My Interview in the University Research Newsletter

UOC publishes a monthly Research and Innovation newsletter. For the December edition, a research staff member interviewed me about my doctoral journey so far at UOC. Here is the link to the interview:

Innovative Pedagogy 2016

The Innovative Pedagogy 2016 report explores new forms of teaching and learning in a digital world, and looks at 10 innovations that have not yet influenced post-school education. This is the fifth annual report produced by the Open University in the UK. This year the report was produced in conjunction with the National Institute of Education in Singapore. The 10 innovations are listed in the order of possible widespread adoption.

  1. Learning through social media: People use social media such as Twitter and Facebook for informal learning. A range of learning opportunities is available such as access to expert advice, encounter challenges, defend opinions and amend ideas in the face of criticism. However, learners may also encounter inaccurate information, biased comments and hostile responses.
  2. Productive failure: A method of teaching that gives students complex problems to solve and attempt to form their own solutions before receiving instruction. By struggling and sometimes failing to find a solution, students gain a deeper understanding of the structure of the problem and its elements.
  3. Teachback: One person (a teacher, an expert, or another student) explains their knowledge of a topic to a learner. Then that learner attempts to explain, or teach back, what they have understood. This helps learners to understand a topic or problem by reframing it in their own terms and explain what they have learned in a way that is understandable.
  4. Design thinking: Solving problems using the methods and thinking processes used by designers e.g. experimenting, creating and prototyping models, soliciting feedback, and redesigning.
  5. Learning from the crowd: Amateurs and experts exchange ideas, generate and discuss content, solve problems, vote for the best solutions, and raise funds. A classic example is Wikipedia.  Possible applications of crowdsourcing in education include collecting and curating teaching resources, letting students share and discuss their work online, and providing opinions and data for use in projects and research studies.
  6. Learning through video games: The focus can be on games designed for education, the use of game elements in workplace training, simulations such as flight trainers, or on social benefit. However, it is difficult to balance learning with fun.
  7. Formative analytics:  Support learners to reflect on what they have learned, what can be improved, which goals can be achieved, and how they should move forward. Focusing on analytics for learning, rather than analytics of learning, can empower each learner through timely, personalised, and automated feedback.
  8. Learning for the future: Learners need to be educated not just for today but for the future. They should acquire skills and dispositions that will enable them to cope with an uncertain life and a complex work environment. Learning for the future builds human capacity to learn.
  9. Translanguaging: In a globalised world, many learners study in and speak a language that is not their mother tongue. Translanguaging refers to moving flexibly and fluidly between languages. Pedagogical strategies engage the language abilities of bilingual students in teaching and learning, for example by using bilingual partners, organising international collaboration, searching the internet in multiple languages and accessing a wide range of online communities and resources.
  10. Blockchain for learning: A blockchain stores digital events securely on every user’s computer rather than in a central database (the technology behind digital currencies like Bitcoin).  Blockchain learning explores how this approach could be applied to education in which achievements are recorded by a wider range of participants. A blockchain could be used as a permanent shared record of intellectual achievement.

An interesting list of possible innovations in education. Surprisingly, there does not seem to be any overlap with the list of innovations in the 2015 report. The report provides a mix of approaches that are not new, but not widely implemented in formal education (video games, social media, design thinking), together with non-education innovations with potential for learning (blockchain) and some creative pedagogical approaches (teachback, productive failure).


Sharples, M., de Roock , R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi, C-K, McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., Wong, L. H. (2016). Innovating Pedagogy 2016: Open University Innovation Report 5. Milton Keynes: The Open University.



Scholarly Publishing with Open Praxis

I participated in a webinar organised by the ICDE Global Doctoral Consortium (GDC) on 7 November about Scholarly Publishing. The webinar was presented by Dr Inés Gil-Jaurena, Editor of Open Praxis. These are my notes from the webinar.

Scholarly publishing and contributions to the scientific community

  • There are different motivations for publishing that need to be considered: individual (advancement) , institutional (recognition), funder and the broader scientific community (build upon results).
  • Another consideration is the intended audience: local or international, specialised or general.
  • Different options for publication are available: books, journals, blogs and others.
  • Journal publications can be in different languages, open access or not, short papers or long papers, theoretical or empirical.

The PhD Process and Publication

  • PhD Programmes have specific requirements regarding scholarly publishing. Some require publication before the thesis is presented, while others only want publications after the thesis is approved.
  • PhDs can be obtained via a research report (thesis) or via a collection of publications.
  • Other dissemination events during a PhD include conferences and seminars, and the publication of articles and book chapters.
  • Check your programme requirements carefully.

Journal Selection

  • Consider the topic/area (matching your topic) and the language and international scope.
  • The Impact Factor and impact in social media are important metrics, some PhD programmes specify which journals are preferred or required. Another consideration is where the journal is indexed and the abstract can be found.
  • Review the quality and history of the journal: check previous issues, the peer-review process, who is on the editorial board, who is the publisher etc.
  • Other considerations include: open access, acceptance rate, time until publication, electronic follow up regarding progress, licensing and copyright, publication and communication processes etc.

About the Open Praxis Journal

  • Open Praxis publishes 4 issues per year, about 35 articles (research articles and innovative practice papers)
  • The acceptance rate is between 50-60%.
  • Normally it takes 1 to 2 months for peer review and 4-6 months until publication.
  • PhD students are welcome to register as journal reviewers.
  • Listed in the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI) from Web of Science.

Preparing for Publication

  • Check the journal guidelines regarding: length, structure, preferred methodologies used, reference styles, ethical guidelines. Also consider the submission of supplementary documents and data.
  • Many articles are rejected before peer review because the article does not match the scope of the journal or the journal guidelines were not followed.
  • Review before submission: language and content review. Make use of your supervisor and fellow students.

Editorial process: from submission to publication

  • Submission: Register in the journal website, follow the submission checklist.Fill in the required metadata: author, affiliation, ORCID, abstract, keywords, references, etc. Submit the full paper.
  • Editor first screening: Reject or send to peer-review.
  • Peer-review process: Two reviewers per paper (sometimes three), it takes about 2 months. The Editor then makes a decision: accept, minor revision, major revision with second round review, reject.
  • After acceptance: Check metadata, add acknowledgments, proof-correction and finally, publication.
  • After publication, authors and publishers disseminate through social media, direct email. Article is disseminated in Google scholar, ORCID, institutional repositories, and academic networks.




Celebrating Teaching at Unisa

The 2016 Unisa and Teaching and Learning Festival, held 20-21st October, aimed to celebrate teaching and learning at Unisa. It was also an opportunity to hear from the nominees for the Unisa teaching awards. The theme of the festival was to celebrate the new generation student. I found this to be quite a strange theme, as Unisa has a diverse student body profile that incorporates a range of age groups. I’m also not sure that there is such a “thing” as a new-generation student. I suspect the context also has to do with the move from more traditional distance education towards making more use of online learning. The timing of the festival also had the very pressing issue of #FeesMustFall hanging over the proceedings.

The keynote speaker was Koffi Kouakou (from Wits University) who pointed out that teaching and learning go hand in hand, and that you can only be a good teacher if you learn well. He adapted an expression from EM Forster to say “How do I know what I learn until I learn what I teach”. He also emphasized the role of storytelling in teaching and encouraged teachers to develop the art of storytelling. Prof Rosemary Moeketsi spoke about the need for the decolonialisation and transformation of curricula. A frequent topic in the festival was how to better support students in the South African context and focus on what is relevant for students. Another keynote speaker, Prof Paul Prinsloo from Unisa, encouraged lecturers to make use of newer technologies such as learning analytics in a caring way to improve support to students in a way that does not add to teacher time. e.g. a tracking system that sends automated reminders (email or sms) when students do not submit an assignment.

Although the main part of the festival comprised short presentations from the nominees for the teaching awards from various colleges, teaching and learning support staff also presented on the support provided by their departments.

Here are some of the points that stood out for me from the nominees’ presentations:

  • Team approach to course design: In the Unisa approach, teaching is a collaborative process. Not only do lecturers sometimes work together to develop courses, they also get input from other stakeholders to improve the quality of the course. This includes members of their departments, industry representatives, course designers and others.
  • Incremental improvements: Many of the presentations highlighted small but meaningful changes that are made in their courses each year, rather than a completely innovative approach. Put together, a series of small incremental improvements can make a major difference to students.
  • Use of multimedia and OERs: Although not widely used yet, lecturers are experimenting more with the use of short podcasts, videos and animations that they develop themselves. They are also increasingly making use of existing open content out there to enhance their courses e.g. YouTube videos.
  • Use of instant messaging communication tools: Several lecturers have been using WhatsApp as a communication platform to engage with their students and go to “where the conversation is”. This also enables lecturers to stand back and let other students answer questions first etc.
  • Formative assessments: Many lecturers are encouraging students to use online self-assessments as part of the formative assessment process.
  • eTutors:  More and more courses at 1st and 2nd year level are making use of e-tutors to support the teaching process.

Congratulations to the award winners, the awarding of the teaching prizes closed the festival.

Top Learning Tools for Education

Once again, Jane Hart of C4LPT has compiled an annual list of top learning tools. This year, over 1000 learning professionals across the world from both education and business contributed to the 10th Annual Survey of Learning Tools. This year three sub-lists were made for personal learning, workplace learning and education. I will focus on the education list that covers tools used in primary, secondary and tertiary education. I have grouped the Top 20 Tools in the Education list according to the 4 categories used:

Content Development Tools

1. YouTube
3. PowerPoint
7. Prezi
10. Word
12. Screencast-O-Matic
13. WordPress
16. Google Forms

Social Tools

2. Google Drive
5. Twitter
6. Dropbox
15. Facebook
17. Skype
18. Padlet
19. Google Apps (for Education)

Instructional Tools

8. Kahoot
9. PowToon
11. Moodle
20. Camtasia

Personal Tools

4. Google Search
14. Google Chrome

Most of the tools listed above would be on my list as well. The only tool I am not familiar with is Padlet (an online noticeboard). My university last year implemented Google Apps for Education which means that I make more use of these apps (and forced me to switch from Dropbox to Google Drive). Reviewing the longer list of 100 tools, some of the tools that I would rate higher would be SlideShare (21), Audacity (26) Quizlet (33), Wikipedia (34), Scoopit (57). I would also add Mendeley (or similar) to the list.


Seminar: Future of eLearning

UOC organised a face-to-face and online research seminar on The future of e-learning on 16 September 2016, presented by Dr Terry Anderson. These are my notes from the seminar:

Part A: Future of eLearning


  • There are many predictions of the future of elearning, but we wanted to look at the implications for future learning.
  • Definition: E-learning is a combination of methods, structures and networked electronic tools orchestrated into systems that bring about, or are intended to bring about, learning.
  • E-learning will be in ascendancy in the next decade.
  • For traditional universities moving into e-learning, most of the takers are current students, not distance students.
  • There is growth in investments in elearning.
  • Number of MOOCs have kept increasing, and more are being offered as self-paced.
  • eLearning is not only institutional, almost everything online is an opportunity for learning, either deliberately (Wikipedia, Youtube) or as a side-effect (email, Facebook).
  • Online, almost everyone can be a teacher and a learner.

Reviewing the Edinburgh Scenarios

The Edinburgh Scenarios (Bell & Stewart, 2004)

  • Virtually vanilla – move online, but institutions and pedagogies do not change. Examples: blended learning, LMS, recorded lectures, MOOCs.
  • Back to the future – rejection of elearning, and return to face-to-face. Examples: ban of mobile devices.
  • Web of confidence – expand and enhance opportunities for formal and informal learning. Examples: Wikipedia, Learning analytics
  • U Choose – move beyond schools and universities, focus on own learning. Examples: DIY learning, makerspaces, Youtube, open badges.

Part B: Generations of Distance Education Pedagogy

Three Generations of Distance Education

  • Cognitive-behaviourial (instructivist)
  • Social constructivist
  • Connectivist

The Fourth Generation of Distance Education

  • Learning analytics – traces of learning activity to help teachers and students
  • Collective technologies – the crowd e.g. social media
  • Artificial intelligence – mimic aspects of human learning
  • Disaggregated tools – move away from LMS to multiple tools
  • Mobility and device diversity
  • Internet of Things
  • Virtual and augmented reality – mobile apps
  • 3D printing

Elements and characteristics of the next generation

  • Focussed heavily on the individual learning
  • Distributed: technically, socially and organisationally
  • Crowd-driven and emergent
  • Integrated, just-in-time and authentic
  • Courses will play a less significant role
  • Learning will be divorced from accreditation

Threats from the Future

  • Open vs closed – open access, OERs
  • Loss of mind, the loss of soul – affected by technologies
  • Lack of adoption by formal education


  • Challenging times for open universities – focus on research on teaching and learning within disciplines, not disciplinary research
  • The future will be something like the past – low adoption rates by instructional education
  • Adjacent possibilities of new ideas and technologies always bring unanticipated and emergent opportunities and challenges
  • However, institutions may provide the stability necessary for human scale adaptation to technology induced hyper-change

Seminar: A critical review of online learning theories and research methods

UOC organised a research seminar on Theories for learning with emerging technologies on 15 September 2016, presented by Dr Terry Anderson. These are my notes from the seminar:

Part A: Theories to Guide Online Research

Need for theories: necessary for scholarship, extend past learning, project to future research and practice

Traditional theories of educational technology

  • Presentational view – present content using quality presentation – xMOOCs, YouTube, Khan Academy
  • Performance-tutoring – present contest but also test and reinforce – cognitive behavioural theories, instructional systems design
  • Epistemic-Engagement view – social learning – social constructivism, peer learning
    • Online Social Constructivism – active engagement, net presence (building trust), multiple perspectives and sustained dialogue, scaffolding, authentic tasks (relevance), problems are ill-structured and open-ended.
    • Challenges of social constructivism: group-based, pace and time limited, teacher-controlled?, little room for introverted, individual learners.

Distance Education Theories

  • Transactional Distance Theory (Moore) – structure and dialogue and learner autonomy
  • Theory of Instructional Dialogue (Caspi & Gorski)
  • Community of Inquiry (Garrison et al) – Social presence, teaching presence, cognititve presence

Business and Organisational Theories

  • Systems theory – components of distance education, beyond teaching and learning
  • Complexity theory – parts of systems affect each other, emergence and unanticipated events, importance of context

Newer Theories

  • Heutagogy (Hase & Kenyon)– self determined learning
  • Connectivism (Downes & Siemens) – knowledge distributed across a network of connections.
    • Connectivist learning requires network effects, persistence and accessibility (extends beyond the course)
    • Challenges – requires net literacy, openness can be scary, new roles for students and teachers, can be manic.
    • Social aggregation makes a difference – individuals  (behaviourism, cognitivism) > groups  (social constructivism) > networks/sets (share an interest, but not necessarily a social connection) (connectivism)

Part B: Paradigms & Online Learning Research

Research Paradigm

  • Philosophical/theoretical framework of a discipline or common set of beliefs about how problems can be understood and addressed, a worldview
  • Informs questions, literature and methodology
  • Paradigm: Ontology + Epistemology + Methodology
    • Ontology: view of reality and what exists e.g. realist, critical realist, relativist
    • Epistemology: our relationship with the knowledge we are discovering/uncovering – knowledge governed by laws of nature (objective) or interpreted by individuals (subjective)
    • Methodology: how you go about finding knowledge (quantitative, qualitative)
  • Types: Positivism, Constructivist, Critical, Pragmatist

Research Paradigms – Positivist

  • Ontogoloy: There is an objective reality, we can understand it through the laws by which it is governed
  • Epistemology: Scientific discourse derived from positivism and realism
  • Method: Experimental, deduction, randomised control trials, only measures what you can with scientific accuracy, based on hypotheses
  • Research questions: what? How much? Relationship between? Causes?
  • Evaluation: validity and reliability
  • Examples: Community of Inquiry content analysis, Meta-analysis


Research Paradigms – Constructivist / Interpretivist

  • Ontogoloy: World and knowledge created by social and contextual understanding
  • Epistemology: Understand a unique person’s view
  • Method: Qualitative (narratives, interviews, observations, ethnography, case study)
  • Research questions: why? Lived experience? Meaning have?
  • Most common type of DE research but more difficult with distance between researchers and participipants
  • Evaluation: Credibility, transferability, dependability, engagement
  • Example: participants views of delivering online courses

Research Paradigms – Critical / Postmodern

  • Ontogoloy:  Society rife with inadequacies and injustice
  • Epistemology:  Uncover injustice and empower citizens
  • Method:  Ideological review, civil actions
  • Research questions:  who has power? Vested interest? Who is excluded? How can I change this?

Research Paradigms – Pragmatism

  • Ontogoloy:  Truth is what is useful
  • Epistemology:  Best method is one that solves problems
  • Method:  Design-based research, mixed methods
  • Research questions: will this intervention improve learning?
  • Features: intervention, natural context, iterative, development of theory