Innovating Pedagogy 2015

Innovating Pedagogy 2015 coverThis is the fourth in a series of influential reports from The Open University exploring new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world, to guide teachers and policy makers in productive innovation. This report represents a collaboration with our colleagues in the Center for Technology and Learning at SRI International, the leading US research organisation.

This year, the focus is on:

  • Crossover learning (connecting formal and informal learning)
  • Learning through argumentation (developing skills of scientific argumentation)
  • Incidental learning (harnessing unplanned or unintentional learning)
  • Context-based learning (how context shapes and is shaped by the process of learning)
  • Computational thinking (solving problems using techniques from computing)
  • Learning by doing science with remote labs (guided experiments on authentic scientific equipment)
  • Embodied learning (making mind and body work together to support learning)
  • Adaptive teaching (adapting computer-based teaching to the learner’s knowledge and action)
  • Analytics of emotions (responding to the emotional states of students)
  • Stealth assessment (unobtrusive assessment of learning processes).

You can download the report at


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The ethics of MOOC research

Tweet from FLANI spent 2 December at a FutureLearn Academic Network meeting at the University of Southampton.

The morning was taken up with short pecha kucha sessions on MOOC research, and the afternoon included three talks on the ethics of MOOCs, from Mike Sharples (FutureLearn and The open University), Jocelyn Wishart (University of Bristol) and me. Although we hadn’t coordinated our talks in advance, we managed to focus on different areas. Mike talked about the current FutureLearn approach, Jocelyn drew parallels with the ethics of mobile learning, and I drew on the work on learning analytics that is being carried out by the community (most notably by Sharon Slade and Paul Prinsloo).

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Research and Practice in HE

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 21.31.30On my way home from Maastricht, I travelled via Liverpool John Moores University to present a seminar in the university’s Research and Practice in Higher Education series. The seminars address a range of contemporary and emerging issues and themes in university education, and run as part of LJMU’s support for evidence-based practice.

I talked about a structure for rolling out learning analytics at scale, from the process of developing an initial vision through to evaluation of the innovation and planning for future developments.
The 90-minute seminar gave time to explore issues in detail, with everyone in the audience having opportunities to ask questions and to share experiences.

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Health & Education in the Digital Era

Tweet from iLifeLast week I was in the beautiful town of Maastricht to present on learning analytics at Health, Education and Lifestyle in the Digital Era. This was an event run at the Bonbonniere by the iLife project at Maastricht University.

The event was unusual in that it brought people from the fields of education and medicine together to talk about ways of making use of big data and digital innovation.

I was particularly inspired by Joel Dudley’s talk (very similar to this one). He is director of biomedical informatics at Mount Sinai hospital in New York, with access to data about over 3 million patients. He outlined some of the unexpected connections thrown up by analysis of this data: the anticonvulsant drug that treats inflammatory bowel disease, and the antipsychotic drug that treats small-cell lung cancer. He also showed networked images of data related to Type II diabetes, which point to this being not one, but three diseases.

For the non-medics in the room, he widened his talk to the use of data in general. When Amazon and Netflix base their recommendations for him on hundreds of data points, why is he prescribed medicine on the basis that he is a male in his thirties from New York? When Formula 1 cars have 200 data feeds and turn in 5GB of data in every lap, why is our knowledge of our own health confined to a few readings made at the times when we turn up in the doctor’s surgery? He pointed to the new technologies that enable us to gather data about our health – from tattoo biosensors, to nappies that form part of the Internet of Things, to a device that enables your smartphone to carry out blood tests. Now that we can collect all this data, when are we going to make good use of it to improve and extend our lives?

My presentation, like many others, looked to the future, drawing on the Visions of the Future study currently being carried out by the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project. Visions of the Future began with the development of eight future scenarios for learning analytics that could come to pass by 2025. For each of them, we have asked experts – through surveys and workshops – whether the vision is desirable, whether it is feasible, and what would have to happen to make it a reality. The study is still in progress, but I was able to report on initial findings and responses.


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Learning design and learning analytics workshop


Workshop TweetOn 28 October I ran a pre-conference workshop at the 14th European Conference on e-Learning (held at the University of Hertfordshire) on ‘Learning design and learning analytics: building the links with MOOCs’.

To give a focus to the workshop, I aimed to choose a FutureLearn MOOC on a subject that everyone would know a little about and no one would know a lot about. As it was three days after the 600th anniversary of Agincourt (a famous battle in English history that fans of Shakespeare may know of through his play, Henry V) I picked the University of Southampton’s MOOC on the subject, ‘Agincourt 1415: Myth and Reality’.

I had reckoned without the international scope of the ECEL conference – I had picked on a subject that most of my audience knew nothing about, and that held little interest for them. Nevertheless, they bravely grappled with issues of learning design related to medieval muster rolls, ancient armour and the issue of whether war crimes existed before they were defined in law.


This hands-on workshop will work with learning design tools and with massive open online courses (MOOCs) on the FutureLearn platform to explore how learning design can be used to influence the choice and design of learning analytics. This workshop will be of interest to people who are involved in the design or presentation of online courses, and to those who want to find out more about learning design, learning analytics or MOOCs.

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Big data for policy

JRC Building, SevilleOn 22 September, Adam Cooper and I (from the LAEP project) were invited to attend ‘Big Data for policy: how safe is it to surf the next Big Wave?‘ This workshop was organised by a section of the European Commission – the Information Society of the Joint Research Centre: Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (or the IS Unit of the JRC-IPTS – still quite a mouthful!)

The European Commission defined a new strategy on Big Data last year, with the aim of supporting and accelerating the transition towards a data-driven economy in Europe. This links up with other Euro strategies such as open data, cloud computing, high-performance computing and access to scientific data. The workshop in Seville was designed to present case studies of work in various sectors on Big Data, and to bring together the views of experts from industry, policy makers and academia.

The case studies came from countries around the world. I found three of them particularly interesting in terms of the scale and scope of what can be done with Big Data.

  • Big Data for Development: New Opportunities for Emerging Markets (Rohan Samarajiva, CEO LirneAsia, Sri Lanka). Rohan talked, among other things, about how mobile phone use can be employed as a gauge of population movement, and to identify different population groupings within Sri Lanka. He blogged about the event here, and his slides are here.
  • Setting the Scene: EUROSTAT (Albrecht Wirthmann, EUROSTAT). Among the things Albrecht talked about were projects on mobile phone data and flight reservation data as sources for tourism and population statistics. Mobile phone data appears to give a more reliable picture of who is where than, for example, accommodation statistics, ferry passenger data, household survey data or border control data. His presentation can be downloaded here.
  • Data for Development: An Emerging Opportunity (Nicolas De Cordes, Orange, France). Nicolas described work by Orange to reuse technical network management data, creating strongly anonymous data samples that can be used by researchers to help with countries’ development issues. This, for example, enables them to model the spread of diseases, optimising the location of hospitals to improve medical help. His presentation can be downloaded here.


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Eight years on WordPress

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 13.31.46My academic blogging goes back more than the eight years I have spent with my own account on WordPress – my first doctoral blog post was on 9 Nov 2015.

In it I noted, ‘I was at Dave Wield’s U500 seminar on research methodology yesterday, and remembered how crucial research journals are. Thought I’d take a break from the one for my Masters and start once again.’

I now have no memory of that Masters blog, but the research journal that I began on Blogger and then imported to the university’s installation of WordPress is still there, and I still occasionally add to it, and still make use of it.

It still has the great advantages over a physical research journal that I can search it very easily, and that it is available to me wherever I have an Internet connection.

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