Learning …. but not as we know it

As Unitec moves to new models of learning and teaching our learners may observe, as the late Mr Spock might have, “There’s learning here Jim, but not as we know it.”

The commonly accepted characteristics of learning and its accompanying practices are part of what the philosopher, Charles Taylor, terms social imaginaries – “that common understanding that makes possible common practices and a widely shared sense of legitimacy. … we have a sense of how things normally go, but this is interwoven with an idea of how they ought to go, of what missteps would invalidate the practice.”
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/swiss/archive/Taylor.pdf p18ff

These social imaginaries are deeply embedded in culture and, in modern education, have been developed over 200 years at least. There have been the odd challenges; alternative educational imaginaries advocated by Montesorri, Tagore, Dewey, Vygotsky, Freire and company, however most of our learners have a ‘mainstream’ imaginary of tertiary study – this is what it looks like, this is what our role is, what the teacher does and generally how it works.  They’ve picked all this up from their own learning experiences, older siblings, films, TV programmes, and the general representation of education in society.

Much of our discussion at Unitec currently is about changing educational imaginaries.  In many areas we are advocating a change in the ‘way things usually go’, changing definitions, redefining what makes for legitimate learning, delivery or assessment, knowledge or feedback. Hence resistance from both teachers and learners. Technology for instance allows us to implement new and good things in the way of collaboration and access to information; my caution is that we have to make these changes in an education system, and by implication with learners, many of whom are deeply entrenched in and expect individualism and competition.

Social imaginaries is a useful concept to explore society’s beliefs about teaching and learning and the implications these have for learners’ transition into a different tertiary environment at Unitec. Most learners, unless they’re studying education, never articulate their beliefs and assumptions about learning and teaching. How learners negotiate their way through the system is not primarily cognitive. It is based on the ways in which they “imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions that underlie these expectations.” (Taylor again) In education, these include ideas about knowledge, learning, the role of the teacher, their identity as a student.

Our new models may well challenge this fitting together and we need to be aware of how best to address this.


Creating better learning experiences

It seems to me that there are two essential questions we need to answer in our jobs.

  1. How does learning happen?
  2. How do we, as teachers, create experiences that help learning to happen?

A third question that Te Puna Ako’s advisors are charged with answering is ‘How do we support teachers in answering questions 1 and 2?’ This, essentially, is our job description.

Phil Race uses an exercise which we’ve put on our Active Learning and Teaching moodle. He proposes 7 factors of good learning. These are listed below with blueprint statements to address what we do as teachers. The details of how is what we’ll be addressing in our blogs, indeed in all of our work.

  1. Strive to enhance our students’ want to learn;
  2. Help students to develop ownership of the need to learn;
  3. Keep students learning by doing, practice, trial-and-error, repetition;
  4. Ensure students get quick and useful feedback – from us and from each other;
  5. Help students to make sense of what they learn.
  6. Get students deepening their learning by coaching other students, explaining things to them.
  7. Allow students to further deepen their learning by assessing their own learning, and assessing others’ learning – making informed judgements

Race’s material can be found in Chapter 2 of ‘Making Learning Happen’ (2005) and Chapter 1 of ‘The Lecturer’s Toolkit’ (2006).

MyPortfolio aka Mahara

A while back I posted about eportfolios and it is indeed time for an update on what has been happening at Unitec.

Some Unitec staff and students have been using My Portfolio, a Mahara instance (Mahara – to think, thinking, thought), and we are now including eportfolios in our Practice Passport.

The Practice Passport assists Unitec teaching staff in developing their capability in Living Curriculum, emerging pedagogies and related components of our new learning and teaching models. MyPortfolio will be a platform for staff to collect evidence and reflect on their practice.

Unitec staff can use our custom template to get them started on their Practice Passport portfolio. Over time and as they become more familiar with Mahara they will build collections and pages that they can share with their target audiences.   It will be interesting to see how these are developed over the year.

Te Puna Ako are running two hour workshops to help Unitec staff learn about ePortfolios and how to use MyPortfolio. During the workshops they will “discuss the value of ePortfolios generally and have the opportunity to reflect on your current use (or potential use) of portfolios to support learning and to demonstrate achievement. Through the process of contributing to a group portfolio page, you will be introduced to the MyPortfolio platform. This workshop is an ideal way to get started on your Practice Passport and see how it can function as a record of your professional development around new Learning & Teaching Models and Living Curriculum Phase 2.”

MOOC starting today

The”Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum” MOOC starts today and runs until 13 March 2013. It is funded by JISC and offered by Open Learning Design Studio. It is expected that each week will need 3-10 hours.

Week 1: Initiate

Learning outcomes

  • Explore a variety of definitions of learning design
  • Initiate own learning/curriculum design project
  • Define learning design, as a field of research and a practice
  • Identify some of the grand challenges of using a learning design approach to the design of learning in the 21st Century
  • Identify specific topics of interest for further exploration

Day one

So it started with a five minute video and then a 45 minute discussion. Then you have to introduce yourself, before setting your personal learning objectives for the week. A quick post to your learning journal and the first days activities are done.


The five minute video was only 3 minutes and was pretty light weight, just told you what you had to do in week one. All pretty good so far.

Next I registered with Cloudworks as instructed in one of the getting started links. The registration process was seamless, and then you are presented with a busy page which I guessed I should click on the OLDS MOOC launch event. I found a “follow” button and a “mark as attended” button. There was a video link of a feed welcoming people to the course. The feed was low quality and the volume was extremely low. It was very hard to stay engaged when you couldn’t hear clearly.

Whilst watching the video I setup my first cloud to act as a learning journal (oh, such multitasking, how do I stay on task?) and have added it to the Cloudscape for the OLDS MOOC.

Bass Figure 1One of the things being discussed in the video is “Disrupting ourselves: the problem of learning in higher education / Randall Bass“. Engaged again as the presenter talks about the importance of the role of a university in leading students to become concerned citizens.

One of the resources provided was http://curriculumreform.org/curriculum-reform-manifesto/ for those interested in looking at what was being discussed.


OLDS MOOC week 1 video screenshot What is the purpose of education? I is a question of design. The presenter sees: craft as making good stuff; and design as making stuff better. Design is about change and about innovation.

Learning design is then looked at more indepth. OLDS MOOC week 1 learning designThere was some discussion of Instructional Design as a linear approach. Refer ADDIE model for example.
Educational Design Research is a methodology for the study of function. In Educational Design Research  you have a theory of how people learn and you explore that theory in real life conditions.
Learning by Design has some affinity to inquiry learning.
Teachers as Designers suggests developing a design attitude allows teachers to integrate theory better into their practice and be more reflective practitioners.

The presenter recommends reading the “Teaching as a Design Science” book by Dan Laurillard (2012).

OLDS MOOC week 1 keywords list

The presenter takes us through the OLDS MOOC weekly topic progression to show us a bit of a roadmap for the MOOC. This part of the video was quite useful to get a feel for where we are heading.

I paused the video repeatedly during the morning. It was 52 minutes long, but I actually took about three hours to watch it as I was multitasking, trying to do the other tasks for the MOOC and deal with a few interruptions in the office. The hardest part was the volume issue, which had me almost give up. The XKCD comic at about 38 minutes of video helped (as XKCD always does).

The last few minutes were dedicated to questions, but with timezones and the crazy busy internet, I didn’t actually know when this was live streamed! I guess that is the case for a lot of participants to be honest. So even watching it on what is officially the first day, I missed the live stream by several days, sigh.

So, lots to learn over the MOOC, and lots to do.

Cheat sheets

Edtech Cheat SheetThe Edtech cheat sheet published here prompted me to write a post sharing a number of useful cheat sheets I refer to at times.



Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers

Moodle Tool Guide for TeachersThe Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers was put together by Joyce Seitzinger and is now available in multiple languages (including but not limited to Arabic, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Norwegian, Portugese, Spanish, Slovene) and adaptations as she published it with an open license for modification.

Joyce herself created it after seeing the Social Media Cheat Sheet. Read about it here on her blog. Download her original here.

Joyce recently adapted her Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers to become a D2Learn Tool Guide for Teachers.


A recent share by Joyce is her infographic Social Content Curation for Learning Communities which is also worth checking out.


Unitec’s Mushtak Dawood was also working on a Moodle quick reference guide which he is hopefully publishing. Please contact him with any questions.



Technology Intergration Matrix from University of South Florida

Technology Integration Matrix USF imageThis is a Technology Integration Matrix. Whilst designed for use with teachers in primary and secondary schools, it is still useful for higher education. It takes five characteristics of the learning environment and then uses five levels of technology integration into the curriculum, from “entry” level where they are beginning to use technology tools to deliver curriculum content to students, to “transformation” level. This tool can be used to begin discussions on how curriculum design and teaching practice can be improved. This is an interactive tool so don’t just print out the front page! There are also videos that illustrate integration of technology taking into account the variety of technology available to students in different contexts. They do have some printable resources too.


Skype cheat sheet

Yes, emoticons are still alive and kicking.  This cheatsheet from Factoryjoe is a useful quick guide to finding that emoticon that really helps give your conversation meaning. During the Olympics it was useful to know how to create the flags for each country (flag:NZ) and sending that virtual birthday cake (cake) is always a nice gesture to loved ones overseas. In case anyone is interested, Moodle has emoticon codes too, there is even to create a little Martin! Martin





If you’ve been wondering what ePortfolios are all about and whether it’s the right time for you to start your own portfolio, then this blog post is for you.

Many of us still visualise portfolios as large folders that an artist carries their drawings in.

An ePortfolio is an electronic collection of evidence that showcase an individual’s skills, qualities, achievements and capabilities. The pieces of evidence are often referred to as “artefacts” and can include documents, audio and video files, as well as images. The evidence collected might include assessments, activities and achievements, plans and goals, feedback, and reflections. Dare I say it, an ePortfolio could be used as a repository.

Where ePortfolios come into their own, is when they are used as a working space, with snapshots that help the individual, mentors, and relevant contributors of feedback. Using ePortfolios is now considered a valid approach to providing structured support to teaching and learning.

There are various ePortfolio tools available, paid and free. There is a current fashion for encouraging the establishment of ePortfolios for students to evidence learning, and in some cases this has lead institutes to either provide a portfolio website to students or to make recommendations on external websites to use.

ePortfolios can be collaborative, rather than an individual’s artefacts. Many ePortfolio tools provide methods for interaction and communication between contributors or assessors.

Some ePortfolio tools provide the user with the ability to create “views” for different audiences, allowing the user to have a public view, a mentor view, an assessment view, a potential employer view, etc. This creates safe environments for the user to utilise their ePortfolio as a reflective honest learning space, whilst not compromising the use of their ePortfolio for demonstration of current competency.


Teachers’ professional ePortfolios

Teachers should be encouraged to have a professional ePortfolio as a development and reflection tool. It gives teachers a framework to model good practice to the students. Unitec teachers can contact Te Puna Ako for assistance with starting an ePortfolio.


What happens in NZ?

The Ministry of Education in New Zealand is providing the MyPortfolio School website free to schools until at least 2013. Some tertiary institutes used the shared MyPortfolio Tertiary website for continuing student portfolios into higher education. Both of these websites use the open source Mahara portfolio software.


What about Unitec?

Good question.

Some staff in Unitec are embarking on the journey into ePortfolios, and the tools they are using are wide and varied and usually what works best for their specific requirements.

Some of the tools being used for ePortfolios at Unitec are:


If you have found this blog post sparking an interest in learning more about ePortfolios, you might want to read some of these articles and resources:


Learning Analytics

Learning Analytics

Learning Analytics is a hot topic currently, so let’s take a look at what all the fuss is about.

According to Wikipedia:

Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs.



Why are we looking at learning analytics at Unitec?

If we start to investigate learning analytics in the context of our Moodle use by students we can see some distinct benefits.

  • For students, learning analytics can add meaning, context and emotional connection through a personalized learning process.
  • For tutors, it can increase productivity, efficiency and evolve the teaching process into a mentoring relationship.
  • For administrators,  greater understanding of how learners communicate, complete tasks and construct new knowledge, combined with blogs, and Twitter activity will inform the design and development of optimal learning experiences.
  • For institutions, all the consequences of learning analytics as documented above can provide a significant boost in quality to the services provided, to reputation and prestige.



Where to from here?

There are some Moodle plugins being developed currently that we are reviewing. As these mature we will be adding them to the suite of tools available within Unitec’s Moodle environment. Here are two examples recently discussed at the Moodle Research Conference:

  • MOC Log -Monitoring Online Courses with log data
    Visualisation of log data, anonymous for privacy and viewable by course and category for particular roles and groups.
  • MonSys – Monitoring System
    Gives teachers alerts for students who have not accessed their course for a set number of days.


Where to find out more

Moodle.org now have an Analytics and Reporting forum here.

Moodle Research Conference

The first Moodle Research Conference was held in Crete in September 2012, organised by Moodle, CosyLlab and It Is Art Ltd. This is a fantastic addition to the Moodlemoots with the potential to lead to exciting new developments and sharing of lessons learned to improve practice. The conference proceedings are here – http://research.moodle.net/MoodleCon_Proceedings_program/index.htm – and there is a plan for videos of presentations to be put on the website.

I attended and presented a paper on “a community approach to staff development in eLearning” that I co-wrote with Nicoletta Rata-Skudder.


The highlights for me:

  • Found out that all Moodle HQ developers are completing the MCC certificate, and this means they are also interacting with teachers on the course
  • Babelium plugin – teacher adds a video, mutes out parts of the speaking, student records their voice where required – but can be used for storyboarding or question/answer as well as scripted conversations. Code available, definitely testing this.
  • CADMOS – digital lesson plan, simple graphical tool. It’s a stand alone application that you install on Windows or Mac and you restore into Moodle course. Creates all your topics, resources (labels, pages etc) and activities. The pilot feedback was good.
  • GLUE and GLUE-PS. Integrates other web 2 tools into Moodle. e.g. Google docs, dabbleboard, doodle, mediawiki, … you add activity GLUE GDocs, set groups access like separate groups and upload files – it makes the google doc available just to the right people! There were other features, like pedagogical pattern collector but I can’t remember all the details now.
  • MOCLog – new visualisation for log data to show processes and outcomes of learning and teaching, gives anonymous data for privacy, you can view course and category analytics. Runs using CRON and is incremental. User chooses category and course(s), roles, report types, maps against an elearning model. You see activity types view/update/delete/upload/write. You can assign weightings and make your own maps. You can view in groups. There is a visual display with pie chart, graph. Moodle HQ asked how they can improve Moodle logging data to enable more tools like this. The code is available in sourceforge if we want to test this out. CAREFUL – powerful tool but lots of potential for misinterpretation of meaning of the data.
  • MonSys – creates tutor reports around participation in forums, sends alerts to tell if students not accessing over certain number of days, used for quick identification of access difficulties and helping those students. Tested on 600 students with 19 tutors in Brasil (I think). Looked interesting.
  • ELIS – might be useful as bridge between student management system and Moodle, but presentation time was not long enough for the presenter to show all his content so would have to look further to really understand how it would work. Has usersets, class instances, class enrolment data (completion, grades, credits, objectives), learning program, tracking, learning objectives (define goals and associate with activities). Feed information in ELIS and use for reporting, a Moodle 2 plugin. There is a dashboard in MyMoodle.

Other stuff presented at the conference

  • Tagging project at Uni Canterbury – teacher tags resources/activities and student can search by tags, very basic and would be more useful if students were tagging resources/activities.
  • PBL tool developed to give students access to resources in international repositories in a pedagogically sound way, uses scales of confidence to search resources appropriate to learner, learner tags and feedback refines searches for future users – tool in its infancy but will be useful in time.
  • Case study in West Australia – University and Secondary schools, course IHSO8801 Integrated Human Studies (overview here http://learning.ewfi.org/moodle20/mod/page/view.php?id=2326 ) – they used Moodle, Skype to build relationships, had VC 2 hours per week w/ LMS facilitating in between, not clear what the outcomes were from his presentation.
  • Some volunteers somehow related to a Church in Greece developed online teacher training courses, subjects – web 2 tools, podcasting, blogs, innovative teaching. They use ADDIE model and talked about LT model (learning together), STAD (not defined in the presentation). There is a vision of a new school (not sure what that means) and new curricula. There is a Greek School Network which is a free service (Moodle 1.7 currently). These volunteers used Wiziq for synchronous video conferencing, and made SCORM packages with eXe and Articulate. They said they were online ALL THE TIME. There is apparently no teacher registration or certification in Greece.
  • Categorisation of learning design courses in virtual environments – looked for usage patterns and basically they found most use of Moodle was “repository”.
  • Improving design of courses – graphical external tool, preconfigure courses for teachers, work in progress.
  • Israel Math / Science / Technology courses for school students, have an outdoor science garden (very cool), they asked children what they wanted, found all the kids had laptops, smartphones, tablets, TVs in their rooms, some schools 1 to 1 laptops, good school has 5 to 1 and bad school has 10 to 1, teachers not sure how to use technology so they help, lots of interactive stuff with kids talking to researchers and asking questions, using Moodle and Elluminate, treasure hunts and fun activities and competitions, reducing fear of maths. They building inquiry skills, exploration, argument skills. If we could teach Hebrew in NZ schools then this would be awesome.
  • Innovation in flexible and collaborative learning. The story of moving from 1.9 to 2 they increased emphasis on images, selected rotating theme images based on pedagogy (adults, different ethnicities, collaboration), new icons like coffee corner for forum, completion criteria made obvious, tech advice icon, more personalisation emphasised with my files area and my portfolio made prominent. They made programme themes of different colours. 5 lessons learned – planning, research, specs and testing, managing change, outcomes and evaluation.
  • Question – do Moodle analytics have a role in learning design, feedback and assessment? Discussed the London Pedagogy Planner project, use of tool not obvious by design, need to teach how to use tool properly, look at activity patterns, connectivity patterns, and learning design. The researchers were asking the audience for answers and ideas for their question.
  • Learning analytics with Excel Pivot tables – tool to analyse usage data of Moodle, anonymous intuitive GUI then 3 options into Excel – 1. quick overview with specific charts, 2. personalised overview with pivot tables, 3. for the hardcore data geeks. A Moodle block where you select course and analysis type, download. You get action, date, activity name and user id. Template provided to help with pivot table creation.
  • Moodbile – some sort of external API layer and connector layer that uses Moodle 2 web services architecture for Android, iOS and HTML5 clients.
  • Plugins for programming courses – overview. They mentioned MOSS plagiarism plugin.
  • Islamic environment – first experiment with GIRLS in the classroom. Boys on main floor and girls sit behind screen in balcony area. Some teachers allowed for verbal discussion between girls and boys in the classroom. NO online discussion was allowed between girls and boys in Moodle so a new system wide Moodle role was created for girls. The results strongly suggest girls should be there.
  • Moodle front end for Greek language learning – they had a problem with student engagement, they made teams (content, pedagogy, graphics, technology) who worked together on tasks (created notebook, glossary… other stuff), embedded questions and gave animated feedback for every event. They wanted enriched resources, drag and drop, lots of iframes and flash. Target was 5 year olds through to higher education.
  • Improving Math – problem was students decreasing math competence prior to starting study, objective to improve 3 months to 1 month before study started. Made plugins that showed personal feedback in graph, put thumbs up / down next to each topic (quite cute actually), used book module with formulas.
  • Alex talked about research. Recognition of commercial research bias, separated internal (solves a Moodle issue) and external (solves an education issue) research. Talked about dissemination – telling/showing others what you did, Journals and conferences, plugins developed. Exploitation – benefits from your research – finding a market for your product/output, IP, says CONTRIBUTE – share your code. Sounded like sales pitch; Alex suggested researchers go work for Moodle Partners to earn more than at University.

There are plans for research.moodle.net that I think we should keep an eye on too, and contribute to. The current thinking is that this becomes the hub for sharing research plans, progress and outcomes, and that these feed into the direction of Moodle core, the design of Modules and Plugins, and the conversations around the future.

Some interesting blog posts related to the Moodle Research Conference: