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Practical Pedagogy

Practical Pedagogy

It was a busy day yesterday! After a morning at the University of Leeds research symposium, I travelled down to London for the launch of Mike Sharples’ book, Practical Pedagogy: 40 New Ways To Teach and Learn. The book is strongly rooted in the Innovating Pedagogy reports, bringing together ideas from all the reports published since 2012.


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FutureTrends Forum

In April 2019, I was a guest speaker on the FutureTrends Forum webinar, run by Bryan Alexander, talking about the Innovating Pedagogy report series. The forum is “an ongoing, participatory, and open video conversation about the future of higher education.”

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European MOOC Consortium – Labour Market

Snow on cafe tables and chairs in BrusselsIn January, I was in snowy Brussels with Beck Pitt for the kick-off meeting of our new, Erasmus-funded project, ‘European MOOC Consortium – Labour Market’.

Project description

MOOCs and digital continuous education/training are a flexible and scalable solution for a transnational, truly European response to the needs of the economy across Europe. They can keep innovative knowledge and skills of the workforce up to date and anticipate on careers of tomorrow.

MOOC platforms in the European MOOCs Consortium (EMC) look for solutions to reach better the labour market. In this knowledge alliance, they opt for a structural collaboration with public employment services (PES) active on the national labour markets, with companies and with a sectoral industrial organisation. The alliance is anchored both in the world of work (PES, companies, sectoral organisation) and in the world of education and training (universities, platforms). It shows which role MOOC platforms, universities, PES and companies jointly play on the labour market.

PES and companies are not only mediators between MOOC platforms and individual learners, but also as allies in the (co-)development and (co-)delivery of MOOCs and digital continuous education and training (CE, CT)

The main purpose of the alliance is to strengthen the partners by sharing experience and expertise on MOOCs and digital CE and CT; to create a framework for structural collaboration on the development, delivery and use of MOOCs for the EU labour market; to empower all partners on MOOCs for the labour market, and to implement a responsive and large-scale outreach to the EU labour market. This will facilitate the exchange and flow of knowledge, strengthening Europe’s innovation capacity. The visibility and accessibility of MOOCs for CE/CT will be increased by a joint portal for the EU labour market, surveys and a marketing plan.

Last, but not least, EMC-LM will contribute to regional, national and European policies for continuous education and training, employment and growth, proposing strategies for change and action plans. By doing this, it contributes to the Modernisation Agenda and Digital Education Plan.

Project partners

  • 1. EADTU Vereniging van European Distance Teaching Universities, Netherlands. (MOOC platform OpenupEd)
  • 2. FUTURELEARN, United Kingdom
  • 3. GIP-FUN France Université Numérique (MOOC platform), France
  • 4 TED Telefónica Educación Digital (runs MiriadaX MOOC platform), Spain
  • 5 UniFg University of Foggia (lead partner in Italian MOOC platform), Italy, EduOpen
  • 6 OUUK The Open University, United Kingdom
  • 7 VDAB Public authority for the co-ordination of the labour market in Flanders, Belgium
  • 8 ANPAL National Agency for Active Labour Policies, Italy
  • 9 OPCALIM French government agency in charge of Vocational Training for the food-processing  industry, France

Our first big task in the project will be to produce a state-of-the-art analysis of MOOC provisions for the EU labour market.


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CALRG is 40

CALRG40 log on a laptop screen The The Computers and Learning Research Group (CALRG) is based at the Open University. In October 2018 it celebrated the 40th Anniversary of its foundation. Located in the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology, with membership across the University, CALRG is proud to welcome staff and students who have an interest in researching the use of technologies in formal and informal learning. The group organises weekly events throughout the year and runs a very popular annual conference in June. For details of current activities see

CALRG celebrated its 40th year with an event at The Open University on 19 October 2018 that welcomed back former members and friends. Talks that day looked back at the group’s history, traced the trends in our research over the years and looked forward to the future of learning with computers. It included talks from EIleen Scanlon, Diana Laurillard, Neil Mercer, Tim O’Shea, and Mike Sharples.

Despite being one of the event’s organisers, I was unable to attend on the day. However, the event was comprehensively live-blogged by Doug Clow. Readers with access to the OU can also watch replays of the event’s four sessions.

CALRG40 logo

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FLAN at Exeter University

FutureLearn logoThe spring meeting of the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) took place at the University of Exeter on 28 February. The broad topic of the meeting was on the relationship between MOOCs and other courses run by the university. As Academic Coordinator of the network, I was involved in planning the event, though I was not able to attend on the day due to industrial action. The agenda gives a flavour of the variety of work presented and the reach of the network.


10.00 Coffee and welcome

10.30-11.00 FutureLearn & the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Nigel Smith (FutureLearn Head of Content) & Christoffer Valenta (FutureLearn Legal Counsel). On 25 May the new European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force. This means FutureLearn is reviewing all its data protection and privacy policies. Nigel will explain the GDPR’s implications on partners’ research and Chris Valenta will join remotely for a Q&A.

11.00-11.20  China’s model of integrating MOOCs in the university. Zhu Yingxi, Shanghai Jiaotong University (by Skype)

11.20-11.40 Integrating MOOCs into on-campus modules. Nic Fair and Manuel Leon from the Web Science Institute, University of Southampton

11.40-12.00 How does a MOOC impact on-campus student engagement? Sarah Cornelius, Colin Calder and Peter Mtika, University of Aberdeen (by Skype)

12.00-12.20 Bristol Futures: Using open courses to provide extra curricular activities for students. David Smith and Suzanne Collins, University of Bristol

12.20-13.00 Lunch

13.00-13.45 Students as MOOC facilitators; the benefits of worldwide MOOC engagement. Damien Mansell, Sarah Dyer and student facilitators, University of Exeter. This workshop presents a unique student/staff partnership developed to facilitate the delivery and support of the Climate Change MOOCs at Exeter. The student facilitator model engages taught and research students to become co-creators of learning experiences, facilitate discussion, share stories, answer questions and monitor engagement.

13.45-14.30 Questions & Answers – how to survey learners? Reka Budai – Strategy & Insights Analyst, FutureLearn & Lisa Perez – UX Research Lead, FutureLearn. In this interactive session we will be sharing with you our survey vision – what, when and how we would like to ask from learners to get better insights and make course evaluation more efficient.

14.30-14.50 Coffee break

14.50-15.10 A blended course in Haskell Programming that includes a FutureLearn MOOC: Learner & Teacher Experiences Jeremy Singer & Vicki Dale, University of Glasgow (by Skype)

15.10-15.30 The Quality Approaches to MOOCs and the Influence of the University Culture. Ahmed Al-Imarah, University of Bath

15.30-16.00 General discussion of terms of reference, funding opportunities, next steps


16.00 Meeting ends

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Dr Scheffel: examining Maren’s viva

Yesterday I was at the Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL), in Heerlen, as one of the viva examiners for Maren Scheffel. Maren wrote an excellent thesis, The Evaluation Framework for Learning Analytics, gave a strong defence and was awarded her doctorate.

Maren viva

As may be obvious from the picture, vivas in the Netherlands aren’t exactly the same as vivas in the UK. For one thing, the team wear gowns, caps and a shirt front that makes them look as if they have strayed from a painting on the walls of the Rijksmuseum or maybe Hogwarts. Well, not the entire team. You have to have attained professorial status to wear the extremely warm clothing. The reason I look photoshopped in is that, as a lowly doctor, I had to wear normal clothing.

Another difference is the size of the Doctoral Board. In the picture, from left to right, are Professor Delgado Kloos, Professor Griffiths, Professor Drachsler (supervisor), Professor Kalz, (newly declared) Dr Scheffel, Professor Specht (supervisor), me, Professor Brand-Gruwel, and Professor Boshuizen (chair – indicated by the chain around her neck). That’s two internal examiners and three external examiners, two from the UK and one from Spain. For a more informal take on the Board, I have linked all their official titles to their Twitter handles.

The viva takes place in public, in front of family, friends and fellow academics. It is also live-streamed as it takes place, and a recording is presented to the candidate afterwards on a USB stick. As well as the defence, the viva begins with a short presentation by the candidate on her work.

The decision is made there and then. No stringing it out for months of corrections and bureaucracy as in the UK. There is a clear point for celebration. The announcement is made, the signed certificate is formally handed over, the candidate is formally addressed as doctor for the first time, and then it is time for happiness, congratulations and a reception.

This also means that the candidate can ceremonially be sworn in. The main supervisor says:

By virtue of the powers vested in us by Dutch law, in accordance with the decision of the Doctorate Board, I confer on you, Maren Scheffel, the title of doctor and all the rights and all duties to science and society associated by Dutch law or custom to a PhD degree at the Open University of the Netherlands. Do you promise to work in accordance with the principles of academic integrity at all times, to be careful and honest, critical and transparent, independent and impartial?

I like this formal indication that the award of doctor is not just an honour – it is associated with responsibilities and with standards of behaviour.

I also like the appearance of the thesis as a formal document. It doesn’t appear as a large, unwieldy hardback tome, bound at the student’s expense, as it does in the UK. Instead, it is an attractive paperback book, available in advance of the viva. A book you would want to read, rather than a decorative item to sit on a shelf.

Of course, to be available in print before the viva, the thesis must already be done and dusted. While I like all the differences between the UK and Dutch procedure that I have mentioned above, this one seems strange. I’m used to the examiners having some influence on the thesis. The Dutch system is more akin to our PhD by publication. Most elements of it have already appeared in peer-reviewed journals, and the thesis links and supplements these in a coherent manuscript, which is checked by the supervisors. So the work of assessment is done by the peer reviewers, without their awareness, and by the supervisors. The Doctoral Board and the viva serve to validate a decision that has already been made. The examiners’ first job is to decide whether the thesis, as presented, is ready for submission. There is no option to suggest corrections or amendments – it is either ready to go or it isn’t. If it is, then the viva is largely a formality. There is a formal meeting after the defence, but the situation would have to be very extreme for the doctorate not to be granted at that point.

Another aspect that seems strange from the point of view of a UK academic, is how the defence takes place. In the UK, this takes as long as it takes. An hour, two, maybe even three. Yesterday, the time was defined in advance. The defence was to begin at 1.45pm. At 2.30pm the beadle (also in a gown) comes to the front of the room, pounds the ceremonial mace on the floor and declares ‘hora est!’ The candidate can finish a sentence at that point, but otherwise that is it, the defence is over. With five examiners, that means nine minutes of questions each, asking one each in strict rotation. That meant some of us asked two questions, some only one. When you’ve travelled for eight hours to be there, that means thinking very carefully about which single question will make the journey worthwhile.

And did I mention that the event takes place in English (except for a brief foray into Latin by the beadle)? In day-to-day life, Maren speaks German or Dutch, so she was not only demonstrating her academic prowess and  her ability to think on her feet but also her language skills.

If I were coming up with a viva system, it’s not quite how I’d do it (I would prefer to see some amendment of the thesis in the light of the examiners’ feedback), but I do feel that many aspects of the Dutch system are an improvement on our current approach in the UK.


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JISC effective learning analytics

Following my visit to Korea, it was great to see Il-Hyun Jo at the 8th UK Learning Analytics event, which was organised at The Open University by JISC.


Il-Hyun talked about the problems associated with learning analytics in a country where grades are allocated in relation to a normal distribution curve – so if one student’s grades go up, another student’s grades will go do – and where competition to enter universities is so intense that retention is not viewed as a problem.


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