ICEM17 Conference, Naples

A wonderful visit to Naples in September 2017 for this excellent conference hosted by University Federica III saw us housed in a fabulous waterfront building brimming with classic Italian style and history.

Co-presenting with Dr Lisa Harris and Manuel Leon-Urrutia, we discussed some of our very early results from our investigations into the effectiveness of integrating MOOCs into on-campus modules. Here are the slides from that presentation:

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below….

FutureLearn Academic Network event Exeter University Feb 2018

The latest FLAN event, hosted brilliantly by Exeter University and Dr Lisa Harris, on the 28th Feb 2018 featured many fascinating talks focused on the integration of MOOCs into mainstream HE teaching & learning.

Along with my colleague Manuel Leon-Urrutia, we presented some of the early findings of my research into the impact on teaching, learning and achievement of integrating MOOCs into on-campus modules. We presented three different models of integration, and concluded that students report that this blended approach allows for deeper understanding of the subject, more and better interaction opportunities and more flexible learning. The impact on teaching & learning appeared to be mainly positive.

However, the impact on achievement was more mixed, with module grade averages and the percentage of top grades being most positively affected when MOOCs were used to support face-to-face lectures as a revision tool.

You can view our slides here:

As always, feel free to share your thoughts on this in the comments below…

Reflections on Cabinet Office Open Innovation Team secondment

Having spent three months on secondment with the Cabinet Office’s Open Innovation Team (OIT) during 2017, tasked with helping to establish the team and develop the Digital Government Partnership (as announced in the UK Digital Strategy), I can safely say that it was a fantastic learning experience.

The Office – 1 Horse Guards Road

My eyes were opened to the complexities of the Civil Service and the processes of getting quality advice to senior civil servants and ministers. During my time in Whitehall, I experienced:

  • how the Civil Service works (or doesn’t so much during purdah, elections and ministerial changes!);
  • some of the challenges facing innovative teams within a highly structured environment;
  • how to position my research much more effectively within a policy context;
  • how to communicate effectively with time-poor, information-hungry policymakers;
  • much more about the wider digital landscape than I had explored during my PhD research;
  • and how many police officers and vehicles it takes to move a Prime Minister three hundred metres down the road!

Better still, I met a lot of good people, including a wide range of civil servants from the Treasury, HMRC, Home Office, GDS, DEFRA and DCMS, as well as other academics and PhDs from different departments and universities across the UK. I had many interesting conversations and was able to attend a number of fascinating events, from Damian Green’s first speech to the Cabinet Office after being appointed (and before being removed!), through a workshop on the Future of Work in the face of automation and artificial intelligence, to a lovely trip to Swindon to visit the UK Research Councils.

I should also say that I enjoyed the heady feeling of being near the centre of power, and the sense of being somewhere which mattered and being involved at the start of something exciting. As a result of all these experiences and learning, I found myself genuinely missing Chris and his great Open Innovation Team on leaving and would strongly advise anyone who is interested in politics, digital matters and/or power to take maximum advantage of future placement opportunities there.

Learning in the Network Age – FutureLearn and University of Southampton MOOC

This coming Monday (April 24th 2017) sees the start of a new Massive Open Online Course which I have produced in conjunction with many brilliant students, staff, production experts and programmers at the University of Southampton.

Learning in the Network Age

This course is all about learning in the network age. The way we learn is changing, it is much more than just attending lectures and classes.

It involves interacting with a powerful online and offline network of

  • people
  • technology
  • information

in ways, places and times of our choosing.

However, just as we are subject to social inequalities offline, so too are the networks we create online. These differences impact what our learning networks look like and how we use them.

This short course aims to understand how we learn, to know more about digital inequalities and their effect on our learning networks, and to develop the skills and literacies needed to help understand, grow, manage and activate your Personal Learning Network (PLN) effectively.

This course features a bespoke network mapping tool which will provide all participants with a visualisation of their learning network as well as providing me with my PhD research data. It is a teaching tool and a research method at the same time.

Really looking forward to seeing it finally come into being after the many months of hard work and preparation! Thank you to all those who have been involved, especially Dr. Lisa Harris without whom it would never have happened.

IFNTF World Summit 2017 – presentation slides

I’m delighted and honoured, as well as somewhat nervous, to be addressing the International federation of National Teaching Fellows World Summit 2017 in Birmingham this Friday (17th Feb).

This link will take you to the slides I’ll be presenting, or you can view them bellow, where you’ll also find my accompanying notes:


Slide 2:

Originating from the 1950’s, but really developing from Science & Technology Studies during the 1970’s and 80’s, and with roots in Actor Network Theory, socio-technical theory recognises the EQUAL importance and INSEPARABILITY of:

-material artefacts -knowledge -people -institutions -socio-cultural, political and economic norms and -standards & regulations

in the mutual development of societies and their technologies.

Take as a simple example the socio-cultural and economic need to transport goods efficiently form A to B – witness the invention of the wheel. The wheel then enabled societies to develop in particular ways that would not have been possible without it. In turn that affected the generation of further technological inventions. And so on…

In other words, socio-technical theory suggests that societies and technologies mutually co-evolve and the development of one can not be separated from the development of the other.

Slide 3:

However, this co-evolution and mutual development of technology and society does not occur at a uniform pace. Rather, there is a dynamic interplay between the macro, meso and micro levels of society.

Individuals at the Niche level tend to introduce new technologies into their personal practices rapidly and dynamically,  and in a way which suits them specifically.

However, communities, institutions and societies tend to suffer from SYSTEMIC INERTIA as wider or deeper reconfigurations of norms, practices and regulations are required at the Regime and Landscape levels.

Socio-technical theory argues that this can create significant tensions between the actions and practices of individuals and their experiences of interacting with wider society.

In summary, people, societies and technologies develop hand-in-glove, inseparably – they co-evolve. However, this development is not uniform, but happens at different speeds for different people, different societies, different levels and different technologies.

Tensions or disconnects between and among individuals, communities and societies can result, although as a catalyst for change this may not always be a bad thing.

This is all well and good, BUT you may be wondering what all this means for HE teaching & Learning?  I will now explore the answer to this in 5 specific HE areas.

Slide 4 – STHEP 1:

The first application of socio-technical theory to HE is in the realisation that, just as society and technology can not be separated, so too the learner and the technologies they use for learning are inseparable – we can not consider one without the inclusion of the other.

Many students, from highly-digitised societies at least, have seamlessly integrated technology into their learning practices (at the Niche level).

With specific and generally exceptional instances, and accepting that there are different practices, pressures and requirements in different disciplines, on the whole, at the Regime level, mainstream university teaching and learning has not integrated technology to the same degree and remains largely Instructionist.

Furthermore, and again with exceptions, within the wider educational Landscape, particularly rules and regulations, technology has also not been fully integrated – for example limitations imposed by module and programme design frameworks and assessment requirements which can often default to lectures and written paper-based exams. Carol’s current research into Assessment Practices may be of help here.

Importantly, socio-technical theory also warns us that a failure to properly understand and integrate this co-dependency between student and technology into HE teaching, learning and assessment is likely to result in tensions between the individual learner experience and the normal university learning experience.

Is it a surprise then that we may already be seeing those tensions playing out in NSS results and issues around student engagement and student satisfaction – which in the UK at least have lead to potentially misguided attempts to address these concerns through the introduction of the TEF.

Slide 5 – STHEP 2:

The second area in which a socio-technical perspective is informative is that technologies – specifically the Web, the Internet and mobile smart devices – are no longer just a ‘tool’ to be picked up and put down for learning purposes.

Rather, they have become a ‘space’ in which individuals create and express aspects of their identity and build social and digital capital.

Technologies have become an extension of the self, to the extent that the modern HE student may best be characterised as a Networked Individual living, learning, socialising and working in a Network Society.

In practice this means that a typical HE student sits at the heart of their own Personal Learning Network and can not be separated from it.

This PLN consists of online AND offline connections to people, institutions, devices, services and information sources which individuals have autonomously created as a result of seamlessly integrating new technologies into their everyday lives in both formal and informal contexts.

Understanding what these PLNs look like and how and why they are used may provide one route to reducing the tensions we have previously explored and enable HEIs to more easily integrate technologies into the university experience. This is the focus of my current research and I’d be happy to discuss this more over lunch or dinner!

Slide 6 – STHEP 3:

The third aspect of HE impacted by a socio-technical and PLN focus concerns Learning Theory.

As I understand it, although viewing learning as a network resonates with Connectivism, which Downes (2007) has suggested “consists of the ability to construct and traverse” networks of distributed knowledge and which Seimens sees as a new Learning Theory for the digital age, there remains questions over whether Connectivism is actually a new Learning Theory or, along with (for example) Situated Learning, Activity Theory and Communities of Practice, an extension of Vygotskian Social Constructivism. Connectivism also needs more extensive testing.

Nevertheless, there is a growing theoretical acceptance that humans, technologies, actions, activities and social relationships intertwine and coalesce into learning networks which, as Fenwick et al (2015) state, “continuously act upon each other to bring forth and distribute knowledge”.

Rather than creating new learning theories, under a socio-technical lens, the co-creation of knowledge may be said to consist of meaningful interactions, situated in the context of Personal Learning Networks, between both people AND technology.

Socio-technical Constructivism, as an extension of Social Constructivism for the digital age, if you like.

This is an area which I am still exploring and would therefore greatly value any input you might choose to give me.

Slide 7 – STHEP 4:

The fourth impact of a socio-technical perspective is that – assuming we accept the inseparability of the learner from their learning network, and the mediating role of PLNs in Socio-technical Constructivism – it becomes apparent that there are certain features of a PLN which lend themselves nicely to current HE pedagogical approaches.

Firstly, PLNs are autonomously created according to individual’s preferences…which clearly links to Learner Autonomy

They also provide an outlet for identity and social capital creation…which provides an outlet for Creativity

By definition, they consist of networks of people, institutions and services…which can empower Peer Learning and Collaboration

Furthermore, PLNs are self-maintained and configured by individuals to fit their lifestyle and learning preferences…which links to ideas around the Self-regulating Student

And finally, PLNs are activated at times and in places and ways, that the individual chooses…which can facilitate Self-directed Learning

As an additional benefit, PLNs can also have a role to play beyond university as a valuable resource for Lifelong Learning and Employability – an increasingly important consideration in this rapidly changing world typified by the need for flexibility and adaptability.

Slide 8 – STHEP 5:

Finally, having just sung the praises of PLNs, it is crucial to remember that a socio-technical perspective also tells us that differences in the adoption, integration and use of technologies occur between individuals as well as between Niche, Regime and Landscape levels.

For example, research by Huw Davies found that A-level students at a public FE college in the UK were significantly MORE digitally literate than counterparts at a private secondary school when it came to using their PLN for their personal and social lives, but noticeably LESS so when it came to using it for formal academic purposes.

This indicates that learners make active decisions about how to create and interact with their PLN based on social, cultural, educational, economic, and personal contexts.

Therefore, in no way can all HE students be considered as having an equally well developed PLN.

These differences manifest themselves in a range of big issues, including Digital Access, Digital Inclusion, and Digital Inequalities.

But also in individual differences in digital behaviours and attitudes to technology –  for example, different HE students will fall at different points on the Resident – Visitor spectrum proposed by White & Le Cornu.

It therefore becomes incumbent upon HEIs to mitigate against these digital differences by embedding the development of digital literacies and networking skills at all stages of the educational journey.

Slide 9:

So, to summarise, a socio-technical higher education perspective suggests that for teaching & learning purposes the learner and their learning technologies are equally important and can not be separated.

This is expressed through the learner’s position at the centre of their autonomously created Personal Learning Network – the online AND offline network of people, devices, services and information they use for formal and informal learning purposes.

PLNs are the medium through which meaningful interactions with people AND technologies occur for the purposes of the co-creation of knowledge.

And PLNs themselves also have pedagogical advantages directly related to their inherent features.

However, all PLNs are unique and their users differently skilled and literate, therefore digital, as well as traditional, literacies, and online, as well as offline, networking skills need to be embedded in all aspects of HE teaching & learning.

For these reasons, the study of PLNs and their role in HE may be an important undertaking as one possible route to effectively address tensions between individual student experience and the university learning journey.



Digital Resident or Digital Visitor?

Forget Prensky’s old Digital Native vs. Digital Immigrant classification – as far back as 2010 White and Le Cornu re-examined and rephrased our online behaviours in a more nuanced and accurate way – as a continuum. Subsequently, JISC (2015) have released a simple set of questions by which we can assess our own online behaviours:


Are you entirely Resident (or Visitor)? Or, where would you position yourself on the spectrum? Is that the same for your personal and professional life?

Update – The 6 PLN Activity Areas

Here is the updated graphic explaining the different activities we undertake through our PLNs. I decided to add Gaming/Hobbies/Sports as a separate activity and move some actions to different areas – in line with previous research and logic.

all-activities-devices  all-activities-f2f

Note: there are 2 errors in the first graphic, section ‘Searching and Browsing’:- Going to the library….etc should not be included, and Job hunting should be online only.

The first graphic is for device-mediated acvtivities and the second for face-2-face/offline activities.

As always, all thoughts, comments or additions welcome.

Peer Learning example from Designing Your Research Project MOOC on Futruelearn

This was a useful post made by one of the students on the MOOC concerning: Digital Literacies — Information Literacies — Searching Literacy.

Many other coursemates (and the odd mentor!) were able to learn something from this student. I found suggestion 7 especially useful.

“For literature searching, there are many strategies;

1) Use Boolean operator like AND, OR, NOT
2) Use Bracket like ( Digital AND Literacy ) AND Government..
3) Use File type like literacy:pdf
4) Use wildcard e.g. Literacy*
5) use quotation e.g. “literacy”
6) use keyword of topic then search synonyms and then apply Boolean operators.
7) Use domain or site. e.g Digital Literacy Site: .edu

in which you can search website with name of literacy in education sector.

8) you can use URL e.g InURL: Literacy

9) If you want to search literacy in any website then type


10) if you want to see literacy in title of any journal then you can type

ti stand for Title

similary many short form used in brackets;

ab stand for abstract
tw stand for text word”

Feel free to add any more good ideas, even if you think they are a bit old or that everyone knows them. It all helps!


I was lucky enough to hear Anne-Marie Imafidon speak at the EDULEARN16 conference in Barcelona in July and Martha Lane-Fox at the WWW2016 Conference in Montreal in April. I was also able to talk with both inspirational speakers after their keynotes were finished.

From these talks and subsequent chats it became clear to me that the Doteveryone organisation is a vital and very interesting set of intiatives which include, among others, the:

50/50 strand – which aims to fix the gender gap in technology

Doteveryone Campus – which aims to network interested partners for transformational change

and importantly for me,

Digital Skills – which has a focus on developing digital literacies and Powering Up MPs (both topics close to my heart)

I really hope that I will be able to be involved with this work at some stage (as opposed to a keen supporter) and advise anyone reading this post with the energy, skills and knowledge to help the organisation to check out the links above and get involved.

A Socio-technical Approach to Higher Education design

I’ve been developing some ideas and principles around the concept of a Socio-Technical Approach to education – specifically UK Higher Education. These ideas are still in development, so any thoughts or comments you may have would be gratefully received.

I have attempted to outline (in fairly over-simplified terms) this approach in the graphic below.

socio-technical-education-principles-and-actions (2)


1 2