Learning to swim… again

Over the last two weeks I’ve been teaching myself to breathe on alternate sides while doing front crawl. This hasn’t been easy; I’ve been a left-sided breather since I learned to swim properly in 2000 at the age of 21.

(A brief explanation: I refused to swim on my front at school – my eyesight was so poor I wouldn’t take my glasses off. The teachers just left me to churn up and down the pool on my back, and then – after six weeks – told me I had failed to meet the National Curriculum requirements for KS2, which I was rather upset about, as I’d worked very hard on my treading-water technique and my backstroke was beautiful. It was the first thing I’d failed.)

For the last 13 years I’d been taking a breath every other stroke, and it had started bothering me. I don’t need to breathe quite that often, so I knew I wasn’t swimming as efficiently as I could do, and I suspected my one-sided technique was making me… well… one-sided.

So, two weeks ago I kicked off, took my normal breath on the left, then stroked right, left, and then a breath on the right, and was rewarded with a mouthful of pool water. I valiantly swallowed, gasped in some air on the left and kept trying.

It was exhausting. I was having to lift my head so far out of the water on the right hand side to actually get any air that I was using much more energy than normal, and therefore needed even more air. I had to start examining exactly what I was doing on the ‘left-breathe’ that made it possible for me to breathe without lifting my head. This was very difficult, as I had to start examining something that I’d been doing unconsciously for several years. I couldn’t *see* what it was I was doing, and I could barely feel it either, because my muscles were working on autopilot.

The first breakthrough was my leading arm; on the ‘left-breathe’ I realised I was timing the main part of the downwards push so that it coincided exactly with the head tilt. This raised my whole upper body up fractionally, making it easier to take a breath. Once I figured this out, I managed to do around 20 lengths breathing on alternate sides, but boy it was difficult.

The next time I got into the pool, my body had become a bit more used to the idea, but swimming was still a lot more tiring than it had been before. I felt like I was going a little faster than I had been when I was breathing every other stroke, but every now and then I would still get a mouthful of water. I stuck at it for half a mile and then got out, feeling a bit encouraged and a bit frustrated too. Maybe my neck just couldn’t turn as much to the right as it could to the left? But I knew that didn’t make sense – it gets bent all over the place during my yoga classes. This wasn’t an issue with flexibility or strength – it had to still be something wrong with my technique.

The next time, I cracked it. I had to slow down my BACK arm; the act of bringing it out of the water and over my head was pushing my upper body down into the water. I had to ‘uncouple’ the two arms at the point when the front arm went IN and the back arm came OUT of the water, speeding up the front arm to push me up, and bringing the back arm over my head only once I’d taken my breath.

Going through this process has given me another perspective on learning, and reminded me of the following things:

  1. how hard it is to really examine and get an accurate picture of our current practice.
  2. how difficult it is to change current practice
  3. how unpleasant it is to step out of our comfort zone once we’ve found our ‘flow’, in order to try to find an even better kind of ‘flow’
  4. finishing on a positive – how great it feels on the other side.

Masters in Education – download my dissertation

Just a quick note to say I’ve finished my Masters in Education and I’m graduating at Bath Abbey on the 4th of July.

My final dissertation title was: How can a technology-rich Postgraduate Certificate curriculum influence the development of teachers’ digital literacy?

I licensed the work under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License (to view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/)

Here is the actual dissertation as submitted (in Word). I’m currently putting it into a more appropriate online format, and will be extending the work to other outputs in due course. But if you’re dying to get your hands on it asap, here you are… go crazy:

<Download Dissertation>

 

OLDSMOOC week 1 – Intentions

I’m planning to dabble in OLDSMOOC over the next nine weeks to supplement a learning design project that I have to do anyway. I’ve been working on a new unit for our MA programme on Open Educational Practice; it was a collaborative project to start with (and we got a little bit of funding for the JISC for it), but our team is relatively small, the unit still needs some honing and fleshing out, and… um… I have to start teaching it on February 25th…! That doesn’t mean I’m going to be dropping out of the course early – far from it – I think it’s at that point that my reflections on how things are going will benefit most from the OLDS community, and perhaps will benefit the community too.

 My colleagues John Casey, Chris Follows and John Jackson are also (I think) going to be somewhat engaged with the OLDS course, and I’m hoping that the course will give us a structure and additional motivation to move our OEP course on from what is currently only a set of topics and assignment briefs, onto something more solid.

FOTE12: Taking the social revolution forward

At FOTE09 I gave a presentation (‘The Social Revolution Needs You’) on how and why we as educators, staff developers and learning technologists might get people more involved in sharing their ideas and their practice with learning networks through tools like blogs. If you’re particularly interested you can watch the full recordingbut you might be better off with the short version, recorded earlier that year:

At the time, my ‘words of wisdom’ were based not so much on direct experience of teaching people to use such tools and networks, but on a theoretical exploration of the key issues, and my own experiences as a self-directed learner-blogger. Since then, blogging has become big news in education, and I now have a lot more influence in getting others involved.

In 2009 I had already started thinking about how certain skillsets (such as those required for reflective blogging within a network) should be embedded into PG Certs and other teaching courses. 12 months later, I had the opportunity to start putting my money where my mouth was when I made the leap over to work full-time in professional development, and in 2011 (probably without realising the shocking implications) UAL put me in charge of the core PG Cert units.

Last year I had 70 PG Cert candidates blogging in small, pre-defined groups. They had a different topic to research and respond to every month, and were also given further questions to prompt discussion. Here are three different examples of how they responded to one task:

http://pedabloggy.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2011/10/31/constructive-alignment-for-kids/
http://blue.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2011/10/29/who-am-constructive-alignment-october-task/
http://write.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2011/10/17/constructive-alignment/

These activities were compulsory, being self and peer-assessed according to criteria defined by the participants themselves and agreed by each group. Looking back, it seems phenomenal even to me what was achieved in these few months but at the time it felt like I was pulling my own teeth out. I’ve spoken about the challenges at various events over the summer and wrote briefly about the most painful aspects on my blog a few months ago. I’m currently writing up the experience in full for my Masters dissertation.

Essentially, what I was doing last year was exactly what I spoke about in 2009’s Blogging with Students video, and – looking back – I can identify where I needed to have followed my own advice more closely. I’m into my second year now as course leader and, while I haven’t changed much about the blogging tasks themselves, the platform used or the means of assessment, I’ve made significant changes to the way I introduce the tasks and the technology, particularly in the emphasis I now place on complexity as an intrinsic quality of the tasks, and the rationale for using a tool that seems, at first, unnecessarily complex. The pain of last year stemmed from the participants’ unrealistic expectations that things were going to be easy, probably compounded by my reassurance that this would be the case. I probably told them that because I thought that otherwise they would walk out of the room. My revised approach is to reassure them that reflective, networked blogging may be incredibly confusing, complex and emotionally disconcerting, that this is all normal, and they should try to not worry too much about it.

Reflections on new technical inductions for Academic Practice courses

Today was the first day’s teaching in the new academic year and, although I had small groups in both the morning and afternoon sessions, it felt pretty intense. I felt a little bit underprepared, but at the same time resigned to feeling that way; this was the first time I’d tried doing generic technical inductions for the main learning technologies we use on the Academic Practice courses, and the first time I’d done anything with Workflow, our Mahara-based e-portfolio tool, apart from playing around with it on my own.

The tools I introduced them to were:

Mahara e-portfolio (‘Workflow’)
WordPress/buddypress blogs (‘myblog.arts.’)
Blackboard (only a little bit)
Process Arts (demo only) – this is our funky video resource database. It’s ace.

I tried to keep things as active as possible, with a worksheet for each tool that participants worked through in sequence. The Workflow and blogs activities were focused on getting them setting up their accounts, profiles, adding and arranging content and making connections with groups and individuals. The Blackboard activities were more like a treasure hunt, as this year we’re mainly using it as a filing cabinet. I’ll post up a link to the worksheet here when I get back to the office.

In the meantime, here are my reflections on how it went:

As colleague John pointed out when we went for lunch, one of the really valuable things about doing these sessions is to remind ourselves how many barriers there are for some people in getting started with these technologies. While some teachers – particularly those who work in digital media – found them intuitive, there are so many little things we do without even thinking – e.g. opening a web browser, using cut/paste shortcuts – that we need to remember are not common knowledge and need to be made explicit. Another interesting phenomenon I noticed today is the ‘trigger-happy’ approach to using a new tool – the total opposite to not touching anything in case you break it; clicking on anything that looks like a hyperlink, magpie-style, and ending up somewhere a bit random. I wonder if this happens more often when I’m looking over someone’s shoulder and they feel under pressure to appear ‘up to speed’…

A couple of participants in the morning group got bogged down with finding a nice profile picture for their Workflow and blog accounts. I’d suggested if they didn’t have a pic of themselves they could access online they could pick something off flickrCC. I think online identity is important, and stamping your picture on something is a great way of feeling like you own it, but this took time away from other things. I also think having a picture of your real self has practical benefits for networking, especially on taught courses, so I’m going to suggest to the next group that they bring a profile pic with them on a data stick if they don’t have one they can pluck off the web during the session. Lots of the participants will have already encountered the wonders of Dropbox when preparing for their pre-course reading task, so they might want to stick one in there.

One important piece of feedback I got from today was that the participants weren’t actually aware of what kind of thing they’d be doing in the induction session! My bad… I think I was feeling that they’d been bombarded with so many long and complex instructions last week (about enrolment, pre-course tasks, tutor groups, workshop dates & locations, etc), I thought I’d just let them turn up in blissful ignorance. Point taken; it would have been useful for them to know roughly what they’d be doing!
The rest of the feedback I got was really positive – as I’d expect at this stage, as the few people who signed up for the first induction sessions would have been more likely to be keen and eager bunnies 😉

Also as I’d expected, we uncovered a couple of bugs and/or oddities in the systems during the sessions. There was, of course, the obligatory participant whose account wasn’t working – through no fault of their own – which always throws an almighty spanner in the works.

Something very lovely that happened during the sessions was that I got to meet a chap from the Digital Media office at Central St Martins (where we were running the sessions), who asked me what we were doing and told me about the work his team are doing with the production of moving image learning resources. They’re on twitter (@csm4d). It’s great to know about these pockets of activity and expertise as a lot of my students choose to create resource videos as part of their teaching development projects, or identify it as an area they want to explore.

Notes to self: Stuff I need to check with Resident CLTAD Superhero No.1 Mike Kelly:

  • Is there a way students can embed or link to content from Dropbox into their e-portfolio pages? There are about 1000 applications covered by the Embed.ly function, but not Dropbox.
  • When you bring the full text of a Journal into a 3-column Workflow page, it extends beyond the width of the column so the adjoining column overlaps it.
  • If the student can’t put anything in the Student ID field in their Workflow profile, why is it there?

And in Blackboard – when you try to send an e-mail to a particular student, there is a strange field below the selection box that names a student with an ‘Invalid Email’. What’s this all about? Also, the funky but rather outdated alt text in my interactive reading list doesn’t seem to be displaying.

On the worksheet – I need to make it clearer where to find ‘advanced options’ in the page access settings.

And that’s about it for now…

 

Residents & Visitors 2 #heanpl

In a nutshell (and partially for Dave White’s benefit, as he’s keen for evidence of impact on practice), here’s how the Visitors & Residents concept is influencing my practice:

The PG Cert course I lead is fairly complex. It demands participants use a number of different tools and platforms to create, share and communicate. Prior experience of these tools and ways of working varies.

This soundbite from one of the course participants illustrates a key concern:

“The course seems to be designed for students who are in front of a computer endlessly.  I find it difficult to navigate… instead of all sorts of online tricks it would have been useful to have a clearly laid out plan for how to get through the course.”

I don’t think it is right for me to expect everyone to behave as a Resident on the PG Cert course; what *is* important to me is that participants have a generally positive experience of learning with the assistance of technology; one that isn’t necessarily entirely on their terms, but has pushed their boundaries (while not being such an uncomfortable experience that they are turned off forever).

While it is certainly possible for a participant to get as much out of the course by working in Visitor mode as they would in Resident mode, through reflecting on the Visitor/Resident continuum I’ve become much more aware that the skills and knowledge required to set up subscriptions, feeds and notifications in a way that meets one’s needs as a Visitor are actually greater than those required by someone who is willing and able to live more of their life online. Residents are more likely to be able to figure this kind of stuff out anyway, even if they don’t need it as much.

So, at the moment, the main point of impact that Visitors/Residents has had on my practice is a) to improve the way I teach Visitor-focused skills and knowledge; setting up and using group feeds and subscriptions on the blogs, for example, and b) incorporating explicit discussion of working patterns and ‘degrees of residency’ during the group contract-setting session on Day 1.

Throughout the 2011/12 course I offered a few online seminars and produced a number of screencasts that dealt with issues like setting up group feeds and subscriptions as they arose. There was simply not enough time in the initial blog-setting session to cover them, and I was also painfully aware of overloading participants with too much ‘new stuff’. I still think these offerings will have a role to play but I suspect there is a core group of [let’s call them] Visitors who are simply not aware of them or motivated to engage with them. In 2012/13 I am going to incorporate longer (half day) technical induction sessions that lead participants not only through setting up their blog and writing their first post and comments, but also includes group and subscription settings too. Previously I saw these as less necessary skills than posting and commenting, but now I see how *not* emphasising them from the start has put those who choose to engage on a Visitor basis at a significant disadvantage.

Residents and Visitors (#heanpl)

It’s all go at the moment. Sandwiched between two final days of workshops with our PG Cert teacher-students, I spent Thursday in Oxford talking with Dave White, Alison le Cornu, Martin Weller, Dave Cormier and several others about the notion of  ‘online’ as a place where learners ‘visit’ or ‘reside’, and how we might use this idea to develop teaching practice.

At the start I thought the Visitor/Resident continuum was primarily about the degree of comfort learners have with the learning environment. What I have observed about my own student-teachers is that many of them ‘reside’ online in a social sense; they may feel ‘at home’ on Facebook, for example. They feel relatively safe there; they choose who they share their space with and feel that they have a sense of ownership of their space. They feel they have a sufficient degree of control over what goes on in that space. However, when they are working on the blog-based reading and discussion activities I’ve set them, or uploading their first video to Process Arts, they may not feel so much ‘at home’. They may feel their safety is being compromised as they share their thoughts and their work with the world, expose their uncertainties and open themselves up to judgement from their peers. They may not feel that they ‘own’ their space or their actions within it; although it is ‘their’ space, it is also NOT their space; I have instructed them to create the space and have dictated certain aspects of what happens within it.

So (still working within my initial understanding of the Visitor/Resident concept), I found myself asking whether it mattered that my student-teachers feel and behave like visitors rather than residents in our online learning spaces. Learning is not supposed to be comfortable; it requires the expansion of boundaries and questioning of assumptions. The last seven months have certainly been challenging for the learners I work with, but we got there, and I can honestly say it has been the most rewarding time of my life, seeing them change and grow. In addition to having grasped the fundamental concept that teaching is something that is best done with one’s mouth shut, many have also now realised that sharing their practice on the open web will not result in the sky falling on their heads. The others are at least peering around the doorframe and are on the way to crossing that particular threshold.

So at first, I thought the question I should be asking myself was whether I should prioritise the nudging of each learner towards the Resident end of the spectrum; helping them to feel more comfortable, safe and in control. I’ve concluded that I would like my student-teachers to feel a little more comfortable in the learning environment, to the point where they are more willing to persist with it, and the grade awarded for participation is not such a significant factor in their engagement. Fortunately I now have additional resources in the form of several hundred blog posts and over fifty three-minute videos that have been produced by the current cohort; these will come in handy next year when I need to model the online learning behaviours that are required to complete the course. In particular, I have good examples of blogs – and even videos – that have been completed anonymously using pseudonyms and other techniques. This is a much more appropriate stepping-stone to open practice than keeping a private blog or producing a video that remains on a CD.
I have tried to make plenty of space and time for open dialogue about the learning activities and tools/environments within the course, in order to deal with any anxieties. The feedback I received this week told me what I already suspected; firstly that the interim (formative) peer assessment sessions were incredibly valuable in surfacing and addressing the difficulties learners were experiencing, and perhaps these should come earlier in each unit. Secondly, the learners felt they needed more f2f time to gain familiarity with new tools and environments. The session on the first day where we get them to set up their blogs needs to be longer, so that they can experiment not only with writing, but also with commenting, changing settings and working with group and networking tools. They also need more technical support in producing videos for the web – in particular how to ensure a manageable file size. These changes have already been implemented in the 2012-13 schedule.

However… talking with Dave White during the afternoon, I began to realise that the visiting/residing distinction isn’t just about perceptions of comfort and safety, familiarity and control. It dawned on me that ‘residing’ is an immersed state of mind. Delegates on a residential course or conference, for example (or undergraduates living in halls for another), are engaged in the learning experience full-time. Although their engagement during that time is variable, it is persistent, and there is a blurring of the boundaries between formal and informal, professional and personal.

This realisation transformed and deepened how I saw the visiting/residing distinction as being useful for course design and teaching. Finding strategies that enable learners to feel a little more comfortable within the learning environment is one thing, but the fact remains that that each group of learners will vary in their ‘immersedness’. There will be numerous external factors impacting on the degree to which a learner chooses to engage with a course, and there should actually be no reason why – as a couple of people pointed out to me on Twitter on Thursday – why a ‘visitor’ cannot feel as comfortable engaging with a course, or learn as much, as a ‘resident’ might. This doesn’t mean my earlier reflections are defunct; I think taking steps to minimise the discomfort of all learners is a vital aspect of ensuring everyone’s needs are met. But it does serve as a reminder that my courses should not expect or require the total immersion implied in ‘residency’, but be inclusive of all learners.

Consumers and Producers in Higher Education

There was a lot of talk at the AUA conference this week about consumerism in Higher Education. While Anthony McClaran from QAA shared a ‘common sense’ perspective about the existence of the consumer relationship between students and universities, it seemed as if the rest of the panel, the backchannel and the delegates who took the mic generally felt that this was a very bad thing that we should fight against – or even that we should deny its existence.

Here is my perspective; we are all consumers. We all want stuff and take stuff from people. It stands to reason that, as fellow human beings we are on the other end of it too; people want things from us, and we often provide them. It’s a two-way street.

Now, constantly providing for people is not easy. Even if we collect a salary from it, it can feel relentless and unrewarding, and on occasion we may decide that the level of provision people expect from us is unsustainable. We may need to make changes so that our provision is more efficient, or our ‘consumers’ are empowered to find what they need without our help. Fair enough, you may say – but what about when we’re the consumer? How do we feel when we are seeking something from someone else and we are turned away? If we’re working within a structure where we are empowered to find the answers for ourselves, or in discussion with others – and those self-sought answers are seen to have value, then fine; we may learn to be content with our independence. But building these structures takes time.

Take the example of this conference. Imagine a few hundred people in a room, nodding sagely at the suggestion that students should be treated as co-creators of knowledge, and consumerism in HE should be crushed. Now let me share three things I heard or saw at that same conference, earlier that same day:

1. (surprised, mildly disapproving tone) ‘well, that’s a novel approach to a keynote, asking us to come up with the answers!’ [AUA delegate sitting next to me during Sarah Porter’s keynote]

2. ‘Well, I don’t know, that’s what I came to this session to find out!’ [AUA delegate in our workshop, during a group activity]

3. Please assess this session on:

a) Quality of Presentation and Delivery
b) Content
c) Overall

[standard AUA session evaluation proforma – N.B. these were the only three elements listed]

I hope these observations serve to illustrate what I’m trying to say; it all comes down to the Golden Rule; Treat others as you would expect to be treated. Don’t expect people to change their ‘consumerist’ attitudes and behaviours without the necessary infrastructure and a number of positive experiences to support a change in attitude. In the first two examples, previous conceptions of learning were being challenged – hopefully successfully, but given the design of the session evaluation forms we may never find out 😉

My old MA tutor Jack Whitehead taught me that thoughts and words are pretty useless without actions, so my action arising from these thoughts is going to be to get in touch with the AUA people to suggest they change their session evaluation forms for next year to focus on what the delegate did during the session (and what they may do as a result of it), rather than what the ‘presenter’ did. Any suggestions for how they might word that…? Answers below…?!

My Masters Dissertation

I’m on the home straight with my MA in Education, and I found some helpful questions in the dissertation bumpf that I thought I’d better ask myself:

What is my dissertation about (what’s my research question)?
Can regular peer- and self-assessed learning activities, completed through the medium of weblogs, encourage constructive collaboration between learners and associative thinking, increase understanding of assessment criteria and the benefits and challenges of peer assessment, and improve aspects of participants’ digital literacy?

Why is my topic interesting?
The use of blog-based learning activities has been trialled by a number of educators since the mid 2000’s. Like many educational technologies, blogging has weathered a period of hype and a subsequent backlash from users whose inflated expectations were not met. As educators’ collective understanding of the affordances and limitations of this technology improves, its use is now beginning to move into the mainstream, particularly in the professional and creative education sectors.

Key challenges and questions remain about the use of blogs in education; for example their limitations as a tool for facilitating discussion and the technical barriers to their use. Some (e.g. O’Donnell 2006, p8) have have made particular recommendations for their effective use. However, the question I am posing is not merely about the use of blogs in learning; it is also about the value of engaging learners with peer assessment and the selection and use of assessment criteria; teaching practices that are generally thought of as highly desirable for effective learning, but difficult to manage efficiently.

Is my research question a single question?
I have phrased it as such, but the current question specifies five different outcomes that I feel are worth measuring;

  • constructive collaboration between learners
  • associative thinking
  • understanding of assessment criteria
  • appreciation of benefits and challenges of peer assessment
  • aspects of digital literacy

This question requires me to research and present a hypothesis for each outcome. Evaluating each outcome will not be so much of a problem as I would be gathering data for each outcome from the same sources; the work produced by students through the blog-based learning activities and the final assessment task, and the results of focus groups, interviews and questionnaires.

Is my research question manageable within the time and word constraints of this dissertation?
I don’t think the range of outcomes being measured will make much of a difference to the time this study will take; however attempting to hypothesise and measure all five outcomes within 15,000 words may restrict the depth of the analysis.

An alternative I am considering is to focus purely on the digital literacy issue. I am currently closely involved in our institution’s JISC-funded Developing Digital Literacies project. In collaboration with the PG Cert participants I will be carrying out baselining of existing digital literacies, interventions to develop digital literacy (such as the introduction of the aforementioned blogging activities!), and evaluating the impact of these interventions on participants’ digital literacy. Documenting and discussing these activities and findings rigorously under the banner of a Masters’ dissertation, in addition to the report and resources that will be produced as outputs of the JISC-funded project, may add depth and purpose to the activity.

How is my topic related to gaps I am finding in the literature?
A sense that there is currently a gap in the pedagogic research literature is what is prompting me to study the combination of blog-based learning activities in distributed online environments with peer and self assessment. There are more and more studies beginning to emerge that deal with either one or the other. I recently spoke with Dr Jennie Paterson about her study at the University of Edinburgh where they have utilised blog-based learning activities across several programmes but not (yet) attempted to combine this with peer and self assessment. It may be the case that such studies are often initiated – and at least strongly supported – by e-learning developers and learning technologists, who are more likely to be exploring or evaluating a particular tool or technology, rather than taking a broader approach to the design of learning activities and assessment.

There is an argument that if I were to focus on the digital literacy issue, this would also serve to fill a gap in the literature; digital literacy is a relatively young topic of research, with arguably the most significant body of research emerging in 2009 out of the JISC-funded LLiDA (Learning Literacies in a Digital Age) project. The current Developing Digital Literacies project strand, also funded by JISC and involving 12 HEIs, and other professional bodies such as SEDA, is running from 2011-2013. The fact that the JISC is investing a significant amount of funding into these projects is an indicator of the value this authoritative body places on further research and development in this area.

How might my research be unique in its contribution?
In answering this question, I find myself returning back to my original idea to plan, execute and evaluate a particular series of activities against five desired outcomes. I feel that this approach is perhaps a little unusual (hopefully not unique!) in its thoughtful learning design that utilises appropriate technologies without being preoccupied with the technologies used, or aiming to attribute particular qualities or benefits to the technologies themselves. Many learning and teaching departments consist of two halves; e-learning development and academic staff development, which I have observed in several cases as working side by side rather than truly together. I’m not going to claim that academic staff developers are generally backwards in using technology – I know a few who are very much ahead of the game – but my position as a Lecturer in Learning and Teaching who has moved across from e-learning is fairly rare. When I worked at the University of Bath I found it frustrating that the PGCAPP did not put learning technologies to any significant use across the units of study, apart from the (optional) e-learning unit, which was led and taught by members of the e-learning team. I was concerned about the message that gives to participants; that teaching and learning with technology is not only optional, but something that regular teachers – in fact, even those whose job it is to teach teachers – don’t engage with. What I want to do with this research is to apply a range of principles of good practice in teaching and learning, facilitated with appropriate technologies, to improve the alignment of learning and assessment activities with desired learning outcomes. Nothing flashy – and arguably nothing unique – but potentially very useful.

Who is this research for and what it will it provide them?
This research is primarily for the participants and course teams of academic staff development programmes. I want to show how a joined-up approach to course design – utilising key principles such as constructive alignment and peer assessment, and appropriate technologies – can achieve a variety of desirable outcomes, to identify where the approaches used fall short of achieving their potential, and what may be done differently in order to improve matters.

This research is also for me; to put into practice many of the lessons I have learned throughout my studies on the Masters in Education programme and to show a culmination of my own development from understanding how people learn, to good assessment design, technologies for learning, executing educational change and undertaking educational research.

How practical is my research – will I have enough time to carry out my research?
This is something I would be doing anyway; I will just be evaluating it more rigorously than I may have otherwise done.

How is my research linked with ‘great debates’ and/or major schools of thought?
I think the ‘great debate’ that is going to be most relevant here is the value of online reflection and communication versus ‘traditional’ or ‘analogue’ means. A significant proportion of the teachers on our PG Cert programme work in very hands-on craft disciplines such as painting, drawing, bookbinding, etc., and I have sensed a perception, particularly among new entrants to the programme, of a debate about whether digital technologies are inherently ‘good’ or ‘evil’. I expect – and hope – such ideas and perceptions will surface in the conversations I have with participants throughout the various stages of this project, because they are very interesting and relevant to all disciplines. The exciting aspect about working with Art and Design teachers is that the debate feels more polarised than, for example, in the social sciences.

Another ‘great debate’ that this project is relevant to is the question so many e-learning and educational developers are currently asking (and have been for the last few years); how do we get more teachers using appropriate technologies for learning and teaching? I firmly believe, and will tell anyone willing to listen, that the answer lies in providing teachers with a positive learning experience of their own, within which such technologies are embedded. Maybe this should be my research question?!

How is my methodological framework the best for my research question?
I am proposing to use an action research methodology; it is the methodology I am the most familiar with, and I feel that it is appropriate to this study as I am executing an intervention in my own teaching practice.

Is my dissertation going to be a literature review or an empirical-based research study?
It’s going to be an Action Research study. Is that the same as an empirical-based research study? (I should probably know the answer to that, shouldn’t I!)

What philosophical and epistemological frameworks are guiding my research question and methodological framework and for what reasons?
That’s a lot of long words. Crumbs, these questions are getting difficult…

What are the potential limitations of my research?
The research will be situated in my own context of a blended Academic Practice PG Cert programme in a collegiate Art and Design focused HEI. I fully intend to frame my conclusions in a way that is useful to others and I hope that the discipline-specific nature of the programme and the institution will not be a significant limitation to wider relevance; my own teaching background is in secondary science and as yet I have not come across any aspects of teaching and learning in Art & Design that are not relevant to a range of other disciplines.

Phew… all comments, questions hugely welcomed…