Formulating a Trello process

I’ve been using Trello for a couple of years to track manage personal projects/tasks. I’ve done this in an ad hoc way. I’ve even occasionally attempted using it (badly) for small groups. I now need to get a bit more professional about it. The following is an attempt to formulate an initial plan for testing out the use of Trello for a work project. If only so we can escape the desolate, unproductive waste that is Sharepoint and email attachments….more on this at the end.

What are others doing

This post gives an overview of a range of different ways that different groups have made use of Trello. It also gives a reasonable overview of the major components of Trello, including some mention of automation using Zapier.

Trello offers this collection of inspirations (including links to sample Trello boards and explanations of structure) for how Trello is used for purposes ranging from agile approaches, production workflows, six sigma, Kanban workflow, conference planning.

This offers explicit advice on how to progress from an empty board to something that can be used.


Kanban as an inspiration seems the simplest. This explanation of Kanban mentions that it’s “a lot more laid back” than other methods and outlines the following tasks

  • Define the workflow stages.
  • Set up how tasks move between stages.

and pillars of Kanban

  1. Each task has a card that includes all information about the task.
  2. There is a cap on how many tasks can be worked on.
  3. There is a continuous flow through the backlog in order of importance so that something is always being worked upon.
  4. There is a focus on analysing the flow to enable constant improvement

This for more background and detail on Kanban and a list of 8 Kanban board apps.

A local plan

This is an initial test directly involving myself and one other person. The aim is to gain more insight into using Trello in this context and in a more disciplined way. We’re working on the development of a proposal document. In the future I wonder whether this task might be worth of it’s own board, but for now it will. KISS.

So a plan might be

  • Set up a team for the group

    Not mention in the above.

  • Set up a board on Trello.
  • Configure the board
    Based on suggestions from here

    • Add a background image (but only if business class)
    • Add five lists
      • Three of the lists To do, Doing, and Done hold cards for specific tasks that someone has worked upon.
      • Current deliverable

        Holds information about the specific deliverable that the tasks in to do, doing and one are helping produce. This is held in a deliverable card, indicated by a red label.

      • About

        About provides background/guidance on how the board works. It also has a card that summarises the purpose of the board. In some cases, the key outcome. Perhaps one specified by a supervisor/client.

        It also contains a number of subsequence deliverable cards. The idea is that we know the next deliverable for the project and we have a place to put some thinking/detail. Eventually the next deliverable card will move to the Current deliverable list.

    • Invite the other person.
    • Start filling in the to-do list.
    • Pick a simple card/task to use as an example/demo of some practices.

    This plan is for a broader project with multiple stages. I’m thinking that each of the roles/people in the team might also have a board related to specific other tasks. Such a board wouldn’t necessarily have a current deliverable. Longer term we might also have templated boards that are set up to guide completion of recurring tasks.

    Early reflections

    It’s a day later and this set up is being used by the other member of the team. Early signs are that it’s being seen as a big step forward. Why?

    IMHO, it’s in part because the information technologies currently available are generic and have models focused on supporting more technical tasks. e.g. sharepoint. Sharepoint “helps” you save and perhaps share files. Maybe a little bit more than that, but because it is such a generic tool it doesn’t offer a lot of specific scaffolding.

    Trello is designed with a model based on boards, lists and cards. Not files, folders and generic technical objects. Boards, lists and cards and the functionality provided by trello align directly with the major tasks in a Kanban like process. The technology is actively supporting that process of organising projects in a way that is collaborative and transparent to the team. It offers functionality that helps perform these tasks.

    One of the problem with Sharepoint (and service based on a computer filesystem) is that information is organised into folders and files. The organisation of folders into files tends to be a fairly individually unique activity. I’m certain the absolutely logical and obvious way I organise folders and files is not something you would find logical or obvious. Hence finding a file would would require that you grapple with and understand the mental model I employed when organising the files and folders.

    While we may now still save the documents we use as part of this process, we can now link to them from Trello. Hence access to these documents is now (in addition to other means) available via the projects and tasks associated with the information. Hopefully a mental model that we all share and thus makes it easier to find information.

    Time will tell how well this works in reality and how/if the above plan scales.

Early thoughts on the new year and the new job

Some time off doing too little and eating too much allows me to stumble out of 2016 into a new year and a new job. Still at USQ, but I’m leaving the School of Teacher Education & Early Childhood and joining the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (ALT) – not sure if it’s a unit, department, office etc. Yes, for the second time I’m leaving the land of the faculty-based academic and venturing into the wilds of central learning and teaching.  I’ll leave reflection on the wisdom of that move to another post.

Today is my first day as part of a group with responsibility for “educational excellence and innovation” (EEI). Quoting from the position description I applied for, this group is

dedicated to improving students’ learning experiences by promoting academic development and learning, reward and recognition of good teaching, scholarly of learning and teaching and educational leadership development

ALT is the result of a recent organisational restructure, which means that both ALT and EEI are at some level figuring out how and what they should be doing. Given previous findings that 70% of centres like ALT are less than three years old (Challis, Holt & Palmer, 2009), it’s fairly important we develop some good answers. The following is the first step in thinking about how we might develop such answers.

Vision Deployment Matrix (VDM)

Late last year I did attend a leadership and strategic planning session organised for folk within the broader division to which ALT belongs. The session was run by Neil Carrington and was well worth it (not something that can always be said about such sessions). One of the tools/ways of thinking mentioned in the session was Kim’s Vision Deployment Matrix (VDM). While I have my reservations about aspects of the matrix, it does appear to provide a useful way to develop some shared understanding of why, how and what a group might be doing. The following is an attempt to make explicit some thinking about how it might be employed by EEI and as part of that dig a bit deeper into VDM.

The following table is one representation of the matrix. What isn’t captured by the table is the idea of increasing leverage and the idea that the “ability to influence the future increases as we move from the level of events to vision” (Kim). i.e. responding to event is not as likely to impact the future as re-thinking the mental models underpinning what is being done/seen. (Due to experience, I struggle a little with the idea of “vision” having an impact)

Level of perspective (Action mode) Desired future reality Current reality Gaps, open issues & questions Action steps Indicators of progress Timeline
Vision (Generative)
Mental models (Reflective)
Systemic structures (creative)
Patterns (Adaptive)
Events (Reactive)

The task set for EEI is difficult. I see the potential value of the VDM as a tool for mapping out what is being done at the moment at the moment, surfacing some of the limitations, and identifying tasks to do.  Kim provides a couple of “pocket guides” (shifting from a reactive to a generative orientation, and crossing the chasm from reality to vision) to how this might be done.

The idea is that you start with the vision you’d like to create and work down getting each to align. My first problem with VDM was the chicken and egg problem. VDM suggests that once you have your vision, you can then look for the beliefs and assumptions embedded within that vision and required to achieve it. My problem is that those formulating the vision have a range of mental models that influence the formulation of the vision.

Since I’m new to the role and the group has recently been restructured I see value in ignoring the vision and instead starting with the immediate reality and questions such as

  1. What are the events we should be involved with this year?
  2. What are the observable patterns arising from/contributing to those events?
  3. What are the systemic structures that we have (or don’t have) that support and produces these patterns/events?
  4. What are the mental models that underpin those structures?

Working through this with the group and then sharing this more broadly would appear to help those involved work towards a vision and what is needed to achieve it.

An example

So translating the abstract potential into reality, needs to be doable and I initially struggled with what I might use as an example. A sign of difficulties for the VDM? It won’t be easy, but in this case I think it’s my inexperience in the role.  Parts of the following are based on brief conversations last year and may have no connection to institutional reality at all.

Event: Contact a new casual teaching staff member and pass along pointers about where they can find out more about teaching at the institution.

Patterns: This might/should help the new staff member figure out how to teach, reduce any uncertainty they have. It might increase use of those services.  There’s liable to be a fairly short time frame between appointment and when they need to perform the task (sometimes it’s a negative time frame). This task will peak at certain times (just before start of teaching semester perhaps).

Systemic structures:  At the moment, the identity of new casual teaching staff members is done via an email from HR to another member of staff. This person then sends out a standard email.  The list of new staff members doesn’t always capture prior teaching roles. Starting to reveal some holes here.

Mental models:  There’s a growing recognition of the importance and value of casual teaching staff, but at the same time a recognition of the growing complexity of the role and how limited prior support might have been.  Casual staff members have limited time (Do their contracts fund training?). An email with links is a useful practice.

What next?

I think there might be some value here, especially if done by the group and beyond in an on-going, iterative and open method. Some next potential steps

  1. Identify a list of potential events that the group is involved with in coming months.
  2. Become more familiar with the current espoused visions and plans for the institution and and broader groups.
  3. Revisit the relevant literature for visions, mental models, systems, and events.
  4. Personally try out a few more examples using the VDM
  5. Share the approach with others and learn.
  6. Figure out how and if this should become something we focus time on.


Challis, D., Holt, D., & Palmer, S. (2009). Teaching and learning centres : towards maturation Teaching and learning centres : towards maturation. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(4), 37–41.

Kim, Daniel H. “Vision Deployment Matrix I.” Systems Thinker 6.1 (1995).

Farewell, hello Reclaim Hosting

This will (hopefully) be my last post on the hosted version of this blog. Goodbye

I’m biting the bullet and going self-hosted with Reclaim Hosting. Hello Reclaim Hosting.


The new blog will be located at

In theory, if I’ve done everything correctly, then if you try to view this post on a blog (as opposed to in a reader), then you should already be looking at that blog. I’m paying for at least a year to redirect people trying to view posts on the old blog to the equivalent posts on the new blog.

At this stage, I haven’t done anything with subscriptions and I may not do anything. Meaning, if you want to continue being notified of my dribble, then you’ll need to subscribe to the new blog (see the subscribe widget in the right hand menu). Sorry for the additional step, but I’m hoping this might reduce the number of pretend subscribers that blog has gathered over the years.

Open, education, institutions and culture

Today the good folk at my institution’s library (and others I assume) are running a symposium “exploring current practice and future potential for open educational practice and libraries”.

As most of the participants are employed by institutions (and the libraries thereof) there appears to be much interest in how institutions can support, encourage and enable open education.

In the tweet stream for the symposium (#oeplib) the question of Open Educational Culture arose. I think there’s some value in the idea, but I want to explore some of the dissonance that exists within institutions and their progress toward an open educational culture.

Main questions arising from the following are:

  1. Perhaps institutions have to think a bit more deeply about the type of culture that organisational artifacts (like policy) are creating?
  2. If promoting open is your thing, then disciplinary cultures may be a more worthy starting point?
  3. Before attempting to create an Open Educational Culture, perhaps folk should experience more closely those disciplinary cultures that have been doing open for some time?


So what is culture? The literature is replete with reams of responses to that particular question. The one that the pragmatist in me prefers is the one offered by Martin (2006) (and many others)

Simply put, organisational culture is “the way we do things around here”

Martin goes on to drawn upon Schein’s work on organisational culture, in particular the idea that organisational culture consists of three levels: artifacts, espoused values, and underlying assumptions. Summarised in the following table.

Culture is the way we do things, and we do what is easy. We do what the artifacts, values and underlying assumptions of our organisations make it easy for us to do (with some exceptions).

Three levels of culture
(Adapted from Schein, 1992, p. 24)
Level Description
1. Artifacts Visible and feelable structures and processes

Observed behaviour – difficulty to decipher

2. Espoused beliefs and values Ideals, goals, values, aspirations


Rationalisations – may or may not be congruent with behaviour and other artifacts

3. Basic underlying assumptions Unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs and values – determine behaviour, perception, thought and feeling

Policy as an artifact and the tensions it reveals

At a certain level within any organisation it is policy that

What type of open educational culture does a policy embody when it includes something like the following?

examines the suitability of learning and teaching materials to be made available as OERs on a case-by-case basis

This appears to be a culture that mirrors Peter’s description of our own experience (emphasis added)

In principle being open is acknowledged as a good thing but in practice it seems not to happen much and to be not easy to accomplish within the institutional processes. It seems likely that is linked to concerns about reputational effects. Open resources and practices will surely influence perceptions of the institution among those who access the open material and possibly more widely if they ‘talk’ about it. Thus the interests of the institution seem to be best served by ensuring that what is made open is carefully managed and quality assured to present the best possible impression. That will require substantial effort to vet material that is opened and provide an incentive to restrict access to anything that might diminish that impression.

It seems to be a culture where the motives for OER tends more toward what Falcolner et al (2016) label reputation building, rather than other possible motives such as open access to knowledge or enhancing pedagogy. Falconer et al (2016) place the reputation building motive for OER into a group that “share a marketisation model of higher education, based on cost-benefit analysis” (p. 99).  Rather than a second group that repudiates “maketisation as an appropriate model for higher education and are committed to a value of “academic commons” (p. 99).

As Falconer et al (2016) identify these motives “are not necessarily independent and exclusive. It is entirely possible for projects to have several motives at once” (p. 100). The people behind such policies are likely to be motivated more by the second group of motives, but the cultural reality of contemporary universities requires consideration of the first group.

A necessity which seems to say quite a bit about the culture of an institution.

It’s a problem, especially if you see that a reputation building motive “is one that imposes fundamental limits on adoption of OER unless there is a radical shift in attitudes to reuse and repurposing” (Falconer et al, 2016, p. 102).

A radical shift that is perhaps suggested by the title of @tegalex’s talk at the symposium later this afternoon – “Libraries, access, and openness: Is it time for Copyright disobedience?”

Disciplinary culture versus institutional culture

In terms of culture and its impact on OER, Falconer et al (2016) suggest that

The rules that are most likely to influence OER release are those surrounding disciplinary ways of working, intellectual property rights (IPR), and institutional quality processes. Subject disciplines that already have a tradition of sharing teaching resources across institutional boundaries are more likely to regard openness favourably and integrate it into their practice. (p. 101)

But I wonder if there might be a broader influence for disciplinary culture, especially if the intent is to move beyond Open Educational Resources (OER) toward Open Educational Practices (OEP)?

In working on Albion et al (2016) we were reflecting on our prior experience with “open”. My work with open started in the mid-1990s when teaching Information Technology with engagement with the Linux and early Internet/Web communities. Communities that had an open culture. So when teaching a course in Linux Systems Administration it made sense to make everything about the course open: textbook, website, discussion forums etc.

20 years later and I’ve been working within preservice teacher education. While the teaching discipline does include a number of teachers who actively share their resources, it isn’t a culture that has breathed “open” in the same way that large parts of the Information Technology discipline. My anecdotal experience is that talking about open educational practices is significantly easier when talking with IT folk, especially those involved with open source etc. Discussions involving people from disciplines without that exposure to open practices in their daily work practices has to start at a much more foundational layer.

A very simple example is talking to people about my project integrating Github with the Moodle Book module. People who use GitHub like participants in open source software projects or increasingly open research get the idea and why it might be a good idea. People without that experience, don’t understand version control, but more fundamentally, they don’t understand the value of release early, release often.

Creating an Open Educational Culture – lessons from open source?

The reputation building motive for open appears at some level either not to appreciate, or not to grok ideas like release early, release often. Perhaps suggesting that those within institutions attempting to create an Open Educational Culture should start by spending some significant time within an existing disciplinary culture (or perhaps a diversity of such cultures) that accepts and practices open.

If you don’t understand open, can you effectively create an Open Educational Culture?

Of course this is complicated by the observation that there are far more than “Fifty shades of open” (Pomerantz & Peek, 2016).


Albion, P., Jones, D., Campbell, C., & Jones, J. (2016). Open Educational Practice and Preservice Teacher Education: Understanding past practice and future possibilities. Submitted to SITE’2017

Falconer, I., Littlejohn, A., McGill, L., & Beetham, H. (2016). Motives and tensions in the release of Open Educational Resources: the JISC UKOER programme. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 32(4), 92–105.

Pomerantz, J., & Peek, R. (2016). Fifty shades of open. First Monday, 21(5).

Some MAV tasters

MAV is just about up and running at USQ as one of the Technology Demonstrators. It’s taken longer than I thought, but it’s there.  The following demonstrates MAV running on a course I teach and is intended to illustrate some of what it can do.

Hoping we’ll get an opportunity to use this type of process to support others to use MAV to explore what’s happening in their courses. The aim being to explore what, if any, insights MAV provides teaching staff.

See usage of any Moodle link

Once MAV is installed on Firefox, whenever you view a Moodle course page every Moodle link on that page will be modified to show how it’s been used by students.

You can see the number of students who have accessed the link.  Even the course link that’s include via the Diigo widget get’s highlighted.  You can also see that no student has been able to use the hidden “Where are we going” forum.

EDC3100 2016 S2 - MAV - Students

Or you can the number of times students have clicked on the link.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, in the above the link about the importance of student’s completing course evaluations is clicked about once per student (51 students with 54 clicks), but the Assignment 3 specification has been visited at least 7 times per student (93 students with 696 clicks).

EDC3100 2016 S2 - MAV - Clicks

On any course page

This happens on any Moodle page for the course. The following shows the MAV view on a Moodle Book page from the S2 2016 offering of my course. It shows the first page which gives an overview of the rest of the book, including links to those specific pages.

It shows that the recommended learning process page was visited by 90 students, however the rest of the pages in this book were visited by 86 or 84 students.

EDC3100 - Book - MAV

And here’s the same page from the Semester 1 offering. There is also a similar slight increase for that same page.

S1, 2016 Book page

Find out who has or hasn’t viewed the page

MAV adds in an indication of the number of students (or clicks) for each Moodle link. If you click on students link, MAV will show you a list of the students who have (or have not) visited that page.

At CQU there is a link from this view to a system that allows the managing of nudges (communication attempts) with the students.

MAV - students no access

View specific groups

I’ve always been interested in the difference in engagement between on-campus and online students. MAV allows you to focus on specific groups. Here’s the S1 2016 book page showing the Springfield students Springfield student usage

Here’s the same section for the Toowoomba on-campus students.

It appears that the Toowoomba students are using this book less, and there is also NOT the same peak for the recommended learning process page.

Toowoomba student usage

Exploring more frameworks to understand OER/OEP

What follows is a continuation of an earlier exploration into extant “frameworks” to understand OER/OEP.

The OPAL OEP guide

A 2010/2011 project partly funded by the European Commission aimed “at establishing a forum which works to build greater trust in using and promoting open educational resources”.  Has a particular focus to move beyond OER to “focus on innovation and quality through open educational practices (OEP). Ehlers (2011) describes it in more detail and suggests that

Individuals (learners, professionals) likewise can use Matrix 1 to better understand OEP and to self-assess and position themselves to the extent that OEP constitutes part of their own learning/ teaching abilities. They can use the second matrix to analyse the OEP landscape in which they operate, which can be represented in the degrees of freedom to practice open education and the extent to which it is embedded in an open social sharing and collaborative environment. (pp. 6-7)

The diagram (Matrix 1) below show different stages of OEP using a combination of OER usage and learning architecture.  Coughlan and Perryman (2015) label this the OPAL open educational practices maturity model and use it to evaluate the practices of three global health projects. Coughlan and Perryman (2015) suggests that it

has been the dominant OEP analysis framework since its development in 2011 in connection with the Open Education Quality Initiative (p. 177)

So the OEP matrix consists of

  1. OER;
  2. Learning architecture aka pedagogical practice.

Stages of OEPs

OPAL (2011) offers the following example

field “H” could relate to “I am sometimes using OER for normal lectures”, field “B” would represent rather “I am using open educational resources in open seminars and learning scenarios”

OPAL (2011) offers the following explanations of the low, medium and high levels of learning architecture (p. 5)

  • Low” if objectives as well as methods of learning and/ or teaching are rooted in “closed” one way, transmissive and re-productive approaches to teaching and learning. In these contexts, the underlying belief is that teachers know what learn- ers have to learn and mainly focus on knowledge-transfer.
  • Medium” represents a stage in which objectives are still pre-determined and given, but methods of teaching and learning are represented as open pedagogical models. They encourage dialogue oriented forms of learning or problem based learning (PBL) focusing on dealing with developing “Know how”.
  • High” degrees of freedom and openness in pedagogical models are represented, if objectives of learning as well as methods (e.g. learning pathways) are highly determined and governed by learners. Questions or problems around which learning is ensuing are determined by learners (SRL – self regulated learners), and teachers facilitate through open and experience-oriented methods which accommodate different learning pathways, either through scaffolding and tutorial in- teractions (ZPD Vygotskian inspired approaches) or contingency tutoring (Woods & Woods strategies of re-enforcement, domain or temporal contingency)

Ehlers (2011) then offers “Matrix 2” in the following image. It’s intended to be used to “categorise, assess, and position the existing landscape of OEP within a context”.  Based on the freedom to participate and the involvement of others.

Diffusion of OEP

Ehler (2011) positions OEP as the 2nd phase of open. It has a focus on actually using OER to improve learning. A move that requires the combination of OER and open learning architectures.  The following bullet list describing phase 2 is provided by Ehler (2011, pp 3-4)

  • builds on OER and moves on to the development of concepts of how OER can be used, reused, shared, and adapted
  • goes beyond access into open learning architectures, and seeks ways to use OER to transform learning
  • focuses on learning by constructing knowledge assets, sharing them with others, and receiving feedback and reviews
  • follows the notion of improving quality through external validation because sharing resources is in the foreground
  • is about changing the traditional educational paradigm of many unknowledgeable students and a few knowledgeable teachers to a paradigm in which knowledge is co-created and facilitated through mutual interaction and reflection
  • strives to understand that OER has to contribute to institutions‘ value chain.

The last point is potentially questionable.  What is the institution?  If we’re focused on teacher education, is the institution our respective universities or the teaching profession?


However, Coughlan and Perryman (2015) found that

the pedagogy and object-focused OPAL framework is not sufficiently comprehensive to cover the open collaboration featuring in our case studies (p. 177)

And supplemented it with four dimensions from the OEP social configuration framework from Vrieling, Van den Beemt and De Laat (2016) and also Schreurs et al (2014). What’s missing is deemed to be more about the behaviour of those involved, they go onto argue that

that current OEP evaluation frameworks are not sufficiently comprehensive nor nuanced to capture all of these practices; indeed, the models reduce the three case studies to appearing very similar (p. 184)

Other weaknesses are identified, but I wonder how much of this is simply weaknesses inherent in all models (they are all wrong at some level/perspective). For example, the following from Coughlan and Perryman (2015)

For example, influential frameworks such as the OPAL matrix, with its language of teachers, courses and educational institutions, are overly narrow and do not map easily outside academia.

Open Educational Practice Maturity Matrix

OPAL (2011) the proceed to provide a maturity matrix to position an organisation re: uptake of OEP.  Three sets of questions based around: positioning the org in an OEP trajectory; creating a vision of openness; and, implementing and promoting OEP

Relationship between OPAL and Stagg

The last exploration of OEP frameworks was largely focused on Stagg (2014) who developed a continuum of open practice.   Stagg and most of the other frameworks covered in that earlier exploration have an institutional focus. They include consideration of what the institution can/should do to support OEP.

But what about moving beyond the institution? Integrating OEP into teacher education would seem to place some value on engaging with the professions, which is beyond any single university.  How does that work? What is required there?

Leaving behind those questions for now, what’s the connection between the Stagg, OPAL and other frameworks?

A continuum of practice - OEP

The Stagg continuum appears to be finer in the granularity with which it divides OER resources/practices, but at the same stage it isn’t as fine grained around pedagogical activities.  Hence the following mapping of Stagg’s continuum against the OER usage dimension of the OPAL matrix doesn’t quite work.  e.g. Student co-creation from Stagg doesn’t map against this dimension.

  • Low – no OER (re-)usage
    No equivalent from Stagg
  • Medium – OER (re-)usage or creation
    Equivalent’s from Stagg might include and other following, as long as the either/or relationship exists between usage and creation.

    • Awareness/access – there is a basic level of (re-)usage of OER
    • Passive remix – some level of (re-)usage
    • Active remix – a higher level of (re-)usage
    • Sharing a newly authored OER
  • High – OER (re-usage) and creation
    The equivalent from Stagg above is in the combination of both (re-)usage and creation.

Judith & Bull and OPAL

Judith and Bull (2016) analyse OER literature and identified a set of categories for strategies that can be used – each having “increasing levels of collaborative support involved in OER implementation”

  • individualised strategies;
    individual or small team.
  • programmatic strategies;
    Organised programs within institutions.
  • institutional strategies;
    Approaches more embedded within normal institutional activities.
  • networked or user-shaped strategies.
    This appears to be touching more on Coughlan’s and Perryman’s (2015) use of the social configuration framework, but perhaps that’s in each of them.

This is then converted into a continuum of openness that maps some aspects of the above.


Coughlan, T., & Perryman, L. (2015). Learning from the innovative open practices of three international health projects : IACAPAP , VCPH and Physiopedia. Open Praxis, 7(2), 173–189. Retrieved from

Ehlers, U. (2011). Extending the Territory: From Open Educational Resources to Open Educational Practices. Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, 15(2), 1–10.

Stagg, A. (2014). OER adoption: a continuum for practice. Universities and Knowledge Society Journal, 11(3), 151–164.

Vrieling, E., Beemt, A. Van Den, & Laat, M. De. (2016). What’s in a name: dimensions of social learning in teacher groups. Teachers and Teaching, 22(3), 273–292.

Some findings from initial exploration of Moodle Book usage

I recently gave a talk at the Moodlemoot’AU 2016 conference in Perth. The talk was titled “How and why do people use the Moodle Book module?”  It reported on analysis of data from one University’s Moodle isntances to explore how courses, learners, and teachers made use of the Moodle Book module (aka the Book) from 2012 through 2015. The slides, abstract, and links to various interactive graphs used in the presentation are available via the presentation webpage.

This talk is part of a broader project that is looking more into post-adoption usage of e-learning systems, with an initial focus on the Book module.

The following provides a summary of some of what was found.  The links are to web pages that contain relevant interactive graphs.

Most books aren’t completely read

The percentage of students who completely read all of the Book resources appears quite low. In 2012, half the books were completely read by less than 47% of students. In 2015 half the books were completely read by less than 2% of enrolled students.

More integrated design appears to increase completion

I teach a course where Moodle book resources are integrated into the course and contribute a small part toward the final result. Not unexpectedly this produces better completion rates. However, questions remain the quality of the “reading” and some ups and downs in the data.

Courses using the Book tend to be bigger

Courses that use the book tend to have more students (median course enrolment of 85 in 2015) than those that don’t. (median of 11 in 2015). Raising questions about what is the difference with larger courses that seems to drive the use of the Book module.

..and have tended not to be for online only students

The majority of courses that use the Book do not include (m)any online students, especially when compared with all courses.

Again raising the question of the motivation/purpose for using the Book.

However in 2015 there was an increase in the number of courses with online students using the Book module.

This appears to be a result of the discontinuation of an institutional system that was used to transform more traditional distance education study guides into web-based resources.

Size of books and number of books

In 2015, the median number of Book resources per course was 3, however, there were two courses that had almost 80 Book resources.

In 2015, the median number of chapters per Book was 4, however, there were 3 that had more than 80 chapters. In 2014, there was a Book resource that contained over 74,000 words.

Most people are not using the Book import functionality

The Book module provides two broad methods to create resources:

  1. create; and
    Use a web-based editor to type (or perhaps copy and paste is the most popular method) text into the Book resource.
  2. import.
    Given a HTML file (or collection of such files) created externally, you can then import that file and it will be broken up into chapters.

It appears that very few people are using the import facility.  The following graph shows that roughly 10% of chapters, books and course offerings at this institution involved the use of the import method.

After the presentation, someone from the institution’s central L&T group came up for a chat. Indications are that between he (supporting another teacher) and I (in my course), we potentially account for all use of the import functionality.  Further discussions reveal issues arising from people copying and pasting from Word into the Book module.

It appears that content authoring might remain an unresolved problem.

Create or import

Exploring Moodle Book usage – part 9 – Strange courses

Time to explore some of the strange courses that have been identified.  There are currently two types:

  1. courses with many individual Book resources; and
  2. courses with huge Book resources.

Strange books

Courses with many books

Back in part 2 there appear to be a number of courses that have more than 50 individual book resources.  That seems a bit excessive.  Wonder what that indicates? What are these courses (one of mine might be part of this group)? Is there something wrong hidden in these figures (e.g. are some of them hidden)?

There are 15 course offerings with more than 30 Books.  7 of these are offerings of the course I teach.  The remaining 8 are split between 3 different bridging/preparation courses.

If the line is drawn at 20 books, then there are 23 course offerings drawn from another 2 education course , a nursing course, and another 2 bridging courses.

Courses with huge books

In part 6 it was discovered that there are books with 100 chapters (individual web pages). Most of the books had less than 20.

There are 51 offerings with books with greater than 26 chapters (25 is the upper limit for 2015).  This converts into 20 courses with a number being offered multiple times.

Further stats about these courses – as per the Word doc

Imported books

Part 6 in the series also outlines details of the number of books that were imported – only 9.8% of chapters imported, from 10.2% of books, from 11.8% of courses.


The aim now is to take a closer look at these strange course to learn more about them.  The following graphs will report different stats about the courses that fall into the three different categories

  1. IMPORT – courses that have used the Book import facility
  2. BIG – courses that include big books (greater than 26 chapters)
  3. MANY – courses that have many books (greater than 20 books)

% of online only students

The institutions has a number of different types of student, including online only. The following graph shows the % of online students in each course.

It shows that the IMPORT courses tend to have a higher concentration of online students, with the MANY courses next. The BIG courses, tend to include more courses that have no online student.  There is online 1 MANY course with no online only students. Only 3 IMPORT courses with no online students.
Percent online only

# of revisions per book

On the other hand, the following graph shows that the BIG courses, tend to have more revisions, including one that has 701 revisions.  That has to be explored a bit more – most of the BIG courses with high revisions are from the same allied health discipline. They are all – except from 2 (100% and almost 20%) – on-campus courses.


When they are read by students

The following heatmaps aim to represent when these books are read.

Import books

The following heatmap shows when books in courses that used the IMPORT facility were read by students. It seems to suggest that the IMPORT facility was really only heavily used in 2015.

Import heatmap - student view/print

Big Books

The next images shows that courses with BIG books started a bit earlier and tend to be first semester occurrence.  Perhaps suggesting – like my course – a big offering in the 1st semester and a smaller repeat in the 2nd?

It also seems to suggest a tendency for the books in these courses to be read more earlier in the semester and also to be read on week days. In the first half of 2015, there’s even a trend for reading more on Monday and Tuesday.
Big heatmap  - student view/print

Many Books

Many heatmap - student view/print

When are they modified

The next set of heatmaps are for the same collection of courses, however, these show when there were modify/create events. How often and when were they changed.


The import courses align somewhat with the above.  Really only seeing action in 2015.

And much of that importing in 2015 is taking place on the weekends – I have a suspicion that this might be my course having an influence.
Import modify heatmap


The BIG courses have modify/create spread over the years. However, it does appear that there’s a tendency to modify/create happening earlier in the semester

Big modify heatmap


The MANY courses are – overall – showing a bit less activity. The pattern in the first half of 2015  suggests that a single course is having a fair impact. If this is my course, then it might be worthwhile taking it out and running these again.
Many modify heatmap

Remove EDC3100 – students viewing and printing

The next 6 heatmaps repeat the 6 from above, but with any of the offerings of the course I teach removed. This appears to radically change the picture.


Reveals the drawback of the combined heatmap approach. It appears that my course offering has a great deal of activity, which in the above Import heatmap “overwhelmed” some of the other courses.  This map shows that use of the import facility starting earlier and being used. It shows in S1 2015 quite a lot of activity toward the end of semester.
Import no3100 student view heatmap

I was interested in the balance between viewing and printing.  The following heatmap is for the same set of courses as the above, but shows only the events associated with printing out a chapter or book.  It is suggesting that these courses are rarely printed

Many no3100 student print


As mentioned below, this map appears no different with my course removed. Identifying that my course isn’t a BIG course. Big no3100 student heatmap

The following heatmap is for the same courses, but only the print actions. When compared to the other groups of courses, it suggests that the BIG courses have more print actions. Suggesting the bigger the books, the more likely students are to print them.

Big no3100 student print heatmap


However, my course is one of the MANY.  Removing my course here allows the activity of the other courses to come through, in particular the small number of courses in first semester 2012 that had fairly consistent student usage throughout semester.
Many no3100 student heatmap

And the following again shows just the print actions. It suggests that the MANY courses print a bit, but not as much as the BIG.

Import no3100 student print heatmap

Remove EDC3100 – when modified


It appears that the modifications occur toward the start of the semester and rarely continue during semester (Late Feb – S1; Late Jun/Jul – S2; Late Oct – S3)
Import no3100 heatmap

Big no 3100

This appears to be pretty much the same map as above – indicating that perhaps my course is not one of the BIG courses.

Big no3100 heatmap

Many 3100

A more major change here. Major reduction in modifications during semester, limiting modifications largely to the start of semester. With an exception in S1, 2012. Is this the course that had students doing it?
Many no3100 heatmap

Student updates – no edc3100

There are 2 course offerings that have students modifying Book resources. The following heatmaps foll

Exploring Moodle Book usage – Part 8 – linking to and from

Natalie writes about how she’s working a new practice into how she responds to student queries. It’s a process in which she attempts to model an approach to answering the query and including links to relevant sites. This is a practice that I use a fair bit, especially with the Moodle Book resources in my undergraduate course. This post seeks to explore my own practice, but also how wide spread that practice is in others.

This post picks up on work and ideas from an earlier post. The Moodle Book module helps create/manage collections of web pages. My interest is to explore how much people are using them as web pages, rather than just dumping grounds for print material. One of the main affordances of the web is links. The prior post found that around 15% of the book resources contain no links. It also found that the median number of links per book has grown from 11 through 17. It also shows that there are some books with hundreds of links. It also showed how the number of links in the book resources I produce has grown with the median hitting about 25.

This post will seek to refine and expand this exploration a bit, including

  • Looking more closely at what the book resources are linking to: other book resources, multimedia, other institutional resources etc.
  • Whether or not book resources are being linked to from course forum posts — this will become the topic for another post.

Link break down by destination

First, lets break down links by three destination categories:

  • LMS – to within the institutional LMS
  • USQ – other non-LMS links for the institution; and,
  • OTHER – everything else.

EDC3100 2015 2

The following graph shows the breakdown between the three categories for each book resource in the most recent offering (for which I have data) of the course I teach. It shows that typically links to the broader web tends to be the largest category, followed by other links within the LMS, and finally links to the institution.

But there is also some variety depending on the purpose of the specific book.

The book with the largest number of links (almost 100) is also one of the longer books.  It is also the book that contains all of the assessment related information (what is required, where to submit, how to request an extension, how to query marking etc). It includes 25 links to other parts of the study desk and 70 links to other sites.

The book with the most LMS-based links is titled Conclusions Week 1. It provides a summary of what was learned that week and includes links back to the specific pages in the various books for that week.

The book with the second most number of links, also only has external links.  This book aims to show folk how to use resources out on the web and literature to learn how to use a new digital technology. Hence it has a large number of links out onto the broader web and that’s even before Diigo widgets that contain the most recent collection of links shared to the course Diigo group are rendered.

edc3100 2015 2 link by destination

Evolution over time – EDC3100

The next graphs show the evolution of links from the EDC3100 books over time.For each offering of the course it shows the number of links per book of each type: LMS, institutional, and other.

There is no graph for institutional links (NOT the LMS) because from 2013 S2 it flat lines indicating – apart from one – none have links to non LMS institutional resources.  I imagine this may well be very different in other courses.

The first graph shows the evolution of LMS links. The median starts and remains at about 4 LMS links per book. With a slight growth at the top end in recent years.

3100 LMS links from Books

The next graph is for links outside the institution. The growth in these links is a bit more evident. The median growing from around 9 to around 13 and the upper from 40 to 50

3100 Other links from Books

Evolution over time – All courses

The following graphs show how many links of each type (LMS, USQ and other) found in all book resources in each year. These graphs do not include EDC3100, the course I teach.

There is a broad common trend in all three.  The number of books with large number of links increases over the years. However, that number is largely insignificant as the vast number of books contain much fewer links.

The first graph shows the number of LMS related links in each book. It shows that in 2012 almost all of the books had no such links. 75% of books in 2012 has less than 5. 50% had 0. As the years progress there are a growing number of books with quite large numbers of links, with the maximum reaching 400. This corresponds to the appearance of some books that are very large. By 2015, 75% of books has less than 7. 50% less than 2.

LMS links not 3100

The next graph focuses on number of links to institutional resources (not in the LMS) in each book. The basic shape is much the same. Starting quite low and then having a number of books added in 2014/2015 with quite large numbers. However, the numbers involved fewer numbers of links than the LMS graph (e.g. the maximum gets to just over 200, rather than 400). It also shows that the overall trend is a bit down.

In 2012, 75% of books has less than 4 USQ links. By 2015, that had reduced to 3.

USQ links not 3100
The following graph focuses on links onto the broader web.  The numbers are higher.

In 2012, 75% of books had less than 17 links, 50% had less than 7. 2015 was largely the same.
Other links not 3100

What Moodle links exist?

Next step is to take a closer look at the Moodle links. What type of activities and resources are being linked to.

Will people be linking to anything? Mostly resources? Activities?

EDC3100 2015 2

Start with the latest version of the course I teach.

It shows that most of the links in the latest offering are to other Moodle book resources. Over time I’ve made an effort to link between books to show the interconnection of ideas.

Surprisingly, it also shows links to the discussion forums.  These are going to be offering specific since each offering of a course uses different forums.  Interestingly, take away the book links, and the forum links make up almost 61% of these links.

Would an analysis that divides links between activities and resources indicate anything interesting about learning design?

3100 2015 2 - Moodle links

All 2015 S2 – but EDC3100

So how do all the other courses use of Books form 2015 S2 compare?

Lots of resource focus – book, pluginfile, printing the book, equella.  But also links to the quizzes and forums.

Interestingly for me it highlights 3 other courses using BIM. 2 of which I don’t teach.

All 2015 S2

But how widespread is this?

As discovered above

In 2012, 75% of books has less than 4 USQ links. By 2015, that had reduced to 3.

Meaning that those 1000+ links to Moodle books above were found in a fairly small number of books. Perhaps a couple of the quite large books. More to find out

  • How widespread are these links? How many books?
  • What type of links are they?

Something for later.

OEP, institutions and culture

Some colleagues and I are embarking on a project exploring how teacher education might move toward adoption Open Educational Practices (OEP). A project that is currently being driven by a funding from one University, and which might lead to an application for funding from another institution. In part, we’re thinking about how teacher education in each of these two institutions can adopt OEP, what that might look like, what the barriers be, and how might we go about moving toward something like this that won’t fade away once the money runs out or we move on.

As it happens, over the last week or so there’s been an on-going discussion about the role of institutions and/or culture in OER. A discussion that started with Mike Caufield’s reflections and were then picked up by many, including Jim Groom, Stephen Downes and Tim Klapdor. A discussion that provides an interesting way of looking at what we’re thinking about. In the end, I think we may need to draw upon the following from David Wiley and Cable Green, which echoes a discussion Leigh Blackall and I had back in 2010.

Making stuff last – institutions

One of the first posts in this discussion by Mike arose out of a debate around the value of Open Educational Resources as a stepping stone to Open Pedagogy. The idea being that increasingly universities are creating policies etc that are embedding OERs (typically in the form of open textbooks) into organisational practice. However, while all this has been happening open pedagogy (I’ll label this OEP here) has been waiting, waiting for its turn. That waiting has made the people more interested in OEP a touch cranky with the focus on OER and they’re heading off to do their own thing.

The problem Mike identifies comes from his personal experience

But here’s what I know. The death of the Persona Project was the norm, not the exception. It happens all the time. Where I work right now had a great student and teacher wiki up in 2008. But it got nuked in a transition. The Homelessness Awareness wiki I worked on with Sociology students (and demo’d with Jim Groom in 2011) is ghost-towned. The disability research one has been slammed by spam. And even more than that, each time I work with a professor on these things (most recently on a Colonial Theory wiki) we spin up from scratch, and leave it to rot afterwards.

And leads to the following

People make things possible. And we have such great, great people in Open Pedagogy….But institutions, they are what make these things last.

And in a another post, to the question

How can we re-architect our institutions to bring open practice into the center of them, rather see it as a bolt-on?

Making stuff last – culture

Stephen Downes response is

You can’t depend on institutions. And in a sense, you don’t need them. Institutions aren’t what make tests and exams happen year after year. Institutions aren’t what guarantee there will be course outlines and reading lists. What makes this last – the only thing that makes this last – is culture.

And in a more detailed post he adds

I’m not saying we should never build things. What I am saying is that we cannot count on institutions – organized economic and political units – to ensure the lasting value of these things is preserved…Because sooner or later someone is going to object (or forget, or simply retire), and the good work goes down the drain.

Local institutional experience

So how does local institutional experience match up with this discussion.

Institutional moves to be open

Peter brings up the experience of our local institution. An institutional early adopter of open within an Australian context. Peter sums up the situation as

In principle being open is acknowledged as a good thing but in practice it seems not to happen much and to be not easy to accomplish within the institutional processes.

And suggests that at least part of the problem is

It seems likely that is linked to concerns about reputational effects….Thus the interests of the institution seem to be best served by ensuring that what is made open is carefully managed and quality assured to present the best possible impression.

Perhaps indicating that our institution hasn’t yet been successful at achieving what Mike observes

is that OER has done the hard work of bringing OER work to the center of the institution, rooting it in institutional policy and practice in a way that Open Pedagogy hasn’t been able to do

But also highlighting Downes point in that these moves for the institution to be open have been driven by people at the senior levels of the institution. However, that high level interest has resulted in a number of different bolt-on projects, but have yet to translate into changes into organisational policy or practice.

For example, institutional policy still does not make it easy (or even possible) for an academic to place a Creative Commons license on their teaching materials and release it. Institutional policy is such that the university retains copyright. In addition, any such sharing seems to require using the institutional version of Equella. A system not conducive to easy, widespread sharing and discoverability.

My moves within institutions to be open

Archisuit example from Sarah Ross

The 2010 discussion around open and how to get there between Leigh Blackall and I arose out of my work on BIM. A Moodle module that aids teachers manage use of individual student blogs. BIM is perhaps the ed tech equivalent of an Archisuit. An example of a response to a hostile architecture. An example that Mike uses as an example of the sort of workarounds that open pedagogy people have been working on for ages. But then argues that

Being against the institution may be necessary, but it is not where you ultimately want to be. If you want real change, styrofoam padding isn’t going to cut it. Eventually you have to remove the damn bars from the bench.

The difference with BIM is that it is part of the LMS. It’s an accepted part of the institution. Perhaps indicative of how while my current institution hasn’t yet succeeded with embedding open into the policy of the institution. There are glimmers of it within the infrastructure.

However, that still hasn’t encouraged vast swaths of adoption. 8 of the 10 course offerings that have used by BIM in 2014/2015 were courses I taught. On the plus side, I was surprised to find the other two courses and I believe they have continued using BIM this year.

The Moodle Open Book project is another “archisuit” example. The aim is to connect the Moodle Book module (used to manage/display collections of web pages within Moodle) to GitHub and thus enable production of OER and more interestingly OEP. There’s even some “working” code.

But as I talk about both of these workarounds, what I’m struck by is the huge “cultural” leap required to go from not using blogs/github to thinking about how blogs/github might be leveraged in an interesting OEP way. Even the initial development and application of BAM (the non-Moodle predecessor) of BIM was driven by a fairly uninspired pedagogical application – address the student corruption of a “reflective journal” assignment using Word documents.

The impact of culture

That said, I think the adoption of BIM in two other courses at my institution is potentially largely down to a change in broader culture. In this case, not the idea of open, but instead the movement of blogs into a common (even passe) part of contemporary culture. My understanding is that the person who has adopted BIM in their teaching has embarked on projects that have used blogs.

Blogs in 2016 aren’t as strange and unknown as they were in 2007 when the ELI Guide to Blogging came out. In 2006, when I tried to explain BAM, most of the time was spent trying to get people’s head about blogs, blogging, and RSS feeds. In 2016, most people are familiar with the idea of a blog and blog posts. Though I’m guessing they are probably still a bit uncertain about RSS feeds.

If blogs hadn’t caught on like they did, BIM would be dead. Culture plays a part.

Removing the bars from the bench: easy for OER, harder for OEP

As Mike points out “the assumption of the textbook is baked into every nook and cranny of our institutions”. A bit earlier he identifies the proprietary textbook as “the largest structural barrier to open pedagogy”. He congratulates the Open Textbook folk for having “willing to engage on the fronts of policy and practice at once” and suggests that the open pedagogy folk need to engage more in “issues of policy, law, funding, architecture, institutional support” in order to “remove the bars from the bench”. I think it’s going to be much harder for OEP to do this, perhaps even leaning more towards the impossible end.

Textbooks are a core part of universities. Everyone is familiar with them. The institution can talk and deal with textbooks at a general level. Whether they be proprietary or open. They have a collection of pages, making up chapters, making up the book. There are headings, images, activities, etc. They are a model that is understood across all parts of the institution. Hence textbooks are something that can be easily discussed at an institutional level. Sure those strange folk in the Arts will have different content than the Engineers, but the notion of a book is general.

OEP on the other hand is – I think – incredibly more diverse and contextual. My initial experiments with BAM took place almost 10 years ago in another institution in a different discipline. Today I use BIM – the functionality of which is a direct translation of BAM into Moodle (hence the acronym BIM) – at a different institution in a different discipline. I don’t use the BIM functionality. I have a army of kludges that I employ to support the OEP I think works better for my current students. ds106 makes perfect sense in it’s context and purpose, but engineers at my institution are not likely to understand it at all. The type of OEP we might engage in with pre-service teachers is likely to be very different from nursing students. In particular, if our aim with OEP is for the pre-service teachers to engage more with the teaching profession.

The novelty and diversity of OEP would appear to be in stark contrast to the familiarity and standardisation of textbooks and OER. I don’t think institutions (or many people) will deal well with that combination. I’m not sure continuing to ride in the back seat will be sufficient.

That said, if we’re going to do anything around OEP within an institution, we’re going to have to consider Mike’s question, if we want that work to have a chance of surviving.

How can we re-architect our institutions to bring open practice into the center of them, rather see it as a bolt-on?

Both/and, not either/or

But at the same time, I think we also need to ask ourselves a similar question about the culture of teachers and teacher education. While there’s been a significant increase in sharing online amongst edubloggers, Twitter, online resource sharing etc. This still seems to be the minority. There are still schools that constrain the use of online technologies and sharing. There are schools where it is assumed that the school retains copyright of teacher-produced material. In an era of standardised testing and concerns about teacher quality, there are issues around sharing resources, and especially sharing the messy processes involved figuring out how to teach these learners effectively.

Even if (and a big if) we’re able to embed OEP into our courses within our institutions, unless we can connect that work sustainably into teacher practice the full benefits won’t flow.

Which has me wondering, where are the sweet spots in teacher practice and our courses where it would be easier to introduce OEP and make the connection between practice and ivory tower?  What about in your teaching, where are those sweet spots? Is there any overlap?