Critical Realism Epistemology theory

Thoughts on: A short guide to ontology and epistemology: Why everyone should be a critical realist (Fryer, 2020)

Six years into my PhD, you might hope that I was broadly across the various worldviews and philosophies that underpin different approaches to research. And broadly speaking I think I am. I would say that I believe there is objective truth to be found outside our own perceptions, while acknowledging that these perceptions and ideas influence how we interpret and react to this reality. I also believe that there are things that should be improved in the world and that research should attempt to contribute to this. Additionally I would say that the tools or approaches that get us closest to do this are the ones that we should use, whatever they are. So there is a bit of pragmatism, a bit of criticality and I sit somewhere between a subjective and objective my view of the world.

That said, I wish I had come across this guide much earlier in my studies. Tom Fryer is a PhD researcher at the Manchester Institute of Education and in 2020 published this entertaining and informative overview guide to ontology, epistemology and some key philosophies in research. I add a caveat that he comes from a Critical Realism perspective and perhaps oversimplifies ‘rival’ ideas in Positivism and Constructivism to make the case for his preferred theory but he makes the case well and I think it’s probably mostly where I was sitting anyway – just more expanded. I really like the way that Fryer scaffolds the ideas and works hard to provide illustrative examples.

These are my notes from reading the 27 page guide (which includes some delightfully random cartoons).

Ontology – what the world is like
Epistemology – how we produce knowledge about the world

Ontology can be split into realism (things are real) and irrealism (not all things are real)
Epistemology can be split into objectivism (there are no major barriers to producing knowledge about the world) and subjectivism (our observations of the world are theory dependent)

This takes us to three key philosophical approaches:

Positivism (realist/objectivist) – more sciencey, looks for concrete tangible laws connecting things/events and sometimes doesn’t consider context enough

Constructivism (irrealist/subjectivist) – falls over particularly when knowledge construction is considered to be theory-determined (the theory shapes the knowledge). Our observations might be dependent on theory but theories can’t determine what reality is like.
(He does seem to spend a fair bit of time teasing constructivism for largely being focused on capturing people’s stories and thinking that is sufficient)

Critical realism (realist/subjectivist) – reaches conclusions through ‘retroductive reasoning’ – a kind of logic that looks for the best explanation.
In CR, research should look for causal tendencies and it must consider both agency and social structures.

CR theory argues that the world has three domains:

Domain of the Empirical: events that we experience
Domain of the Actual: events that occur whether we see them or not
Domain of the Real: causal mechanisms that make events happens (like gravity dropping an apple on Newton’s head)

I would wonder whether gravity might simultaneously also be an event as it is caused by something else but Fryer doesn’t dig that deep.

“Tendencies” appear to be like a weaker version of causation – there might be a link but not strong enough to make a definitive statement about. It’s more that there is a relationship.

I like that agency is foregrounded in research people – this is something that I felt was missing a little in what I’ve read of Kemmis on practice theory. Essentially this is just saying that people make choices outside strict models or Bourdeusian “habitus” (habituses?).

The second part of that though is that social structures also influence individual agents, whether it is their behaviour, identities, knowledge or actions. The latter of these have been something of a big focus in my own research, so it isn’t surprising that this speaks to me. I would take social structures to include common understandings and conventions, rules and mores (and maybe throw in some of the material things for good measure)

Fryer finally identifies a loop, where the individual might reproduce or transform these social structures through their actions and then have themselves shaped /transformed again by the social structures. (I may be over interpreting that part but it seems the logical flow on)

There are a number of other philosophical approaches that Fryer glosses over but for a refresher on key concepts, this is a great place to start.

Further reading:
Collier (1994) Critical Realism: an introduction to Roy Bhaskar’s philosophy
Gorski (2013) What is Critical Realism? And why should you care?

Kemmis practice theory

Thoughts on: Ecologies of Practices (Kemmis et al., 2014)

Thoughts on: Ecologies of Practices (Kemmis at al, 2014)

After finding Kemmis and co’s work in this space in Chapter 2 kind of interesting but perhaps not exactly what I was looking for, I started reading chapter 3 on ‘ecologies of practices’ (very important that these are both plural evidently) more from a sense of due diligence. And for maybe 80% of the chapter I thought my previous thoughts had been confirmed.

I’m still not a huge fan of his/their writing style, reading this particular section is like wading through thick syrup. (Not in a good way)

We are not so much interested in saying that, in general, practices and practice architectures of professional learning shape practices and practice architectures of teaching, for example, as in showing how in practice the particular practices and practice architectures of one practice come to share or be shaped by the practices or practice architectures of another practice

Kemmis et al. 2014 P44

For my money, the word practice appears about five times too many in that sentence. I was eventually able to sort the uses of practice as a verb vs as a noun but I honestly struggle to see the meaningful difference between the two examples. Not to worry as it comes together quite well in the end and has now set me off on a number of rabbit holes relating to my research in particular on the practices of edvisors.

In a nutshell, the most useful part of this chapter explains the purpose of much of the book, exploring the interdependent practices that can be found in education. Subsequent chapters explore each of these five in depth and their relationships and I think I am probably going to have to keep reading this at some point.

In what they call “the education complex” (p.51), they identify 5 key practices (I would suggest practice areas or clusters to be honest):

  1. Student Learning
  2. Teaching
  3. Professional Learning (initial and continuing teacher education and continuing professional development)
  4. Leading (educational leadership and administration)
  5. Research (educational research, critical evaluation and evaluation)

I would argue that the last three of these align in one way or another to various edvisor activities and knowledge areas and that exploring their interrelationships and also how they tie to teaching specifically could offer some valuable insights into edvisor roles and their relationships. (I am less keen to focus on student learning as this seems a step removed, sitting on the far side of the teachers that we work with).

One other valuable point that Kemmis et al. make is that meaningful educational transformation needs to address all five of these practices (practice areas) simultaneously.

If change in education is to be wrought, then all five of these practices need to be changed in relation to one another… transformation of each requires the transformation of all five, in all their ecological interdependence

Kemmis et al. 2014, P.51

Ok – the rest of this post is now my scratchy notes. Honestly, you’ve probably read the best bits now – be warned

Ecological arrangements feature interdependence between practices and among the practice architectures. So the sayings/doings/relatings of edvising become part of the practice architecture for teaching (or leading). I can kind of see how things influence other things but to be honest, I still need some convincing in this specific instance. The inferior power status held by edvisors and the mostly optional nature of the advice/support that they give feels as though it’s impact on other practices is diminished in reality.

I might also want to look at the practice architectures that exist between the edvisor role types – so ‘learning designing’ and ‘academic developing’ etc become (clunkily named) practices in their own right. Again, I think I prefer Shove’s sense of these being more like practice clusters than individual practices.

Less about how different edvisors inhabit a site and more about how their practices inhabit/share a site.

Overall I feel like the human element is a little too removed in all this theorising. I also really question whether it is possible to find a universally applicable model for something as diverse as the things we do.

Our attention is not on how different participants co-inhabit a site, but on how different practices co-inhabit or co-exist in a site, sometimes leaving residues or creating affordances that enable and constrain how other practices can unfold

Kemmis et al. 2014 P.41

Kemmis et al spend a little time exploring the origins of the term/concept ‘ecologies of practices’ – maybe being a little pedantic for my liking, fixating on the presence or absence of ‘s’ in the terms. This dismissal of work by Stronach et al felt a bit like it missed the point (and makes me want to explore that work further)

According to Stronach et al. (2002), the ‘ecologies of practice’ refer to the sorts of individual and collective experiences, beliefs and practices that professionals accumulate in learning and performing their roles. They refer mainly to craft knowledge and may be intuitive, tacit or explicitly

Kemmis et al (2014), P.44

Personally, I think that experiences in particularly – but also beliefs – are slightly lacking from the practice architecture currently proposed. Or maybe it is there but I haven’t seen in explained tangibly enough yet.

In continuing to discuss Stronach’s work in “empirical studies of professionalism and professional identities in nursing and teaching”, Kemmis et al quote Stronach et al to describe their perception of the Stronach and co take on ecologies of practice

… comprised the accumulation of collective and individual experiences of teaching or nursing through which people laid claim to being ‘professional’ – personal experience in the classroom/clinic/ward, commonly held staff beliefs and institutional policies based upon these, commitments to ‘child-centred’ or ‘care-centred’ ideologies, convictions about what constituted ‘good practice’ and so on… (p.122)

Kemmis et al (2014) quoting Stronbach et al (2002) P.44

The meta-thinking about practice seems to be something of value.

The interdependence theme continues, expressed a little better this time

We might ask, for example, whether we see evidence that practices are inter-dependent (that each depends on the other to persist or to be reproduced) and whether this interdependence can be seen in the form of a network of interrelationships

Kemmis et al, 2014 P48

This seems more concrete somehow. It helps me to think about interview questions for people in different edvisor roles.
Do or how do LD practices rely on ETs?
Is the connection more with teachers (and also admins?)
I need to think more about how the different (distinct) edvisor role type practices connect. (There are many of these that are shared – need to consider what that says too)

One more good question for interviews – In your role, in what ways are you reliant on (role X) doing their job for you to do yours?

Long story short, the interrelationships and dependencies between practices deserves greater attention. Kemmis, S., Wilkinson, J., Edwards-Groves, C., Hardy, I., Grootenboer, P., & Bristol, L. (2014). Ecologies of Practices. In S. Kemmis, J. Wilkinson, C. Edwards-Groves, I. Hardy, P. Grootenboer, & L. Bristol (Eds.), Changing Practices, Changing Education (pp. 43–54). Springer.

data names organisation

Does the name of a learning & teaching unit affect staff perceptions of being understood and valued?

Building blocks

The always impressive Alexandra Mihai recently shared this list of Higher Ed learning and teaching support/development units on Twitter. This led me to muse on whether someone might run an analysis on what the different names in use tell us about this part of the sector.

This is something that I tried myself on a much small data set (n = 66) gathered from a survey that I ran last year in Australia. I was mostly interested in factors that might influence the perceptions staff in these centres (‘edvisors’ in my study) have about how their work is understood and valued. The results were not statistically significant – though maybe this is overrated – but a handful of interesting themes emerged that might inform future work of this kind.

I found that there were three common themes in the naming – something education oriented (teaching, learning, teaching & learning, etc), something descriptive about their work (design or develop) and something aspirational (innovation, futures, etc). Often these were combined. I had also surveyed edvisors about their perceptions that their work was understood/valued by direct managers, other edvisors, academics and managers/leaders in other areas based on a 7 point Likert scale.

These are the notes that I put together as I was analysing some of this data – it’s really a pre-first draft.

The names of edvisor units in HE institutions may contribute to understanding and valuing of edvisor work because this is commonly where academics will be referred to receive pedagogical, design or technological support for learning and teaching. I conducted thematic analysis on the names of units provided by respondents to see if key themes would emerge in the way institutions describe edvisor units and, by association, the work they do or the purpose they serve. I found that 15 unit names included a variation of an aspirational term like transform, innovation or future and 11 included more descriptive, functional language such as design or develop. 52 unit names included either learning and teaching (or teaching and learning), learning, teaching or education. There were also overlaps where unit names could include words from several of these groups.

I compared the mean values for feeling understood and valued for edvisors working in units with names with a variant of education or learning and teaching with those working in units with a variant of future or innovation. I also compared these values for units with a name containing design/develop against those with a variant of education/learning, as well as doing a third comparison of these values between units with a variant of innovation/future and those with a variant of design develop. Within each of these comparisons I looked at whether a unit name included a term on its own, included both terms or included neither.

The names of units that they work for appear to have very little impact on the mean values edvisors’ perceptions of being understood or valued by any of the stakeholder groups. The most interesting differential in all of these values was found in perceptions of being understood and valued by academics when edvisors worked in units with variants of both education/learning and design/develop in their name.

If this is an area you are interested in working on or discussing further, I’m happy to chat.

edvisor Instructional Designer Learning design learning designer

Thoughts on: “Many hats, one heart”: A scoping review on the professional identity of learning designers (Altena, Ng, Hinze, Poulsen & Parrish, 2019)

While I did read this when it first came out at the ASCILITE 2019 conference, I revisit it now that I’ve done my own deep dive into the activities and knowledge areas that help to define different edvisor role types including Learning Designers (LDs).

I know and respect all of the authors of this paper and we are (mostly) part of the same community of edvisors in Australasia. We have parallel research interests but different perspectives and focuses. I say this because there are some things in this conference paper that I question or comment on but this is mostly just because of differences with my chosen approaches. As part of the growing field of scholarship on Third Space education workers, instructional/learning designers and associated practitioners, there is much value to find in this paper.

Most of this comes from my notes as I read through the paper and can be scattered.

Learning Designers are increasingly employed in universities to support institutional digital and pedagogical transformation agendas

Altena et al. 2019 P.1

This opening sentence speaks volumes to me because it touches on two points of contention in this space, particularly among LDs. Firstly, maybe it just flowed better on the page but I note that digital (technological) appears before pedagogical. How much of an LD’s job is technology oriented and how much is about pedagogy is a hot topic, with many LDs (in my experience) feeling that their pedagogical expertise often undervalued at the expense of providing technical support. Secondly, the question of who LDs primarily serve – the teachers or the institution – is often raised in commentary of people questioning the value of LDs and their peers (or, more the case, the need for to change teaching practices).

This paper is about a scan of the literature intended to identify key attributes (using Barnett’s knowing-doing-being framework) that offer a clearer definition of LDs than is currently available. It claims to find

the unique capabilities of learning designers as transformative change agents to student learning

Altena et al. 2019 P.1

This is probably the point at which our respective research projects and aims diverge, as I contend (for now, at least) that there are three key role types of people doing work with this focus in Australian Higher Education – academic developers, education technologists and learning designers – and there are many overlaps between these three. I do believe though that there are also distinctive characteristics of each that we can use to differentiate them, so I am interested to see what they find.

Interestingly, the search terms used included learning technologist and educational technologist but no variation of academic developer. Whether this is an acknowledgement that ADs exist and are sufficiently different or not is unclear. Given my personal belief that Ed Techs and LDs are notably different roles, I find it interesting that they were included in the search. At the same time, given the liminality of many role names in this space, it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable (but I’d love to see more detail in the data about the two).

Literature published in peer reviewed journals or conferences between 2008 – 2019 centred around the work of LDs in Higher Ed was methodically reviewed and filtered and found 29 worthwhile articles. As a scan of the global literature (compared to my Australian focus) it is not surprising that North American publications were highly represented (80%) but this did lead me to wonder if the practices and experiences of North American Learning/Instructional Designers are reflective of the wider cohort. (Again though, I acknowledge that I am using a much narrower lens). Which leads to another question – why would it be different? (Though I suspect it just is)

The authors note that they were surprised that Learning Technologist didn’t appear in their sample of papers – given the North American lean of the sample, the term instructional technologist might have been more helpful. I’ve seen that appear a bit in their literature about this space.

The attributes/descriptors that they found relating to LDs showed a definite skew in the literature towards ‘doings’ (n=26) over ‘knowings’ (n=9) or ‘beings’ (n=5). This is utter speculation but I wonder whether much of this research was written by non-practitioners and may have had more of a focus on the outcomes of LD activity than the nature of LDs and their identities. If that were the case, we might reasonably expect to hear more about doings/activities. There could be other reasons, of course and in my own research, I explored relatively equal numbers of activities and knowledge areas. I didn’t look at ‘beings’ in much depth at all other than in trying to extract data about perceived ‘purpose’ from an open text question about what people do in their roles. Exploring values and ideology deeper in future data collection is definitely high on my agenda though.

Altena et al. looked at the most commonly discussed knowledge areas, activities and values/purposes from the papers in their review to help shed light on attributes that may help define LDs.

The top ‘knowings’ (knowledge areas) were:

Instructional design and models (n=13)
Technical knowledge (n=13)
Knowledge through professional learning (n=13)
Learning theories (n=11)
Educational research (n=9)

I assume technical knowledge to be related to the use of educational technologies but what “knowledge through professional learning” means is a little less clear. Is this other assorted skill sets that they needed training for or might it be knowledge relating to the provision of training? (Which would seem to me to be high on the list and otherwise absent). Similarly ‘educational research’ might refer to remaining current on emerging research or undertaking research. Here I see the Australian experience as possibly being somewhat different to the North American one, as (acknowledged by the authors), LDs here are rarely given the opportunity to engage in research.

They go on to categorise knowledge areas as ‘Threshold concepts’ (mostly the theory but also some technology knowledge), ‘Just in time knowledge (more reactive knowledge and maintaining currency) and also “Contribution to knew knowledge” relating mostly to research. In my own research I am starting to see different sub-categories of pedagogical knowledge that align with the first two – though the ‘threshold concepts’ I suspect are more strongly aligned with Academic developer identity.

The top ‘doings’ (activities) were:

Course and assessment design (n=18)
Providing expert advice (n=15)
Relationship building (n=15)
Project management (n=12)
Digital asset management (n=12)

These get categorised into Course and curriculum design, Project management, Professional development, Stakeholder engagement and Assess production/technical support. Again, these broadly align with activity categories that I’ve found but I would suggest that curriculum design is more strongly associated with ADs and technical support (including systems administration) with Ed Technologists. (Which isn’t to say LDs do none of that, just less).

Some future questions for me to ask in subsequent data collection that this prompts are something along the lines of – what do you do and what should you be doing? what would you like to be doing in your role?

The final attributes most commonly associated with LDs they found in the literature relate to ‘being’. I need to explore identity theory a bit more because this seems valuable but I think it also links a bit to Kemmis’ ‘relatings’ and the cultural/contextual parts of practice theory in general. These were:

Shared vision (n=5)
Establishing governance (n=5)
Having leadership (n=4)
Being ethical (n=2)

The governance and leadership parts speak to me here and may be gaps in what I have gathered data on to date in terms of key practices. (There is a whole separate piece on the activities, values and knowledge areas of junior vs senior edvisors and also those in central vs faculty teams that complicates this)

A couple of handy final quotes to wrap up that may be useful later:

…the values, attributes and ontological perspectives of learning designers are implied or rarely articulated within the papers

Altena et al. 2019 P.4

…if we are to move this profession forward, further research that seeks to establish higher education benchmarks for the entry to knowledge, skills and personal values, attributes and ontological perspectives required of learning designers working within the higher education sector is needed

Altena et al. 2019 P.5

This paper offers some useful insights into the vibe of research describing learning designers. It shows the complexity of these roles as they juggle everything from pedagogy to technology and managing people/projects to creating new knowledge. The more work we see like this, the clearer the picture may become.


Ed tech must reads: Column #26

First published in Campus Morning Mail 15th March 2022

List of Centres for Teaching & Learning / Digital Education teams from Alexandra Mihai

Most universities have their own units dedicated to supporting and enhancing learning and teaching. Their Twitter feeds often provide the first glimpse at interesting applications of technologies in teaching in these places. Alexandra Mihai has assembled an ever-growing list of these accounts to help you to connect with the wider Technology Enhanced Learning and Teaching world. (Something I learned is that Twitter gets thingy if you follow too many accounts at once so you may need to space it out)

Fundamental Design of Flood Management Educational Games Using Virtual Reality Technology from International Journal of Online and Biomedical Engineering

This seems somewhat pertinent at the moment – perhaps someone might share it with the PM’s empathy coach. Rismayani et al., researchers in Indonesia, developed and tested a mobile VR based flood simulation to help teach the residents of Makassar how to respond better to flooding. They outline the hardware and software design and approaches taken to working with the local community.

Ethics, EdTech, and the Rise of Contract Cheating from Academic Integrity in Canada

The question of how we deal with academic integrity and contract cheating is never far from the minds of institutional leaders. Ed Tech vendors make great promises but Brenna Clarke Grey argues that overreliance of these solutions are not the answer and what is needed are more robust cultural changes and better stewardship of student data.

Professional services staff digital insights survey from JISC

The shift to working from home due to the pandemic has profoundly affected ideas about how we work in Tertiary Education. The ripples of this will no doubt be felt for years to come. Jisc has recently released a report from a survey of UK professional staff shedding light on their experiences working online and considering options for doing it better. (It follows previous surveys of students and academics)

Aloud – Dubbing video into other languages from Google

Google’s Area 120 is their experimental hub. Their latest offering is Aloud, which offers to transcribe, translate and dub your videos into another language – currently Portuguese and Spanish with Hindi and Bahasa-Indonesian to come soon. The service is free but not yet widely available – you can register for early access. The dub is generated synthetically, there is little information about how the translation is done – if it’s Google Translate it could be interesting.


Ed tech must reads: column #25

First published in Campus Morning Mail 8th March 2022

Student evaluations place unfair and harmful expectations on women university teachers… from Australian Journal of Political Science (via Twitter)

Few will be surprised to hear that student evaluations of teaching leave something to be desired when it comes to the important work of gathering actionable student feedback. This Twitter thread discusses a new article about the ways that student expectations of their teachers can vary greatly based on gender, with women commonly expected to perform much more emotional labour than their male colleagues.

Tech Ethics & Policy – 60 seconds at a time from Dr Casey Fiesler

One of my favourite TikTok creators is Dr Casey Fiesler, an information scientist at Colorado University who has essentially put her entire Tech ethics and policy unit on the platform in 60 second bites. She has compiled this handy week by week list of all the topics with bonus readings and discussion questions for topics including moral machines, privacy, intellectual property and more.

New rules on lecture transcripts give academics an impossible choice from Times Higher Education

The explosion in video content in recent years has added urgency to something that we should have been doing better for a long time. Providing accurate captions and transcripts in a timely fashion is vital in ensuring equity in educational media. This article in THE from Emily Nordmann and colleagues discusses legal mandates for this in the UK but the issues raised are global. Auto-captioning still isn’t quite good enough, meaning that time-consuming manual corrections are needed. The article offers suggestions for generating better captions and covers some of the operational challenges faced.

Pedagogical sins that make us cringe from @LindseyMasland (Twitter)

Learning from our mistakes is valuable, learning from the mistakes of many magnifies the experience. This twitter thread captures an array of dumb things higher educators did in their early days of teaching and the lessons they learned. It should be mandatory reading in an HE teaching course.

Call for Special Issue Submissions – Australasian Journal of Educational Technology

ASCILITE’s AJET is one of the leading journals in the ed tech field. The editors of this special issue on “Achieving lasting education in the new digital learning world” are currently looking for submissions of note about the ways that education can and is being changed sustainably for the online world. Submissions are due by 31st March.


Ed tech must reads: Column #24

First published in Campus Morning Mail 1st March 2022

A strategic reset: micro-credentials for higher education leaders from Smart Learning Environments

Not to brag but I was advocating for micro-credentials/digital badges more than a decade ago. Maybe brag isn’t the best word, given our lack of success at the time. It’s nice to see the dawning realisation in the sector of late that alternate modes of accreditation are actually worth considering. This paper from McGreal and Olcott offers an overview of the current state of play and some strategic guidance for using micro-credentials to broaden the scope of educational programs.

In support of faculty (academic) developers doing tech support: a thread from Brenna Clarke Gray

The work of “Third Space” staff in education supporting learning and teaching often goes unnoticed but among the various roles involved there is often a hierarchical division between the pedagogical and technological sides. This twitter thread (and resulting discussion) from @brennacgray explores why this is and how it can be counterproductive in the long run.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation: Time for Expansion and Clarification from Motivation Science

When considering how to engage learners – and particularly with gamification – the core ideas of motivation are rarely far away. Extrinsic motivation in the form of points, badges, leader boards and prizes is often dismissed as being like a short-term sugar hit, initially exciting but not sustainable. Finding ways to draw on inner drivers is routinely seen as the gold standard. This fascinating paper from Locke and Schattke questions these ideas and suggests an additional category – achievement motivation.

MySpace and the Coding Legacy it Left Behind from Codeacademy

One of the greatest tensions in the Internet as a communication hub is between control and freedom. This is neatly summed up in this story of the rise and fall of MySpace, which the authors posit is largely about the happy accident that allowed users to customise their pages with HTML and CSS.

Semantle – a semantic word puzzle

Sure, guessing a random five letter word is great but have you tried guessing a random word based on its semantic relationship with 1000 other words? Semantle unashamedly jumps on the Wordle fad but applies an entirely different set of rules. You guess any word and it tells you how semantically close it is to the solution. Guess a word within the set of 1000 words deemed closest and it tells you how close you are. Recently “scholar” was 999/1000 to the solution of historian. This one-a-day game takes you on a bizarre but addictive word association journey.


Ed tech must reads: column #23

First published in Campus Morning Mail 22nd Feb 2022

Academic Writing Analytics (AWA) Project from UTS Connected Intelligence Centre

As student cohorts and lecturer workloads get larger, automating feedback on student writing has become increasingly desirable in education technology. Tools to support the basics of writing in terms of grammar and structure are relatively commonplace now but identifying and commenting on critical/analytical thinking and reflection is understandably more complex. The UTS AcaWriter application, developed by their Connected Intelligence Centre in conjunction with the Institute for Interactive Media & Learning and the Higher Education Language Presentation Support unit seems promising in this space. While this is only available to UTS staff and students, there is an open demo site and this open-source software is also on GitHub.

99 Tips for Faculty Development in End Times from Karen Costa (Medium)

Academic Development units (or Faculty Development as they prefer in the US) are generally centrally based teams that provide pedagogical advice and workshops. Karen Costa is a Fac dev from the US with many interesting ideas about this area of work, particularly in a time of great change fatigue. She shares 3 key ideas for shaking up the way these units operate that are well worth the time.

The rise and fall of Ed Tech Startups from @EduCelebrity (Twitter)

This highly tongue in cheek and somewhat jaded take on the education technology life cycle from Twitterer @EduCelebrity nonetheless makes some insightful observations about technology, edupreneurs and well-meaning investors moving into the education space.

VideoSticker – video note taking system from International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces 2022

The richness of video as a medium for sharing concepts and information is unquestionable but it does present challenges for learners when it comes to transferring these to their own class notes. This paper from Cao et al, due to be presented at the upcoming Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces conference in Helsinki proposes a tool that allows students to easily create and manipulate “stickers” – essentially screenshots of components and text in the video – and incorporate them into their notes. There is also a handy video explainer on YouTube.

Heygo – virtual tourism

Sticking with video, while international borders are opening, it will still be a while before we return to any kind of ‘normalcy’ with travel. Heygo lets you join enthusiastic locals around the world as they live-stream guided tours in their regions. It’s a fascinating way to find very niche spots that you might never have otherwise stumbled upon.


Ed tech must reads: column #22

First published in Campus Morning Mail 15th Feb 2022

Second Life vs the Metaverse from Drew Harry

The hype continues to grow around the Metaverse, the coming virtual work/play space that Gartner claims 25% of people will spend at least an hour a week in (by 2026). Many of us however are having déjà vu of similar claims from the time of Second Life. This Twitter thread from Drew Hill firstly steps us through how little has changed but then, interestingly, explores some ways that we could learn from subsequent technologies to make more meaningful use of the virtual world this time around.

Pearson buys Credly from Reuters

Credly is one of the most notable digital badge/micro-credentialling platforms still in existence and with this purchase, Pearson continues, in their unique way, to look for opportunities to carve out a niche in the online learning space. Their focus here seems to be primarily tied to the corporate learning and development side rather than VET or Higher Ed, which kind of makes sense given the size of the too-hard basket that this approach to education has mostly sat in for more than a decade.

AI replicates your voice after listening to a 5 second clip from Ramos AI (Tiktok)

Some people still raise their eyebrows when I tell them that TikTok isn’t just full of dancing teenagers and cooked conspiracy theorists. I found this brief video demonstrating recent work from Google where a speaker provided a five second voice clip that AI was then able to use to generate many unrelated sentences in the same voice. If you are interested in the more scholarly side of this research, it was also presented at the 32nd Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems.

Sound and vision: introducing leadership from the International Consortium of Academic Language and Learning Developers

This blog post addresses a question commonly heard from people in my world – As a learning developer, how do you influence University policy and practice? Authors Carina Buckley and Kate Coulson share their experiences working in UK universities, modelling good practice and getting a seat at the table.

Wikitrivia from Tom J Watson

This simple online game asks players to drag random tiles generated from Wikipedia entries to the correct relative spot on a timeline. Put three in the wrong spot and your turn is over. This game offers a nicely balanced mixed of educated guessing and learning more about entirely random subjects. (My highest streak is 18 if you are up to the challenge)


Ed Tech must reads: Column #21

First published in Campus Morning Mail 8th Feb 2022

Course Hero, Ed-Tech Company, Hires Ed-Tech Critic from Inside Higher Ed

Ed Tech Twitter has been, well, all atwitter in the last week over the news that Sean Michael Morris, a notable in the digital pedagogy field, has taken a job at Course Hero. Course Hero describes itself as “an online learning platform for course-specific study resources”. Other people are less charitable in their descriptions, raising concerns about academic integrity, abuse of IP and monetisation of student data. (See the next post). Much of the discussion has centred around whether a well-intentioned academic can affect meaningful ethical change in a $3.6B ed tech megalith. Personally, I have my doubts but would be delighted to be proven wrong.

We don’t need another hero from Medium

Karen Costa is another well-regarded expert in faculty (academic) development with some strong opinions about education technology ethics, Course Hero and their business model. This detailed piece explores how people use this platform, learner agency and power relationships.

Implementing H5P Online Interactive Activities at Scale from Chen et al. (ASCILITE 2021)

Interactive HTML5 resources have exploded in education in recent years, particularly since the drawn-out demise of Flash. Among tools supporting the creation of these, H5P reigns supreme. It is user-friendly and offers a rich set of activity options. This paper from last year’s ASCILITE conference describes the holistic process Victoria University went through to roll this tool out at an institutional level. Most ed tech research focuses on local interventions, so this offers invaluable insights into the big picture thinking required to ensure that a technology can be used successfully and sustainably at scale.

Get rid of the green buttons. It’s pure manipulation from

I’ve shared stories here before about Dark Patterns in website design, the use of psychological tricks to influence user behaviour. This includes things like making one button green and the other (less desired) button look greyed out. The EU has long been a champion of Internet user rights, creating the General Data Protection Regulation in 2016 which dramatically shifted online privacy rights. With the recent passing of the Digital Service Act, they have effectively banned these kinds of questionable design approaches. This article is well worth a read.

Creating a how-to guide with the Tango plugin in Chrome from me

At some point, everyone working in or with education technology needs to create a detailed set of instructions for some computer-based activity. In the last week or so I’ve been playing with a Google Chrome plugin called Tango which essentially lets you record a process, taking screenshots and creating basic descriptive text for each step along the way. After some judicious editing, this can then output to PDF or a webpage like the one I’ve shared about how to use Tango. (How very meta). I think it has some promise.