Coming soon to 2015

“Happy New Year!” by Chris Chabot. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

“Happy New Year!” by Chris Chabot. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

There are a lot of exciting things happening for me in 2015. January (with fingers, toes and eyes crossed) will see the publication of The Really Useful #EdTechBook, which I posted about earlier, and will feature my book chapter “‘…and what do you do?': Can we explain the unexplainable?”. I had written another chapter for the #EdTechBook called “Educational Technology in the UK: Tracing our heritage” which didn’t make the finish cut as it didn’t quite fit the overall ethos of the book. I’m planning to redraft that chapter into an article for the Research in Learning Technology journal (thanks for the suggestion David) as I think that article would be a useful reminder, especially to those new to educational technology, as to where learning (or educational) technology in the United Kingdom (UK) originated from and why it has taken such a powerful hold in Higher Education (HE).

I have another book chapter on the horizon with the deliciously lurid title of “Confessions of an Online Distance Learning Junkie: From Personal Experience to Professional Practice” for a new book to be published shortly by Open University Press on enhancing learning and teaching in higher education. It is aimed at helping academic practitioners put Higher Education Academy (HEA) Fellowship applications together; it is neither a manual nor a textbook. The book will speak more towards the contested nature of HE, giving the reader things to think about rather than telling them what to think. Furthermore, the book will have contributions from both students as well as academics.

March 2015 will see the completion of the seventh and final taught module of the Doctorate in Education (EdD) and then the clock starts ticking on the thesis stage of the EdD. This, of course, is dependent upon my research proposal being accepted and for my ethics application to be given the green light. My EdD research will explore ways in which the ‘whole’ academic in higher education invest themselves through professional learning and the conditions in which this takes place. I am framing this research within a sociomaterial perspective. I will be using this blog and other social media channels to develop an autoethnographic account of my own professional learning activity, which will critically situate me as a “technologist-researcher” (Barry, 2014) with the participants and the organisation within a social, political, economic and cultural context (Spry, 2001:710), thus I “become part of the inquiry” (Patton, 2002:116) given that I am already inducted in a culture that provides educational professional development (EPD) for academic staff.

So watch this space…


Barry, W. (2014). The Learning Technologist’s Tale: A Liminal and Intellectual Pilgrimage. Assignment submitted for the Doctorate in Education. Canterbury, England: Canterbury Christ Church University.

Patton, M.Q. (2002). Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods. 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Spry, T. (2001). “Performing autoethnography: An embodied methodological praxis”. Qualitative Inquiry, 7(6), pp. 706-732. Available at: [Accessed 28.11.2014].

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The Really Useful #EdTechBook

"The Really Useful #EdTechBook" by David Hopkins. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA

“The Really Useful #EdTechBook” by David Hopkins. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA

Back in July 2014, I was approached by David Hopkins to participate in a collaborative book venture that would be written by learning technologists for learning technologists, and so The Really Useful #EdTechBook was born. David, as the book’s editor, has done a sterling job of assembling some very creative and talented individuals to participant in the production of this book and I feel very honoured and humbled to be amongst them.

We are hoping that the book will published on 28th January 2015 and will be available in both ebook and paper versions. The ebook is already available for pre-order through and As part of the book’s pre-launch publicity, David interviewed a number of the authors, myself included, to find out about their use of technologies in their personal and professional lives. You can find out more about the book, the chapter authors, the launch details, the world of learning and educational technology, and other aspects of The Really Useful #EdTechBook by joining our Google+ community.

So what is the book about? I shall leave it to the book’s editor, David Hopkins, to explain:

Technology has invaded our working and recreational lives to an extent that few envisaged 20 or 30 years ago. We’d be fools to avoid the developments in personal, mobile, and wearable technology. Even if we tried we’d still have to deal with other developments and distractions in classroom and learning technology like smart boards, blogs, video, games, students-led learning, virtual learning environments, social media, etc. More than this, however, is how the advances in technology, the economic and physical miniaturisation of computing devices, have impacted education: the students, the teachers, the classrooms, the spaces, the connections, the aspirations, etc.

‘The Really Useful #EdTechBook’ is about experiences, reflections, hopes, passions, expectations, and professionalism of those working with, in, and for the use of technology in education. Not only is it an insight into how, or why, we work with these technologies, it’s about how we as learning professionals got to where we are and how we go forward with our own development.

In this book respected individuals from different education sectors write about many aspects of learning technology; from Higher Education (Sue Beckingham, Peter Reed, Dr David Walker, Sheila MacNeil, Sarah Horrigan, Terese Bird, Wayne Barry, Inge de Waard, and Sharon Flynn), Further Education (Rachel Challen and James Clay), to Museums (Zak Mensah),  workplace learning (Jane Hart, Julian Stodd, Julie Wedgwood, and Lesley Price) and primary schools / early years education (Mike McSharry and Jo Badge). With a foreword written by Catherine Cronin, from the National University Ireland, Galway, the breadth and depth of the experiences here are second to none.

The knowledge these leading learning practitioners, researchers, and professionals, share, under the same cover, is a unique opportunity for you to read about the variety of approaches to learning technology, the different perspectives on the same technology, and how technology is impacting our culture and learning infrastructure, from early-age classrooms to leading research Universities and from museums and workplace learning providers. It is about our passion for our work and our desire to make our work better through our own learning and development.

What of my book chapter? It’s called ‘“…and what do you do?”: Can we explain the unexplainable?‘. Here is the chapter abstract to whet your appetite:

Unlike other occupations, the job title of ‘learning technologist’ does not elicit the same kind of shared, universal understanding of most other professions, such as teacher, doctor or solicitor. We find that even within our own communities of practice that it is a little difficult to explain or define what it is that we do. Furthermore, Browne & Beetham (2010) note in their report that there are “varying nuances” between the terms ‘learning technology’ and ‘educational technology’. Thus, exasperating an already complex and divergent field that is still trying to make sense of the confusing and contradictory nature surrounding the terminology and interpretation of names and job titles that have been generated through the likes of definitions, lists, and socially constructed discourses.

In this book chapter, through my own personal experience, I will try and derive some sense of meaning behind those troublesome terms and consider how this impacts on how we, as learning professionals, are perceived from within and outside of our professional communities and institutions.


The Stories that Learning Technologists tell

I wrote five articles called “Who are the Learning Technologists?” which was inspired by a series of articles written by David Hopkins (Hopkins, 2009). David was very kind and gracious to critique my articles (Hopkins, 2014) which seemed to have generated a lot of interest and debate about the role and nature of a learning technologist.

It was in David’s critique that he brings to my attention another learning technologist, Sarah Horrigan, and I would like to recite a quote that David took from Sarah’s blog entry:

The best learning technologists aren’t all about the technology. They’re not all about the pedagogy either. They walk the line between the two and care about what they do and what they *could* do as well. And if you come across a really good learning technologist – talk to them. They’ll fire you up so that you’ll believe you could do anything with your teaching!” (Horrigan, 2012, para 10).

Sarah goes on to explain what she thinks are those qualities that maketh a learning technologist:

  • Curious
  • Playful
  • Connected
  • Proactive
  • Passionate
  • Learners

In a similar vein, Preskett (2011) asks the question:

What are the qualities I need to possess to have the maximum positive impact? By positive I mean giving people a good understanding of key issues with regard to LTs and allowing them to make informed decisions on their appropriate use” (Preskett, 2011, para 2).

Though Preskett’s list of qualities is perhaps a little more pragmatic than the ones offered by Horrigan:

  • Good communication/good teaching
  • Finding opportunities to spread the word
  • Adapting your message to the audience
  • Initiating and taking control of your own learning

Indeed others have attempted to list those qualities that are inherent in a learning technologist’s DNA (Beetham, Jones & Gornall, 2001; Conole, 2004). What I am struck with by David and Sarah’s blog posts are the stories that learning technologists tell as a way of making some sense of our role as we see it (which would vary according to our institutional contexts) – if we can articulate what we do to ourselves, it makes it a little easier to articulate what we do to others. It’s a way of addressing our own “ontological insecurity” (Unwin, 2007) within the Higher Education sector. It’s is a way of positioning ourselves within a much wider political and societal perspective (i.e. The Dearing Report [NCIHE, 1997]), especially in a disruptive and turbulent climate of change and uncertainty. Indeed, Alison Hudson (2009) devotes a whole chapter entitled “Professional autobiographical narrative: insights into the practices of a new professional” in her doctoral thesis which positions herself as a “new professional” within a changing political and educational landscape.

These narratives are currently on my mind at the moment as I begin my own doctoral “pilgrimage” and will need to look at my role as technologist-researcher within it and try to make some sense of it within a much wider political and historical perspective. I will need to consider my own positionality, which is currently changing and shifting as my liminal and intellectual pilgrimage begins to navigate its way through the “swampy lowlands“.


Beetham, H., Jones, S. & Gornall, L. (2001). Career Development of Learning Technology Staff: Scoping Study Final Report. JISC Committee for Awareness, Liaison and Training Programme. Bristol, England: Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). Available at: [Accessed 23.11.2013].

Browne, T. & Beetham, H. (2010). The positioning of educational technologists in enhancing the student experience. Report funded by The Higher Education Academy under their Call4: Enhancing Learning and Teaching through the use of Technology. Oxford, England: Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: [Accessed 23.11.2013].

Conole, G. (2002). “The evolving landscape of learning technology”. Association for Learning Technology Journal (ALT-J), 10(3), pp. 4-18. Available at: [Accessed 23.10.2013].

Conole, G. (2004). “The Role Of Learning Technology Practitioners And Researchers In Understanding Networked Learning”. In: Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Networked Learning 2004. Lancaster University, England, UK, 5-7 April 2004. Available at: [Accessed 23.11.2013].

Conole, G., Ingraham, B. & Cook, J. (2003). “Learning technology as a community of practice”. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 11-13 September 2003. Available at: [Accessed 21.10.2013].

Hopkins, D. (2009). “What is a Learning Technologist?”. Technology Enhanced Learning Blog, 13.8.2009. Available at: [Accessed 14.3.2014].

Hopkins, D. (2014). “‘Who Are The Learning Technologist?’ by @HeyWayne”. Technology Enhanced Learning Blog, 18.2.2014. Available at: [Accessed 14.3.2014].

Horrigan, S. (2012). “On being a learning technologist… and farewell!”. Learning Technologies at the University of Sheffield blog, 18.12.2012. Available at: [Accessed 14.3.2014].

Hudson, A. (2009). New Professionals and New Technologies in New Higher Education? Conceptualising struggles in the field. PhD. Umeå University, Sweden. Available at: [Accessed 24.11.2014].

National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (NCIHE). (1997). Higher Education in the Learning Society (Dearing Report). London, England: HMSO. Available at: [Accessed 22.11.2013].

Preskett, T. (2011). “What a Learning Technologist Needs to Be Good At”. Educational Technology & Change Journal, 24.2.2011. Available at: [Accessed 14.3.2014].

Unwin, A. (2007). “The professionalism of the higher education teacher: what’s ICT got to do with it?”. Teaching in Higher Education, 12(3), pp. 295-308. Available at: [Accessed 22.10.2013].

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Metaphors, damned metaphors, and extended metaphors

“Men at Work” by herbrm. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

“Men at Work” by herbrm. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

It was my intention this week to make a start on my assignment. I have now placed this on the back-burner until next week for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I came, quite serendipitously, to a journal article by Hughes & Tight (2013), which I’ll be discussing in this post. Secondly, I have been reading about a methodology called rhizoanalysis and something called transcendental empiricism; both of why I will post about after I have had my discussion with yet another key colleague, whom I will call Ludo.

In their paper, Hughes & Tight (2013) discuss the use, or overuse, of the “journey” metaphor to convey the experiences, trials and tribulations of doctoral students. I’ve since seen an article that takes umbridge with calling doctoral students as doctoral “students” (Thomson, 2014), but I digress. Hughes & Tight (2013) make the point that the “metaphor is, of course, employed with reference to many other experiences as well as the doctorate“, and cite a certain high street bank television advert, certain UK reality TV talent shows Tony Blair’s memoirs entitled “A Journey“. They go on to say:

One of the problems with the endemic use of a metaphor is that it becomes such an over-generalised term that it loses its capacity to convey what might be specific, and socially or experientially significant, within different contexts. After all, if everybody is on a journey, literally and/or metaphorically, we lose the ability to discriminate meaning” (Hughes & Tight, 2013:765).

This, of course, as a lot of resonance with me as I didn’t particularly want to use the “journey” metaphor to describe my own doctoral experiences, I had settled upon a notion of a liminal pilgrimage. Interestingly, they make a number of references to John Bunyan’s (2008, [1678, 1684]) novel, “The Pilgrim’s Progress“, to illustrate their point on how the “journey” metaphor has been applied to the doctorate experience. Needless to say Hughes & Tight (2013) have offered an alternative “metaphor” which I will come on to a bit later.

Much later on in their article, they talk about “the journey” as being prevalent in traditional storytelling and cite’s Christopher Booker’s work to illustrate this. Booker (2004) has identified two different types of “journey” plots in amongst his “seven basic plots“, these being: “the quest” and “voyage and return“. Within the basic “quest” plot, are five key stages: the call, the journey, arrival and frustration, the final ordeals, and the goal (p. 83). For the “voyage and return” plot, the protagonist “travels out” of their “familiar” world (i.e. the workplace) into a “strange” world (i.e. the university), which Hughes & Tight (2013) suggest are analagous to those doctoral students “undertaking a doctorate on a part-time basis in mid-career” (p. 768). I have to say that the “storytelling” aspect of the doctoral experience is particularly appealing to me as I’ll be able to look back and reflect upon that experience, both the positive and negative elements of it.

Drawing upon Barnacle (2005), they argue that “contemporary public discourse positions the doctoral student as a knowledge worker with obligations to the economy” (p. 772), and it is here that the adopt the metaphor (drum roll please) of “work“. To support their argument, they use this quote from Halse & Malfroy (2010), in which the authors are “using life history interviews with doctoral supervisors in Australia“, the quote runs as follows:

…doctoral supervision is theorized as professional work that comprises five facets: the learning alliance, habits of mind, scholarly expertise, techne and contextual expertise” (Halse & Malfroy, 2010:79).

It is further suggested that we are witnessing a “widespread shift” within Europe from the ‘traditional’ Humboldtian model to a more professional one (Enders, 2005) which also adds weight to the application of the “work” metaphor. By way of a conclusion, they say:

We can, though, give more explicit recognition to the PhD as a form of work that has involved graft, skills, time, training and painstaking attention to a specific subject of study over a significant period of time. In such a way it is akin to craft, where the intellectual value of the thesis is the primary consideration. Of course, this does not preclude the journey narrative forming part of this experience. Neither does it exclude the relevance of this for other forms of PhD, rarer in these times, which may be undertaken primarily for the love of the subject without any intention, or need, for it also to be linked to employment or career progression” (Hughes & Tight, 2013:773).

Personally, I feel that the “work” metaphor lacks a certain romance to the doctoral experience which can be seen, or is at least perceived, in the “journey” metaphor, or in my case the “pilgrimage” metaphor, which is a nod-and-a-wink to my Canterbury heritage. It was an interesting article and timely too considering my own ruminations. I just felt a little deflated that the notion of “work” could act as a metaphor for the doctoral experience. Whilst I recognise that there is indeed a lot of work that goes into the doctoral procedures and processes; there is also a perceptual, conceptual and intellectual transformation that is taking place within the doctoral student (for want of a better term) as they navigate their way through this experience. It is that transformation that I see as being analagous to the “journey” metaphor rather than the “work” one.


Barnacle, R. (2005). “Research education ontologies: Exploring doctoral becoming”. Higher Education Research & Development, 24(2), pp. 179–188. Available at: [Accessed 12.3.2014].

Booker, C. (2004). The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. London, England: Continuum.

Bunyan, J. (2008, [1678, 1684]). The Pilgrim’s Progress. Edited by W.R. Owens. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Enders, J. (2005). “Border crossings: Research training, knowledge dissemination and the transformation of academic work”. Higher Education, 49(1), pp. 119–133. Available at: [Accessed 12.3.2014]

Halse, C. & Malfroy, J. (2010). “Retheorizing doctoral supervision as professional work”. Studies in Higher Education, 35(1), pp. 79–92. Available at: [Accessed 12.3.2014].

Hughes, C. & Tight, M. (2013). “The metaphors we study by: the doctorate as a journey and/or as work”. Higher Education Research & Development, 32(5), pp. 765-775. Available at: [Accessed 11.3.2014].

Thomson, P. (2014). “What’s with the name doctoral ‘student’?”. Patter, 3.2.2014. Available at: [Accessed 12.3.2014].

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In conversation with the Troika (Part 3)

In part one in my short “In conversation with the Troika” series of blog posts, I spoke to Alec about (e-)portfolios, professional learning and his Master’s thesis; in part two, I spoke to Bryn about academic practice, professional learning and longitudinal studies. Last, but no means least, is Cora…

Conversation #3: Cora

“In a reflective mood” by Sean Connolly. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA

“In a reflective mood” by Sean Connolly. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA

My conversation with Cora began with the rationale for changing the name of the Postgraduate Certificate in Learning & Teaching in Higher Education (PGCLT(HE)) into the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP). Cora explained that learning and teaching “was of its time“; in the previous validation of the PGCLT(HE) programme, there was a firm decision to ensure that the phrase “learning and teaching” was in the title as this was something that was valued by the University. So what’s changed this time round? It would seem that there is a bigger and better understanding of “learning and teaching” as a process with students as a person. This went hand-in-hand with the widening participation agenda and transistions from school with those from non-traditional backgrounds. Furthermore, it is wrapped up with a much broader and holistic experience in the development of a community of learners (CoL), with research informed teaching (RIT) becoming a new “field” within the auspices of scholarship. Like Bryn, Cora makes reference to this notion of dual professionalism.

Cora very much sees academic practice as being a significant shift away from the notion of learning and teaching being perceived as being able to write good lesson plans or prepare some interesting for their students based on knowing about how students learn in a classroom, to one where the practice of the academic is to think about the environment that they are creating and the wider sense in which students operate in and how an academic can interface with that. In other words, this considers the much more wider discourse about what enables learning within the students that goes beyond this individualised view of a student as a receptacle. Once again, like Bryn, Cora acknowledges that academic practice will mean different things to different Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). She goes further and suggests that academic practice can be shaped by the individual HEIs timetable – at Canterbury Christ Church University, we have up to 45 weeks a year (we have a number of Education and Health-related courses that continue to run even when the standard degree courses have finished for the term).

We move on to a discussion around reflective practice, Schön (1987) gets a name check at this point, which is perhaps strongly embedded with the Education and Health allied courses. The importance of reflective practice is twofold: meeting professional standards and having a responsibility or obligation to maintain and develop practice. Referencing those disciplines that sit outside of Health and Education, Cora asks: “How do you help people to develop reflective practice as a value?“. One way is to make it an “ethical” part of their job – it is something that they should be doing – not as a “prescriptive requirement”, but something that becomes “internalised” as something that is seen as valuable. Reflection is both uncomfortable and dangerous! Cora suggests that academics will have to go through a “process” so that they can begin to value reflection. She has already designed a module for her students that facilitates this “process”, whereby she takes:

…students on a reflective journey, kicking and screaming. In the end, most of the students regard it [the process] as the most useful thing they did at University and something they long continued with.

The trick is to ensure that reflection is seen as something that is meaningful and valued, not just doing a sequence of tasks. It can also give you “more information” about what is “going on in your world”. If done well, reflection can present to you a multitude of perspectives. Cora is quite firm in her belief that reflective practice can be used across all disciplines, not just Education and Health. She would also like reflective practice to develop into different genres and forms, such as mind maps.

Cora asks me an interesting question: “Do I see my EdD linked to my role as a Learning Technologist?“. It is something that I am still pondering over as I am reminded by my conversation with Dr Peter Grimes around the notion of me being a technologist-researcher and what that may entail. I am fairly sure that I do not want my EdD thesis to be solely looking at a particular technology being used in a particular context, what perhaps interests me more is the process in which that technology is being used. Cora, on the other hand, is “very excited” at the potential collaboration with a learning technologist who is more “learning-led” than “technology-led”, in that she would not have to just think about what technologies to use, but also has the opportunity of me being part of a multi-disciplinary team in “co-producing” and developing the PGCAP, something she feels many academics would be interested to learn about and to begin to understand the process of involving other professionals, like learning technologists and librarians, in the co-production of programmes.

Like Bryn before her, Cora is very interested in the enabling of learning, it’s not about the teaching or how good a teacher you are – it’s about how good you are in facilitating the enabling of learning for your students; teaching, therefore, may be just one way to enable learning – all this talk about “enablement” strikes me that it has less to do with pedagogy and more to do with heutagogy (Blaschke, 2012; Hase & Kenyon, 2000, 2001, 2007) . It’s here that we come to an important part of the discussion whereby she says that through the learning technologist, there is another way besides teaching, in which the learning is enabled through technology. We move from technology-enhanced learning to technology-enabled learning. Cora goes on to suggest that with her role as a “teacher” and mine as a “technologist”, we both enable learning in different ways. Whilst she may have more control over the curriculum than me, at the same time I possess a body of expertise and knowledge which she needs and values. There’s a powerful and seductive germ of an idea developing here as she goes on to suggest that my EdD might be interested in how I could enable the learning of the participants on the PGCAP programme and the sustainability of the learner. There is also another dimension that looks at my relationship with Cora as an academic developer in terms of finding ways to enable learning through different contexts and mediums. In many ways, this is the kind of co-operative and collaborative approach that learning technologists have been seeking and one that has been highly recommended and encouraged by a number of Higher Education agencies and professional bodies in seeing greater forms of multi-disciplinary working. Cora concludes by talking about the “Pedagogy of the Privileged“, in that she asks is it right that an academic (the privileged) is the only one teaching and managing the classroom and the curriculum can be the ONLY one who can enable learning?

In conclusion with the Troika

I would like to thank Alec, Bryn and Cora for the valuable time and being generous with their ideas, suggestions and discussions. In many ways, all three of my “critical friends” have presented me with three different paths and routes that my EdD pilgrimage could potentially take me on. Whilst this has enriched my thinking around where this EdD might go, there is still a lot more thought that will need to go into the feasibility, as I like to currently put it, of running with this EdD idea.


Blaschke, L.M. (2012). “Heutagogy and Lifelong Learning: A Review of Heutagogical Practice and Self-Determined Learning”. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(1), pp. 56-71. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Translated by M. Bergman Ramos. London, England: Penguin Books.

Hase, S. & Kenyon, C. (2000). “From andragogy to heutagogy”. UltiBASE, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, December. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Hase, S. & Kenyon, C. (2001). “Moving from andragogy to heutagogy in vocational education”. Proceedings from AVETRA Conference 2001 – Research to Reality: Putting VET Research to Work, Hilton Adeliade, Adelaide, South Australia, 28-30 March 2001. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Hase, S. & Kenyon, C. (2007). “Heutagogy: A Child of Complexity Theory”. Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education, 4(1), pp. 111-118. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Schön, D.A. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions. San Franciso, CA: Jossy-Bass Publishers.

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In conversation with the Troika (Part 2)

In part one in my short “In conversation with the Troika” series of blog posts, I spoke to Alec about (e-)portfolios, professional learning and his Master’s thesis. Next up is Bryn…

Conversation #2: Bryn

I start my conversation with Bryn around the notion of academic practice and what it means. He tells me that “when you analyze it, it collapses! It’s not an object, it’s a concept. It will mean different things to different people“, thus begins a conversation that looks at the challenges and controversies of academic practice. I am immediately reminded of Baume’s (2012a, 2012b) concept of the “empty shell definition“, which he discusses within the concept of digital literacy, he says:

It has both the advantage and the disadvantage of being an ‘empty shell’ account, albeit a shell with three compartments – the capabilities for ‘living’, ‘learning’ and ‘working’ – waiting to be filled. Both its advantage and its disadvantage is that it needs to be developed before it can be applied to policy, strategy and practice for course design, teaching, learning and assessment” (ibid., 2012a:6).

He goes on to say that:

The wish to use empty shell definitions is understandable – they push the responsibility of populating the definition on to the particular users, and thus increase local ownership” (ibid., 2012b).

Needless to say, I have seen the highly contested definition of digital literacy whittled down to something suitably bland (that’s a cultural reference for all you hardcore Doctor Who fans out there!). When it came to defining what digital scholarship might look like, Weller (2011) suggested that it “should probably be resisted, and [at] best interpreted as a shorthand term” (p.5). He goes on to argue:

As Wittgenstein argued with the definition of ‘game’ such tight definitions can end up excluding elements that should definitely be included or including ones that seem incongruous” (Weller, 2011:5).

It is worth revisiting Wittgenstein (2009, [1953]) again, to remind ourselves what the great man said:

What does it mean to know what a game is? What does it mean, to know it and not be able to say it? Is this knowledge somehow equivalent to an unformulated definition? So that if it were formulated I should be able to recognize it as the expression of my knowledge? Isn’t my knowledge, my concept of a game, completely expressed in the explanations that I could give? That is, in my describing examples of various kinds of game; showing how all sorts of other games can be constructed on the analogy of these; saying that I should scarcely include this or this among games; and so on” (Wittgenstein, 2009, [1953]:75).

It is all but apparent to me that any discussion around academic practice is going to be best approached within my own “local” context and articulated as a series of features, properties and characteristics which may have some resonance with others outside of my “local” context.

For Bryn, the whole concept of academic practice is akin to the “curriculum in terms of its’ scope and scale“, and is very much influenced by the values that are situated within different Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and by their particular focus: research-led or teaching-led. Bryn goes on to explain that the Higher Education Academy (HEA) adopted the phrase Research Informed Teaching (RIT) borrowed from Griffiths (2004), that is to say that teaching can be research-informed, in the sense that it is informed by reflecting on and inquiry into teaching learning and assessment through pedagogic research and evaluation. RIT was, therefore, perceived as meaning something different to Research Led Teaching (RLT).

Our conversation turned to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) requirement that all UK HEIs are now required to make public the number of “qualified” teachers employed by them. It is now no longer enough to say that you have a PhD and have done x number of years teaching, which before 2012 would have been enough. Bryn is concerned that the HESA data might be construed as meaning to say that “we are good at delivering teaching and that we have all these people who are qualified to deliver“, and that it may, unwittingly, start to change and shape the language and discourse of learning and teaching, and that students who pay £9000 p.a. fees will not see University as a chance to learn or inhabit a space to learn, BUT it is a place where they are taught – the language being used “has all sorts of consumerist connotations“. Bryn has a lot of respect for Wilhelm von Humboldt’s (1970) idea of a University – Bryn says: “It’s not teachers first, it’s not students first. It’s that we are all in the service of scholarship and how do we develop scholarly activities amongst our students“.

Bryn has attended a number of conferences where the discourse has been about the “inspiration of teaching” and “creative teaching“. Whilst he feels it is good to talk about “teaching“, but talk about “teaching” within the context of “learning and teaching“. We talk about the role of (e-)portfolios in the development of academic practice, Bryn thinks most academics don’t need an (e-)portfolio as their academic practice is monitored through their discipline, i.e. conferences attended, peer-reviewed journal articles accepted, etc, thus evoking the spectre of Becher & Trowler’s (2001) “academic tribes“.

The conversation moves slightly back to my EdD thesis with Bryn suggesting that I could use the thesis to unpack and make meaning around this term of academic practice and thinks it might be worth looking at all of the Postgraduate Certificate in Learning & Teaching in Higher Education (PGCLT(HE)) or the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP) courses up and down the country to get a sense of what this thing called “academic practice” might look like.

“Two Hats” by lokidude99. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

“Two Hats” by lokidude99. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

I broach the subject of professional learning with Bryn, which he feels is a tricky one to pin down as you have this notion of dual professionalism, that is to say that on the one hand you are encouraged to be a good teacher and on the other hand your professional status tends to be more aligned to your discipline. You can go even one further with the notion of tri-professionalism which would include all the aspects of a dual professional with the additional element relating to a person being a practitioner of something (i.e. law). In some respects, professional learning have all three elements to it that can clash. This somewhat reminds me of Durkheim’s (1976, [1912]) conception of sacred and profane knowledge or Foucault’s (1988) notion of a specific intellectual.

At this point, I begin to express some concern that it might be just a tad difficult to combine academic practice (or whatever form I am going to take with it) with (e-)portfolios. Bryn feels this would be good as it would give me a chance to explore the literature to get a clearer sense of what all this might mean for me. From there, I could begin to develop a “definition” of academic practice and then see if (e-)portfolios could work or not.

Like Bryant & Chittum (2013), Bryn suggests that I should undertake a longitudinal study with the up-and-coming (December 2014) PGCAP cohort of students. I can then do an analysis of the longitudinal study methodology in terms of what and what does not work.

…the adoption of institution-wide ePortfolio systems that will follow students from their freshman year to graduation provide a new opportunity for researchers: longitudinal studies that look at differences between ePortfolio and non-ePortfolio users over the course of several years could provide useful information on potential benefits once students become sufficiently acclimated to the ePortfolio process” (Bryant & Chittum, 2013:195).

In the final part of these short series of blog posts, I will be in conversation with Cora.


Baume, D. (2012a). “Digital Literacy and Fluency: SEDA initiatives supporting an enlightened approach to Academic Development in the field”. Educational Developments, 13(2), pp. 6-10. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Baume, D. (2012b). “Digital literacies and digital fluency – a process of development?”. SEDA SIG blog, 14.11.2012. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Becher, T. & Trowler, P.R. (2001). Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Cultures of Disciplines. 2nd Edition. Buckingham, England: The Society of Research into Higher Education (SRHE) & Open University Press.

Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Bryant, L.H. & Chittum, J.R. (2013). “ePortfolio Effectiveness: A(n Ill-Fated) Search for Empirical Support”. International Journal of ePortfolio, 3(2), pp. 189-198. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Durkheim, E. (1976, [1912]). The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Translated from French by J.W. Swain. London: Allen and Unwin.

Foucault, M. (1988). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. Translated by C. Gordon, L. Marshall, J. Mepham & K. Soper. Random House: New York.

Griffiths, R. (2004). “Knowledge production and the research-teaching nexus: the case of the built environment disciplines”. Studies in Higher Education, 29(6), pp. 709-726. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

von Humboldt, W. (1970). “On the spirit and the organizational framework of intellectual institutions in Berlin, in University reform in Germany”. Minerva, 8, pp. 242-250. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014]

Wittgenstein, L. (2009, [1953]). Philosophical Investigations. Revised 4th Edition. Translated from German by G.E.M. Anscombe, P.M.S.Hacker & J. Schulte. Malden, MA; Oxford, England; Chichester, England: Wiley-Blackwell.

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In conversation with the Troika (Part 1)

“late night discussion (or what I'm trying to tell myself...)” by Phil Hilfiker. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

“late night discussion (or what I’m trying to tell myself…)” by Phil Hilfiker. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

During the month of February in 2014, I spoke to three key colleagues (whom I like to think of as the Troika) at Canterbury Christ Church University concerning my Doctorate in Education (EdD) and more broadly around the themes of academic practice, professional learning and e-portfolios. Each conversation lasted one hour. To preserve their anonymity, I shall call them Alec, Bryn and Cory respectively, and in some respects they will become my critical friends during my EdD pilgrimage.  A critical friend, therefore, is “a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critique of a person’s work as a friend” (Costa & Kallick, 1993).

Whilst this particular exercise was suppose to be a casual conversation, listening back to the recordings that I made, it did feel like I was conducting an interview, but in some sense I did want to frame my “conversation” around my three main themes. These conversations, along with my critical reading of some of the literature around this area, was going to inform me as whether this EdD had “any legs” or not. This is both my hope and aspiration for this module. I am conducting a kind of feasibility study if you will.

Conversation #1: Alec

It is with Alec that I have my first major “wobble” with the EdD. In 2010, Alec had submitted his Masters thesis called “Academic professional development for learning and teaching: the affordances of CPD portfolios“. It is here that I start to question the originality of my intended research idea. It is not until Alec generously gives me a copy of his thesis and the subsequent conversation that we have that I begin to feel reassured and even inspired that I could potentially use his work as a “springboard” for mine. Alec begins our conversation by providing some background information to his own research and feels there is a lot of “rhetoric about e-portfolios” with most of the research centred around students or teachers. There are also a lot of assumptions around the efficacy of e-portfolios which are seen as a given and tended to “naturally made sense“. For Alec, the deeper he dug around these assumptions, the more desponded he became as much of these assumptions around e-portfolios tended to be unfounded and lacked empirical evidence. In his own research, Alec found that “creating professional narratives is powerful” but it had very little to do with keeping an e-portfolio – if anything, keeping and maintaining an e-portfolio was seen as onerous, laborous and time-consuming.

Like Baumgartner (2009), Alec had created his own taxonomy of e-portfolios to make sense of the landscape that they operated within. In a similar fashion to Baumgartner (2009), the taxonomy was compiled based upon surveying the available literature. Alec came up with three main types (or class) of e-portfolio: working, showcase and assessment (which roughly mirrors Baumgartner’s work). Unlike Baumgartner, Alec didn’t develop his taxonomy beyond the type (in some sense this was out of scope for his own research). It was his intention that his Master’s thesis would present a “realistic” view of what could be achieved with an e-portfolio.

It is from Alec, that I am beginning to prefix the word “portfolio” with “(e-)”, so that it reads “(e-)porfolio” that “denotes paper or electronic portfolios, as much of the literature on the use of portfolios is applicable to either a paper-based or electronic format“. He suggests that I should try a “wacky” method to capture the insights, reflections and voice of my potential research respondents. He warns me that trying to capture, evidence-wise, academic practice or development is very, very tricky indeed. Alec suggests that I might start looking at the work of Michael Eraut which covers how professionals learn. It is here that the term “professional learning” is introduced to me. It would be much later before I would begin to appreciate the difference between “professional development” and “professional learning”. There is also some novelty or mileage in conducting a longitudinal study with a small group of respondents to see if (e-)portfolios are of any use / benefit in the development of academic practice / professional learning.

During his own Master’s research, Alec found it hard to hang on to the e-portfolio side of his research as the “questions shifted on how professionals learn. why they learn, what are their motivations“, so-much-so that the context overwhelmed his original research question. There is sound advice to in terms of trianglating my local context (i.e. Christ Church) with that of other Universities.

Alec has given me a lot of food for thought. There are potential avenues that I can venture into as well as potential pitfalls to try and avoid. I am beginning to feel a kind of “fight or flight” response to this EdD idea. I can see it being all-consuming and not producing very meaning results. It is patently clear to me that my methods and methodologies need to “more [of] a critical design attitude to be found always at work throughout a study, rather than confined within a brief chapter called ‘Methodology’” (Gabriel, 2011).

In part two in this short series of blog posts, I will be in conversation with Bryn.


Baumgartner, P. (2009). “Developing a Taxonomy for Electronic Portfolios”. In: Baumgartner, P., Zauchner, S. & Bauer, R. (Eds.). Potential of E-portfolios in Higher Education. Innsbruck; Piscataway, N.J.: Studienverlag. pp. 13-44. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B. (1993). “Through the Lens of a Critical Friend”. Educational Leadership: New Roles, New Relationships, 51(2), pp. 49-51. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Eraut, M. (1994). Developing professional knowledge and competence. London: Falmer Press.

Gabriel, D. (2011). “Methods and metholodgy”. Deborah Gabriel blog, 13.5.2011. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

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Entering the “swampy lowlands”

“swamp” by vistavision. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

“swamp” by vistavision. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

At last my three “conversations” (if I can call them that, they sound like interviews to me) are now in the bag and I will be posting my thoughts about that in a future blog post. In the meantime, I have been reading a number of articles around e-portfolios, academic practice, professional development and professional learning, I should have heeded Schön’s (1987) warning:

In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high, hard ground, overlooking a swamp … In the swampy lowland, messy, confusing problems defy technical solution. The irony of this situation, is that the problems of the high ground tend to be relatively unimportant to individuals or society at large, however great their technical interest may be, while in the swamp lie the problems of greatest human concern. The practitioner must chose. Shall he remain on the high ground where he can solve relatively unimportant problems according to prevailing standards of rigor, or shall he descend to the swamp of important problems and non-rigorous inquiry?” (Schön, 1987:3).

For starters, Reilly (2009) asserts that there is actually a difference between “professional development” and “professional learning” that I didn’t actually appreciate until I read her article, she explains that:

Development is a noun. Its suffix -ment used to form nouns chiefly by attaching to verbs, suggests a subject who is no longer doing, but rather exists as an object being acted-upon. In contrast, learning is a gerund and functions as a verbal noun indicating ongoing action. To professionally learn requires a doer. Learners actively determine their presence and agency. It is the chasm between being acted-upon and acting that we need to understand” (Reilly, 2009:81).

Reilly (2009) goes on to liken professional development as “dressing the corpse” because educators gone on predefined, prescriptive courses where they have no sense of agency or valorisation. We’re back in the zombification of Higher Education territory again. Swamps and corpses are all the ingredients we need to make our very own zombie programme (as in a course, not in television). Whilst this is all very interesting and fascinating, I am beginning to feel that this EdD “idea” of mine is going to lead me towards some unhithertoo quagmire. Once again, I am remined of Lawy’s (2006) paraphrasing of Biesta (2004) that education is all about “risk, trust and violence” – I need to be strong and I need to be brave, no-one said that this “pilgrimage” was going to be easy.

One of the reasons for reading Reilly (2009) because she makes linkages between professional learning and rhizomatic learning, of professional learning she says:

Professional learning … does not mean going it exclusively alone, following a crowd, or pledging allegiance to a product or practice. All, some, and none of these are possibilities … While development can be scheduled and plotted with specific content determined ahead of time, professional learning has more nomadic tendencies, resisting the linearity of input and output. As such, learning possibilities need to be occasioned from multiple, nonhierarchical networks, similar in design to the intricate nested interrelationships to be found on the World Wide Web. This emphasis on connections produces the possibility for neighbor interactions (Davis & Simmt, 2003)—the ideas, hunches, and insights that inform individuals’ and collectives’ thinking. Among these interactions, settled households emerge” (ibid., 2009:93).

You can see from the above statement why she might think that professional learning might have something of the “rhizome” about it. She begins to synthesise what this linkage between professional learning and rhizomatic learning might look like:

This stream undermining its banks reminds me of the contemporaneity of learning that is present in the flow of dynamic encounters. At such times it may be easier to recognize that ideas have neither beginnings nor ends. Rather, they exist in infinite middles between infinite things. Instead of trying to control and limit these variables, designers of professional learning need to attend to the comings and goings of people; the locations where the bifurcation process appears most lively. Think again of our stream undermining its banks and gaining speed in the middle. The tensions between containment and breach become the very forces in which we reinvest; the inevitable middles from whence new understandings might emerge” (ibid., 2009:94).

She draws quite heavily upon the “Funds of Knowledge” initiative by way of an exemplar of how this might work in practice, the example is very schools based. Like McIntyre (2012), the rhizome has provided Reilly with a model in which to begin to explain professional learning. For McIntyre (2012), the rhizome provided him with a model to explain how the “Learning To Teach Online” project was able to propagate itself. Whilst these are good conceptual models, I really do need something a little more pragmatic. I have a feeling that I will be taking Dave Cormier’s “Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum” course at P2PU sometime soon.

My next big read was Baumgartner’s (2009) taxonomy for e-portfolios. One of the three people who I was having a “conversation” with mentioned that they could not find a taxonomy of (e-)portfolios so developed their own taxonomy based on some of the descriptors, features and properties that they were able to extrapolate from their literature review. Baumgartner’s work developed out of a 2 year project. He begins by saying that from “an epistemological point of view, there is no hidden classification scheme of e-portfolios ‘out there’ in the world of software and pedagogy, which has to be discovered” (p.13). He uses Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Action to begin to construct the taxonomy because “a taxonomy is always a construction guided by some basic theoretical principles” (p. 14). This framework provides him with three different approaches to (e-)portfolio usage: software evaluation (objective relation); case applications (subjective relation); and application scenarios (social relation). He suggests that there are a “at least eight tasks a good taxonomy has to meet” (p. 17), these being:

  1. Integration
  2. Orienentation
  3. Information
  4. Cost Reduction
  5. Transfer
  6. Innovation
  7. Heuristic Tool
  8. Theory Construction

Like the person that I had the “conversation” with, Baumgartner used the “literature on e-portfolios to construct the taxonomy” (p.21). The came up with three main types (or classes) of (e-)portfolio:

  1. Reflection
  2. Development
  3. Presentation

For each type (or class), he considered there to be two types of (e-)portfolio owner:

  1. Personal
  2. Organisational

And finally, he saw that (e-)portfolios were orientated in one of two ways:

  1. Product
  2. Process

This in Baumgartner’s view gave him 12 types (3*2*2) of (e-)portfolio, as listed in the table below:

Developing a taxonomy of e-Portfolios (Adapted from Baumgartner, 2009)

Developing a taxonomy of e-Portfolios (Adapted from Baumgartner, 2009)

Baumgartner’s taxonomy also included how an (e-)portfolio could be used in different temporal situations:

  1. Retrospective (the past)
  2. Current (the now)
  3. Prospective (the future)

Together with a collaborator, Bauer & Baumgartner (2012) use a “pattern language“, a phrase coined by the architect Christopher Alexander to describe a “generative system that by using a set of rules (syntax), facilitates the combination of a limited number of clearly defined elements in an unlimited way with each other“. In Bauer & Baumgartner’s case, it’s likening the (e-)portfolio to a shop made up of different shop windows as metaphors for the different types of (e-)portfolio that Baumgartner had originally described in his taxonomy. I have to say that I thought this particular work seemed to be overly, and unnecessarily, complicated and just provided the (e-)portfolio scholar with yet another metaphor to play with, which is, presumably, underpinned by Alexander’s notion of pattern languages.

The Bhika, Francis & Miller (2013) paper draws upon the notion of social pedagogies as a way of integrating e-portfolio practice within professional development. Using the Bass & Elmendorf (n.d.) definition, social pedagogies are:

design approaches for teaching and learning that engage students with what we might call an “authentic audience” (other than the teacher), where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course” (Bass & Elmendorf, n.d., para. 2).

They conclude:

Intentional, integrative social pedagogies enable learners to create their own learning or social communities, which can be an engaging environment, learners can use this for everyday activities, keeping in touch with each other, finding the latest resources, and sharing their own experiences … Furthermore, when these social communities exist within an online platform such as ePortfolio, they allow communities of learners to develop and flourish beyond the physical and temporal boundaries of the classroom” (Bhika, Francis & Miller, 2013:125).

I found the notion of social pedagogies (with boundary objects) forming communities of practice to be an interesting one. I know that a lot of our staff would like to share practice with eachother more often but neither have the space nor time to do so. So I am beginning to wonder if an (e-)portfolio (or personal learning system) could possibly facilitate such an opportunity?

Bryant & Chittum (2013) offers a timely reminder that:

Although the theoretical foundation for ePortfolio use is strong, it is not sufficient to justify widespread use. As ePortfolio use continues to grow and valuable time and resources are being invested in this fairly new pedagogical tool, it becomes even more important that we have empirically-based evidence for its adoption” (ibid., 2013:190).

They reviewed a sample of 118 peer-reviewed journal articles on (e-)portfolios. Whilst the theory and rhetoric for the adoption of (e-)portfolios to facilitate knowledge construction and skills, deeper reflection, academic development is strong, it would seem that the empirical evidence is weak and insubstantial and a “transition toward empirical assessment of their impact on student outcomes is needed“. The one glaring issue that has been identified by the author is the absence of a comparison or control group:

… as a result, it is difficult to determine whether learning or positive growth in other realms occurred because of the ePortfolios or because of the general structure of the course. Researchers should begin to compare ePortfolio use to non-ePortfolio use within separate sections of the same course in order to parse out the specific contributions of the tool” (ibid., 2013:195).

They also offer an interesting point around longitudinal studies involving student:

Finally, the adoption of institution-wide ePortfolio systems that will follow students from their freshman year to graduation provide a new opportunity for researchers: longitudinal studies that look at differences between ePortfolio and non-ePortfolio users over the course of several years could provide useful information on potential benefits once students become sufficiently acclimated to the ePortfolio process” (Bryant & Chittum, 2013:195).

This is of interest to me, especially if I am to look at the progression of early career academic staff, within the context of academic practice or professional learning, and whether an (e-)portfolio can facilitate this development. Again, one of the people I had a “conversation” with mentioned a longitudinal study. If I am going to do this, then I need to be ready and primed by December 2014 when the first cohort of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP) begin. It is now clear to me that I have 9 months to go before I begin my descent into the “swampy lowlands” of (e-)portfolios, academic practice and/or professional learning.


Bass, R. & Elmendorf, H. (n.d.). “Designing for difficulty: Social pedagogies as a framework for course design”. Randy Bass blog. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Biesta, G.J.J. (2004). “Against learning. Reclaiming a language for education in an age of learning”. Nordisk Pedagogik, 24(1), pp. 70-82. Available at: [Accessed 2.2.2014].

Bauer, R. & Baumgartner, P. (2012). “Showcase of Learning: Towards a Pattern Language for Working with Electronic Portfolios in Higher Education”. In Proceedings of the 16th European Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (EuroPLoP 2011). Irsee Monastery, Bavaria, Germany. 13-17 July 2011. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Baumgartner, P. (2009). “Developing a Taxonomy for Electronic Portfolios”. In: Baumgartner, P., Zauchner, S. & Bauer, R. (Eds.). Potential of E-portfolios in Higher Education. Innsbruck; Piscataway, N.J.: Studienverlag. pp. 13-44. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Bhika, R., Francis, A. & Miller, D. (2013). “Faculty Professional Development: Advancing Integrative Social Pedagogy Using ePortfolio”. International Journal of ePortfolio,  3(2), pp. 117-133. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Bryant, L.H. & Chittum, J.R. (2013). “ePortfolio Effectiveness: A(n Ill-Fated) Search for Empirical Support”. International Journal of ePortfolio, 3(2), pp. 189-198. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Chesney, S. & Marcangelo, C. (2010). “‘There was a lot of learning going on’ Using a digital medium to support learning in a professional course for new HE lecturers”. Computers & Education, 54(3), pp. 701–708. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Cochrane, T. & Narayan, V. (2013). “Redesigning professional development: reconceptualising teaching using social learning technologies”. Research in Learning Technology, 21, pp. 1-19. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Davis, B. & Simmt, E. (2003). “Understanding learning systems: Mathematics teaching and complexity science”. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 34(2), 137–167. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Lawy, R. (2006). “Connective learning: young people’s identity and knowledge-making in work and non-work contexts”. British Journal of Sociology in Education, 27(3), pp 325-340. Available at: [Accessed 2.2.2014].

McIntyre, S. (2012). “Exploring a Rhizomic Model for the Design and Dissemination of Professional Development in Online Teaching”. In: Lam, P. (ed.). ICEL 2012 – 7th International Conference on eLearning, 2012, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Reading, England: Academic Publishing International, pp. 492-501. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Quinn, L. (2012). “Understanding resistance: an analysis of discourses in academic staff development”. Studies in Higher Education, 37(1), pp. 69-83. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Reilly, M.A. (2009). “Dressing the Corpse: Professional Development and the Play of Singularities”. Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 6(1), pp. 79-99. Available at: [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Rothwell, A. & Rothwell, F. (2009). “Embedding CPD: Policy implementation or research agenda?”. In: Laycock, M. & Shrives, L. (eds.). Embedding CPD in Higher Education. London: SEDA.

Schön, D.A. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions. San Franciso, CA: Jossy-Bass Publishers.

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The ‘Root’ of Professional Learning

“Trinity Root Sculpture” by Ingrid Truemper. Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA

“Trinity Root Sculpture” by Ingrid Truemper. Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA

In my previous post, I have alluded to having a “light-bulb moment” with regards to my eventual EdD thesis. So far, I have had two conversations with “key” people and a third, and final, conversation to be had this week. One of these “key” people has provided me, for now, a working title for my thesis. In fact, it is this same individual whose Masters thesis gave me the “wobble” concerning originality in the first place. The title they suggested was: “To what extent can (e-)portfolios really support developing academic practice“. Indeed, the notion of the prefix “(e-)” comes from them as well, they go on to say that it “denotes paper or electronic portfolios, as much of the literature on the use of portfolios is applicable to either a paper-based or electronic format“. I will say more about the three “conversations” that I have had in a future posting.

Insofar as this post in concerned, I want to pick up on some of the themes, ideas and issues that have emerged with some of the reading that I have undertaken as part of this module assignment. The articles that I have read (thus far) are from Smith & Tillema (1998), Knight (2002), Orland-Barak (2005), and Crawford (2007). These will not be the only articles, I will be delving into some more and see what emerges from the literature as well.

The Smith & Tillema (1998) paper concerns two studies from two different universities (one in Israel, the other in The Netherlands) on how portfolios are constructed and compiled by school principals (the Israeli study) and managers (the Dutch study). It was quite clear that some of the respondents had some difficulties compiling these portfolios and struggled with being critically reflective, having said that, the “most frequent statement was that one learned more about oneself” (ibid. p. 203). There was tensions as to whether portfolios were a tool for personal and professional development or just for appraisal exercises. Possibly because of lack of experience or insufficient instruction, was the lack of familiarity in the art of reflection. Another inhibitor, seem to be around time pressures as well, with the authors concluding that:

The results show that people who think more favourably of self-directed learning use the portfolio as an instrument for personal development more easily and readily. Evidence was found that a conceptual change in views about self-directed learning and self-assessment is more likely to occur if the participants see the relevance of the portfolio process to their own work. Future work in promoting portfolio use as a learning and development tool could take this into consideration at the planning stage” (ibid. p. 204-205).

The Knight (2002) makes a play on continuing professional development (CPD) (for initial teacher education) being needed because no-one can hold all the propositional (conceptual, explicit) knowledge nor the procedural (practical, tacit) knowledge that is needed.  The notion of reflection is both contested and challenged, Knight (2002) argues:

In the past 20 years a great deal of faith has been put in the concept of ‘the reflective practitioner’ and the idea that reflection in, on, and for practice are promising ways of improving the quality of espoused theories (propositional or explicit knowledge) and of practice (procedural knowledge and tacit knowing). Like many enduring educational concepts, its rhetorical appeal has outstripped the evidence. Some objections, well captured by Donnelly (1999), are that reason only has limited access to that which drives our actions, which rather limits the promise of reflection for improving practice” (ibid. p. 232).

Furthermore, Knight (2002) positions the spotlight on the valorisation of non-informal learning asserting that “continuing professional development policies that do not appreciate the importance of the non-formal learning will be skewed and hence less effective than their proponents hoped” (ibid. p. 234).

Knight (2002) offers an interesting quote from Briggs & Peat (1999) that uses the analogy of the “not neat” but rhythmic “healthy human heart” as a mirror to the often messy and chaotic nature of professional learning:

… isn’t quite regular. It exhibits a strangeness that involves endless chaotic variations, microjolts, and tiny variations within each heartbeat … a healthy organism … [is] jiggling, moving, shifting, filled with positive feedback loops that push the system into new directions and negative feedback loops that keep processes from flying off into merely random oblivion” (Briggs & Peat, 1999:65, 67, cited in Knight, 2002:235).

These notions of complexity and organism had reminded me of the work by Dave Cormier (2008, 2012, 2014) on rhizomatic learning and my own blog post for “Open Education” MOOC from The Open University as a response to it. I began to wonder how much alike professional learning and rhizomatic learning could be and whether we could interpret, explain or describe professional learning through the Deleuzian concept of the rhizome. Of course, I could be barking up the wrong tree (no pun intended). There are a couple of papers around this that I think is worth investigating before dismissing it as a “novel” idea.

Crawford’s (2007) paper is an overview of a (then planned) three year research project which attempts to understand those influences upon CPD practices within the context of the UK Higher Education sector. Crawford contends “that to develop a meaningful understanding of CPD practices in academia, it is necessary to start with an exploration of what academics understand by CPD, what they do and why, taking account of the context within which that happens” (ibid. p. 56). I have located Crawford’s doctoral thesis on this, so will need to look a little deeper at the findings and it’s potential relevance to my own studies.

Finally, the Orland-Barak (2005) paper, which introduces the concept of two types of portfolio: “process portfolio” (as a method to become acquainted with the process of developing and structuring a portfolio, to understand its’ strengths and weaknesses, i.e. “learning by doing”), and “product portfolio” (to represent the products of learning, i.e. evidencing engagement, understanding and reflection of new material or experiences). Once again, the notion that the portfolio tool could be used to facilitate reflective practice is highlighted here as something that is a “‘taken for granted’ assumption …  espoused by educational theorists” (ibid. p. 28). In evaluating the style of reflective writing used, Orland-Barak draws upon Hatton and Smith’s (1995) four levels of reflecting writing:

  1. descriptive writing (reports of events or literature, which is not reflective at all, i.e. practical);
  2. descriptive reflection (providing reasons on personal judgement, i.e. ethical);
  3. dialogic reflection (a form of discourse with oneself and exploration of possible reasons, i.e. critical);
  4. critical reflection (involving reasons given for decisions or events which take account of the broader historical, social, and political contexts, i.e. transformational).

It would seem that in Orland-Barak’s study of two in-service courses for mentors and teachers in Israel, the predominate style of reflective writing tended to adhere towards the descriptive reflection category. However, there did appear to be an unintended outcome:

Although the value of the experience for participants’ professional development was not initially a focus of this research, the data suggest that both kinds of portfolio yielded benefits for the mentors. These were apparent in the participants’ expressed sense of accomplishment in the experience of documenting their professional learning through a writing medium, seldom practised in the teaching profession” (ibid. p. 37).

Orland-Barak (2005) comes to an interesting conclusion:

It follows, then, that, to some extent, reflection was enhanced by the infrastructure of engagement created in the product portfolio, where participants worked together towards the instrumental goal of constructing and presenting a group portfolio. An infrastructure of engagement provides physical and virtual spaces, mutual access in time and space, joint tasks, availability for help, and casual encounters and activities that bring about occasions for applying skills, devising solutions, making decisions, using creativity and for developing collegial interactions in the larger professional community” (ibid. p. 39).

If my conversations and readings are anything to go by, it looks like I am about to embark in the murky and messy waters of academic practice, professional learning and e-portfolios. I am beginning to test the waters as to whether my idea for a doctoral thesis is a feasible, practical and sound one. As that old Billy Ocean song goes: “When the going gets tough … The tough get going“.


Becher, T. & Trowler, P. (2001). Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Cultures of Disciplines. 2nd Edition. Buckingham, England: The Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) & Open University Press.

Briggs, J. & Peat, F.D. (1999). Seven Life Lessons of Chaos. New York: Harper Collins.

Cormier, D. (2008). “Rhizomatic Education : Community as Curriculum”. Dave’s Educational Blog, 3.1.2008. Available at: [Accessed 13.3.2013].

Cormier, D. (2012).  Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education. Available at: [Accessed 13.3.2013].

Cormier, D. (2014). Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum. Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU). Available at: [Accessed 18.2.2014].

Crawford, K. (2007). “Continuing Professional Development in Higher Education: Debating the Academic Perspective”. The International Journal of Knowledge, Culture & Change Management, 7(8), pp. 51-57. Available at: [Accessed 18.2.2014].

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1988). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated from French by B. Massumi. London, England: Continuum.

Donnelly, J.F. (1999). “Schooling Heidegger: On being in teaching”. Teaching and Teacher Education, 15(8), pp. 933–949. Available at: [Accessed 19.2.2014].

Hatton, N. & Smith, D. (1995). “Reflection in teacher education: towards definition and implementation”. Teaching and Teacher Education, 11(1), p. 33-49. Available at: [Accessed 19.2.2014].

Knight, P. (2002). “A systemic approach to professional development: learning as practice”. Teaching and Teacher Education, 18(3), pp. 229–241. Available at: [Accessed 18.2.2014].

Orland-Barak, L. (2005). “Portfolios as evidence of reflective practice: what remains ‘untold’”. Educational Research, 47(1), pp. 25-44. Available at: [Accessed 18.2.2014].

Smith, K. & Tillema, H. (1998). “Evaluating Portfolio Use as a Learning Tool for Professionals”. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 42(2), pp. 193-205. Available at: [Accessed 18.2.2014].

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On Originality

Brains on Fire

“Brains on Fire” by Joe Plocki (turbojoe). Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

In my last post, I mentioned that at the weekend residential for module 4, I had a “light-bulb moment” that gave rise to an idea for an eventual EdD thesis. My elation for having this “idea” prove to be short-lived (or it did at the time) as it appeared that a colleague had been working on something similar for their Masters dissertation. It wasn’t until I had read their thesis that I realised that I could still pursue my “idea” and that their dissertation provided me with a nice foundation to springboard off. This became a “critical incident” for me.

A critical incident is usually a personal to an individual. Incidents only become critical (that is, problematic) if the individual sees them in this way; what is problematic for one person may not be for someone else. The incident is defined as critical after the event and it is worth remembering that we may often feel negative about any such incident. It is important to get beyond any uncomfortable feelings this may cause, so that learning and development can occur” (Bassot, 2013:38-39).

This “critical incident” got me thinking about the notion of “originality”. Those of us who are embarking upon doctoral studies in the United Kingdom (UK), will be familiar with the following statement from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) which says:

A candidate is examined on the basis of a thesis, portfolio, artefact(s), clinical practice or other output which must demonstrate the research question, critically evaluate the extent to which it has been addressed, and make an original contribution to knowledge” (QAA,2011:3, emphasis mine).

The QAA, of course, go on to outline what this “original contribution to knowledge” might look like:

Doctoral degrees are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

  • the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, through original research or other advanced scholarship, of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline, and merit publication;
  • a systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge that is at the forefront of an academic discipline or area of professional practice;
  • the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the project design in the light of unforeseen problems;
  • a detailed understanding of applicable techniques for research and advanced academic enquiry (QAA, 2011:3).

I was interested to see if anyone had written or tackled anything that was remotely to do with “originality” and did a simple Google search. A definition of originality, told me that:

  1. the quality or state of being original;
  2. ability to think or express oneself in an independent and individual manner; creative ability;
  3. freshness or novelty, as of an idea, method, or performance.

Somewhere else within the vast, unexplored depths of Internetdom. someone was putting together an essay that ran along the lines of: “originality does not mean thinking something that was never thought before; it means putting old ideas together in new ways“. Surely, you couldn’t reduce originality down to “putting old ideas together in new ways”? That seems quite blunt and cynical. Elsewhere, plucked out of the mists of time, 1989 in fact:

Nowadays, originality, the cult of the new, and plain shock power have such a hold on our judgment that we pay humble attention to a great deal of nonsense and charlatanism. This gullibility spreads wide and provides a market for the users of the topsy-turvy as a formula. Present the familiar upside down and there’s originality, nobody can deny that it’s new” (Barzun, 1989:350).

Crashing straight back into the 21st Century, there’s an interesting conceit around the “zombification” of Higher Education (Walker, Moore & Whelan, 2013; Golden, 2013), whereby

students concerned solely with getting through and making the grade; faculty members deadened by the corporatization of the university and the erosion of traditional faculty jobs; systems and processes within the university that have long since outlived their original purpose but that endlessly perpetuate themselves” (Golden, 2013).

Whilst I have yet to read the book, I imagine they will have something to say about originality being remix, reuse, repurpose (to take a Creative Commons metaphor), there’s even a paper about it (Boyd, 2000). Thank heavens then for David Baume’s (2012a, 2012b, 2012c, 2012d, 2013) short series of essays on Originality. Baume sees originality occupying “local” and “global” ends of a spectrum, and thinks that a “universal version” may, for now, be a little “over-ambitious”. Baume goes on to clarify what he means by “local” and “global” versions of originality:

I suggested a way to think about the question ‘how original?’ I suggested a scale. At one end is what we may call local originality, as in ‘I had never seen or heard that idea until I expressed it’. At the other end, global originality, the author claims ‘That idea has never before been thought in the history of the world – or not in a way accessible to me, anyway’.

So originality in practice may be relative, rather than absolute – relative to what is known, by the writer and also of course by the reader.

Thus far I have talked about originality both as a claim about and as a response to the thought or idea offered. But it is also useful to think about originality as a process; the process of being original” (Baume, 2012b).

It’s a kind of Master – Apprentice relationship, Baume suggests that lecturers should be encouraging and nurturing their students to start thinking about and critiquing originality, at least on a “local” level, gradually moving up to a “global” level that comes with experience and confidence. He offers a 9-point action plan that lecturers could use to achieve this in their modules and programmes, point 9 is particularly pertinent:

Then, throughout the course of their studies, we encourage them along the spectrum from local towards more global originality, in part by teaching them how to engage with the wider literature of the subject, and in part by helping the become more (and justifiably) confident in their originality” (Baume, 2012b).

On the subject of “Originality and Knowledge”, Baume shares his fears on the future of originality, perhaps alluding to the aforementioned zombification of Higher Education:

One way is through the role of originality in the development of new knowledge. This is an often mysterious, hidden, hard-to-describe process, even for those who develop such new knowledge. And even when the process is described; sometimes very vividly, as in [August] Kekule’s account of realising that a possible structure for benzene could be a six-carbon-atom ring, rather than a string – this idea came to him through a vivid daydream of a snake eating its own tail … We find an important link here between originality and knowledge, through a scientific method in which hypotheses, models, explanations can be developed through any process at all, then tested rigorously for their predictive or explanatory power.

I sometimes fear that over-emphasis on knowledge; whether propositional (know what), procedural (know how), or conceptual / theoretical (know why); may tend to drive out originality” (Baume, 2013).

For me, I am going to need some time to iteratively read and reflect around this notion of originality and, in particular, to think about what my “original contribution to knowledge” would look like.


Barzun, J. (1989). “The Paradoxes of Creativity”. The American Scholar, 58(3), pp. 337-351. Available at: [Accessed 8.2.2014].

Bassot, B. (2013). The Reflective Journal. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Baume, D. (2012a). “Originality, Part One – What does it mean?”. David Baume’s Blog, 23.6.2012. Available at: [Accessed 9.2.2014].

Baume, D. (2012b). “Originality, Part Two – Being original”. David Baume’s Blog, 18.6.2012. Available at: [Accessed 9.2.2014].

Baume, D. (2012c). “Originality, Part Three – Becoming original”. David Baume’s Blog, 12.7.2012. Available at: [Accessed 9.2.2014].

Baume, D. (2012d). “Originality, Part Four – Becoming critically original”. David Baume’s Blog, 10.8.2012. Available at: [Accessed 9.2.2014].

Baume, D. (2013). “Originality, Part Five – Originality and Knowledge”. David Baume’s Blog, 23.2.2013. Available at: [Accessed 9.2.2014].

Boyd, S.S. (2000). “Deriving Originality in Derivative Works: Considering the Quantum of Originality Needed to Attain Copyright Protection in a Derivative Work”. Santa Clara Law Review, 40(2), pp.325-378. Available at: [Accessed 8.2.2014].

Crisp, B.R., Lister, P.G. & Dutton, K. (2005). Integrated Assessment. New Assessment Methods. Evaluation of an Innovative Method of Assessment: Critical Incident Analysis. Glasgow, Scotland: Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education. Available at: [Accessed 9.2.2014].

Golden, S. (2013). “Zombies in the Academy”. Inside Higher Ed, 12.8.2013. Available at: [Accessed 9.2.2014].

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). (2011). The UK Doctorate: A Guide for Current and Prospective Doctoral Candidates. Gloucester, England: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. Available at: [Accessed 9.2.2014].

Tripp, D. (1993). Critical Incidents in Teaching: Developing Professional Judgement. London: Routledge.

Walker, R., Moore, C. & Whelan, A. (Eds). (2013). Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education. Bristol, England: Intellect, University of Chicago Press.

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