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I'm no angel - H809 Practice-based research in educational technology - 'Practice-based'

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Edited by Graeme Arnott, Sunday, 29 Jan 2012, 23:37

The H809 website's open and we're underway.  Well not quite, the module doesn't actually start until the 4th of February but I though I'd try to be a little ahead of the curve (this won't last long so I might as well enjoy it while it lasts).

I've listened to the introductory podcast in Activity 1.2. which is narrated by James Aczel, the module's chair.   It's the first time I've actually heard a member of staff discuss a module's title, and  I found it a really useful portal into the module. I don't know if this approach is now taken across the OU, but by drilling into the title's component parts Aczel is able to reveal different perspectives from which the module might be viewed as well as the different ways that the module might serve different students.

I'm going to use the podcast to start to develop my own ideas about what I understand about the meaning of the module title's terms.  I've pasted extracts from the podcast's transcript below (in italics) with my comments in the [brackets below the ==== line].


H809 – Week 1 podcast

... let’s look at the course title: ‘Practice-based research in educational technology’.


When we first consulted students about a title, one of them said:

‘“Practice” and “practice-based” are very powerful words for people working outside academia: it provides reassurance that what you find is going to be some practical use – eventually. Also helps with employers, for example getting funding or at least time off work or co-operation in [getting] access to data.’

So ‘practice-based’ is intended to signal that H809 is not a course in abstract research methods. We’re hoping that you’ll develop some knowledge and skills that are actually going to be of practical value to you:

  • What does this research study really tell us?
  • How can this new educational technology be most effectively evaluated?
  • What methods are best for investigating this particular research question?

(Aczel 00:00-01:51)


[I think that rooting research in the practical is vitally important for countering educational technology optimism.  There's an irony in a field that, in many ways, exemplifies postmodernism is itself subject to the Enlightenment project of improving mankind.  This was brought home to me during H808 when I watched this twenty-minute TED talk by Helen Barrett

Social Networks and Interactive Portfolios: Blurring the Boundaries

What I found particularly interesting about this video was not the proposal that Barrett set out, but the language used to describe the benefits of the proposal.  The eportfolio as both process and product becomes the means by which rapture is achieved on the journey towards one's destination - the quest for excellence for a larger purpose, as Dan Pink puts it. These borrowings from a religious discourse certainly brought to my mind the uptake of the diary in seventeenth-century protestant Britain (Knights).

A different, but not unconnected, aspect of educational technology discourse is that of utopian optimism. Neil Selwyn's BJET Editorial (2011, 42/5, pp.713-718) argues that an optimistic approach to educational technology 'limits the validity and credibility of the field as a site of serious academic endeavour' (p.713). Martin Weller described the practice-related role of the elearning professional

Elearning professionals rarely operate in a purely theoretical, academic context. They are frequently required (either on their own or as part of a team) to put into practice the knowledge and skills they have acquired through research, review and engagement. This element of practice can vary in scale considerably, from introducing elearning approaches on a small course to overseeing the implementation of an institution-wide system such as a VLE. It is also not confined to deploying technology; for example, an elearning professional might have to adapt an existing module to elearning delivery, with a subsequent shift in the underlying pedagogy. (Weller, H808-11)

and in these contexts the elearning professional must not only be personally credible but must also be professionally credible.  Gill Kirkup's argument that the identity of an elearning professional is, in part, constructed by a commitment to the field of elearning (H808-11) shouldn't blind the researcher to the limitations of educational technology.  Within a community of practice, perhaps even in something like Twitter it's all very well to get enthused about a particular product but one has to remember that that's what it is - a product, and what it isn't - the holy grail waiting to transform the wasteland.

Over seven years ago Grainne Conole opened her paper 'E-Learning: The Hype and the Reality' with,

Elearning is transforming education. It provides opportunuities for learning anytime, anywhere. It provides access to a wealth of resources and new forms of communication and virtual communities.  Sounds familiar? These are the sound bites that pepper research journals, conferences and the media (2004, p.2),

and yet just the other day I was on a website of a product producing company which claimed the same. In some ways that isn't all that surprising. In the short period of time that I've been in this field it's been difficult at times to tell the difference between an academic paper and a product-placement.

I'm now looking forward to developing my pessimistic ideas of good research practice over the next six months, and which definitely won't include the practice of evangelizing.]


Podcast References

Carr, W. (1987) ‘What is an educational practice?’, Journal of Philosophy of Education,
vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 163–75.

Hammersley, M. (1993) ‘On the teacher as researcher’, Educational Action Research, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 237–53.

Stenhouse, L. (1981) ‘What counts as research?’, British Journal of Educational Studies,
vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 103–114.

My References

Aczel, J. H809-12B, Week 1 podcast, Download this audio clip.Audio player: Podcast_1.mp3



Conole, G. (2004)  'E-Learning: The Hype and the Reality', Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 11 (although it might be 12 - the paper says both)

Kirkup, G, H808-11, Unit 1 (part 1): Introduction – elearning professionals, Core Activity 1.1: Introductory audio, http://learn.open.ac.uk/mod/resourcepage/view.php?id=569230&direct=1, accessed 29/01/12

Knights, M. Diaries of the Seventeenth Century, BBC - History, (17/02/11), http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/civil_war_revolution/diaries_01.shtml, accessed 29/01/12

Selwyn, N. (2011) 'Editorial', British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 42, no.5, pp.713-718

TEDxASB - Helen Barrett - 2/25/10, YouTube, posted 10/03/10, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckcSegrwjkA&feature=player_embedded, accessed 29/01/12

Weller, M. H808-11, Unit 10: Evidencing practice-related competencies, http://learn.open.ac.uk/mod/resourcepage/view.php?id=569267&direct=1, accessed 29/01/12

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Google Docs - A Skills Matrix

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Edited by Graeme Arnott, Sunday, 29 Jan 2012, 18:21

google logo from wikipedia 23/12/12


the introduction

This is a post about using Google docs to produce a matrix that will support the on-site learning component of the electrotechnical apprenticeship in Scotland.  At present the method of recording on-site experience is an almost 200 page spiral-bound A4 book.  There is no explicit statement outlining the logbook's function. I once asked my now deceased CEO whether the logbook was intended to simply record a variety of experience, or was intended to record the understanding of the variety. I was told that I was looking into it too much.  I don't know what that means.

Once the logbook is complete, the candidate is no longer required to record their day to day activities. A trainee who completes their logbook after 3.5 years is not required to record or reflect on their work practices after its completion.  This is the case even if the trainee isn't presented for FICA until 5 years from their start date.  If the purpose of the logbook is to stimulate learning through the valid activity of representation then it fails the trainee at the time it is particularly required.  However this failing is most apposite when a trainee fails FICA.  It would seem obvious, at least to me, that an unsuccessful FICA candidate is precisely the person most in need of a tool to encourage and stimulate reflection upon their daily working practices.  It is precisely a candidate who finds himself in this unfortunate and unenviable position that I have devised this Google matrix to support.


the argument

In Saussurian linguistics every element in a system defines its position by its relation to the other elements of that system.  It may then be a rather obvious discursive trick to outline the intended advantages of 'x' by highlighting the demonstrable failings of 'y', but...

Each stage of the logbook is divided into four different topics,

  • Health & Safety
  • Wiring Systems
  • Wiring Enclosures
  • Assessment of Safe Working Practices (ASWP)

The trainee is given 1.5 pages per entry. The content of each entry is prescribed and the trainee cannot record experiences that fall outside of the logbook's framework. The entry contents are limited and must include working at height, installation of containment, and the installation of cabling.  There is no space to record maintenance procedures, fault-finding and/or rectification, or health & safety features that do not include working at height.  A trainee doing maintenance work in a property with asbestos cannot record that experience (unless they bring some steps to the party)

The trainee is required to cover 'dead' and 'live' working in the ASWP.  The 'live' working entry covers an area of testing not assessed in FICA.  This situation has its adherents who claim that it provides a broader learning base to something I take to be the course itself. That might be fair enough but unfortunately it doesn't really help the trainee if they have no facility for recording their experience of the live tests that are assessed in FICA.  In other words it is possible to satisfy the requirements of the logbook without the trainee having documented their experience of the 'live' FICA tests.  It has also been argued that 'you can't cover everything' which is true to the point of tedium, if not exactly to the point of tautologicality, and which seems to have been resolved by not covering anything.


the situation

As has been said the trainee in this particular situation has completed his logbook, and is now in the process of preparing for a FICA resit.  He is not provided with a means to reflect and develop the skills that he needs to ensure his future FICA success.

Using the Google doc spreadsheet facility (which if you haven't seen it is really like an Excel spreadsheet) will allow this trainee to record a variety of on-site experiences. The spreadsheet includes the respective skill, the date and location, the trainee's comments and the employer/supervisor's feedback.  The spreadsheet also includes an option to include a visualization by a link to either Picasa (which is the obvious Google-place) or, my own preferences, which would either be Flickr or Facebook, probably the latter since the trainee's already there.  I've tried to consider why I wanted to include each item.  My reasons are,


  • Using a matrix, rather than the current space-limited and prescriptive logbook, will allow this trainee to record their experience over a far wider range of subject areas. The sharing facility of the spreadsheet allows the trainee, the Training Officers, and the employer to provide input on the skills gained and the performance of those skills. Additionally, there is no limit to what can be recorded, so if the trainee is doing maintenance work in a property with asbestos then he can simply add into the worksheet or he can create another worksheet.  This allows the spreadsheet to be personalized for each trainee, and the trainee would be encouraged to take a pride in the collation of the document.  The matrix is a co-construction between the training officer, the employer and, most importantly, the trainee.  it is an attempt to put the trainee at the centre at the logging experience.  It is an attempt to do what we preach to the colleges but don't do in practice.  It doesn't actually bother me what form the spreadsheet takes because what actually matters is that the trainee's confidence is re-established and he can move towards a more successful FICA outcome.  It's his learning that matters.
  • At present records of the skills base are recorded across SR, STIR, and FIER documents with no final collation presented to the trainee (these abbreviations will be unfamiliar to those outside of SECTT but it makes little difference to the narrative.  The simple point is that the current skills matrix is dispersed on a number of sheets of paper and they are not collated).  Additionally, the trainee is dependant upon their employer ensuring they receive a paper copy. Using Google docs not only allows all the parties to access the matrix at all times but ensures that they can.  There is a possible argument here for using a Dropbox type of arrangement. I have not followed this route because it is subject to vandalism (not that I actually expect it on this occasion).  The Google doc sharing facility, however, allows for earlier versions to be restored.
  • Sharing the document encourages the employer's representatives to feedback on a wider range of the student's performance.  At present the employer's representative does nothing more than append a signature to legitimize the entry.  By encouraging the employer's representative to take a have a more active input to the trainee's eportfolio would, by itself, foster a more transparent training relationship.  Simply emailing a spreadsheet between individuals could not work because people would make back-up copies, and comments would be on one person's version but not another's.  That way madness doth lie.
  • The visulaization element is a vitally important factor.  The use of links to a photo-sharing site not only allows further discussion and reflection but is instrumental in focussing the trainee's mind on data collection. This is kind of like the point made by Martin Weller  in his blog The Ed Techie: 10 things I learnt from Flickr photo a day.  he writes,

2) I didn't really improve as a photographer much in terms of technical ability, but it forces you to start looking for photographs in the everyday objects and scenes, so I developed more of a photographer's mindset. (08/06/11)

  • My aim isn't to make the trainee a better photographer. My aim is to try to encourage the trainee to capture images of his work that will act as a document of his learning. The photograph itself is somewhat irrelevant but the act of thinking what could be photographed is, on the contrary, entirely relevant.  By uploading the photos to Facebook the trainee will also be able to engage in dialogue with his Training Officer and his employer's representatives.  By uploading the photos to Facebook the Training Officer and the employer's representatives will be able to engage in dialogue with the trainee.  As a trainee recently put it when I mooted the Facebook idea "Aye, get a wee discussion going".  This is a fundamental difference with Web 2.0 tools and written journal.  Whereas the latter are, on the whole, monologic the Web 2.0 tools encourage dialogue between the relevant parties. The structure needs to be dialogic or it's a useless structure (cf. @timbuckteeth).



I constructed my idea of the spreadsheet last night.  I will complete this blog entry and post it to the SECTT TOs 2.0 LinkedIn Group.  A trial facebook group has now been started by a colleague in a college.  The college already uses social media and they don't have such a problem with it as some people do.  I will share the document with the trainee to make sure he's happy. He can redesign it, change or amend it to suit himself. I will share it with his employer, and hopefully we can start from there



The aim of this project is to restore confidence to a trainee so that he can successfully complete FICA.  Because there is no reflective tool in place it's been necessary to invent one. I needed something that was readily familiar to both the trainee andhis employer.  An Excel document isn't the most glamourous thing in the world but if it works who cares? The tool, imho, is not that important.  What really matters is that the student regains some confidence in their ability.  I think this tool can help but it may not be perfect.  I will blog the progress of this project, and document its sucesses and failures.



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