me and mendelay are mates

cartoon explosion

How much is too much? Or not enough? Overload warning – drowning not waving – data data everywhere. Explode. Head. Ready.

Weekends and bank holidays are for research. Any part-time researcher saying otherwise is lying!

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a set of Nvivo workshops alongside an introduction to Refworks and Endnote. Been there before but you know how it is – use it or lose it. Guess which happened?

I’ve decided to work with Mendelay.

My relationship with referencing tools one of start but not finish. As a result my most comprehensive list of references is hand constructed. Not the way to do it. This time – I promised – once and for all – I’d face my bibliographic fears.

I like Mendelay.

logo for Mendelay

With so many research processes being online, the management of research data and literature has become a digital capabilities issue. You could say the same about learning and teaching but as TEL-People know, the link is more tenuous. Workshops are where TEL-People come face-to-face with the reality of digital adoption. This is often far removed from TEL-World – as you might expect – but the distances involved can still be a surprise. Coming face-to-face with low levels of digital knowledge is essential for designing support where it’s needed.

jisc digital capabilities model

The Jisc digital capabilities profiles include one for researchers. For me, it demonstrates how research processes cut cross the elements. Apart from data literacies and working with multiple formats, there’s the grey identity area (as both staff and student), dissemination through publication and conference plus involvement in a range of online networks. Social media and research are natural partners but not everyone is a natural online communicator while the most powerful research tools can also be the most challenging. SPSS and Nvivo are not for faint digital hearts.

computer screen with image of books

I like working with Nvivo. It fascinates me how interpersonal communications like interviews can be digitised, themed and linked, highlighting connections you didn’t see before. I’m self taught from the days of Nvivo 9 so the workshops were a useful opportunity to update to 11 and see what tricks I’ve missed. Nvivo Word Clouds are amazing!

Research software encapsulates all the issues around developing digital skills and one of these is the shift from customised, institutional help to generic, online resources. This goes alongside a move to DIY where you’re expected to RTFM (find things out for yourself); a policy which could only be imagined by the digitally confident or non-tech user, either a refusenik or with someone else doing it for them.

I know my way around the internet but still waste a lot of time trying to find things out for myself.

range of tools for DIY

Well made generic videos can show you where to click but are less successful with the why and the wherefore. Even the brilliantly made Nvivo Water project – custom designed to demonstrate all the options – can’t cater for every potential scenario. Ultimately there’s no off-the-shelf substitute for the experience and expertise of other people.

Back to data.

Back to Mendeley.

If you don’t use a digital referencing tool you should bite the digital bullet and give one a try. I settled for Mendeley because it’s more than a referencing tool. It offers social bookmarking (like Delicious or Diigo) and my bibliographies are not tied to an institution. It has all the features you’d expect i.e. cloud and desktop versions, citation options for Word etc. I can access it anywhere and get to take it with me when I leave.

computing technologies

My research data is already in digital formats; interviews transcribed and supplementary materials online. The next task is getting it all into Nvivo and start coding. It’s been over a year since I spent time with Nodes.  It will be a massive task but hopefully a rewarding one. My research explores how staff concceptualise teaching and learning in a digital age and I’m looking forward to seeing what Nvivo does with millions of words from three years of data collection.

Me and Mendelay plus Nvivo are going to be best mates this year or at least – that’s the plan!

mini CAIeRO taster

flying blue cartoon bird

The Flying not Flapping workshop flapped a bit. Refreshments arrived – 10 cups, 20 bottles of water, no biscuits – for 30 people. Water is good for you but coffee’s essential on a Monday morning. The technology was dodgy too. Occasionally one of the five screens flashed into life but all five together wasn’t happening. Discovered the Support Desk phone discretely under the desk. Yes, right under the desk. It did get better.

Flying not Flapping was led by Ale Armellini, Director of the Institute of Learning and Teaching in HE at the University of Northampton. Ale introduced a mini CAIeRO (Creating Aligned Interactive educational Resource Opportunities) which is ‘time to talk’ about learning design (LD). CAIeRO can be applied to modules, programmes, short courses, anywhere which involves structured learning. Rather than a technology focused intervention, it addresses the learning activities of students which might or might not involve TEL. If TEL-People want to increase their reach and success rates an approach like CAIeRO is worth investigating.

TEL-People do tend to preach to the converted and can rely on the same faces turning up to events. It’s a fact universally acknowledged that labelling an initiative with ‘digital’ or ‘technology’ can be an instant turn-off. Rather than TEL first, it’s helpful to adopt learning design first. Not as snappy but design for learning should be something we all have in common – how can learning be enhanced without it?!

A full CAIeRO  usually takes two days so a mini one has to be prescriptive. It goes like this – choose a blended six week course from a given selection, create a mission statement and two key learning outcomes (revisiting ye olde Bloom in the process), decide the topics to cover, the activities the students will take part in (examples on Monday included critically assess, reflect, peer review, evaluate), build in assessment points, formative as well as summative (bearing in mind they don’t need to be all bunched up at the end) and… breathe.

trianble shwing blooms taxonomy stages

When it came to choosing activities most  included different TEL-Tools like blogs, portfolios and discussions. Just because CAIeRO isn’t technology-first doesn’t mean it gets missed out – it’s just a different way to bring it in.

There’s an emphasis on shifting culture. CAIeRO critiques content-delivery and asks students to take part in activities. You often hear staff say ‘students won’t do that‘ but if they’re arriving expecting to be lectured and given content then maybe this expectation needs to be challenged.

image showing a full lecture theatre

Adopting a LD approach is also fresh opportunity to join up the different elements of HE; to embed learning development, employability, Internationalisation, even TEL. The aim is to offer an inclusive as well as holistic experience through the programme rather than as disparate bits and pieces where students risk missing out by not realising skills support is in the library, or employability awards are in the building at the back of the campus. When you know your way around it’s easy to forget how mysterious and intimidating a university can be.  LD is about linking subject expertise with opportunities to become creative, critical and reflective while also encouraging staff to be scholarly i.e. research informed and engaged, look for evidence of impact, evaluate their teaching practice and be reassured they are doing a good job.

Poster showing full CAIeRO process

Like it or not we’ve moved into the arena of teaching excellence. Agree or not with the measurement criteria, the TEF offers a rationale for revisiting and reviewing the learning design of programmes. The T in TEF isn’t Technology.

We have to be brave to be different and TEL-People can lead the way. We can start to reach the hard to reach by leaving tech behind and talking about design instead. Find new ways to share practice. Move away from determinist approaches where technology is seen as the answer. Forget force feeding content; it isn’t going anywhere so we can focus on what students can to do with it instead. Introduce activities which involve searching, selecting, sharing and summarising content rather than being handed it on a plate like a roast dinner. Knowing what’s coming can get boring. Learning should be exciting and – dare I say – value for money. As soon as we start to see students as customers buying a degree rather than investing in a learning experience then all is lost.

Ale worked with Gilly Salmon (of emoderating and etivities fame) at the University of Leicester where the idea for CAIeRO was originally conceived as Carpe Diem. To find out more about CAIeRO at Northampton visit this blog post by Julie Usher Demystifying CAIeRO. At Hull we’re planning to put something similar in our Toolbox for Leaning Enhancement.

cards used to develop designs for learning

The cards used during the session (originally called Course Features Card Sort can be downloaded from the OULDI Learning Design Toolbox on the Jisc Design Studio   Jisc’s take on LD is a few years old but still well worth a browse around.

Jisc Design Studio logo

It feels like LD has taken a back seat in recent years, or at least gone under cover, but if you scratch the surface there’s the 7 C’s model of learning design, the D4 Appreciative Inquiry approach  and Learning Design at the OU for starters. They all involve technology – it should be hard to find learning which doesn’t in 2017 – yet you don’t often see LD on the ALT Jisc mail list or TEL on the SEDA list suggesting there’s still a divide between the worlds of education development and TEL-People.

computing technologies

TEF may be the opportunity to narrow the gap between them, prioritise scholarship and highlight the importance of evidencing impact. A LD approach to TEL could tick the TEF boxes as well as enhance the learning experience for students. Watch this space. We’re developing some exciting new ways of working and will be sharing them here.



crowd of lego people

Stumbled onto a video of Gardener Campbell talking about educating the whole person.  Sidetracked through the serendipity which characterises the internet. Start at A and find yourself at Q and R without being too sure how.

On the way I bumped into teaching scholarship – as you do – and an interesting analogy from the late 1990’s by Randy Bass in The Scholarship of Teaching: What’s the Problem? Citing Boyer, Bass claims problems in research are welcomed while problems in teaching are seen as failures of practice. Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered (1990) is remains a seminal work on SoTL (less than Scholarship Reassessed (1997) by Glassick, Huber, Maeroff) and its principles of scholarly approaches to teaching still hold i.e. ‘It should be public, susceptible to critical review and evaluation, and accessible for exchange and use by other members of one’s scholarly community.’ (Bass, 1999:2)

The HEA report Defining and supporting the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) a sector wide study suggests SoTL themes hve expanded. They may now involve peer review, CoP and more interdisciplinary approaches. It also involves student engagement through redesign of curricula which encourage undergraduates to be research informed and engaged. The HEA report claims continued confusion around the definition and practice of SoTL. It recommends linking SoTL to the TEF, adding CPD to workload models, making SoTL more explicit in the UKPSF and greater recognition  of SoTL across all REF units of measurement.

baby with a laptop

The value of SoTL is in the L. How students Learn. Few benefit from lecture style transmission of content unless it’s recorded so they can revisit and review. I’m unlikely to meet Gardener Campbell but have watched and listened, paused to revisit, shared (seen it reshared) and stored the link for future reference.

Any HEI with a policy for recording timetabled teaching sessions supports their students learning. They can catch up on what they’ve missed through illness or unforeseen circumstances and have meaningful discussions; the benefit of so called flipped learning i.e. access to transmitted content at a time and place which suits then get together – face to face or online – for discussion with the benefit of time to reflect and craft comments. A deeper  approach which – if linked to a collaborative document – presents opportunities to extend learning by searching and sharing associated links, commenting on the contributions of others and summarising the whole learning experience. What’s not to like?

logo for Box of Broadcasts

Using audio and video is a no-brainer. So much content is freely available (eg British Film InstituteFilm Education,  Vimeo, YouTube, Teacher Tube, Ted Talks, Khan Academy, MIT) or licenced for use within UK HE like the excellent Box of Broadcasts (BoB). You can make your own audio/video with webcams and mobile devices although this raises the DC (digital capabilities) issue. Not  problem. Lets link it to scholarly practice and persuade institutions to invest in the digital skills of their staff as professional development. It also raises issues of IP which can be complex and opening the copyright box will be the topic of a follow-on blog (brave, stupid or what?!)  😉


Back to Gardener Campbell and Educating the Whole Person. Gardener says granular analytics does not represent the whole person yet the current push towards big data claims it can be used to design personalised learning. How? Footfalls and logins give little meaningful information about learning. Counting the number of VLE sites is irrelevant compared to what goes on there. Ditto forum posts. The data tells us nothing about content quality. We need more critical thinking around the types of data collected and why.

climbing a wall

It all comes back to scholarship. Inquiry into what you do and why you do it. How do you know it works? Where is the evidence of impact? SoTL provides a framework for taking this forward.

Lets be more joined up about linking CPD with Academic Practice. Encourage action research, action learning sets, appreciative inquiry, critical reflection and loops of experiential learning.

Let’s make opportunities to get people around a table to talk about teaching, underpinned with research into how students learn, and how best to design learning experiences which can be personalised to encourage motivation, enthusiasm and ownership.

Lets start investing as much into learning and teaching as we do research and technologies.

Let’s bring in the student voice and build mechanisms for recognising and rewarding evaluated learning design.

Let’s do all this. Now! We’re all here to support the student experience so let’s have some exciting thoughts about how to go forward into the future.

images from pixabay except BoB from

#digifest17 asks if digital technology is changing learning and teaching

computing technologies

We all know determinists. Excited about the new. Putting tech in place. Waiting for transformation. Any failure is blamed on it being the wrong time, place or connections, but there’s much more than this to digital education. We have to go deeper.

Enthusiasm for education technology comes in waves. Last century it was CBA, CMC, VLE, then web 2.0 and social media, followed by oer and mooc, mobile devices, big data and dashboards. There were the go-to reports. Paul Anderson’s What is Web 2.0? (2007), or Peter Bradshaw’s Edgeless University (2009). Back further to Oleg Liber’s framework for pedagogical evaluation of vle (2004), Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning design by Conole et al (004) or Death of the VLE by Mark Styles (2007). These are just a few and how many more predictions  from these times remain more promise and potential than fact?

advertising from jisc digifest17

I didn’t go to Digifest17 but followed as much as I could online. For me the star of the show was Amber Thomas from the University of Warwick. In conversation with Neil Morris from the University of Leeds, Amber dared to refer to digital technology as pixie dust and snake oil, suggesting what matters more are the non-digital aspects of education, namely the design of learning experiences.

There’s more than a little synchronicity here. My ex Lincoln colleague Andy Hagyard is now Academic Development Consultant at Leeds while Kerry Pinny is Academic Technologist at Warwick. Spot the similarities. We should form our own SIG. In the meantime, we’re under review at Hull and top running for our new job titles is learning enhancement rather than TEL. Amber was spot on. The future is less with the technology and more for the people.

looking for evidence cartoon

Predictions of tech-adoption are rarely realised in the way we expect. We look in the wrong places. It’s not the tech innovators or early adopters (who can be pedagogically astute but remain a minority), it’s those who self-exclude from technology events and opportunities. Who – dare I say – care more for the EL in TEL than the T itself. The solution to learning enhancement is not rocket science. It’s as simple as this. We need to talk more across our different sides of the fence.

Make the conversations less driven by technology and more about evidence of success. How do we know what works and why? Where is the scholarship of learning technology? The research informed practice? I’ve referred to existing literature critiques before in TEL-ing Tales, Evidence of Impact and Learning Design+TEL=the Future. These critiques can be powerful drivers and all the more reason for change. The brave new world of TEF and learning analytics is an optimum time to review the design of learning and how to evaluate its impact. Not just at the end, when students are moving on and it’s too late to change their experience, but by building iterative loops of feedback throughout modules and courses which tell everyone how they are doing when it most matters.

suggested list of criteria for learning design

Digifest17 was bold. …we’ll be celebrating the power of digital, its potential to transform and its capacity to revolutionise learning and teaching.

Transformation and revolution is the early language of BECTA  – remember the internet super highway? It’s worth revisiting HEFCE’s 2005 and revised 2009 elearning strategies, the Towards a Unified eLearning Strategy Consultation Document (2003) and the National Committee of Inquiry into the Future of Higher Education, otherwise known as the Dearing Report (1997). The text from the past is scarily similar to the text of the present.

rosie the riveteer

We’re still talking transformation and revolution, yet as Diana Laurillard said nearly ten years ago – ‘Education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies; however, it has been on that brink for some decades now.’ (2008: 1)

Maybe technology isn’t the answer. The literature around Inquiry based learning stresses the need for fallibility so I have to admit I could be wrong. However, if technology is the answer then I’d suggest a more critical approach is needed. Here’s some suggestions. Andrew Feenburg’s Ten Paradoxes of Technology or Questioning Technology, Norm Friesen’s Critical Theory: Ideology Critique and the Myths of E-Learning, Neil Selwyn’s Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology or Distrusting Educational Technology for starters. Then lets have conversations. Let’s start reading groups which discuss the pros and cons from wider social and cultural perspectives. Let’s ask questions like why are we investing in technology in the first place? How useful is data counting footfall and logins? Where is the evidence of enhancement?

quote from Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011)Slowly but surely places are emerging where education technology is aligning with academic practice. It seems a promising way forward. Why wouldn’t we want to introduce scholarship and pedagogy, build learning design around experiential loops of action research and appreciative inquiry? Lets shift the emphasis and make the future for higher education one which is more shaped by people rather than by machines.

groups of students

Images from Learning Analytics & Learning Design Digifest17 presentation by Patrick Lynch ( and Jisc image from Jisc

words, words, words…

Two supervisions in 72 hours. How did I manage that? Not enough to be finishing a degree and a Phd at the same time, I booked meetings with both supervisors in the same week. Supervisions are not dates you mess with. Like the sun, everything revolves around them. Appointments are sacrosanct. I’ll be fine, I said, there’s a day in-between, it could be worse.

There’s also the full-time job. A team of four is currently two. I call us 50%. To say we’re stretched is an understatement. Fortunately  we like what we do. Also (again) we’re under review and have a rare opportunity to influence the future direction of our work.  We’re going to be ghostbusters but shh….. we haven’t told anyone yet. It’s a secret. Watch this space. Or choose the Learning Design and Learning Analytics session, 11.15, Day Two at Jisc Digifest next week. Back to the supervisions.

ghostbusters logo


For some time I’ve been working on the doctoral questions. Explaining has always been an issue; the elevator pitch escaped me. I wanted to bridge transitions between face-to-face and digital pedagogies and practice but an early supervisor told me my research was not about helping staff  use the VLE, it was about academic labour. I disagreed so it all became confused for some time. However, the TELEDA courses remained the core of the data collection and now, having transferred to the University of Northampton with Prof Ale Armellini, it’s fallen beautifully into place. It was about learning design all along.

This week we examined the questions in fine detail, down to the level of individual words. An interesting experience which hit the heart of previous TEL people blogs and how TEL language can pose issues with interpretation. When it comes to influencing attitudes and behaviours, search language for potential barriers and change agents.

magnitic words for making poetry


It’s the sixth year of my p/t degree in creative writing. For the past five years I’ve managed to hang on in there. It supports my lasting love for words, in particular the art and craft of poetry. To be picked up for incorrect use of words in my research questions, and actively re-think the possibilities of meaning, was the point where both supervisions collided. Both involved stepping back to analyse potential impact of text.

Bourdieu’s concept of social capital can be partially understood as embodied beliefs and biases which we don’t recognise. Seemingly inherent advantages and barriers can generally be deconstructed to show social roots of imperatives and influences. Language is where these come together, how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Research questions have to avoid potential misunderstandings. Poetry has to strip language down to the essentials yet still create resonance and impact. Both need to avoid disappointment.

sad looking puppy

We don’t consider language as much as we should. This week I also swapped sides for a supervision meeting (research module of the pg cert academic practice) with a colleague looking at developing visual literacy in students. Again, this involves social capital and opening up often unchallenged beliefs. For me, this is integral to the heart of the HE experience. As well as the ‘what’ of learning it should be the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ alongside lifelong skills of critical and reflective thinking. Image is a great place to start but at some point we have to turn to text.

Some blog posts percolate for weeks. This one arrived ready made. During the first supervision I was told to get back to the thesis, produce some extended writing rather than ‘blog’ style posts, but I don’t see why they can’t coexist. The blog serves multiple ends. Friday posts are generally about some aspect of life as a digital academic, recording events and exploring ideas. The log pages are a record of my research progress since it all began. Blogging is a useful form of CPD as well as a writing discipline. Producing 600-800 words a week about some aspect of my work shouldn’t be too hard to do.

It’s all about words. Things as disparate as dreams, American Art and T. S. Eliot are still understood via language yet how often do we stop to consider it. I’ve had a week of words and ahead of me a Friday To Do list which includes producing even more of them. I still love words and rarely admit to word-overload but there are times – and I think this may be one of them – when I just want to close my eyes and listen to some music instead!

head phones and sheet music

All images from pixabay except ghostbuster logo

does learning design + TEL = the future?

typeset image from

Language matters. Whether its training or lecture capture instead of teaching or recording resources, the words we use and the ways we interpret them are full of unconscious bias. When designing learning, one of the first steps is to bust the jargon. Ask the questions. What are we saying here and what does it mean?

This week I attended a workshop on Marking and Feedback with Prof Lin Norton. Lin spoke about final vocabulary, a term used by philosopher Richard Rorty which refers to words containing deeply held beliefs and assumptions without the necessary explanations. For example feedback comments like good, excellent, exactly what I’m looking for. The marker knows what they mean but it isn’t clear to the recipient. Lin says final vocabulary leaves students no room to manoeuvre. Markers need to make comments which open up conversations rather than close them down. Like active listening or going back to Socratic questioning. Those ancient Greeks really knew their stuff.

question mark from pixabay

The tendency to make uncritical use of language is common. We’re often more subjective than we realise. I think I’m a critical reflector but there’s always something new to learn.  I don’t have a data driven approach to practice. A bit dyscalculic as well as suspicious of quantitative data sets. No matter how the figures are presented, I want to know the stories behind them. But – I’m also an action researcher and promoter of experiential learning. I like critical reflection loops which take you on a journey of change.

data image from pixabay

Recently I’ve come to realise I do have a data driven approach; it’s my interpretation of what data represents which is skewed. Phrases like Big Data or Learning Analytics made me think randomized controlled trials or NSS scores and VLE dashboards. I knew data didn’t  have to be numbers – I’m doing qualitative research for heavens sake (Doh!) but my subjective interpretation was linking the two together. It’s only by developing a learning design approach to TEL with an expert data-king colleague which has uncovered a bias I wasn’t consciously aware of.

scrabble tiles from

How often do we act without questioning that we do? Last week I blogged about the impact of research on TEL and the literature TEL people use to inform their practice. I’m still searching for answers. Let’s broaden it out. Where’s the evidence base for learning and teaching? Is there a contemporary equivalent to Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (1987)

  • encourages contact between students and faculty,
  • develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  • encourages active learning,
  • gives prompt feedback,
  • emphasizes time on task,
  • communicates high expectations, and
  • respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

The authors claim these support ‘six powerful forces in education’

  • activity,
  • expectations,
  • cooperation,
  • interaction,
  • diversity,
  • responsibility.

Spot the gaps. It would make a useful online activity. I’d add the need for critical thinking, reflection and creativity as well as having an evidence base. Let’s put scholarship in there. Being research informed and engaged.  This week my colleague and I have scoured the UK literature  around L&T in HE (e.g. Knight, Biggs, Prosser, Trigwell, Trowler, Race, Baud, Nicol, Moon, Brookfield etc) but can’t find anything so succinct or contemporary.

Maybe the subject is too complex to be reduced to bullet points. Maybe it reflects its late arrival. In many ways pedagogic research in HE is still the new kid on the block. It’s not a happy partner to the REF and HE staff having an ‘appropriate teaching qualification’ is a relatively recent requirement. The HESA returns for data on academic teaching qualifications was only introduced in 2012/13 with many  institutions still returning a percentage of ‘not known‘.

opening slide from lin Norton assessment workshop

Events like Lin Nortons are welcome opportunities to ask questions and discuss answers, as in the slide image above. I think they’re useful for TEL people. Marking and feedback are foundation elements of the student experience. Sometimes it can help to separate them out from the technology – which in itself risks becoming a distraction – in order to examine more closely the fundamental principles of assessment practice. Not all TEL people come from a teaching background so it helps to make TEL about learning as well technology. The problem is the language. Again, language matters. Too often when you say you work with TEL or in a TEL Team you’re instantly categorised into a techie box.  This is one of the reasons I believe TEL needs to be reversed. Less of the T and more L please Bob.

There’s a phrase associated with the early days. RTFM stood for read the ******** manual.  All computers came packed with a doorstop of an instruction book. RTFM soon came to mean don’t ask me how the bloody thing works, go and look it up yourself.

Today the technology has (allegedly) changed to a more intuitive click and play  approach – as well as being introduced almost from birth – and the internet has replaced the manual. Today we know how it works. We need to be asking where it’s being used and why. What do we know about how people learn? What is the equivalent to Chickering and Gamson’s principles for 21st century TEL? If we’re promoting digital feedback then lets look at Lin Norton’s research or have a TEL Team discussion around the HEA’s Marked Improvement or visit outputs from the Oxford Brookes ASKe project or REAP.

I believe the design of learning is an essential part of TEL and we should adopt a scholarly approach to our practice by being more research informed and engaged. In which case maybe RTFM is not redundant but needs updating to RTFL. Read the ******** literature.

Now the HEA Subject Centres have closed and the HEFCE funded CETLs have come to an end who is promoting research into learning and teaching practice? Students are paying huge amounts of money for their time at universities where traditional teaching methods are still evident and VLE resemble repositories. Lets take a fresh look at the TEL people what we do because it looks a lot like learning design + TEL = the future.

TEL-ling tales – where is the evidence of impact?

open laptop with the word learning on the screen

Research is complex. It can be a messy business, but it matters. Higher education revolves around research and student degrees yet when it comes to the REF, pedagogical research in HE has a poor showing. A recent HEA funded investigation found critiques of submission quality* while back in 2002, Jenkins described it as having Cinderella status. A paper by the HEA researchers (Cotton, Miller and Kneale, 2017suggests pedagogical research in HE remains the Cinderella of academia.

If pedagogical research in HE is struggling for recognition where does this leave the field of education technology or Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL)? The critiques are plentiful** so where is the evidence of impact?


I have great respect for the expertise of TEL colleagues so wearing my curiosity hat, I headed off to a closed learning technology mail list. Citing Surowieckis ‘wisdom of crowds’, I invited members to point me to evidence of enhancement via technology.

I don’t know what I expected. Maybe references to the OLDS mooc project, a NMC Horizon Report, the OU Innovating Pedagogy series or anything from the Jisc elearning projects.  Maybe the application of a model like Laurillard’s conversational framework or her work on teaching as a design science, how Salmon’s Five Stage model of e-moderating was used or Garrison and Anderson’s Community of Inquiry.  At home I have an old fashioned plastic box full of printed papers from my TEL research literature reviews, some by well known names and others less so but all with a variety of methodologies and results. Admittedly, much is aspirational – revealing potential for scaling up rather than the results of broader adoption, but they’re evidence of intervention. They represent hope. My plan was to scope the most popular ‘go to‘ pieces and collate them for sharing.

red question mark on a keyboard

The response was not quite what I expected. Maybe I asked the wrong question. Maybe my view is different and maybe this is a Hull issue – in the nicest possible way! As Philip Larkin said, we ‘re on the edge of things rather than the centre and being on the edge can give you a different perspective. Whatever the reason, there were lots of ensuing discussions, some tweets and a couple of blogs – all showing a variety of reactions – Show me the Evidence by James Clay and In Defense of Technology by Kerry Pinny – but no links.  There was also an #LTHEchat invitation to host ‘Establishing an evidence base for TEL’  which will take place on Twitter, 3rd May, 8.00-9.00 (diary date!) If the questions were wrong at least they generated some positive consequences.

tweetchat-tweet small

I think Kerry was closest to my position when she described asking questions as scholarly practice. If we’re not research-informed and engaged how do we know if we’re having impact? Familiarity with the literature and taking time for critical reflection is about thinking academically and we work within academic environments where TEL is promoted as an enabler and enhancer of student-learning. Pedagogical research might not be scoring 10 out of 10 with the REF but it’s our daily bread and no reason to ignore what’s out there or not adopt a scholarly approach to evidencing our own practice – in particular with TEL matters. Institutions are investing huge amounts of money into digital platforms supporting learning and teaching but less into supporting staff to develop the digital capabilities and confidence to use them.


It’s now twenty years since the Dearing Report into the future of higher education which preceded the arrival of the VLE. Since those early days we’ve shifted from a read-only environment to user generated content, file sharing, mobile devices, social media, apps, virtual reality etc etc yet there’s still disparity of adoption and a widening divide between the innovators and those yet to climb aboard the TEL train.

What came out of the discussions (and what I see every working day) was how resistance to TEL remains high. Also it’s clear what’s missing includes the time, space, reward and recognition for staff engagement. We’re grappling with this at Hull and to make our case to SMTs requires evidence of impact on student learning and staff well-being. To find the evidence we need the research.

So where is it?

What do other TEL people use as their rationale for TEL matters?

magnifying glass


* critiques of pedagogical research in higher education include small sample sizes, localised research not capable of wider dissemination and limited contribution to theory. This is similar to the examples of critiques of TEL shown below.

** examples of TEL critique

 ‘Our analysis of articles published in two leading journals [these were the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology) and ALT-J (since renamed Research in Learning Technology)] found…poorly conceived or poorly applied methodologies, limited reference to theory, weak results, incomplete descriptions, uneven presentation of data and overblown and unsupported claims of impact and importance.’ (Gunn and Steel, 2012:11)

‘….where the potential of technology to transform teaching and learning practices does not appear to have achieved substantial uptake, this is because ‘the majority of studies focused on reproducing or reinforcing existing practices.’ (Kirkwood and Price 2012: 24)

‘The majority of papers published in BJET and the other educational technology journals are in the form of small-scale, unconnected trials and applications which can have little influence on policy making.’ (Latchem, 2014: 2)

images from pixabay except tweet from #lthechat