Archive for July, 2009

EISTA conference papers

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

JohnW presented several papers as part of a workshop at the EISTA conference in Florida this month:

One on wikis co-authored with Karen;

One on fOUndIt, co-authored with COLMSCT Associate Teaching Fellow Jill Shaw;

Another on fOUndit, co-authored with Jill, Mirjam Hauck & Tita Beaven (from the OU Dept of Languages)

In a separate session Frances presented her paper on helping tutors to provide good feedback electronically.

Joint SIRG/TERG Research Day (afternoon session)

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

We had a nice lunch and chat (with a dramatic rain and hailstorm outside!). Then we moved into the afternoon session. The aim here was to discuss ways forward, and how we could all help each other to develop our research.

Most of the time was spent in a group discussion to bring out the main issues and ideas. Here’s a summary of the notes made during the discussion:

Individual versus group activities

Relationship between SIRG & TERG - Merge? Overlap?

Common threads of the two groups – social studies

Identity/strategy/presentation of group and of individuals

Interdisciplinarity as an advantage

Development of members

Links with researchers in Social sciences faculty e.g. CRESC project

Regular reading  (and writing) group. Size matters - not too big. Can get to know the literature. Can gain feedback on your work.

‘Glass ceiling’ between writing conference papers and writing journal papers.

Issues include: journal papers take more time; lack of deadlines for journals; need for confidence; need to know literature, theory & methods; conferences more enjoyable (but hard to get funding).

Conflicting demands of course (or regional) work and research. Course work has more structures & deadlines than research (except funded research projects).

Use reading group to provide structure, deadlines,  critical readers, support, feedback, peer pressure.

Similar to a production course team. Have agreed action points and drafting stages for journal papers.

Research grants and/versus publications. Funded projects provide structure, funding, deadlines, peer support etc.

Funding would enable us to pay for research work by AL consultants.

We spent the final 40 minutes asking each person to mention one thing that they wanted to achieve in the next 6 months, and what support they would like to help them to do this. Here’s a quick note of what everyone said:


Write her book. Would like scheduled critical reading of draft chapters.  


Finish her online teaching material and plan how to take it forward as research. Would like critical readers and advice on the research possibilities.


Submit two journal papers from her tablet PC work. Would like critical readers and advice on possible journals.


Write full draft of one journal paper and outline of the other. Would like critical readers for both.


Submit thesis. Would like feedback on the links in the main part to material in the literature survey.


Have book proposal accepted. Then would like critical readers for his own chapter.


Submit bid. Would like collaborators and feedback, together with advice on where to submit it.


Submit journal paper based on WiST project work. Would like scheduled critical reading of drafts.  


Have book proposal accepted. Then would like critical readers for all the chapters.


Have a full draft of his thesis. Then would like critical readers for it. Also advice on the way forward for his structuration journal paper.

Joint SIRG/TERG Research Day (morning session)

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Today we had a joint research day with the Society and Information Research Group. Ten of us met at a hotel near Walton Hall. Attendees were: 

Wendy, Steve, Helen, Karen, Clem, Allan, Ian, Chris, Hazel & David.

In the morning each of us had a 15 minute slot to share one or more aspects of our research with everyone. Here’s a very quick summary:


Two journal papers (one underway, one planned). Two bids submitted – one accepted, other awaiting feedback. 


Proposal for an edited book (with Magnus) on the theme of Information (based on a 2007 workshop). 


Further work on journal paper about using tablet PCs for feedback on assessments. May split into a technical paper and a social one.


Book proposal (co-edited with Chris Dillon) on modelling. Under consideration by Cambridge University Press.


Drafting bid on social technologies for supporting career development. Using literature on (1) careers and (2) online identity.


Revising the literature survey for the final stages of PhD. Future archival work on scientists’ early BBC radio broadcasts.


Writing his thesis on the history of computers in banking (1961-99). Archive data and oral histories.


COLMSCT project (wikis and Elluminate research). Writing book on online learning communities (publisher Routledge).


Dissemination of Women in Science and Technology project. Conference paper on career breaks and part-time working in SET. 


Final stages of devoping online resources for holocaust education. Uses Moodle, wikis, forums. Need schools as testbed.


Last Despatch from EISTA09

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Ok, so the middle despatches never got written! I blame it on the 07.30 starts. In fact it was well worth crawling out of bed in time to make the keynote breakfast sessions. As the conference was in fact 3 co-located conferences the themes for the keynotes were quite broad but there was an underlying thread apparent by the third day. Day 1 saw Michael Savoie (University of Texas at Dallas) give an interesting talk on ‘millenials’ or under 18 digital natives to a gathering of ‘digital immigrants’.  We should:

- convert materials to new media

- adjust working environment to take advantage of new platforms

- embrace the cloud and

- embed security wherever possible.

I am not sure I agreed with his assertion that millenials don’t understand privacy issues on the internet. I feel that there are plenty of security aware teenagers just as there are plenty of unaware digital immigrants (wasn’t it the definitely not teenage wife of the head of MI5 who recently posted their address and a list of all their friends onto a facebook page with no privacy settings?). On the other hand I hadn’t worked out why teenagers are so good at texting without looking…………….because they have to text with their phones in their pockets in class as they aren’t allowed to use them.

The subsequent keynotes had a strong cybernetics theme. Stuart Umpleby (GWU) told us how second order cybernetics can explain the global banking crisis, Curtis Priest (MIT) talked about complexity, Ranulph Glanville (RMIT Aus) discussed the black box and the observer, and others covered reflexivity, affordances and Artificial and Biological Conciousness.

The presentations throughout the rest of the days attracted small but interested audiences with the follow on questions providing some of the most interesting insights. Too many to mention them all I did hear a report on a recently introduced equivalent of DALS at a university in the Philippines. The main difference is that the students have to complete an assessment of their lecturers unlike here where it is purely voluntary (well from the students point of view not the tutors). Perhaps we should consider making DALS compulsory for students thus giving a more balanced process?

 Overall a stimulating and worthwhile trip.

“Engaging Students in the Curriculum’ – 4th International Blended Learning Conference

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Under ‘Curriculum design, development and evaluation’ – Keith Beechener and I presented our paper titled ‘Blending Technology with Pedagogy’, the presentation was recorded and both video and power point presentation are available from the conference web-site at

Excellent conference, a week before the conference an invite from Mark Russell (Deputy Director) of the Blended Learning Unit (CETL) at the University of Hertfordshire, linked me to a thread in the ning on assessment. Keynote speaker on day one – Professor Randy Garrison – Exploring the Dynamics of a Blended Learning Experience Two keynotes on second day Dr Gregor Kennedy(Live video link to Queensland) – The Seduction of the New: Balancing Web 2 Cool with Coalface Realities –

research findings shared on use of social networking and pressures on teaching staff to include as a part of their curriculum. Some of his opening statements; social networking can bypass traditional authority channels, they can open up access to the Net Generation, you are born digital and grow up digital. What are the assumptions being made? That students are digital natives and good at it, that the ‘living’ technologies, are easy and effortless to use and that Web 2 allows publish and share actvities and these are beneficial to students. Lessons learnt from a research project in which 750 first year students were asked to share and publish using a wiki was used to explore assumptions. Collaborative publishing very challenging for students and to assess. Conclusions included taking a more pragmatic approach to use of Web 2 and how it can be used in teaching. Concentrate on using technology tools in the context of the content. This was also the first time I had heard the term ‘living and learning’ technologies. In the final discussion and in responses to this lecture, there was some comment on how HE could work closer with schools to engender team and partneship learning in students before they start HE. How can staff keep up with Web 2, what is it that they are keeping up with? Assessing team based activties is difficult and has been for a while.Second Keynote – Mark Russell ESCAPE project – How does your assessment meet you learning needs? Session 49 – ‘Student engagement and ‘widening participation’ in HE: successes and issues’ Susan Studdart and Jacky McPherson – North Hertfordshire College. Talked about the use of facebook and good engagement with engaged students.

“e” Teaching and Learning 2009 Univeristy of Greenwich, London 2 June 2009

Monday, July 13th, 2009

This workshop was supported by Karen Fraser of the University of Ulster and the Higher Education Academy, subject centre for Information and Computer Sciences (HEA-ICS).

Keith Beechener and I presented a Paper, titled ‘Making the technology fit the pedagogy’. Keith and I sought to generate debate around our separate views of how technology has the potential to extend/develop new pedagogy.

There were two excellent keynote speakers, Deryn Brown and Simon Walker;

Deryn Graham, Unitec New Zealand presented a paper – ‘From e-Learning to e-Delivery’.
Deryn Graham’s recent study on “e-Learning” has led her to conclude that there is an issue with using the term “Learning”. Starting with cognitive psychology, cognitivist and behaviourist are the main schools of thought. ‘e-Learning however, goes beyond the interaction to suggest the adoption of cognitive views of learning and learner styles’ (Graham, 2009). Deryn successfully repudiated this in her lecture and suggested that replacing the ‘Learning’ with ‘Delivery’, provides a major shift for teaching methods.

Simon Walker, School of Education, University of Greenwich presented a paper – ‘Educational Development’ Some key references that I thought worth noting from Simon are as follows and in the main, his keynote was a challenge to perceptions of how and when students learn.

Educating the Net Generation – Oblinger and Oblinger 2005 comments on tension between the educator and how they have been educated and how to bridge a potential gap with the net generation.

‘Lifelong and Lifewide Learning’ see more at a fortnightly mailing from Roy Pea at Becta’s 6/11/2008 Research Conference but for original source for term and good visuals go to ‘Lifelong and Lifewide Learning’ at an NSF Science of Learning Center. Issues discussed important for topology of a University, as looks at formal and informal learning environments from cradle to retirement. Main point is the proportion of time spent in each is changing and that most research is done on the formal learning.

Finally, Simon recommended reading ‘Clueless in Academe – How schooling obscures the life of the mind’ Gerald Graff and I will post when I have read more.

Graham, D. (2009) ‘From e-Learning to e-Delivery’ Keynote presentation at the “e” Teaching and Learning 2009 Workshop, 2 June, University of Greenwich (HEA-ICS)

BBC Digital Revolution launch event

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

Yesterday I went to the launch event for the new BBC Digital Revolution project. This project is to develop a set of three TV programmes to celebrate 20 years of the web. The associated web site will enable the public to play a role in the development, and see how the process is carried out. Should be interesting.

A number of people from the OU were at the event, including Sally Crompton (OU/BBC) Tony Hirst, Ray Corrigan, Tony Nixon & Magnus Ramage (from C&S) and Mike Richards & Yvonne Rogers (from Computing) . Mike was on the stage to ask questions, together with Nigel Shadbolt (Southampton) and Robin Hunt (UCL).  

There were a panel of four speakers:

  • Tim Berners Lee
  • Susan Greenfield
  • Bill Thompson
  • Chris Anderson (on a video link)

The following is a quick summary of the main points I made a note of.


Web was a paradigm shift. The next shift will be to do with data & the semantic web. For example, government data & BBC data. Make data available and connect it up in different ways. Vision of early web:  ‘what this would be like if everyone was doing it’. Importance of openness and easy access (e.g. via mobile phones in developing countries). Standards as key. Random access (by clicking through on links)  – people recommendating good things and providing links to them.

Susan Greenfield:

Are children’s brains being changed by ‘living in 2D’? Instant gratification, short attention span, lack of deep engagement? More focus on images and sound than words. Human brain very adaptive to environment. Need to discuss these issues and decide which way we want things to go. Are web/games addictive? Attention deficit disorders are increasing – is this why?

Bill Thompson:

Important of openness and freedom on the web. It’s a way ‘for data to get out’ (e.g. Iran). Privacy has outlived its value.  We don’t want surveillance – instead we need responsible use of data. Importance of reputation and trust. Coherence theory of knowledge.

Chris Anderson:

Issues around openness and cost (two meanings of ‘Free’ – title of his new book). Different models for paying for information on the web e.g. ‘Fremium’ where most is free but some needs to be paid for.

There was limited time for questions, and most of these were pre-planned (probably because the whole event was being filmed. Questions and comments I  found interesting were:

  • Should people be able to post anonymously to the web?
  • Should access to the web be a human right?
  • ‘The web is humanity-connected’ (Berners-Lee)

The event closed with the BBC showing some new developments e.g.

  • the Programmes site, with a web page for every BBC programme
  • the Shownar site which gathers online sources of discussion of BBC programmes

First Despatch from EISTA09, Florida

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Well, here I am in Florida for the first time, to give a presentation to the 7th International Conference on Education and Information Systems, Technologies and Applications which is a part of IMSCI09 (International Multi-Conference on Society, Cybernetics and Inofrmatics) and is co-located with two other conferences! So, it’s a big affair in a BIG hotel. The conference website it here, in case you want to see more:

Actually I’m here with the family so we arrived last Sunday and spent two days in Tampa before moving to Orlando on Tuesday. This left time to visit the Kennedy Space Centre which was a superb day out. A shuttle was sitting on the launch pad with a scheduled launch on Saturday (11th) although thunderstorms are forecast so that may be delayed. I had no idea that the Space Centre had so many launch pads but the really striking thing was the massive scale of all the engineering there. The transporter that moves the shuttle from ‘hangar’ to launch pad travels at a maximum of 1 mph and has a fuel consumption of 42ft/gallon! The hisotrical exhibits were also good, especially the Saturn/Apollo tour.

Yesterday was spent at Discovery Cove which is a small park here (requiring a small mortgage to get in) offering the chance to swim with dolphins, rays and many other tropical fish. Definitely a memorable day out.

Anyway, back to the reason for being here…….today was a registration only day and tomorrow the conference starts in earnest with the plenary session starting at 07.30 (including breakfast). Maybe I won’t swim before breakfast as orginally planned.

Science Learning and Teaching Conference 09, Edinburgh

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

3 weeks ago I went to the Science Learning and Teaching Conference, 2009, organised by the Bioscience, Materials and Physical Sciences HEA Subject Centres in Edinburgh. I attended in order to give a poster presentation entitled ‘Better feedback through enhanced marking guides’ in the Assessment/Feedback/Plagiarism strand.

The conference opened with a fascinating keynote speech from Professor David Barclay whose career as a forensic scientist included working on many well known cases such as the murder of Milly Dowler. The case histories presented were both gripping and gruesome!

I attended both sessions in my own strand on the first day and assessment, feedback and plagiarism were covered equally. In assessment the subject of peer assessment seemed to be the focus of the day with a strong emphasis on how this might save overstretched lecturers time and effort in marking, at the same time  providing an effective learning experience for the students. On feedback the role of peer feedback was discussed as well as audio techniques for giving feedback. The plagiarism spotlight was firmly on prevention by education.

The poster session was busy and my own poster provided the backdrop for some interesting conversations. As ever, the sheer volume of numbers that we deal with on courses like T175 attracted comment as well as our electronic assignment submission and feedback process.

Day two opened with a workshop session entitled ‘Feedback in Time’. This provided an excellent opportunity to share ideas, culminating in group exercises to design the assessment and associated feedback methods for a module.  My group was keen on many small formative assessments, peer assessment, reflection on learning, electronic submission and one summative assignment at the end. Some of this was very familiar to me!

I rounded off my attendance at a presentation called ‘Dude, where’s my university’. This chimed with many of the themes of T175 such as using Facebook, Delicious, an online library and so on. I got the impression that many of the attendees regarded the idea that these might be considered part of a student’s toolkit as surprising.

Overall then a very worthwhile two days offering a great opportunity to pick up some interesting ideas (the dinner was good too with Scottish lamb, cranachan and tablet).

Research talk on synchronous audio-graphic conferencing

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

On Tuesday I went to part of a Research Forum hosted by the Intellect research group, which is part of CREET. I heard a really interesting talk by Joseph Hopkins of Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. Joe is visiting the OU until the end of July.

Joe’s talk was titled:
A method for analysing online interaction in synchronous audio-graphic conferencing for language learning

The talk was about a project where groups of students from the Open University of Catalunya used the OU’s Flashmeeting audio- and video-conferencing software for collaborative language learning activities. This is work-in progress for Joe’s PhD research (which Regine Hampel, from the OU’s Department of Languages, is supervising).

I was particularly interested in this project because we (Frances, Helen, Judith, Hazel and I) have started some research with T175 students and tutors (and also Judith’s tutor group from T209) using Elluminate.

Anyway, back to Joe’s talk. Here is the abstract:

This paper will focus on the development of a methodological approach aimed at analyzing learner interaction in synchronous audio-graphic (SAC) environments. The raw data consisted of digital video recordings of small groups of learners engaged in collaborative speaking tasks on FlashMeeting, a SAC tool developed by the Knowledge Media Institute (KMi) of the Open University. An approach focusing on “critical incidents” (Tripp, 1993) was utilized to identify instances of interaction viewed as beneficial to second language acquisition, such as negotiation of meaning (Long, 1983; Varonis & Gass, 1985), negative feedback (Long, 1996), and scaffolding from more competent peers. In order to ensure a degree of objectivity, each recording was viewed by two observers, who noted critical incidents in the learners’ spoken conversations following an established protocol. Subsequently, using the observation data, the digital video recordings were coded using Atlas.ti, a qualitative data analysis software package. The procedure used for observer training and standardization will be presented, along with the method utilized to account for other forms of verbal and non-verbal communication (e.g., text chat, vote feature, emoticons).

Below is a summary based on the notes I made during the talk. I imagine the slides will be made available soon.

The research was carried out with 146 distance learners (93 females and 53 males) at UOC, who were studying English as a foreign language. This was a compulsory course for students across many different subject areas. The age range of the students was typical of UOC, with an average age of 37.

The software used was Flashmeeting, which includes voice communication, video, text chat, voting, emoticons etc. Turntaking is managed via a button which allows an individual to ‘broadcast’ or ‘stop broadcasting’. Other participants can virtually ‘raise their hands’ if they wish to speak. The software then gives each of them the floor in the order in which they raised their hands (as I understand it). For users who have webcams, the person speaking is shown in a largish video window with a reasonable refresh rate, while other participants are shown in smaller windows with low refresh rates (e.g. once every 30 seconds).

For the research (and as part of his teaching) Joe developed ‘tutorless’ speaking activities for groups of students to carry out. Students self-formed into groups of four (by communication via the VLE). The groups were offered a practice session with a tutor, but only 8 of the 40 groups opted for this.

The speaking activities were an assessed part of the course, and were linked to what students were studying at the time. One was about managing time: students groups were asked to come up with an ordered list of advice points about time management. The other was about survival: students came up with an ordered list of items which would be important for survival if they were stranded on a remote island.

The students were given a script to guide them through the activity, and were asked to appoint a moderator (to facilitate the online session) and a spokesperson (to be responsible for creating an account of the session afterwards). The sessions were all recorded using a facility that Flashmeeting provides. Tutors reviwed the recordings afterwards and gave marks and feedback to students.

The research aimed to investigate:

  • What were students’ perceptions? Were they satisfied with the experience? Was it useful?
  • Was there evidence of learning taking place? Could this be deduced from the recordings of the sessions?

Sources of data were:

  • An online survey to students
  • Semi-structured interviews with students and tutors
  • Metadata provided by the Flashmeeting software
  • Recordings (from the Flashmeeting software) of the sessions

In the survey, students were asked:

(1) whether they had found the sessions useful

(2) whether they had learned new aspects of English

For question (1) 65% of respondents totally agreed that they did, and 28% agreed (not totally!). For question (2) 28% of students totally agreed and 48% agreed.

The following procedures were used for analysing the observation data:

Tutors viewed the recordings for their groups, and made notes on e.g. the roles students played, and the use of chat, voting etc. Tutors decided on grades for students, together with an ordering of group members’ relative performance.

The tutors, and Joe as primary researcher, viewed the recordings a second time, but now looking for ‘critical incidents’ (Tripp, 1993) which triggered the negotiation of learning. These were categorised using predetermined codes, for example to indicate:

  • Checking for confirmation of understanding;
  • Inappropriate responses;
  • Statements of non-understanding.

The tutors were trained for carrying out this coding exercise, and there were practice sessions. The recording for each group session was coded independently by the students’ tutor and by Joe. This was followed by a negotiation stage. After three such rounds, the coding agreement between Joe and the tutors was about 85%. The observation data was then loaded into the Atlas-ti qualitative data analysis package for further analysis. This is ongoing, but Joe reported some initial findings.

There were frequent problems for students with the audio quality. These technical problems accounted for many of the difficulties students had in understanding each other. There were several examples of negotiation of meaning – although this did not happen all that often. Students used text chat for confirmation of spelling etc.

There were particular difficulties because of the software’s arrangements for turntaking – whereby one speaker at a time has control over audio transmission. This means that other participants cannot intervene to give help, or to briefly comment, because they do not have the facility to speak until the current speaker finishes, and their turn (in the sequence of raised hands) arrives.

This results in various undesirable phenomena, such as serial monologues, overlapping exchanges, phantom adjacencies, topic abandonment, questions/requests which are ignored. These phenomena are remarkably similar to those which can occur with text chat, or even in discussion forums. They arise because the turntaking/adjacency conventions are not like those in face-to-face speech.

Joe described the interactions as perhaps quasi-synchronous rather than synchronous. He commented that the design features of the software had effects on the interactions between students. A further example of this was the very limited use of the text chat facility, probably because it is hidden under a tab, so isn’t easily visible to students.

The talk was followed by a short period for questions and discussion. Joe had already raised aspects, other than the software itself, that might affect students’ interactions – for example, the task they were asked to carry out. Other aspects raised by audience members included:

  • Would there be changes over time, as students gained experience?
  • Were there examples of breakdown and repair of communication?
  • Do participants who do not take a very active role also learn a lot?
  • Is the video interaction important to students?
  • Would it be helpful for students to watch the recording afterwards?
  • Would software such as Skype make the interactions more fluid?