed vital to me to work out whether some students might be better prepared for this kind of learning than others, and to see what we could do to support students as we began to require online learning activities.
3. What are the results?
In those intervening 11 years, e-learning and online learning have taken off in universities. Now we all have virtual learning environments and my research has helped me to understand and share ideas with other teachers on design of online learning and assessment. I am still experimenting, but our collective knowledge has informed the way HE courses are delivered, and has increased opportunities to offer students a blended learning experience – getting the most out of both online and face to face teaching.
2. But that isn’t all. My research activities led me to question issues around learning in a deeper way. That has led to ongoing research into graduate employability and reflective learning.
1. What are you researching?
graduate employability: We wanted to find out whether universities which made a point of developing so-called employability skills as part of their degree courses were actually helping their graduates get graduate-level jobs. Or whether there was a better way to help. We studied HESA data  graduate destinations – this is with my colleagues Asher and Tom, which involved using the statistics which graduates themselves supply about their jobs or lack of jobs after graduation.
2. Why is it important?
There has never been a more important time to look at graduate employability: the fees changes due in 2012 and the media focus on high graduate unemployment make this a vital area to research.
3. What are the results?
We are finding that universities have been making some assumptions about what employers want from graduates. Not necessarily very accurate ones. We have used the term “new vocationalism” to express what we think is the case based on our research, that what employers want is more about a willingness and ability to learn than specific skills or vocational content which will never quite fit the employer requirement, except for specific professions such as medicine or engineering where specific learning content is vital for careers. If you couple this with the increasing turbulence in labour markets, you find that university learning is much more about how to learn than about what you learn. On the back of this we need to research further to find better ways to develop that learning capability which will fit graduates for work in constantly changing knowledge jobs. Part of this is to improve the way students learn to reflect systematically on experience and unplanned learning, as well as their formal planned course study. Reflective learning is going through a revolution in universities – we are increasingly seeing assessment of reflective learning, but perhaps not enough is yet know about how and why this is helpful. There’s another research target ahead for me and for my colleagues.