Thursday, 19 March 2015

Questions on Pedagogic Research #LTHEChat 17 (with visuals)

Last night's #LTHEChat on Pedagogical Research (PedR) was as lively as ever, and expertly facilitated by guest Anna Wood (and not so expertly by myself, being distracted with talk of biscuits!).

The questions guiding the discussion were as follows:

  1. What do you think PedR is? What isn’t PedR? #LTHEchat
  2. Has pedagogic research influenced your teaching practice? Directly/Indirectly?  #LTHEchat
  3. What do you think PedR can tell us? #LTHEchat
  4. Who should do PedR - subject specialists or education faculty? Have you considered doing PedR yourself? - e.g. Action Research #LTHEchat
  5. What benefits might there be to doing PedR for you/your colleagues/your students? #LTHEchat
  6. What barriers exist for teachers to getting involved in PedR? #LTHEchat  What support could be offered to overcome these barriers?

As you might expect there were lots of interesting discussions coming out of these questions. I picked up on a few points such as:
  • Do those from different backgrounds think about PedR differently? In my experience Medics and scientists struggle to think about PedR (or educational research) in comparison with their familiar very scientific approaches to research. Is PedR a bit fluffy?
  • How is the importance placed on PedR impacted by the emphasis on the REF?
  • And somewhat related, where is the time and (financial?) support to engage in PedR?


As the visuals demonstrate, @annkwood was a key figure in the chat, but we can also see a lot of direction towards a few other 'regulars'. It was also interesting to see 'experts' in this area engaging, such as @RossKGalloway.  


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The Reed Diaries by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Where do all these technologies fit?

So earlier in the week, Apple announced the pricing for their new watches, ranging from a few hundred pound up to a ridiculous £8000 for the gold model. I was thinking about how Apple have been so influential in the tech industry, particularly over the past 5-10 years - is the watch going to be another example? Personally I don't foresee buying one - I wear a pretty nice Breitling so what's the point? People who like watches like watches, right? So unless ApplePay really kicks off over in the UK, why buy one? A glorified heart rate monitor?

We'll see.

Take the iPad as another example though. The market for such a product wasn't even there until they created one. It was unbelievable, and I was one of those many people who run about like a lunatic to get one. [I drove to Leeds (from Liverpool) to get mine that weekend - probably the last one in the country!].

But now I'm thinking about how I use technology in my own workflows and wondering, beyond the hype of the products, 'what do I actually need and use'?

My use of my work-bought iPad is definitely in decline. I only tend to use it when I go to meetings to make notes, etc, but it actually isn't the easiest for multitasking. In meetings I'll often switch from Evernote to a word doc stored in Dropbox, and then search for an email to find something, and then maybe over to Safari to look something up. Of course this is all possible using the iPad, but it's still a bit cumbersome.

I think the developments in laptop computing, most notably the portability, might really impact on iPad usage. I've just got a new Macbook Air which I love, and as I'm a Mac user anyway (in the office and at home) I can do the multitasking things much quicker and easier. I actually find the full Mail app easier and better than the iPad version anyway, and I can type and multitask much quicker on the MBA keyboard than the iPad. And to be honest, it's not that much bigger or heavier anyway.

I don't know, perhaps I'm being unfair in comparing a £1000+ product with a £300+ product, but I'm beginning to struggle to see why I would be reliant upon a tablet.

Is the iPad becoming a glorified eReader or GameBoy?

Am I the only one thinking these things?

Of course specific implementations within education are a different kettle of fish, and apps and interactive eBooks can have a huge impact on learning, teaching and assessment. Still, there are many initiatives focussing on buying laptops instead of tablets. So perhaps I'm not the only one after all...

Finally, I think these reflections align with Haythornthwaite's (2006) discussion on technological development. "Similar technologies can take dissimilar forms ....depending on the contexts in which they are implemented" (p3).

To what extent does technology determine our behaviour or does our behaviour determine the technology?


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The Reed Diaries by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

Friday, 6 March 2015

10 days of Twitter at Liverpool #LivUni10DoT

For quite some time I've been interested in running the 10 Days of Twitter course at Liverpool, and I've finally got off my backside to organise it. We'll be starting #LivUni10DoT on Monday 16th March and using a dedicated wordpress site -

#10DoT was the brainchild of Helen Webster (@scholastic_rat) and as she demonstrates on her site, has had various iterations run at institutions all over the place. In particular, I've been impressed with the latest iteration and updates run at York St. John University - #YSJ10DoT.

As Helen licensed the course using Creative Commons, she's more than happy for people to run it themselves. If you want to follow along with us at Liverpool, feel free to get involved. Follow us at the wordpress site and on Twitter.

In getting this together, two key things have come to mind:

1) Repurposing an open course like #10DoT isn't that easy - it's taken quite a lot of time to set up, format, include new images, etc, etc.
2) I think initiatives like this course are a great way to start conversations around using social media. I've been asked to chair a working group to review our SoMe policies and guidance which will inevitably open up a range of further discussions. How do we educate students around developing digital, professional identities? How do we inform them about safeguarding? How do we encourage academics and students to converse on these types of platforms?

Lots to get to grips with, but in the meantime have a look at our #LivUni10DoT course.

Site -
Twitter - @LivUni10DoT


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The Reed Diaries by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

Monday, 2 March 2015

Hygiene factors: Using VLE minimum standards to avoid student dissatisfaction (publication)

Advertisement for Great Expectations in All the Year Round.
It's been a while since I blogged about the work we've done around student expectations of technology and VLE minimum standards/baselines.

To summarise, I conducted a staff and student survey to gauge opinions and experiences around a range of areas related to technology in learning and teaching, and in particular the introduction of a baseline for the VLE. I canvassed the community to see what others were doing in this area (something which @philvincent has recently picked up);  compared staff and student responses to my questionnaire; and shared how we are automating some of our baseline content. The ELESIG Small Grant Scheme also helped me along the way.

Looking at the data brought back some earlier discussions with Mark Stubbs and Neil Ringan from my time at MMU, and I began to apply Herzberg's notion of Hygiene Factors to minimum standards - some of the more basic 'things' can prevent dissatisfaction, but won't necessarily cause satisfaction.

Well having presented about this a couple of times, I've had an article published with a colleague Simon Watmough in eLearning and Digital Media. It's available through their OnlineFirst page, where they make articles available immediately ahead of print. Simon has done lots of work analysing our NSS results so we've managed to integrate some of this into the article.

I've been planning on running some focus groups with students to really pick the bones of this a bit more - what do students want; why; how do they access it and where from? Hopefully we'll get these going properly soon and have much more to write about. For now though, here's the abstract to the paper and feel free to go access the full text version...

Inconsistency in the use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) has led to dissatisfaction amongst students and is an issue across the Higher Education sector. This paper outlines research undertaken in one faculty within one university to ascertain staff and student views on minimum standards within the VLE; how the VLE could reduce student dissatisfaction; and to propose a conceptual framework surrounding student satisfaction with the VLE.
A questionnaire was sent to staff and students asking if they agreed with the need to introduce minimum standards in the VLE and what criteria they wanted. The National Student Survey (NSS) results were analysed for six schools within the faculty over a 4-year period. Many of the NSS results were relevant to developing minimum standards with the VLE.
The questionnaire results showed the vast majority of staff and students favour the introduction of minimum standards and identified specific items that should be included, for example handbooks, contact information for staff, access to previous modules, assessment information, further reading, etc. The NSS data showed that students wanted lectures available in the VLE, improved feedback, more computers for students and information about cancelled sessions/timetable changes in the VLE.
The results suggest the presence of many minimum standards may reduce student dissatisfaction with the VLE. However, a distinction is made between those pre-potent factors that cause dissatisfaction and those that lead to satisfaction, using Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory as a theoretical basis.
When considering minimum standards as ‘hygiene factors’, their presence can prevent student dissatisfaction and provide the foundations for innovation in technology-enhanced learning.


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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Difficulties in Developing Online Learning

iPad image CC BY Flickr user Official GDC
I've been thinking about the difficulties in developing online learning for a while, and a few months back questioned what innovation in online learning actually looked like. Well good old David Hopkins has stirred those thoughts at a very timely point for me. Although he discusses learner engagement in MOOCs,  I'm trying to transfer good practice to a number of completely online, credit bearing modules at Liverpool. And if MOOCs aren't the innovative solution to online learning we thought they were, what is the answer and how do we apply that to our formal taught modules?

Many of the modules/programmes I'm currently looking at are aimed at full time employees in various healthcare settings. For example we have an Acute Oncology module which attracts Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS), Registrars, etc; and we also have a Transplant Science module, which has recruited transplant surgeons and nephrologists from all over the world.

But as someone who is involved in so many different discussions about innovation in learning and teaching, I'm stuck when I think about how these modules would be truly classed as innovative (with existing resources of course). The theoretical models are all too familiar e.g. Laurillard and Salmon, but in practice this translates to a combination of: some form of delivering content (recorded lecture of some kind); further reading; a quiz; and a discussion forum.

That's not really 'all that', is it? I'm toying with integrating more visuals and interactive scenarios, etc to really factor in some of the multimedia learning theory (I've covered Mayer's work earlier), but I'd love to know what other people think about this, and even what they do when building online courses, MOOCS, etc. There are innovative solutions to open, online CPD (through experimenting with pedagogies and technologies), but I often find that University QA processes aren't too forgiving when it comes to things like that. They tend to like things that can be accountable - they like solid learning outcomes, definitive schedules and predetermined assessment strategies.

So how can we innovate? Or do these traditional Institutional process hamper our ability to do so?


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Wednesday, 18 February 2015

on Mayer's Multimedia Learning...

As I'm currently working on developing some online modules, I thought I'd put this post out, which is actually something I wrote about 3 or 4 years ago introducing and critiquing some multimedia learning theory.

'Instructional development is too often based on what computers can do rather than on a research-based theory of how students learn with technology’
The quote above comes from Richard Mayer discussing Multimedia Learning: someone widely cited in eLearning publications, and whose work I have wanted to read in more depth for a long time. Having done so in recent weeks, I have had various thoughts about his Multimedia Learning and Generative Theory....

Some background info

Mayer advocates cognitive approaches to learning, and identifies Dual Channels for information processing in humans - a visual channel (to process images, animations, etc) and a verbal channel (to process written and spoken words, etc). The cognitive phases Select information for processing by the dual channels; Organise verbal and visual representations; and finally Integrates, or builds connections between verbal and pictorial models with prior knowledge.

His research supports this notion, suggesting targeting both channels can increase learning (defined as applying creative solutions to problem solving) by 50%. In developing multimedia resources for learners, Mayer suggests three critical principles for reducing cognitive load, assisting human's limited capacity for information processing, and to encourage effective learning and knowledge construction:

Spatial contiguity: learning is more effective when words and images are presented closer together (a bit Gestalt-ey);
Temporal contiguity: learning is more effective when words and pictures are presented simultaneously;
Modality contiguity: learning is more effective when verbal information is presented auditory with pictures, over text with pictures. However, if there are no images/animations, text with audio narration can still target the dual channels.

This is certainly interesting for anyone developing online/multimedia learning materials, and something I will personally consider more thoughtfully. However.....

Concern 1: Classroom teaching 

In 'The Promise of Multimedia Learning', Mayer alludes that multimedia learning is more effective than learning within a classroom, suggesting it is a 'single-medium' presentation; that is, relying solely on words - the verbal channel.

However, I can't help but feel this is a misguided representation on classroom learning - it doesn't account for the variety of innovative approaches that can be utilised within the classroom. Social, experiential, problem based, and technology-enhanced approaches can all make for effective learning experiences within the classroom. For example, in learning the workings of a bicycle pump, Mayer suggests descriptive images/animations supported with audio is most effective, but doesn't consider the potential learning experiences if students could actually use the pump in real life, and dismantle it to see the inner workings.

Whilst I advocate the multimedia approaches, I think it is important educators don't get carried away with suggestions like this, and do actually challenge pre-existing presumptions of student learning. For as great as it is, multimedia (and eLearning in general) is not a panacea or answer to solve every learner's (and learning) problem!

Concern 2: Learning in isolation

Such Multimedia 'packages' suggest we learn in isolation i.e alone. Does Mayer recognise the importance and potential of social learning? Or does he refute it? Embedding such content within a VLE can offer a range of social possibilities through the use of discussion forums, chat and web conferencing; to share experience and help construct knowledge and meaning.

Concern 3: Subject matter

Mayer suggests;
‘Contiguous presentation of visual and verbal material may be most important when the material is a cause-and-effect explanation of a simple system, when the learners are inexperienced, and when the goal is meaningful learning’
So this therefore raises questions of transferability. Will following his principles for other situations, such as learning about 19th century literature, produce the same outputs? What if there are no cause-and-effect explanations to draw upon?

Concern 4: Freedom

In Clarke and Mayer (2011), the authors suggest;
"Because the metaphor of the Internet is high learner control, allowing learners to search, locate, and peruse thousands of Internet sites, a tempting pitfall is to create highly exploratory learning environments that give learners an unrestricted license to navigate and piece together their own unique learning experiences. One lesson we have learned from over fifty years of research on discovery learning is that it rarely works."

But this flies in the face of much of the current thinking around encouraging learners to search, find, review and select appropriate information. Michael Wesch is a popular figure advocating such skills, and a diverse bank of research into tools such as Second Life and digital literacies would equally encourage such discovery approaches.

Should we spoon-feed our students or provide a structure to enable them to solve problems and find certain things out for themselves? They won't be spoon fed in the world of work, so failing to prepare them here, is preparing them to fail in the real world!


I think the essence of Mayer's work stands true, and does have a place in education today. For example, I see the development of OERs as a clear area that could benefit from insight into Mayer's research, taking note of contiguity effects to reduce cognitive load. However ultimately, these objects might be repurposed and placed alongside other materials and activities to encourage a more holistic learning experience.

In relation to OERs (and that will take it's own post completely at some point), Windle et. al (2011) suggests learners value self-assessment; self paced learning; and use for revision of 'difficult' areas - together then, we can obtain a clear picture or framework for developing reusable content.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the above, so please get in touch either in the comments, by email or on twitter.



Mayer, R. E., & Gallini, J. K. (1990) When is an illustration worth ten thousand words? Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(4), 715-726. doi:10.1037//0022-0663.82.4.715

Mayer, R. E. (1997) Multimedia Learning : Are We Asking the Right Questions ? Educational Psychology, 32(1), 1-19.

Mayer, R. E. (2003) The promise of multimedia learning: using the same instructional design methods across different media. Learning and Instruction, 13(2), 125-139. doi:10.1016/S0959-4752(02)00016-6

Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003) Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. Psychology, 38(1), 43-52.

Windle, R. J., McCormick, D., Dandrea, J., & Wharrad, H. (2011). The characteristics of reusable learning objects that enhance learning: A case-study in health-science education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(5), 811-823. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01108.x

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Monday, 16 February 2015

Research Skills: My use of Google Scholar & Mendeley #phdchat

I've been asked to present at our Staff-Student Digital Literacies (LearnIT) event this week on the theme of Digital Research. I don't consider myself particularly good in this area but happy to share my experience.

There are many workflows and programmes out there and lots of people will disagree on what works best for them. So this just happens to be what works well for me.

I've recorded a short screencast on this, but essentially it's made up of using Google Scholar to identify articles - sometimes by the metrics option but also by general searches and viewing academic profiles for published work (the video only covers metrics though). Then I'll either use the Mendeley import tool or just download the article, drag and drop into Mendeley and annotate away. It's a god-send that Mendeley automatically recognises the journal citation details (author, date, volume, etc) - well 99% of the time it does anyway.

Then in Word I'll use the Mendeley plugin to insert citations and add my bibliography. It works super easy which is why I like it so much and as long as you use Mendeley for all your articles, you literally can't go wrong. I love it and use it for any writing project I'm working on. I suspect this will be my best friend as I'm embarking on PhD studies.

There are lots of other features of both Scholar and Mendeley that I haven't mentioned - the Mendeley groups for example, can be a good way to learn more about work in specific areas. Oh, and the iPad app works like a charm if you want to do your reading/annotating that way.

Anyway, take a peek at my video below and/or head over to Mendeley to grab it for free yourself. Oh, and I'd love to see how other people manage similar processes so why not blog your own workflows or just leave a comment below.


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