Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Month: April 2015

An overview of the Moodle "open" book project

In another 50 minutes I’m off to attend the “First Open Textbook Community Meeting” made up of folk who were successful in getting an internal institutional grant for the USQ Open Textbook Initiative. One of the tasks we’re being asked is

Prepare a short overview of your intended project for your colleagues at the meeting

Hence this post attempting to develop some ideas for my project

The Moodle “open” book project

The main course I teach – EDC3100, ICT and Pedagogy – has no set text. Instead, the course site currently contains 73 resources created with the Moodle book module. Those 73 Moodle books include at least 670 “pages” of content, including both administrative and learning content. The core of those books is the “learning path”. A weekly path that guides learners through a range of literature, resources and activities intended to help them to design learning experiences where digital technologies (ICTs) are used to amplify and transform their students’ learning.

The aim of this project is to develop a framework (defined as collection of technologies, processes, and practices) that will help me transform these course resources. Transform these sad, lonely Moodle books withering away in the online ghetto that is the course site into open resources that can be read, modified, and re-used by anyone with an interest in ways that are appropriate for them. The intent is that once developed and tested with the EDC3100 resources, the framework will be available to anyone else using the Moodle LMS.

The inverse relationship between reusability and pedagogical effectiveness

There is no assumption in this project that the EDC3100 books represent some huge contribution to the literature on the integration of ICT into learning and teaching. There is no assumption that the resources are in anyway generic enough to be immediately reusable by people outside of the course. The EDC3100 books are written in a way to be very specific to the course and the course site. Immediately bumping into “The Reusability Paradox” proposed by David Wiley. The greater the pedagogical value a resource has for a particular context, the less potential for reusing the resource outside of that original context. Wiley identifies four possible solutions to this paradox

  1. create highly decontextualized resources that can be reused broadly but teach very little;
  2. we can build highly contextualized resources that teach effectively in a single setting but are very difficult to reuse elsewhere;
  3. we can shoot for the mediocre middle; or,
  4. allow and enable for contextual modification of the learning object.

This project is aiming to support the adoption of solution #4. The Moodle “open” book project is about transforming the EDC3100 resources (and any resources using the Moodle book) into resources that can be modified in response to contextual demands of anyone and everyone.

What does this say about learning analytics?

What do the following two artefacts say about learning analytics?

Perhaps I’m being just a bit too cynical.

Horizon report predictions

The NMC Horizon Reports are (Johnson et al, 2013)

a comprehensive research venture established in 2002 that identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact over the coming five years in education around the globe (p. 3)

Each year they list those technologies. The following table summarises the mentions of learning analytics as one of those “emerging technologies like to have a large impact…in education” from the annual Horizon Reports each year from 2009 through 2015

Year Time frame Important developments in Ed Tec
2009 n/a
2010 4 to 5 years Visual data analytics
2011 4-5 years Learning analytics
2012 2-3 years Learning analytics
2013 2-3 years Learning analytics
2014 One year or less (#2) Learning analytics
2015 4 to 5 years Adaptive learning technologies

Birnbaum’s fad cycle

The following image (click on it to see a larger version) is taken from Birnbaum (2000, p. 5) and describes Birnbaum’s life cycle stages of the fad process in higher education. In particular, it shows his proposition that these fads enter higher education from a non-academic sector.



Birnbaum, R. (2000). The Life Cycle of Academic Management Fads. The Journal of Higher Education, 71(1), 1–16.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., and Ludgate, H. (2013). Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Why is e-learning like teenage sex and what can be done about it?

There are two versions of this talk.

  1. A joint presentation by Professor Peter Albion and I gave in May 2015 at USQ.This version of the talk combines and builds upon ideas from two papers co-written with Damien Clark and Amanda Heffernan.

    Update: The video of the session is available. Talk starts at about 4m30s.

  2. A solo presentation that I gave at CSU as part of a workshop on Learning Technology Innovation.

Slides for CSU version

USQ version

Slides not available


The implementation of e-learning – defined by the OECD (2005) as the use of information and communications technology (ICT) to support and enhance learning and teaching – in universities has a problem. A problem perhaps best summed up by Professor Mark Brown (Laxon, 2013)

E-learning’s a bit like teenage sex. Everyone says they’re doing it but not many people really are and those that are doing it are doing it very poorly. (n.p).

E-learning’s teenage sex problem is apparent at USQ with the perception that some academic staff are not as engaged with the use of learning technologies as they perhaps could be (Sankey, 2015).

This is not a new problem. In a paper over 20 years ago Geoghagen (1994) sought to explain why a three decade long “vision of pedagogical utopia” (n.p.) promised by instructional technologies had failed to eventuate. Given that “Australian universities have made very large investments in corporate educational technologies” (Holt et al., 2013, p. 388) it would appear increasingly important to understand and address e-learning’s on-going teenage sex problem.

This session will discuss and demonstrate both practical and theoretical perspectives of and solutions to the problem. The practical approaches and tools to be demonstrated have been applied successfully within USQ by individual and small groups of academics. Similar approaches and tools have also been used at CQUniversity to develop a strategic, learning analytics-enabled, student retention project.

The session will argue that the dominant deficit model of academic staff – perhaps best illustrated by the suggestion from the 2014 Horizon Report for Higher Education (Johnson et al, 2014) that the low digital fluency of faculty was the most significant challenge impeding higher education technology adoption – is less than helpful. Instead, the session will argue that e-learning’s teenage sex problem arises from an inappropriate mindset, and a limited conception of knowledge and learning. The session will demonstrate how a different mindset and conception of knowledge and learning can help address e-learning’s on-going teenage sex problem.

The session will build upon ideas from two earlier papers (Jones and Clark, 2014; Jones, Heffernan and Albion, 2015)



Geoghegan, W. (1994). Whatever happened to instructional technology? Paper presented at the 22nd Annual Conference of The International Business Schools Computing Association. Baltimore, MD.

Holt, D., Palmer, S., Munro, J., Solomonides, I., Gosper, M., Hicks, M., Sankey, M., Allan, G., & Hollenbeck, R. (2013). Leading the quality management of online learning environments in Australian higher education. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 29(3), 387-402. Retrieved from

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., & Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas. Retrieved from

Jones, D., Heffernan, A., & Albion, P. R. (2015). TPACK as shared practice: Toward a research agenda. In D. Slykhuis & G. Marks (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2015 (pp. 3287-3294). Las Vegas, NV: AACE. Retrieved from

Jones, D., & Clark, D. (2014). Breaking BAD to bridge the reality/rhetoric chasm. In Rhetoric and Reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology. Proceedings ascilite Dunedin 2014 (pp. 262-272). Dunedin. Retrieved from

Laxon, A. (2013, September 14). Exams go online for university students. The New Zealand Herald.

OECD. (2005). E-Learning in Tertiary Education: Where do we stand? Paris, France: Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Retrieved from

Sankey, M. (2015). Train a teacher in the way s/he should go and s/he will not depart… Retrieved April 10, 2015, from

Where does the LMS sit in the reusability paradox

This post continues the adaptation of the original work of David Wiley around the reuse and remixing of open content and applying that knowledge to the LMS and other institutional e-learning systems and practices. The idea is that explicitly ignoring the distinction between the “content” and the digital systems (and perhaps also the physical equipment) that are used in contemporary learning/teaching spaces is useful in identifying problems with current practice and identifying alternatives.

The Reusability Paradox

The inverse relationship between reusability and pedagogical effectiveness

The graph to the right represents “The Reusability Paradox” from David Wiley. Developed in the context of learning objects the paradox proposes that there is an inverse relationship between the reusability of a learning object and its pedagogical effectiveness. That is, the more easily you can re-use it in different course, then the less impact it will have on student learning (and vice versa).

Wiley argues that this paradox arises because “humans make meaning by connecting new information to that which they already know”. The more elaborate the connections that a learning object has to my context, the easier it is for me to see and make connections with it. It’s easier for me to learn. However, those more elaborate connections make it more difficult to take that learning object and use it in another context. Those elaborate connections don’t make sense in a different context, they cause confusion.

Thus to make a learning object portable, you have to minimise those elaborate, context-specific connections. You have a vanilla or standard object that is usable in more contexts. The cost, however, is that it’s now harder for the human being to make a connection to that learning object. They have to do much more work to connect the object to their existing context and knowledge. They have to do much more work to learn.

What’s good for “open content” is good for the LMS

My last post sought to apply Wiley’s 5Rs Framework to the LMS. The aim here is to explore what might be revealed by applying the Reusability Paradox to the LMS.

The Learning Management System (LMS) is designed to be general. To be reusable across different institutions and people. For example, the Moodle LMS is described as

Powering tens of thousands of learning environments globally, Moodle is trusted by institutions and organisations large and small, including Shell, London School of Economics, State University of New York, Microsoft and the Open University. Moodle’s worldwide numbers of more than 65 million users across both academic and enterprise level usage makes it the world’s most widely used learning platform.

The Reusability Paradox would imply that in order to achieve this level of successful reuse, the LMS must be focusing a bit more on reusability than pedagogical effectiveness. It would imply that at the level of individual learners and teachers that there should exist some difficulties in making connections. The learners and teachers much be engaged in some additional effort to connect to and learn with the LMS. It doesn’t take a lot of looking to find evidence of this. At the institutional level there will be training sessions run to help people understand the system and overcome the gap between what they’d like to do and what the system can do. At a more invisible level is the ad hoc social connections linking people who aren’t quite as technically literate (able to connect with the general tool) with the sprinkling of technically literate people – every academic organisational unit has at least one of these.

More recently you can see evidence of the code being written by people to make these connections. Some recent examples include:

  1. @palbion’s creation of a Greasemonkey script last weekend to add important functionality to the Moodle assignment module.
  2. The 10 (so far) Perl scripts I use to manipulate Moodle and other institutional systems to achieve the learning outcomes I want with my course.

    Including those required to implement the process analytics I’ve added to my course.

  3. The work @damoclarky has done to replace a more useful reporting mechanism for Moodle with MAV.

At this point, I should strongly point out that the problem here is not Moodle. The problem is the implications that the Reusability Paradox has for systems like a LMS that are trying to be reusable across contexts. Almost by definition such systems will have a gap between what they offer and the requirements of the context. Someone or something has to make those connections, and sadly most institutions don’t seem to be doing a good job of it.

What can be done?

David Wiley identifies four choices in terms of open content

  1. create highly decontextualized resources that can be reused broadly but teach very little;
  2. we can build highly contextualized resources that teach effectively in a single setting but are very difficult to reuse elsewhere;
  3. we can shoot for the mediocre middle; or,
  4. allow and enable for contextual modification of the learning object.

In terms of open content, Wiley talks about the open license as being the great enabler, he argues

The way to escape from the Reusability Paradox is simply by using an open license. If I publish my educational materials using an open license, I can produce something deeply contextualized and highly effective for my local context AND give you permission to revise and remix it until it is equally effective to reuse in your own local context. Poof! The paradox disappears. I’ve produced something with a strong internal context which you have permission to make fit into other external contexts.

Problem fixed, not!

So the problem is fixed, at least for Moodle, because it has an open license and

can be customised in any way and tailored to individual needs. Its modular set up and interoperable design allows developers to create plugins and integrate external applications to achieve specific functionalities. Extend what Moodle does by using freely available plugins and add-ons – the possibilities are endless!

But it’s not quite as simple as that. Once Moodle is adopted, installed, and used by a University the institution must now attempt to make its instance of Moodle reusable across the entire institution. It’s to inefficient to do otherwise. The learners and teachers at that institution are only allowed to use the institutional instance of Moodle as it stands. They are typically unable to make changes to Moodle. They do not have the access necessary to make such changes. They are stuck in the Reusability Paradox.

Of course, learners and teachers won’t sit still in this paradox. They won’t accept the need to continually overcome the lack of contextual appropriateness of these systems. They take steps, like those outlined above. The evolution of technology (LTI, JSON, Greasemonkey etc) is making it easier for individuals to modify systems for their own purposes (e.g. @palbion’s creation of a Greasemonkey script).

One university and minimum course standards

At the same time, there is a growing trend for institutional management to promulgate ideas such as minimum course standards. Where it is argued that it is better for students and the institution if all course sites look the same and have – at least at some minimum standard – the same functionality. A level of consistency that smacks head long into the Reusability Paradox and causes no end of trouble. Especially for those of us expected to step backwards to meet the minimal standard.

Allow and enable for contextual modification of the learning object

If institutions wish to improve the quality of their students’ learning, then it would appear that some consideration of the Reusability Paradox is required. In particular, it appears sensible that they adopt Wiley’s fourth choice for dealing with the paradox

allow and enable for contextual modification of the learning object

Where, in this case, the learning object is the LMS and other digital systems.

The problem I see is that institutions are reliant on a mindset that I’ve labelled the: Strategic/Established/Tree-link (SET) Mindset. Such a mindset is going to find it incredibly hard to “allow and enable for contextual modification” because it assumes that:

  1. there must be one plan and one aim (Strategic).
  2. digital technologies cannot be cost effectively changed (if at all – Established).
  3. the world is best understood through logical decomposition into hierarchies (Tree-like).

The big question is how to help organisations adopt more of a BAD mindset. A mindset that is all about allowing and enabling for contextual modification (i.e. learning).


David Wiley, The Reusability Paradox. OpenStax CNX. May 25, 2013

What's good for "open content" is good for the LMS/virtual learning space?

My tweet stream reminded me this morning that #oer15 is up and running. The following tweet from @courosa was amongst the first I saw.

The tweet draws on the 5Rs framework from David Wiley as a way of defining “open content” as having a license that allows others

to engage in the 5R activities:

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

Why stop at content?

When it comes to learning (and teaching), I wonder about the focus on and definition of “content”. Especially if you take @downes perspective that the “content in learning functions as a McGuffin”. At the very least, the content in the courses I design is somewhat important, but it’s not the only thing.

What the learner does with and takes from that content is more important. What the learner does is enabled and constrained by the tools available to them and the affordances those tools offer. Sitting in a lecture, reading a print book, watching an online video, engaging on a blog, engaging in a discussion forum all offer different constraints and enablers.

Regardless of their relative merits, increasingly the learners in my courses are being required to engage with a range of digital technologies in the form of a the institutional LMS and other tools. These tools – both institutional and personal – make up their virtual learning space. Complaints about the LMS have been many and regularly over the last 10+ years.

Perhaps the most regularly complaint from certain circles is that the LMS is not open. Not open in terms of only people enrolled in the course at the institution are able to access it. Not open in terms of once you leave the institution you probably don’t have access anymore. Not open in terms of not being able to use Google (or in my case any search engine) to find material on the LMS.

But recently there has been another trend in institutions that have been making the LMS even less open. Many institutions are now mandating consistent, minimum standards for all courses hosted in the LMS. At my current institution that has translated into the virtual learning space for a course having to look a specific way and more troubling to use specific locally produced tools (e.g. a particular way for presenting assessment information and a study schedule).

What’s worse is that this mandated consistent set of minimum standards is being seen through the lens of an “established” view of technology. That you can’t and shouldn’t change the technology. In fact, if you do change the technology you are seen as breaking policy and are required to “please explain” (as has happened to me this year).

In some large part this type of thinking to me is an example of this quote from Bret Victor

We’re computer users thinking paper thoughts

The mandating of consistent, minimum standards for all courses in an LMS gives me a strong sense of a deja vu for the bad old days of 2nd generation print-based distance education. The days when all the distance education courses for a University had to use the same style guide, even if it broke all the Prolog code in the Machine Intelligence material. Mandating consistent, minimum standards for all courses in the LMS is “computer users thinking paper thoughts”.

It’s an example of people not understanding what’s really different about computers and digital media. Mike Caufield makes this point

I would argue (along with Alan Kay and so many others) that for digital media the most radical affordance is the remixability of the form (what Kay would call its dynamism). We can represent ideas not as finished publications, but as editable models that can be shared, redefined, and recontextualized. Conversations are transient, publications are fixed.
But digital media can be forever fluid, if we let it.

Universities are missing out on the full benefits of digital media because they are “computer users thinking paper thoughts” that don’t even recognise the “remixability” of digital media and the potential that brings. Instead of leveraging this affordance of the medium and letting it be fluid, institutions are setting it in stone.

Even if you open access to the LMS, will it be open?

Even if an institution opens up access to the LMS. Allows any one into it. I don’t think it can be classed as open, because access is only the first step in being open.

I’m thinking that the LMS – or any other institutional virtual learning space – can’t be truly open until allows me to

  1. Retain – to make and control copies of the data, experiences, and perhaps affordances offered by that learning space.
  2. Reuse – the data, experiences, and perhaps affordances in other ways, in this space, and other spaces.

    e.g. download data about learner activity to my laptop to perform analysis not available in the LMS. e.g. take data from the LMS to generate a “learning report” to automatically “mark” learning activities.

  3. Revise – to adapt, adjust, modify or alter the data, experiences, and perhaps affordances in other ways, in this space, and other spaces.

    e.g. I can use jQuery to point the mandated “Assessment” link to assessment information that is presented more appropriately.

  4. Remix – to recombine the original and revised data, experiences, and perhaps affordances in other ways, in this space, and other spaces.

    e.g. take LMS data and data from the student records system to develop a “learning process analytics” tool used in the course.

  5. Redistribute – the data, experiences, and perhaps affordances in other ways, in this space, and other spaces.

    e.g. the idea of a tool that allows the learning material in my course to be re-purposed as an open book.

Should/can the virtual learning spaces be open in terms of the 5Rs? How might this be done? What problems/benefits might accrue?

Personally, these are important and interesting questions. Not the least because I’m already doing this (see the examples above) via various backdoor methods. And it is helping to make the task of teaching 300+ students somewhat bearable.

Starting the "Moodle open book" project

Back in February I shared shared some thoughts about some ideas for grants for producing an “open textbook” at my current institution. In the end, these thoughts were translated into an application which has just been officially announced as being successful. The following is my first attempt to get my head back into the project and outline

There’s also an initial project page.

About the project

Rather use the funds to write an (is it at the stage of “yet another”) open textbook. The project aims to develop a framework to enable the re-purposing of existing course materials as Open Educational Resources (OERs). In this context, “framework” is defined as “a collection of technologies, processes, and practices”. The idea is to create and test a framework that others may be able to use to create their own OERs as part of producing their course websites.

While this project has an initial focus on producing an “open textbook”. I’m hoping the project will move beyond the limitations of the “book” metaphor. For me, an open textbook makes about as much sense as a horseless carriage. In fact, one of the aims of the project is to provide support in the framework for moving beyond an open textbook. For example, enabling the sharing of small bits of the “book”, for that “sharing” to include more than just re-using the finished product, and move more into co-authoring etc.

The starting point (perhaps even core) of the framework will be the Moodle book module. Moodle is the LMS used by my institution. As such it’s the tool I use to teach a course that now consists of 60+ Moodle books. The framework will make it easier for me (and hopefully others) to use the Moodle book within the confines of a Moodle course and to produce OERs.

The framework is required because

  1. the Moodle book module produces material that is not open; and,

    i.e. it only produces resources available from within Moodle. At my institution, this means that only students currently enrolled at the University and at some stage enrolled in the course can access the resources. I’ve had a couple of past students want to access material from the course, but beyond this the content can’t easily be open and generate all the benefits that is meant to bring.

    Beyond getting access to the material the authoring model for the book module is not readily made open. It’s hard to have the collection of books in EDC3100 benefit from the residue of experience of past students. Currently, I attempt to modify the books based on questions and feedback from students. Would be useful to allow them to do it themselves.

    Beyond the students it would be useful for the material to benefit from the expertise of folk outside the course and to be used by them.

    From a slightly more institutionally insular perspective, it would also be useful for books to be easier to share and collaborated on between courses.

  2. the Moodle book module could be enhanced.

    Round trip authoring with the Moodle book module has some space for improvement.

    Even when students can still access the Moodle course site, there are issues around finding the information again. There is no search function. This is a frustration for students (and staff) at the moment.

    There’s limited support for collections of Moodle books. For example, each week in my course takes the form of a “learning path”. The Moodle books – typically at least 4 or 5 a week – outline the path. The current print function can only print a single chapter or all the chapters in a single book. There is no easy way to print a collection of books. Yes some students still want a print version of the information, even though much of it is in a form not conducive to print.

    Currently no apparent simple process for students (or teaching staff) to track student progress through books. At the moment, I’m advising students to bookmark the current page in a book if they have to do something else and haven’t finished the book.

Breaking BAD – the method

The project – like most of what I do – will be use an approach informed by a BAD mindset. That is:

  • Bricolage;

    The focus is on solving existing problems with the tools at hand. i.e. the aim isn’t to identify all the possible requirements, identify some wonderfully perfect future solution drawing on all the latest whiz-bang technology that requires radical transformation of existing practice. Instead, the aim is to address problems facing people right now with the tools that are available. Hence starting with the Moodle book module.

    There’s questions to be asked about whether Moodle is the best place to start this type of project. There’s questions to be asked whether the Moodle book module is the best Moodle module to base this project on. From a context-free perspective, the answers to these questions is almost certainly “no”.

    However, the production of OERs is not a context-free task. From the context within which I set, the Moodle book module is the best place to start. How well it suits others we’ll see. But chances are work on the Moodle book module will be useful to people already using Moodle and the book module.

  • Affordances; and,

    There are two parts to this. First, there’s the more prosaic idea of leveraging the affordances offered by a range of available technologies to provide useful functionality. e.g. forging a link between the Moodle book module and github to offer version control functionality. Second – and perhaps more interestingly – is to harness the protean nature of digital technologies to modify the Moodle book module and its products to ensure that it’s easier for any and all to remix it.

    I’m particularly interested in exploring how the protean nature of digital technologies can be merged with David Wiley’s Remix Hypothesis

    The Remix Hypothesis states that changes in students outcomes occurring in conjunction with OER adoption correlate positively with faculty remixing activities.

    Both in terms of the more standard – the project makes it easier for people (not just faculty) remix OER – but also the more interesting and challenging – the project makes it easier for people to remix the tool used to produce/remix the OER.

  • Distribution.

    How the project might break down the hierarchical walls that inhibit remixing and learning will also potentially take many forms. Providing support for moving beyond the traditional hierarchical distinction between author and readers is one. Breaking down the hierarchical client/server abstraction behind Moodle (and most/all LMS) is another.

  • Product(s)

    The project will likely produce at least the following products:

    1. software and documentation – under the GPL;

      This will most likely be mainly focused on changes to the Moodle book module (or something related). But may involve additional software. It will also include the necessary documentation etc. to support its use.

    2. an open book/OERs based on the EDC3100 course material; and,

      The aim is that the software the project develops will enable the conversion of the course material (based on Moodle books) into OERs of various forms. The question of context specific information in the course material and how generic to make that information will be interesting to explore.

      It should also help the on-going maintenance of the material and perhaps lead to change in pedagogy.

    3. presentations and publications.

      At the very least there will be a presentation proposed for Moodlemoot’AU 2015 reporting on initial analysis of Moodle book usage and functionality (see aim #1 in the next section), identifying potential changes, and asking for feedback and critique. There will also be required presentations at my current institution as part of the requirements of the grant.

      Beyond this there will be other research publications exploring various areas of interest (see a bit below).

    Aims and timelines

    The project comes with four main aims with some associated timelines:

    1. April to July 2015 – Explore the affordances and limitations of the Moodle book module for developing and maintaining OERs.
    2. August to January 2016 – Develop a framework to enhance the affordances provided by the Moodle book module for developing and maintaining OERs.
    3. December 2015 – Test the framework enhance the existing EDC3100 learning materials and produce an open book.
    4. April to January 2016 – Commence and support the integration of this framework into the USQ and Moodle communities.

    The timelines are specific to the grant. In reality, much of this is intended to continue post the grant. If only because I will be using the framework in my own teaching. Some details of what might be done to achieve each of the aims follow.

    Explore the affordances and limitations

    The aim here is explore what people using the Moodle book module are missing and what they enjoy from the module. Also involves becoming more aware of the affordances that are available for producing an OER/open book in terms of broader technologies and practices.

    1. Document the current process for producing EDC3100 “book”.
    2. Analysis of current USQ usage of Moodle book.
    3. Exploration of Moodle book awareness and usage by USQ staff.
    4. Exploration of usage of the Moodle book module amongst the broader Moodle community using a survey and analysis of existing discussions.
    5. Analyse findings to identify broad areas for development.
    6. Present findings at MoodleMoot’AU 2015 and at USQ and encourage feedback.

    Develop the framework

    1. Identify and work with appropriate USQ stakeholders about the project and how to best achieve its aims.
    2. Prioritise areas for change and commence development of the framework.

    Test the framework

    Throughout the second half of 2015 the plan is to use the modified version of the book module in the courses that I’m responsible for. EDC3100 is a course I’ve been teaching for 4 years and has a range of existing resources. EDS4406 is a new course that is about to be developed and taught in the second half of 2015 for the first time. EDS4406 will be using much the same design as EDC3100 and is being developed by a course writer with some oversight.

    Exactly how and what can be tested will depend on local negotiations. The main barrier will be if and how the latest version of the modified Moodle book module can be harnessed in a course that is being offered. There are good reasons why this will probably involve some workarounds to ensure minimum disruption.

    By the end of 2015 the plan is to have at least the EDC3100 material (and hopefully EDS4406) available in ePub/mobi/PDF formats.

    Working with communities

    1. Engage and contribute to the appropriate Moodle forums.
    2. Present findings from the “explore affordances” aim at MoodleMoot’AU 2015.
      Proposals due on 6th May.
    3. Contribution of any changes the Moodle book module to the community.
    4. Share project progress via social media and online development tools.
    5. Presentation at USQ L&T grants showcase.
    6. Production of final report, open book based on EDC3100 material, and materials for S1, 2016 offering of EDC3100.
    7. Artifacts disseminated through the PLAS website and continue discussion regarding institutional-wide adoption of the framework

    Other research

    Beyond seeking to make it easier to develop OERs via the Moodle book the project is also an opportunity to do a bit of small scale research into broader questions about the implementation of e-learning in universities and OERs. Some of the questions I want to explore

    What’s the right balance between course specific and generic?

    The EDC3100 books are specific to the course and its context. It references Moodle, assignments, Professional Experience and other concepts/practices etc that are specific to the institution. These limit the usability and usefulness of the OERs for people not withing that context.

    What’s the right balance between course specific and generic? Can you ever be generic? What implications would have course materials openly available have for pedagogy, for students, for the institution?

    Who is making changes to the LMS and why?

    The Moodle book has been around for quite some time. I’m wondering how much its functionality has evolved over that time. Why? Who made the changes to the Moodle book module? What might be learned from answers to those questions about the evolution and practice of e-learning within Universities?

    How can you break BAD with the LMS? What’s the impact and value of doing so?

    We argued in in this paper that “teenage sex” problem with institutional e-learning is caused by the overwhelming use of the SET mindset to drive its implementation. This project is explicitly trying to use a BAD mindset to help. Can it be done? Or is as we identified in the paper, the overwhelming assumption of a SET mindset too strong to overcome? If it can be, does the BAD mindset help or hinder? What works, what doesn’t? Why?

    Can the “remix hypothesis” and the 4Rs be applied to the systems, not just OERs?

    The 4R framework (again from David Wiley) says that with OER you should be free to

    1. Reuse – the right to reuse the content in its unaltered / verbatim form (e.g., make a digital copy of the content)
    2. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language or modify a learning activity)
    3. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
    4. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

    The technologies currently being used by institutions to implement e-learning – even open source systems like Moodle – are implemented in ways that limit use against the 4Rs. e.g. my experience is that if you revise the HTML generated by the LMS using JQuery or Greasemonkey you run the risk of being accused of being “dodgy” or “breaking policy”. Instead of being open and protean, the digital technologies universities are using are closed (even if they are open source) and concrete in terms of what teachers and students are allowed to do with them.

    I want break the concrete and explore the benefits of being protean.

Designing a Secondary Computing curriuclum & pedagogy course

A colleague and I have been tasked with the design of EDS4406 Secondary Computing Curriculum and Pedagogy. It’s one of a suite of discpiline specific courses being designed to be taken be pre-service teachers preparing to teach those disciplines at a high school level. The following outlines some initial ideas for the course design.

The course is likely to have small numbers.

The following is all some initial thinking, open to critique and revision. In fact, the aim of this post is for others likely to be in the course team (and those working on other related courses) to offer such critique.

The main sections are


Beyond the aims outlined in the course specification, it appears a good thing for the course to really be focused on helping learners: further develop their identity as a secondary computing teacher; form productive connections into networks associated with secondary computer; engage with the discipline and its operation and challenges; and, develop practices and resources that they will continue to use as they start work as secondary computing teachers.

i.e. get them beyond thinking of themselves as students studying a University course and more as secondary computing teachers. The pedagogy, assessment and activities in the course should reinforce this. The resources and practices associated with the course should aim to be something that they will continue to use (and perhaps contribute to) post graduation. But rather than being a “destination” itself, the course resources and practices should (as much as possible) be integrated into existing networks associated with teaching secondary computing.

This should also apply as much as possible to the resources and practices used to develop the course. Practice what we preach.

The course also need to fulfill the requirements outlined in the course specification and the various requirements of the relevant accrediting agencies etc. Including the increasingly prevalent requirement of “recency of practice” for the people “teaching” into the course. (I wonder how much the design of the course can challenge the notion of what “teaching” into this course actually means).

How will the course work?

Aspects of this – not surprisingly – are influenced by the design of the other course I teach (EDC3100).

No lectures. No textbook to purchase. That said, there does appear to be a potentially appropriate textbook (thought at least one review of the prior edition was a little underwhelming). Something to follow up.

A constraint is that there will be 10 weeks of teaching (out of a 13 week semester). Whether or not the course will be organised as weeks, topics or something else will have to be answered later.

The core components of the course will be a collection of “wrappers” or guides. Each wrapper will be largely focused on a particular task. The tasks will be aligned with the course objectives and the related APSTs. Each wrapper will include:

  1. some (minimal) contextual wrapping/context/introduction to the task;
  2. a pointer to specific resource(s) to support the task;
  3. an activity or three that the student has to complete; and,

    Some of which will be assessment tasks.

  4. a space to collate what current and prior students have done around the tasks.

Initially, the “wrappers” will be hosted on the course site (Moodle). Hopefully this may evolve over time. The wrappers – especially the resources they point to – will be curated via Diigo. i.e. not manually entered into the wrapper, auto-generated from a specific Diigo list.

All participants will be asked to contribute to a Diigo group for the course. Allowing the available resources to change over time.

Each student will be required to create/use their own blog to engage in reflection, discussion, and “submit” their assessment/portfolio tasks.

The assessment is nominally two 50% assignments. But each will be made up of a sub-set of selected tasks from the “wrappers”. The tasks are completed on the student’s blogs and collated/marked/managed via BIM.

The primary task for teaching staff will be to model the behaviour we’d like the students to demonstrate. A large part of this will be helping learners make connections with other students, other insights, and external people and resources. This is done by observing student participation (on their blogs, in the activities etc) and intervening as appropriate. Lastly, they’ll also need to mark assessment tasks.

One plan for the development

How to do this, here’s an initial list of tasks/observations and the people involved. Each step is expanded below. The roles/abbreviations used below are:

  • CE – Course Examiner;
  • CM – Course Moderator;
  • CW – Course Writer;
  • CT – Course Team (all of the above); and,
  • OC – folk involved with writing the Other Courses similar to this.

The intent is that the tools (Google Apps, blogs, Diigo, and perhaps Trello) used to teach and learn within the course, will be those that we use to develop the course. This is part of the modelling the practices we hope students will adopt.

For example, here’s the Trello to-do list for the development. I’ve been wondering how and with what value Trello (or similar) might be leveraged as a tool to help students with task management.

Current identified tasks/aims and people (all very tentative – and definitely not necessarily a purely sequential process)

  1. Share the foundation (OC)
  2. Map the course – elements and approach (CT)
  3. Curate related resources (CT – but mostly CW)
  4. Curate related resources (CT – but initially CW)
  5. Write the wrappers (CW)
  6. Implement the course site (CE)

Share the foundation

There are a range of other courses that share a common set of objectives with this course, but which are focused on other disciplines (e.g. Secondary Science, etc.) Each of these courses are seeking to develop the same objectives, but with discipline specific knowledge. Each course does build on learners’ existing generic knowledge (e.g. assessment, use of syllabus documents etc.) it would appear useful to build this shared foundation in way that was visible and could be used by each of the courses.

Especially useful for course writers being brought in for their recency of experience and discipline knowledge; but who are not likely to have great depths of tacit knowledge about the institution and its programs (not to mention those full-time staff who don’t have have those great depths of knowledge).

At the very least, this course needs to develop some form of foundation for its course writer.

The APSTs are the current focus, so perhaps building on those would be a method.

How to develop a method that more than this course can contribute and gain value?

Map the course

Currently the course is a collection of learning objectives, APSTs, topics, assignments, and a semester broken up into weeks. Each of these need to be explored, evaluated and mapped. What and when will each thing happen? What needs to happen? How much can we change? What can’t we change?

All need to be specified to give the CW a map to fill in. A set of tasks to focus upon.

I wonder what “maps” that others have developed.

Always interesting to enter into this important process and identify the (apparent) complete lack of any tools and resources to help. There may well be some somewhere, but knowing where they are….. Of course, sometimes the only thing worse than not having institutionally provided tools and resources to help with a difficult task. Is having an institutionally provided set of tools and resources.

Curate related resources

Based on the map, personal experience, and simply what you find when you aren’t looking start developing a list of resources related to the course and the various elements of the map. Curate these using Diigo and appropriate tags.

I’ve put this before ‘write the wrappers’ as getting a broad idea of the resources that are available and their content would seem to be good input for that step.

For example, a quick initial list from this morning

Connell, A., Edwards, A, Hramiak, A, & Stanley, N. (2015). A practical guide to teaching computing and ICT in the secondary school

Kemp, P. (2014). Computing in the national curriculum A guide for secondary teachers Computing in the (p. 34). Retrieved from

Kennewell, S., Parkinson, J., & Tanner, H. (2004). Learning to Teach ICT in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved from

Schulte, C., Caspersen, M., & Gal-Ezer, J. (Eds.). (2014). WiPSCE ’14: Proceedings of the 9th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education. (2014). New York, NY, USA: ACM.

Wozney, L., VenKatherinesh. V., & Abrami, P. (2006). Implementing computer technologies: Teachers’ perceptions and practices. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 14(1), 173-207.

Write the wrappers

aka “fill in the map” or “insert *magic happens here*”.

Iterative development. Initial preference would be to do this using web pages hosted by github, but will be dependent on the capabilities of the CT.

Implement the course site

Much of how this course will work is similar to prior courses I’ve worked on. The CW is not likely to have a lot of experience setting up sites with Moodle. Would appear logical for me to do this step.

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