Innovating Pedagogy 2021

Cover of Innovating Pedagogy 2021Out today, Innovating Pedagogy 2021. This series of reports explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world to guide teachers and policy makers in productive innovation. This year’s report is the ninth that proposes ten innovations that are already in currency but have not yet had a widespread influence on education. To produce the report, a group of academics at the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, UK, collaborated with researchers from the Artificial Intelligence and Human Languages Lab/Institute of Online Education at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

This year, the ten pedagogies are:

  • Best learning moments: Positive mental states for enjoyable and effective learning
  • Enriched realities: Extending learning with augmented and virtual reality
  • Gratitude as a pedagogy: Reflecting on attitude to improve wellbeing and learning
  • Using chatbots in learning: Using educational dialogues to improve learning efficiency
  • Equity-oriented pedagogy: Finding fairer ways to improve learning for all
  • Hip-hop based education: Culturally relevant learning through hip-hop
  • Student co-created teaching and learning: Teachers and students creating materials and curricula
  • Telecollaboration for language learning: Using communication tools for collaborative language learning
  • Evidence-based teaching: Using evidence from research to inform teaching
  • Corpus-based pedagogy: Using authentic language data to support language teaching and learning

The report is freely available, released under a Creative Commons licence.

All previous reports are also available from the website, including a Korean version of last year’s report, together with an abridged Chinese version.

Kukulska-Hulme, A., Bossu, C., Coughlan, T., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Rienties, B., Sargent, J., Scanlon, E., Tang, J., Wang, Q., Whitelock, D., Zhang, S. (2021). Innovating Pedagogy 2021: Open University Innovation Report 9. Milton Keynes: The Open University.

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TEACH4EDU4 – European project

Tuesday 8 December was the kick-off meeting for our new EU-funded project TEACH4EDU4.

TEACH4EDU4 project activities are designed to enable the creation of an environment where new learning and teaching approaches can be implemented in computer science and related disciplines. The project will enable teachers and students in Higher Education to acquire new skills and teaching methods.

A team of us in IET, led by Bart Rienties, will be working with the University of Žilina, the University of Belgrade, Tallinn University, the University of L’Aquila, and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. We’ll be working on all the project outputs and leading on Output One: Catalogue of new forms of teaching, learning and assessment in Computer Science in Edu 4.0 and related teachers’ skills and competences.

Kick-off meetings are usually rare chances within European projects for a physical meet-up, and an opportunity to get to know the people we’ll be working with in the coming years. This time, we had to shift from Zagreb to Zoom. It’s not an ideal way of doing things, but the meeting was very well structured, and doing it remotely meant that all team members could attend, rather than just a couple of representatives.

Participants at kick off meeting - faces from Zoom call


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Evaluating online courses

Five of the educaotrs who worked on the courseAnother of the online teaching microcredentials produced by IET went live on the FutureLearn platform on Monday 30 November. Online Teaching: Evaluating and Improving Courses is a 15-credit postgraduate course that is designed for individual educators and trainers, as well as for learning institutions.

The image above shows five of the educators who worked together to write the course. We’re part of a much wider team involved in production that includes curriculum managers, editors, video producers, transcribers, rights experts, project manager Chantine, and the mentor who supports students on the live course.

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Virtual EdD viva

Screenshot of the vivaLast December, I was invited to examine the viva of EdD student Maureen Brennan at the University of Hertfordshire. At the time, like most vivas in the UK, it was planned to be an event where we were physically co-located. In the end, though, lockdown meant the event took place on 24 November this year via Microsoft Teams.

The internal examiner and I met online the day before the viva to be briefed on how things would work and how we could ask for help in the case of technical difficulties. I had to be photographed holding my passport, confirming my right to work in the UK. These right-to-work checks precede most UK vivas and usually have to take place in person, so it’s good that this year we are establishing they can be carried out perfectly well online.

On the day, the internal examiner and I met to agree how we’d divide our questions and which areas we’d focus on. We then took a break before coming back for the viva. At the end, Maureen and her supervisor left while we deliberated, and then returned to hear the good news that we were recommending a pass with only a small amount of corrections.

The Teams screen set-up doesn’t work as well for this sort of event as Zoom – the screenshot above shows the internal examiner, supervisor and candidate, with me very small in the bottom right. The Teams display shifts, depending on who is talking and who has spoken most recently.

Maureen’s thesis is on ‘The Use of Asynchronous Discussion To Support Collaborative Assessment in an Online Programme’. In it, she argues that student-to-student conversations in groups have a significant impact on learning. She used a case-study design to explore what was happening in an online collaborative group task. She found that group conversations had a significant impact on both individual and group achievement.

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UCL MA Education and Technology

I’ve been an External Examiner for UCL’s MA in Education and Technology since 2016. My time in the role was extended last year, but now I’ve been in post for the maximum period, so I’m having to step down from the role.

It has been an interesting opportunity to take an in-depth look at a Masters course in another institution and to reflect on the processes of learning and teaching. Something I particularly like about the qualification is its use of feed-forward.

At the start of most pieces of assessed work, students are asked to identify two things they were encouraged to do in their last piece of feedback and then to note how they have responded to these suggestions. This means that feedback is not something to be skim-read and forgotten – the course design emphasises its value in developing skills and knowledge over time. The format also prompts educators to give feedback that is more than simply a response to a single piece of work, instead giving advice to guide future actions.

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Online teaching PGCE

The Open University now runs a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) course in Wales. It’s a tough time to start training to be a teacher, with schools opening and closing, areas moving in and out of lockdown, and year groups or bubbles shifting from on-site learning to distance learning.

In early October, I presented at an online seminar on teaching online / at a distance, covering ways of engaging learners at a distance, teaching at a distance, assessing at a distance, and developing professional practice at a distance.

The team at OU Wales kindly translated my slides and resources for me.

Tweet about the PGCE event

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Analytics and accessibility

Back in 2016, I worked with Martyn Cooper and Annika Woolf to explore ways in which learning analytics could be used to contribute to accessibility and to the learning of disabled students. At The Open University, where I’m based, around 17% of students have a declared disability and so accessibility is always high on the agenda. We presented a paper at the LAK conference that year, What can analytics contribute to accessibility in e-learning systems and to disabled students’ learning?

We’ve been extending that work recently and thinking about other aspects of analytics and accessibility, so I was delighted when Stephanie Teasley from the University of Michigan got in touch to invite me to record an In Conversation with her about the the paper, to form part of a course at Michigan. During the conversation, she asked a series of questions: Why we wrote the paper when we did, what the issues were then that have now been addressed & how our results helped – if they did? What important issues should researchers and practitioners now be thinking about with respect to ethical uses of learning analytics data?

I enjoyed the opportunity to revisit the paper and to think about how learning analytics have moved on in this respect. Although there hasn’t been a lot of work in the area, there has been overlap with work on serious games and chatbots that explores related issues. From another perspective, as learning analytics tools replace early prototypes, there’s a need to think more carefully about the accessibility of their design, not only in terms of technical elements but also in terms of usability. Does the tool cater for learners who need extra time to make responses; reduce cognitive load as far as possible; and remove triggers of anxiety?


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Creating courses for online learners

A second run for our microcredential ‘Online Teaching: Creating Courses for Adult Learners’ began on 19 October 2020.

Most Open University courses these days run only once a year, so the three-a-year pattern of the microcredentials on FutureLearn breaks with tradition.

If you’re interested in signing up for one of the next presentations of this 15-credit course (UK postgraduate credits), there are more details on FutureLearn or in the OU online prospectus.

Teet about this and related courses

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Creating a framework of fun

One of the great things about Covid (admittedly, there are very, very few of these) is that it’s much easier to get to conferences. They’re online. You don’t have to travel. You don’t have to faff around finding the closest hotel within your budget and the cheapest tickets. You don’t have to create budgets, or find someone who can make bookings. You don’t have to pack, get up at some unearthly hour, travel all day, and then get up super early to run through your slides. If you can persuade your organisation to pay the conference fee (which is usually a lot cheaper than usual because it doesn’t include a building, refreshments, conference dinner, hire of display boards etc) and you’ve got a reliable network connection, you can get there.

As a result, I’ve been to more conferences this year than usual. I miss the socialising and the networking, and I think it would be tough if I were an early-career researcher trying to get to know people in the field, but for one year it feels pretty good. You can even get to parallel sessions because most of the talks are recorded.

One of the conferences I wouldn’t normally get to is the European Conference on Game-based Learning (ECGBL 2020), so I was pleased to be able to attend on 24-25 September and to talk about some of the work we’ve been doing in the Rumpus research group.

And, as a follow-up, because I was lucky enough to get funding from the Childhood, Youth and Sport Group (CYSG) at The Open University to attend the conference, I was also able to give a modified version of the same talk to CYSG on 4 November.


The relationships between fun and learning are far from clear. Some argue that the two are mutually exclusive, while playful practitioners draw attention to links with motivation, exploration and creativity. This is an important issue in the context of games-based learning – should fun be emphasised, or should it be set aside in favour of other elements? In order to explore the relationships between learning and fun, it is first necessary to understand the meanings of ‘fun’, a term that previous studies have shown is interpreted in several distinct ways. In this paper, we explore a new approach to researching fun and learning, the Consensus Workshop. This method was used to address two research questions: ‘What elements of fun do a group of educational practitioners identify within a Consensus Workshop?’ and ‘How do participants see these elements translating to a learning scenario?’ It was also used to explore whether a Consensus Workshop can be used to collaboratively create a taxonomy of fun, and to identify any practical and conceptual barriers to this being done effectively. Participants in a Consensus Workshop used balloons to help them construct two typologies of fun and its relationship to learning. We evaluate this approach and its outcomes, identify elements of a future typology, examine how understandings of fun are shaped by context, and consider the ways in which participants linked fun and learning. The study highlights the importance of context to understandings of fun, and also finds indications that studies in this area are limited by a tendency to focus on socially acceptable views of fun and its relationship to learning. It finds that a Consensus Workshop has the potential to be used to create a taxonomy of fun. In this initial trial of the method, educational practitioners identified multiple elements of fun and made a range of connections between fun and learning.

Ferguson, Rebecca; Childs, Mark; Okada, Alexandra; Sheehy, Kieron; Tatlow-Golden, Mimi and Peachey, Anna (2020). Creating a Framework of fun and Learning: Using Balloons to Build Consensus. In: 14th European Conference on Games Based Learning – ECGBL 2020, 23-25 Sep 2020, Brighton (held virtually due to COVID).

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Online learners: offline options

The FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) met virtually on 14 September 2020 at an event hosted by the University of Bath.


10.00 Introduction and Welcome to FLAN and Bath Professor Andrew Heath, Director, Centre for Learning & Teaching University of Bath

10.15 A framework for evaluating the impact of a MOOC on quality improvement in healthcare Dr Sian Lickess-Smith, Anna Burhouse, Prof Christos Vasilakis, Dr Tricia Woodhead, University of Bath

10.45 Evaluating global health MOOCs: Case study from the International Centre for Evidence in Disability, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Sally Parsley, Nathaniel Scherer

11.30 Measuring impact using a case study approach Nicky McGirr, Dr Helen Bilton, Reading University

12.00 A Statistical Analysis of Engagement in Arabic Language MOOCs Shahad Almansour, Dr John Power, Dr Alan Hayes, University of Bath

12.30 Guidance on how Learning at Scale can be made more accessible Dr Tina Papathoma, Open University

13.30 Preliminary findings from the study: How can MOOCs by used to support outbreak response? An Action Research approach Josie Gallo, Maryirene Ibeto, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK Public Health Rapid Support Team

14.00 Challenges in student workload mapping – quick wins in finding success for learners Kulvir Bahra, The Open University

14.45 Roundtable session – Researching online education during and after COVID-19 Monty King, FutureLearn

15.30 What are the benefits to students of offering downloadable versions of online study materials and supporting offline study? Dr Rebecca Ferguson, The Open University

Supporting offline study

Thsis was a version of a talk I presented earlier in the year at the CALRG conference; the abstract remains the same, though the talk has changed. The flexibility of online and distributed learning has prompted many educational providers to move towards an approach that privileges online resources, sometimes without the option to access resources offline or in printed form. This can be a problem for disabled learners who are either unable to access online resources or who cannot do so for extended periods of time and therefore require other options. Universal Design principles suggest that adding facilities to support disabled learners increases accessibility for all users. This presentation addresses the question: ‘What are the benefits to students of offering downloadable versions of online study materials and supporting offline study?’ It focuses on the experience of 100 postgraduate learners on an online course run by The Open University on the FutureLearn platform. Two datasets were used – the students’ postings in course discussion (N=17,158), and a student survey carried out once the course had been completed (respondents = 30). Analysis showed that students’ need for and use of different formats varies according to context and learning design, with assimilative and creative tasks approached in different ways. Students associated physical and digital resources with different cognitive opportunities and with a variety of emotional states. This worked example of universal design for learning in practice in a TEL context shows that online resources have many advantages, but learners benefit if they also have access to downloadable materials.

Tweet about the presentation from TEL@Bath


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