Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On 'educationally driven' interventions

I have an idea for doing something within a module about educational media in terms of learning about the sphere of 'mobile'. Of course the activity has to clearly give the message that starting with the tech is 'bad' for lots of sound reasons. For example, since we have no chance of researching an innovation before it's out of date, the only way to hold on to some sense of purpose is to ground the project in a deliberate philosophy of education and work forward from there. There are any number of solutions out there needing a problem and the only rational angle of attack is to ask, 'what would you like to do'? There is a view that this is the only pure approach to doing learning technology.
For example, "design has to be generated from the learning objectives and aspirations of the course, rather than from the capability of the technology" (Laurillard, 2002, p 145) However, Peter Goodyear (2006) maintains that there is "no great harm in this, it is part of a vibrant process that explores and advances frontiers of application. Solutions should look for problems." (emphasis in the original)
However, if we consider the methods and philosophy behind participatory and/or spiral design approaches and principles, there has to be an ongoing 'conversation' between the problem and the solution, between the designer and those being designed for. One has to inform the other - posh word for this would be a 'dialectic'.
Spiral Stair
Our knowledge and understanding of and in the world can shape our thoughts and actions without our realising it. An idea may be sparked by noticing something a technology can do differently, but the sparking of the idea will have happened because of the knowledge and understanding of the relationships between the technology and the field it is being applied to. So which way around was that then? Technology first or context/practice/theory first? I'm not talking about some blind determinism that shuts my mind to ignoring and/or conflating all sorts of unintended consequences and factors, or gives way too much agency to the technology. But in what world does any idea begin from a really pure educationally driver, and stay that way for very long? I'm arguing that we should recognise the inconsistencies in ourselves and the world around us and embrace the dialectic, including the distinct possibility that a really good educational technology idea may have come about empirically and it's only afterwards that we can trace the strands of 'good' theory which contributed to the idea. This is not the 'wrong way around', it may be an attempt to side-step the sometimes crushing burden of proof required by the same educationalists, who, in other settings, would be seen fervently espousing the need for ideation and innovation in education.
So, dialectics FTW!

Goodyear, P. (2006). Technology and the articulation of vocational and academic interests: reflections on time, space and e-learning. Studies in Continuing Education, 28(2), 83–98. doi:10.1080/01580370600750973
Lurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking Teaching for the Knowledge Society. EDUCAUSE Review, 37(1), 16–25.Available from

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hyperlinks in Grademark rubrics

We've been rolling out Grademark this academic year and we're still in the business of creating our rubrics within the system. A rubric is a table that a marker clicks inside to select the performance they wish to award the assignment under scrutiny. Technology has affordances and constraints, what it enables and what it denies (I was enjoying Peter Goodyear's (2006) comments recently about how impoverished online meetings are compared to face-to-face). On the one hand, the rubric cell will 'only' allow us to use up to 1000 characters of text. This is quite a bit but not enough for what we wanted to do with it recently. On the other hand, a solution was to use hyperlinks, because the rubric does allow very simple html. Frustratingly, hyperlinks within the Turnitin assignments were disabled for some reason, and so I didnt imagine that they would work in rubrics. The question then is, how best to exploit such linking?
I was trying to see if I could go for deep linking to a section of an online version of Price and Harrington's  'Critical thinking and writing for nursing students'. Sadly, I do not think that the permanent linking, that includes a redirect for Shibboleth login will work for this book. But there may be other resources, or our own Confluence-powered Student Handbook that could hang around for long enough to make the effort of hyper-linking Grademark rubrics in this way worthwhile. Come to that, there's no reason to think that the developers behind Grademark will be so kind as to continue to allow html in rubrics so you could go to all that effort of enriching them and come in one day to find none of the links worked any more (check this twitter conversation I had with Turnitin).

Goodyear, P. (2006). Technology and the articulation of vocational and academic interests: reflections on time, space and e-learning. Studies in Continuing Education, 28(2), 83–98. doi:10.1080/01580370600750973
  Price, B., & Harrington, A. (2010). Critical thinking and writing for nursing students. Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd. Retrieved from

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Digital Academic Supervision Hubs (D@SH)

I'm having a bit of a splurge on Learning Objects Campus Pack at the moment. This time it's a simple enough requirement to do with academic supervision. Records of supervisory encounters, when they are kept, are often trapped in an individual's filing cabinet or inbox. Neither of these places are especially good in terms of organisational contingency... What if staff members become unavailable for an extended period of time? The tutor who has to pick up from there is flying blind as far as previous correspondence. But this can also be true where the roles of personal tutor/mentor and academic supervisor are split. There should be a way of bringing these records into one place for the relevant parties to access. Over time, it is hoped that students and staff will benefit from being able to take the long view of their academic supervision. There may also be something about 'locus of control' with these records, so that greater student engagement is procured as these records are now in their hands as much as they are the provenance of their tutors.
Originally this requirement arose out of an overseas programme we're running where staff in both countries needed to be on 'the same page' in terms of supervision, but it was successful and made sense to try it on our other programmes.
The recipe is simple enough:
1. Set up a VLE module which pulls in all students on a programme automatically
2. Set up the module with just the bare essentials: a userguide, a link to a central forum for queries.
3. Within the module, create an 'Batch Assignment Blog' This makes the whole thing scalable. You do not have to create an individual blog for each student and lock each one down individually.
4. Enrol only the staff that need to do supervision. Offer as much support as necessary (but really this whole thing is very simple).
5. Create groups of students on a per-cohort basis to allow access rules to limit visibility of a cohort's Assignment  between the cohorts.
I came up with the 'D@SH' brand because blogs have about as much popularity as wikipedia amongst academic staff and so we needed to make the distinction. It also reinforces that this is for academic supervision, not personal tutor-type correspondence which can often be of a highly sensitive nature.
Of course, being essentially a 'blog' (ssshhhh!!!), it benefits from the commenting, subscription alerts, exporting and tagging features, as well as coping with whatever new fangled media people may want to share nowadays. If you just want to post draft essays, I'm sure that will be fine too. But there's no getting away from the fact that this is another plank in the move towards embedding digital/new fluencies/literacies into the curriculum for students and staff ;)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

UniversIT Information Fluency Portfolio is go!

I have just launched the UniversIT Information Fluency Portfolio. This has been brewing for a while, ever since I started as 'Lecturer in Information Management and Teaching' back in 2001. As, I was told, the 1st year curriculum had no space for IT, apart from inductions, I taught important things in the 2nd and 3rd years. Ironically, a few years ago, ECDL became a 'good idea' and students spent vast swathes of their time learning pointless and stymying techniques and facts, never to be recalled or re-used after the exam. At least passing the first four modules of ECDL meant one less barrier to entry into 2nd year.
Feedback from one of these groups the other week confirmed what I knew all along: they valued my input but wanted it early in the programme. Now I have done that, although there is a little niggle in my mind about  the sequencing or timing of advice so that people have their minds attuned to realise when they're looking at a hugely time-saving technique.
Learning Objects Campus Pack allows me to create a wiki and use that as a template, publishing it to the individual students so that they all have their own copy of it to work on. But I wanted to make learning about the content scalable and to leverage the new 'group'/'community' philosophy of the revised curriculum. I'm offering the students different kinds of workshops.
  1. UIT - Nominated individuals from each of the 21 groups are invited to three separate 2 hour sessions. They consult with their groups what they want to know and the 6-8 individuals have my undivided attention to ask questions and find out how to do whatever it is they want, from the range of topics within the UniversIT Information Fluency Portfolio.
  2. IT extra - These run alongside the UIT sessions. Anyone from the prescribed groups can come although they will not receive the attention that UIT reps will.
  3. CCC - Chocolate Computer Club: A dropin-style session where I provide a box of chocolate and anyone can come along, so long as we're not full. 
I've created sign-up lists in Blackboard so that students can book a slot if they need to.
When every member of their allocated group has completed their individual UniversIT Information Fluency Portfolios we will arrange to meet up and I'll viva them. If it is clear that they have all done the work, I will award a group certificate. They have as long as they want to complete this.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

On chosing not to 'promote connections'

I am working up a project evaluation and, as ever, with networked learning in mind, I have a strange feeling that something is not quite right. The project in question relies on a finely balanced set of access rights and priviledges - who can see and edit, who can alter the access settings...? On the one hand, we have the students. For this project, we do not want students viewing another student's private online discourse. We also do not want 'just anyone' to have access, although Blackboard makes us lean towards giving admin staff more access than we would like, simply because otherwise they are prevented from doing their work. This leaves the academic staff who should all be able to access every students' writing. While there are a multitude of ways of doing exactly this, finding the most efficient way in the long term is more tricky, but not impossible. But the point of this message is to make the point that the 2001 definition of networked learning does not account for learning which happens under the kind of access constraints I've detailed. It seems obvious to say that not everything a student types should be made available to everyone, just in case a serendipitous learning connection can be established, or activated if such a connection already exists. If connections are being deliberately fenced off, instead of being 'promoted', does this still equate to 'networked learning', or am I simply driving too hard at the definition? Yet the definition is designed to encourage productive, 'high-quality' learning (as opposed to the less pedagogically, more technologically oriented definitions you can find for 'e-learning': see )
The question that arises in my mind is therefore: in a given planned learning intervention, what connections are being promoted, by whom, and, in particular, which ones stymied?
Cutting Edge
Something else that occurs to me along these lines is the presentation at Networked Learning 2012 by John Dron and Terry Anderson about
This system gives students full control of what they post and how public to make it. I made the point to Terry that one slip of the permissions could land healthcare students in big trouble with their governing body. But this is also a problem for anyone working with sensitive information. I have to think twice about how much intellectual property to put on show in this blog. This is another one of those implicit skills or aspects of knowledge that we can easily overlook in the rush to get everyone working and learning online.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Flavours of graduateness

I've been thinking about 'epistemic fluency' for quite a while now. Then, a similar concept popped up in a parallel session at NLC2012 I was privileged to chair. Richard Walker from York was talking about 'Blended PBL' (this is the link but it'll break when they move the proceedings over to the archive). Richard refers to Fox and MacKeogh's 2003 '16 categories of cognitive thinking' as informing the coding of his data. It was interesting though that Fox and MacKeogh merely refer back to, more or less, the same source as Peter Goodyear, i.e. Stellan Ohlsson (1995).
Then I was reading Brad Mehlenbacher's book and it occurred to me (eventually) that his concept of 'Rhetoric Design', which was forcefully argued for as needing to take a central place in the design of learning opportunities in higher education. However, Brad does not go back to Ohlsson or Collins (as Goodyear does). His background is in rhetoric so it's natural for him to refer, in page 179, to folk like Bahri and Petraglia (2003) who, 'explicitly connect cognitive science with rhetorical theory, defining "rhetorical intelligence" as "the cognitive abilities required for inquiry, and interpretation with a view to pursuing argument and change.' See also Spinuzzi (2006), who, after being quoted saying, 'knowledge workers need to become strong rhetors...', Brad adds (p182):
Central to the business of formal instruction is a rhetorical design perspective where learners come to understand ways of knowing (inquiring, analyzing, interpreting, synthesizing, etc.) and articulating through shared discourse sophisticated arguments within particularized disciplines of knowledge. 
I wonder how many others have made a case for a similar approach separately. That's two so far...

However, I think there's something to say about rhetoric compared with epistemic fluency. Brad deals with the familiar slur on rhetoric, that it is something of a 'dirty word' in common parlance, because of the potential to lapse into mere sophistry. Brad defends rhetoric, rightly in my view, as a vital skill for members of higher education institutions. However, I still have worries that a focus on rhetoric leans towards a focus on the external or performed knowledge, rather than the implicit metacognitive emphasis that I feel is carried by epistemic fluency as a concept.

Clay, S. (2006). What Do We Need to Teach About Knowledge Work? ( No. 060925-1). White Paper. Austin TX: Digital Writing and Research Lab, The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved from
Fox, S.,. & MacKeogh, K.. (2003). Can eLearning Promote Higher-order Learning Without Tutor Overload? Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning 22, no. 2: 121-134.
Ohlsson, S. (1995) Learning to do and learning to understand: a lesson and challenge for
cognitive modeling, in P. Reimann & H.Spada (Ed) Learning in Humans and Machines:
towards an interdisciplinary learning science (Pergamon, London).
Petraglia, J., & Bahri, D. (Eds.). (2003). The Realms of Rhetoric: The Prospects for Rhetoric Education. State University of New York Press.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Brad Mehlenbacher's Five Dimensions of everyday instructional situations

I've been trying to finish this book for review for over a year now. Recently I had a little push to get through the 137 page sixth chapter. In a previous chapter the author critiques several 'models' of learning with technology as simplistic. I wanted to use the 'Five dimensions' diagram, and decided to create a copy using googledocs. With reference to the design of the graphic, Mehlenbacher says (pp199-200):
Because our goal is to capture the fundamental dimensions of everyday instructional situations initially, it is not necessary to explicitly define where one dimension ends and where another begins, nor is it necessary to capture the rich interplay between dimensions. In the manner of an Escher print, figure 6.1 represents the five dimensions of everyday instructional situations graphically, suggesting how one or more dimensions, when grounding another, serve to figure the dimension under investigation. Thus an instructor interested in engaging learners in higher-level research activities might construct a simulated publishing environment that emphasizes collaborative peer review and conceptualize issues related to learner background and knowledge, tasks and activities, social dynamics, and environment and artifacts under instructor activities. Still, to one degree or another, all five dimensions are required to produce an everyday instructional situation. 
Figure 6.1 appears to be a tessellation; tessellations, however, involve repeated use of a single shape to cover a plane surface, without gaps or overlapping between the shapes, like the tiles of a washroom floor. Tessellations cannot have any gaps and cannot overlap on another, as does this particular noncircular Venn diagram. Hexagons, squares, and triangles can tessellate; octagons and pentagons cannot. And instruction and learning with technology can be improved in certain situations and not in others, lacking as tessellations do mathematical precision and replicability. 
What I like about this is the brave attempt to represents the complexity of learning and instruction.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thanks Chris!

I look back with great affection at the times I get to learn from Chris. I've been mulling over the symposium about the place of technology in networked learning he led in Maastricht ever since. What does the technology do? Can we ascribe agency to it or does it just transmit human intentionality? He quoted the example of 'Siri' which, when asked for an abortion clinic, would point you towards a pro-life advice centre. The ethics and intentionality were embedded within the device and the code that runs it. Where is cause and effect there?
Chris doesnt participate that much online, as far as I can see, most of his tweets are about his left-leaning politics :) But I came across a discussion on Leigh's blog, and, as I read down, I was just willing him to return to carry on the debate about the nature of networked learning. Thanks for giving so much to that Chris - very useful contribution.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Notification settings in a forum and 'the Woolies effect'

I've been having a mini-debate with a colleague about notifications when setting up forums in Blackboard. I always harp on about email notifications as 'promoting connections' but yesterday it was suggested that notifications negate the 'woolworths effect'. Some of you will be old enough to not only recall 'Woolies' but also the strategy they had of changing their offering so often that it piqued your interest enough to get you over the threshold and, hopefully, back out having made a purchase.
In Blackboard it is possible to set notifications:
  1. To include the body of a post as well as a link back to the forum 
  2. To only include the link to the forum post 
Does anyone have a hunch as to which of these, if at all, would be the better option to encourage participation (or 'promote connections', with reference to the Networked Learning definition). I had one of these notifications earlier. Was getting the 'full story' from the email stopping me from accessing the forum to see what was actually happening? I am not sure there's a direct relationship there. I am sure that other factors could easilly overturn either approach in the moment that a decision is made about whether or not to visit the forum. Speaking personally, when I get notifications which only give the link to a post I get frustrated. It does not allow me to evaluate on the spot how much of an interruption to my workflow this post demands. Merely the hint that someone is active in the forum is a point of frustration. Perhaps it is better to simply tell students at the start that they are going to miss out unless they check the forum every day. Then, when they make it their routine, they discover that the visit was worth it and hang about for long enough to participate. However, if the full text of the post is given to the student, they can then begin to think about what was said without the delay of having to login only to discover that the message did not require a reply. This feels like a question that someone answered conclusively in about 1975.
(image: cc wikipedia)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Health Professionals learning Twitter

The new group of post-grad students I've been meeting today have reminded me how very different Health Service IT systems and administration are compared to those in Higher Education. Even trying to visit an online social network is met with a window announcing that this attempt has been blocked, logged and reported to the system administrator. How can health professionals become responsible professional participants online in the face of genuine risks and adverse, if not actively hostile, environments? I suspect the answer is that it's happening and will continue to happen. I only hope the collateral damage will be minimal.
For years now I've been challenging undergraduate nurses to get using Twitter for their professional development. I have an opportunity early in their 3rd and final year to suggest ways of engaging in networked learning. In recent months I have been delighted to see a real growth in engagement from a range of nursing and midwifery professionals and professional bodies, which gives newcomers an instant network to connect with (I began a list ages ago to help with this but it's had some significant additions recently).
In the first year, first week in fact, of the pre-registration Bachelor of Nursing programme, it seems only right to confront frivolous use of online social networking (see links at the foot of this post). I got a strong sense this year, at inductions in March, that, following a lecture on the subject, students were deleting their Facebook accounts, slamming the door to social media and throwing away the key. Suddenly, social networking was the enemy, as a single slip could prevent students from ever realising their cherished ambition of joining the registered ranks. Added to the risk of personally making a single simple costly mistake is the problem we all face when driving... How many of us have thought/said, 'It's not you I'm worried about, it's the [possibly insert the word "other" here] idiots on the road"? As much as this can be true in social media, it never stops us hopping right back into a car (because the destination and mode of travel is worth the risk).
As someone who has benefitted hugely from the networking Twitter enables, imagine my delight last week at finding this 'Nurses and Social Media' article, via Twitter, on the Department of Health's pages of the Chief Nursing Officer:

Emboldened by this article, I've been encouraged to mention Twitter more than ever. But the professionalism question is never far away. For example, what to do about undesirable followers? Those 'other idiots on the road'? Amidst all the messiness of using social media, learning to accept that, just like the more appalling type of spam email you have to somehow learn to deal with, keeping your public profile 'clean' enough to avoid 'bringing the profession into disrepute' by association, means learning to be vigilant about blocking and reporting vile spam followers. How many Health Service users who stumble across your profile understand that you dont choose your followers, in fact you have to 'un-choose' the nasty ones. And that could predictably include service users! This kind of insight is easily missed in the nervy path towards trying to reap the rewards of networked learning. In leading students to leverage social media rather than safely dismiss it, it's a hard balance to strike, knowing which aspects of the territory to treat, and how. Newcomers to Twitter have a tough time grappling with the concept of what Twitter is without also taking on a 'sufficient' number of specific techniques to ensure their nascent use is not strangled at birth. It's like plugging a PC into the Internet without any anti-virus protection. That computer may only last a few seconds before it's compromised.
If you have any thoughts about what those specific techniques are, please let me know, or start a list somewhere and point me to it. Thanks!

Cardiff School of Nursing and Midwifery's own guidance is here. It is based on The NMC Code, and the specific social networking advice page.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Two symposiums, two current debates

Gale's on disciplinarity (links to the papers) and Chris's on technology and networked learning. I will just say a tiny bit about the latter. If we want to say anything meaningful about technology and its relationship, not to say impact, on learning, what kind of a question is that? In days when very strong claims are being made about changes to people's brains etc., Chris Jones was arguing (link to the symposium papers), IMHO sensibly, that taking some kind of 'multiple realities' view, as Martin Oliver did, or even a clever critical realist perspective, as Walker and Creanor did, makes it pretty difficult to generalise. Indeed, taking an ontological route of enquiry isnt nice at all. I went off in that direction a while back and liken it to chasing a white rabbit into a black hole which I later discovered to be my own navel (I do have a picture but I'll spare you...)
Project: Alice in Wonderland
If, however, you embark on a 'ways of knowing' kind of inquiry, this is altogether more manageable and potentially productive. There has to be something 'everyday' about the terms we use and theory we generate (Wenger's point from the last post). Sadly, we may end up smelling of the 'snake oil' we would prefer to reprobate. Yes, I may even have to use words like e-learning occasionally.
OK then, you made me do it, I'll say something about disciplinarity in the field. Gale chaired this symposium. It started off predictably with the assertion that none of us would say we were native 'networked learning researchers', our backgrounds were in other disciplines.... er... all except me that is, as I mentally retraced my chequered academic history, before the PGCE that finally got me interested in learning, and then, a couple of years later with CSALT, where I grafted on to networked learning.
But the nature of the field IS interdisciplinary. That makes chasing down the literature very difficult and, as I'm finding with the worthy Mehlenbacher's book, no matter how hard you try, and he does try hard, you'll miss someone who said something 'off your radar'. The other thing it did is make me cynical: I'd marvel that new papers appear from disparate disciplines hailing the latest innovation that was more clearly explained in the 1980's. And that in spite of all the searching of databases and availability of the literature in such a young field. I've rolled up at previous conferences tutting as I wondered if anyone would bother to pick up the threads of networked learning from the past, or whether they'd even bother to cite a definition. This time I came a bit more relaxed because I felt that although a certain amount of fuzziness was likely, at least the conference was happening again, we were all back together again, and the networked learning community already has a golden seam of quality to tap into. It was delightful to become acquainted with Sheena Banks there. At one point we sidled up to Peter Goodyear and asked if he'd consider updating the Guidelines, to which he mumbled something about money... But that's ok, they're still one of the best things JISC sponsored. But the point of learning for me was that we can wallow and bemoan the messiness of the field or rejoice in the potential for boundary crossing and 'edge effects'.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Learning Styles are off the menu

I've been reading some students work which included references to Learning Styles. Whenever I come across Learning Styles my 'reductionism alarm' goes off for some reason.
I took a while chasing back the citations and found my way to a firmer position. Unless I'm mistaken, the easiest way to getting at a journal article has to be through linking GoogleScholar with the University's electronic library (see the Scholar pages about it).
The references were easy enough to pull into Zotero for sharing with you below... Some are very good, others less so. I'll let you work out which is which.
There was something about what Ettiene Wenger said at the Networked Learning Conference last week which connected with the way I see Learning Styles used. He talked about making sure that when we are trying to develop theory or say anything about what we do, for that matter, we should try and use language that people can relate to. He puts the success of the Communities of Practice theory down to just that. People find it easy to relate to the core concepts.
With Learning Styles you get a nice questionnaire and it makes you feel you're being 'all scientific'. The fact is that to really pick the correct learning style AND then act on it you would have to get quite radical about it, separating the students into groups accordingly. Then you'd have to keep re-checking throughout your relationship with this group to make sure that they hadnt shifted, as they could do at any moment. In the end you would have been better of simply aiming for active learning, employing multiple approaches to supporting learning, using pictures, hands-on, words, etc. Is this such a revelation? I suppose it is if you merely expect to pitch up and drone for an hour or two and call that lecturing. Sorry if that describes you, by the way.
I did more backward chaining than the student, or the 'peer reviewed' author did, and came across 'the other' article by a (non-pointlessly abrasive) American version of Donald Clark. On one page he has a factual review of Learning Styles, which was used to support Learning Styles in the article. But, on a neighbouring page, 'Putting Learning Styles into Perspective', he has this brilliant paragraph which my student and the article author somehow missed and the student never bothered to check out:
First, it should be noted that no single measurement of style ensures that a learner's needs will be met. It is perhaps more important to build an adaptable learning environment that presents the material in a variety of methods than try to determine each learners' style. Likewise, recognizing your own style will help to ensure you do not unintentionally force one learning preference upon the learners. The more styles you address, the easier the instruction will be received by the learners. This is because you will be striving to reach their needs, rather than yours. Also, material presented in a variety of methods keeps the learners interested and reinforces itself. (Clark 2000)
So, yes, as a tool for reflection, useful. But as some kind of key to unlock the mysteries of how people learn? Not today thank you.

Beagley, L. (2011). Educating Patients: Understanding Barriers, Learning Styles, and Teaching Techniques. Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing, 26(5), 331–337. doi:10.1016/j.jopan.2011.06.002

Breckler, J., Joun, D., & Ngo, H. (2009). Learning Styles of Physiology Students Interested in the Health Professions. Advances in Physiology Education, 33(1), 30–36. doi:10.1152/advan.90118.2008
Cassidy, S. (2004). Learning styles: An overview of theories, models, and measures. Educational Psychology, 24(4), 419–444. doi:10.1080/0144341042000228834
Clark, D. (2000). Learning Styles. Putting Learning Styles into Context. Retrieved April 12, 2012, from
James, S., D’Amore, A., & Thomas, T. (2011). Learning preferences of first year nursing and midwifery students: Utilising VARK. Nurse Education Today, 31(4), 417–423. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2010.08.008
Kratzig, G. P., & Arbuthnott, K. D. (2006). Perceptual Learning Style and Learning Proficiency: A Test of the Hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology February 2006, 98(1), 238–246. Retrieved from
Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105–119. doi:10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x

Yes Peermark

Since my involvement with the Evidence Based Practice theme for the new Bachelor of Nursing began I have been disappointed that we've been pretty conservative with some of our assignments. But I now think there is a serious danger of missed opportunity here when we could do something more innovative and engaging, better for students and staff.
I'm thinking of
We already have this at Cardiff University, it is an extension of Grademark and Turnitin. We are in process of rolling Grademark out to all our programmes following the biggest UK pilot of the system. I want students to anonymously mark one (or more) their peers' assignments, with a right of appeal to the academic who would normally perform the 1st marker role. I am asking for this because, for the first time in about ten years, I have been engaged in 'proper' marking (for our PGCE programme). You probably think I want to avoid the task. Actually I have realised again what a powerfully generative learning experience it is. I find myself incredibly motivated to check my own understanding, root about in the literature, and come to a conclusion I feel I can defend. This is why markers are able to stay current with the topic they teach and assess. It seems immoral we should continue to keep all that intrinsic motivation to ourselves. Since we have already adopted Grademark, Peermark is within easy reach. If we can find a way to do this for merely the students' first assignment, we should.
The workflow would only need to be adjusted slightly. Bring the deadline for submission a week forward, giving students a week to mark one of their peers papers. Peermark has a sophisticated answer to the issue of non-engagement by the students (see their FAQs):
Reviews written for papers in a PeerMark assignment can be graded after the PeerMark assignment's due date. To grade an individual review click on "Edit Grades" at the expanded student's list of reviews. Then enter a score on a scale of 0-10 for the individual review. The average score (as a percentage) for all the reviews a student has written will be calculated and applied to the total point value for the assignment (e.g. if a student was assigned two reviews and received a 5/10 for one review and a 7/10 for the second review, the student would receive 60% of the total points possible for the assignment as a default final grade). Click "Save Grades" to save the review scores that have been entered. To edit the final grade for a student's PeerMark assignment after entering grades for individual reviews, enter the preferred score in the Grade column to the right of the student's name before clicking "Save Grades".
University of Glamorgan have been here already (of course!): see this poster. I love the quote, 'sometimes I feel I do not have enough knowledge to mark my mates'. That is the critical moment of realisation which should prompt the individual into active learning. It is not a negative, as presented in the findings, but a major positive. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Networked Learning Conference 2012

The Networked Learning Conference has come around and gone again and I have been greatly privileged to attend. It is an excellent conference from many perspectives, being research-based, bi-annual (gives time for fresh ideas to be reported on), top-quality venues, well designed programme, broad minded, while retaining the core theoretical focus, I could go on... This year I have another reason to be thankful since the opening plenary was a 3-some between researchers involved in sustainability, especially Tara Fenwick and Judi Marshall. I remember being struck by this at the Fifth conference in Lancaster, when Vera SolĂ­s, one of the speakers from Latin America, told of how broadband for a month costed many people the same as a week's earnings. I think the conference this time were profoundly challenged by the complexity of how to make a positive impact. There were interesting points from the floor too: someone lamented the commercialisation of higher education as somehow domesticating students into consumers, dulling their radical edge.
It was also a privilege to chair one of the parallel sessions which just meant keeping the four presenters to time and they were all well behaved so that was easy. 
Later we were taken the short hop to the The Gouvernement (Province House) of Limburg, where the Maastricht Treaty was signed after a civic welcome from Mark Verheijen and the Rector of Maastricht University. With the recurring threat of financial melt-down, we still live in these 'good days', while they last: just to be so comfortably off that we can spend days discussing networked learning is worth pausing to reflect upon.
My presentation went ok - see below for the slides (the paper will appear on the conference website as usual before long). I was sad not to have any data to report but there has been a serious hold-up with piloting Community Equity at Cardiff University (failed JISC bid attempt in 2011, competing priorities, etc.). Information Services are trying to roll-out IBM Connections in May and this is soaking up any spare capacity for trying out something in the name of educational research...
Other memories: Peter Goodyear up to mischief again, John Dron and Terry Anderson touting to a fairly non-plussed audience (seems like an academic attempt at Google Circles). Personal chats with so many: especially valuable were those with Sheena Banks and Hillary Thomas. Ettiene Wenger was there for most of the conference and he was concerned that we were in danger of losing the 'human' in learning, as an experience of meaningfulness, personhood and becoming. He said that his theories had gained wide acceptance because it talks to people in a way that they could recognise themselves within. He worried that talk of 'agency in the network' and 'de-centering the person' which is important to understand and true at some level but not necessarily the most useful way of thinking. He asked if he was just being 'quaint', the tensions between old and new are real but to what extent does it still matter to focus on the experience of being in a network, of learning as a human experience, of meaningfulness, of engaging, being alive, over relationships, time and space. The danger of talking about networks is to analyse them to the extent that we privilege our position and begin to feel we know more than the people we are accountable to.
In spite of this, Chris Jones' symposium focusing on the role of technology in networked learning was, for me, one of the more substantial and significant contributions to networked learning theory. Was it possible to say something, even something fairly general, about the effects of technology without falling into technological determinism...?
Apart from the academic activity, I spoiled myself on camping, rambling, cycling, and stopping over in Brussels via AirBnB on Wednesday night on the way home: photos from my adventures are on Flickr.