SBOSE: Comfortably uncomfortable

As we approach the end of this module Supporting the Blended and Online Student Experience, I’m reflecting on my  own experiences and new understandings during this time.

I chose the blog option for my individual assignment because blogging is something I do naturally. From keeping a diary for over 30 years in pre-internet days to blogging about Moodle since 2007, I enjoy putting thoughts into words. The challenge with this blog, however, was not finding the words or topics to cover, but backing up what I say with relevant readings, evidence, references. This meant that I put much more time and thought into each post (which dampened my enthusiasm somewhat) but it also offered a broader, richer perspective on my other blogging. I’d begun a personal blog about learning Russian -just for my own benefit really – and soon found that I actually wanted to reference my experiences learning a new language against research I had read about how we learn. I would never have conceived of that a year ago. I realise the option of a reflective blog well meets the ‘Introspection’ aspect of Olcott’s five I’s of effective teaching  which I read about in (Paloff 2013)

Introspection is the interpretation, revision and demonstrated understanding of concepts.

Elsewhere the authors state that we should be:

encouraged to reflect on [our] own learning process, how learning with the use of technology has affected that process either positively or negatively…

I struggle with the level and quality of writing and referencing needed for this individual assignment, particularly when comparing my offerings with those of other course participants, so I started gently with some summaries of books  I had been reading. I blogged about Essentials of Course design (link to post) and also about Lessons from the Virtual classroom (link to post) Later I also summarised Is Technology Good for Education? (link to post), not an actual set text but one related to Neil Selwyn whose views questioning ed tech we were asked to consider early in the module. Doing these summaries definitely helped me clarify and  embed the thinkings into my brain, and using a blog for this process was something I was very comfortable with.

What I was less comfortable with, along with having to develop the habit of backing up my opinions with meaningful research, was the imposition of a Group Task. In fact, when I heard in module 1 that in  module 2 we would be working in groups, I almost quit. I am glad I didn’t – although I remain unconvinced about the merits of group work. I expressed my fears in All for One and One for All (link to post) .

A while later while listening to the weekly podcast, this time on Online Team Teaching, it struck me that while I am uncomfortable working in groups, I work very well  in a pair – if the two of us are on the same wavelength. In the post Online Team Teaching I outlined how my colleague Helen and I collaborate when facilitating online. Perhaps for me, the cliché ‘Two’s company, Three’s a crowd’ really works.

Another example of my discomfort was in the most recent module on Learning Analytics. We had a task which required us to analyse an Excel spreadsheet. In the post Feeling the Fear (and Do it Anyway) I reflected upon my spreadsheet-a-phobia and how, actually, if we are to progress, we do need to do things we find difficult. It’s the ‘Troublesome’ aspect of Threshold concepts, which I read about via (Didau, 2015)


While I chose the blog option because I felt comfortable with it, I have learned in this last module that actually it was the uncomfortable elements that move me forwards. Stepping out of my comfort zone, for example in drafting blog posts with supporting evidence, engaging in group work, delving into analytics and statistics as a numerophobe- these  have all given me a sense of satisfaction and progression that I wouldn’t have felt if I had stuck to the comfortable stuff.

No coincidence that I have experienced this in parallel while learning Russian – practising language that is a little harder than I can cope with – and even in my Day Job! I was at the London Moodle Moot two weeks ago. I like to be very organised, have everything planned out – and I was faced with a situation where I had to significantly improvise. This would never have been my choice, but, having tackled it and completed the task, I feel more competent.

So – what have I learned that I would pass onto my students in blended and online situations?

  • Self reflection is essential -whether you do it in a private diary, just between you and your teacher, or to the world at large. Think critically about yourself
  • If you struggle with writing, just write anything at first until you get into the right frame of mind.
  • Choose the harder option, not the easier one if you’re brave enough, because in challenging yourself you will transform yourself.


Palloff, R. (2013). Lessons from the virtual classroom : the realities of online teaching. 1st ed.

Didau, D. (2015). What if everything you knew about education was wrong?. Crown House Publishing.


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Feeling the fear (and doing it anyway!)

I am enjoying the Unit 4 module on Learning analytics, even though I was presented with what would normally be my worst nightmare – an Excel spreadsheet to analyse! I can do a bit of Excel, but my (misguided) association with Excel and  ‘sums’ tends to bring out the numerophobe in me and put me on the defensive before I have even begun. But I did venture into the  sample data file and even managed to decipher some of it. I am especially grateful to the team for setting it as a task for us. I am enjoying this module particularly because we’ve been given “stuff to do”- with activity completion boxes, thereby forcing us to do them. This has worked very well for me. Of course we are all adults and motivated and so would probably read the materials and respond in forums  – the more frequent way of seting up units, it seems to me – but giving us tasks – such as the SCORM package, the wiki and the data analysis file – are ensuring, at least for me, that we definitely engage with the subject in a hands-on way. I appreciated the topic summary in the SCORM package and the invitation to set out our understandings in the wiki.

As for ‘feeling the fear..’ (a reference to Jeffers, 2017) I was reminded, as I tackled the spreadsheet, of Threshold concepts, a term I first learned about last October, via a book recommendation (Didau, 2015) by my daughter. It’s not on our list, but I am happy to digest anything educational these days, as I haven’t, for over 30 years. Didau highlights some of the features of Threshold concepts:

  • Integrative
  • Transformative
  • Irreversible
  • Reconstitutive
  • Troublesome
  • Discursive

I have experienced some of those as I plough through my Russian classes in another world, but it occured to me that diving into the analytics spreadsheet was giving me a similar experience: It was ‘Troublesome” in that it “presented [me] with a degree of difficulty […] incoherent or counter-intuitive”. That was Good, because good learning should be hard! It was Integrative, in that it brought “together different parts of the subject [I] hadn’t previously seen as connected. It was Reconsitutive, in that it “may shift [my] sense of self over time” and it was Transformative, in that, once understood it will “change the way [I] see the subject and [myself].”

So being set this task, along with the other activities in the unit, has opened my eyes and removed some of my feelings of inadequacy in the area of learning analytics and how to understand them. Perhaps if I ever get as far as the final, research module, I should face that fear head on and do something on analytics? 🙂



Didau, D. (2015). What if everything you knew about education was wrong?. Crown House Publishing.


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Project Inspire: Learning analytics in Moodle

Warning: This post is just for my own benefit 🙂

I wrote before about Moodle’s Project Inspire and just today I have taken a look on the demo site to see how it works -or at least, how it works in its very early stages. Much more input and sample data will be needed, but it does give some idea of where they are coming from and heading towards.

So – as an admin or manager, you can access a report set up page: ‘Inspire Model’. This offers you can see, search for (and I presume, at some point in the future also add) indicators of performance. You can also set the time splitting, for example Quarters or Quarters accumulative.


The indicators take much from the Community of inquiry model (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2001) We see ‘cognitive depth’ and ‘social breadth’ connected to many activities. I need to explore this in much more detail. For now, I am just looking at how this analytics report works.

So once you have set this up, you execute the report, you select a course and you then see the students and a colour-coded indication of whether they are likely to drop out or not:


Samuel is likely to drop out – if you click the Actions menu for him, you have a choice of options:

  • view an outline report (this is standard Moodle outline report)
  • send him a message
  • view the predictions. If you click to view the predictions, this is what you see:


I understand the prototype site is just a simple demo, so I assume these figures are more simplistic than they would be in reality. However, it is interesting to watch the progress.

If you want to try it out, the site is


Garrison, D., Anderson, T. and Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), pp.7-23.

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Learning about… Learning analytics

So… Unit 4 with “the Radicals” kicks off with a nice intro to Learning Analytics, something which I’ve been aware of for several years but haven’t explored in depth. Now is a good opportunity to read up on it and its benefits  – and drawbacks, as I mentioned in a previous post when summarising the book Is Technology Good for Education? According to the book, (Siemens et al., 2011) describe ‘learning analytics’ broadly as:

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.

All well and good, but I was interested to read that many of the tools and techniques for learning analytics come from the business world – website analytics – that kind of stuff. Imagine you’re a young adult. You make a purchase on Amazon and you watch a Youtube video. The next time you are online the Internet tempts you with similar books and similar videos because its algorithms figured out you might be interested.  This is the aim of learning analytics! As a student you work online, taking part in some activities and not others and the same types of tool which tracked your Amazon and Youtube habits ideally will clue into how likely you are to make the grade and what your teacher can do to help.

As I also mentioned in the previous post, Learning analytics is currently high profile in Moodle as we are developing, with the help of the community, a core module which will deliver:

  • Description of learning engagement and progress,
  • Diagnosis of learning engagement and progress,
  • Prediction of learning progress, and
  • Prescription (recommendations) for improvement of learning progress.

Here’s an early presentation on it from HQ Researcher Elizabeth:

While this initiative has been generally welcomed, there are some who share the concerns of Selwyn (2016) that in our enthuisasm to automate data collection on students in order to improve learning, we might be both losing the ‘human touch’ and also still being biased in our choice of data.:

The danger exists of educational data systems only measuring what can easily be measured, rather than what cannot easily be measured but is nevertheless important

Biesta (2009) asks the question:

..are we indeed measuring what we value or […] measuring what we can easily measure and thus end up valuing what we [can] measure?

Well – as a newbie to Learning analytics, I don’t have strong views or answers, but I am looking forward to the next two weeks of Unit 4 and how I can contribute.


Selwyn, N. (2016). Is technology good for education?. 1st ed. Great Britain:

Siemens, G., Gasevic, D., Haythornthwaite, C., Dawson, S., Buckingham Shum, S., Ferguson, R., Duval, E., Verbert, K. and Baker, R. (2011). Open learning analytics: an integrated and modularised platform. Society for Learning Analytics Research.

Biesta, G.J.J. (2009). Good education in an age of measurement: On the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability 21(1), 33-46. [DOI: 10.1007/s11092-008-9064-9]

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Unit 3: Shared responsibility

The Unit 3 seminar, facilitated by Celia, Lesley, Mel and Gerry, ‘Team Sydney’ has now ended and we’ve been evaluating it this week. Having done ours first, I enjoyed being able to watch the efforts of others, and what I noticed in particular was  that, in terms of forum moderation, the team definitely seemed to follow the ‘shared responsibility’ approach, as outlined in Ko, S. and Rossen, S. (2017) Teaching online and which I discussed in the last post about online team teaching. I  noticed that the facilitators were quick to respond when a participant posted and also that they would respond to each other at times, to keep the conversations going and move a topic forward.

This was interesting to me because as a co-facilitator on a very large site,, this is an approach that wouldn’t really work. Although we read almost every post as it comes in, we deliberately wait to see if a Moodle community member will respond first, to give them a chance to help or comment. In a community of thousands, this is acceptable practice since there will always be someone ready to reply. In a much smaller group such as with our unit seminars, ‘hanging on’ might mean a longer wait and the person who posted might feel nobody was paying attention. I think in retrospect in our Unit 2 seminar, we should have been more proactive replying sooner, and that is partly my fault, using habits from  a  larger environment into a smaller one. Similarly with the facilitators joining in conversations -this works very well when we are a small group and especially since the teams themselves are diverse and with diverse experiences. However, again, it is something I would steer away from on since any posts from Helen and me would be similar in nature and the community is large enough that others will come and take the discussions forward.

I think it is essential to be aware of the size of your group as well as your learners’ level of commitment and confidence and to tailor your facilitating accordingly. (Palloff, 2013) tell us balance is the key:

Stay present. Let your students know you are there by commenting on their posts and asking individual questions for them to consider. But also avoid being intrusive or overbearing. Balance is the key to successful participation.

I felt Team Sydney got this balance right bearing in mind the number of participants. I look forward to the unit 4 seminar coming up soon.


Ko, S. and Rossen, S. (2017). Teaching online. 4th ed. New York, NY [u.a.]: Routledge.

Palloff, R. (2013). Lessons from the virtual classroom : the realities of online teaching. 1st ed.

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Online Team Teaching

So this week’s BOE podcast was about online team teaching, and I was introduced to the book Teaching Online: A Practical Guide by Ko and Rossen. Fortunately an earlier version is available in the Library, because it’s very expensive to buy! I learned from the podcast that they suggest three models for online team teaching approaches:

  1. Shared responsibility
  2. Division of labour
  3. Primary/secondary

This got me very much thinking about my experiences of online team teaching and what models we use. Most of the time I team teach with only one other person – Helen Foster, Moodle Community Manager (and yes, I believe you can have a “team” of two!) although I have also helped run course (which I won’t name) with a larger group of around ten people, which was… interesting.

Helen and I co-facilitate a twice yearly Learn Moodle MOOC and I think we use a mixture of the three models:

  1. We do share the responsibility in that we both facilitate and administer the site.
  2. There is somewhat of a division of labour in that Helen tends to do more of the background admin stuff while I tend to do more of the course content creation and the online facilitation
  3. There is therefore a primary/secondary element in the facilitation in that I am more prominent although Helen is always available if needed.

What I have learned from doing the MOOC with Helen  since 2013, going into our fifth year this year, is that it is absolutely essential to plan in advance AND keep track of your movements during the  online course. I would say it is the single most important aspect, from my point of view, to give the best chance of success. Over the years we have run the MOOC, we have developed a detailed shared Google spreadsheet which outlines what must be done in the weeks before the MOOC, during the MOOC and in the weeks after the MOOC (post MOOC clean up/pre-MOOC preparation) During the MOOC, the spreadsheet extends to days rather than weeks, as things need doing on a daily basis. Based on the ‘division of labour’ model, some aspects Helen always does (eg checking enrolments, managing the peer assessment workshop) and some aspects I always do (updating the video tutorials, primary monitoring of the forums) but for some activities on the spreadsheet we have a column where we can put our names if we want to ‘claim’ a particular job as ours that day or week. I suppose that would be a bit of the first model, Shared responsiblity. We also have a weekly video catchup on Sunday afternoons (before the weekly live sessions ) where we discuss t.he week’s events and anything which needs dealing with

I find this advance planning and ongoing record-keeping is very important, and also helps to calm the nerves which are natural with a MOOC of several thousand people. Quite how important was brought home to me a year or so ago, when I joined in another MOOC, with a lesser role, but a larger team. Although we knew each well online, we’d never worked or planned a course together. Everyone was very willing to collaborate, but in retrospect it seems to me that the Shared responsiblity model they followed actually caused more problems than it solved. There was a shared course where we could discuss the course as it was running, so we had our ‘social glue’, but there was no detailed spreadsheet and because a number of the group were given site admin rights, I’d wake up some mornings to find a major modification had been done to the course with no discussion with the others. Puzzled group members would ask in the shared course, and the miscreant   person responsible would say “Oh yes – I did that last night – thought it might be a good idea” .


I felt very nervous and uneasy about the team teaching throughout this course (even though it ultimately turned out to be, from the participants’ view point, a success) Perhaps it was a case of “too many cooks spoil the broth” with a large team – but I feel that, with an insistence on good planning and record keeping, we should instead have experienced “many hands make light work”.

The podcast also points out for example that when there is Shared responsiblity, you should always have a consistent approach – sing from the same hymnsheet. (Goodness, I am a bit cliché-ridden today!) This wasn’t always the case in this particular course, where several group members all eagerly answered forum questions but with differing opinions. I ended up being guilty of it myself too, on a couple of occasions, such was my frustration.

In terms of course announcements, Helen and I plan when to send announcements, what to say and how often to make the announcements (so participants don’t feel spammed, and so when an announcement is sent out, it is understood to be worthwhile.) Here, the team members posted in the Announcements (News) forum whenever something occurred to them – sometimes different team members posting two or three times a day, again without discussion with others.

In conclusion, I think that all three models can work well but only if there is clear and detailed agreement as to who does what, with all team members regularly and reliably recording somewhere any actions they have taken which have a bearing on the course.


Ko, S. and Rossen, S. (2017). Teaching online. 4th ed. New York, NY [u.a.]: Routledge.






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Making Education More Commercial?

This is the fourth and final of the four questions posed in the book Is Technology Good for Education?, which I have been summarising in recent blog posts.

In this chapter, Neil Selwyn discusses the premise that business and commerce are infiltrating education increasingly because of technology. He points out of course that education has always had business interests  – hundreds of years ago you had to pay to go to school – but that now major tech corporations such as Microsoft and Google have dedicated educational divisions, and as such, are influencing our study environments and habits. Moodle, an open source learning platform, is currently developing integrations with Office 360 and Google apps because  of the prevalence of these in educational organisations. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Text book publishers such as Pearson have for several years been producing digital versions of their text books – first as SCORM and more recently as LTI. When I was teaching at school, this was a benefit because it meant that a department could both save money and also supply all students with a copy of the text book online. A department might not be able to afford individual textbooks for all students, but by buying the SCORM version and uploading it to the VLE, all students had access. (That said, there were other issues with the poor quality of the SCORM package, but I digress…)

Major Silicon valley corporations pour money into educational initiatives -but are these as altruistic as they appear? I was particularly interested in the background behind the renaissance of teaching Computing in schools: a colleague (and former pupil – I’m that old!) has for several years been a big player in bringing computing teaching back into fashion. I read

The fact that so many people in education have come to see this  as a’good idea’ resulted in no small part from sustained lobbying by what has been described as a ‘who’s who’ of tech industry elite

and I learned that, actually, teaching computing has come back into fashion so that the big software companies and games developers will be ensured of future employees. Not that that is a ‘bad’ thing, but it does imply an disproportionate influence:

When a powerful figure such as  the Head of Google  deigns to take an interest in their education system. public officials have tended to take his pronouncements very seriously indeed.

MOOCs too are another area where, rather than developing from  the desirable aim of providing free education for the masses who couldn’t otherwise afford it, they grew because of corporate self-interest:

While popularly perceived to be driven by a couple of Stanford professors,  Coursera was bolstered by $85 million of venture capital funding.

I was surprised,and somewhat disappointed, to discover that even badges, the flipped classroom and  even gamification all have roots in high tech firms. Again, not that this is a bad thing; just that I assumed these ideas germinated in the classroom. Perhaps they did, but it is the big businesses that are nourising them and allowing them to blossom:

[…]the biggest movers and shakers in education are no longer educators and academics but programmers, hackers and of course the trillion dollar industry that has grown up around them.

The problem with this is that, although bringing big tech ideas from business into education might seem  a smart way to move teaching and learning on – in practice, the business mentality and the teaching/managing education mentality are not the same. I was very much reminded of initiatives from my own experience in K12 when ‘superheads’ from business swooped into failing schools to take over and make them a success. It didn’t work. Because schools are not businesses, and education is not commerce.

[…] many of the ‘new’forms of digital education being driven by commercial interests are based around decidedly different agendas and ideologies than we are used to encountering in public education.

Selwyn, N. (2016). Is technology good for education?. 1st ed. Great Britain:



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