Archive for category New literacies

H880: TEL Foundations and Futures

Our Open University postgraduate module – H880: TEL Foundations and Futures – has just begun its second run on FutureLearn. To keep up to date on the H880 community, follow the related Twitter account @OUH880 and/or follow the H880 blog.

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FutureLearn Academic Network: Leeds

Tweets about Leeds FLAN eventThe quarterly meeting of the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) was hosted by the University of Leeds. The programme included:

  • Welcome from Sir Alan Langlands, Vice–Chancellor, University of Leeds
  • Keynote: Professor Neil Morris, Dean of Digital Education, Chair of Educational Technology: Exploring the changing nature of higher education: impacts on learners and learning
  • James Pickering and Bronwen Swinnerton: Medical Student Engagement with Technology-Enhanced Learning Resources
  • Michael Kilmister: Proposing an expansion of FutureLearn metrics for the prediction of student engagement
  • Fereshte Goshtasbpour: Do watercooler conversations with instructors in FutureLearn MOOCs help learning?
  • Jonathan Pitches: Research Impact and MOOCs – what contribution can digital education make to the REF impact agenda?

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BBC: Go the Distance

I joined a team of experts from across The Open University to contribute to the BBC Learning English co-production, Go The Distance: ‘a 10-week taste of what distance learning is really like – with real students, real tutors, key study and digital literacy skills and lots of help with your English.’

My contribution was to Academic Insights ‘the series where we meet real distance learning tutors and get their top tips for successful studying.’

You can watch the video via the BBC site or via OpenLearn.


  • My name’s Rebecca Ferguson. I work as a lecturer in distance learning. My field is educational technology.
  • There are several reasons for working together. One of them is because it’s a way of learning in itself. You share perspectives and you discuss things. The second reason is it’s a very effective way of learning. And the third reason is employability. You need to be able to work with your team.
  • Student collaborative tasks depend on the level of study. They might be contributing to a forum; they might be responding to somebody else in a forum. But when you get to final years you’d be working on a project with others. You might be carrying out research with others.
  • Shyness and confidence can be a problem for some students especially when they’re in video conferences but in forums it’s a very good way of communicating if you’re shy.
  • Something that a tutor can do is to encourage people to introduce themselves and to talk on a safe subject that they don’t feel stressed about, just introduce themselves and deal with something relatively impersonal.
  • A solution for that is to share information about when you can work and for how long you can work. Another solution is to timetable how you’re going to work together.
  • Learners feel that it’s very beneficial because it reflects what they’re going to be doing in a working environment. It’s something they felt unconfident about before and they now know how to do it.




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Tweeting in 2016

Twitter identifies my top tweet, my top mention and my top media tweet. My followers appear to be most interested in globalised online learning.

Top tweets 2016

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Possibilities and challenges of augmented learning

Teenager's avatar speaking at online conferenceI was invited to write a paper for Distance Education in China, a journal which reaches out to Western academics and is willing to take on the task of translating papers from English. My paper was based on work published in Augmented Education, written by me, Kieron Sheehy and Gill Clough, which was published by Palgrave in 2014.


Digital technologies are becoming cheaper, more powerful and more widely used in daily life. At the same time, opportunities are increasing for making use of them to augment learning by extending learners’ interactions with and perceptions of their environment. Augmented learning can make use of augmented reality and virtual reality, as well as a range of technologies that extend human awareness. This paper introduces some of the possibilities opened up by augmented learning and examines one area in which they are currently being employed: the use of virtual realities and tools to augment formal learning. It considers the elements of social presence that are employed when augmenting learning in this way, and discusses different approaches to augmentation.

数字化技术的价格越来越便宜,功能越来越强大,在日常生活中用途越来越广泛。与此同时,利用数字化技术进一步促进学习者与他们所处环境的互动以及对环境的 感知以增强学习的机会也越来越多。增强学习可以利用增强现实和虚拟现实以及许多能提高人类意识的技术。本文介绍增强学习的一些可能性并讨论目前正在应用增 强学习的一个领域:运用虚拟现实和工具增强正式学习。文章分析了基于虚拟现实和工具的增强学习所需的社交临场成分,并讨论不同的增强方法。

Ferguson, Rebecca (2016). 增强学习的可能性与挑战 [Possibilities and challenges of augmented learning]. Distance Education in China, 6 pp. 5–13.

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Pre-teens’ informal learning with ICT and Web 2.0

Finally published online in Technology, Pedagogy and Education is our article on informal learning at primary school level. The research study focused on two groups of self-motivated learners, including one set who had set up their own Scratch programming club, and another group who belonged to a lunchtime robot-building club run by a parent.

The creative approaches to informal learning that these pre-teens used when working with new technology at home, contrasted with the approaches that they were able to use within school. Their strategies of using different devices, collaborating with others both face-to-face and electronically, and consulting a range of websites were all constrained in school settings. Other constraints were associated with their age – for example, their lack of access to credit cards made online purchases a complicated procedure, and many of their decisions about use of technology were related to a lack of money to spend. They were also limited by parental constraints and legal constraints to a much greater extent than children only a few years older.

While other studies have focused on differences in use of technology for learning at age 11, when children move from primary to secondary school, this study suggests that a more significant shift in use of technology for learning takes place at age 13.

Ferguson, Rebecca; Faulkner, Dorothy; Whitelock, Denise and Sheehy, Kieron (2014). Pre-teens’ informal learning with ICT and Web 2.0. Technology, Pedagogy and Education


ICT and Web 2.0 have the potential to impact on learning by supporting enquiry, new literacies, collaboration and publication. Restrictions on the use of these tools within schools, primarily due to concerns about discipline and child safety, make it difficult to make full use of this potential in formal educational settings. Studies of children at different stages of schooling have highlighted a wider range of ICT use outside school, where it can be used to support informal learning. The study reported here looks beyond the broad categories of primary and secondary education and investigates the distinctive elements of pre-teens’ use of ICT to support informal learning. Nineteen children aged 10 and 11 participated in focus groups and produced visual representations of ICT and Web 2.0 resources they used to support their informal learning. Thematic analysis of this data showed that pre-teens respond to a range of age-related constraints on their use of ICT. Inside formal education, these constraints appear similar at primary and secondary levels. Out of school, regulation is more age specific, contributing to the development of tensions around use of ICT as children approach their teenage years. These tensions and constraints shape the ways in which children aged 10 to 11 engage in formal and informal learning, particularly their methods of communication and their pressing need to develop evaluation skills.

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Seeking Planning Permission to Build a Gothic Cathedral on a Virtual Island

Book coverI have a new co-authored chapter out, Gillen, J., Ferguson, R., Peachey, A., & Twining, P. (2012). Seeking Planning Permission to Build a Gothic Cathedral on a Virtual Island. In G. Merchant, J. Gillen, J. Marsh, & J. Davies (Eds.), Virtual Literacies: Interactive Spaces for Children and Young People: Routledge Research in Education.

The chapter doesn’t have an abstract so, instead, I shall quote a paragraph from the conclusion:

…the debate would be of very limited interest if it merely illustrated the potential affordances of one medium rather than another. Of more significance in the end is the extent to which it clarifies or at least raises significant questions about creating the foundations for the kind of collaborative discussions that are founded in a trusting community, supportive of individuals shaping learning identities in a creative environment (Peachey, 2010). Rethinking educational practice to include more authentic literary engagements, asynchronous debates that are genuinely meaningful to participants, speak to their concerns, and relate to genuine opportunities for purposeful activity and indeed creativity is surely a worthwhile exercise (Barton, 2007; Ferguson, 2011). How then might such ideas promote reshaping the aims of learning environments, even ultimately institutions of education?

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