Academic Practice in practice?

What is the model and purpose of academic practice development? Producing 21st C Cardiff graduates in your discipline? There are two pillars of Welsh Government policy: Social justice is as important as a buoyant economy. Nationality is an issue. Language is an issue. A concept of privilege pervades the process. Much is made of the Welsh context. A small nation that wants to value the individual in the nation. Eight Universities. Much HE in FE. FEs are praised as cutting edge with DL, online, part-time (note our Simon Llewellyn) came from Colleg Gwent) Is this what makes a Welsh graduate experience distinct from any other?

Participants on Cardiff’s supported individual pathway to professional accreditation with the HEA need to write 600 words under each of the seven areas of activity in the UKPSF, weaving in Core Knowledge and Values. I notice only 3 females in a room of 16. Very different from Brookes. We are advised that it is not anonymous. Something of institutional and individual reputation will stick. As teachers, we are invited to be conscious of our roles. I am reminded of Max Tegmark: Subject (observer), object (observed), context (all the rest) (Tegmark 2015 page). .



Sharks and TELephants


Caribbean Reef Sharks

The challenge for technology enhanced learning (TEL) is that it not be used to impoverish people. Let me begin to explain.

I can help you teach. I may be deluded, of course, but it is none the less something I believe and something that I can act on with an established and evolving repertoire. I have led a teacher education programme for lecturers in higher education for the past seven years. I can design programmes to help you teach, I can put on courses, stand in front of a class, work one-to-one and strive to help teachers elicit their own inner teacher. So why am I giving up an established role teaching teachers in order to enter the waters of “technology enhanced learning” (TEL)?

I thought I wanted a challenge! For myself, for the team and the department I felt it was important that I move on from the job I have done since about 2008. And of course, I have been splashing in those waters for I long time. In 1983 I arrived at Oxford with an electric typewriter. In 1986 I left with an MPhil and a Apricot “portable” computer. Arguably one of the most important things I learned over those three years was how to use a word processor and a printer. But technology enhanced learning? What does that mean? Arguably everything and nothing. And this is my first challenge. Wikipedia conflates “Elearning” and “Educational Technology” with “Technology Enhanced Learning“. It is worth while reading the first 200 or so words of this article.

TEL is a term that stimulates the production of complexity. It also, as a consequence, stimulates in many people the opposite desire: forBlind_men_and_elephant2 simplicity. Like the blind men and the elephant,  there are many parts.
and many people, who want to declare TEL to be one or another of the many things it could be: from pencils to iPads, to QR codes and smart cards. New! New! Shiny! Shiny! Or so far out in front that the string and baling wire are hanging off. Or simply the human condition. But, what ever it is, it has to be better (enhanced) than something else. But, better than what?

Can we posit technology-free learning? What would that look like? Among the parts of the TELephant is that which threatens established practices and identities: that which makes some people feel they can no longer teach well, that which makes some people feel diminished not enhanced, that which makes some people feel they would rather be rid of all this “technology” (whatever it is). To enter into this debate in this way brands me as a Luddite. But this is a badge that I have to be proud, now, to wear. Remember, Luddites were not against technology. They were against technology being used to impoverish people. Which brings me back to sharks and the main challenge: money and power.




Coaching – before the session

I have been offered and have taken up coaching as a method of professional development. I have had 2 sessions with my coach and am about to have my third. What do I want? Magic. What do I get? Well like magic, you get out what you put in.

I expressed my original aim as “helping me to achieve professorship.” Though “professor” is probably a cover term for “respect”, “satisfaction” and “influence” with minimum compromise to my core beliefs and values. And each of those cover other terms, among which must be professional things like “authority” and other things like “domestic security”: a “living”, a “house-bond”. Big stuff.

So that is the big picture. What are the challenges? Well, the big picture, itself. Focus. Attention, maybe? My challenge is that I see complexity and contradiction in most human things. Sometimes this is a source of conflict: warring beliefs or usurpation of livings. But often complexity is only in nuance.

What is this really about? What do I need to focus on for this session? Professionally it is the Technology Enhanced Learning(TEL) Framework. This is complex. All three terms are contested. “Pencils are technology!” some people shout. Others insist everyone MUST have an iPad. As a “teacher educafor” I had a platform and institutional place and a term with which to work that I understood; “teaching” is something I grasp, I can “profess”. But TEL?


Tealab? TEL me about it

Reviving Tealab: Tealab is explicitly a Teaching Laboratory and discussion “space”. There are a number of excellent initiatives across the university that lap over the territory. When Tealab was set up it was intended to replace the Learning and Teaching  Forum (LTF),  with a focus on people (possibly “younger” whatever that might mean) interested in new or innovative teaching practices. These practices did not need to make use of learning technologies, but given the zeitgeist and interests of the proponents of Tealab there was a strong learning technology focus.

The institutional learning and teaching focus is currently on the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Framework with its participatory underpinning. The aim of the framework is expressed in four domains: Learning, Identity, Community and Place and is intended to enable the creative appropriation of tools, transformative academic practice, inclusive communities and safe spaces for learning.

Now, the Technology Experimentation Group (TEG), has a clear learning technologies focus and the Minerva Seminar Series is focused on teaching excellence.

Tealab can do two things.

One is serve as a clearing house and notice board of all the extra and co-curricular learning opportunities for teachers at Brookes, pulling from many sources: OBIS training, Library training courses, Digital Services training and various Guides, and OCSLD teaching courses.

And second Tealab can serve as a forum for collaborative discussion and development of the aspirations of the TEL framework. With this in mind, I am planning a series of Lunch-time sessions (and I know that time is troublesome so forgive me if these sessions are not accessible for you; we will simulcast and record for later review). I am proposing three this semester:

  • Monday 19 October 1200-1330 – Participation in learning, aspirations for teaching: introducing the TEL Framework
  • Monday 09 November 1200-1330 – Creative appropriation and appropriate technology for teaching
  • Monday 30 November 1200-1330 – Academic Identity today

And three next semester (dates to be announced)

  • Learning Communities
  • Holding space
  • Frameworks for learning and teaching



Flipping questions

These are the questions about flipped teaching that we will be discussing:

  1. Why would you reduce the time spent on “homework” and increase the time given to didactics?
    • Is the significant difference only that texts are presented as multimedia?
  2. How do you design for the periods between class?
  3. Is higher education is moving from a knowledge-based enterprise to a “higher skills and competencies” based one?
  4. Does highly didactic, knowledge-based, autonomous, single-summative-assessment point education style suit everyone? (Discuss each of the terms in bold italics?)
    • And, what if it doesn’t?
  5. Are group assessment and peer assessment now emerging as significant trends?
    • And, how did you find the answer to this question?
  6. How might you support group work in a large group?


It struck me as I was preparing a session on “flipped teaching” that there may be two related  questions in the approach for higher education (HE). Kong (2014) suggests:

The flipped classroom strategy is that work typically done as homework is better undertaken in class with the guidance of teachers. At the heart of flipped classrooms is moving teachers’ knowledge delivery outside of formal class time and using formal class time for students to actively engage in knowledge construction through extensive interactions with peers and teachers (161).

In secondary school, the amount of homework given does not often exceed the amount of time spent in the classroom. From my memory any teacher who gave more than an hour of homework was harsh. As a teacher, You have about equal chunks of in-class and out of class time to work with. In a typical 15 credit higher education (HE) module in the UK, about 30 hours is devoted to “lecturing” and 120 hours to “other stuff”: sometimes described as self-study and assessment preparation. In HE the chunks of in-class and out-of-class are different sizes compared to school. And in HE the amount of homework expected is proportionally greater than the amount of in-class time available. Why would you reduce the time spent on “homework” and increase the time given to didactics? But that is what it appears that flipped teaching does. Is the significant difference only that texts are presented as multimedia?

The second question arises from a traditional higher education practice: the large lecture. Large groups  lend themselves well to didactics and are hard to sub-divide and monitor individual progress in. Even if you had the staff.

The real question flipped teaching asks is how do you design for the periods between class or even: do you design for these periods. Even keeping quiet about “self-study and assessment preparation” time is a design decision.

Higher education is moving from a knowledge-based enterprise to a “higher skills and competencies” based one.

In the old days if you had a class of more than a hundred people, typically you gave them 12 lectures, a reading list and an exam. You probably related the lectures to the reading to the exam several times throughout the term/semester. Students shared notes between class in an ad hod fashion, And at the end of the semester they all trooped in and those who were good at that sort of thing did well on the exam.

Then you and maybe a colleague or two spent a couple weeks marking the exams. The students got jobs or partied on. Your work-load as a teacher was calculated on a similar basis as that of a student 12 x 2 or 3 hours of lectures at a 3 to 1 ratio meant  something like 100 hours and then you had a half an hour to an hour of marking per student. They did their 150 hours and you did yours. If you taught the same course year on year it got easier from time to time.

But that style, highly didactic, knowledge-based, autonomous, single-final-assessment point does not suit everyone.

As the numbers engaged in higher education increased, so did the challenges. Formative assessment and two stage assessment (mid-term exam or essay) came in. Assessed coursework and continuous assessment are all practiced to some degree.

I suggest that group assessment and peer assessment are now emerging as significant trends (Weaver & Esposito 2012).

One very effective way of getting large groups of students to work together is to make part of the assessment scheme done in small groups. Five or six is about optimum: minimum 4 maximum 8. But they will hate it and it will be hard work for everyone. However they will do the work, or far more will than would have if just left to their own devices. And those hated free-riders will have learned too, even if it is at the expense of their more diligent group members.

Questions repeated

So these are the questions about flipped teaching that we will be discussing:

  1. Why would you reduce the time spent on “homework” and increase the time given to didactics?
    • Is the significant difference only that texts are presented as multimedia?
  2. How do you design for the periods between class?
  3. Is higher education is moving from a knowledge-based enterprise to a “higher skills and competencies” based one?
  4. Does highly didactic, knowledge-based, autonomous, single-summative-assessment point education style suit everyone? (Discuss each of the terms in bold italics?)
    • And, what if it doesn’t?
  5. Are group assessment and peer assessment now emerging as significant trends?
    • And, how did you find the answer to this question?
  6. How might you support group work in a large group?


  • Siu Cheung Kong. (2014). Developing information literacy and critical thinking skills through domain knowledge learning in digital classrooms: An experience of practicing flipped classroom strategy. Computers & Education, 78, 160–173.
  • Weaver, D., & Esposto, A. (2012). Peer assessment as a method of improving student engagement. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(7), 805–816.





Widening Participation Working Group Away Day (Oxford Brookes University)

Semi-live notes from very interesting and data filled Oxford Brookes University Widening Participation Working Group Away Day at Marston Road. (Of 30 people in the room only one obviously black man and two Asian women. Matches our BME student profile? c. 10%)

The day was framed by demographics about where Brookes sits, and politics in light of the forthcoming election, which enabled a critical frame for the day: whose WP are we talking about? Is the “lifecourse” educational – or institutional – for everyone?

Should OCSLD have had a pitch here? Because support for staff development IS support for WP. Though we are not seen as a service for students, institutionally, the significant change that has to be made is “Academic”: academic literacy, academic content, academic writing, academic culture.  Critical analysis is HUGE. Planning and structuring assignments is HUGE. When you have many inquiries from the same course at the same time, you ask: Can we move up the river and see “who is ‘pushing the bodies into the stream'”? Is this is where OCSLD has a role working with course teams?

This post will be updated through the day (Tuesday 10 March 0930-1430)

Continue reading “Widening Participation Working Group Away Day (Oxford Brookes University)”

First Steps Again

FSLT15 is off to an easy start so far. It will be interesting to see how many attend the webinar on Monday. There are about 60 participants signed up and about 26 are taking the course for University Credit (10 credits CATS level 7, M-level). The course is validated and acceptable on 3 programmes: The OCSLD Associates Programme leading to Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy; The Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE) and the MA Education: Higher Education.

Participants are mostly from the UK, with people from South Africa, Spain, Ecuador, Portugal, Zambia, St Vincent, Ireland also joining. And there are a number who have not yet indicated, suggesting about 20% may be from outside the UK.

The course is feeling like a “traditional” part of what we do, now that it is in its fourth year. It is easy to forget what a step it has been to develop this programme. The big thing is that many of the people taking the course for credit are Brookes Staff who feel that the online option may be more effective for them, even though they are based in Oxford.

So as we work through the Week 0 oddities I trust we will be fully engaged by Monday


Implementing the new blended learning

Having written, “Where is the new blended learning? Whispering corners of the forum” with Richard Francis (Francis & Roberts 2014), I and colleagues are starting to develop underpinning frameworks for communication and dissemination and to suggest programme developments and tools for teaching. The following abstract for a 45 minute workshop session, submitted to a conference but not yet accepted, is my first stab at moving from underpinnings to action. Re-reading it now, I think Good Luck! It made sense at the time.

By the end of this session, delegates will be able to:

  • identify and explain the underpinnings of the new blended learning through metaphors of space
  • apply frameworks for explaining, communicating, disseminating and implementing the new blended learning
  • imagine, together learning designs that are responsible and authentic to learners points of origin, disciplinary epistemologies, and practice as it is.

Physical and virtual spaces of learning appear ever more fluid and polyvalent for all participants, who are co-constructors of the space itself and of the learning that occurs within it: heterotopias (Foucault 1984) of institution, teacher and student. Such blended space of both community and identity is where activity occurs, and reflection on – and dialogue about – authentic experience happens.

Through this fluid polyvalence, all spaces are revealed as spaces between (Meyer and Land 2003, Bhabha 2004): between the ideal and the real, between now and then in both directions; between the physical and the digital, paper and the screen. New teaching spaces, learning environments, apps and the cloud can be seen as bridges between an older the vision of blended learning (Raftery and Francis 2005, Sharpe et al 2006) and a future that is continuously emergent. They mark the end of one era and the beginning of another.

The key issues to be addressed arise from applying models of good practice derived from older face-to-face AND online distance learning to the new blended learning. Participants will explore the implications of distributed collaboration for learning that is:

  • Activity-based
  • Experiential
  • Dialogic
  • Participatory
  • Community-supported, and
  • Outcomes-led. (Vygotsky 1934, 1962, Mezirow 1990, 1997, Engeström 2001)

Session Activities

  • Between the utopian and the real, the troublesome threshold: blended learning as heterotopia (framing the discussion)
  • Examples of heterotopia in your teaching and your institution (Small group, cabaret tables, facilitated discussion and feedback from four or five perspectives)
  • Blended learning as third space: Learners create their own learning environment outside, inside and in-despite of the intentions of the institution or its architects.
  • What works? Responsible application of discipline to creativity in the newf blended learning space (Small group, cabaret tables, facilitated discussion from four or five perspectives)
  • Synthesis and final questions


Bhabha, Homi. 2004. The Location of Culture. Routledge Classics. Abingdon: Routledge.
Engeström, Yrjö. 2001. “Expansive Learning at Work: Toward an Activity Theoretical Reconceptualization.” Journal of Education and Work 14 (1): 133 –156
Foucault, Michel. 1984. “Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias.” accessed 13/04/2014
Francis, Richard, and John Raftery. 2005. “Blended Learning Landscapes.”Brookes Electronic Journal of Learning and Teaching (BeJLT) 1 (3). accessed 13/04/2014
Francis, Richard, and George Roberts. 2014. “Where Is the New Blended Learning? Whispering Corners of the Forum.” Brookes Electronic Journal of Learning and Teaching (BeJLT) 6 (1).
Meyer, Jan, and Ray Land. 2003. “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising within the Disciplines”. Edinburgh: Universities of Edinburgh, Coventry and Durham. ETLreport4.pdf accessed from accessed 13/04/2014
Mezirow, Jack, ed. 1990. Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood: A Guide to Transformative and Emancipatory Learning. Jossey-Bass Higher Education Series. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
———. 1997. “Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice.” New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education, no. 74: 5. a9h
Sharpe, Rhona, Greg Benfield, George Roberts, and Richard Francis. 2006. “The Undergraduate Experience of Blended E-Learning: A Review of UK Literature and Practice”. Higher Education Academy. accessed 13/04/2014
Vygotsky, Lev. 1962. Thinking and Speaking (first Published as Thought and Language). Edited by Eugenia Hanfmann and Gertrude Vakar. Lev Vygotsky Archive transcribed by Andy Blunden. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. accessed 13/04/2014

Drop ins: MOOCs and the price of learning

As an undergraduate in the US in the early 1970s, it was not uncommon for there to be people in our classes “auditing” the course. (Auditing in the sense, “listening”, i.e. attending but not enrolled.) While auditing was supposed to be governed by regulations there were a range of practices from entirely informal dropping in, to what amounted to full participation in all but the exam. There were supposed to be fees payable for auditing but as far as I could tell actual practice was to go under the radar and simply ask the prof (lecturer) if she or he minded. Mostly they didn’t. This practice was so wide spread there was even a national network TV comedy drama about it: “Hank”; “He’ll get his degree/ His Phi Beta key/ And get ’em all for free!/ That’s Hank!”. Being an American comedy drama, Hank also ends up marrying the Dean’s daughter, . The point is that a college degree was expensive, but access to the knowledge was free to those with the gumption to drop in. I audited Latin at the local state university before coming to Oxford to study historical and comparative linguistics. As far as I could tell the Classics Department was delighted to have someone interested come to classes.

MOOCs remind me of this practice of dropping in under the radar.

But times have changed a lot. Everyone teaching in higher education has a much less certain tenure, and that tenure depends to some extent on bums on seats in your class. If there are uncounted heads that doesn’t help your job security. But, on the other hand, the Internet makes learning so much more accessible.

MOOCs invert the ratios of enrolled participants to drop-ins. In FSLT12 this was the cause of some tension. Were the enrolled participants the “real” participants?

We will have to work this year to make sure that on the one hand, people who have paid for an accredited course feel that they have got their money’s worth, but equally on the other not to devalue the drop-in seekers after open knowledge.

MOOCs Stadium Rock or folk clubs

Choose your metaphor. The discourse around MOOCs is congealing around a set of qualities. Bigger better; inherited authority; transmitted knowledge; cognitivist construction; solitary interaction with content. To some extent it is a matter of taste. Or learning preference. Or community. I saw the Police play Twickenham once. It was OK. Entertaining. But nothing was challenged. Nothing was changed. A few childhoods were relived. 50,000 people left with all they knew reaffirmed and comforted. I have never been to the Reading festival or Glastonbury. I love little local bluegrass festivals, folk clubs, jazz bars. Even in strange towns. I don’t just hang out with my friends. Though I do seek a level of homophily: people who share some interests. Sessions. Lock ins. Dad rock in pubs challenges my categories but I would rather enthusiastic semi – competence over slick synthetic commercialism any day. It saddens me that the values of slick synthetic commercialism seem to be driving higher education. And it saddens me that moocs are being conflated with stadium rock learning. It seems unlikely to me that transformative learning will arise in massive settings. Yes, for some, content will be transmitted, things will be learned and many will have their world view affirmed. But for challenging conventions give me seminars, reading groups, learning sets – most of the time.