Learner Support Patterns and Strategies: Presentation

I presented at the International Conference on e-Learning (ICEL) this morning. The conference was hosted by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in Cape Town, South Africa. The presentation looked at research done at the Open University of Catalonia and the University of South Africa around students’ use of different devices and personal technologies and what support they need.



Learning Analytics and Evidence in Higher Education

The Department of Education at UOC recently organised a seminar on the role of evidence-based research in higher education on 22 November 2017. Prof Paul Prinsloo, UNISA, South Africa, provided the keynote address at this seminar. These are my notes from his address:

Learning analytics in a time of an insatiable thirst for data and evidence: A provocation

  • Rather than focusing on whether the future of higher education will be evidence-based, it may be more important to consider: why is there a need for evidence? Who defines what counts as evidence and what does not count as evidence? Who verifies the evidence as valid and appropriate for the associated purposes and contexts? Who will use the evidence and how? And how does evidence impact the collection, analysis and use of student data?
  • Data is collected, analysed and used to inform or support pedagogy and learning. This data is collected throughout a student’s learning journey and ultimately tracks if students succeed or fail:
    • Descriptive: what happened/is happening
    • Diagnostic: why did it happen
    • Predictive: what will happen
    • Prescriptive: how can we make it happen
  • Questions are needed as to what data is needed to describe, understand, predict and prescribe the learning journey. Some data we have already, some data we need obtain still. But ultimately we should be asking what data do students themselves need to make better informed choices and take ownership of their learning journey.
  • The understanding of learning analytics as a process of collecting evidence and measuring success or efficiency is shaped by our understanding and descriptions of students and learning. For example, are students sick/broken and need to be healed? (no!).
  • What is the impact of learning analytics? More successful/satisfied students, more effective teaching or better utilisation of resources. For learning analytics to succeed, evidence is needed, but is this evidence there?
  • Evidence is: Contested (evidence may not align with values or beliefs), Political (evidence may exist, but the political will to take action may not), Incomplete and Fragile.
  • For several years, learning analytics has been touted as bringing about a revolution in education. Yet the “revolution” has not occurred.

Provocations for thinking about evidence

  • How do we think about evidence in a world saturated with information? (what to ignore vs what is worth knowing)
  • How do we think about evidence in a world of fake news and alternative facts?
  • How do we think about evidence in a world where “knowing” is distorted and manipulated to create biased and distorted findings?
  • How do we think about evidence in a world where “what we know” is increasingly determined by algorithms and automated agents (Facebook, Google, Amazon)?
  • How do we think about evidence in a world where “knowing” does not imply action?
  • How do we think about evidence in a world where “knowing” does not mean we have the capability or resources to respond?
  • How do we collect evidence in a world where effectiveness/efficiency does not mean an intervention was appropriate, moral or ethical?
  • How do we present evidence in a world where it will only be considered if it is practical and feasible?


  • Learning analytics as moral practice: Just because you can collect their data, does not mean that you have to.
  • Change the narrative: whose story is it anyway? Analytics could become our voiceover of the student experience… instead of listening to students.
  • It is also our story and we need to respond… the obligation to act.
  • Recognise the political nature of data and evidence.
  • Consider the differences between correlation and causation in complex and dynamic systems.
  • Oversight and accountability.
  • Yet we cannot NOT afford to collect, analyse and use student data.


There was lots to think about from this presentation, but I think a key take away for me was to (re)consider and be reminded that as educators, we need to focus on: what data do students themselves need to make better informed choices and take ownership of their learning journey?


ICDE Conference Notes

Most of the time at the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning (16-19 October 2017 in Toronto, Canada), I was part of the excellent Global Doctoral Consortium track, so I did not attend many of the other sessions. However, here are my notes from the plenary sessions:

Emerging Pedagogies and Designs for Online Learning (Presenter: Laura Czerniewicz)

  • There are different issues for students and lecturers, for example, students want lectures to be recorded, but lecturers do not.
  • Students should be encouraged to partake in socially engaged learning and move to collaborative learning.
  • Pedagogy refers to the relationship between teaching, learning and the discipline. Online modes provoke changes in pedagogical practices and changes in behaviours, including cultural changes. This includes not only what is taught, but how learning happens, through the co-construction of knowledge (a plurality of knowledge).
  • Emerging pedagogies are:
    • Highly emotive – Change can be confusing and involves unlearning and relearning, going online can either be alienating or empowering.
    • Deeply political – involves politics and power, student agency, contestation between different constructs of who students are, supporting heterogeneous students at scale.
  • Questions for educators to consider:
    • How do the power dynamics manifest as teaching and leaning goes online?
    • What is the student experience like and what are the implications of the changes?

Expanding Access, Openness and Flexibility (Presenter: Asha Kanwar)

  • Access for whom? Enrolments in tertiary education have doubled, there has been increase in participation of women, yet need to be more inclusive for students with disabilities and support students in resource poor communities
  • Can openness enhance access? Many people cannot afford tertiary education, but can help with affordability, such as the use of OER to reduce the costs of materials for students, openness can thrive in closed systems.
  • Questions to consider:
    • Are we more flexible today?
    • Are you able to use technologies to offer flexible learning?
  • Challenges: there are gender gaps in mobile access, mobile data costs are expensive. Are there ways to make learning resource neutral?
  • Equity and inclusion will not happen by themselves, institutions need to embrace open practices and technology must be used in a context-appropriate way.

Changing Models of Assessment (Presenter: Mark Milliron)

  • The challenge we are facing is ensuring diverse students becoming successful (only half of students finish).
  • We are suffering from assessment challenges such as changing learning models, learning analytics.
  • We need to look at who learners are – more non-traditional students, part-time, transfer across institutions.
  • How are students learning? Moved from a focus on traditional time/space sets, now focus on competency development, competency-based learning, need to consider the affective domain (how they feel about learning), blending learning models, being flexible.
  • Why are students succeeding? Educators think that the big challenges are academic, but most of the reasons why students drop-out are related to family issues, psycho-social issues, managing life and logistics, different kinds of models.
  • Need to focus on policy and structural change – to help diverse students succeed, and think about how students learn.

New Delivery Tools and Resources for Learning (Presenter: Neil Fassina)

  • Adopting Overhead projectors and whiteboards were easy changes for educators, who then had to move to projectors which was a more difficult shift due to technologies involved.
  • Issues with using mobile phones in class and distractions, yet provide potential.
  • Shift from distance learning to online learning – etexts, social networks etc.
  • Commoditisation of information –  the university is no longer the cradle of knowledge.
  • Questions to consider:
    • Does a technology enhance engagement, outcomes or student success?
    • What is the role of the Open University?

Re-designing Institutional Business Models (Presenter: Stephen Murgatroyd)

  • The boiling frog metaphor in education – there are pockets of innovation, but not wholescale changes.
  • Institutions are rethinking their value propositions (either because they have to or because of government directives), Open Universities struggle financially and ideologically. Universities rely on student fees to live.
  • Reimagine business processes – potential power for analytics, unbundling of services, degrees or certificates offered through MOOCs and OER.
  • Unconstraining of learning supports – peer to peer assessment and support, machine learning support and assessment (AI).
  • Hyperscaling of global platforms for learning worldwide.
  • Seeking out new markets e.g. seniors seeking out learning opportunities.
  • Institutional business model constraints – neo-liberal agenda, austerity measures, accountability and regulation.
  • Questions to consider:
    • How do we engage faculty?
    • Is collaboration better than competition?

Tomorrow’s Learning Platform: How are technology and learning support systems developing to enable engaged and effective learning? (Presenter: Phil Hill)

  • There are two prevailing views:
    • Distance education and technology in education has been viewed as the same thing as F2F: just put it online / distance. That is the majority case.
    • On the other hand, there is a view is that everything in education is going to change because of technologies and developments.
  • Learning Management Systems are not dead, there is steady growth.
  • In the mean time:
    • Look to provide personal tutoring to each student based on their needs
    • Use video: students like to be able to pause, rewind or skip video
  • Question to consider:
    • Will educators take advantage of emerging technologies?

Making Hard Choices: Using Evidence and Data to Make Educational Technology Decisions (Presenter: Fiona Hollands)

  • Consider the Cost-benefit analysis and cost effectiveness of using educational technologies.
  • How do educators select educational technologies for teaching?
  • Educators live in an echo-chamber – talk to people outside of higher education.
  • Tension between starting with the pedagogical need (the rational model) and looking for tools or starting with a tool and looking for applications (the garbage can model). A happy medium is somewhere in between – for example, some universities have sandboxes to play with new technologies.
  • Most decision makers do not look for research when making decisions – but there is not much available that is not is tool-specific. Additionally technologies change over time and research does not always fit context-specific needs.
  • So decision-makers look for local research (demos, sandboxes, pilots) for own contexts.
  • However, many institutions do not check whether the use of the technology affects outcomes (such as having a control group).
  • Importantly, institutions need to have a roadmap of where they are going and to involve all stakeholders (including students).
  • Question to consider:
    • How do you know technological choices improve student outcomes?

Perspectives on Innovative Learning Experiences that Make Higher Education More Accessible and Achievable for Students (Presenter: Randy Best)

  • Universities need to consider alternative credentials and degree options, taking advantage of technologies.
  • Providing greater choice and flexibility for students is key.
  • Need to design for online delivery and provide a less linear model.
  • More accessible education affects student debt (do not need to borrow to go to university)
  • Changing students: More diverse students, more mature students
  • Questions to consider:
    • How will new credentials work? Will they replace traditional degrees?
    • What is the impact on faculty?

Digital Transformation and the New Pedagogy for Online Learning (Presenter: Simon Nelson)

  • People tend to overestimate the short term impact of technologies and underestimate long term impact. Provided the example of the BBC and online viewing of content (TV and on demand programming).
  • FutureLearn is an Open University startup.
  • Considerations for learning platforms:
    • Platforms need to work from a mobile device
    • Platforms need to look good (high quality user experience)
    • High quality content
    • Needs to be collaborative (join a conversation)
  • Question to consider:
    • Does your learning platform meet the needs of your students?

ICDE Conference 2017 Presentations

Last week I attended the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning in Toronto, Canada. I will share a follow up post later that talks more generally about the conference, but below are the two presentations I gave at the conference, one as part of the main programme and one in the Global Doctoral Consortium track. These presentations allowed me to share some of the results from my PhD research.

Becoming Seamless Learners: ODL Students’ Use of Multiple Devices

Moving to Seamless Learning: Multiple Devices and Changing Study Habits

Pushing the Boundaries of Higher Education Conference

UOC organised a conference entitled “Pushing the boundaries of Higher Education: Challenging traditional models with innovative and creative practices” on 3 October at the CaixaForum in Barcelona. Several international speakers were invited to share their thoughts on innovative and creative practices in higher education. You can read their thought pieces at the associated conference site.  The PhD students were also fortunate to share a round table at the event to discuss our research and our responses to the conference speakers. I have summarised the main points from the speakers below:

Theme 1: Fostering Innovative Practices and Self-Regulated Learners

Heutagogy (Lisa Blaschke)

  • A challenge educators face is employer dissatisfaction with graduates not having the necessary skills. Employers want autonomous or self-motivated graduates to manage complexity. Yet educators prefer traditional instruction styles. Challenges for students include rising education costs.
  • Heutagogy is self-determined learning, a learner-centred approach based on principles of agency, self-efficiency, reflection and meta-cognition. Learners are at the centre, they control their learning paths and outcomes. When combined with social media, learners created Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and develop personal learning networks. Examples of social media use include curation (Scoopit), reflection blogs, participation in MOOCs, and sharing (Instagram and WhatsApp).
  • This involves students being involved in: what is learned and how, and the assessment is decided together with the educator. The educator guides and scaffolds the process. This approach is suited to open and distance learning.
  • Challenges to adopting heutagogy: there is greater responsibility required for students to be autonomous, it is difficult to return to passive/formal pedagogies, a fear of loss of control by the educator, assessment becomes more difficult, as rely on some self-assessment.
  • Benefits of heutagogy: Improve critical thinking, reflection, engagement, promote independence and self-confidence.
  • Link to thought piece.

Innovations and Traditions in Teaching and Learning (Tony Bates)

  • Challenges facing higher education include: a shift from content delivery to higher order skills, need for expertise in pedagogy, technology and subject matter, increasing diversity in students, increasing costs of higher education.
  • What is meant by innovation? Although the meaning varies, it can be considered the use of technology to solve a particular problem.
  • Variables to consider: spread of academic disciplines, reasons for the innovation (main reasons are to increase access or to provide greater flexibility), based on research or best practice (most innovations did not consider research or best practice), the technologies and pedagogies used (most innovations did not use leading edge technologies or pedagogies, focused on lecture capture, web conferencing, LMS, mobile apps, social media), the outcomes that are sought (only ½ of studies had changes in the teaching approach to develop knowledge management, critical thinking, problem solving or teamwork), the diffusion of the innovation (most innovations did not spread outside the department).
  • The use of technology needs to be combined with innovative teaching methods.
  • Link to thought piece.

Theme 2: Switching from Content Delivery to Epistemic Practices

Learning in MOOCs: The [Un]democratisation of Learning (Alison Littlejohn)

  • MOOCs seen as disruptors and democratising forces in online education, characterised by scale and diversity of learning. But while MOOCs do widen access, they tend to attract those who are already well-educated. They tend to be designed for those who know how to learn (not scaffolded) and conform to traditional norms (not own path) with the aid of an expert teacher.
  • Learners engage differently in MOOCs, not all aim to complete, some only want to be present or to have the experience or only to learn about a specific concept. Therefore, we need to rethink the metrics.
  • There are other tensions in MOOCs. There is a tension between learner autonomy and conforming with norms/passive learning. There is a tension between observing the activity of learning that occurs within the MOOC platform, while students learn in their own environments e.g. social media or in physical meetings. Traces offer fragments of how learners learn and only provide fractured views of progress against learners’ own goals. Many MOOCs are designed for students who are able to learn, excluding those who are not autonomous learners. The extent of help provided by learning analytics is questionable (focus on what is easy to measure rather than what is critical for learning).
  • Competencies to consider: analyse personal motivation, goal setting, strategic planning and learning progress, help learners plan and manage time.
  • In summary, supporting learners learning how to learn is complex and resource intensive. The challenge is not to think about MOOCs as a product of consumption.
  • Link to thought piece.

Content is King – Welcome to Tubeocracy! (Yishay Mor)

  • Teachers are failing students and institutions are failing students, so students turn to unregulated sources of knowledge
  • Postulates, we live in an era of:
    • Pervasive data abundance – big data dominating lives, potential efficiency, massification and personalisation. Data literacy is thus important. However ethical, cultural and philosophical questions are raised.
    • Pervasive information abundance: Good teachers cannot be replaced by machines, good teachers provide questions, not answers.
    • Transient procedural knowledge: knowledge of “how to” changes.
    • Eroding epistemic knowledge: flooded with content and “anything goes”.
  • Future
    • Hybridity: transcend disciplines & learning structures for ill-defined, authentic tasks
    • Empowerment: emphasise autonomy and independence
    • Criticality: critical and reflective mindset
  • Link to thought piece.

Future of Education or Future of Learning (Philip Schmidt)

  • Learning involves acquiring and developing skills, knowledge and competencies, while education is the system to enable learning
  • Lifelong learning focuses on learning over a lifetime, while lifewide learning focuses on the learning contexts, places and spaces.
  • Peer2Peer University is an example of lifelong and lifewide learning that originally provided online support spaces, but shifted focus because it was improving quality, but not access. Now they work with public libraries to create learning circles in local communities. It provides a mix between global and online and small and local.
  • Pressures: sustainability and financial models, preparing generations for significant problems such as climate change, preparing to create fulfilling societies e.g. the automation of jobs.
  • There is a difference between content of learning and practice of learning. Creative learning involves the 4 Ps: projects, peers, passion and play.
  • Link to video.


Theme 3: Next Generation Learning Environments

The LMS is dead: thoughts on the NGDLE (Jim Groom)

  • Personal APIs – individuals control over who has access to their online data.
  • LMSs/VLEs remain central to future but through decoupling the pieces, integration through APIs and LTIs (learning tools integration for single sign-on). But this is not revolutionary, it is embedding scripts in the LMS. Many personalisation and analytics are 3rd party commercial services that depend on data collection. Web platforms exist to capture and monetise data. Technologies in closed systems create roadblocks for educators and students.
  • Who manages and controls our “life bits” (the digital bits we share)?
  • Link to thought piece.

Interventions (Brian Lamb)

  • LMS designs are teacher and course centric. Often used with the metaphor of lego blocks, which were applied to learning objects too.
  • Calls for interoperability to promote open seamless ecosystems for personalised learning experiences.
  • Ideas: digital sanctuary in practice, digital and data literacy, the idea of SPLOTS (simplest possible online tools) and more ethical online teaching.
  • Link to thought piece.

Theme 4: Leveraging the affordances of technology and learning design

Value-based Vision-driven Learning Design (Rikke Norgard)

  • Provision of systems where students can take courses when they want, at a pace they want, with auto-assessment.
  • Universities were seen as a factory for society’s workforce, therefore focused on competencies, rankings and utility. But there is a push for academic citizenship. And a push against walled gardens and the transmission of content and marketisation of education. There is a move to co-creation, collectiveness, citizenship, and critical-creativity. An opportunity to connect educational values and teacher visions with pedagogical principles and design patterns and learning experiences
  • Focus on the problem and the vision, the learning experience, pedagogy, learning activities and patterns as well as the materials and tools to achieve learning outcomes.
  • Link to thought piece.

Digital Networks (Terry Anderson)

  • Higher education continues to sustain a hidden curriculum (norms, values and beliefs). There is a call to use the real world, rather than campus as context for learning. Educational experiences now extend to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. But most teachers do not use social tools (either inside or outside the LMS) such as blogs or wikis and focus on the administrative tools. Educators do not adopt technologies until they see a perceived benefit and have the self-efficacy to believe efforts will be successful.
  • Issues to consider: a networking system and digital competence
  • Link to thought piece.


Upcoming MOOCs of Interest (Sep-Nov)

The following upcoming MOOCs may be of interest:

An Introduction to Gamification through Case Studies (Miriadax) offered by the UOC by Daniel Riera and Joan Arnedo. Topics include games and elements, design of games, gamification in health and education.
Starts 12 September (5 weeks). Language: Spanish.

Introduction to Open Education (edX) by David Wiley and George Siemens. Topics include open educational resources (OER), open pedagogy and practice, open knowledge and open research.
Starts 1 October (6 weeks). Language: English.

Digitizing Higher Education (edX) by George Siemens, Kelvin Bentley, Shirley Alexander. Topics include prominent digital technologies impacting higher education,new models of teaching and learning enabled by digital technologies, making sense of organizational and learning data, creating a digital strategy for your university,monitoring and tracking your progress toward digitization.
Starts 30 October (6 weeks). Language: English.

The Digitalisation of Universities: UFN Meeting Part 2

This is the second post about the meeting of the Universities of the Future Network (UFN) held at FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany, 11-13 July 2017. The theme for the meeting was “The Digitalization of the Universities of the Future”. The meeting consisted of 6 key themes that were discussed and debated (see part 1 here). This post looks at the last three themes. The facilitators of each theme were asked to discuss the key trends and issues as well as provide suggestions for policy and strategy development.

Theme 4: Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open Educational Resources (OER) have the potential to decrease the development costs of tuition, both for universities and for students in the form of, for example, open textbooks. However, OERs are not widely used and progress towards large-scale adoption is slow. OERs were preceded by the concept of Learning Objects which were a focus for researchers from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. This represented a great demand for the then emerging online learning that required online (and reusable) learning resources. However, reusability represents a paradox, as the pedagogical value of a learning object (highly contextualised in the original setting) diminishes as the potential for reusability (ability to be used in numerous settings) increases, and vice-versa. This potential for reuse also varies according to the academic level (primary, secondary/technical and tertiary). Universities have been the main developers of OER, with little production at other levels. From the mid-2000s, the term Open Educational Resources (OER) gained more traction. Openness became valued as resources could be made freely available on the internet with as few restrictions as possible on the use of resources. The adoption of licenses such as Creative Commons that protect intellectual copyright and allow for easy reuse has enabled dissemination. The aim of OER is to share knowledge and equalise access to knowledge worldwide. One of the challenges within the area of OER is the main focus on producing or developing content (content being seen as knowledge) and less of a focus on how content is used for learning. Key issues for promoters of OER in developed and developing countries include raising awareness and promotion, building communities and networking, sustainability and capacity development.

OERs exist within a wider open movement that includes open access, open source software, open badges and MOOCs. OERs seem to have been left behind in the preoccupation with the development of MOOCs in the early 2010s, however the early hype of the MOOC phenomenon has since waned. One of the challenges for OER production is that the production of learning materials (open or not) is generally not recognised nor rewarded in universities, with research more valued for promotion and career advancement. Another challenge is that there is often a disconnect between universities publically supporting OER initiatives, while discourses and practices within institutions do not change.

Channels and strategies for change

  • Recognition for teaching activities in addition to research activities
  • Recognition of the development of OERs for career promotion
  • Awards for innovative OER production to promote quality and sharing
  • Adoption of Creative Commons licenses
  • Promotion of peer-review for OERs, similar to peer-review mechanisms for research

Theme 5: University Business Models and Value Propositions

One of the functions of universities is to develop students to be able to access employment opportunities and build social capital (thus improving quality of life). There is thus economic value to a university degree as graduates earn more and have access to certain employment opportunities. Universities equip students with advanced skills (teaching) and further human knowledge and understanding of the world (research). However, universities face pressure to stay competitive and relevant when education costs exceed inflation and revenues are decreasing. Social mobility and emerging technologies are other challenges for education. Therefore universities need to consider the value proposition they offer to students.

There are different forms of colleges and universities who target different groups, have different research and teaching orientations and cost/revenue models. This ranges from elite universities that are highly selective and research intensive, to community colleges that are open to local communities and learning focused. Universities may also be privately or publically funded. Different types of universities will require different value propositions. However, business models need to focus more than on financial operations. One approach is the Value Proposition Canvas that focuses universities to focus on students (the customers) and thereafter on strategies and revenue models. This canvas enables universities to analyse student needs, taking into account pains (obstacles, risks, negative outcomes) and gains (positive outcomes). Using a value proposition framework, universities need to consider:

  • The services which the value proposition of a degree is built around (the bundle of services that addresses the needs of targeted student profiles)
  • The ‘pain relievers’ outlining how universities alleviate student burdens in a changing society (pains to reduce or eliminate before, during and after degree completion)
  • The ‘gains creators’ outlining how universities generate positive outcomes and benefits from the services they provide to students

The value proposition needs to link to the overall business model: key activities, resources and partners; customer relationships and channels for different segments; and a sound cost structure and revenue model. Rather than focus on a traditional model of expecting students to enrol because a degree is necessary in the labour market, universities should focus on what students need to thrive in a fast paced and changing labour market. The focus of each institution’s value proposition will depend on the type of university and where it wants to be in the future, but universities need to evolve to meet a clearly defined value proposition within the constraints of business models, resources and capabilities.

Theme 6: Virtual Networks: Research and Partnerships

Operating in a growing global marked has a crucial impact on shaping the missions, strategic planning and operational practices of universities. The global market and digital technologies have led to both increased competition as well as collaborative ventures. Virtual networks between universities are increasing. There are several themes affecting research and partnership in a digital age:

  • University rankings: different league tables influence research planning and undertakings.
  • World class universities: the globalisation of higher education has led to universities that incorporate high levels of international students and professors
  • International funders: UNESCO, the World Bank, OECD, the European Union and other networks fund international and local research, where researchers are encouraged to work with institutions in different countries
  • Government funding: National or regional governments provide funds that encourage collaborations at a national or regional level
  • Research Centres: Outside of universities, researchers can operate with international or national research centres
  • Research Dissemination: The open access movement encourages the widespread dissemination of scholarly research

Research is not the only form of partnership between institutions, although it is more common than teaching activities. However many universities collaborate to provide joint-degrees or participate in international MOOC platforms. Other institutions work together to facilitate global campuses in different countries.

Policy Channels and Strategies for Change

  • Policies are needed at international, national and institutional levels that facilitate virtual networks and collaboration in research and teaching activities
  • While most higher education systems operate at a national level, universities need to enhance cooperation internationally
  • Universities need to encourage research undertaken across disciplines and across institutions (enabled by virtual networks)
  • University leaders need to carefully evaluate which international and virtual networks to participate in
  • Universities need to prepare for growing numbers of international students and global campuses, as well as facilitating the movement of students between universities