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Henry James Robinson

Overcoming the barriers to learning analytics implementation

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Sunday, 26 Jul 2020, 06:11

image source: Jisc Learning analytics going live

Overcoming the barriers to learning analytics implementation

The following is my reaction to an H817 activity where we are asked to create a short report on implementing a policy of learning analytics to improve teaching and learning. The request was for help developing a plan for rolling out learning analytics, either across the institution or across one section of the institution. My response is an elucidation of what institutional strategy would be involved in implementing a change of this sort, which departments would be involved in and/or affected by and what changes might be required to help ensure success. The stated purpose was a basis for the claim “learning and teaching at this institution are supported by learning analytics”, which the university could place on its website for promotional purposes. 

The following is my response to your request, based on my know-how about implementing technological innovations of this kind; the accompanying institutional change policies that have been found to be necessary in these cases and current TEL research.

Overall approach or strategy
The first point to note is how institutional change, whether within one department or across the whole institution is still on that requires looking at the whole workings of that institution. This is because, as Scanlon et al. (2013, 28) argue, “TEL should be considered as… made up of a series of interconnected elements that cannot be changed in isolation…centred on a vision of educational change.” The management proposed that they will be able to claim on their website that ‘learning and teaching at this institution are supported by learning analytics’ on that basis is not a viable vision as it is not one of educational change. The same authors propose that “TEL innovation should be…design-based research” (p.28).  A more appropriate vision statement would reflect a research-driven approach that considered the full context in which the innovation takes place. Given that, the vision statement would recognise the growing evidence that learning analytics can be a basis for improved quality and sustainability in education, and the need to involve all stakeholders for its potential benefit to be realised.

Which barriers will need to be overcome?
Some of the biggest barriers to TEL innovation and more specifically to learning analytics were identified (for e.g.) by Macfadyen and Dawson (2012); Mosadeghrad et al (2012); Ferguson et al (2014).  Ferguson et al identifies one of the challenges as complexity:  the need to work with learners, educators, administrators and support staff in ways that suit “the practices of those groups, their understandings of how teaching and learning take place, the technologies they use and the specific environments within which they operate”. Ferguson et al. note how this requires “explicit and careful consideration during the process of implementation, in order to avoid failure and maximise the chances of success”. Mosadeghrad et al (2012) are in accord with this viewpoint. They cite poor management, deficient leadership, and lack of strategic planning (p. 193).

The cultural barriers identified in Macfadyen and Dawson (2012) can be categorised as the education’s resistance to innovation and change in and the tendency of educational organizations to add resources rather than strategically allocate them; its tendency to assume learner homogeneity, rather than to explore diversity.  Macfadyen and Dawson (2012) identify "strategic barriers, structural barriers, human resources barriers, contextual barriers, and procedural barriers" (p.193). These include resistance to change that impinges on faculty autonomy, especially if it is perceived to derive from the “cost-consciousness-and-efficiency” as well as unwillingness to accept the extra workload learning how to use complex new tools.

Not exclusive of any of the above cultural, operational and strategic, I also wish to list the psychological domain.  Freud’s theories has been applied to the workplace.  In particular, his theory of psychogenic disturbance of vision could be applied to sentiments like:  'It could negatively affect me'; 'Does it fit with how I do things now?'; 'Does it help me?'; 'It will make me look bad'; 'I get nothing out of this' which from personal experience I can attribute to reactions to forthcoming or proposed institutional changes.

Ferguson, R., Clow, D., Macfadyen, L., Essa, A., Dawson, S. and Alexander, S., 2014, March. Setting learning analytics in context: Overcoming the barriers to large-scale adoption. In Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Learning Analytics And Knowledge (pp. 251-253). [Online]. Available at: https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/2567574.2567592 Accessed July 23 2020
Freud, Sigmund. (1910). The psychoanalytic view of psychogenic disturbance of vision. SE, 11: 209-218.
Macfadyen, L.P. and Dawson, S. (2012) ‘Numbers are not enough. Why e-learning analytics failed to inform an institutional strategic plan’, Educational Technology & Society, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 149–63 [Online]. Available at https://www.open.ac.uk/ libraryservices/ resource/ article:106516&f=28635 (Accessed 19 July 2020).
Mosadeghrad, Ali & Ansarian, Maryam. (2014). Why do organisational change programmes fail?. International Journal of Strategic Change Management. 5. 189. 10.1504/IJSCM.2014.064460. [Online]. Available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275590169_Why_do_organisational_change_programmes_fail/citation/download (Accessed 19 July 2020).

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Henry James Robinson

Review of 'Current State and Future Trends: A Citation Network Analysis of the Learning Analytics Field'

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Tuesday, 21 Jul 2020, 18:00

We were asked to review this article in order to expand our understanding of social learning analytics.  Rather than examining interactions by students in an online learning environment such as an institutional LMS, however, or another trail of start-up, demographic, disciplinary, course, log in, data, commonly analyzed, we focussed on research network analytics of some of the leaders in the field.  A very different subject to what we had been looking at previously.   Another usual thing was the way we approached the reading. We begin by looking at the abstract of this paper:  Dawson et al. (2014), 'Current state and future trends: a citation network analysis of the learning analytics field' and noted the aims of the paper. That was the end of the conventional approach to reading, as we then were asked to skip to the fourth section of the paper that listed its practical implications (Section 4.3). These were that the analysis ... 

  • provides an understanding of how key papers, thematics, and authors influencing a field emerge 

  • raises awareness about the structure and attributes of knowledge in a discipline and the development of curriculum in the growing number of academic programs that include learning analytics as a topic  

  • promotes under-represented groups and research methods to the learning analytics community 

  • fosters the development of empirical work and decreased reliance on founding, overview and conceptual papers  

  • improves connections to sister organizations such as the International Educational Data Mining Society 

(Dawson et al 2014, 238)

The interesting thing about the paper was its crossover between an example of learning analytics and a paper about learning analytics.  

Some of its figures and tables thankfully were understandable even for a non-expert.  Table 1 identifies the ten most-cited papers in the field.  Interestingly, the numbers of citations in the learning analytics literature ranged between 10 and 16, whilst the Google Scholar citation counts vastly differed. This can be attributed to the equal currency placed on both old and new publications among specialist members of the field compared with researchers from a much wider range of fields and interests among the Google scholar audience. 

In sum, the article is a reminder of how much more complex the learning analytics landscape is than a means to improve teaching and learning. In this case, it was used to aid in a complex understanding of how research gains prominence. A systemic and integrated response is required for the approach to do justice to its subject. As the authors note: 'while it is helpful to note that (more active) students...perform better than their less active peers, this information is not suitable for developing a focused response to poor-performing students. (p. 231)'  

A  more in-depth reading of the article would certainly have made the basis of that point much clearer to the reader. However, what I did gain from reading a paper in this way was an impression I could take with me to other readings and to my general knowledge of the breadth of the learning analytics field. 

Dawson, S., Gašević, D., Siemens, G. and Joksimovic, S. (2014) Current state and future trends: A citation network analysis of the learning analytics field. In Proceedings of the fourth international conference on learning analytics and knowledge (pp. 231-240) [Online]. Available at: file:///C:/Users/robin/Desktop/Current%20State%20and%20Future%20Trends%20A%20Citation%20Network%20Analysis%20of%20the%20Learning%20Analytics%20Field.pdf (Accessed July 20 2020).

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Henry James Robinson

Student and Teacher data to improve learning

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Saturday, 11 Jul 2020, 17:23

image source: jisc.ac.uk

My last two blogs try to summarise my views and knowledge of ways Big data are used in learning and teaching (where it can be referred to as educational learning analytics) and ethical practices related to it. 

The following tries to highlights the relatedness but also the differences between learning analytics (LA) that is learner/teacher focussed and when it is more informs the wider body of educators such as managers, administrators, the institution, government, other funding bodies. Also, the reasons why LA emerged in the 2000s.

Reasons for the emergence

Campbell et al. (2007) and Norris et al. (2009) examine the need for analytics from the viewpoint of the USA, where at the time of writing, they suggest that levels of degree qualified workers were falling overall as well as the quality of learning.  In the UK in 2020 (Guardian, 2020) 'nearly three-quarters of the country's universities slipped down the rankings in the UK's worst-ever performance in the table compiled by data and research group QS.'  Studies had long since shown a steady decline in higher education standards in the UK since the 90s (Cameron, and Smart,1998). Analytics offers a way of 'responding to internal and external pressures for accountability in higher education (and) improved learning outcomes and student success' (Campbell et al., 2007).  I should be noted, however, that since the turn of the century, the UK has made big strides in Maths, Science, and Reading and currently stood in the top 20 in these areas in the OECD (2018) PISA standings, which it should be noted, only refers to school learning outcomes.

The US has also seen a sharp improvement in school results over the same period and it could in part be put down to the increase and improvement in learning analytics initiatives and theory.

Used to benefit educators

Institutions are of course very interested in student performance because it reflects on the institution and its popularity and on their funding and staff jobs. They are trying to reach certain external and internal key indicators. For those reasons, they are also interested in things that are not about the individual, rather, they are interested in increasing student numbers, administrative, and academic productivity and cost-cutting for profitability and data related to this, a focus is known as academic analytics. They are interested in general account analytics, which allows them to see what students, teachers are doing within the account.  Activity by date allows the admin to view student participation in Assignments, Modules, Discussions, and teachers' completion of Grades, Files, Collaborations, Announcements, Groups, Conferences, etc  In general one can view how the users are interacting with the courses in the term. This means the content can be adapted to improve efficiency, productivity, and adherence to policy and practice based on deductions and predictions made from the use of content.

Used to benefit students

I categorize all the above (under benefitting the educator) as also benefitting the learner. The above would reach the learner via tutorials the teacher has with them and reports if any.  However, the analytics that the student is likely to actually access mainly include only their grades and records of their assignments.  Students can use these to track and assess their progress, this way they can see where they need to improve as they go along. Teachers should use educational data mining (EDM) - 'analysis of logs of student-computer interaction' (Ferguson, 2012) to improve learning and teaching. Romero and Ventura (2007 cited in Ferguson, 2012), identified the goal of EDM as ‘turning learners into effective better learners’ by evaluating the learning process, preferably alongside and in collaboration with learners. These data are often only available if the teacher makes them viewable.

In my situation, the LMS used is compatible with various apps such as Turnitin (a plagiarism checker), students also have access to its analytics, used at the drafting phase of the writing course, and at the end of the course only if students query their report writing score and plagiarism has some relevance. 


Some of the educational challenges in the environment that I work in include adapting to online as opposed to f2f teaching. A way to sum up the challenge is it is completely different because the contact and communication have technology running through it.  One of the challenges involved in implementing learning analytics is mistrust of how data will be used. Students I work with sometimes avoid leaving digital traces for fear of it ending up being a means of covertly 'assessing' them. This is why their focus is on final tests, where they are fully aware of what performance data will be collected and how it will be used. 'Therefore,  it is necessary to make the goals of the LA  initiative transparent,  clarifying exactly what is going to happen with the information and explicitly' (Leitner et al. 2019, p.5).  Researchers also point to privacy and ethical issues. 


1. Teachers should get training in the use of data analytics for use in the classroom

2. There should be an open dialogue about  what learners' rights to their own learning analytics should be; what learning analytics should be available to them; how to give them access (including training in accessing their own data) 

3. Analytics is too much management centred - data-mining and academic analytics and its often not shared with teachers. Learning analytics need to be much more classroom and teacher/student relationship centred. 

I think the adoption of these recommendations could improve engagement, ownership, motivation to learn better, and also improve learning directly.


Cameron, K. and Smart, J., (1998) Maintaining effectiveness amid downsizing and decline in institutions of higher education. Research in Higher Education, 39(1), pp.65-86.Cameron, K. and Smart, J., 1998. Maintaining effectiveness amid downsizing and decline in institutions of higher education. Research in Higher Education, 39(1), pp.65-86.

Campbell, J.P., DeBlois, P.B. and Oblinger, D.G. (2007) ‘Academic analytics: a new tool for a new era’, Educause Review, vol. 42, no. 4, pp. 40–57 [Online]. Available at http://www.educause.edu/ ero/ article/ academic-analytics-new-tool-new-era (Accessed 11 July 2020).
Ferguson, R. (2012) ‘Learning analytics: drivers, developments and challenges’, International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning (IJTEL), vol. 4, nos. 5/6, pp. 304–17 [Online]. Available at http://oro.open.ac.uk/ 36374/ (Accessed 11 July 2020).
Norris, D., Baer, L. and Offerman, M. (2009) ‘A national agenda for action analytics’, paper presented at the National Symposium on Action Analytics, 21–23 September 2009, St Paul, Minnesota, USA [Online]. Available at http://lindabaer.efoliomn.com/ uploads/ settinganationalagendaforactionanalytics101509.pdf (Accessed 11 July 2020).
OECD (2018) PISA 2018 Results Combined executive summaries [Online]. Available at 2019). https://www.oecd.org/pisa/Combined_Executive_Summaries_PISA_2018.pdf (Accessed 11 July 2020).
Romero, C. and Ventura, S. (2007) ‘Educational data mining: a survey from 1995 to 2005’, Expert
Systems with Applications, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp.135–146.

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Henry James Robinson

LinkedIn's use of data analytics

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Friday, 10 Jul 2020, 17:51

Learning Analtyics

image source: pngkey

LinkedIn's use of data analytics

Generally, I'm quite turned off by the fact that apps and sites can access Big Data and use it in ways I'd probably disagree with. Ironically, I never take the time to look at the policy and learn about what kind of data different sites take or why. When it comes to the superhighway robbery we see every day, I wish governments would simply say no to big companies (once again) unfairly accumulating Big Data for their commercial interests, making a huge profit out of data theft.

One 'exception' to my disapproval of Big Data might be Linkedin. Here's an example of a more or less symbiotic relationship between an ostensibly free provider and its clients. And here is a brief explanation of where and how LinkedIn uses Big Data to achieve its impressive results without necessarily ripping people off.

On the one hand, LinkedIn uses Big Data to very closely analyze what its members do when they are accessing its site so that it is able to provide the identity, learning, and networking services that comprise Linkedin's unique brand and drives its popularity.  The features Linkedin offers would not be possible without the data its users provide.  Of course, the huge amount of data also guides its future business decision-making.   

As mentioned above, there are three wings of the Linkedin service. On the networking side, its algorithms prime the searches through comparatively small items of data to identify “people you may know” and to make suggestions for users to add to their personal networks. Machine-learning techniques enable LinkedIn to refine its algorithms based on user feedback (e.g. user uptake of suggestions) and this in turn is enabling better suggestions to be made.  Customers benefit from this data usage by being able to build better and better personal networks that benefit them, socially, professionally, or educationally.

One of the ways Linkedin manages to keep re-designing itself, balancing its business and user interests is by its constant data collection and transformation of data into end-user displays. The data that keeps LinkedIn users engaged includes contacts' job, profile and connection updates.  This drives the keeping up with the Jones impulse that drives users' need to further engage and connect.  For this to work best, data needs to be live-streamed and analyzed simultaneously, using real-time stream-processing technology.  The direct from source information LinkedIn is interested in includes items that are 'liked' shared, clicked, and contact who are messaged. 

In short, the (open) secret of LinkedIn's success and the success of many other businesses using Big Data to drive success is its use of timely, on the fly, and personalized suggestions and recommendations. 

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Henry James Robinson

Learning analytics for teachers

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Sunday, 2 Aug 2020, 10:42

Learning Analtyics for Teachers
image: by pxfuel

Learning analytics in learning and teaching

For your average overworked underpaid member of the teaching staff, who isn't a statistics buff, (but ought by now to be realizing the huge part computers can play and have played in our careers, whether in the foreground or background) learning analytics is something you may hope stays in the background. Something for the middle and senior academic staff and administrators, all the way up to education authorities and grants bodies to be involved in - not you.
Think again.  Learning analytics just hit me with a sock (with a cold bar of soap in it)!  It is time to wake up to the fact that COVID-19 has changed things. In an era when you don't have the expressions of your students' faces or the way your co-ordinator is stirring his coffee while he remotely observes your class to go on, every advantage that a new laptop and a TEL course can give you is worth it. And education has been screaming about learning analytics for ages.  It's time to retool if you are going to keep your finger on the pulse of your teaching effectiveness, the satisfaction levels of your clients, and your fast -becoming-obsolete career. And I know very little about LA and the different forms of data analytics relevant to education out there. So, we need a definition. However, we probably need to first acknowledge how it is becoming such a prominent force in education and why teachers need to get a handle on it.

Why is it?
The Internet and also every type of technological device in our everyday lives have now become constant, explicit, and quite unstoppable transmitters of our every action, thought and utterance because we have taken it for granted and implicitly accepted that our personal information is open for use by commercial, governmental and other entities unless we purposely and systematically opt-out in most cases. All digital devices leave a trail, a digital footprint. Education is one of the few areas where that open data can have the least malign effect on our lives, however.  Few people doubt the value of data that is used to enhance our educational experiences, though it is wise to remember that in the current global economic environment, education institutions are much more commercialized. Nevertheless, for the teacher, 'these learner-produced data trails can provide ...valuable insight into the learning process' (Long and Siemens, 2011).  Teachers who find ways to get access to it, and gain permission to use it to make improvements are at the very least impressing learners and all other stakeholders of their investment in the idea of improving educational outcomes.

What is it?
Now for some definitions. As recently ago as 2010, non-specialists in data analytics were going onto various sites and platforms such as Wikipedia with simple definitions of learning analytics, such as  'the use of data and models to predict student progress and performance, and the ability to act on that information'. (Blackall, 2010).  Which sounds a bit naive.  What if they do not know how to 'act on it', never mind analyze it? Does it stop being learning analytics?  A criticism of this definition posited by Siemens (2010) was its implied limitation to extrapolating trends.  Could it also be used to transform learning outside of the 'box'?  Of course, this is when in education earning analytic was still note being utilized to anywhere near its potential, which changed as software and hardware and theories developed.

The current Wikipedia definition, one which stands back from any assumed use of analytics and the analytical capabilities of its collectors, is: 'Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs.' 
Since 2010, theorists have separated areas of education data analysis into several areas: educational data mining, academic analytics and learning analytics. All of these areas utilize similar or the same data - just for different purposes and/or from different perspectives.

The area of most concern for the teacher is learning analytics because it focuses on the learning process and the relationship between the learner and educator, what is being learned, and the learner's perception of the institution in which they learn.
Adopting the teacher's perspective, then, I've simply adapted learner focussed definitions that I've read into the following:

Learning analytics is digital data research, aimed at enhancing the student learning experience, looked at from both the teaching and learning effectiveness perspectives.

Long and Seimen (2011, p.36) put forward the following cycle, which is useful for focusing on the levels of learning that goes on in that three-way relationship:

1. Course-level: learning trails, social network analysis, discourse analysis
2. Educational data mining: predictive modelling, clustering, pattern mining
3. Intelligent curriculum: the development of semantically defined curricular resources
4. Adaptive content: adaptive sequence of content based on learner behaviour, recommender systems
5. Adaptive learning: the adaptive learning process (social interactions, learning activity, learner support, not only content).

Whatever tool is used for learning, a data trial is left and many tools (e.g. learning management systems, virtual learning environments; communication collaborative software have analytics facilities built-in for use by their owners but are seldom exploited. 

Back to why in teaching/learning
Learning analytics is only really in its early stages of implementation and experimentation by teachers and learners. There are concerns about its use by teachers: at what age can learners give consent. What about issues of privacy, the teacher's undue influence on students' decisions concerning their privacy and profiling, data security and (yes) the ability of the teacher to exploit in a positive way the potential value of the data without succumbing to 'deterministic modelling'.  There are dangers, but whatever happened to the classroom as a place to experiment and carry out action research?  Should big data only be the sole remit of business managers concerned with profitability, long term financial sustainability and meeting so-called performance benchmarks? When used for those purposes learning analytics often becomes just a means of predicting market behaviours and where economies can be made. Learning is multi-dimensional and that's why data has to be utilized at every level and sphere of the education process, where different types of data, not simply behavioural, are examined. Sharing that information with learners, where they are able to gain another form of feedback on their performance and comparison of different learning methods can be highly motivational and improve teacher and learner efficacy.


1st International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge, Banff, Alberta, February 27–March 1, 2011. [Online]. Available at: https://dl.acm.org/doi/proceedings/10.1145/2090116 (Accessed 05 July 2020).

pxfuel (2020) 'person typing'  [Online]. Available at: https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-jrtyv (Accessed 5 July, 2020).

Siemens, G. and Long, P., 2011. Penetrating the fog: Analytics in learning and education. EDUCAUSE review, 46(5), p.30. [Online]. Available at: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ950794 (Accessed 05 July 2020).

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Henry James Robinson

Summary of ‘Open educational resources repositories: Towards a comprehensive quality approaches framework’ (Clements et al., 2015)

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020, 13:31

Image: Baumgartner, P. (2016) ‘Economic Aspects of OER’ 

Open educational resources repositories: Towards a comprehensive quality approaches framework’

The following is a summary based on direct quotes from the title article by Clements et al. (2015). The purpose is to provide a context for the design of our learning object repository (LOR) website that we are designing as a team of students on the Masters in Online and Distance Education (Open University).  Find our under construction website and more of my team's article summaries among the 'preliminary research' pages here: Higher Education Open Education Resources.

'OER are commonly stored... within Learning object repositories (LORs), which have recently started expanding their design to support collaborative teaching and learning. ...many LORs struggle to find sustainable business models and get the users’ attention. Previous studies have shown that Quality assurance ....is a significant factor (in) the success of the repository (Clements et al. p. 1098, 2015). This opening statement could be confusing for anyone who has learned to distinguish between OER and LO - learning objects (there is no need for any fundamental distinction).  For example, the Centre for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (CITL) describe the distinction as being that OER typically undergo the 4Rs of revise, remix, reuse and redistribute, whilst learning objects are often just repurposed and redistributed.  So whether our site will finally be categorised as an OER repository or LO repository, the implications of the article's conclusions are similar.  Please note, the article title is paraphrased above.  Its analysis and conclusions are drawn from a literature review of related sources. 

Origins (history, key figures)
The authors claim to have 'systematically analysed technology enhanced learning literature regarding LORs’ quality approaches and specific collaborative instruments.' The outcome is claimed to represent a comprehensive framework of LOR quality assurance framework (LORQAF) 'that will 'assist LOR developers in designing sustainable quality assurance approaches utilizing full the potential of collaborative quality assurance tools' (Clements et al. p. 1098, 2015).  

Key ideas, concepts, and principles
OER enable forms of collaborative learning (Dillenbourg, 1999) and LORs of today can be considered as computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environments as they provide users tools for posting knowledge productions into a shared working space and providing tools for progressive discourse interaction between the users (Scardamalia & Bereiter,1994).  Adding social and collaborative features has been a recenttrend of LORs to facilitate wider user engagement (Monge,Ovelar,  &  Azpeitia,  2008;  Sánchez-Alonso,  Sicilia,  García-Barriocanal, Pagés-Arévalo, & Lezcano, 2011). However, repositories are not used up to their full potential (Dichev & Dicheva, 2012; Mitchell & Lutters, 2006; Ochoa & Duval, 2009) because of deficiencies in quality control, assurance and evaluation (Downes, 2007; Palavitsinis, Manouselis, &Sánchez-Alonso, 2013).  Therefore, it is vital to study LORs quality approaches (Clements, Pawlowski, & Manouselis, 2014). 

The study investigated quality approaches for LORs with a systematic literature review (Kitchenham (2004) in order to understand the holistic phenomenon of quality assurance and to form a quality approaches framework which LOR developers can consider when designing or improving repositories. 

The following classification was used as the starting theoretical framework:

Learning object repositories quality approaches have previously been classified as (Pawlowski & Clements, 2010):
1. The Generic Approach of Quality standards (e.g. ISO 9000 standards) (Stracke,  2009),  European  Foundation  for  Quality Management Excellence (European Foundation for Quality Management, 2014).
2. Specific Quality Approaches (e.g. Content development criteria or competency requirements) (Leacock & Nesbit, 2007).
3. Specific Quality Instruments (e.g. user-generated collaborative quality approaches such as rating (Nesbit, Belfer, & Vargo,2002), peer review (Neven & Duval, 2002) or recommender systems. 

Fig. 1 Learning object repositories quality assurance framework (Clements et al. 2015, p. 1102).

Repositories are in fact collaborative tools.  Social interaction is considered to be the dominant factor affecting the success of collaboration. Quality control must logically involve knowing what the audience expects and working with them to deliver.

Quality assurance must involve using specific instruments.

Therefore, the design and delivery/publication process must involve (e.g.) ‘peer-reviewing’ and ‘recommendation systems’. 
Developers have to go deeper than rating systems to understand the dynamic behind OER use and repository 'popularity' - what works on E-bay might not work in the field of education.

Therefore, a mixed approach to assuring quality is recommended including expert review to evaluate the substance of the resources in the repository alongside user-generated collaborative quality instruments such as peer reviews, comments, and rankings.   Both are needed to build the community.

Baumgartner, P. (2016) ‘Economic Aspects of OER’ [Online]. Available at: 

https://slideplayer.com/slide/6599837/ (accessed 02 June 2020).

Centre for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (2020) 'Learning Objects (LO) vs Open Educational Resources (OER)' [Online]. Available at: https://blog.citl.mun.ca/instructionalresources/courses/learning-object-vs-open-educational-resource-oer/ (Accessed 02 June 2020).

Clements, K., Pawlowski, J. and Manouselis, N. (2015) 'Open educational resources repositories literature review–Towards a comprehensive quality approaches framework.' Computers in human behavior51, pp.1098-1106 [Online]. Available at https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0747563215002162?token=5B32DA88FFF9C26D5C6E94BDC1F3F034ED748C8061EF68DC0F36C6580CFA93DD51BF77639D64E533F05A2AE4FFF8A286  (Accessed 01 June 2020).

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Henry James Robinson

Creating an Open Education website: My contribution to setting the context

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Wednesday, 27 May 2020, 19:44

dynomapper image

Image source: Dynomapper

The following is my reflection on my contribution to the writing/setting of the context behind a team assignment as part of my master's in online and distance learning.  Our team's challenge (there are 7 teams) was to formulate an online response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We decided to focus on higher education institutions. In particular, to aid the ongoing widespread and partial transition to online teaching, and to support both educators and learners in this. For many who are unfamiliar with this mode of teaching /learning, the transition is a huge challenge, but solutions need to be found in order to secure their short term goals and long term survival. 

Of course, the development of our website is a very long term thing and the preliminaries are still ongoing. 

The site: Higher Education Open Education Resources, H817 COVID-19 RESPONSE TEAM 

My contribution to the context

I think my contribution was substantial.  I created the first draft of the aims, the context, the target audience.  Basically, the idea was the following:

  • To  help educators and learners the world over to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic by aiding the transition to online teaching  by:

    • Creating an online repository for the sourcing of the open educational resources (OER) for independent learning of various subject areas. 

    • In addition to teaching/learning materials in a range of subject areas, we will place materials that support knowledge and understanding of open educational practices (OEP), its technology, tools, and open pedagogy in all its forms.

The context involved describing the pandemic but also the general need for universal education as articulated by bodies like the EU and UNESCO and how this was manifested in the growing interest in OER which gives access to wider audiences cheaper under open licenses.  I noted how COVID-19  had merely added to the momentum. I was one of the first to complete my personas, providing more concrete bases for our design. The context also involved distilling our conversation of the forces and concerns at work in student's lives in a definition of the website design challenge. I was responsible for drafting this definition of the design challenge that enabled us to correctly capture the essence of what the site needs to achieve and to focus on how.

My teammates
My teammates substantially added to and improved my initial draft by bringing more alive 'my concept' (of course repositories of this kind are not a new idea!) of a collaborative creator/user experience by expressing the interactive parts - the site would have a chatbot for queries, for example as well as other things I'd missed. I'd only mentioned that we should host the occasional webinar via the site and that it would contain instructional videos and podcasts we'd create. I was concerned about how much time the creators would have for these activities. 

Most challenging

The things I found most challenging were working to a deadline while working full time and applying for jobs.  Also, I learned more than anything about working with people - you have to be diplomatic and things seldom get off to a rip-roaring start when you don't know each other. I learned how to set up a website, which was important for me. Most important, perhaps, what huge incentive teamwork creates. Is it the competitive instinct? Is it the urge to please and help each other as well as learn together? A bit of everything really. 

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Henry James Robinson

the future of open education: open repositories, open pedagogy and global working

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Wednesday, 13 May 2020, 15:48

Image Source: Global Hands

"Is this a dagger which I see before me..."
Macbeth (II, i, 33)

Hi! This is my response to a study assignment on the same topic of open learning. See my original spoken version on YouTube. Also my articles on LinkedIn.

We were asked to imagine the future of learning. I didn't need to go beyond the guidelines my course on online learning had already laid down for me. Still, we all have our own unique take on things. And like McBeth, I am in awe of the awful choices involved in reaching out to it and aware of the part my own hands will play in my own future.

The future is probably in the clouds, so long as current trends continue and that is definitely towards universities posting more and more content online to both attract learners to learning and also provide a subsistence through the paid services the university offers. Once learners get hooked by the free services offered, there is more chance they become more general subscribers.

So based on trends (open learning facilitating by open educational resources - OER - are on the up), I think that in the future, most universities will have created repositories for open educational resources; it will be for the purpose of marketing the institution. It will both hook into the current trend for online engagement, educational apps, and more sophisticated hardware - smartphones, laptops, and whatever other mobile and semi-mobile devices evolve.

I think that all universities will have them, I think that artificial intelligence will be the systems that organize them. They’ll be much more discoverable because the current aggregators will have refined. Repositories will be more interactive internally because the functions will be voice-responsive, and they'll teach the skills the user needs to conduct searches, without having to type in the input. This will be within a future of OER, where most institutions of education have gone online and so I see a decline in brick and mortar institutions. There will be far less need for physical resources like paper, and that will be another cause of the cost of education going down.

So, for economic reasons, I think that education will go global in the sense that we'll teach all over the world remotely. That that will facilitate much more face-to-face contact via video - tutors will have to open up their schedule, so they are not working the standard 9 to 5 hours within their time zone if they want to benefit from being able to work. We'll be compelled to be compatible with wherever our clients are. Then they will be doing more like shift work in the future. 

More to the point, jobs will be harder to find and at the moment we are already moving to the commodification of labour. No surprise that OER is one of those things that helps facilitate it more! Being part of the global marketplace is not all negative, what I am suggesting may be one way that more teachers stay relevant and employed and internationalization is surely a challenge we embrace, even if we have to adapt to a different sleep pattern.

I think that sums up my view of the future of education. It's not all negative because we still have at least the chance to work, despite my students repeatedly envisaging a world free of teachers - I'm sure it's personal! See my previous articles on connectivist and rhizomatic forms of teaching because for OER to kick in, so do new ways of teaching and learning.

I'd never have been so cocksure of myself, of course, were it not for COVID-19. It's worth reflecting on how this one little pandemic can change our whole perspective on life!

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Henry James Robinson

Digital Visitors and digital residents

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Monday, 13 Apr 2020, 07:50

Image: 'Digital literacy disciplines' Creative Commons

Digital Visitors and digital residents

I recall exploring the concept of ‘digital natives versus digital immigrants’ (Prensky 2001) in a previous iteration of my journey into open learning/teaching and education as a now quaint idea that digital technology belonged to the millennials who grew up as Web 2.0 was taking hold and those born to earlier generations were immigrants, needing to pass some kind of naturalisation procedure to gain residency or full digital-age citizenship.  The ageism aspect of it tended to go over our heads, as we realised that digital citizenship was more a matter of exposure and interest than age.  Bennett, Maton, and Kervin (2008) found as much difference in technological know-how between those born during the coming of the full-on digital age of the late 90s to early 21st century as between those born earlier. Take my students, born in conservative Central Asia.  My impression is there is a technology gap between girls and boys and between my students and western students of UK, US and Australia, as my region, emerges from its post-soviet isolation – very rapidly I might add. Kazakhstan ranks highest in terms of internet access of all Central Asian countries, however, behind Russia and much of the world. Internet only appeared in 1994 in Kazakhstan, but it ranks 61st place out of 177 countries for broadband Internet speed. 

The concept of ‘digital natives versus digital immigrants’ has since been modernised and now the terms ‘digital visitors’ and ‘digital residents’ (White and Le Cornu 2011) are in currency – those that only occasionally use a technology and who have not developed much expertise in its use and those who use a tech often and who developed some expertise in its use.  White on his website, and in an accompanying video describes his approach to mapping an individual’s level of acculturalisation to a technology, including the use of his openly licenced software.

I decided to map my own level of engagement with different technologies using White and Le Cornu’s ‘Visitors and Residents’ concept (e.g. including my use of, VLEs, blogs, Facebook, Skype, etc.), cross-referenced with my adaptation of their personal/institutional axis  (I break it into social, professional and educational) as well as the visitors/resident one. I used Miro, the online collaborative whiteboard platform to create my grid. Click on this link to see my visualisation:

Henry’s Visitors and Residents’ concept (public)

Henry’s Visitors and Residents’ concept (course members – editable)

If you can, feel free to adapt the model I created in any way you please and send me an image or link of your version of the model!

I found it a useful way to reflect on my current use and to consider other technologies I do not use, especially when comparing my grid with others’ on my course, whose were often very different, based on their jobs, experience etc.  



Prensky, M. (2001) ‘Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1’, On the horizon, 9(5), 1–6.

White, D. and Le Cornu, A. (2011) ‘Visitors and residents: a new typology for online engagement’, First Monday, vol. 16, no. 9, 5 September 2011 [Online]. Available at http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3171/3049 (Accessed 21 October 2019).

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Henry James Robinson

Technologies for openness

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Monday, 13 Apr 2020, 07:33

Technologies for openness

An open education technology
Here, I summarise some of the key technologies that are important for open education, focussing on one that I feel has been significant and will become increasingly relevant - open educational resource repositories.

I believe open educational resource repositories will become more and more important for open education in the future because they are not only a source of materials that are vital for the sustainability of open education, but they are a starting point for those who wish to become providers of OER.  It is also vital that the quality of the materials provided by these sources remains high, and this is another important role that can be played by supporters of the OER movement.  

When we define open learning, it is not always effective to do so in terms of the principles that underlie open education – education for all, empowerment of the disenfranchised, addressing inequality and stimulating educational achievement for individual self-efficacy and self-development  and economic development through education (i.e. a more able and employable workforce), especially among women, the disabled and discriminated-against minorities.  Nor should we just define open education as being education that is free, globally accessible and fulfilling the 5Rs of (able to) Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute.   We should also define OER in terms of its resources and technologies – ‘the 4 Qs’ (Robinson 2020) Where can we create it? How can we create it? Where can we get it and How can we get it?

Today, I want to focus on these in terms of the technology. To quickly summarise some of these….

HTML allowed the enriching of any site with the capacity to link seamlessly content with other content, whilst remaining in simultaneous touch with the source. One of the main components of what we call ‘web 2.0’.  HTML coul be especially useful in edu-blogs for sharing educational content.

Blogs and its community of ‘edubloggers’, attracted to this format as a way of bypassing formal, rigid and it could be argued, antiquated forms of publishing on a global level to establish an academic identity. Blogs became popular as an OER because of its similarity to print sources – through which most educational materials were shared.

Social networks enable users to share personal ideas, thoughts, news and information through virtual networks and communities through messaging. One of their features is combining of multimedia to distribute documents, videos, and photos via computer, tablet or smartphone using downloaded to your devices or via web-based software or web applications.  Beyond blogs, social networking tools exist in many more formats.; for example, Slideshare and YouTube each represent a different visual format extension of educational print dominated sources such as Twitter or Scribd.

MOOCs and VLEs can act as explicitly open education sources because they act as virtual classrooms or academies, while all the others are often used for many different purposes – not just educational, like entertainment. They can combine with any of the above to enrich the educational or training learning environments they represent.

OER repositories are an additional technology that is important for open education, from the role of both learners and providers because they can help establish academic identity like a blog, as they give a voice to the provider to express their philosophical basis for providing the source and the materials in the source itself can be tailored to a specific audience, that the provider wishes to speak to.  This can be enhanced if the provider is a producer him/herself of the materials, not just a conduit for the creators.  A network or academic community of creators and users can be established via the repository.  Some examples of OER repositories include: CitizendiumCommonSpacesCurriki (K-12), Gooru (K-12), Internet Archive’s OER Library, Knowledge to Work, MERLOTOER CommonsWikiEducator (Open Education Global 2020). As, in many circles, education becomes more and more commercialised and less accessible, it is important to mark the distinction between education in general an open education.  As an example, Open Education Global (the provider of my edited list of repositories it names on its website) states its mission ‘improving education access, affordability, success and quality for all’ (Open Education Global 2020).

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Henry James Robinson

Is how technology and pedagogy inter-relate a chicken and egg paradox?

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Monday, 13 Apr 2020, 07:32

Image source: curiosmos

The following is my discussion of the relationship between technology and pedagogic theory and practice, drawing on my own teaching/learning context and experience. 

Some have come to see the relationship between technology and pedagogic theory as a chicken versus egg paradox.  Personally, I don’t see it.  For me, the only issue is what to teach and the method - the pedagogy, which ideally can be aided by technology. The only non-disposable aspect of teaching is what we know to be the traditional methods - word of mouth, physical instruction some guidance and facilitation and signing, which can all be aided by the printed word - the most basic technology, which is nevertheless close to 2000 years old.  

As Weller suggests (2011), and I agree, the chicken and egg conundrum exists only in our minds and it can arise from our being too techno-centric.  On the other hand, technology and pedagogy drive each other and can be equally dominant in turn or co-constructive of each other. In other words, just like the University of Queensland and NÉEL Institute quantum physicists who concluded that the chicken and the egg can both come first, pedagogy and technology can also both come first.   It’s just that, when it comes to choosing, it needs to be pedagogy every time. Drawing on my own context and experience, however, I must point out how an inexperienced or untrained teacher will use technology as a prop – this is where it becomes technological determinism.  That has to be seen on a continuum, however.  We might become a tech determinist to try out something, but an experienced practitioner will not continue to let tech guide his/her behaviour regardless.  They will be able to weigh up properly its pedagogical benefits (or lack of).

I regard pedagogy as more significant than technology because for me it makes sense that effective learning is about adopting the right approach, notwithstanding of the tools you have at your disposal.

 In terms of how technology and pedagogy influence each other, I am in complete agreement with our own course documentation (drafted by Weller) ‘Technology opens up new possibilities and is used in ways that its designers never intended, which in turn drives theoretic development which feeds back into technology development, and so on.’ (The Open University 2020) and of course this is in line with Weller’s (2011) belief in Chapter 1 of The Digital Scholar:  ‘In this book it is the complex co-construction of technology and associated practice that is intended, with an iterative dialogue between the technology and the practices that it can be used for’

I think I am guilty every day of giving technology more weight than pedagogy because there is a temptation to use technology because its there, because its fashionable and because I think it engages learners ((in the short term and often superficially) and makes me look digitally literate, which is sometimes equated with competence. When I reflect on the lesson though, I am usually willing to replace technology with traditional or non-traditional approaches that do not reply on technology, because my aim is effective learning and task fulfillment.


Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Academic Practice [Online], London, Bloomsbury Academic. Available at https://www.bloomsburycollections.com/ book/ the-digital-scholar-how-technology-is-transforming-scholarly-practice/ (Accessed 21 October 2019).

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Henry James Robinson

My Thoughts on Rhizomatic Learning

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Saturday, 11 Apr 2020, 16:00

My first thought when coming across the concept of rhizomatic learning was to try to distinguish it from connectivism, whilst recognising the things they had in common.  I came to the conclusion in focussing on the rhizome metaphor, that the former centres even more on the process than the product of learning when compared with connectivism, to the extent that learners themselves are seen as the curriculum - they decide the learning goals and the journey to those goals is a large part of what is studied. 

Describing rhizomatic learning, Cormier (2008) writes:
'A rhizomatic plant has no centre and no defined boundary; rather, it is made up of a number of semi-independent nodes, each of which is capable of growing and spreading on its own, bounded only by the limits of its habitat' (Cormier, 2008). 

Could I imagine implementing rhizomatic learning?
The current educational climate may be a great time to explore the rhizomatic learning (Cormier 2008) strand of connectivist thinking. I do look for opportunities to create and manage courses partly based on connectivist principles. And right now, when ALL teaching is online because of COVID-19, is an ideal opportunity to be more experimental. 

So far in my limited reading on the topic of rhizomatic learning, was I convinced by it either as a learning theory or as an approach?  I was convinced by it as a learning approach because it does capture how people learn - not in a linear manner. But I agree with Verhagen (cited in Kop and Hill, 2008) that connectivism does not offer anything not already present in existing learning theories and I would extend the same critique to Cormier.

How might rhizomatic learning differ from current approaches?
Anyone can experience what this means by reading about it on Cormier's blog site, Rhizomatic 15 where he offers some real-life insights. His video, 'Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education' (2012) is enlightening of his view of the rhizomatic metaphor of his theory learning. d106 facilitated by Jim Groom contains some elements of rhizomatic and connectivist learning.

What issues would arise in implementing rhizomatic learning?

In my K-12 teaching/learning context,  where not all but many students are used to more passive, deferential form of 'learning'. They see the teacher as the font of knowledge - the one who not only directs learning but defines it in terms of 'knowledge', 'facts' or 'information'. As an example, they even ask permission to speak, even when asked to express themselves freely. For many of them, connectivism would be in conflict with the traditional concept of a course, though it is still possible to get them to enjoy task-based, self-directed learning. At their developmental stage, however, they are not quite 'world-wise' enough to know how to use that 'power' responsibly. 


Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education (2012) YouTube video, added by Dave Cormier [Online]. Available at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=VJIWyiLyBpQ (Accessed 21 October 2019).

Kop, R., & Hill, A. (2008) ‘Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past?’ The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning9(3). https://doi.org/ 10.19173/ irrodl.v9i3.523 (Accessed 21 October 2019)

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Henry James Robinson

Implementing connectivism

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Friday, 10 Apr 2020, 12:38

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Implementing connectivism:  reflections on a course design

After posting several blogs on my experience on open courses on my course where we explore the vision, purpose, and challenges as well as the benefits of open learning, I want to express my views on how I would go about implementing it in practice.  At the moment, all of my teaching is online because of the lockdown.  In my teaching context, online learning is meant to be in full effect. However, it is far from open learning, where students in principle would be more involved in knowledge creation and setting learning objectives.  It is perhaps even further away from a connectivist approach (Downes 2005; Siemens 2005).  Its principles, which are widely accepted as being generalizable to any connectivist learning context are summarised by Siemens (2004).   

Connectivist Principles

I express my interpretation of the work of Siemens and Downes in a course I devised that takes a strong conectivism approach, based on some key principles devised by Siemens:

Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions
Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources
Learning may reside in non-human appliances
Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning
Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill
Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities
Decision making is itself a learning process
Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality
For each activity in my course, I state how the principles set out above are realised. 

My course is illustrated in a SWAY presentation found here

Digital Skills for connective learning

Reflections on the Implementation

Because my outline of a digital skills course with connectivist elements in it is just an outline, it lacks details about the different ways I would encourage participants' critical reflection and how they would be able to explore concepts of currency in a fast-changing world. For example, they would be required to justify their choices of sources of information, the extent to which they can be sure about any assertion they make based on a source or sources and how relevant a piece of information is in their learning context and in today's world.  They would need to demonstrate an ability to check 'information' and not simply take it on face value. To analyse concepts on several levels and from different perspectives. The problem with implementing such a course is that in its purist form, learners adopting a connectivist approach will be looking at a topic very much based on their own perspective.   It would be difficult to tap into individual mindset in order to give feedback (like a tutor does where tasks and the direction of the course are set and controlled by the tutor).  It does, however, allow for plenty of asking of critical questions like the above. 

The concept of connectivism isn't just useful in my opinion. I think in many cases it really should be the basis on which we plan and facilitate learning. Perhaps not in my (K-12) teaching/learning context, however, where not all but many students are used to more passive deferential form of 'learning'. They see the teacher as the font of knowledge - the one who not only directs learning but defines it in terms of 'knowledge', 'facts' or 'information'. As an example, they even ask permission to speak, even when asked to express themselves freely. For many of them, connectivism would be in conflict with the traditional concept of a course, though it is still possible to get them to enjoy task-based, self-directed learning. At their developmental stage, however, they are not quite 'world-wise' enough to know how to use that 'power' responsibly. It wouldn't deter me, because part of the exercise is about enabling them to acquire that needed experience. This kind of course, when applied in its purist form would suit older teens and adults, who know better what their professional and academic aims and challenges are.

Rhizomatic Learning

I do look for opportunities, however, to create and manage courses at least partly based on connectivist principles. And right now, when ALL teaching is online because of COVID-19, is an ideal opportunity to be more experimental. The current educational climate may be a great time to explore the rhizomatic learning (Cormier 2008) strand of connectivist thinking. Here, the focus is even more on the process more than the product, when compared with connectivism, to the extent that learners are seen as the curriculum - they decide the learning goals and the journey to those goals is a large part of what is studied. describing rhizomatic learning, Cormier (2008) writes:

'A rhizomatic plant has no centre and no defined boundary; rather, it is made up of a number of semi-independent nodes, each of which is capable of growing and spreading on its own, bounded only by the limits of its habitat' (Cormier, 2008). 

Anyone can experience what this means by reading about it on Cormier's blog site, Rhizomatic 15 where he offers some real-life insights open courses. d106 facilitated by Jim Groom contains some elements of rhizomatic and connectivist learning.


Cormier, D. (2008). Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 4(5), 2. http://davecormier.com/edblog/2008/06/03/ rhizomatic-education-community-as-curriculum/

Downes, S. (2005) An introduction to connective knowledge in Media, Knowledge & Education: Exploring new Spaces, Relations and Dynamics in Digital Media Ecologies, Theo Hug (editor) 77-102 Jul 08, 2008. Innsbruck University Press

Siemens, G. (2005) Connectivism: Learning as network-creation. ASTD Learning News10(1), pp.1-28.

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Henry James Robinson

Student co-creation of wiki's and open textbooks (benefits)

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Saturday, 4 Apr 2020, 08:21

Hello everyone

In this offering, I summarise my findings on the reading of DeRosa (2016), My open textbook: pedagogy and practice, which explores learning through the creation of open educational resources (e.g when students create a textbook and publish online for everyone and anyone to use and learn about the process) in reflecting on my own experience of OER on several MOOCS I've been a part of. 

Image Source: 
Opensourceway / CC BY-SA

DeRosa's (2016), 'My open textbook: pedagogy and practice' is an almost too good to be true example of open educational practice. The course I currently study on (the Open University H817 course, 'Openness and innovation in e-Learning') and other courses I've studied on have utilized open pedagogy, which is why I say 'too good to be true ' - almost. Open Pedagogy is defined by BC Campus (2020) as:

'the use of open educational resources ...with a goal of improving education...inviting ...students to be part of the teaching process, participating in the co-creation of knowledge.'

and my own experience of open pedagogy for me illustrates some of the potential benefits and drawbacks of open pedagogy for some.  But Rosa's experience doesn't surprise me.  It is simply an open pedagogical example of a perfect storm - a serendipitous coming together of the right ingredients - keen students who love their subject, who quickly form a cohesive team, ably aided by an adventurous, knowledgable teacher with a similar zest for exploration and collaboration.  Here are some of the pros and cons most mere mortals will encounter:

Potential drawbacks
if there is no consistent group to begin with (e.g. there is a rolling enrollment where new, uninitiated students keep popping up)
if 'training' is needed pre-task, such as how to use an app or an approach to learning only a few learners are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with.  Using an online platform, students may not be able to find what they are looking for to take part in a group task
if no one has time or opportunity - online courses involve people from all over the world, different time zones and often with previous commitments - unlike a group of college students whose main commitment is the course

As DeRosa points out, the benefits of the approach far outweigh the potential drawbacks. It is worth facing the drawbacks because in many ways, even the embarrassing pitfalls (on many levels) aid learners in their search for rich, worthwhile ( you'll get there in the end) and meaningful (transferable realistic) learning experiences: students become independent doers and teachers what they need to be more often - learners.  As roles switch and educator/learner realise their roles are becoming more flexible, a new relationship between teacher/learners evolves and brings them closer together. At the same time, learners see each other more as companions on a learning journey that they need each other to complete.

In our little micro experience of open pedagogy (creating a group wiki) all of the drawbacks occurred. Nevertheless, groups did get it together to create a wiki page with links that each member had worked on to create the site. Some of us question whether the experience had come too early in the course.  Because of the insight it gave me in one vital area of the course content, I was very glad for what it gave me. We immediately felt a group responsibility to do our part or to let others know what we could contribute at the very least, in most cases.  This motivated a lot of us to go beyond to help the group and not lose group 'face'. 

Though some of us (me) had not built a wiki before, I am sure we will be even more interested and engaged the next time we are asked to do something like it again.  Thi sis an example of how a group task can motivate to learn more when working alone, it's possible to just hide and hope no one notices you, which works in many cases.   I am much more motivated as well to extol the benefits of wikis to my learners, asking them to open a free account and set up wikis of their own and of learning how to create open resources such as open textbooks.  

I end with a paraphrase of some of Rosa's tips about what can help  make open pedagogy a success:

  • Rome was not built in a day.  Look at the whole experience as a work-in-progress in one approach to more effective learning. Quote: 'it will continually improve as learners engage with it.'
  • If it connects with the course aims and / or more importantly, with students' own learning goals, it is worthwhile.
  • Nowadays there are resources for learning how to do anything - get with it.  In Rosa's class's case 'Learn how to openly license your book and learn how to get it online so folks can access and share it' (DeRosa 2016). 


DeRosa R. (2016) ‘My open textbook: pedagogy and practice’ [Online]. Available at: http://robinderosa.net/ uncategorized/ my-open-textbook-pedagogy-and-practice/ (Accessed 21 October 2019).

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Henry James Robinson

Defining, Designing and Visualising a Personal Learning Network

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Tuesday, 31 Mar 2020, 15:07

Defining Personal Learning Network 

In defining 'personal learning network' or 'personal learning ecosystem' (similar to the concept of 'personal learning environment') I referred to several sources and my own experience as a teacher and researcher to arrive at my definition.  But to do so more deliberately than perhaps I have done before, I reflected how far I have come since my years as a Ph.D. candidate when I was still an initiate in the world of online research and learning communities when understanding what the term really meant and entailed was much easier said than done.  I wanted this new reflection to be partly based on my experience of learning on MOOCs, partly professional, (I am a teacher) partly more general (a source not referring to any specific community of practice or learning environment) and from the forum – learning from one of my colleagues on a course I am currently taking.  I looked at her definition, that she had formulated after referring to Downes (2007) and I found it work for me.  Downes is one of the pioneers of research on emerging technologies and learning innovation which have afforded learners access to educational literature and tasks at all times, which allow users to fit the course into their own pace, place and Personal Learning Environment (Attwell cited in Fournier et al. 2019).  But I believe, the ability to go beyond shaping an artificial environment to one’s own construct  is what brought the focus more networks because networks are what the learner became able to create and forge  - ‘a place or community where people feel comfortable, trusted, and valued, as part of critical learning on an open network’ which became theoretical basis for connectivist-type MOOCs (cMOOCs) and what is now referred to as new learning ecosystems’ (Fournier et al. 2019) and which ‘are are more reliable producers of learning and knowledge’ (Downes 2007, p.1). As Arzu Ekoç (2020) points out, teachers nowadays ‘don’t want to be restricted to their isolated classrooms and schools’ (their Personal Learning Environments PLEs) but to extend it into a world where they have the greatest capacity to learn.  Speaking more generally, Tour (2017, p.183) describes a PLN as ‘an informal group of likeminded people who share their knowledge and provide resources and advice to guide a learner in independent learning experiences in different digital spaces’ but notes how in most cases, participants in her research see PLNs as professional ventures.


With all this in mind, my own definition of a PLN is......

‘a personal-professional digital ecosystem best suited to the individuals’ socio-ethical approaches to learning and knowledge creation’.


My visualization of my own PLN is here (click)


Fournier, H., Molyneaux, H. and Kop, R., 2019, July. Human factors in new personal learning ecosystems: Challenges, ethical issues, and opportunities. In International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 230-238). Springer, Cham.

Arzu Ekoç (2020) No teacher is an island: technology-assisted personal learning network (PLN) among English language teachers in Turkey, Interactive Learning Environments, DOI: 10.1080/10494820.2020.1712428

Ekaterina Tour (2017) Teachers’ self-initiated professional learning through Personal Learning Networks, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 26:2, 179-192, DOI: 10.1080/1475939X.2016.1196236

Downes, S (2017) 'Learning networks in Practice' [Online] Available at: https://www.academia.edu/2869500/Learning_networks_in_practice

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Henry James Robinson

Comparing MOOCs

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Sunday, 29 Mar 2020, 19:43

image source: Lane, L.M. (2012) ‘Three Kinds of MOOCs

Comparing MOOCs

Even in the last five years, definitions of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have evolved.  I say definitions because I think it is widely agreed that there are different types of MOOCs, serving different purposes for the users and for providers. Originally, since the early part of the 21st century (though some will argue that MOOCs existed before then), most observers could probably agree that a MOOC was a course provided through an online platform, using tools such as videos, and discussion forums, and with the emergence of web 2.0 apps, the ability to integrate with social networks.  Some of the main characteristics of a MOOC were that they were often provided free, open to anyone and were offered by internationally known institutions or their faculty and did not offer a formal accreditation system.

cMOOCs (including task-based and networked-based)

Prior to 2015, we had seen the emergence of two major strands of MOOCs: cMOOCs and xMOOCs. The theoretical basis of cMOOCs was seen as “connectivism, openness, and participatory teaching” (Jacoby, cited in Veletsianos and Shepherdson 2016, p. 199- 200), emphasizing the active part learners play in knowledge creation, through their connections with other learners and their learning environment via networks facilitated by online technology. Canadian researchers George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier based their MOOCs on the connectivist principles that everyone should determine their own learning goals, and structure and manage their own learning via personal learning networks.  The learner is free throughout the whole learning process.   These principles are still followed through in the task-based (Lane, 2012) MOOC, d106 facilitated by Jim Groom and Rhizomatic 15 by Dave Cormier, both supported by leading lights in connectivism theory.  Cormier describes Rhizomatic as ‘a story for how we can think about learning and teaching’ where the learning community is the ‘curriculum’ or ‘challenge’. He asks participants to think of the learning environment as ‘’a research lab’, in which where participants are ‘researching along with me’.  In terms of technology, the emphasis on social networking tools is clear when he talks about his communication with learners: I’ll post it in the newsletter, I’ll tweet it … I’ll post it in the Facebook group and I’ll post it on the course blog.’  Similarly, d106 is described as 'Digital Storytelling’ where ‘you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need’ and describes how they ran a course ‘where… there was no teacher’.  Communication is via a blog feed. Due to their open nature (where is no set ‘curriculum’, learners define ‘success’ and learning path, it is difficult to formally assess a learner’s progress and therefore to acquire monetary gain from these types of MOOC.

xMOOCs (including content-based)

In contrast to cMOOCS, xMOOCs follow a cognitivist-behaviourist approach (Hew & Cheung, cited in Veletsianos and Shepherdson 2016, p.199) resembling ‘traditional teacher-directed course[s]’ (Kennedy, cited in Veletsianos and Shepherdson 2016, p.200). The number of xMOOCs delivered has been growing rapidly, whilst any cMOOCS that still have some connectivist aspects to them (use of social media, group tasks) have adopted more and more of the features of xMOOCs (a fixed content is ‘delivered’ – hence the term content-based), to the extent they can be called hybrids. The UK company FutureLearn, for example, offers free, open MOOCS but its platforms are also used to promote fee-paying degrees with The Open University, microcredits and badges and the courses are structured by Futurelearn to quite a large extent. FutureLearn’s free courses also offer ‘extra benefits’ for a price, so students can gain extended access to materials. None of these are offered for a fee on the cMOOCS discussed above, as any course benefits are extended free of charge. The ‘open’ aspect on Futurelearn courses is more about students’ freedom to study at their own pace, than on unfettered access to materials. In terms of technology, however, Futurelearn has a more varied offering.  On its online educator course, students use video, interactive quizzes and polls that are a fixed part of the course offering, as well as various social media that are used on the cMOOC courses, ds106 and Rhizomatic.  

In 2020, there are more than 900 universities around the world offering over 11,400 MOOCs and the emphasis is on monetary gain – accounting for the emphasis on a cognitivist-behaviourist, where institutions can ask for payment based on the learners’ achievement of specific goals.  So, whilst, d106 and Rhizomatic, offering free courses, make very little money each year, by contrast, Coursera's 2018 estimated revenue is around $150 million and FutureLearn made around $10million. This means there is a corresponding focus on formal accreditation of learning. Perhaps partly for the same reason, the concept of free and openness, very apparent in former approaches to MOOCs, has now evolved to mean anyone can apply from anywhere.  More and more courses are asking for formal proof of prior learning, such as a diploma or degree and fees are being charged in return for globally recognised certificates.  However, the term ‘open’ has always been defined differently by different observers. FutureLearn course, I can speak to all aspects of one of its MOOCs. 

Hew, K. F., & Cheung, W. S. (2014). Students’ and instructors' use of massive open online courses (MOOCs): Motivations and challenges. Educational Research Review, 12, 45.

Jacoby, J. (2014). The disruptive potential of the massive open online course: A literature review. Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, 18(1), 73-85.

Kennedy, J. (2014). Characteristics of massive open online courses (MOOCs): A research review, 2009–2012. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 13(1), 1–16.

Lane, L.M. (2012) ‘Three Kinds of MOOCs’ Blog. [Online]. Available at http://lisahistory.net/wordpress/musings/three-kinds-of-moocs/ (Accessed March 29, 2020)

Veletsianos and Shepherdson (2016), A Systematic Analysis and Synthesis of the Empirical MOOC Literature Published in 2013–2015.

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Henry James Robinson

MOOC in a Secondary Education Pre-undergradute Learning Context

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Sunday, 29 Mar 2020, 19:43

What are MOOCs?

Massive Open Online Course (MOOC ) is a term first coined by Cormier (Cormier 2008; Cormier and Siemens 2010) while he as conducting the "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge" course, which was 'the first to incorporate open learning with distributed content, making it the first true MOOC' (Downes n.d.). MOOCs are an evolution of OpenCourseWare (see my previous blog), of which first was arguably the one created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2001 one of the leaders in the development of MOOCs (e.g. edX).

Use of MOOCs in a Secondary / Pre-undergraduate Educational Context

Partly because of the need for quite a high level of learner independence and peer support in MOOCs it is very questionable whether they can work in their 'pure' form in secondary level education but there are quite a few other reasons why using them would be a challenge, not least because this phase of a young person's learning is dealt with on a compulsory face-to-face basis in most instances. There is room and incentive for a blended learning approach, therefore.  Other issues are the use of smart devices and web technology inside or outside of the classroom, where the school or parents may have a policy against it. There are issues of safety, security, and privacy of minors.  I have attempted it on a small scale and was met with mixed results for all of these reasons but every teacher in schools should attempt it for professional development reasons as well as for their students' development as learners. 

Course content and Target Audience

The target audience of a MOOC in my learning context would be mainly (but not exclusively) STEM students who want to improve their research skills, their digital literacy, and their knowledge of mobile technologies as learning tools in English. They would be non-native speakers on EAP (English for academic purposes) foundation courses or students of Global Perspectives and Research (GPR), which is similar to an EAP foundation course.  Both courses seek to prepare students for university studies in English.  GPR is a social studies focus, with global issues and global citizenship at its core. Two key GPR topics are ‘Education for all’ and ‘The Digital World’.  Because the students are mainly planning to study sub-disciplines of engineering, there would also be a strong multidisciplinary aspect to the course. 

Cormier, D. (2008). Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum. Innovate 4 (5) [online]. Available at http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=550  (Accessed 28 March 2020)

Cormier, D. and Siemens, G. (2010). Through the open door: Open courses as research, learning, and engagement. Educause, 45 (4), 30-39. [online]. Available at http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume45/ThroughtheOpenDoorOpenCoursesa/209320 (Accessed 28 March 2020)

Downes, S. (n.d.) 'The MOOC Guide: CCK08 - The Distributed Course' [online]. Available at https://sites.google.com/site/themoocguide/3-cck08---the-distributed-course (Accessed 28 March 2020)

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Henry James Robinson

OER repositories

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2020, 12:26


Happy Nauryz everyone. I hope you all found time to spend time with your mothers on Mother's Day!

This week, we were asked to imagine we were constructing a five-week, online course aimed at providing a set of learners with resources for developing their ‘digital skills’, with a different subject each week.  For me, it would be for young learners - pre-undergraduates.   We were asked to visit a set of Open Educational Resource (OER) Websites (sources of materials that can be reused, repurposed, redesigned freely) and evaluate them in terms of how they were able to cater to each of the topics of our imaginary courses. 

I devise a broad outline of the topics to be covered every week (see the grid below).  The OER repositories we were given are the following:







I used the topics listed below and added the word 'training' or 'skills' for my searches and looked for teaching or readily adaptable for teaching materials in my results.   Overall, I did find a few of them useful and some of them not very useful at all.  I am happy they are there and the ones I liked I will probably use again. 

Have a look at how each of the sites did:




Suitability (G/M/B)


Social Media

Solvonauts: The search engine is clunky to use. I needed to enter the search several times. Resources limited to picture, Video and Audio search

I couldn’t find a range of video or audio, so I tried for images. Materials there were fine, as it says, not its own repositories, so suitability criteria of little relevance except that it brought me to an irrelevant page of Flikr.  It can all be repurposed (CC) but audio I found was a bit out of date.


Search Engine Marketing

Merlot:  The website easy to use, except the type of material not always clear until you click. Some interesting features like ’create a learning material’ and volunteer to be a reviewer.

A lot of UpToDate materials including eBooks and articles that could be repurposed.  What I wanted could not be repurposed (CC) coz Prezi is online and it was a bit out of date and was focussed on the US. 



MIT:  State of art; subscription options, links to twitter, FB, WP, and Instagram.

Found two full beginners’ courses on inc this: analytics.  The clear spoken audio also great sound quality and available on YouTube made it readily adaptable. Up to date and highly suitable with loads of additional materials of different kinds.



Open Learning: Very attractive design and user friendly.

The searches were aided by a warning for materials over 5 years old and I like the pdf, Word format choices. I found materials at advanced called: Accessibility of eLearning and low level called 'Digital literacy succeeding in a digital world' and a podcast a variety of other materials from video to audio to a podcast called University of the Future - very good.



Stax and Saylor Clunky, slow and a bit bewildering to use.  E.g click on courses – there’s a limited choice; click on programs and I get a mockup of a Saylor course certificate. I wanted something on books so Stax is maybe not the sources, coz It apparently only has books.

I found zilch that was useful on either site -  maybe it was me but also maybe it’s good that Stax is retiring, to be moved to an archive. However, when I tried the Open University Open Learning site, I found a course on creating open materials including a section on video – great. A start anyway.


 As you can see, generally I was quite satisfied, but one or two of the sites fell below my expectations.  There is a possibility that is because the sites just were not suitable for my course and/or my lack of knowledge of them meant I was unable to use them properly in the limited time I had to search.  As our course tutor points out:  Different sites have different requirements, follow different 'regulations', and restrictions.  'Some make accessibility a requirement, while others offer guidelines' (Open University, 2020). 

Commons Licence

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Henry James Robinson

Exploring open education resources (OER) issues

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2020, 12:36

Image source:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Jonathasmello

Based on my reading of the OER Research Hub evidence report (de los Arcos 2014) the three key issues in OER I identified were the following:

1. I agree with the suggestion in the H817 Week 8 material that the accreditation of informal learning is a key issue in OER.  It is significant because a key aim of OER is to provide education to ‘expand access to learning for everyone, but most of all for non-traditional groups of students, and thus widen participation’ (OECD 2007, p.9).  In addition, ‘effective use of knowledge is seen more and more as the key to economic success, for both individuals and nations’ (ibid p.9). In many cases, the only way to transit from poverty to a basic standard of living for the majority can be that important ‘piece of paper’ that someone could gain from their participation in open learning.

In short, my preoccupation in my assessment of the role of OER is critical; it is all about eliminating the gap between the privileged and the disempowered and it is frustrating to me that HE bodies, researchers, policymakers etc. so obfuscate what should unequivocally be the aim of OER – to eliminate inequality of opportunity. De los Arcos (2014, p.33), examining hypothesis K - (Informal assessments motivate learners using OER) is significant in this regard because I want there to be ways soon by which OER can be a route to taking formal exams and gain formal accreditation.

The issue is being addressed by research by the OECD and its work with over 20 countries to recognize informal learning and badges and P2P have been mentioned. What is needed is for us to continue to look forward and to theorize what future tech and non-tech possibilities may be on the horizon for open credentialing.

2. Leading directly on from my previous point, the second important issue I wish to extract from my reading of the OER Research Hub evidence report (de los Arcos 2014, p.17-20) is about how the  Open movement needs to justify itself by being a clear bridge to more equitable access to education.  OER must show itself to be about widening participation in education – which it does not do sufficiently now.

The statement from the report that some ‘Learners are using OER in a number of ways that can be interpreted as leading to greater access to education’ is not an unequivocal statement that it does.  Neither is the statement: ‘Are open education models leading to more equitable access to education?  The emergent picture is mixed’ (ibid p.17 my italics). 

Another statement that tries to make the most of the disappointing greater access issue results so far but really ends up portraying the researchers as clutching at straws is the nonsensical: ‘Some learners are using OER as a replacement for formal education which they might not otherwise have access to’ (p.18). I also find the arguments about retention tangential to the issue of access for traditionally excluded groups.  The research only covers gender and disability - not in any depth - and there are excluded groups in that.

The Sustainable Development Goal, particularly goal 4 (Education for All) to which 193 countries have signed up is one way this is being addressed, particularly through the UNs OER initiatives. We may have to wait until 2050 to see that according to Duc Pham, Professor of Engineering, University of Birmingham.

3. My third important issue in OER is whether participation in OER pilots and programs lead to policy change at an institutional level (p.33) which concerns hypothesis J.  I think the issues I identified (1 and 2 above) can be resolved by policy and practice changes stemming from governments but I feel institutions are slow and reluctant to change. That (the slowness and reluctance to change) is an issue where we need to ask ‘why’ and put pressure because I feel the root is, we do not strongly wish to discuss and address inequality in society.   This is being addressed through organizations like the Commonwealth of Learning (COL)  and the open policy network working at societal, government and institutional levels. 



de los Arcos, B., Farrow, R., Perryman, L.-A., Pitt, R. and Weller, M. (2014), OER Evidence Report 2013–2014, OER Research Hub [Online]. Available at http://oerhub.net/ research-outputs/ reports/ (Accessed 21 March 2020).

OECD (2007). Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources. Paris: OECD.  [Online]. Available at (Accessed 21 March 2020).

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Henry James Robinson

Representing open education

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2020, 12:38

Hi everyone,
This week we were asked to read two resources that provide views on different aspects of what openness means in higher education.  and to create a visual representation that defines openness in education by drawing on some of the concepts listed in our two chosen resources (I tried to include all of what I thought were the key ones). Our tutors suggested PowerPoint, Prezi or any other tool of our choice. I decided I would also share details about my tool of choice to try and help others decide what tool to use.
I didn't want to use PowerPoint because of the bad press it's getting so I went with the suggestion to use an online tool such as Prezi and found out about MS Sway.  My key concepts of openness are taken from Weller et al. (2018) and Tait (2018).  Here is my presentation: Representing open education (MS Sway)

About Microsoft Sway 
PowerPoint is too much associated with shiny-suited people with no speaking skills. Anybody can use Sway if they sign up for a free Microsoft account. People with an Office 365 can also use Sway, the free version provides more than enough for the average user.  If you enter a term Sway will produce the outline of a presentation for you, with definitions, uses, areas to cover, suggested linked topics, images, and more. This is all powered from Wikipedia data and gives full links back to the pages it uses.   So Sway helps you overcome 'writer's block'. 

I think the main advantage of SWAY is compatibility and share-ability.  It is compatible with the Web using Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer 11, Firefox 17 or later, Chrome 23 or later, and Safari 6 or later.  It works with Apple (online) and MS devices. You can embed a wide variety of content — including images, video files, audio clips, and maps — from several web sites in your Sway.  With Sway, you have a few options for who you can share with (specific people, your coworkers, anyone) and what access they will get (view only or edit). You also can control whether or not they have access to share it with others.



Weller, M., Jordan, K., DeVries, I. and Rolfe, V., 2018. Mapping the open education landscape: citation network analysis of historical open and distance education research. Open Praxis10(2), pp.109-126. [Online].
https://www.learntechlib.org/p/183582/article_183582.pdf (Accessed 21 March 2020).

Tait, A. (2018) ‘Open Universities: the next phase’, Asian Association of Open Universities Journal, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 13–23 [Online]. DOI: 10.1108/ AAOUJ-12-2017-0040 (Accessed 21 October 2019).

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Henry James Robinson

The Open Education Experience

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2020, 12:41

Experience with Open photo

Hi Everyone!

I want to tell you about m experience with Open Education.  So, settle down put yo feet up... blah blah blah. 

My experience with open education has been quite short in my view. I wanted to add to the knowledge I'd gained as a master's student of applied linguistics in 2000 because I surmised the field had changed a lot since then.  I was planning to do a Ph.D. course at UoB at the time.  I joined the Future Learn corpus linguistics course by Lancaster Uni.  It was just at an introductory level but I'd never studied in that field before.  However, what I'd already learned about the field was much more advanced than the course material, so my contact with other participants was very minimal.  I used it just to browse some of the content, not to be seriously involved. Still, it was useful for learning more about the terms and concepts and it led to me joining subsequent courses where I was much more involved and it has culminated in where I am now - familiar with how working collaboratively and independently online with the help and guidance of a tutor and other course members. 

I've done the H880 course - it was my full induction into working with others, I even had a few full-on disagreements and even arguments that dragged in the OU staff and my tutor - I think that's real evidence of my involvement in the community aspect.  I think that really helped seal my initiation because I went on to join the course Whatsapp group and made some really fruitful formal and informal connections with some who I am still in touch with. Looking back, it was great!

I've studied several MOOCs on Blended Learning, Online, and Open, including with Leeds and Auckland; I've used some open resources as part of my assignments but I've never engaged fully with open access publications.  It sounds like something I should do if I want to have a proper online presence as a contributor. I would like that I can set up a blog and popularise it based on the fact that my professional and technical experience has reached a point where people are interested in what I have to say and offer.  That would be good too. 

Just like for Sophie Washington, for me, the flexibility of OE is the main thing. I do like interacting with people and having contacts that stimulate or benefit my career and I think OE does that too.  In some ways, it's more motivating than f2f because contact with others (and learning to a large extent) depends on your completion of assignments and of course you want to be original and to be in the loop early so you get noticed more. 


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Henry James Robinson

Emerging technologies and innovating pedagogies

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2020, 12:42

Emerging technologies and innovating pedagogies

This past week, a lot of my time has been taken up with looking for jobs.  I like to work an EAP pre-sessional during the summer when I have a long summer break for the chance to develop my skills and experience. More on that later.   This week on the H17 course (Road to Open: Experiencing Open Education Practice), we were asked to connect e-learning theory from the past with more recent developments in thinking about learning.  We'd looked at Nichols' (2013) ‘A theory for e-learning’ in which he names his 10 hypotheses (summarised below) and we were asked to consider the extent to which they are relevant to the predictions made by Ferguson et al. (2019), Innovating Pedagogy 2019.  

Hypothesis 1: eLearning fits within face to face or distance education and behaviourism and constructivism.
Hypothesis 2: eLearning fits within the existing paradigms of face to face and distance education.
Hypothesis 3: The choice of eLearning tools should reflect rather than determine the pedagogy of a course.
Hypothesis 4: eLearning advances through the successful implementation of pedagogical innovation.
Hypothesis 5: eLearning can be used to present educational content and facilitate education processes.
Hypothesis 6: eLearning tools work best in a carefully selected, optimally integrated course design model.
Hypothesis 7: Use of eLearning tools and techniques should consider online vs offline trade-offs.
Hypothesis 8: Use of eLearning should consider how end-users will engage with the learning opportunities
Hypothesis 9: The overall aim of education does not change when eLearning is applied.
Hypothesis 10: Only pedagogical advantages are a sustainable rationale for eLearning approaches.

The predictions made by Ferguson et al. (2019), Innovating Pedagogy 2019 focus on innovative pedagogies that can be applied to e-learning.  This is the first thing to note. Nichols' article is also about pedagogy and how an overall theory of e-learning can help drive pedagogy and e-learning pedagogy in particular.  Nichols outlines 10 hypotheses to test that will help be a basis for a theory of e-learning.  Ferguson et al. (2019), in 'Innovating Pedagogy 2019' outline 10 innovations in pedagogy that have the potential to make a significant difference in the near future of education.   These are what are called Playful learning, Drone-based learning, Virtual studios, Place-based learning, Digitial Play, Decolonising learning, Learning with robots, Learning through wonder, Action learning, Roots of Empathy.  Elearning is often defined as learning conducted via electronic media, typically via the Internet.  These new emerging pedagogies may not all fit the typical idea of elearning. However, as Nichols states, elearning comfortably fits in the realm of face to face and online.  All of these pedagogies could be utilized in both contexts.  The focus of the two other articles we read is a little more on emerging technologies that could be utilised, adopting the above pedagogical approaches.  The first, New Media Consortium’s Horizon Project: 2017 Higher Education Edition highlights  Adaptive Learning Technologies, Mobile Learning, The Internet of Things, 'Next-Generation' LMSs, Artificial Intelligence and Natural User Interfaces.  The authors suggest they may have a significant impact on learning in the future.  The second, Alexander et al. (2019), in their Educause Horizon Report: 2019 Higher Education Edition, shows the evolution to some extent of the tech featured earlier. Mobile Learning is still cited as an emerging technology. AI and adaptive learning technologies are featured in the form of virtual assistants.  New emerging tech comes in the form of Analytics Technologies, Mixed Reality, and Blockchain, currently being developed for use in administrative and educational functions in universities in courses where the technology is relevant to the field.  

Reading about these new areas has inspired me to learn more, especially Next-Generation LMSs, Analytics Technologies, Mixed Reality.  I noticed that after clearing our classrooms of the old Promethean boards at our school, recently, they were all quickly replaced with new, really expensive ones. Something none of the international staff were made aware of and it became even more obvious to me than previously how we are kept in the dark about even basic information about that is going on at the school except when we are needed. I find it difficult in that context to imagine being a member of a  board involved in decision making. However, three pedagogies I think my organization would be most likely to invest in would be.  Drone-based learning, Place-based learning, Learning through Wonder and Learning with Robots.  In practice, placed-based learning or learning through wonder would be cheap and easy to implement, would fit well with the biology-chemistry curriculum, (we are a STEM focussed school) and the locations would be easy to access as we sit very close to a tree park, known for its biodiversity and which also features a mini lake.   The school already builds, adapts and experiments with drones and they are used also to record school events.  Again, components are getting cheaper and it fits the STEM focus of the school curriculum.  Robotics is a major area of interest and activity both in schools and the country's main tech universities. If this can be extended to the use of robotics in learning other than in the sciences, this would be something I'd encourage strongly, as the school does need to break out of its narrow focus on STEM, to some extent. 



Alexander, B. et al. (2019) EDUCAUSE Horizon Report 2019 Higher Education Edition. Louisville, CO, USA: Educause. Available at: https://www.educause.edu/ horizonreport. (Accessed: 8 November 2019).

Ferguson, R. et al. (no date) . Innovating Pedagogy 2019; Exploring new forms of teaching, learning and assessment, to guide educators and policy makers. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Available at: www.dw-images.com (Accessed: 8 November 2019).

Nichols, M. (2003) ‘A theory for elearning’, Educational Technology & Society, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 1–10 [Online]. Available at http://elibrary.lt/ resursai/ Uzsienio%20leidiniai/ IEEE/ English/ 2006/ Volume%206/ Issue%202/ Jets_v6i2_01.pdf (Last accessed 7 November 2019).

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Henry James Robinson

My Analysis of Connectivism from EAP, ESOL Perspectives

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2020, 12:44

Venn diagram-Congnitivism and Connectivism

Connectivism, EAP and ESOL Teaching/Learning

My best way of analysing and critiquing connectivism, whether as a pedagogical principal or as a learning theory is through the lens of my own learning and teaching. First, my teaching.  I am an EAP and an ESOL teacher.   For most of my learners, the content they learn (I am thinking of EAP primarily when I speak of ‘content’) work alongside the challenges they face as non-native speakers of English and grasping the academic culture viewpoint from which I work. Facing those challenges are very relevant and necessary for them because they either wish to study in English or studying in a western academic context or both and the western academic ‘ethos’ is dominant in the world they live in.  And of course, the other ‘world’ they live in is the one that Siemens (2005) and Downes (2005) in which Web 2.0 has given them new access to different forms of communication and ways of forming knowledge. The sociotechnical context for learning and education has changed and is now developing at such a rate due to the internet and other emerging technologies, that a new concept of learning and new approaches to teaching and learning are required.  For the EAP practitioner, this realisation came first in the form of distance learning via email communication with learners. Then the establishment of websites whereby learners could access materials related to a specific course, and now followed by tools for synchronous and asynchronous video communication, VLE, LMS and by open online courses (MOOCs).   I had equated MOOCs much more with constructivist theory (where the learner actively ‘constructs’ meaning from their interactions with others within an environment in which knowledge and learning is exchanged) after first learning about connectivism as a concept, which I felt lacked rigour.  But I see now more clearly its influence in MOOCs I have studied on and I can see its potential by applying each aspect of the theory (from background to foreground) to my own areas of practice.

The three background concepts that have most influence the development of connectivism are:

chaos - knowledge is no longer acquired in a linear manner

complexity and self-organization - chaos complicates pattern recognition and makes it necessary for the learner to self-organise

 the existence of networks - that the learning can form and tap into

With knowledge located in dissipated sources and organised chaotically, the learner’s role is to find and recognize hidden patterns, and to make sense of the seeming chaos.

Likewise, English and the ensuing academic culture that is partly language bound can appear incomprehensible to speakers of other languages and those from a different academic background and tradition.  Different sources, including faculty members will say conflicting things or what they say may be interpreted differently and because language and conventions evolve, which is impossible to predict a connectivism approach can help to understand the Foreign language and western ‘system’ of education.  Perceiving language as a network of networks (e.g. how morphology relates to the syntactic, lexical, and phonological networks etc).  In EAP, there is a need to connect the concept of plagiarism, with citing and referencing and with the concept of academic honesty in research and knowledge sharing.  They need to navigate the array of internet sources of research findings and the importance of networks is nowadays highly emphasised when it comes to conducting their own research.  For language learners, networks are a means of practicing skills such as writing and speaking through the ties they form online.  There are many networks that provide answers to queries about language use and meaning.   

For language learners, Veselá (2013, p7) writes how language content can be divided according to the Siemens’ principles:

  • data (e.g. irregular forms of past tense)
  • information (meaning and use of these forms)
  • knowledge (ability to use these forms in context)
  • meaning (past tense in the context of the English tense system and the possibilities of how to express it)

Whether a foreign language or a foreign academic culture, learners need to decode, understand, and connect new nodes of learning with former ones.

Veselá (2013, p8) does a useful take of the definition of connectivism from an ESOL viewpoint (I've added a column for EAP):


 Connectivist Principles



Connectivism is based on the diversity of viewpoints

In language, the diversity can be seen in meanings of a word, a phrase, or a sentence in various contexts, as well as its variants (regional, social...).

In academia, criticality is paramount – being able to dissect various viewpoints in arriving at an educated thesis

Learning is a process of creating connections among the nodes or information resources


The connecting of nodes and language networks is described above. In foreign language education it is important to use a variety of information resources

In primary research originality is vital, for that you need to know all that is out there and be up on what’s going on. You need connections for that.

Education may reside in non-human appliances


E-learning uses the systems for education that work without human interference. It is necessary to exploit their potential (e.g. multichannel input – sound, picture, motion, feedback etc.).

Non-human appliances enable the researcher to collate, organise and cross-reference all existing data in ways undreamt of just decades ago.

Capacity of potential knowledge is more important than the amount of the actual knowledge

Learning a foreign language is a field in which we can never say that we have learnt it.

Researchers are forever meant to be pushing the boundaries of knowledge through their own practice as researchers, whilst continually challenging what’s seen as existing knowledge

Maintenance of connections is important for continuous learning

Our ability requires continual practice. One must add new nodes and connections, also maintain and update old ones.

As soon as a researcher is out of contact with current streams of research in their field, they become isolated and their own work loses currency

The ability to see connections is the basic skill


Mastery of a foreign language is about fluency in the connections in the language networks.

Very often researchers’ conclusions and claims fall short of the benchmarks of accuracy, reliability and validity, replicability etc

Currency and accuracy are the aim of connectivist activities

It is necessary to use the sources of the language in current use.

Seminal work apart, research is advancing so quickly, currency must be proven against the benchmark of the most up to date and authoritative sources

Decision making process is a part of learning

The possibility to choose is an important factor of the foreign language education. The motivation increases when the learner decides not only about the language, he/she will learn, but also about the field in the case of learning a foreign language for specific purposes

An example is that often my students’ first choice is Wikipedia, despite all the encouragement we give them to choose other sources (through studies show Wikipedia is a reliable source it is not authoritative).


So despite my early skepticism, having studied on MOOCs for a few years now, I can see how the principals of connectivism are both reflected in MOOCs I’ve studied on and can provide the basis of effective learning. When thinking about our use of technology in education we can use its principles to guide and evaluate the tasks and activities we use.



George Siemens – Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, Journal of Instructional Technology: https://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.ht

Downes, S. (2005). An introduction to connective knowledge [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=33034.

Downes, S. (2005, December 22). An introduction to connective knowledge [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=33034.

Connectivism has been disseminated through a book (George Siemens, 2006b), a series of articles (Downes, 2005, 2006a, 2006b, 2007a, 2008; Siemens, 2004, 2005, 2006a), blog posts at http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/ and http://www.connectivism.ca/, a large number of presentations  at conferences and workshops (see http://www.elearnspace.org/presentations.htm and http://www.downes.ca/me/presentations.htm), and through two instances of multiple open online courses (MOOCs) titled Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, held in 2008 (CCK08 http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2008/10/30/connectivism-course-cck08/)  and 2009 (CCK09 http://ltc.umanitoba.ca/connectivism/?p=198).

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Henry James Robinson

B. F. Skinner a la 21st Century Language Classroom

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2020, 12:45


PicturesSource: https://www.edgalaxy.com/journal/2019/11/4/a-teachers-guide-to-blooms-taxonomy

This week we were asked to review the work of B.F. Skinner.  I did so from the point of view of the language teacher:


From the point of view of the language teacher, the overall strength of Skinner's (Skinner, 1953) work is as a foundation for making the understanding of both normal and aberrant human behaviour less of a field for the charlatan and the superstitious and giving it a more scientific basis and thus professionalizing the field of Psychology.   We can say that his theories were strong since they still form many of the bases for current practice in language acquisition,  and teaching still used today.  With the work of researchers like Skinner, these areas are seen as more credible if they are based on scientific research and help eliminate 'intuition' and 'experience' accepted knowledge about effective pedagogy.  In other words, Skinner’s concepts of operant conditioning (learning can be aided by the use of rewards and punishments) and classical conditioning (we learn by associating events) were the blueprints for evidence-based applications in behaviorism.  This was a departure from the idea that we learned language chiefly via a language learning node in our brains and encouraged us to think of language acquisition and development as something that can be influenced by teachers and learners. Hence, teachers' application of behaviourist methods involves teacher-centered presenting information, asking questions, providing positive reinforcement for correct answers and repetition. Teachers adopting a behaviorist mindset see curricula as a teaching guideline, where text-based exercises of increasing difficulty are regularly repeated and reviewed.  This is reflected in the work of behaviourists such as Bloom (1956) and Gagné (1965), whose work is also still dominant in education.  


As already mentioned above, from the language teacher's perspective, Skinner's theories when applied to pedagogy focuses too much on the 'nurture' side of the nature/nurture debate. It could lead to the conclusion that all behaviour is learned but cognitive and biological elements have been proven to also affect learning.  Hence 'readiness' is also a big factor in learning and reminds us that learning cannot always be 'forced'.  Nature accounts for why adults are not able to acquire language as easily and deeply as children, for example.   Some other limitations are that behaviouism can only be taken so far.  Not all behaviours are observable.  Behaviourism It can never account for all learning or all behaviours in a learning context.  . If we believed that as teachers and acted accordingly, did, it could be deemed immoral -  condoning extreme punishments and treating people like robots. Behaviorism doesn’t clearly Explain how we Learn through Social Interaction and critical thinking is recognised or encouraged.

Predictions / Implications

As hinted above, humans are not robots and Skinner's theories could be interpreted to be going that way if applied in the wrong way. However, could it be that in the future we will be able to hack into the human mind and 'improve' learning a la Skinner - programming humans behave in set ways to certain stimuli?   One thing some would argue can be predicted is that many of the pedagogical practices inspired by Skinner will still be present in 10-20 years' time.   We can predict this based on some of the research we are aware of now. Research by (Murtonena, Gruber, and Lehtinen, 2017), for example, found that behaviourist tradition is still evident in 21st-century learning outcomes studies; 40% of articles studied referred uncritically to the behaviouristic epistemology and only 8% of the articles were critical towards the behaviourist tradition.  

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Henry James Robinson

Week 3: A theory for eLearning

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Edited by Henry Robinson, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2020, 12:48

Graphic representation of students using technology connected via a network of lines.

Strange week, what with the school inspectors coming from Nursultan and international staff still speculating on their futures in the face of your typical post-Soviet need limit even the most basic information to those at the base of the hierarchy, even if it shoots you in your own foot.  This was the week when suddenly local teachers (just to appear to be following policy) wanted in on my classes, even though I had been shouting and screaming for team teaching all year to no avail.   

This week we were asked to read Nichols' (2003), A theory for eLearning, and review his 10 eLearning hypotheses.

It was really interesting reading because it puts the reader in the position of looking back at how much eLearning has developed since those times, whilst at the same time, in many instances, showing us how far we can potentially go, as in some ways, not much has changed.   At the same time, Nichols provides a retrospective on the two decades prior to its writing, with references as far back as the early eighties, when distance learning and more dislocated and email contact with your tutor were such an innovative break from learning only in the four walls of colleges and universities.  We can see how focussed theorists were in those days by how staunchly most of the hypotheses have weathered time since then. For example, the major terms and concepts (pg 2-3) of Online learning; eLearning; Mixed-mode/blended/resource-based learning; Web-based, Web-distributed or Webcapable and Learning Management System (LMS).  

Hypothesis 1: eLearning is a means of implementing education that can be applied within varying education models (for example, face to face or distance education) and educational philosophies (for example behaviourism and constructivism).
Hypothesis 2: eLearning enables unique forms of education that fits within the existing paradigms of face to face and distance education.
Hypothesis 3: The choice of eLearning tools should reflect rather than determine the pedagogy of a course; how technology is used is more important than which technology is used.
Hypothesis 4: eLearning advances primarily through the successful implementation of pedagogical innovation.
Hypothesis 5: eLearning can be used in two major ways; the presentation of educational content, and the facilitation of education processes.
Hypothesis 6: eLearning tools are best made to operate within a carefully selected and optimally integrated course design model.
Hypothesis 7: eLearning tools and techniques should be used only after consideration has been given to online vs offline trade-offs.
Hypothesis 8: Effective eLearning practice considers the ways in which end-users will engage with the learning opportunities provided to them.
Hypothesis 9: The overall aim of education, that is, the development of the learner in the context of a predetermined curriculum or set of learning objectives, does not change when eLearning is applied.
Hypothesis 10: Only pedagogical advantages will provide a lasting rationale for implementing eLearning approaches.

I fully agree with most of the hypotheses, mainly because I have used eLearning to achieve teaching/learning goals quite extensively and so I have experience of the basic hypotheses - that is is a method rather than an approach in itself and can fit with different approaches - online and face-to-face or 'situated'.  In course H880, we learned in theory and in practice how pedagogy should determine its use, not technology determining the pedagogy.  So, hypothesis 4, that ‘eLearning advances primarily through the successful implementation of pedagogical innovation’ resonates with me because pedagogical innovation is far more interesting to me that technology as, for one,  in my teaching context, technological innovation is limited by institutional (e.g. restrictions on the use of phones in the classroom - unlike in some university contexts in which I've worked) and there are fewer opportunities and resources to use technology (again, unlike in some university contexts in which I've worked).  Therefore, I get more out of developing my approaches to teaching and I find it more interesting anyway as for me, it is the essence of the teaching role - not promoting the latest app or hardware, which might be eye-catching and engaging at first, but whose novelty soon wears off. 

I may take some issue with the 'absolutist' terms in which eLearning is referred to in hypotheses 6 and 9, where a course comprises a pre-selected format and content (I guess that could be argued to be a top-down approach, using a traditional course design method).  Though I am not sure whether the model has ever been ever successfully applied and adopted longterm by any institution, connectivism (e.g. Siemens, 2005 and Downs, 2005) is a more bottom-up approach, with learning more tailored to the individual's personal learning network (PLN).  It constitutes a completely different proposition in terms of course 'design' and of course, it did not emerge until 2 years after the writing of the Nichols (2003) article.  As well as reading the articles below, the reader can learn more about connectivism by studying the section on this learning theory from the FutureLearn course, Learning in the Network Age

Downes, S. (2006). Learning networks and connective knowledge. Collective intelligence and elearning, 20, 1-26. Chicago
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: Learning as network-creation. ASTD Learning News, 10(1). Chicago
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Chicago

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