Week 2: Connectivism – Introducing the concept

"and Rossi" by Anne Petersen. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

“and Rossi” by Anne Petersen. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

The e-Learning Ecologies MOOC: Week 2 Question

Make a post introducing a ubiquitous learning concept. Define the concept and provide at least 1 example of the concept in practice. Be sure to add links or other references and images or other media to illustrate your point. If possible, select a concept that nobody has addressed yet so we get a well-balanced view of ubiquitous learning. Ubiquitous learning concepts might include:

Ubiquitous computing; Cloud computing; Web 2.0; The flipped classroom; Blended learning; Over-the-shoulder learning; Virtual schools; The internet of things; Mobile learning; Social media learning; Networked learning; Informal learning; Lifelong and lifewide learning; Work and community-based learning; Learning management systems; ePortfolios; Collaborative workspaces; MOOCs; or suggest a concept in need of definition!

My Response

The week 2 block on the e-Learning Ecologies MOOC introduces the first of the seven “e-affordances”: ubiquitous learning. Ubiquitous? Because it suggests learning that is “anytime, anyplace, anywhere” (older readers may recall that this was the marketing slogan used in an iconic TV advert of a popular alcoholic drink of the 1970s).

By way of explaining these activities, a number of “learning theories of the digital age” have been proposed: c3-learning (Sims, 2008); rhizomatic learning (Cormier, 2008, 2012, 2014), borrowing the term from Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) work, and its variant mycorrhizae (or wildfire) learning (Engeström, 2007, 2009) which takes its name from the symbiotic relationship between the fungus and that of the roots of the host plant. But chief amongst these is connectivism (Siemens 2005, 2006) underpinned by connective knowledge (Downes, 2005). Connectivism has been conceived as a:

…learning organization whereby there is not a body of knowledge to be transferred from educator to learner and where learning does not take place in a single environment; instead, knowledge is distributed across the Web, and people’s engagement with it constitutes learning (Kop, 2011:20).

The origins of connectivism can be located within the theories of “chaos, network, and complexity and self-organisation” (Siemens, 2005:3) and has a couple of distinctive features. Firstly, learning can reside in “non-human appliances” (such as databases, devices and tools); and secondly, learning is about “creating paths” to knowledge, when required, rather than acquisition of knowledge itself (Anderson, 2010:34), or as Siemens (2005:5) puts it: ” the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe”. The connectivist learning theory has generated considerable debate between its advocates (Mak, 2013) and its sceptics (Kop, 2011; Barry, 2013) since its inception.

The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), perhaps, best represents the concept of connectivism in practice. Though I should be clear and stipulate that the cMOOC variant is better aligned to connectivist principles than the xMOOC, which has long been perceived as being more instructivist in its approach and application. Though current discourse suggests that this is, perhaps, an over simplification of the xMOOC/cMOOC dichotomy as it conceals much more “nuanced approaches” and practices that are yet to be fully understood (Bayne & Ross, 2014).

Much research has been done on a variety of MOOC courses and platforms that have examined course engagement that has witnessed learners in active participation, passive participation or lurking (Milligan, Littlejohn & Margaryan, 2013); and the development of “new digital literacies and learning roles” to prepare and expose learners to “open, decentred practices and distributed expertise” to enable learners to participate in these massive, open spaces more effectively and efficiently (Stewart, 2013) – it had been noted that more work needed to be done to provide the necessary scaffolding to support learners who were very new to these over-abundant, uncertain and confusing environments (Downes, 2012b), as well as understanding how learners engaged in these spaces so that more appropriate and effective pedagogies could be developed to exploit these educative and technological opportunities (Wintrup, Wakefield & Davis, 2015; Wintrup, Wakefield, Morris & Davis, 2015).


Anderson, T. (2010). “Theories for learning with emerging technologies”. In: Veletsianos, G. (Ed.), Emerging technologies in distance education. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press. Available at: http://www.aupress.ca/books/120177/ebook/02_Veletsianos_2010-Emerging_Technologies_in_Distance_Education.pdf [Accessed 20.3.2013].

Barry, W. (2013). “Connectivism: Theory or Phenomenon?”. The Accidental Technologist blog, 29.4.2013. Available at: http://www.waynebarry.com/blog/?p=702 [Accessed 31.1.2015].

Bayne, S. & Ross, J. (2014). The Pedagogy of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): The UK View. York, England: The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/elt/the_pedagogy_of_the_MOOC_UK_view [Accessed 31.1.2015].

Cormier, D. (2008). “Rhizomatic Education : Community as Curriculum”. Dave’s Educational Blog, 3.1.2008. Available at: http://davecormier.com/edblog/2008/06/03/rhizomatic-education-community-as-curriculum/ [Accessed 13.3.2013].

Cormier, D. (2012). Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJIWyiLyBpQ [Accessed 13.3.2013].

Cormier, D. (2014). Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum. Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU). Available at: https://p2pu.org/en/courses/882/rhizomatic-learning-the-community-is-the-curriculum/ [Accessed 18.2.2014].

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by B. Massumi. London, England: The Athlone Press.

Downes, S. (2005). “An Introduction to Connective Knowledge”. Stephen’s Web, 22.12.2005. Available at: http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=33034 [Accessed 20.3.2013].

Downes, S. (2012a). “What a MOOC Does – #Change11”. Half an Hour, 1.3.2012. Available at: http://halfanhour.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/what-mooc-does-change11.html [Accessed 20.3.2013].

Downes, S. (2012b). “Education as Platform: The MOOC Experience and what we can do to make it better”. Stephen’s Web, 12.3.2012. Available at: http://www.downes.ca/post/57725 [Accessed 20.3.2013].

Downes, S. (2013). “The Quality of Massive Open Online Courses”. MOOC Quality Project, 13.5.2013. European Foundation for Quality in e-Learning (EFQUEL). Available at: http://mooc.efquel.org/week-2-the-quality-of-massive-open-online-courses-by-stephen-downes/ [Accessed 31.1.2015].

Engeström, Y. (2007). “From Communities of Practice to Mycorrhizae”. In: Hughes, J., Jewson, N. & Unwin, L. (Eds.), Communities of Practice: Critical Perspectives. London: Routledge.

Engeström, Y. (2009). “Wildfire Activities: New Patterns of Mobility and Learning”. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning, 1(2), pp. 1-18. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4018/jmbl.2009040101 [Accessed 20.3.2013].

Kop, R. (2011). “The Challenges to Connectivist Learning on Open Online Networks: Learning Experiences during a Massive Open Online Course”. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), pp. 19-38. Available at: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/882/1689 [Accessed 20.3.2013].

Mak, S.J. (2013). “Is Connectivism a New Learning Theory?”. Learner Weblog, 30.4.2013. Available at: https://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/is-connectivism-a-new-learning-theory-2/ [Accessed 31.1.2015].

Milligan, C., Littlejohn, A. & Margaryan, A. (2013). “Patterns of Engagement in Connectivist MOOCs”. MERLOT: Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), pp. 149-159. Available at: http://jolt.merlot.org/vol9no2/milligan_0613.pdf [Accessed 31.1.2015].

Siemens, G. (2005). “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age”. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning, 2(1), January 2005. Available at: http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm [Accessed 20.3.2013].

Siemens, G. (2006). “Connectivism: Learning Theory or Pastime of the Self-Amused?”. elearnspace, 12.11.2006. Available at: http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism_self-amused.htm [Accessed 20.3.2013].

Sims, R. (2008). “Rethinking (e)learning: a manifesto for connected generations”. Distance Education, 29(2), pp. 153-164. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01587910802154954 [Accessed 20.3.2013].

Stewart, B. (2013). “Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation?”. MERLOT: Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), pp. 228-238. Available at: http://jolt.merlot.org/vol9no2/stewart_bonnie_0613.pdf [Accessed 31.1.2015].

Wintrup, J., Wakefield, K. & Davis, H. (2015). Engaged Learning in MOOCs: A Study using the UK Engagement Survey. York, England: The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/node/10346 [Accessed 31.1.2015].

Wintrup, J., Wakefield, K., Morris, D. & Davis, H. (2015). Liberating Learning: Experiences of MOOCs. York, England: The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/node/10315 [Accessed 31.1.2015].

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Week 1: The Philosophy vs. The Application of Pedagogies

The e-Learning Ecologies MOOC: Week 1 Question

We don’t want to criticize didactic/mimetic pedagogy. It had its place in its time. It has done its job, sometimes appropriately, and in some circumstances it may still be appropriate. However, our focus in this learning module is on the affordances offered by e-learning environments for collaborative/reflexive learning. Not that the underlying ideas of collaborative/reflexive learning are new—in fact, many of them are quite old. It’s just that they may now be easier to realize, with the application of a new generation of e-learning technologies.

What do you think? When is didactic/mimetic or collaborative/reflexive pedagogy more appropriate? Or when has/does the one worked/work better than the other? Speak from your own personal experience, and respond to these questions in your post.

"Classroom" by William Creswell. Creative Commons licence CC BY

“Classroom” by William Creswell. Creative Commons licence CC BY

My Response

As the title of the week 1 block on the e-Learning Ecologies MOOC suggests, it’s about conceptualising learning, and what a stellar cast of philosophers, educators and practitioners we have: Confucius (c.500 BC), Aristotle (c.350 BC), St. Benedict (1949, [c.530AD]), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1921, [1762]), John Dewey (1963, [1938]), and Maria Montessori (1964, [1912]). An honourable mention should (and must) be conveyed to James Paul Gee (2005) as he also features in this extraordinary dramatis personae of thought leaders.

I was struck by the very different approaches towards the didactic/mimetic pedagogies which seem to range from learning through sensory information and curiosity (e.g. Confucius, Rousseau & Montessori) through to something that is akin to indoctrination (or to use that current political buzzword: radicalisation) (e.g. St. Benedict) and it bears a passing resemblances to the notorious headmaster in Dickens’ “Hard Times“, Thomas Gradgrind, who wishes to “pour facts” in to the “empty little vessels” that are awaiting his instruction. Thus giving rise to this notion of the authoritative and authoritarian “sage on the stage”, or teacher-preacher, whose words and utterances are considered and treated as law:

The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim. (Dickens, 2003, [1854]:1)

This got me thinking about how the philosophy of didactic/mimetic pedagogy (i.e. theory) is not necessarily the same as the application of didactic/mimetic pedagogy (i.e. practice), which seems to exist across a liberalist-fundamentalist continuum. We have seen examples of this continuum in politics, religion, sport and fandom, so it calls into question something about our identities, values, ideals and beliefs. For Dewey (1963, [1938]), education was about preparing children to be good citizens, to value their communities and to cherish life – it’s not all about books and facts. Gee (2005) touches on this suggesting the education should be about children having “control, agency, and meaningfulness” and that learning should be “hard work and deep fun”. Drawing upon the ideas of Freire (1970), Illich (1970), and Foucault (1991), Gee makes the following sobering statement:

School has taught people to fear and avoid learning as anorexics fear and avoid food, it has turned some people into mental anorexics. (Gee, 2005)

In this course, we are asked whether the affordances offered by e-learning environments for collaborative/reflexive learning will facilitate a new forms of pedagogies, which will be easier to realise and better inform us as educators. The question is will we make the same mistakes between the philosophy of collaborative/reflexive pedagogy and the application of collaborative/reflexive pedagogy? Will we create new forms of educational tyrannies? Take, for example, learning analytics (LA). On the one hand it could be used as a useful tool for students to reflect on their achievements and plan their learning trajectories. For the tutor, it offers a means to locate which students require extra support and attention and build supportive interventions around this. From a Foucauldian perspective, LA could be conceived as a tool for surveillance and performance management resulting in the misuse and mismanagement of vast data sets relating to both student and staff performance. But then, like a lot of things in life there are shades of light and darkness, we just need to be mindful and respectful of them and ensure that we choose our paths wisely.


Aristotle. (c.350 BC). Poetics. Translated by S.H.Butcher. Available at: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.html [Accessed 25.1.2015].

Confucius. (c.500 BC). The Analects. Available at: http://classics.mit.edu/Confucius/analects.html [Accessed 25.1.2015].

Dewey, J. (1963, [1938]). Experience and Education. New York, NY: Collier Books.

Dewey, J. (1956, [1915]). The School and Society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Dickens, C. (2003, [1854]). Hard Times. London, England: Penguin Books.

Foucault, M. (1991). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by A. Sheridan. London, England: Penguin Books.

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

Gee, J.P. (2005). Why Video Games are Good for Your Soul: Pleasure and Learning. Melbourne, Australia: Common Ground.

Gee, J.P. & Hayes, E. (2009). “Public Pegagogy through Video Games: Design, Resources & Affinity Spaces”. Game Based Learning, 19.1.2009. Available at: http://www.gamebasedlearning.org.uk/content/view/59/60/ [Accessed 20.3.2013].

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. London, England: Marion Boyars Publishing Ltd.

Montessori, M. (1964, [1912]). The Montessori Method: Scientific Pedagogy as Applied to Child Education in “The Children’s Houses”. Translated by A.E.George. New York, NY: Frederick A Stokes. Available at: https://openlibrary.org/books/OL23543162M/ [Accessed 25.1.2015].

Rousseau, J-J. (1921, [1762]). Emile, or Education. Translated by B. Foxley. London, England: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd. Available at: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2256 [Accessed 25.1.2015].

St. Benedict. (1949, [c.530AD]). The Holy Rule of St. Benedict. Translated by Rev. B. Verheyen, OSB. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/benedict/rule.html [Accessed 25.1.2015].

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The e-Learning Ecologies MOOC

Having promised myself that I would not do it whilst I am currently embarking on the EdD (Doctorate in Education), I have signed up to do another MOOC course through Coursera. The course, in question, is called “e-Learning Ecologies” and is being run by the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The course is being taught by Dr William Cope and Dr Mary Kalantzis (both Australians working in an American university) from 19 January to 15 March 2015 (around 8 weeks).

Screenshot: e-Learning Ecologies module in Coursera

Screenshot: e-Learning Ecologies module in Coursera

I find myself with a bit of spare time between now and the final taught module on the EdD, which is scheduled for March 2015. Having said that, I am spending the time wisely reading lots of books and articles on professional learning, higher education and various sociomaterialist concepts and theories. The “e-Learning Ecologies” MOOC, I felt, would offer me with a nice little distraction as well as providing me with some ideas and approaches that I could use in my role of a learning technologist. According to the course blurb:

This course introduces innovative approaches to learning and teaching, with a focus on the use of e-learning and social web technologies.

Althought not essential or dependent upon participants completing the course, I suspect some elements of the course has been influenced by the course tutors’ book (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012). The course introduces the notion of the “7 affordances of e-learning ecologies”, which consist of:

  1. Ubiquitous Learning
  2. Active Knowledge Making
  3. Multimodal Meaning
  4. Recursive Feedback
  5. Collaborative Intelligence
  6. Metacognition
  7. Differentiated Learning

As Dr Cope notes, there is nothing particularly innovative with these 7 affordances, indeed some are quite old concepts. What is, of interest, is the ease in which current and emergent educational technologies are able to incorporate those affordances to open up educational opportunities and encounters that are described as “New Learning”. The course team suggest that:

These affordances, if recognized and harnessed, will prepare learners for success in a world that is increasingly dominated by digital information flows and tools for communication in the workplace, public spaces, and personal life. This course offers a wide variety of examples of learning technologies and technology implementations that, to varying degrees, demonstrate these affordances in action.

The MOOC predominately makes use of in-house videos (the course has its own YouTube Playlist), articles (the course makes use of a website that complements the “New Learning” book) and discussion boards. Intriguingly, the course content also resides in a “social knowledge platform” called “Scholar“, which has been devised by Common Ground Publishing. So, the student can participant in either one or both of the platforms (though if you want to gain a certificate, your contributions have to be submitted in the Coursera platform only to qualify). It seems the course team appear to be “fans” of the “Scholar” platform and are conducting research into its use and viability as an education-led learning system.

This is my first non-UK course (virtual or otherwise), so I am excited to see how this is delivered and their approach to teaching the subject matter. What has caught my attention is that the course “supports 3 levels of participation”.  These being:

  1. (O)verview: Spending roughly 1-3 hours / week watching some videos, reading some articles and participating in the forums.
  2. (I)ntermediate: Spending roughly 3-8 hours / week watching some videos, reading some articles, participating in the forums, and posting an original contribution.
  3. (A)dvanced: Spending roughly 8-10 hours / week watching all of the videos, reading all of the articles, participating in the forums, posting an original contribution, and creating a peer-reviewed case study (You would have to do the “Advanced” level to qualify for the verified certificate).

I am aiming to do the Intermediate level where I will be posting my “original” contribution to the Coursera and Scholar platforms as well as my blog, so that you can see what I am up to.


Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B. (2012). New Learning: Elements of a Science of Education. 2nd Edition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

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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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/107780040100700605 [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 Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. 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: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/reports/2001/cdssfinalreport.aspx [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: http://repository.alt.ac.uk/831/ [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: http://repository.alt.ac.uk/386/ [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: http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2004/proceedings/symposia/symposium1/conole.htm [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: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00003204.htm [Accessed 21.10.2013].

Hopkins, D. (2009). “What is a Learning Technologist?”. Technology Enhanced Learning Blog, 13.8.2009. Available at: http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/blogging/what-is-a-learning-technologist/ [Accessed 14.3.2014].

Hopkins, D. (2014). “‘Who Are The Learning Technologist?’ by @HeyWayne”. Technology Enhanced Learning Blog, 18.2.2014. Available at: http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/elearning/who-are-the-learning-technologist-by-heywayne/ [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: http://learningtechnologiesteam.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/on-being-learning-technologist-and.html [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: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:236168/FULLTEXT01 [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: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/ncihe/ [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: http://etcjournal.com/2011/02/24/what-a-learning-technologist-needs-to-be-good-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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13562510701278641 [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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360500062995 [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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10734-004-2917-3 [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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075070902906798 [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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2013.777031 [Accessed 11.3.2014].

Thomson, P. (2014). “What’s with the name doctoral ‘student’?”. Patter, 3.2.2014. Available at: http://patthomson.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/whats-with-the-name-doctoral-student/ [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: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1076/2087 [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: http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/pr/Heutagogy.html [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: http://www.avetra.org.au/abstracts_and_papers_2001/Hase-Kenyon_full.pdf [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: http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/complicity/article/view/8766/7086 [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: http://www.seda.ac.uk/resources/files/publications_129_Ed%20Devs%2013.2%20v3%20%28FINAL%29.pdf [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Baume, D. (2012b). “Digital literacies and digital fluency – a process of development?”. SEDA SIG blog, 14.11.2012. Available at: http://sedasig.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/digital-literacies-and-digital-fluency-a-process-of-development/ [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: http://www.theijep.com/pdf/IJEP108.pdf [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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0307507042000287212 [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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF01553214 [Accessed 23.2.2014].

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Available at: http://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/files/thedigitalscholar.pdf [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: http://peter.baumgartner.name/publikationen/liste-abstracts/abstracts-2009/developing-a-taxonomy-for-electronic-portfolios/ [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: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct93/vol51/num02/Through-the-Lens-of-a-Critical-Friend.aspx [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: http://deborahgabriel.com/2011/05/13/methods-and-methodology/ [Accessed 23.2.2014].

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