Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Shouldn't we being encouraging 'social' more?

Flickr Photo CC BY by DaveFayram
I've blogged a few times recently about the focus of my PhD - social networking in UG Medical Education.

Many philosophers have considered actions a result of society. Durkheim's classical work suggests suicide is a social, rather than personal, 'phenomenon'. Further when we think of things like the Toxteth Riots here in Liverpool, the Occupy movement or indeed the London Riots a few years back, they are certainly social movements (with reports that social networking sites were used to coordinate elements of the latter).

If so much of the world, including a seemingly personal action such as suicide, is actually a result of society, to what extent is education and 'achievement' (without wanting to philosophise over what achievement actually is or should be)? We see a lot of espoused theories in education towards social constructivist pedagogy, and plenty of mentions of Communities of Practice, but do we really think about how social relationships affect learning?

It's early stages in my PhD but I've come across a couple of really interesting articles that I wanted to put some words against.

The concept of homophily refers to the 'tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others', and research into how students (in these cases UG Med students) form social networks (outwith the technology) demonstrates some interesting and significant patterns.
  • Homophily impacts academic achievement - we're more likely to behave, and perform, similar to those people we are close with. 
  • Studies of social networking generally find clustering by race and ethnicity (and I presume religious groups too). This is homophily in action:

"A student may use ethnicity as a surrogate for beliefs and attitudes, presuming – possibly erroneously – that because someone is a member of their own ethnic group, they hold similar values to themselves, and also presuming that people from a different ethnic group hold different values. (Woolf, et al; 2012, p584)."

  • When medical students include certain types of people in the personal learning networks, they perform better in summative assessments e.g. academic staff; students from subsequent years of study; or those professionals who they might meet whilst on placement (junior doctors, consultants, etc).
  • You would automatically think forming tight knit groups are a good thing for undergraduate students, but in the learning context, the information an individual node might come across is limited by the nodes they connect with, and with the concept of homophily, they may already have access to that information anyway. It is those people that 'bridge' these tight networks that perform better. This is Granovetter's concept of 'strength of weak ties', as these nodes can help information flow between networks. Ultimately they have access to a broader range of information to learn from and apply - without them there wouldn't be a complete network as the tight groups would be limited to themselves. 
  • Social Capital is similar here - the more people that connect with me, is related to the amount of information I am open to.

So considering that, I've got a few questions:

  1. If there are such definite links between engaging in social networks and better performance, shouldn't we be encouraging 'social' a bit more? 
  2. Shouldn't we encourage the breaking down of tight knit networks in favour of being a bit more open? This might even help issues of racism by encouraging integration in academic life (although I have no data to hand which suggests racism is active or otherwise in university life).
  3. We know the potential of technology to support social networking, so why aren't we doing more to encourage students to take advantage of it? Least of all, how can there possibly by antipathy towards the use of social networks?
  4. Of course with encouraging the use of social networking sites, we must also educate students as to how to conduct themselves appropriately; how to safeguard; and how to develop a lasting professional identity. This happens in pockets across the sector. We need to do more.

There's lots more with this came from...



Granovetter, M. (1973). The Strength of Weak Ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360–1380.

Woolf, K., Potts, H. W. W., Patel, S., & McManus, I. C. (2012). The hidden medical school: a longitudinal study of how social networks form, and how they relate to academic performance. Medical Teacher, 34(7), 577–86.

Vaughan, S., Sanders, T., Crossley, N., O’Neill, P., & Wass, V. (2015). Bridging the gap: the roles of social capital and ethnicity in medical student achievement. Medical Education, 49(1), 114–23.

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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

VLE Minimum Standards - what do students want? Comparing institutional responses...

So as people who read my blog will know, at Liverpool we've spent some time looking to implement a VLE baseline, and I've personally done some work to find out what our students want to be included in said baseline.

I know this is an area of interest across the sector and I've had conversations about my work with quite a few people over the past year or so. The guys over at the TEL team at York St. John, spearheaded by that +Philip Vincent of course, are building on some of my work and have recently posted another great post considering what their students want. Interestingly they've built on my main survey question, which offered students a list of 'criteria' and asked them to select those that they think should be included.

Of course the difficulty in interpreting questions like this is that some students will automatically just select everything, but thankfully my data (and I think that of YSJ) shows this isn't the case for everyone.

Anyway, the point of this post is to draw attention to the great work over at YSJ, but also to show a little comparison between survey responses. Sample sizes differ a little (UoL n=840: YSJ n=100) but the data is still very valid!  The YSJ question offers some additional options and have worded a couple slightly different to mine, but I've done my best to align what I could. I'd still recommend you head over and see the full post from YSJ though.

It looks like my UoL students are a bit more demanding than the YSJ respondents. Could this be based on expectations of a Russell Group perhaps? Could it be a discipline difference, as my respondents all came from my Faculty, which includes Dentistry, Medicine, Vet Science, Life Science, Health Sciences and Psychology? Beyond all that, it just can be difficult comparing across two very different institutions. As I've postulated elsewhere, I wonder if most of these criteria are more related to preventing dissatisfaction rather than actually leading to satisfaction - yes, they're different!

It would be really great if other institutions could form similar research and build on the basics of my options. That way we could get some broad data to get a better picture of what our students are really asking for!

Enough for now - I'm on leave! Go read that YSJ piece!


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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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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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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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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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