Category Archives: Practical tips

Research update #17: Making connections, learning from others

I’ll write a fuller post on this but I’ve recently helped launch a SIG (special interest group) for TEL edvisors through ASCILITE. I have a lot of different reasons for doing this, chief amongst them is the fact that there are a lot of incredibly smart and talented people working in this sector (education designer/developers, learning technologists, academic developers etc) doing fantastic work but it’s largely in isolation.

Given that I’ve chosen to focus my research on this area, because I believe that we can do a lot of good, I do hope that being a part of this community will make my research better and make it more practically useful. (I get that a PhD is a research apprenticeship but the thought of spending years working on something that is then only read by 3 people and buried deep in a library really scares me, particularly when I don’t know that further post-doc research is the direction I want to take afterwards. It might be, I just don’t know)

Anyway, a lot of the last month has centred around kicking the SIG (I prefer network) into gear. We held our first monthly webinar last week, with a great discussion about minimum standards for online course design (to put it in overly simple terms) and had three contributors – Lynnae Venaruzzo from Western Sydney Uni, Leanne Ngo from Deakin and our own Kate Mitchell (one of the co-founders and organisers of the network) from LaTrobe sharing their work and ideas.

Between this and the usual busyness of the start of a semester, there wasn’t as much other work on my studies – specifically reading – but I am getting back into it and am happy to have passed the hump of the most complex chapter of the Dynamics of Social Practice Theory book.

I haven’t heard anything from my supervisors and don’t have much to report or discuss just yet, though I feel as though I’m close to being able to write up a post about what I’m hoping to explore that will give us something to discuss. I’m still caught in this dilemma of what to talk about when I meet/Skype with them – I don’t want to ask them what I should do because surely this is for me to work out and I’m a grown-arsed adult. But when I tell them what I’m doing, the response is generally just keep going with a reading suggestion or two. (Reading material I am not short of, though I do need to remember that if I’d followed the advice to explore SPT sooner, I might be further along. Then again, maybe I wasn’t ready for it until I was. )

Next of the list of Pat Thomson’s PhD journalling topics:

How stress affects my ability to get things done.

Not well, really. Not well. Between being told the owner of my house is selling up and discovering that I’m kind of too old (or have too much furniture – seriously, almost every share place now is fully furnished) to share a house any more (I like living in a house and in the inner ‘burbs and it’s cheaper) and also having a close friend waiting on health news, I haven’t been feeling the study love. Progress is being made here though – just signed a lease on a flat, it’ll be my first time living alone, which will be interesting – and I’m slowly getting back on with things. The distance of the finish line makes it easy enough to say “tomorrow” – though there’s still the proposal itself to write and have accepted which is far sooner.

Garbage (sugar) stress eating definitely doesn’t help – it just smashes my ability to concentrate, so taking steps in the right direction there has been a positive move.

So yeah, stress and studying, not great allies. (Surprise)

Thoughts on “Academic Leaders’ perspectives on adopting ePortfolios for developing and assessing professional capabilities in Australian Business Education” (Holt et al, 2016)

While I’m still letting the sociomaterial stew simmer in the back of my mind, it seems like a good time to dig in to something that feels slightly more practical (not to mention incredibly relevant to my day to day work).

This paper is about the first stage of research in a major Australian project looking at the use of (and attitudes towards) ePortfolios in Higher education business schools. As someone working in a business school and advocating the use of ePortfolios, it is unsurprisingly of some interest. Now that we’ve had a real live semester of ePortfolios actually being used in teaching – rather than speculated upon – it’s particularly nice to be able to come to this with something more than a theoretical viewpoint. (I’ll freely admit that it was used only in two subjects and in one, the lecturer only picked up the tool in week 6 of a 13 week semester, but what they’ve already learned and the success that they have had has been incredibly encouraging)

As you might expect, the paper dives into a detailed explanation of the context of using ePortfolios in Higher Ed – it notably hasn’t been as commonly used in business disciplines, something that the authors attribute in part to the diversity of kinds of disciplines in this field. Some (e.g. accounting) have distinct pathways with clearly articulated accreditation leading to specific careers while others contribute more generally to a student’s ability to work in ‘business’. The authors suggest that professions including medicine, law, engineering, teaching and architecture might be more suited to tools and practices supporting the collection of evidence that can be used in external accreditation processes and this might be why ePortfolios have been reported on less frequently in business. All the same, they argue that there are still many compelling reasons that ePortfolios should be used in business schools.

This paper focuses particularly on attitudes towards ePortfolios amongst academic leaders in business schools – Associate Deans (Education/ Teaching & learning), program/course directors and subject/course/unit conveners. (It does seem that survey responses from teachers were also accepted though the details on this are a little hazy).

A lot of reasons (excuses?) are given for why ePortfolios aren’t being used widely which align with those that I’ve come across commonly in the literature (and day to day practice) about the use/non-use of ed. tech in general. Seeing these has helped me to reframe my research question – though I still need to run this by my supervisors – to How can (and do?) Education (or TELT?) Advisors help universities overcome barriers to adopting TELT practices? (Previously – How can Higher Education better support TELT practices?). This is no small thing for me, as it feels like I’m narrowing the focus of the research to something more achievable and personally meaningful.

Anyway, there are a few points of particular interest that this paper covers – reasons for using ePortfolios in business ed., perceived strengths amongst management and the beginnings of a framework for effective implementation of ePortfolios in this space.

Reasons to use ePortfolios

The use of ePortfolios across Higher Ed. is tied very closely to the development of professional capabilities (a.k.a competencies) and employability skills. I’d suggest that the technology can do more than this in terms of offering new opportunities for content management, creation and publishing that might finally enable us to move beyond linear text heavy essays into student construction of richer resources that more adequately reflect the world that we now live in. That said, the portfolio has been a vital tool for demonstrating one’s skills to prospective employers for centuries and the ePortfolio is simply the latest iteration of this.

The authors identify a common set of professional capabilities that universities aspire to equip students with via threshold learning outcomes and program and graduate attributes. ( I think we include something about being a global citizen and thought leader but the rest all seem fairly common and laudable)

1. Professional judgement: Use knowledge and skills to solve novel business challenges.
2. Problem solving: Use knowledge and skills to identify and solve common business problems.
3. Communication: Demonstrate oral, written and visual communication skills appropriate to the needs of different business stakeholders.
4. Teamwork: Demonstrate skills in working collaboratively with colleagues in undertaking complex and varied work tasks.
5. Leadership: Demonstrate skills in constructively influencing the work of colleagues individually and in teams towards mutually agreed goals.
6. Digital literacy: Use knowledge and skills in ICT to frame, analyse and report on business problems and their solutions.
7. Self-management: Demonstrate skills in self-initiative, self-motivation and self-directed learning in business studies and practices.
8. Creativity and innovation: Demonstrate the capacity to generate new ideas to meet customer needs, and in the understanding of how good ideas become marketable products.
9. Entrepreneurship: Appreciate how new businesses are created, grow and adapt to changing market conditions.
10. Social responsibility: Develop a critical awareness of businesses’ obligations to the societies within which they operate, and to those parties who directly contribute to their viability.
11. Cultural awareness: Demonstrate knowledge and skills in working effectively with cultural diversity as related to global and international business practices.
12. Sustainability as applied to business organisations: Develop a critical awareness of businesses’ need to evolve and adapt to the imperatives of an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable world in the service of future generations.
13. Ethics: Develop a personally meaningful set of values to guide professional practice which reflect honesty, fairness, respectfulness, loyalty, composure and competence. (p.5-6)

The academic leaders were asked which of these they rated as most important and which they were most satisfied with the current development of in their students. Communication and problem solving were rated as most important with entrepreneurship at the end of that list. (Accountants tended to rate creativity and innovation lower than others). In terms of how well they think their colleges/schools are doing, academic leaders felt most confident about problem solving, digital literacy and communication and least about leadership and creativity/innovation. (However, confidence in the teaching of all 13 capabiliities ranged from 2.53/5 to 1.68/5, so across the board, there’s work to be done in this space)

There’s also an interesting breakdown of the pedagogical approaches that academic leaders in business colleges saw as being valuable in supporting these varying capabilities – I’m not sure if they were provided with a set list because the choices seem limited. Exams are nowhere to be seen though, which I find heartening.

1. Problem solving: Ranked in order of decreasing importance, respondents indicated: 1. Case studies; 2. Projects; 3. Work-placement; and 4. Simulations, might be effective ways to assess a student’s ability to solve problems.
2. Communication: Case studies, projects, presentations and written work appear to be the most favoured ways to assess a student’s ability to communicate.
3. Teamwork: Group projects and work placements appear to be the most favoured ways to assess a student’s ability to work in a team.
4. Leadership: Projects appear to be the most favoured ways to assess a student’s ability to lead a team.
5. Digital literacy: Projects, simulations and assignments appear to be the most favoured ways to assess a student’s digital literacy.
6. Self-management: Projects and work placements appear to be the most favoured ways to assess a student’s ability to self-manage.
7. Creativity and innovation: Projects appears to be the most favoured way to assess a student’s creativity and innovation.
8. Entrepreneurship: Projects perhaps within a business context appears to be the most favoured way to assess a student’s entrepreneurial skills.
9. Social responsibility: Projects and Case studies appear to be the most favoured ways to assess a student’s sense of social responsibility.
10. Cultural awareness: International study and work tours appear to be the most favoured ways to assess a student’s cultural awareness.
11. Business Sustainability: Case studies, work placements and projects appear to be the most favoured ways to assess a student’s understanding of sustainability in a business context.
12. Professional judgement: Case studies, work placements and simulations appear to be the most favoured ways to assess a student’s professional judgement skills.
13. Ethics: Case studies and projects (p.9-10)

The perceived drivers of the implementation of ePortfolios offers some interesting insights into the value that academic leaders ascribe to ePortfolios and perhaps some selling points to stress when having the discussion about using them. (I have to admit at this point though that I’ve noticed that a lot of research seems to centre around people’s perceptions of things rather than the concrete realities of them. Maybe this is just the nature of education as a social science and there is certainly value in understanding why people make the decisions that they do in this space but just because people feel a certain way about a tool or a practice doesn’t necessarily make it so. Unless we are also looking at what is needed to shift perceptions, I’m not altogether sure what we hope to achieve by simply cataloguing them.)

The best reasons seen for using ePortfolios included “Improve student reflective learning”, “Enhance Student work placement experience”, “allow students to better demonstrate the achieve of learning outcomes to others” and “improve student understanding of learning outcomes.” (p. 11) Considered least important was “the imperative to use technology given the nature of the institution, i.e. mission, vision etc” (p.11) – which I’m fairly ok with and I’m also pretty happy that a teaching and learning goal was most highly valued. (But are people saying this because it seems like the right thing to say?)

In examining which kinds of support were most useful when using ePortfolios (and I suspect any other ed. tech), there was no clear preference for any of the following:

guidance on the purpose of the ePortfolio; guidance on how to use the ePortfolio; a workshop alongside to support the ePortfolio process; tutor/mentor support; IT helpdesk support for the learner; and support for producing media files. (p.12)

At least this seems like a solid checklist for developing a support plan and an implementation strategy.

The paper draws a few implications from the survey results as well as the existing literature, these align pretty well with my own feelings about ePortfolios and unfortunately they tend to make implementation projects harder, because taking a whole of program/degree approach to the use of ePortfolios in a siloed institution tends to get put quickly into the ‘too-hard basket’.

Housego and Parker (2009) and Woodley and Sims (2011), reflecting on their respective investigations, conclude that ideally ePortfolios should be integrated appropriately into the whole curriculum. With this in mind, ePortfolio implementation for assessing professional capabilities can be seen in the context of: whole-of-program-based curriculum designs; the major disciplinary studies allowing specialisation in business degrees; key areas of the curriculum dealing with work-integrated learning (WIL) (see Papadopoulos, Taylor, Fallshaw, & Zanko, 2011), foundational core and capstone studies, and those dealing directly with managerial capabilities like intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence. (p.14)

I do note with some interest though that perhaps my college’s biggest success story with ePortfolios came in a fairly reflective unit related to management (post-grad), which aligns well with the final line of the paragraph.

The final section of the paper and perhaps the one that gives me the most to unpack (and which also excites me the most about the future work of this team) is a preliminary guidance framework for the implementation of ePortfolios in undergraduate business programs.

ePortfolios framework Holt et al 2016

This is absolutely something that I’m going to take to the powers that be at my institution to explore further. All in all this is a rich paper and I greatly look forward to future reports from this project.

Papadopoulos, T., Taylor, T., Fallshaw, E., & Zanko, M. (2011). Engaging industry: Embedding professional learning in the business curriculum final report. Sydney: Australian Learning and Teaching Council.

More thoughts on: “Digital is not the future – Hacking the institution from the inside” – Technology, practical solutions and further questions

Previously on

I’ve been participating in an online “hack” looking at “Digital is not the future – Hacking the institution from the inside” with a number of other education designers/technologists.

It’s been pretty great.

I shared some thoughts and summarised some of the discussions tied to the issues we face in supporting and driving institutional change, working with organisational culture and our role as professional staff experts in education design and technology.

There’s still much to talk about. Technology and what we need it to do, practical solutions both in place and under consideration / on the wishlist, further questions and a few stray ideas that were generated along the way.


Unsurprisingly, technology was a significant part of our conversation about what we can do in the education support/design/tech realm to help shape the future of our institutions. The core ideas that came up included what we are using it for and how we sell and instill confidence in it in our clients – teachers, students and the executive.

The ubiquity and variety of educational technologies means that they can be employed in all areas of the teaching and learning experience. It’s not just being able to watch a recording of the lecture you missed or to take a formative online quiz; it’s signing up for a course, finding your way to class, joining a Spanish conversation group, checking for plagiarism, sharing notes, keeping an eye on at-risk students and so much more.

It’s a fine distinction but Ed Tech is bigger than just “teaching and learning” – it’s also about supporting the job of being a teacher or a learner. I pointed out that the recent “What works and why?” report from the OLT here in Australia gives a strong indication that the tools most highly valued by students are the ones that they can use to organise their studies.
Amber Thomas highlighted that “…better pedagogy isn’t the only quality driver. Students expect convenience and flexibility from their courses” and went on to state that “We need to use digital approaches to support extra-curricular opportunities and richer personal tracking. Our “TEL” tools can enable faster feedback loops and personalised notifications”

Even this is just the tip of the iceberg – it’s not just tools for replicating or improving analog practices – the technology that we support and the work we do offers opportunities for new practices. In some ways this links back closely to the other themes that have emerged – how we can shape the culture of the organisation and how we ensure that we are part of the conversation. A shift in pedagogical approaches and philosophies is a much larger thing that determining the best LMS to use. (But at its best, a shift to a new tool can be a great foot in the door to discussing new pedagogical approaches)

“It is reimagining the pedagogy and understanding the ‘new’ possibilities digital technologies offer to the learning experience where the core issue is” (Caroline Kuhn)

Lesley Gourlay made a compelling argument for us to not throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to technology by automatically assuming that tech is good and “analogue” practices are bad. (I’d like to assume that any decent Ed Designer/Tech knows this but it bears repeating and I’m sure we’ve all encountered “thought leaders” with this take on things).

“we can find ourselves collapsing into a form of ‘digital dualism’ which assumes a clear binary between digital and analogue / print-based practices (?)…I would argue there are two problems with this. First, that it suggests educational and social practice can be unproblematically categorised as one or the other of these, where from a sociomaterial perspective I would contend that the material / embodied, the print-based / verbal and the digital are in constant and complex interplay. Secondly, there perhaps is a related risk of falling into a ‘digital = student-centred, inherently better for all purposes’, versus ‘non-digital = retrograde, teacher-centred, indicative of resistance, in need of remediation’.” (Lesley Gourlay)

Another very common theme in the technology realm was the absolute importance of having reliable technology (as well as the right technology.)

Make technology not failing* a priority. All technology fails sometime, but it fails too often in HE institutions. Cash registers in supermarkets almost never fail, because that would be way too much of a risk.” (Sonia Grussendorf)

When it comes to how technology is selected for the institution, a number of people picked up on the the tension between having it selected centrally vs by lecturers.

“Decentralize – allow staff to make their own technology (software and hardware) choices” (Peter Bryant)

Infrastructure is also important in supporting technologies (Alex Chapman)

Personally I think that there must be a happy medium. There are a lot of practical reasons that major tools and systems need to be selected, implemented, managed and supported centrally – integration with other systems, economies of scale, security, user experience, accessibility etc. At the same time we also have to ensure that we are best meeting the needs of students and academics in a host of different disciplines. and are able to support innovation and agility. (When it comes to the selection of any tool I think that there still needs to be a process in place to ensure that the tool meets the needs identified – including those of various institutional stakeholders – and can be implemented and supported properly.)

Finally, Andrew Dixon framed his VC elevator pitch in terms of a list of clear goals describing the student experience with technology which I found to be an effective way of crafting a compelling narrative (or set of narratives) for a busy VC. Here are the first few:


  1. They will never lose wifi signal on campus – their wifi will roam seemlessly with them
  2. They will have digital access to lecture notes before the lectures, so that they can annotate them during the lecture.
  3. They will also write down the time at which difficult sub-topics are explained in the lecture so that they can listen again to the captured lecture and compare it with their notes. (Andrew Dixon)

Some practical solutions

Scattered liberally amongst the discussions were descriptions of practical measures that people and institutions are putting in place. I’ll largely let what people said stand on its own – in some cases I’ve added my thoughts in italics afterwards. (Some of the solutions I think were a little more tongue in cheek – part of the fun of the discussion – but I’ll leave it to you to determine which)

Culture / organisation

Our legal team is developing a risk matrix for IT/compliance issues (me)

(We should identify our work) “not just as teaching enhancement but as core digital service delivery” (Amber Thomas)

“we should pitch ‘exposure therapy’ – come up with a whole programme that immerses teaching staff in educational technology, deny them the choice of “I want to do it the old fashioned way” so that they will realise the potential that technologies can have…” (Sonja Grussendorf)

“Lets look at recommendations from all “strategy development” consultations, do a map of the recommendations and see which ones always surface and are never tackled properly.” (Sheila MacNeill)

“Could this vision be something like this: a serendipitous hub of local, participatory, and interdisciplinary teaching and learning, a place of on-going, life-long engagement, where teaching and learning is tailored and curated according to the needs of users, local AND global, actual AND virtual, all underscored by data and analytics?” (Rainer Usselman)

“…build digital spaces to expand our reach and change the physical set up of our learning spaces to empower use of technology…enable more collaborative activities between disciplines” (Silke Lange)

“we need a centralised unit to support the transition and the evolution and persistence of the digital practice – putting the frontliners into forefront of the decision making. This unit requires champions throughout the institutions so that this is truly a peer-led initiative, and a flow of new blood through secondments. A unit that is actively engaging with practitioners and the strategic level of the university” (Peter Bryant)

In terms of metrics – “shift the focus from measuring contact time to more diverse evaluations of student engagement and student experience” (Silke Lange)
“Is there a metric that measures teaching excellence?… Should it be designed in such a way as to minimise gaming? … should we design metrics that are helpful and allow tools to be developed that support teaching quality enhancement?” (David Kernohan)  How do we define or measure teaching excellence?
“the other thing that we need to emphasise about learning analytics is that if it produces actionable insights then the point is to act on the insights” (Amber Thomas) – this needs to be built into the plan for collecting and dealing with the data.

Talking about the NSS (National student survey) – “One approach is to build feel-good factor and explain use of NSS to students. Students need to be supported in order to provide qualitative feedback” (David Kernohan)  (I’d suggest that feedback from students can be helpful but it needs to be weighted – I’ve seen FB posts from students discussing spite ratings)

“We should use the same metrics that the NSS will use at a more granular levels at the university to allow a more agile intervention to address any issues and learn from best practices. We need to allow flexibility for people to make changes during the year based on previous NSS” (Peter Bryant)

“Institutional structures need to be agile enough to facilitate action in real time on insights gained from data” (Rainer Usselmann) – in real time? What kind of action? What kind of insights? Seems optimistic

“Institutions need at the very least pockets of innovation /labs / discursive skunk works that have licence to fail, where it is safe to fail” (Rainer Usselmann)

“Teachers need more space to innovate their pedagogy and fail in safety” (Silke Lange)
“Is it unfair (or even unethical) to not give students the best possible learning experience that we can?…even if it was a matter of a control group receiving business-as-usual teaching while a test group got the new-and-improved model, aren’t we underserving the control group?” (me)

“I can share two examples from my own experiences
An institution who wanted to shift all their UG programmes from 3 year to 4 year degrees and to deliver an American style degree experience (UniMelb in the mid 2000s)

An institution who wanted to ensure that all degree programmes delivered employability outcomes and graduate attributes at a teaching, learning and assessment level

So those resulted in;
a) curriculum change
b) teaching practice change
c) assessment change
d) marketing change ” (Peter Bryant)

“One practical option that I’m thinking about is adjusting the types of research that academics can be permitted to do in their career path to include research into their own teaching practices. Action research.” (Me) I flagged this with our Associate Dean Education yesterday and was very happy to hear that she is currently working on a paper for an education focussed journal in her discipline and sees great value in supporting this activity in the college.

“I think policy is but one of the pillars that can reinforce organisational behaviour” (Peter Bryant)- yes, part of a carrot/stick approach, and sometimes we do need the stick. Peter also mentions budgets and strategies, I’d wonder if they don’t change behaviour but more support change already embarked upon.


“let’s court rich people and get some endowments. We can name the service accordingly: “”. We do it with buildings, why not with services?” (Sonia Grussendorf) – selling naming rights for TELT systems just like buildings – intriguing

We need solid processes for evaluating and implementing Ed Tech and new practices (me)


“Could creating more ‘tailored’ learning experiences, which better fit the specific needs and learning styles of each individual learner be part of the new pedagogic paradigm?” (Rainer Usselman) (big question though around how this might be supported in terms of workload

“At Coventry, we may be piloting designing your own degree” (Sylvester Arnab)
“The challenge comes in designing the modules so as to minimise prerequisites, or make them explicit in certain recommended pathways” (Christopher Fryer)
I went on to suggest that digital badges and tools such as MyCourseMap might help to support this model. Sylvester noted that he is aware that “these learning experiences, paths, patterns, plans have to be validated somehow” Learner convenience over pedagogy – or is it part of pedagogy in line with adult learning principles of self-efficacy and motivation. In a design your own degree course, how do we ensure that learners don’t just choose the easiest subjects – how do we avoid the trap of having learners think they know enough to choose wisely?

“digital might be able to help with time-shifting slots to increase flexibility with more distributed collaboration, flipped teaching, online assessment” (George Roberts)


“At UCL we are in the midst of an institution-wide pedagogic redesign through the Connected Curriculum. This is our framework for research-based education which will see every student engaging in research and enquiry from the very start of their programme until they graduate (and beyond). More at

The connected bit involves students making connections with each other, with researchers, beyond modules and programmes, across years of study, across different disciplines, with alumni, employers, and showcase their work to the wider world…

There is strong top-down support, but also a middle-out approach with faculties having CC fellows on part time secondments to plan how introduce and embed the CC in their discipline.

From a TEL perspective we need to provide a digital infrastructure to support all of this connectivity – big project just getting going. Requirements gathering has been challenging… And we’re also running workshops to help programme and module teams to design curricula that support research-based and connected learning.” (Fiona Strawbridge) – liking this a lot, embedding practice. What relationship do these fellows have with lecturers?


“I am imagining that my research, personal learning environment would fit perfect with this approach as I am thinking the PLE as a toolbox to do research. There is also a potential there to engage student in open practice, etc.” Caroline Kuhn

“There may be a “metapedagogy” around the use of the VLE as a proxy for knowledge management systems in some broad fields of employment: consultancy, financial services, engineering…” (George Roberts)  (which I’d tie to employability)

“We need to challenge the traditional model of teaching, namely didactic delivery of knowledge. The ways in which our learning spaces are currently designed -neat rows, whiteboard at front, affords specific behaviours in staff and students. At the moment virtual learning spaces replicate existing practices, rather than enabling a transformative learning experience. The way forward is to encourage a curricula founded on enquiry-based learning that utilise the digital space as professional practitioners would be expected to” (Silke Lange) – maybe but none of this describes where or how lecturers learn these new teaching skills. Do we need to figure out an evolutionary timeline to get to this place, where every year or semester, lecturers have to take one further step, add one new practice?

“Do not impose a pedagogy. Get rid of the curricula. Empower students to explore and to interact with one another. The role of the teacher is as expert, navigator, orienteer, editor, curator and contextualisor of the subject. Use heuristic, problem-based learning that is open and collaborative. Teach students why they need to learn” (Christopher Fryer)


This is but a cherry-picked selection of the ideas and actions that people raised in this hack but I think it gives a sense of some of the common themes that emerged and of the passion that people feel for our work in supporting innovation and good practices in our institutions.  I jotted down a number of stray ideas for further action in my own workplace as well as broader areas to investigate in the pursuit of my own research.

As always, the biggest question for me is that of how we move the ideas from the screen into practice.

Further questions

How are we defining pedagogical improvements – is it just strictly about teaching and learning principles (i.e. cognition, transfer etc) or is it broader – is the act of being a learner/teacher a part of this (and thus the “job” of being these people which includes a broader suite of tools) (me)

What if we can show how learning design/UX principles lead to better written papers by academics? – more value to them (secondary benefits) (me)

“how much extra resource is required to make really good use of technology, and where do we expect that resource to come from?” (Andrew Dixon)

Where will I put external factors like the TEF / NSS into my research? Is it still part of the organisation/institution? Because there are factors outside the institution like this that need to be considered – govt initiatives / laws / ???

Are MOOCs for recruitment? Marketing? (MOOCeting?)

“How do we demonstrate what we do will position the organisation more effectively? How do we make sure we stay in the conversation and not be relegated to simply providing services aligned with other people’s strategies” (arguably the latter is part of our job)
“How do we embed technology and innovative pedagogical practices within the strategic plans and processes at our institutions?” (Peter Bryant)

Further research

Psychology of academia and relationships between academic and professional staff. (Executive tends to come from academia)

“A useful way to categorise IT is according to benefits realisation. For each service offered, a benefits map should articulate why we are providing the service and how it benefits the university.” (See ) (Andrew Dixon)

Leadership and getting things done / implementing change, organisational change

How is organisational (particularly university) culture defined, formed and shaped?

Actor-network theory

Design research

Some ideas this generated for me

Instead of tech tool based workshops – or in addition at least – perhaps some learning theme based seminars/debates (with mini-presentations). Assessment / Deeper learning / Activities / Reflection

Innovation – can be an off-putting / scary term for academics with little faith in their own skills but it’s the buzzword of the day for leadership. How can we address this conflict? How can we even define innovation within the college?

What if we bring academics into a teaching and learning / Ed tech/design support team?

Telling the story of what we need by describing what it looks like and how students/academics use it in scenario / case study format offers a more engaging narrative

What is the role of professional bodies (E.g. unions like the NTEU) in these discussions?

Are well-off, “prestigious” universities the best places to try to innovate? Is there less of a driving urge, no pressing threat to survival? Perhaps this isn’t the best way to frame it – a better question to ask might be – if we’re so great, what should other universities be learning from us to improve their own practices? (And then, would we want to share that knowledge with our competitors)

“I was thinking about the power that could lie behind a social bookmarking tool when doing a dissertation, not only to be able to store and clasify a resource but also to share it with a group of likeminded researcher and also to see what other have found about the same topic.” (Caroline Kuhn) – kind of like sharing annotated bibliographies?

Bigger push for constructive alignment
I need to talk more about teaching and learning concepts in the college to be seen as the person that knows about it

In conclusion

I’d really like to thank the organisers of the Digital is not the future Hack for their efforts in bringing this all together and all of the people that participated and shared so many wonderful and varied perspectives and ideas. Conversation is still happening over there from what I can see and it’s well worth taking a look.













Thoughts on: “What works and why?” OLT Project 2016

The Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) is an Australian government body intended to support best practice in enhancing teaching and learning in the Higher Education sector.

It funds a number of research projects, which in 2013 included “What works and why? Understanding successful technology enhanced learning within institutional contexts” – driven by Monash University in Victoria and Griffith University in Queensland and led by Neil Selwyn.

The final report for this project has now been published.
They also have a project website running at

Rather than focussing on the “state of the art”, the project focuses on the “state of the actual” – the current implementations of TELT practices in universities that are having some measure of success. It might not be the most inspiring list (more on that shortly) but it is valuable to have a snapshot of where we are, what educators and students value and the key issues that the executive face (or think they face) in pursuing further innovation.

The report identifies 13 conditions for successful use of Tech Enhanced Learning in the institution and with teachers and students. (Strictly speaking, they call it technology enabled learning, which grates with me far more than I might’ve expected – yes, it’s ultimately semantics but for me the implication is that the learning couldn’t occur without the tech and that seems untrue. So because this is my blog, I’m going to take the liberty of using enhanced)

ed tech conditions for success graphic

The authors took a measured approach to the research, beginning with a large scale survey of teacher and student attitudes toward TEL which offered a set of data that informed questions in a number of focus groups. This then helped to identify a set of 10 instances of “promising practice” at the two participating universities that were explored in case studies. The final phase involved interviewing senior management at the 39 Australian universities to get feedback on the practicality of implementing/realising the conditions of success.

So far, so good. The authors make the point that the majority of research in the TELT field relates to more cutting edge uses in relatively specific cohorts and while this can be enlightening and exciting, it can overlook the practical realities of implementing these at scale within a university learning ecosystem. As a learning technologist, this is where I live.

What did they discover?

The most prominent ways in which digital technologies were perceived as ‘working’ for students related to the logistics of university study. These practices and activities included:

  • Organising schedules and fulfilling course requirements;
  • Time management and time-saving; and
  • Being able to engage with university studies on a ‘remote’ and/or mobile basis

One of the most prominent learning-related practices directly to learning was using digital technologies to ‘research information’; ‘Reviewing, replaying and revising’ digital learning content (most notably accessing lecture materials and recordings) was also reported at relatively high levels.

Why technologies ‘work’ – staff perspectives

Most frequently nominated ways in which staff perceived digital technologies were ‘working’ related to the logistics of university teaching and learning. These included being able to co-ordinate students, resources and interactions in one centralised place. This reveals a frequently encountered ‘reality’ of digital technologies in this project: technologies are currently perceived by staff and students to have a large, if not primary role to enable the act of being a teacher or student, rather than enabling the learning.

Nevertheless, the staff survey did demonstrate that technologies were valued as a way to provide support learning, including delivering instructional content and information to students in accessible and differentiated forms. This was seen to support ‘visual’ learning, and benefit students who wanted to access content at different times and/or different places.

So in broad terms, I’d suggest that technology in higher ed is seen pretty much exactly the same way we treat most technology – it doesn’t change our lives so much as help us to live them.

To extrapolate from that then, when we do want to implement new tools and ways of learning and teaching with technology, it is vital to make it clear to students and teachers exactly how they will benefit from it as part of the process of getting them on board. We can mandate the use of tools and people will grumblingly accept it but it is only when they value it that they will use it willingly and look for ways to improve their activities (and the tool itself).

The next phase of the research, looking at identified examples of ‘promising practice” to develop the “conditions for success” is a logical progression but looking at some of the practices used, it feels like the project was aiming too low. (And I appreciate that it is a low-hanging-fruit / quick-wins kind of project and people in my sphere are by our natures more excited by the next big thing but all the same, if we’re going to be satisfied with the bare minimum, will that stunt our growth?) . In fairness, the report explicitly says “the cases were not chosen according to the most ‘interesting’, ‘innovative’ or ‘cutting-edge’ examples of technology use, but rather were chosen to demonstrate sustainable examples of TEL”

Some of the practices identified are things that I’ve gradually been pushing in my own university so naturally I think they’re top shelf innovations 🙂 – things like live polling in lectures, flipping the classroom, 3D printing and virtual simulations. Others however included the use of online forums, providing videos as supplementary material and using “online learning tools” – aka an LMS. For the final three, I’m not sure how they aren’t just considering standard parts of teaching and learning rather than something promising. (But really, it’s a small quibble I guess and I’ll move on)

The third stage asked senior management to rank the usefulness of the conditions of success that were identified from the case studies and to comment on how soon their universities would likely be in a position to demonstrate them. The authors seemed surprised by some of the responses – notably to the resistance to the idea of taking “permissive approaches to configuring systems and choosing software”. As someone “on the ground” that bumps into these kinds of questions on daily basis, this is where it became clear to me that the researchers have still been looking at this issue from a distance and with a slightly more theoretical mindset. There is no clear indication anywhere in this paper that they discussed this research with professional staff (i.e. education designers or learning technologists) who are often at the nexus of all of these kinds of issues. Trying to filter out my ‘professional hurt feelings’, it still seems a lot like a missed opportunity.

No, wait, I did just notice in the recommendations that “central university agencies” could take more responsibility for encouraging a more positive culture related to TEL among teachers.


Moving on, I scribbled a bunch of random notes and thoughts over this report as I read it (active reading) and I might just share these in no particular order.

  • Educators is a good word. (I’m currently struggling with teachers vs lecturers vs academics)
  • How do we define how technologies are being used “successfully and effectively”?
  • Ed Tech largely being used to enrich rather than change
  • Condition of success 7″the uses of digital technology fit with familiar ways of teaching” – scaffolded teaching
  • condition of success 10 “educators create digital content fit for different modes of consumption” – great but it’s still an extra workload and skill set
  • dominant institutional concerns include “satisfying a perceived need for innovation that precludes more obvious or familiar ways of engaging in TEL” – no idea how we get around the need for ‘visionaries’ at the top of the tree to have big announceables that seemingly come from nowhere. Give me a good listener any day.
  • for learners to succeed with ed tech they need better digital skills (anyone who mentions digital natives automatically loses 10 points) – how do we embed this? What are the rates of voluntary uptake of existing study skills training?
  • We need to normalise new practices but innovators/early adopters should still be rewarded and recognised
  • it’s funny how quickly ed tech papers date – excitement about podcasts (which still have a place) makes this feel ancient
  • How can we best sell new practices and ideas to academics and executive? Showcases or 5 min, magazine show style video clips (like Beyond 2000 – oh I’m so old)
  • Stats about which tools students find useful – data is frustratingly simple. Highest rating tool is “supplementing lectures, tutorials, practicals and labs” with “additional resources” at 42% (So 58% don’t find useful? – hardly a ringing endorsement
  • Tools that students were polled about were all online tools – except e-books. Where do offline tools sit?
  • Why are students so much more comfortable using Facebook for communication and collaboration than the LMS?
  • 60% of students still using shared/provided computers over BYOD. (Be interesting to see what the figure is now)
  • Promising practice – “Illustrating the problem: digital annotation  tools in large classes” – vs writing on the board?
  • conditions for success don’t acknowledge policy or legal compliance issues (privacy, IP and copyright)
  • conditions for success assume students are digitally literate
  • there’s nothing in here about training
  • unis are ok with failure in research but not teaching
  • calling practices “innovations signals them as non-standard or exceptions” – good point. Easier to ignore them
  • nothing in here about whether technology is fit for purpose

Ultimately I got a lot out of this report and will use it to spark further discussion in my own work. I think there are definitely gaps and this is great for me because it offers some direction for my own research – most particularly in the role of educational support staff and factors beyond the institution/educator/student that come into play.

Update: 18/4/16 – Dr Michael Henderson of Monash got in touch to thank me for the in-depth look at the report and to also clarify that “we did indeed interview and survey teaching staff and professional staff, including faculty based and central educational / instructional designers”

Which kind of makes sense in a study of this scale – certainly easy enough to pare back elements when you’re trying to create a compelling narrative in a final report I’m sure.

Doing everything in the early days of a PhD

I suspect one of the advantages of starting a PhD a little later in life than many is having a greater sense of how and where to look for help. Three weeks in (officially), I’m a little overwhelmed with the scale of the job that I have taken on – but I’m “assured” (not reassured) that this is normal and also that this feeling never really goes away. (I’m also pretty sure that my knowledge of where and how to find help is marginal but I at least have a glimmer of an idea)

I’m also grateful to know a number of people that have already been there and are willing to share their hard earned experiences. Stubborn, younger me would’ve paid less heed to these lessons, needing to make my own mistakes (and there’s still plenty of time for that) and work everything out myself. Happily I’ve moved past that phase. I have a housemate in the 9th year of her Linguistics/Autism/something research, a number of friends (more sciencey) that are done and dusted and basically everyone that I work with that have also been there, done that.

This post isn’t about setting out to become one of the many how-to PhD bloggers – but I’m very happy that they’re out there. Particularly Inger (Thesis Whisperer) Mewburn, who I met before I even knew about that side of her and before I even saw myself doing this thing. She’s already been very supportive and helpful and being able to toddle along to her workshops is great. Her blog and that of Pat Thomson (“Patter”) are constantly talked up and are high on my to-read list.

The university offers a great range of workshops on all aspects of research and writing – sadly I’m a 3.5 hr bus ride away but I’m still making the weekly trip to the Thesis Proposal Writing Workshop and getting a lot from that. So far we’ve covered the basic bones of a thesis (and a proposal) and the fact that while there is some flexibility in structure, you’re still generally looking at ILMRaD (Introduction, Lit review, Methods, Report of research findings and Discussion). As someone from a story writing background, I’m very interesting in finding ways to spin a compelling story and so I think that the preference for putting the methodology up front is going to present some challenges here. (Arguably putting it up front would work if it was the story of me doing research but I feel like the thesis is more the story of the content and putting it at the start feels like explaining the magic trick before you’ve done it. I guess that’s the difference between academic and creative writing and it simply is what it is)

My (employer) college and university offers a similar range of training opportunities and is being quite generous in letting me make the most of them. I’ve also been pointed towards a host of books and articles, including “How to write a better thesis” by Evans (2014) just last night.

I have no doubt there will be many trials ahead but I find it entirely comforting that there are so many people that have gone before me that are willing and happy to share their knowledge and experiences. I haven’t even mentioned the gentle yet focused guidance I’ve had from my supervisors, Peter and Lina. We’re still talking about how regularly to meet and at this stage, where I’m gingerly stepping down the beach to the sea of possibility, I’ve been unsure how vital early meetings are (it seems like I just need to do a tonne of reading) but my housemate made a very helpful point last night that this is also a key relationship building time, which I guess is something I can overlook at times in the midst of all the other things going on.

Designing DDLR & DDeLR – Assessments

Today is all about pinning down the most appropriate types of assessments for this subject. Yesterday I think I got a little caught up in reviewing the principles of good assessment – which was valuable but it might also be better applied to reviewing and refining the ideas that I come up with.

For what it’s worth, these are the notes that I jotted down yesterday that I want to bear in mind with these assessments. DDLR Assessment ideas

Looking over the four versions of this subject that my colleague J has run in the last 2 years has been particularly enlightening – even if I’m not entirely clear on some of the directions taken. The course design changed quite substantially between the second and third iterations – from a heavily class-based activity and assessment focus to more of a project based structure. (For convenience I’ll refer to the subjects as DDLR 1, 2, 3 and 4)

DDLR 1 and 2 provide an incredibly rich resource for learning to use eLearn (our Moodle installation) and each week is heavily structured and scaffolded to guide learners through the process of developing their online courses. The various elements of the units of competency are tightly mapped to corresponding activities and assessment tasks – moreso in DDLR 2. (Image from the DDLR subject guide)

I have to wonder however whether the course provides too much extra information – given the relatively narrow focus on designing and developing learning resources. Getting teachers (the learner cohort for this subject) to learn about creating quizzes and assignments in Moodle is certainly valuable but are these truly learning resources? This may well be one of the points where my approach to this subject diverges.

The shift in approach in DDLR 3 and DDLR 4 is dramatic. (As far as a diploma level course about designing learning resources might be considered dramatic, at least.) The assessments link far more closely to the units of competency and all save the first one are due at the end of the subject. They are far more formally structured – template based analysis of the target audience/learners, design documents, prototypes and finished learning resources, as well as a reflective journal.

It does concern me slightly that this subject has a markedly lower rate of assessment submission/completion that the two preceding ones. That said, this subject is often taken by teachers more interested in the content than in completing the units of competency and that may just have been the nature of this particular cohort.

This new assessment approach also seems far more manageable from a teaching/admin perspective than the previous ones, which required constant grading and checking.

My feeling is that this is a more sustainable approach but I will still look for ways to streamline the amount of work that is required to be submitted.

The next step was to map the various elements of competency to assessment items. The elements for both units of competency are written differently enough to need to be considered separately (unfortunately) but they both still broadly sit within the ADDIE (Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) framework. ADDIE seems like a useful way to structure both the course and the assessments so I have mapped the elements to this. I have also highlighted particular elements that are more indicative of outputs that might be assessed. Working through the analysis process will be quite dry (and could potentially come across as slightly patronising) so finding an engaging approach to this will be important.

Photo of elements of competency mapped to ADDIE elements (I’m also quite keen to bring digital badges into this process somehow, though that’s a lower priority at the moment)

Finally, I had a few ideas come to me as I worked through this process today that I might just add without further comment.

DDLR / DDeLR ideas

Get the class to design and develop a (print based? ) checklist / questionnaire resource that might be used to address DDLR 1 and DDeLR 1 UoCs. Get someone else in the class to use it to complete their Analysis phase.

Can I provide a range of options for the forms the assessment/resource pieces might take?

Try to develop a comprehensive checklist that teachers can use on the resources that they produce to raise the quality overall of resources at CIT. (Again, this could be a student led tool – the benefit of this is that it makes them think much more about what a good resource requires – does this meet any UoCs??)

Convert the print based Analysis document into a web resource – book tool or checklist maybe? Also possibly fix the print based one first – from a deliberately badly designed faulty version. (Lets me cover some readability / usability concepts early)

How much of this subject is leading the learners by the hand? How much is about teaching them how to use eLearn tools?

Could one of the learning resources be about developing something that teaches people how to use a particular eLearn tool???

Need to identify what kinds of resources teachers can make. Good brainstorm activity in week 1.

Think about the difference between creating a learning resource and finding one and adding it to your course. (Still important but tied to the UoC?)

If I give teachers the option to use previously developed resources (authenticity issues??), they should still provide some kind of explanatory document AND/OR edit the resource and discuss what changes they made and why.

Need to consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of the various types of tools.

In-class feedback of learning resources to better support the evaluation and implementation based elements of competency.

One activity (possible assessment) could be for learners to gather information needed to do an analysis from a partner in the group. (and vice versa) Might lead to a more critical examination of what information is being sought. Learner might even provide suggestions for design/development?

Sample resources?




Great e-Learning designs for Moodle – Karyn Milne CIT Creative Industries

screenshot of moodle course

The following short video (5:03) showcases some of the fantastic design work that one of our Creative Industries teachers – Karyn Milne – has done in her Moodle course. (We call our Moodle system eLearn, in case you find references to eLearn in the video confusing).

The main tips that I have taken from this are:

  1. Use advance organisers to give learners a context and a framework for the activities and resources that are coming. In this instance it is as simple as expanding on the topic heading – Printing (Technology, literacy and cultural change) or The Bauhaus (Form follows function – and the new hopes)
  2. Visual representations of the content help add extra meaning. Now Karyn is a skilled graphic designer so maybe your topic banners might not be quite as artistic but it is still relatively easy to add simple images that also help to break up the dreaded Moodle wall of text
  3. Provide simple and direct instructions with the actions emphasised
  4. Provide a range of different resources and activities – in these two topics we have documents, videos, a quiz and a discussion forum.