Random stuff from Simon Cotterill !

This was my 4th ALT-C conference over the years; as well as participating in the broader conference I was ‘killing 2 birds with one stone’ (that’s great coming from a vegie!) with 2 presentations to disseminate our JISC-funded OER projects and Dynamic Learning Maps projects.

It was a great conference, with about 500 delegates including people from 30 different countries. As usual, there were many parallel sessions I wish I could have attended – but the use of the CroudVine conference social networking (before, during and after) is really useful to find out about the sessions you couldn’t make.

There were too many good sessions to mention each one but here are some selected personal notes from just a few bits of the conference:

Confrontation with Reality

The overarching conference theme was “confrontation with reality” – in part the changed political/funding climate but most emphasis on the rapidly changing technologies/culture, modes and habits of learning. One of the keynotes; Richard Ross from the Technology Enhanced Learning Research programme made an analogy: 80 years after the invention of the printing press use of that technology was more or less limited to printing the bible. In the same way we are only making limited use of technology in education and most of this is focused on doing the same things in the same way in which we have done previously. I thought we had come on a little more than that, but certainly developments in personal devices; sharing/collaboration, gesture recognition, A.I. and semantic Web technologies may all have big impact on learning and teaching for the future. The good news is that Richard saw the ongoing need for face-to-face teaching for at least 2 more generations and the emotional side of learning would increasingly be supported by technology!

Digital Literacies

Not a conference theme but did come-up a lot in many sessions; particularly as HEIs are increasingly pushing their digital provision as part of their distinctive ‘offer’.

Digital Literacies Symposium (input from 4 projects from JISC DL programme)

  • Must go beyond ‘IT skills’ and needs a team approach (academic, library, staff dev, learning technologists, admin and other support staff etc).
  • Embedding/contextualisation important (or risk the usual ‘initiative fatigue’ and lack of engagement having gone beyond saturation point for ‘bolt-ons’).
  • Ideally practice-based (rather than focused on a specific technology/device) & careful use of terminology/emphasis e.g frame in CDP/RDF for researchers.
  • Tie in with other literacies (Cardiff) e.g. information literacies and academic literacies crucial for effective use of technology for T&L.
  • Forward looking institutions are supporting and rewarding staff for innovative use of tech. for T&L.
  • General state of play:
    • BYOD (and bring your own skills) happening – like it or not! Needs increased personal responsibility for both device and skills.
    • Students typically over confident – but only have narrow skill set
    • Staff  under-confident – but can ‘run with it’ with some encouragement
  • Other points of interest:
    • Institutional Audit Tool for DL: http://tinyurl.com/8n2dxjo
    • Online course “professional online presence”
    • WBL – supporting digital literacies of employers
    • Lifting of restrictions on staff use of social media
    • National drivers for DL in  Wales
  • JISC DL Programme: http://tinyurl.com/cn8khrf

Open Education

Open education and sharing was one of the conference themes; lots of presentations on OERs and a stall from Open Nottingham; I briefly caught-up with Simon Wilkinson who leads the open-source ROGO assessment system. On the last day I chaired a workshop “Climbing the stairway to OER nirvana” – it was a fun workshop led by Chris Pegler, Suzanne Hardy, Alannah Fitzgerald, Frank Manista, and Joanna Wild .Different institutions are at different stages, but it feels like OER may be close to the ‘pivot point’ for mainstreaming. Ok the stairway our group drew had some flat landings and a trap door as well as stairs, so there is still a long way to go! However, judging from the number of presenters for this workshop and their combined energy and enthusiasm there is a great OER community to drive things forward.

Our presentations

OER in the context of the curriculum

Dynamic Learning Maps

Next years conference:

ALT-C 2013: 10-12th Sept, Nottingham (20th anniversary)


Call for papers: November 2012

We have just completed our project for social bookmarking of Open Educational Resources.

Further details: favOERites


We have a paper published in a special issue of the International Journal of Clinical Skills:

Cotterill S, Horner P, Teasdale D, Ellis J, Thomason JM, Vernazza C, Bradley PM, Peterson J, Skelly G, Ball S. Effective embedding and integration of ePortfolios in medical and dental curricula. IJOCS. 2011; (5): 18-23.

The paper identifies different ways in which ePortfolios can be embedded and integrated with the curriculum. This is important because embedding and integration can be a key factor in the level of engagement with portfolios. The paper draws on the wider literature and on specific case studies from undergraduate medicine and dentistry at Newcastle. It also included early evaluation of Dynamic Learning Maps, which provides a new approach for embedding portfolio learning within online curriculum maps.

David Kernohan of JISC writes about online distance learning: “To me, one of the enormous surprises regarding the Browne review of Higher Education funding was the complete absence of any mention of online or blended delivery.”

To that I’d add; the experience in the Netherlands when student fees increased was a dramatic increase in applications to their Open University. This was driven by younger applicants, where previously distance learning had been predominantly mature students / work based learners.

It is fairly safe to predict that as UK student fees increase more young people will likewise opt for cheaper distance learning, rather than traditional campus-based HE. Even, the more surprising that distance learning isn’t addressed in the Browne report.

English students might find distance learning cheaper than studying in Scotland or Wales, and definitely England 😉

The Quality Assurance Agency for HE (QAA) have began Consultation on the Academic Infrastructure. The proposal is for the existing infrastructure is to be restructured as a Code of Practice for standards, quality and enhancement. The deadline to respond to the consultation is 1st March 2011.

The part of the proposal that is most relevant to e-learning is the new section (B3) ‘Guidance for learning and teaching as relating to issues of quality and enhancement (including
e-learning, learning and teaching strategies, staff development and supporting innovative practice)’.

In relation to ePortfolios: The QAA
Personal Development Planning: Guidance for institutional policy and practice (2009) are given as an example of the type of guidance that would be referred to in this new section (B3).

In my mind these PDP guidelines aren’t substantially different to the earlier 2001 PDP recommendations. However, their inclusion in this consultation document signals the ongoing commitment to PDP and its likely inclusion in QA institutional audit.

NARN Publication

We have a new publication published in the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. This was a special issue of the journal incorporating studies from 16 HEIs produced as part of the National Action Research Network on Researching and Evaluating Personal Development Planning and e-Portfolio Practice (NARN). NARN was funded through the HE Academy NTFS scheme, with the aim of advancing our understanding of ePortfolios, personal tutoring and PDP pedagogies.

Our study in Newcastle investigated the use of blogs to support community dialogue, reflection and evidencing in education. Pedagogy and technologies were refined over a 3 year period and the blogs are now embedded in the PGCE programs. This also built on our previous JISC work and the blog, linked to structured outcomes, was used to update other portfolios in 2009/10, where students can now link blog entries to evidence multiple skills as part of their appraisal processes.

NARN was useful in furthering my understanding and practice of Action Research. Much of what we do with new technologies loosely falls into this category; where as practitioners we are often adjusting both pedagogy and technology in response to evaluation feedback (in this case focus groups, interviews, questionnaires and informal feedback). Action research suits this immature /fluid development stage in which the researcher is also a participant, whilst more structured and ‘independent’ research is more appropriate for the later, more mature implementation stage. The NARN community provided constructive criticism and a useful sounding board for new ideas at regional and national meetings. Publishing 16 studies was a big achievement for NARN, especially with many of us writing the papers mostly outside of the ‘day job’!

Further details about NARN

Cotterill SJ, Lowing K, Cain K, Lofthouse R, et al. Blogs and e-Portfolios: can they support reflection, evidencing and dialogue in teacher training. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 2, 2010.

Our final report for the ‘North of England XCRI Testbed’ (NEXT) project is now available at:

This was one of a number of JISC funded projects taking forward the XCRI specification for the eXchange of Course Related Information.

The XCRI specification is becoming an increasingly important way of sharing and advertising course information. It is a step forward in supporting more flexible education, including multiple provider scenarios.