Collaborative teaching spaces – a teacher’s experience

Here’s a repost of a blog entry I wrote about using the new collaborative teaching spaces at my institution, originally written for the ICAEW Academia & Education Community.


A collaborative accounting, finance and business MOOC – presentation at ESLTIS17 conference, Sheffield

Here are the questions I got asked by attendees on and my answers.

Was it worth the time and effort in terms of the experience and learning for you? Would you do it again?
Yes.  It allowed me to put into practice my academic knowledge both in my discipline but also in online and distance education.  It has raised my profile within my institution and outside and I learnt a lot about the process of developing a MOOC and facilitation with a massive cohort.  However, it was hard and time-consuming work as I had to do the development and delivery alongside my full teaching load.  I would encourage other MOOC developers to negotiate workload remission as online learning design and delivery is so time-consuming.
How did you encourage peer learning?
The steps which had the most learner comments from the analytics on both runs of the MOOC were those which had a specific discussion prompt asking learners to answer a question or provide a comment.  There was a balance to be struck between encouraging learners to comment on each others’ posts, and not being too involved so that learners would only respond to the moderators and educators.
If participants think their comment is more likely to be seen rather than lost in the noise, could it explain good comment engagement with the smaller cohort?
Yes, I think this could be an explanation for why we had more learners making multiple comments on the second run (which was much smaller) than the first run of the course.  Also, we reached more of the target demographic (16-18 year old students and undergraduates across disciplines) with the second run of the course than the first run, perhaps because the second run was not during school or university term-time.
Do you hope to use your resources in other areas going forward?

Yes, we have a lot of video footage which we are considering using, subject to IP rights.  I’m interested in using the idea of the interactive exercises in other contexts, as they were so well-received in the learner feedback on the MOOC.  More generally, I use short video clips much more in my teaching than I did before, as I now recognise the power of video to grab students’ attention and make an issue immediate and authentic.

My slides from the presentation are attached.MOOC presentation-ESLTIS 2017-LITE template

I’m back…

It’s been a while since I used this blog, but now I have finished my MA and am working on various educational technology and educational research projects.  I attended the Enhancing Student Learning Through Innovative Scholarship (ESLTIS) conference this week, and was inspired to re-start my blog, this time to share my project work, evaluation and (dare I say it)…research.

This summer I am doing several conference presentations nationally and internationally, two about a MOOC on which I was one of the educators, which ran in 2015 and 2016, one on my disciplinary research (which is in accounting) and another on a Teaching Enhancement Project I’m doing with a colleague at my instiution, which is about barriers and challenges to Year in Industry.  So, pretty diverse!

E891 Part 3 Action 3.4 Applying an experimental frame to explore practice

As I concluded earlier on in the module, most of the research questions I identify tend to be suited to an interpretivist/constructivist frame. I am often interested in why and how something is happening, not necessarily on what is happening and whether there is a systematic effect, although the latter is potentially a secondary concern to me.

Having reconsidered my tentative research questions from earlier on in the module, there is, however, one question to which an experimental frame might be aligned.

To what extent would personalised study skills support from a personal tutor help students to achieve at university?

I’m particularly interested in students who perhaps have not developed strong self-efficacy or self-regulation and therefore are less prepared for HE study than some others in their cohort.

An experimental design could be applied with, for example, a randomised section of students receiving personal study support, and another randomised section not receiving any intervention. There might be potential ethical concerns around one group receiving something extra/better than the norm, so perhaps the other group could have other additional resources on study skills but no personal tutor intervention in this area. The experiment would need to run perhaps for a whole semester, and then marks could be tracked throughout. However, it would be rather difficult to compare the with/without group since the main assessments come at the end of the semester. Just comparing how the two groups do might result in false results because so many factors might influence the end of semester performance, particularly in year 1 as the students are settling in. Perhaps a test could be set mid-semester and performance of the two groups compared then (means etc).

I think this design might help me to understand better the impact a personal tutor might have, but I would see this as a starting point in the research as it might answer ‘what’ but not ‘why’ questions about the intervention and support needed. I would be interested in tutor and student perceptions of the intervention, what the students feel they are finding difficult early on in university, what kind of help they and the tutors would consider most effective etc. One might even track students over their HE careers as case studies, understanding how they develop the self-efficacy and self-regulation skills over time, and then taking lessons from that into the 1st year curriculum and skills development content.

E891 Action 2.2 Thinking about (educational) theory

  • When you think about engaging with theory what comes to mind? Does it make you groan, turn eagerly to the next page of the Study Guide, or something in between? If so why is that?

I think of it a bit like eating my greens – not particularly fun in the short-term, but will probably benefit me if I take a longer term perspective.

  • What does this say about your understanding of theories, their nature and function? For example, you may consider that they have no function.

I feel that much of the theory I read in educational research seems quite alien to my everyday experience.  Perhaps I am influenced by my original academic background as a scientist, and by reading scientific research, and then by my experience working as a professional accountant working to tight deadlines where reflection was a luxury seldom afforded.  Occasionally, however, I do read something that makes sense to me such as the articles debunking the ‘digital natives’ construct and considering individual differences in students’ access to and interest in technologies and using technologies to support their studies.  These take a perspective that individual differences exist here, in the same way as they do for other characteristics.

I sometimes feel that educational research published in academic journals is not aimed at or designed to be read by the ‘mere practitioner’ such as myself.  However, ‘popular theory’ is often viewed with disdain in academic circles.  Yet, more academically rigorous work needs to be put across clearly and concisely to be useful for and to be read by time-poor practitioners and policymakers.

  • Think of a learner with whom you work – this could be a colleague or a pupil you support. What things about them, and that you have to help them to do, influence how you support them? Can you identify where you got these ideas from?

I am thinking of students whom I have seen for academic consultations this week.  They are studying accounting in the first year of their degree, and this is their first semester at university.  I try to take this into account – it’s not just my subject that is new, it is the whole concept of university study that is new to most of them.  However, I think the degree to which they show signs of and potential to manage their own learning (self-regulation, self-efficacy) does influence how much help I will give.  I want to see learners meeting me part of the way, and they should be putting in effort as well as me – even if they are struggling, if I can see they have tried, I feel I can do more to help them successfully.  Some of this comes from Entwistle and Ramsden regarding self-efficacy and self-regulation, the learner’s conceptions of study and the teacher’s conceptions of teaching.

  • Are there practices that you typically use because you know they work? Can you say why they work? If you could would it help? How might it help?

There are tips and advice I use such as using mnemonics, breaking things down into steps etc.  I think they work because they are changing something from potentially overwhelming to something more do-able.  These are strategies I have used in my previous studies, and some were taught to me when I was training to be an accountant.  I also try to use variety, different ways of explaining things, examples – these are things that have come to me from talking to, observing and being taught by my mother, who is a teacher.  In terms of other influences, they come from working with current and former colleagues, research and conferences on accounting education which I read and attend, and from my experience coaching junior colleagues in professional practice on a one-to-one basis.  I think if I could explain better (with evidence) why they work, it would make it easier for me to ‘sell’ the benefits to students during a course.

E891: Activity 1.11 The assessment of research

How do you relate the different types of research to the categories indicated by Bassey and Ball?

The TLRP briefing lists a number of types of research, but these are driven by ultimate purpose/audience rather than philosophical categories.  There is some overlap between the TLRP briefing categories and Bassey’s pluralist conception of educational research.  The TLRP briefing does not include a holistic definition of what educational research is, but the the number of types identified indicates that the authors are thinking broadly in terms of what the discipline encompasses.  However, the idea of educational research being on a journey is not strongly reflected in the TLRP briefing categories.  The categories in the TLRP briefing do, however, identify practice-based research as a separate type, in common with Bassey’s ideas of personal theories etc.

I think linking the TLRP briefing and Ball is more difficult.  Some of the TLRP identified categories appear to fall within policy science – for example project evaluation etc.  However, most of the detailed lists of criteria include theoretical basis/framework as something reviewers/funders are looking for, so the policy scholarship ideas of Ball appear to be reflected and privileged here as well.

Where do the other articles you have read fit into the frameworks presented in the TLRP briefing?

Gao and Shu (2010) – published journal article but elements of the developmental/practice-based research framework.  The paper doesn’t have a particularly strong theoretical framework and it is focused on an issue identified in practice and policy recommendations relating to this issue.

Edwards, Sebba and Rickinson (2007) – published journal article but there is an element of project evaluation of the strand of the TLRP that these authors are writing about, and its wider implications for collaborative working between academic researchers and practitioners.  It therefore has potential relevance for future practice-based and developmental research studies.

TLRP ‘Improving working as learning’ (2008) – I found this difficult to fit neatly into the frameworks.  It appears to be partly project evaluation, but also practice-based research.

Do the evaluation criteria also reflect the different categories?

There is overlap between the criteria but they are tailored to the overall purpose and audience within each category.  I think that the research process led to development of ‘shopping lists’ of criteria.  What is not evident in the briefing is the relative emphasis on  tindividual criteria within each category.  For example – theoretical framework is mentioned in a number of the lists, but there is no indication of its importance in journal published articles vs practice-based research, for example.  I think that the ‘bar’ for theoretical robustness would be higher in journal published articles than in practice-based research, even though I would expect both types of research to be informed by theory.  

#E891 Part 1: Exploring and examining educational research (activities 1.1, 1.2)

I was aware that there were inherent tensions in educational research, but not that there were so many, before reading the Bassey (2007) and Ball (2007) articles from the course reader.  It appears that debates on the nature of educational research, its purpose, its ‘purity’ as academic enquiry vs subjugation as an instrument of government policy agendas are still raging.  The threat of ‘policy science’ to educational research raised by Ball appears to have emerged again in the discussions regarding the government’s establishment of the ‘What Works’ network of centres to investigate policy issues, and the March 2013 speech by Dr Ben Goldacre (a medical doctor) on ‘Building Evidence into Education’, which focused on the potential use of randomised controlled trials in educational research.  It does seem odd that the government should engage a medical practitioner and not an educationalist to review the use of evidence in educational research – one would think that this role would require someone/several people from within the education community, perhaps supported by those outside the field to provide critical challenge.   More detail can be found at: 

More of the ‘ed’, less of the ‘tech.’? #E891

I’ve been rather quiet on this blog over the summer, as I’ve been beavering away updating modules, marking dissertations and getting ready for a new academic year.  Our iPad pilot continues, and I have just received a good number of survey responses from our students to analyse, with more expected next week.  The title of this blog post refers to the fact that I’m going to use this blog as a learning journal/jotting space for my (hopefully) last Open University MA module – which is on ‘Educational Enquiry’, and will last for the next 11 months.  This is a broader-based module than the previous ones I have studied which related specifically to online and distance education, so there will be less of an educational technology focus in the module, and hence probably in my blog entries related to it.  However, I’m hoping to focus some of my assignments (where I have a choice) on educational technology, so it won’t disappear completely from this blog.  

#ocTEL week 10 Reflecting on the ocTEL experience

My big question from the start of the course was  ‘How do we use technologies to enrich teaching and encourage our students to use them to enrich their learning, while still respecting individual differences and preferences?

While I don’t think I have answered this question during the 11 weeks of participation, I have widened my appreciation of some of the issues, and become aware of some recent literature and projects (mostly published since I paused my MA studies in 2011) that provide a tapestry of ideas for future projects.  My Delicious social bookmarking has got a lot of reading material in it from ocTEL!

I have got far more from this course than I imagined – not so much in terms of themes, which as an OU MA in Online and Distance Education student were largely familiar, but in terms of the overall experience.  It’s been great to ‘meet’ some peers doing interesting projects and share our knowledge and experiences.  I’ve even ‘met’ some people in my own institution, who I would not have otherwise come across! 

I’ve enjoyed being a MOOC participant, and I think the course has run pretty smoothly, which is due to what seems like a lot of work behind the scenes from the course team.  The course has also given me some focus for my edtech blog, which I had started before the course, but which has been very useful to reflect my thoughts for some of the activities.

I’ve even learnt to dip in and out (although some of this was forced by lack of time in what has been a busy teaching semester), a ‘buffet’ approach which isn’t possible with my assessed studies, but which has reminded me of the joys of studying without some of the pain!  All in all, it’s derveloped my knowledge a bit, but more importantly got me back into studying again online, in preparation for my final MA module which starts in October.

If people have an interest in educational technology, education as a whole, and their professional development, then future iterations of ocTEL would be a good place to start!

#ocTEL week 9 TEL project management

This week is interesting as I wouldn’t usually describe my forays into edtech as full-blown projects!  However, I am involved in a bigger project due to planned rollout of iPads for various student cohorts.  However, this project is at quite an early stage so I am trying to take everything in so that we implement good practice and avoid banana skins as the project progresses.

We had developed a proposal for a staff iPad pilot with a group of 6 teaching staff, which crossed with the wider student implementation project and hence became subsumed within it.  However, we are running our pilot as an autonomous group within the larger project.

Some good practices that I think we are following:

1) Project is about altering pedagogies as much as using the technological tools – we’ve identified strands of activity in terms of pedagogical affordances, and we’re setting out to explore how the iPads can help (or not help, as the case may be!)

2) Community of practice – the whole aim was to try to create a beacon group of staff who could then pass on expertise to wider groups of colleagues.  We all work closely together anyway and I am planning regular get togethers to foster this.

3) Detailed plan and timeframe – these were developed (by me!) with milestones at proposal stage

4) Collecting information about students’ tech uses and habits – we are planning a survey of our incoming cohorts as there is little data on this which is specific to our faculty or discipline.  Trying not to make dangerous assumptions!!

Some banana skins to avoid:

1)Inadequate consideration of risks and risk mitigation – for our pilot, I will use the JISC risk logs to develop the risks identified at proposal stage, track and mitigate what we can.  There are some risks I have already identified

2) staff time and resource issues- we are short of resource, both in terms my my time as I have a full teaching load and other responsibilities, and because one of our learning technologists, with prior experience in this area is on leave – again, I’m going to have to monitor this one closely and flag it in my progress reports…