Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Category: paperIdeas

Evaluating the use of blogs/reflective journals

The use of blogs in one of the courses I teach is now into it’s fourth semester. Well past time to do explore how it’s all going, evaluate some of the design decisions, and make some decisions about future developments. In preparation for that it’s time to look at some of the extant literature to look at findings and methods. The following is the first such summary and is focused on @spalm et al’s

Palmer, S., Holt, D., & Bray, S. (2008). The learning outcomes of an online reflective journal in engineering, 724–732.


Looks at the use of an “online reflective journal” (implemented using discussion forum in WebCT) in a 4th year engineering course. Combines a survey-based evaluation of student perceptions with “an analysis of student use of the journal…to investigate its contribution to unit learning outcomes”

Findings are

  • Most students understood the purpose and value the journal in their learning
  • Most read the entries of others and said this help their learning
  • Two most useful things about the journal
    • The need to continuously revise course material
    • Ability to check personal understanding against that of others
  • Least useful related to problems with using WebCT – the difficulty of the interface and “problems with CMS operation”.
  • Significant contributors to final mark
    • Prior academic performance
    • Number of journal postings
    • Mode of study


The quantitative nature of this is interesting as it’s something I need to do more of. If only to gain some experience of this approach and to tick the box (which is a great reason).

There is always going to be a bit of a “so what” issue with this type of thing as research. What really does a study in a single course reveal that’s new or easily transferable. But perhaps doing almost a replication addresses that somewhat.

Of course the real interest in doing this research is just to find out more about what’s going on in the course, its impact and what the students think so it can inform further development.

To do

  • Can I get a copy of the evaluation survey used?
  • Can I apply the evaluation survey to past students?
  • Do I need to get student permission to analyse the data around their use of their blogs and final results?

Comparison with EDC3100

My impression is that prior academic performance would be the most significant factor in EDC3100. Raising the question about how much value there is in what teachers do, if prior academic performance is a big contributing factor are we “failing” the weaker student?

Question: Could the students performance on the course be included in the evaluation survey in some form?

I think mode of study might play a role. My guess is that the online students would get see the value in the blogs more than some of the on-campus students.

Question: What impact does mode of study play in EDC3100?

Given that the blog posts were only marked based on number of posts, average word count and number of links it would be interesting to explore what impact that had on the final mark. Especially given the quote about “assessment” as a “strategic tool for creating student engagement”.

Question: Exactly what type of student engagement is the assessment of the blogs in EDC3100 creating?

Question: What patterns exist in the learning journal marks?

The journaling is contributes 5% of the total course mark for each of the 3 assignments. Is there a pattern in the marks for each assignment and the final outcome?

Question: Does the medium used make any difference?

In EDC3100 students are using their own blog hosted on their choice of external service. Very different from an LMS forum. Does this make a difference? Is it more their space?

Is it seen as too difficult or a waste of time creating a blog?

Question: Is the collection of technologies used to complete this task too difficult?

To get marks students have to create their blog (e.g. WordPress) and follow the blogs of others (Feedly, WordPress “follow” mechanism, WordPress reader etc). This leads to problems with creating links to posts. E.g. students link to the post in Feedly or the WordPress reader, not in the student’s blog.

But that said, the interface is “better” (subjective) and might be seen as more realistic – not a Uni tool, something broader.

Question: Does the time of posting make any difference? What are the different patterns of posting visible? Any patterns indicating task corruption?

Palmer et al (2008)’s journal is essentially a weekly task. In EDC3100 students need to post at least 3 posts a week to get full marks. There is no specific direction as to what or when to post. What patterns are there?

Question: How does the perception of reflection/journaling in the discipline impact thoughts?

Palmer et al (2008) describe how a work journal is a common practice for engineers. Hence doing this in the course can be linked to professional practice.

The same doesn’t apply to the teaching profession. While reflection is seen as important, there’s doesn’t appear to be the accepted practice of regularly keeping a work journal.

Ateleological travels in a teleological world: Past and future journeys around ICTs in education

In my previous academic life, I never really saw the point of book chapters as a publication form. For a variety of reasons, however, my next phase in academia appears likely to involve an increasing number of book chapters. The need for the first such chapter has arisen this week and the first draft is due by February next year, which is a timeline to give me just a little pause for thought. (There is a chance that this book might end up as a special edition of a journal)

What’s you perception of book chapters as a form of academic publication? Am particularly interested in the view from the education field.

What follows is a first stab at an abstract for the book chapter. The title for the book/special edition is “Meanings for in and of education research”. The current working title for my contribution is the title to this post: “Ateleological travels in a teleological world: Past and future journeys around ICTs in education”.


The Australian Federal Government are just one of a gaggle of global stakeholders suggesting that Information and Communication Technologies are contributing to the creation a brave, new, digital world. Such a digital world is seen as being radically different to what has gone before and consequently demanding a radically different education system to prepare the next generation of learners. A task that is easier said than done. This chapter argues that the difficulties associated with this task arise because the meanings underpinning the design of education systems for the digital world are decidedly inappropriate and ill-suited for the nature of the digital world. The chapter draws upon 15+ years of research formulating an Information Systems Design Theory for emergent e-learning systems for universities to critically examine these commonly accepted meanings, suggest alternate and more appropriate meanings, and discuss the potential implications that these alternate meanings hold for the practice of education and education research.

The plan

The plan is that this chapter/paper will reflect on the primary focus of my research over recent years and encourage me to think of future research directions and approaches. Obviously it will draw on the PhD research and in particular the Ps Framework and the presentation I gave at EdMedia a couple of years ago. It will also draw on the presentation I gave analysing the Digital Education Revolution as part of my GDLT studies this year.

Limits in developing innovative pedagogy with Moodle: The story of BIM

The following is a presentation abstract that I’ve submitted to MoodleMoot AU’2010. It’s based on some ideas and thoughts expressed here previously. In particular, the main focus on the paper will be showing that the reason most university e-learning/teaching is not that great, is not really the fault of the academics. Instead it will argue that there are a range of limits within the higher education environment that are mostly to blame.

Regardless of whether it gets accepted at Moodlemoot. I’ll be presenting it at CQU sometime in early July and will post the video etc here then.


Open source Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Moodle are widely recognised as addressing a number of the limitations of proprietary, commercial LMS. Just as those commercial LMS addressed some of the limitations of the “Fred-in-the-shed” era of early web-based e-learning. Early web-based e-learning addressed some problems with text-based Internet e-learning, which addressed limitations of text-based computer-mediated communications…and so it goes on. Rather than being “without limits” this presentation will suggest that e-learning with Moodle, as currently practised, has a number of limits and that progress can be made through the recognition, understanding and removal of those limits.

The presentation will argue and illustrate that these limits place significant barriers in the way of encouraging widespread, simple improvements in learning and teaching. Let alone the barriers these limits create for the development of true pedagogical innovation. The presentation will explain how these limits are not solely, or even primarily, due to the characteristics of Moodle. It will outline how the majority, but not all, of these limits arise from the nature and characteristics of the broader social context, institutions, purpose, processes and people involved with e-learning. It will show how a number of these limitations have been known about and generally ignored for decades, to the detriment of the quality of learning and teaching. The presentation will also seek to identify a variety of approaches or ways of thinking that may help transform the practice of e-learning with Moodle into something that truly is “without limits”.

The presentation’s argument, the identified limitations and the potential solutions all arise from and will be illustrated by drawing on the experience of developing BIM (BAM into Moodle). BIM ( is a Moodle module released in early 2010 and currently being used at CQUniversity and under consideration by the University of Canberra. BIM allows teaching staff to manage, mark and comment (privately) on individual student blogs that are hosted on the students’ choice of external blog provider. BIM is based on BAM (Blog Aggregation Management) a similar tool integrated into CQUniversity’s home-grown “LMS”. Since 2006, BAM/BIM has been used in 30+ course offerings, by 70+ staff, and with 3000+ students making 20000+ blog posts.

The design of BAM/BIM is intended to remove an inherent limit that underpins the design of all LMS. That is, as an integrated system, the LMS must provide all functionality. It appears that this is a limit that the design of Moodle 2.0 seems focused on removing. However, this presentation will suggest that this is only one of many, often fundamental, limits surrounding the use of Moodle, and that these limits need to be recognised, understood and addressed. The suggestion will be that it is only by doing this that we can aid in the development of truly innovative pedagogy.

Challenges in developing innovative pedagogy in blended learning: The case of BIM

The following is the start of a process for developing a paper that I plan to submit to Moodlemoot AU 2010 based on my recent experience in developing BIM. The plan is to:

  • Write a series of blog posts based on very rough ideas for the paper (this is the first).
  • Bring those together into a presentation that will be given at CQU under the banner of LTERC and, if I can overcome some local barriers, ustream’d.
  • Use the presentation as the structure/content for the paper submission.

Papers are due to be submitted on the 22nd March.

Some of the ideas in this post were sparked or mentioned in the discussion on this post giving an unofficial update on MoodleMoot AU 2010.

Basic idea

Over the last year or so I have been working to convert BAM (Jones and Luck, 2009) – a local e-learning tool that supports the use of individual student reflective journals hosted on external blog sites – into BIM (BAM into Moodle). The aim of the paper is to reflect on this process and attempt to identify the challenges in getting BAM/BIM developed and used effectively.

Theoretically, this idea could form the basis for on-going work. This paper identifies a single persons perspective with a single innovations in a single context. Subsequent work could expand to multiple perspectives, multiple innovations and multiple contexts.

Explanation of the title

The current use of “blended learning” in the title is in part because of a current local institutional focus. It’s use here is simply indicating a mix of media and approaches (which is what people have always done) to support L&T within a university context.

However, the use of blended learning also allows some interesting points to develop around the rhetoric and current suggestions about how to implement blended learning at an organisational level. In particular, blended learning requires a focus on re-designing how learning occurs to best take advantage of the different types of media. I think that the paper may start to argue that implementing innovative blended learning pedagogies also requires a re-design of the information technology used and also a re-design of how that information technology is managed and supported.

In addition, and not to suggest the problem only sits on the IT side, there are indications that the policies and processes managing learning and teaching within universities also pose a challenge. As do the conceptions/purpose of a number of the teaching staff, especially in terms of having to respond to/handle the policies and subsequent mismatch. Problems also exist, I think on how knowledge about L&T theory is made available (i.e. staff development and curriculum design activities) and leveraged within universities.

Why is this important?

It’s still widely recognised that the vast majority of learning and teaching within universities is somewhat less than innovative and much of it less than good. There’s been a lot of efforts to improve this situation but much of it has failed – as demonstrated by the fact that much of L&T remains less than innovative, less than good.

By attempting to identify the barriers to developing innovative pedagogy the paper is aiming to identify those areas where organisations should perhaps focus their attention, rather than simply doing more of the same. Exploring the barriers in a specific case should help identify some ideas for further research that can confirm the relative importance of the barriers in other contexts.

An initial list

What follows is an initial list. I need to add more to this – please feel free to suggest barriers that you’ve experienced and eventually try and organise the list into some sort of abstraction or taxonomy.

Some of the challenges include:

  • Learning about Moodle and Moodle development;
    While there are some useful resources, especially the developers’ forums, the information here is very disparate and inconsistent (due to differences in versions). In particular, I found it difficult to get a grasp of the “Moodle” way.
  • Moving from an institution specific to general application;
    BAM was implemented specifically for CQU. It built on CQU assumptions (e.g. many courses have hundreds of students and tens of academic staff involved spread through Australia and overseas) and systems.
  • Institutional confusion
    In the period 2008-2010 CQU has undergone organisational restructures, a re-branding and name change, a buying out of a commercial partner responsible for capital city campuses, restructures around who is responsible for e-learning – the on-going battle between IT and L&T, the introduction of several new positions and committees around e-learning, the dismantling and likely “remantling” of the L&T division, the selection of a new LMS (Moodle) and the selection of a new Vice-Chancellor.
  • Institutional complexity;
    Significant percentage of courses have hundreds of students, multiple staff spread across Australia and overseas.
  • Insitutional inertia;
    Assumptions about how a course is resourced and run that are built into embedded policies such as workload calculation. e.g. part-time tutors get paid for certain activities.
  • The hierarchical de-composition of responsibilities and the subsequent lack of knowledge on which to draw upon to solve problems.
    Really effective blended learning requires a combination of knowledge including technical, pedagogical, institutional, people etc. The traditional approaches to project management and organisational structures divide these bits of knowledge into separate groups and in some cases jealously guard their area of responsibility. This prevents the development of solutions that arise from a collaborative, serendipitous mixture of the disparate bits of knowledge.
  • An environment that does not encourage innovation and experimentation in teaching and learning.
    Universities in general value research more than teaching. A complex institutional context makes it even more difficult
  • The non-existent net generation.
    There is an assumption amongst some that new students are savy social media and technology in general. The experience with BAM/BIM is the complete opposite.
  • Training mechanisms and systems that make it difficult for staff (and students) to grok how systems work.
    To use a system effectively it helps to really understand how it works. The nature of most of the training and the systems used for blended learning are such that they encourage academic staff to development a rote-learned, process focused approach to performing tasks, rather than understanding how the system works.
  • Systems/tools that are too general and don’t offer sufficient scaffolding or contextual support.
    Most of the tools within an LMS are generic – upload a document, run a discussion forum, run a quiz. To turn that into an innovative bit of pedagogy requires a lot of additional work on the part of the academic. The tool doesn’t provide much scaffolding to support particular pedagogical approaches.

    There’s good reason for this. To much support for specific approaches will make other approaches difficult, if not impossible. And the aim of an LMS is to support the broadest possible array of uses and people. But the cost is that it is more difficult to implement innovative pedagogies.

    Offering support for the local context is also part of this. Most institutions have their own names or terms that arise out of how things are done in that context. Most LMS use a generic term, usually based on the terms used by the folk who designed it. This mismatch can make it more difficult.

  • Processes that place the focus on the top-down, analytical, inductive and deductive, which are inappropriate for the nature of the problem.
    Alternatives include ateleological processes, bricolage (especially in terms of Papert – education – and Ciborra – information systems) and abductive logic.

The literature

Garrison and Kanuka, 2004

This paper (perhaps one of the “seminal works”) includes

Finally, administrative and leadership issues are addressed and the outline of an action plan to implement blended learning approaches is presented

. The trouble is that much of what it suggests creates the problems I’m talking about above. A focus on top-down, efficiencies that drive out development which is especially important in a complex and novel idea that seeks to mix two complex ideas.

Should perhaps consider the book by Garrison and Vaughan.

Klein, Noe and Wang, 2006

Looks at motivation to learn and its effect (along with other things) on student learning in a blended learning course. Perhaps some stuff here on students, especially in connection with local students.

Davis and Fill, 2007

The abstract (emphasis added)

Blended learning, the combination of traditional face-to-face teaching methods with authentic online learning activities, has the potential to transform student-learning experiences and outcomes. In spite of this advantage, university teachers often find it difficult to adopt new online techniques, in part because institutional practices are still geared to support more traditional approaches. This paper describes how a project, funded to support international collaboration to enhance learning and teaching in Geography, has allowed a university to explore models for change. It briefly examines the associated issues of sharing and repurposing resources; it reflects on the impact of the project on local strategy, and the importance of sustaining the collaborations and approaches to learning and teaching after the funding is completed.

Draffan and Rainger, 2006

From the abstract,

A model for an inclusive approach to the identification of challenges to blended learning as a means to identify educational accessibility issues is presented. By focusing on both the learner and teacher perspectives, the model encompasses a broad range of factors, including learner characteristics, learning and teaching environments, interactions and activities. The proposed model provides a starting point for the identification of challenges to learning from a socio-cultural perspective rather than a medical or rehabilitation perspective. This holistic perspective is key to moving ‘thinking’ towards a more inclusive learning approach that embraces the needs of all learners, regardless of a defined disability.

Stacey and Gerbic, 2007

Offers some useful insights into blended learning and its relationship to on-campus or distance education institutions, plus some other points to build on.



Chen, W. and C. Bonk (2008). “The use of weblogs in learning and assessment in Chinese higher education: Possilities and potential problems.” International Journal on E-Learning 7(1): 41-65. — some case study reports with similar problems.

Ducate, L. and L. Lomicka (2008). “Adventures in the blogosphere: from blog readers to blog writers.” Computer Assisted Language Learning 21(1): 9-28.

Farmer, B., A. Yue, et al. (2008). “Using blogging for higher order learning in large cohort university teaching: A case study.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 24(2): 123-136. – describe an adaptation of WordPress to support “class blogging”

Boldman, R., A. Cohen, et al. (2008). “Using seminar blogs to enhance student participation and learning in public health school classes.” American Journal of Public Health 98(9): 1658-1663. — seminar blogs on Blogger, better functionality than discussion forum other insights.

Hall, H. and B. Davison (2007). “Social software as support in hybrid learning environments: The value of the blog as a tool for reflective learning and peer support.” Library and Information Science Research 29(2): 163-187.

Kim, H. N. (2008). “The phenomenon of blogs and theoretical model of blog use in educational contexts.” Computers and Education 51(3): 1342-1352. – describes a model which might fit somewhat with BIM

Ladyshewsky, R. and P. Gardner (2008). “Peer assisted learning and blogging: A strategy to promote reflective practice during clinical fieldwork.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 24(3): 241-257.

Oravec, J. A. (2003). “Blending by blogging: weblogs in blended learning initiatives.” Learning, Media and Technology 28(2): 225-233.

Tekinarslan, E. (2008). “Blogs: A qualitative investigation into an instructor and undergraduate students’ experiences.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 24(4): 402-412. — mentions plagiarism, contextual issues, student perception of ease of use

WIlliams, J. and J. Jacobs (2004). “Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 20(2): 232-247. – early intro to the application of blogging. With early case study from QUT

Blended learning

Arbaugh, J. B. (2008). “Introduction: Blended learning: Research and practice.” The Academy of Management Learning and Education 7(1): 130-131.

Davis H, Fill K (2007) Embedding blended learning in a university’s teaching culture: Experiences and reflections, British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(5): 817-828

Draffan E, Rainger P (2006) A model for the identification of challenges to blended learning, ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 14(1), 55-67

Garrison D, Kanuka H (2004), Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education, The Internet and Higher Education, 7(2): 95-105

Garrison, R. and N. Vaughn (2008). Blended learning in Higher Education: Framework, principles and guidelines. San Francisco, John Wiley & Sons.

Ginns, P. and R. Ellis (2007). “Quality in blended learning: Exploring the relationships between on-line and face-to-face teaching and learning.” The Internet and Higher Education 10(1): 53-64.

Hardy, I. (2010). “Academic architectures: academic perceptions of teaching conditions in an Australian university.” Studies in Higher Education First published on 26 February 2010 (iFirst).

Klein H, Noe R, Wang c (2006), Motivation to learn and course outcomes: The impact of delivery mode, learning goal orientation and perceived barriers and enablers, Personnel Psychology, 59(3): 665-702

Laumakis, M., C. Graham, et al. (2009). “The Sloan-C pillars and boundary objects as a framework for evaluating blended learningThe Sloan-C pillars and boundary objects as a framework for evaluating blended learning.” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 13(1): 75-87.

Mortera-Gutierrez, F. (2006). “Faculty best practices using blended learning in e-learning and face-to-face instruction.” International Journal on E-Learning 5(3): 313-337.

Oliver, M. and K. Trigwell (2005). “Can ‘blended learning’ be redeemed?” E-learning and Digital Media 2(1): 17-26.

Osguthorpe, R. and C. Graham (2003). “Blended learning environments: Definitions and directions.” Quarterly Review of Distance Education 4(3): 227-233.

Stacey E, Gergic P, (2007) Teaching for blended learning – Research perspectives from on-campus and distance education students, Education and Information Technologies, 12(3): 165-174

Vaughn, N. (2007). “Perspectives on blended learning in Higher Education.” International Journal on E-Learning 6(1): 81-94.

What can history tell us about e-learning and its future?

The following contains some initial thoughts about what might turn into a paper for ASCILITE’09. It’s likely that I’ll co-author this with Col Beer.


The idea of this paper has arisen out of a combination of local factors, including:

  • The adoption of Moodle as the new LMS for our institution.
  • The indicators project Col is working on with Ken.
    Both Col and I used to support staff use of Blackboard. This project aims to do some data mining on the Blackboard system logs to better understand how and if people were using Blackboard.
  • Some of the ideas that arose from writing the past experience section of my thesis.

Abstract and premise

The premise of the paper starts with the Santayana quote

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

The idea is that there is a long history of attempting to improve learning and teaching through technology. There is a history of universities moving to new learning management systems and staff within those universities using learning management systems. In fact, our institution has over 10 years experience using learning management systems. Surely, there are some lessons within that experience that can help inform what is being done with the transition to Moodle at our institution?

The aim of the paper will be, at least, to examine that history, both broadly and specifically at our institution, and seek to identify those lessons. Perhaps the paper might evaluate the transition to Moodle at our institution and, based on that past experience, seek to suggest what some possible outcomes might be.

As you might guess from some of the following and some of what I’ve written in the past experience section of my thesis, I have a feeling that as we explore this question we are likely to find that our institution has failed Santayana’s advice on retentiveness and that the institution may be repeating the past.

Given that some of the folk directly involved in our institution’s transition to Moodle read this blog and we’ll be talking about this paper within the institution, perhaps we can play a role in avoiding that. Or perhaps, as we dig deeper, the transition is progressing better than I currently perceive.

In reality, I think we’ll avoid making specific comments on what is happening in our institution. The transition to Moodle is being run as a very traditional teleological process. This means that any activity not seen as directly contributing to the achievement of the purpose (i.e. that is not critical) will be seen as something that needs to be curtailed.

Connection with conference themes?

The paper should try and connect with the themes of the conference. Hopefully in a meaningful way, but a surface connection would suffice. The theme for the conference is “Same places, different spaces” and includes the following sub themes (I’ve included bits that might be relevant to this paper idea)

  • Blended space
    What makes blended learning effective, why, how, when and where?
  • Virtual space
    What is the impact, what are the implications and how can the potential of this emergent area be realistically assessed?
  • Social space
    What Web 2.0 technologies are teachers and students using? How well do they work, how do you know, and what can be done to improve and enhance their use?
  • Mobile space
  • Work space

Not a great fit with the sub themes but I think a connection with the theme in a round about way. Perhaps the title could be “E-learning and history: different spaces, same approaches” or something along those lines. This might have to emerge, once we’ve done some work.

Potential structure and content

What follows is an attempt to develop a structure of the paper and fill in some indicative content and/or work we have to do. It assumes an introduction that will position e-learning as a amnesiac field. This suggestion will be built around the following and similar quotes

Learning technology often seems an amnesiac field, reluctant to cite anything ‘out of date’; it is only recently that there has been a move to review previous practice, setting current developments within an historical context…many lessons learnt when studying related innovations seem lost to current researchers and practitioners. (Oliver, 2003)

I should note that the following is a first draft, an attempt to get my ideas down so Col and I can discuss it and see if we can come up with better ideas. Feel free to suggest improvements.

History of technology mediated learning and hype cycles

The aim of this section is to examine the broader history of technology-mediated learning going back to the early 1900s and drawing a small amount of content from ????.

The main aim, however, is attempt to identify a hype cycle associated with these technologies that generally results in little or no change in the practice of learning and teaching. It will draw on some of the ideas and content from here. It will also draw on related hype cycle literature including Birnbaum’s fad cycle and Gartner’s hype cycle.

E-learning usage: quantity and quality

This section will provide a summary of what we know from the literature and also from the local institution about the quantity and quality of past usage of e-learning. With a particular focus on the LMS.

Col’s indicators project has generated some interesting and depressing results from the local system. For example, out institution has a large distance education student cohort. A group of students that rarely, if ever, set foot on a campus. They study almost entirely by print-based distance education and e-learning. Recently, Col has found that 68% of those distance education students have never posted to a course discussion forum.

Paradigms of e-learning and growing abundance

The aim of this section would be to suggest that the focus on the LMS is itself rather short-sighted and does not recognise the on-going evolution of e-learning. i.e. that we’re not going to be stuck in the LMS rut for long term and perhaps the institution should be looking at that change and how it can harness it.

This section will draw on the paradigms of e-learning. It may also draw on some of the ideas contained in this TED talk by Chris Anderson around the four key stages of technology and related work.

Thinking about this brings up some memories of the 90s. I remember when friends of mine in the local area would enroll at the university in order to get Internet access and an email address. I remember when the university had to discourage students from using outside email accounts (e.g. hotmail) because they didn’t provide enough disk space.

This was because email and Internet access inside Universities was more abundant than outside. Those days are long gone. External email providers like hotmail and gmail provide large disk quotas for email than institutions. For many people, it’s increasingly cheaper to get Internet access at home. At least it’s cheaper to pay for it than pay for a university education you don’t need.

Diffusion, chasms and task corruption

Perhaps this section could be titled “Lessons”.

The idea behind this suggested section is starting to move a little beyond the historical emphasis. It’s more literature and/or idea based. So I’m not sure of its place. Perhaps it’s the history of ideas around technology. Perhaps it can fit.

The idea would be to include a list of ideas associated with e-learning:

Predictions and suggestions

This is getting to the sections that are currently more up in the air. Will it be an evaluation of the transition or will it be simply a list of more generic advice. The generic advice might be safer institutionally, better fit with the conference themes, and more more generally useful.

An initial list:

  • The adoption of Moodle will decrease the quality of learning and teaching at our institution, at least in the short term.
  • Longer term, unless there is significant activity to change the conception of learning and teaching held by the academics, the quantity and quality of use of Moodle will be somewhat similar, possibly a little better (at least quantity) than that of previous systems.
    Idea: Col, can we get some of those global figures you showed me broken down by year to see what the trend is? i.e. does it get better or worse over time?
  • Strategic specification of standards or innovation will have little or no impact on quantity and quality, will perhaps contributed to a lowest common denominator, and will likely encourage task corruption, work arounds and shadow systems.
  • Increasingly, the more engaged academics will start to use external services to supplement the features provided by the LMS.

I’m often criticised as being negative. Which is true, I believe all of my ideas have flaws, imagine what I think of the ideas of others! So, perhaps the paper should include some suggestions.

  • Focus more on contextual factors that are holding back interest in learning and teaching by academics. (See technology gravity)
  • Recognise the instructional technology chasm and take steps to design use of Moodle to engage with the pragmatists.
  • Others??


Oliver, M. (2003). Looking backwards, looking forwards: an Overview, some conclusions and an agenda. Learning Technology in Transition: From Individual Enthusiasm to Institutional Implementation. J. K. Seale. Lisse, Netherlands, Swets & Zeitlinger: 147-160.

Why am I a ePortfolio skeptic?

Update: It’s not just eportfolios

16 September, 2012 – for some reason today has seen a fair bit of interest in this post from over 3 years ago. I though I’d take the opportunity to move this particular argument up a level.

Proposition: Attempts to improve or – heaven forbid – “innovate” university teaching and learning is largely driven by mindless innovation, fads and fashions. eportfolios was just one such fad. There have been and will be many more. Some of the more recent include: e-learning, the LMS, the enterprise LMS, the open source LMS (e.g. an earlier post where I proposed that the open source LMS was yet another fad), and more recently MOOCs.

@downes seemed slightly annoyed when I wrote in this earlier post

MOOCs are the latest fad to hit higher education.

. It was never my intent to denigrate the work he and others have done with cMOOCs. Rather it was to criticise how universities – especially Australian universities – were responding to the rise of MOOCs. Somewhat along the lines of what @bonstewart argues in Is MOOC more than just a buzzword?”.

My argument is that rather than mindfully innovating – or simply improving – learning and teaching (either with or without), Universities are driven by outside influences. By fads, fashions and buzz words.

When I say I’m an eportfolio skeptic, I’m not necessarily denigrating eportfolios (or MOOCs or the LMS or any other fad, fashion or buzzword). I’m critiquing the institutional leadership and management that continues to be driven by these fads, fashions and buzzwords and is apparently unaware of the problems this entails.

Both this original post and this post “Justificatory knowledge” use Swanson and Ramiller (2004) on innovating mindfully with technology. The “justificatory” post includes the following summary.

An organisation which is mindful in innovating with IT, uses reasoning grounded in its own organisational facts and specifics when thinking about the innovation, the organisation recognises that context matters (Swanson and Ramiller 2004). Within mindful innovation, management have a responsibility to foster conditions that prompt collective mindfulness (Swanson and Ramiller 2004).

Especially when how the institution adopts the latest fad ends up corrupting some of the fundamental underpinnings of the original idea. e.g. how the adoption of a specific eportfolio system seems to create the situation where universities are mandating that students create a portfolio in the institutional system. So much for individual choice.

Or when institutional MOOCs are no longer MOOCs, which as @downes defines

What makes a MOOC is the way it is designed – it supports thousands of users that fully interact because it is distributed. It’s not located in just one place, it is located in many places.

Original post starts here

Update: Donald Clark has 7 reasons why he doesn’t want one.

I am a skeptic when it comes to ePortfolios. I believe they are a waste of time. Another fad that will take attention away from activities that will actually improve learning and teaching at universities. I believe they embody many of the faulty assumptions and mistakes that underpin most of e-learning within universities.

So, why do I think that? Why am I using such strong language to describe it? Am I right? (Answers to these questions are always open to change).

That second last question is easy to answer, given a range of contextual factors I’m increasingly annoyed at people making, what I see as, the same mistakes again and again and again. I’m also simply in a grumpy mood today. It’s now over a month since I first wrote the start of this paragraph, that sentiment still stands. I also find myself in a position where I can be a little more critical.

I’m going to try and get this post published today to achieve something and also because I came across this presentation from the EDUCAUSE Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference. It’s called “Assessing Impact: E-Portfolios in Higher Education”.

Yet another fad – ignorance of place, emphasis on product

In an earlier post I started some of this complaint. In the session which that post reports on there were lots of gleams of interest from CQUniversity folk when e-portfolios and elgg were mentioned. I could see people, who had little or no idea about what e-portfolios or elgg were, becoming interested in looking at them. At the time I said

This is one example of how the “product” (in terms of the Ps Framework) overwhelms consideration of “place”, of context. This is exactly how fads and fashions arise in educational technology and organisational/management practice in general.

Here’s what Swanson and Ramiller (2004) said about fads and fashions.

Attention deferral and contextual insensitivity may appear to be unproblematic in the face of the overwhelming “proof” afforded by the larger community’s rush toward the innovation

i.e. since everyone else is doing it, you don’t have to worry about considering whether or not it actually makes sense for your context. In many cases you also don’t have to worry about whether or not everyone else that is already using the fad is succeeding or not.

The educational technology/curriculum design community and consequently the broader university community is talking about e-portfolios. In Australia there is the Australian ePortfolio Project which is raising the profile of e-portfolios in the sector. I predict that this project will further increase awareness of e-portfolios within the sector and before the year is out (if they haven’t already) some discussions will occur about their use at CQUniversity.

The EDUCAUSE presentation above suggests e-portfolios have been around for almost 10 years. So it’s taken a while. The same presentation also reports on some less than stellar results from students and staff. It seems the people aren’t that happy.

The “technologists” alliance – ignorance of people

I’m guessing that if we did an analysis of the literature around ePortfolios that we would find three categories of people making up the majority, if not the entirety, of the list of authors. Those categories are

  1. Vendors or developers of e-portfolio systems – the people that make and sell the systems.
  2. Institutional instructional designers or instructional technology folk – the people implementing e-portfolio projects within universities.
  3. Innovative academic staff – the people who adopt e-portfolios first.

In other words, a minority of the folk involved with education within universities.

In the words of William Geoghegan (1994) these three groups of folk are the “technologists” alliance. He had this to say about them (emphasis and some explanation added by me)

Those involved include faculty innovators and early adopters, campus IT (IT here is instructional technology – US phrase that includes instructional designers and information technology folk) support organizations, and information technology vendors with products for the instructional market. Ironically, while this alliance has fostered development of many instructional applications that clearly illustrate the benefits that technology can bring to teaching and learning, it has also unknowingly worked to prevent the dissemination of these benefits into the much larger mainstream population.

Geoghegan (1994) continued to say

There seems to have been a naive assumption on the part of all three communities that what worked for those who were already committed to the use of instructional technology, were actively applying it in their own work and were serving as evangelists to others would work equally well with those who had not yet committed.

Geoghegan works with Geoffrey Moore’s concept of a chasm that exists between the early adopters of a product (the enthusiasts and visonaries) and the early majority (the pragmatists).
Represented something like this.

The diffusion curve with the chasm

Figure 1 – Revised technical adoption cycle

This is not to suggest the elgg or e-portfolios are a bad idea, there is some value in them. If they are appropriate for the organisational context and they are adopted because of a large organisational need and not because someone heard or read something positive about the idea. They are a good idea if they are implemented in a way that engages with the reality of what the people within the place are dealing with and with what they are ready to do.

The following table is an example of the differences which Geoghegan talks about between the folk that work with the technologists’ alliance and those in the mainstream.

Early Adopters Mainstream
Like radical change Like gradual change
Visionary Pragmatic
Project oriented Process oriented
Risk takers Risk averse
Willing to experiment Need proven uses
Self sufficient Need support
Relate horizontally Relate vertically

The types of support and encouragement you give to the early adopters has to be radically different than that you give to the mainstream. Time and time again, I have heard senior university folk express the opinion “We’ll concentrate on the people that are keen”. This perspective only entrenches this gap, it only makes certain that the mainstream won’t engage. It’s a mistake.

There are many other differences between people that will impact upon perceptions and adoption. The process used to identify, design, develop and implement any technology, including e-portfolios, has to be aware of and work with these differences.

Failure to adopt or work – ignorance of process

E-portfolios, like many other fads, are becoming a solution looking for the problem. The process used to implement these fads within higher education goes something like this

  • There is a problem. A problem is identified and some one or some group is convinced that is important and requires that a project be set up.
  • Some analysis is performed. A small group of folk, generally from the technologists’ alliance with a few senior management folk added, go away and do some analysis. They may be helped by a consultant. Typically, the problem will have been framed so that the decision is a foregone conclusions. For example, rather than examining the question “How do we improve assessment?” the question will be “Which approach to e-portfolios should we take?”
  • A decision is made. That analysis will be used by some smaller group to make a decision. From now on, this is the goal towards which the organisation and its resources are focused.
  • The decision is implemented. A project group is set up to achieve the goal. The project group will be there to ensure that all work moves towards the goal. Than anything that is different is cut off.
  • Long period of support. To recoup the costs involved in making and implementing the goal the organisation then has to use they “system” for a long period. During this time organisational resources are focused on supporting the system (and little or nothing else).
  • Eventually it will start to drift. In some cases the people won’t want to use it, they aren’t convinced of the rationale. They may well appear to be working towards the goal, but they may simply be playing sufficient lip service so they don’t get into trouble. Then there will be the problem of “stable systems drag” (Truex, Baskerville et al, 1999) where the world has moved on and the goal no longer makes any sense. Alternatively, a new senior executive could arrive with different approaches and kill one set of fads for another set.
  • Another problem is perceived, and the process starts again.

You can see this with the notion of LMS churn going on with universities. In the 10 years since 1999 CQUniversity will have been through 3 separate process to replace an LMS.

The very nature of universities, the place, the people and of pedagogy makes this type of process completely and utterly inappropriate and destined to fail.

But that’s a general perspective that applies to just about anything within universities, what about e-portfolios in particular.

The wrong solution – the wrong product

The definition of e-portfolio used in the EDUCAUSE presentation is taken from Lorenzo and Ittelson (2005)

a digitized collection of artifacts including demonstrations, resources, and accomplishments that represent an individual, group, or institution.

For the majority of the technologists alliance within universities this means that the university must purchase or build and then support a software system (almost certainly referred to as an enterprise software system to give it that badge of respectability – even though it means nothing in terms of reliability, flexibility, suitability and probably more in terms of cost and constraints) that resides on university hardware and is badged with the university look and feel.

The major problem with this product approach is that it ignores One student = multiple learning experiences = multiple learning “institutions”.

In the typical e-portfolio product there is an assumption that the students’ only place for learning is the host institution. It ignores the observation that students attend multiple learning institutions (including work-place training) and it ignores that most learning is informal. In other words, an institution that plays a very small part in the learning of a student expects the student to place all of their “demonstrates, resources and accomplishments” onto the institution’s server.

What are we trying to solve – ignorance of purpose

The EDUCAUSE presentation gives the following primary uses of e-portfolios

  • Academic advising
  • Institutional accreditation
  • Curricular development at program level
  • Career planning and development
  • Alumni development

I have two main problems around these stated purposes

  1. One system, multiple tasks. One of my major problems with “enterprise systems” is that try to do everything. They try to be all things to all tasks and end up being really bad at all of them. I hear the information technology folk cry, “But they are all integrated!”. Yea, but no-one uses them because they are really horrible to use. The above list includes a number of very different tasks performed by very different people. The assumption that one system can perform all of these well, is somewhat questionable. Rather than put all tasks in one system, adopt a best of breed approach and put your effort into making sure they are integrated. This requires the IT folk (rather than the users) do some work. Of course, there is an alternate position that is based on a number of false assumptions, but that’s a story for another day.
  2. The institutional, not adopter focus. Take a look at the diffusion curve image above. The majority of people are not the innovators and early adopters. This applies to university academics. Most university academics are keen to do a good enough job in teaching their classes so they can concentrate on other pursuits. Look at the list of primary uses of e-portfolios. How many of them are going to be of direct interest to the majority of academics, most of the time? Perhaps academic advising, maybe institutional accreditation from time to time, but typically that’s only a small number of academics. Perhaps curricular development at program level? Most of the programs in my context don’t do this. Your context might be different. (Remember, place/context is important).

    How many of these tasks are seen as problematic by these academics? Remember the majority are very different from the innovators and early adopters. See the table above. Most people don’t want to radically change the way they are doing things. They will only consider radical change if there are huge problems with current practice.

    The same applies to students. How many of the above tasks are students directly involved with regularly? How many of these tasks do students currently have huge problems with?


There’s more that can be put in here. For those who are wondering, yes much of this content is related to my PhD. To a large extent I believe that there are large collection of mistaken assumptions that underpin most of the practice of e-learning within Universities. Many of the above complaints about e-portfolios can be easily applied to other technologies and how they are implemented within universities. More on this as the thesis progresses.


Geoghegan, W. (1994). Whatever happened to instructional technology? 22nd Annual Conferences of the International Business Schools Computing Association, Baltimore, MD, IBM.

George Lorenzo and John Ittelson, An Overview of E-Portfolios, ed. Diana Oblinger (Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, July 2005),

Truex, D., R. Baskerville, et al. (1999). “Growing systems in emergent organizations.” Communications of the ACM 42(8): 117-123.

Swanson, E. B. and N. C. Ramiller (2004). “Innovating mindfully with information technology.” MIS Quarterly 28(4): 553-583.

Reflections and Implications from Webfuse – Domain languages

As I am currently writing up the PhD I have banned myself from working on any new papers. However, as I work through the PhD I will get ideas for papers so rather than waste time writing them in full and even worse forget about them I’m going to try and write about them on the blog and categorise them appropriately. With the hope that post PhD I can come back and have a large collection of papers to write. Alternatively, I’ll have a collection of dribble to laugh at.

First cab off the rank is the idea of a “webfuse reflections and implications” paper. To some extent this would come from the last chapter of my thesis and capture some of the lessons, reflections etc learned from the 12 or so years working on the thesis and Webfuse (the artifact that arose from/created the thesis).

In part the idea for this paper is to capture the messy bits that you have to solve in practice that are typically overlooked by researchers and the enterprise folk implementing e-learning. The hope is that these reflections/implications could spark off ideas for future research projects.

Some of the initial ideas which will be expanded upon include

  • Domain langauges and the mismatch between enterprise software and institutional practice.
  • The need for “loose joining” between e-learning systems and other institutional databases.
  • Limitations of traditional IT governance and other forms of hierarchical division of labour and responsibilities.

Domain languages and LMS mismatches

The idea for this one was sparked by this post on iPhoto and Domain Languages and some previous work.

The definition of domain language given on the 37signals blog is

A domain language is the set of words that reflect the way you cut up a domain. It consists of the pieces you sliced and the names you chose to give them. This language defines an application and makes it special.

Universities have domain languages. Actually, university sectors in different countries have different domain languages and to some extent different universities within the same country can have different domain languages.

For example, in the mid-1990s the institution I worked at then had a domain language that consisted of the following terms

  • Unit – an individual course/subject that a student enrols in (e.g. Programming I etc.)
  • Course – a collection of units that make up a student’s entire study for a degree (e.g. bachelor of information technology).
  • Student number – the unique identifying number (actually combination of letters and numbers) for a particular student (e.g. C0101010X)

As the 37signals post suggests software applications have to encapsulate a domain language. The designers of those applications have to make choices about how they divide up the application space, what objects are sensible and what to call those objects.

Around the turn of the century the institution I worked with adopted the Peoplesoft enterprise resource planning (ERP) system for some aspects of its work, in particular its student administration system. Peoplesoft is from the North American university sector and had a domain language that made sense for that sector. It also originally started in the Human Resource management sphere and so aspects of its domain language showed its origins.

For example, the institution, its students and staff had to change the language they used from the above to the following

  • Unit became Course.
    This re-use of a term that meant something completely different in the previous domain language was particular confusing.
  • Course became Program.
  • Student number, while still used in normal conversation, became EMPLID (emploee ID) in the database and some aspects of the interface.

The change in domain language made the adoption of the software more difficult. It required significant changes to a broad array of practices and documentation that normally would not have been required. It also resulted in my institution (and the others who adopted Peoplesoft) started using a domain language that was different from many other Australian universities.

The Blackboard e-learning system we’ve been using over the last few years has also show this sort of problem. The main one has been the difference between the names given to teaching staff.

Understanding approaches to improving a course

Theoretically the group I work with is charged with helping staff at CQU improve the quality of their learning and teaching. To improve the courses they teach. A task that is not particularly easy for any number of reasons. Including the one identifed by Farhad Saba in this post. i.e. that academics by nature are a fairly solitary bunch and aren’t used to, or particularly like, work with other people to help improve a course. I know this from two perspectives, working where I am now and because I was just such an academic.

Arising from this preference for solitary work is that most academics generally have their own ideas, preferences and methods for improving their courses. This is tied to their conceptualisation of learning and teaching and also their past experience. This variety in how to improve a course raises some interesting problems for those charged with helping them. How do provide assistance to a large number of people who are doing things differently?

One step towards answering that question might be to try and understand the full spectrum of different approaches that people are using. Perhaps if you understand this variety, a way forward might arise.

The following post attempts to formulate a framework to understand the full spectrum of different approaches that I have seen used. The aim is to be descriptive, to understand the different approaches. The intent is not to limit understanding to “proper” instructional design approaches, rather it is to understand all of the different approaches that are used.

The Framework

Within the information systems discipline (and others) two by two frameworks are all rage for this type of thing. So why should I buck the trend. Here’s a first stab.


This framework concentrates on two particular dimensions:

  1. When is the improvement decided upon (the y/vertical axis).
    At some stage a decision is made about what improvement(s) will be made to the course. There are two extremes:

    1. Emergent – where there is no pre-determined outcome or idea about how to improve the course. What will be improved in the course emerges out of the improvement process.
    2. Pre-determined – the particular improvement is known prior to commencing the improvement process.

    There is a lot of space between the two extremes.

  2. The type of improvement process
    This dimension is concerned with the nature of the particular process used to improve the course. There are two extremes:

    1. Pragmatic – the process is aimed at making some form of pragmatic improvement to a particular aspect of the course. Much, even most, of the course will not change.
    2. Re-design – the aim of the improvement is a complete is typically aimed at a complete re-examination and re-thinking of the course.


Many 2×2 frameworks encapsulate 4 categories and seek to place examples into a particular box. This is not that type of framework. In part because this is a very rough, early idea and also because I’m not sure that the area of interest (how do academics seek to improve their courses) can be understood with specific categories. Each of the two dimensions in the framework are meant to represent a spectrum of possibilities. The framework is more a graph.

The placement of the following examples into the framework are meant to be broadly representative and illustrative and not quantitatively calculated, exact placements. I also expect that there might be some disagreement about the placement of some examples.

Constructive Alignment

Constructive alignment is a common type of re-design process and is the preferred method for CDDU.

Constructive alignment seeks to change the fundamental design of a course. It generally questions the conceptualisation of learning and teaching of the teacher. So it’s high on the re-design dimension.

The outcomes are pre-determined to some extent. The constructive part of alignment assumes that learning is best achieved when the student is actively constructing meaning. That “pre-determination” still allows for emergent design, as long as it tends to stay within the constraints of the constructive perspective. The alignment component also provides a bit of pre-determination.


NCAT Program in Course Re-design

The NCAT Program in Course Re-design is also high up the re-design end of the process type dimension. In fact, one of the six characteristics common to these types of projects is “Whole course design” (Twigg, 2003).

However, a number of the other listed characteristics (e.g. active learning, mastery learning, computer-based learning resources) also act to increase the pre-determination.



The ADDIE Model is a generic design process (more a design model) and consequently doesn’t pre-determine anything. Knowledge found during the analysis, informs the design which identifies what will be done. However, it might be argued that due to the nature of human beings that such a generic process will be pre-determined due to preferences/experience of the designers involved in the process. But I’ll ignore that for now, this argument could be said to apply to all approaches.

However, ADDIE doesn’t necessarily have to produce a complete re-design. It might just result in a simple and small modification of one aspect. It can range over a broad area of the type of design process dimension.


Problem-based learning

Using problem-based learning as basis for improvement will typically be a re-design process, at least if PBL isn’t already being used.

The outcome is, to some extent, pre-determined as use of PBL limits the possible improvements to those which are consistent with the beliefs/assumptions of PBL. Though, as with constructive alignment, this area of pre-determination is not exactly narrow.


Choosing a new textbook

The purists may not see this one as valid. However, it’s probably the most common approach in certain places.

As a process, it generally involves looking at all the relevant textbooks, choosing one and then modifying the content of the course to fit. Hence this is not likely to be a re-design of the course.

It’s also a fairly high on the pre-determined dimension as this approach typically assumes that the course will not change. The improvement is the new text and the use of its associated resources (lecture slides, quiz questions etc.). There is also not likely to be large change as most textbooks assume pretty much the same pedagogy (lectures, tutorials, assignments, exams).

Strategic approaches

This is what I’m calling the situation where the leadership of an organisational unit (be it program/degree, school, faculty, or entire university) decides to adopt a common approach to all courses. This might include a particular pedagogical approach (e.g. PBL) or delivery model/approach (e.g. all courses will have a website that follows a particular template).

Such an approach is generally pre-determined for all courses offered by the unit. The purpose of a strategic approach is typically to achieve a common goal for all courses.

These type of approaches can run the full spectrum from pragmatic to re-design depending on the nature of the type of improvement (from brand new pedagogical foundation through to adoption of a particular web site template).


Solution driven approaches

These are the type of approaches which can be said, from the most cynical perspective, to be “solutions looking for problems”. These types of approaches often arise from fads. Someone becomes aware of a new idea, approach or technology and decides to use it within their course. The Web, web 2.0, Second Life etc. are just some of the technical examples of this approach. But it’s just not technology. Small tactics or approaches (e.g. minute papers) can also be used this way.

These types of approach are typically pre-determined. It’s been decided to use the particular solution already. It’s just a matter of how.

They are also typically pragmatic. It’s only this particular solution that is being adopted to improve an aspect of the course. Not a complete re-design.

Extreme learning and teaching

The nascent idea of extreme learning and teaching is a one of mine and still somewhat questionable and under development. However, it is a little different and I thought I’d include to see if this might help me think more about where it fits.

Extreme learning and teaching takes it’s basic idea from extreme programming.
In particular the idea that there are some known practices/principles in software engineering that work. So, let’s take those to the extreme. Have a development process that focuses on them.
Extreme L&T draws on Chickering and Gamson’s 7 principles for good practice in education as the principles to maximise.

The idea is to identify how you improve a course you look at the 7 principles and seek strategies to maximise them.

Such an approach is to somewhat pre-determined, it has to maximise at least one of the 7 principles. But that is still a very large area of pre-determination.

It’s also likely to be a fairly pragmatic approach. It’s likely that entire courses wouldn’t be re-designed, but instead small, evolutionary changes. That said, it might be possible to re-design a course (just a bit unlikely).


Futher thoughts

How can this sort of thing help?

A group like CDDU, seeking to help people improve their courses, should be aiming to offer support for the methods that are being used to improve courses. Different areas along both dimensions of this graph/framework require different types of support. If you know where the approaches used by people are located you can target resources to provide the appropriate types of support.

Similarly, different parts of the framework are also going to have different characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. For example,

  • Approaches with high levels of pre-determination will not be able to adapt to differences in courses and context.
  • Approaches with high levels of re-design are likely to be much more difficult and time-consuming.
  • Very pragmatic approaches may not achieve large improvements in learning outcomes, but they’ll be a lot easier to implement.

The purpose of this type of framework is to help improve understanding. Being able to show people where their approach to improving a course fits and explain its likely needs in terms of support, its characteristics

Extreme learning and teaching

The following is an initial development of taking some the fundamental premise from Extreme Programming and apply it to learning and teaching. The rationale for doing this is to see if it provides a more effective way of generating improvements in learning and teaching at higher education, and in particular CQU.

Some additional discussion around this idea is happening on the CDDU wiki.

What is extereme programming?

This is not a question I’m going to answer. There are better answers online from people with a much better understanding then I. This is one. Use Google if you want more definitions.

This answer to the question includes a range of factors that I’m not going to consider in this post. Including:

  • Emphasis on customer satisfaction.
  • Enable late change in customer requirements.
  • An emphasis on team work.
  • An emphasis on communication, simplicity, feedback and courage.

The idea I want to engage here is the fundamental premise behind extreme programming that has stayed with me. The “extreme” in the name comes from that premise.

The premise is that we know a range of practices or principles that are effective in improving the quality of software development. Extreme programing aims to turn those practices on/up to the extreme.

The problem

The idea is that current approaches to improving learning and teaching are simply to complex. Too encumbered by the baggage and arguments of different philosophical perspectives and ignorances.

For pragmatic, often cynical, academics engaging in deep and meaningful discussions about a practice (learning and teaching) that is perceived to be undervalued (in comparison to research) is destined to be difficult.

What if we had a simple, straight forward, apparently logical/common sense approach that was simple to understand?

Yes, there are a whole range of potential limitations and problems with this approach. But then that’s what research and innovation is about. Having a new, different idea and then trying it out. Finding out if it is any better.

The idea

The idea is to

  • Identify some simple practices/principles that are known to contribute to good learning.
  • Develop a curriculum design and development process that places an emphasis on maximising those principles.
  • Perhaps drawing in other ideas from extreme programing.

So what are the principles. The obvious first choice for someone from CQU are Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles of Good Practice. CQU has adopted these as a key component of its learning and teaching strategies.

The principles are:

  1. encourages contact between students and faculty,
  2. develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  3. encourages active learning,
  4. gives prompt feedback,
  5. emphasizes time on task,
  6. communicates high expectations, and
  7. respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

There are probably others, but this seems to be the simplest, most widely known collection of these types of principles.

What next?

This is a simple mind dump and doesn’t go any deeper than the surface. There would need to be a lot more thinking about how these principles can be “turned up to the extreme”.

There would need to be thought given to how this would actually be translated into a curriculum design process with academics. One that engages them in the process and also the organisation.

Enterprise systems and shadow systems: What can the miner's canary tell us?

The following is the first cut at developing a submission for the 2007 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference in Seattle, Oct 23-36. The theme for the conference is “Information Futures: Aligning our Missions”.

Proposals are due February 6, 2007.

In this presentation I’d like to do something along the following lines

  • Enterprise systems – including ERP systems, CMSs etc – are an essential part of university operations.
  • The mismatch between these types of systems and universities (and many other types of organisations) means that there will always be shadow systems.
  • Most organisations and indeed much of the literature positions shadow systems as abberrations that must be killed. That they are problems for the organisation. Which in turn drives shadow systems further underground.
  • As we showed earlier organisations can actually learn lessons from shadow systems.
  • What lessons are shadow systems trying to tell us about “our information futures”?

I’d like to develop two main categories of lessons grouped around types of enterprise systems within universities

  1. ERPs
    I’d like to draw on the MyCQU/MyInfocom work to identify the lessons universities should be taking with respect to ERPs. Essentially and updated version of the previous work with additional insights.
  2. Course Management Systems
    The idea is that factors outlined in two previous posts (one and two) are starting to imply that many CMS features will no longer be provided by Universities but instead draw on free external services such as YouTube and Google Video. What I’ve called the web 2.0 course site idea. At CQU this change can be seen in the BAM project that has students using freely available external blog services (rather than a CQU provided blog) and CQU having systems that help integrate those services.
  3. Potentially wider.
    The web 2.0 course site idea is essentially drawing on software as a service ideas. This has potential application to many other services. For example, what implications does Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) have for services such as off site backups, personal backups, network shares?

I’d like to suggest that the lessons might include things like

  • Increasing use of software as a service
    There will have been IS research on this issue. We need to look at and learn from those issues.
  • Where “service” is not some tightly defined standard, but instead a lightweight standard like RSS
    A personal prejudice. I don’t think heavy weight web services are a good basis, perhaps better phrased as “the best basis”, for this sort of thing.
  • That universities will have to change from concentrating on implementation related issues (maintaining servers, lots of code development) to integration related issues (making sure all the services play nicely and providing integration with uni needs).

The Web 2.0 Course site trial

I’d like to further investigate this by developing some trial web 2.0 course sites.

A web 2.0 course site would consist of

  • A site on a CQU server that groups everything together
    A bit like this page. This site would serve to increase the compatibility of the new style with the old and encourage adoption. It may also serve as the interface to modify/change the course site used by staff. It’s the CQU wrapper around the other services.
  • Most of the content and services would be provided by external services.
  • There might also be an OPML file (or similar) that allows students/staff to access the information/services via a news reader. i.e. bypassing the course website entirely.

I would think the process for doing this might be something like

  • Take some existing course websites and figure out how the features used on those can be translated into web 2.0 course sites
  • Identify new features that might be included
  • Develop some prototypes that people can see and experiment with
  • Figure out the workload/resources required to implement these prototypes
  • Do some evaluations to figure out if this is a worthwhile thing to actually implement.

What needs to be done for the presentation

  • Identify which co-authors at CQU want to participate?
  • Select a topic area that fits
  • Write the proposal
  • Get the web 2.0 course site proposal off the ground

Proposal Content

Proposals must include

  • Abstract
    No more than 50 words. This is what appears on the conference website. Advice includes “Please be concise, accurate, and specific with your writing. Avoid flowery and overly descriptive prose. Use the abstract to state clearly what you will present during your session”. Examples of effective abstracts are available
  • Statement of the problem or issue
  • Description of activity, project or solution
  • Outcome/achievements
  • Importance or relevance to other institutions
  • Suggested Audience


This particular project is focused at the organisational/infrastructure around how universities implement elearning and related features. It has little or nothing to do with increasing the educational value of elearning.

At least not directly. I am hoping that one reason that this approach might be useful is that it could save CQU money in terms of licensing and other costs. Money that could be reinvested in ways that does directly aim to increase the educational value of how elearning is applied.

Metaphors and models considered harmful for e-learning

The adoption, implementation and support of e-learning is a difficult and extremely complex act. A variety of metaphors and models are drawn upon by participants to reduce the difficulty involved. These metaphors and models represent fundamental understandings of the participants and directly influences the decisions they make.

The position I’d like to take for a paper is that many of these metaphors and models are not at all helpful. Many are, in fact, incredibly harmful or limiting. In the following I try to develop a list of these metaphors and models.

The list includes (more to be added)

  • Herding cats
  • Not invented here syndrome
  • Techno-rationalist view of organisations and information systems
  • A central, enterprise level LMS is essential for a quality university
  • Universities must begin to act in a “business-like fashion” (Coaldrake et al, 2003)
  • The idea of benchmarking best practice in elearning


Coaldrake, P., Stedman, L and Little. P. (August 2003) Issues in Australian university governance. Brisbane: QUT.

LMS usage data and value

Warger (2003) (amongst others) makes the claim

Best yet, the learning materials and student progress data that accumulate through use of the CMS become an ever-increasing source value to institutions of higher education.

Questions that arise

  1. Does the progress data actually provide anything useful for organisations?
  2. Is it the only source of such data? What about logging into the computer network, using other administrative portals?
  3. How effectively can organisations gain access to this data? Are there tools available? Who do these tools “serve”, teaching staff, managers?
  4. Are there any organisations actually using this data?
    I know CQU isn’t really, at least not beyond the odd academic. Recently CQU discovered that some of the logging functionality in Blackboard hadn’t even been turned on. I have seen some papers (e.g. ASCILITE 2006) talking about how the data has been used post term, but haven’t yet seen anything about during term at an organisational level.


Tom Warger, Calling All Course Management Systems University Business, July 2003

Is pedagogical the only lens

Christian Dalsgaard in a 2006 paper suggests

Social software has initiated discussions about the extent to which tools should be separated or integrated in systems (see Levine 2004; Blackall 2005; Cormier 2005; Wilson 2005; Siemens 2005; Anderson 2006a; 2006b). However, the discussion will find no answer, unless it is placed within a context of pedagogy. Use and organization of tools within e-learning can be approached in different ways depending on the chosen pedagogy (Dalsgaard, 2005). Different pedagogies will have different things to say about the problem of integration vs. separation. A discussion of the educational value of different tools must use a pedagogy as a starting point.

There is certainly value in this perspective. But I’m not sure it is the whole picture and not sure it can even be used as the only criteria because

  • There is no one pedagogy that can be used for all courses at a University.
    Assuming of course that you are coming at this from an organisational perspective, I cannot see how any university could argue that there is one pedagogy that all staff in all courses would use. Or that there is “one right way” that should be used in all courses.
  • Pedagogy is not the only reason considered
    Again from an organisational perspective, pedagogy is not the only consideration. Certainly most decision making about technology adoption is not rational. For decision makers there will be other reasons why a technology is (or is not) chosen.

LMSes mostly for administrative purposes

The OECD report “E-learning in Tertiary Education: Where do we stand?” says that universities have primarily used LMSes for adminstrative purposes and that LMSes have, so far, had a limited impact on pedagogy.

There are three potential avenues for exploration in that finding

  1. Is it actually true?
    Some of the surveys I saw reported in the ASCILITE’2006 proceedings seem to offer supporting evidence for this. Though this might be a case of not getting to carried away with technological determinism. i.e. it’s not the LMS alone that is contributing to this. The way in which universities are introducing, supporting and encouraging T&L also play an influence, if not the biggest.
  2. Are LMSes actually well suited for adminstrative purposes
    Experience at CQU demonstrates that they are not particularly good at helping teaching staff perform their adminstrative purposes. e.g. early experience with a grade book limited to 999 students in classes with 1000+ students. On-going experience with their online assignment systems compared with CQU’s OASIS system.

    The design of these systems is essentially teleological. The design encapsulates some purpose. There’s a difference between the purpose of the Webfuse web team and that of the LMS development team. LMS development team is trying to design something so general that is widely usable by most universities, within the limited resources they have. The web team try to develop something that best suits the majority of staff at CQU within the limited resources.

    This difference in aims leads to a different type of outcome. There’s also something here about how IT people tend to want to design for the general case as early as possible.

  3. How easy is it to use current systems for pedagogically interesting innovation?
    Some of the discussion/literature indicates it is very hard. Even with Moodle, a tool designed to support a social constructivist approach to learnign

teleological and “unbiased design”

There’s been a bit of rhetoric from LMS vendors that their technology is pedagogically neutral. The socio-technical folk argue against that for a variety of reasons and have demonstrated it in numerous ways.

This could be worthy of further research. Something along the lines of

  • All systems are designed with a purpose – they are all teleological
  • The resulting system embodies that purpose because it drives the decisions that are made during the design and development
  • This can be demonstrated by comparing similar tools, design by different groups for different purposes. e.g. assignment submission in Webfuse versus Blackboard.
  • It can be extended to examining the stated purposes of the system owners. e.g. the intent behind the design of the ABM system within Webfuse driven by management and consequently rejected by academics.

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