Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Framing a body of research and innovation

Markus has finally posted the set of questions for framing a research proposal idea that he showed me weeks ago. This post is an attempt to use those questions to frame what I’m doing in my current position.

A simple test for BIM purposes, ignore

Write a research question

How can you improve the quality of learning and teaching within a university?

What is the important theoretical or conceptual setting?

Too much work in this area has not focused on the academic staff and factors or approaches that would encourage and enable them to change their teaching behaviour. The behaviour of the teacher is a key component of the quality of learning and teaching. Teaching and learning is getting more difficult.

Write 2-3 key points about why it is important (Significance? Innovation?)

  • Governments and other external stakeholders are increasingly demanding proof that university learning and teaching is good and getting better.
  • Most university learning and teaching is of less than good quality.
  • Most, if not all, interventions to improve L&T are not succeeding in widespread, long-term behaviour change (i.e. improving quality).

Write 1-2 brief objective points (formulate full aims later)

  • Evaluation of existing interventions, informed by behaviour change research, will reveal significant short-comings.
  • Interventions, informed by behaviour change research, will result in significantly greater levels of improvement of L&T.

Write a couple of points about the approach you might take

This is not necessarily just about a single research project and it is unlikely to have, at least initially, significant institutional support or recognition. A collaborative approach involving many different projects and people will be done. However, it seems likely that an on-going process of:

  1. Learning more about how behaviour change research may inform this project.
  2. Combining these insights with other knowledge to design interventions.
  3. Use the insights to evaluate both existing and new interventions. Also to further understanding of the current context.
  4. Publish.

Will I have all the expertise/resources? Should I be talking to collaborators? Might the proposal be strengthened by having a team?

A team is absolutely necessary. Knowledge of behaviour change research is essential. As is good knowledge of the local context and educational and technical skills to implement the interventions.

Do I or will I need some ‘proof of concept’, preliminary data or demonstration of competency to undertake the project?

Yes, the on-going process above will have to start small and learn from there.

Will the team/partners be competitive in this field?

At the moment, yes. There doesn’t appear to be too many people taking this approach.

What would the outcome(s) be and who benefits?

Hopefully, there will be improvements in L&T in the local context and research publications and grants around that work.

What is the ‘WOW’, ‘HOOK’, or ‘EXCITEMENT’ factor?

It appears that this is a new way of approaching an intractable problem.


Further thinking – behaviour change and improving L&T


Clarification of the alignment project


  1. jostorey

    Dear David and Markus

    I am assuming that this is a ‘new’ proposal in addition to the stuff that we are working on in relation to curriculum planning and your PhD, David. I guess my contribution to this proposal (on the face of it) would be that there are many assumptions here e.g., Most university learning and teaching is of less than good quality. Is there evidence to support this? If so, what kind of evidence is this? If it is based purely on student feedback then I would question whether or not this is the full story in terms of how we ascertain what quality teaching actually is and how we measure it. A novel idea might be to ask academics what they think quality teaching is. It might also be useful to ask academics what their expectations are of ‘academics in general’ when it comes to teaching and also what their expectations are of students. Just my thoughts.

    • G’day Jo,

      This is probably not a new proposal, at the moment it’s probably more Markus and I trying to figure out if there’s anything productive we can learn from each other. My current answer to that question being an affirmative.

      This project is connected very much with my thinking and practice over a number of years and my concerns that most institutional attempts to improve L&T adopt a “developer focus”. My long term interest is how to take a more adopter-based focus.

      So, there are definite connections with the curriculum mapping project, at least in terms of how I envision how best to implement it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how it will happen.

      As for most L&T being of less than good quality, this is obviously a fairly subjective area. The idea of asking academics what good quality teaching is, is a good one. I have vague recollections that there may have been some work in this area.

      As for evidence, there is quite a bit of literature that suggests that this is the case. Some of it empirical, but all of it does assume a pre-defined notion of “quality”.

      From personal experience supporting e-learning and materials development at our current insitution, I have to say that this observation holds. I have seen some truly bad examples of L&T and the limited quality is quite widespread.

      So, while I recognise the subjectivity of “quality”, there is a problem.

      In the past, my response to this has not been to define what “quality” L&T is, but rather to take a different focus.

      It’s not how bad you start, it’s how quickly you get better.

      I’m not interested in pre-defining what quality is, I’m interested in creating environment that encourages and enables academics to be improving their L&T in ways that are contextually appropriate. In a way that suits them and their strengths, aims and goals.

      To me, it’s a journey, not a destination.


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