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 http://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/help-consultancy/ucreate/facilities/box-of-broadcasts/introduction

#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 (p.lynch@hull.ac.uk) and pixabay.com. Jisc image from Jisc

The problem is not ignorance, it’s preconceived ideas


Data is never neutral.  This is my social science background talking. It’s made me suspicious! Or should that be critical?  Not everyone agrees but I’ve always distrusted the ability of stats to tell the full story.

This week it was announced Hans Rosling has died. A sign of the internet age is the videos we leave behind. This link to a TED Talk (2006) The best stats you’ve ever seen begins with his trademark introduction ‘I’m a statistician – No – don’t switch off!

Rosling set out to show the changing world through the visualisation of data.  The concept was simple. Most good ideas are. Publically funded statistics exist but are not presented in ways which are educational and accessible. Rosling founded the Gapminder organisation to create software linking data with presentation tools, thereby making it visible and searchable or in this own words – liberated. Helped more than a little by a narration owing more to a sports commentary than traditional academia, graphs have never been so entertaining or eye-opening. Mission accomplished.

Hans Rosling presenting on a stepladder

Over the years Rosling moved from overhead projector, with his trademark stepladder for reaching the high parts, to more sophisticated forms of digital touch screen representation. The technology was wizzy but somehow wasn’t the same.


I saw Rosling present a couple of times. Mostly on the international health and social care arena where he spoke about the world and what really matters;  fertility rates, child mortality, family planning, distribution of income and the power of social change. There were always a number of key messages. Data is better than you think; there may be  an uncertainty margin but the differences revealed are larger than any weakness. Data can be structured e.g. revealing the importance of context an highlighting diversity, sometimes within single countries. Most relevant to educationalists, Rosling maintained problems are not caused by ignorance but through preconceived ideas.


Data is big business and higher education has not escaped from the lure of using stats to review and refine the student experience. Within  institutions the VLE dashboard and NSS (National Student Survey) have been used for some time to wave red flags. Now the TEF is bringing data analytics to the forefront. The relationship between NSS scores, figures from HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) and DELI  (Destination of Leavers from Higher Education) and teaching excellence is still open for debate but there’s no denying how ‘Learning Analytics’ is now positioned centre-stage.

All my initial reservations about statistical data have come back. It’s one thing to collect and group figures into charts and tables but useful interpretation depends on wider issues such as identifying what you want to know and why you want to know it. Counting the times a student logs onto a VLE or walks into the library tells us little about the nature of their activity or quality of engagement.

digital number display

The biggest concern is the rhetoric. The Bricks to Clicks report tells us data has “enormous potential to improve the student experience at university” while the Jisc report Learning Analytics in Higher Education offers analytics as a tool with many functions. These include quality assurance and quality improvement, boosting retention rates and assessing and acting upon differential students outcomes – to mention a few.

We’ve been here before in the early days of education technology which promised much with regard to enhancement but with little evidence of improvement. Deterministic approaches see technology as the agent of change rather than focusing on the cultural context in which it’s positioned. Today it seems there’s an increasing risk of data being seen through a similar determinist lens.

magnifying glass

Education developers and researchers want teaching interventions which produce the most effective learning environments. As it stands, I’m not convinced the collection, measurement and interpretation of all this data for the TEF will produce any meaningful information about what we really want to know. The Learning Analytics movement needs someone like Hans Rosling to challenge preconceived ideas and find ways to interpret data which are innovative, useful and accessible.

It would also be worth asking if the data we have is from the most appropriate sources in the first place.