Friday, 29 May 2009

Traditional University Education: A Place for Conversation On and Offline.

Online learning for traditional students can often be considered as ‘inactive’ learning by students who expect to physically interact with ‘experts’ in the field and seen by course providers as a response to institutional, employer or economic pressures either as a means of dealing with mass education and larger class sizes, or of operating and competing in a global market place rather than as a method of integrating and deepening learning.

However, pedagogically, a blended approach, which foregrounds conversational or social dialectic approaches to teaching and learning within its curriculum design and harnesses recently developed communication technologies to underpin its delivery and interaction, could be considered best practice for cultivating deeper and more integrated learning within a traditional University setting.

Ralph Young (Morrison, 2009), Microsoft Vice President, Woldwide Communications sector and John Seely Brown (2001) seem to support such a view. In a recent interview with James Morrison, Innovate editor-in-chief, Young highlighted a 2007 report entitled "Implementing Effective Approaches to Student Engagement and Retention in Australian Universities" which found that

  • students characterized learning as a profoundly social experience and that social networking, e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, text messaging, and other connective technologies were seen as critical to this experience
  • learning is not the same as teaching, "learning " and "teaching" must not be conflated and the technologies that students use to learn may not be the same technologies that professors use to teach.

Young goes on to stress that an emphasis on student engagement and on approaches which facilitate interest-driven and problem based learning as well as other pedagogical methods that focus on teaching students how to learn has to represent the cornerstone of any credible attempt to shape HE education in the future. There seems therefore to be room for conversational ideologies in Microsoft's vision of HE in the future as Young's comments align snuggly with the conversational theories and dialectic approaches highlighted in earlier blog posts here, including Enquiry based learning, Inquiry led curricula and Socratic Methods in addition to those posts alluding to the role of cyberspace and Web 2.0 conversational technologies. But, would Young actually agree? I've chanced my arm and emailed him to ask...... I wonder if he will reply?

Seely Brown (p.65) also acknowledges that learning is a remarkably social process which occurs as a result of a social framework that fosters learning and not as a response to teaching. Such social views of learning actively rely on personal interaction, communication and peripheral participation and so, in such a context, it is easy to see:

  • how virtual solutions and Web 2.0 technologies in particular could augment and indeed facilitate this type of learning; and
  • how learning events which embed such conversational approaches could have the potentital to transform many of the interactions of researchers and students and of teachers and learners.

Young and Seely Brown agree that the virtual will never fully replace the physical university and that a balanced and blended "clicks and mortar" approach will prevail with virtual and face to face instruction running in tandem. They also seem to agree on the reasoning behind this. Young takes an economic, employer and socially driven stance revolving around student expectations and the need to address ciritical issues of scale, access and educational relevance whilst Seely Brown champions a blended approach in order to head off the possibility of a deeply devisive student body based upon affordability, with those who can afford it accessing the rich and respected resources available on campus and those who can’t making do with the internet. Seely Brown promotes a blended approach to ensure that more students have the opportunity to experience the best of both worlds, time spent on campus in physical communities and time spent online, whilst building the very skills required by employers when they move into the workplace.

Whilst initially sounding like another economic, institutional or even social egalitarian driver for the adoption of e-learning strategies, if we dig a little deeper we find that Seely Brown's blended approach is actually more fundamentally guided by its educationally based social learning aspirations and communicative, collaborative, creative and interactive core.

By capitalising on a University's unique selling points:

  • its established and nurtured learning communities, and
  • knowledge creation role

Seely Brown argues that a University based education can, via forming networked, distributed, collaborative communities of learners and harnessing a socially based blended approach to education, be distanced from the realm of a delivery service or from being a meer trafficker of information (p. 69). Moreover, and more crucially within my context, he goes on to argue that such an approach actually aligns not only with what universities do best and with what people percieve make them places worthy of huge investment but also, critically, with the natural ways that people learn.

By leveraging the possibilities that technology offers and capitalising on the recent trend for online social communication within today’s society as a whole, a blended approach combining both modern virtual and traditional HE learning environments could therefore embed pedagogically sound dialectic and conversational ideologies or methodologies which focus on developing inquiry led and 'in-action' critical thinking to offer a supportive educational environment infused with abundant opportunity for students to pursue and engage with interactive, participatory learning aligned to their interests and needs.

This brings the business of learning to the forefront once again and re-illuminates a clear "raison d'etre" for a University based education at a time when forces are pushing us to question the role of educational institutions today and in the future (KnowledgeWorks Foundation, 2009) and to create learning ecosystems to help face key educational challenges including:

  1. Creating learning environments that promote active learning, critical thinking, collaborative learning, and knowledge creation.
  2. Developing 21st century literacies (information, digital, and visual) among students and faculty.
  3. Reaching and engaging today's learner.
  4. Encouraging faculty adoption and innovation in teaching and learning with IT.
  5. Advancing innovation in teaching and learning with technology in an era of budget cuts

(Educause, 2009)

With Oxford University also 'peering into the future of learning' by looking into the use of Web 2.0 in University life and setting up a facebook group to discuss the implications for learning, the conversation is only just beginning........


Educause (2009). The EDUCAUSE Top Teaching and Learning Challenges 2009. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3rd June 2009]

Educause (2009). TLChallenges09. Project Wiki. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3rd June 2009]

KnowledgeWorks Foundation & Institute for the Future, 2009. 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3rd June 2009]

Morrison, J., and Young, R. 2009. Success and sustainability in higher education: an interview with Ralph Young. [online] Innovate 5 (5). Available at: [Accessed 2nd June 2009]

Seely Brown, J (2001) Learning in the Digital Age. In the Internet and University: Forum 2001, Maureen Devlin et al. eds. Educause and the Forum for the Future of Higher Education, 2002. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14th May 2009]

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Is Partcipatory Video a Conversational Process?

Ideas and connections are coming thick and fast so need to get them down - it also makes a nice change to long blog posts!

Having done the VLOG post earlier in this blog a reference to 'participatory video' caught my eye with its action research orientation/approach to following a line of inquiry in a very visible dialetic way. Indeed the Fogo Process certainly lead to further dialogue ... and government intervention..... after the production of videos, in addition to the island inhabitants own visual debate with the issues and problems they faced.

"Participatory video is a set of techniques that involve a group or community in shaping and creating their own film, in order to explore, solve and communicate their issues. It started in 1967 by Canadian advocate Don Snowden, who changed the lives of Newfoundland's Fogo Islanders. By watching each other’s films, the different villagers on the island came to realise that they shared many of the same problems and that by working together they could solve some of them. The films were also shown to politicians who lived too far away and were too busy to actually visit the island. As a result of this dialogue, government policies and actions were changed. The techniques developed by Snowden became known as the Fogo process. Its chief power is that the video is edited by its participants." (Wikipedia)
All of this also makes me think about the recent film 'The Class' which I hightlighted as a possible example of a current/topical social critical approach to education in my 'Course Design for Effective Learning' module. Actual students of Francois Begaudeau (who also plays himself) were also involved in the film... This review of the film seems to allude the Fogo Process too by recognizing, after film production, the seemingly contradictory ideas that while other nations and cultures have their own histories, concerns, traditions and values, it is also true that, people are people [with the same problems/facing the same issues?]

There are obvious parallels too with some of the YouTube activity as described by Michael Welsch in his video:

An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube'

Is Action Research a Conversational Methodology?

Based on its enquiry/inquiry questioning led approach to research AND 'action' orientation ACTION RESEARCH certainly seems to sit alongside Freire's social critical/reform approach to education?

What do you think?

Importance of 'The Social' in Scholarly Networking

Finally managed to read through the OU report highlighted in Fridays' posting and one of the key observations for me, relating to my interest in the role of conversation within education, revolves around the level of 'head nodding' agreement or endorsement the report makes in relation to the importance of 'the social' in scholarly networking. Recognised by distance education providers, as a means of building supportive student communities, more likely to complete their studies and long recognised in business and commerce as a means of generating business and building trust, it now seems 'the social' and its implications for scholarship are becoming more openly accepted within academic circles as a means of cultivating relationships and building informative, constructive collaborative research networks.

The report itself reviews scholarly networking activities within the OU in order to make a series of recommendations aimed at supporting the development of the Bamboo Project, which is a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary, and inter-organizational effort that brings together researchers in arts and humanities, computer scientists, information scientists, librarians, and campus information technologists to tackle the question:

How can we advance arts and humanities research through the development of shared technology services?

Project Bamboo is being led by the University of Berkeley and University of Chicago with the OU and University of Cambridge leading on the scholarly networking strand of the project with the term 'scholarly networking' being generally understood as referring to networking using web 2.0 type tools.

Similar scholarly networks are being established in other disciplines, such as Nature Network in the science area and Within3 in the health and life sciences sector.

The report refers to the 'social value' of online networking, the 'social glue' required to make online networking effective, the sharing of 'personal information' to build trust, the blurring of social and scholarly networking activities, which often become indistinguishable with participants using the same account for both. One example highlighted how a social contact became useful for scholarly purposes after work-related information came to light in a 'social networking profile'.

The report even goes as far as recommending that the term 'scholarly networking' be renamed to 'social networking in education' to avoid an overly elitist ethos or view of the activity which could be detrimental or at least in opposition to the nature of this style of social networking. It notes the fact that services like 'Twitter' may even cultivate a greater mix of contacts by bringing together 'different types of group who might not have met outside seminars but .... might meet online and then arrange to have a coffee and a more in-depth conversation.' (para 3.2.3)

The report's final recommendations highlight key priorities including the need to identify clear purposes for the Bamboo project scholarly network, which will then inform the future content of the network. A social dimension to the network is recommended:
  • acknowledge the importance of a social element to scholarly networking and ensure that the network design incorporates this facility
  • support informal styles of discussion, including quick comments
  • enable the discussion of specialist interests with worldwide colleagues

as are links with current web 2.0 technologies:

  • Incorporate and area for network members to publish their blogs
  • Incorporate a separate microblogging area for fast communication and quick questions. Consider integrating with Twitter or similar
  • Provide the means for members to interact with Facebook and MySpace for the purpose of notification of their contacts on these sites about relevant activities on the Arts and Humanities network [a two way feed/flow of information which could leave an open door to an otherwise relatively closed network?]


Open University (2009). It’s like a permanent corridor conversation’: an exploration of technology-enabled scholarly networking at The Open University. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd May 2009]

Friday, 22 May 2009

Permanent Corridor Conversations

The Open University has recently released a report on the use of scholarly networking and web 2.0 tools by its faculty: "It’s like a permanent corridor conversation’: an exploration of technology-enabled scholarly networking at The Open University" (April 2009)

Another serendipitous find from the web of flow - don't ask me how now either - tracking back I think it must have been flagged by a recent Research Information Network update and found on the Bamboo project Wiki which notes:

"While the Open University is in some ways a special case due to its implementation of distance learning as the primary means of presenting courses, many of the practices documented in the report can be found elsewhere, or could be useful even in the context of a traditional institution."

The report was prepared by Linda Wilks under the direction of Prof. John Wolffe, based on a series of interviews conducted with faculty and

topics covered include:
  • What is Scholarly Networking?
  • Tools used by the Open University for faculty-student and faculty-colleague networking
  • The prevalence and many roles of Facebook, including communication between colleagues, disseminating announcements, collecting feedback from students, and providing a community hub for students who cannot meet in person
  • The emergence of Twitter as a supplement to the face-to-face coffee culture among faculty colleagues and as a means of disseminating university information and advertising publicly-available programs
  • The use of YouTube and iTunesU as a way of disseminating educational content to the public
  • Blogs as a way of promoting courses, books, and receiving feedback from colleagues through comments
  • Tools specifically developed by the Open University, including repositories and a Ning-based researchers' network
  • Problematic issues related to web 2.0 and Scholarly Networking, including privacy, IP concerns, security, content control, usability, and user take-up of new tool


Open University (2009). It’s like a permanent corridor conversation’: an exploration of technology-enabled scholarly networking at The Open University. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd May 2009]

Monday, 18 May 2009

Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World: a Socially Interactive Education?

The Committee of Enquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX) final report on Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World is now available. Does it reveal a role for conversation in education?

The Committee was first set up in 2008, supported by the principal bodies and agencies in UK post-compulsory education, with the remit of conducting an independent inquiry into the strategic and policy implications for higher education of the experience and expectations of learners in light of their increasing use of the newest technologies. Technologies considered under this remit are Web 2.0 or Social Web technologies, technologies that enable communication, collaboration, participation and sharing.

Some initial points relevant to this context are:

Ongoing drivers for change: Tradition:

"Students are looking for traditional approaches, notably personal contact, in a modern setting, ie web-supported. The bridge between web 2.0 in social use and in learning is as yet only dimly perceived by students, and only a little more clearly by staff. The fact that it is perceived, however, is likely to act as a spur to its construction" (p. 8)

It is notable that personal contact is still expected/considered an essential part of learning. Access to the experts and their knowledge seems to be the driver here. Which models of education are expected/preferred is less clear. Does personal contact mean sitting in a lecture theatre and recording notes based on a lecturer's presentation, or does personal contact mean discussion, debate, sharing of information as facilitated or guided by a lecturer?

In this context, it is not only the use of such technology for teaching and learning which both staff and students need to feel comfortable with but also, for students in particular, it's the shift from a teaching or 'deposit' model of education to a learning based model, which they often encounter during their HE education. There have been recent student demonstrations in Manchester protesting against a reduction in staff contact time in favour of more 'active based learning' so tensions in this area still exist and are bubbling to the surface more and more in a fee-paying, customer driven academic environment.

With two evolutions taking place in higher education, both intersect at regular intervals and are indeed fundamentally interlinked in a new learning 2.0 landscape. It is evident that:

  • social and workplace personal or group contact is both experienced and achieved remotely and that education will need to scaffold the divide from new leaner to employment similarly
  • more learner centred approaches to education will be adopted in HE

and so learning that builds in 'remote personal contact' to develop tutor-student, peer-peer, student - reflection based discussion, dialogue or conversation may gain credence, acceptance and momentum as both staff and students become more comfortable and confident in using Web 2.0 technologies for learning in this way.

Having read through a few press releases - like this one and this one. I thought I would join the conversation, as instructed there, by tagging this blog post with #clex09. The use of blog/twitter/comment tagging to join conversations would make another interesting blog post for this blog but for now.....

Must read the rest of this report......


Committee of Enquiry into Changing Learner Experience, 2009. Higher Education in a Web 2.0 world. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18th May 2009]

JISC, 2008. Effective use of social software by further and higher education in the UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18th May 2009]

JISC, 2009. Podcast/Press Release: HE in a 'Web 2.0 World' report. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18th May 2009]